Paula Keller


There are at least three senses of sexual objectification: the moral sense of treating a person as if she were primarily a sexual object, the political sense in which women socially count as instruments for men’s sexual pleasure, and the epistemic sense of forming a belief that a person is as one sexually desires them to be. These different senses have been treated as rivals, competing about what the correct account of sexual objectification is, or they have been treated as entirely different projects. I argue for a third relation between them: each sense grasps an aspect of the existing social phenomenon of sexual objectification. Each further points out a wrong involved in sexual objectification. And the three aspects interact—we cannot fully explain any one sense of sexual objectification without the other two. To properly understand this interrelation I lean on an analogy: commodity fetishism as described by Marx helps make sense of the complex social reality of sexual objectification.