First, I agree that objectification does contribute to this, but a "me too" isn't good enough here. "Objectification" has become to pat a word, too cliche. It's not wrong, but it's so commonly used that I think the meaning has been largely sucked out of it and people's eyes tend to glaze over when they see it. And I say this having written about objectification and the problems with it multiple times before, each time cringing a little internally while thinking about how the word, a very important word, has become a slogan.
So let's focus instead on the opposite of sexual objectification-- sexual agency. Or just, you know, agency to start.
An agent is a being with a will, desires, motivations, and responsibility. An agent does things for reasons, and can be blamed or praised when those things are wrong or right, respectively. In order to be a fully realized agent, you need to be capable, adult, mature.
An agent, when it comes to legality, is someone who can be party to a contract. We do not hold a person to a contract if important information was withheld from him or her in the contract's arrangement (that would be fraud), or if the person him/herself was for some reason not mentally competent to enter into such an agreement, because these are factors that diminish agency. They make a person less capable of making an informed, responsible decision. And it's wrong to deceive people into doing things against their best interest (that's taking advantage of them), and it's wrong to blame people for behavior that either wasn't immoral or over which they had little or no control, or both.
When a child or someone with a severe mental disability does something bad, we temper our judgment according to their diminished agency. When an animal does something bad, we blame it scarcely at all. Children, the mentally disabled, and animals are placed in the care of rational, caring adults, fully-realized agents, who make decisions for them. Even though they are not fully-realized agents-- especially because of this-- we consider it wrong to abuse them. Though they are not moral agents, they are moral patients-- beings we should treat morally, even though they may not be able to treat us in that same manner.
There are men who think that women are like children, the mentally disabled, or animals in this regard. No, they probably don't think in terms of moral agents and moral patients, but to them the only people who can be fully responsible, mature actors are adult men. To this sort of person, sexually assaulting a woman is wrong-- but primarily because it goes against the interests of whatever man is in charge of her, her husband or her father. A woman's sexual "purity" (scare quotes here because having sex is not like dropping a bit of black paint into a can of white, or a fly into a pitcher of milk) is a commodity, the strength of which determines her value to these men. In that regard she hovers somewhere between child/mentally disabled person and animal, because children/the mentally disabled aren't expected to provide a service, whereas animals often are. It would be more accurate to say, actually, that they are used for something-- dogs for hunting or sniffing out drugs, horses for pulling carts, various livestock for eating, and so on. Women are used, to this mindset, for sex and baby-making. If they can no longer be used for these functions or nobody wants to use them for these functions, they are irrelevant. As Tina Fey said, "crazy" is a woman who keeps talking when nobody wants to fuck her.
To this mindset, rape is only as wrong as theft-- and it's theft not at her expense, but at the expense of another man. If no man is in charge of a woman, or if she's been "used" too much, then....eh. If you take someone's dog and beat it with a stick, you're in serious trouble. If you take a stray dog and do the same thing, not nearly as big a deal.
A study performed earlier this year indicated that people, male and female, literally see women as more like objects and men as more like people. Of the images that Shewmaker used to accompany her blog post on objectification of women, the worst one to me is an ad depicting a woman in her underwear lying on a bed, with a Playstation controller lying nearby, its cord leading directly into her belly button. With this, you can control the woman, haha. The caption reads "Keep on dreaming of a better world." Of all depictions of woman-as-sexbot in media-- and there are so many the idea is well past cliche at this point-- that's certainly one of the clunkiest. Congratulations, Che Men's Magazine-- you're even lousy at sexism!
But even so, even in spite of these, I find it easier to focus not on how women are turned into objects, but how they're denied having agency. It seems more accessible to take what a man is generally considered to be, and then examine what is subtracted for a woman ("How do you write women so well?" "I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability"). And then look at the ramifications.
There are people, and amongst them are men and women.
Yes, that's better.