So #objectify has been called off (at least, by its creators), which I think is an interesting move. I would have liked to see it followed through to it’s conclusion to see how it would have worked, but Leigh and Ben have determined that the risk of it blowing up in everyone’s collective faces (specifically, the risk of people objectifying “the wrong way” and missing the point) is too great to go ahead with it, and I can respect that. When in doubt, let’s default to Not Hurting People.
I’ve been monitoring the hashtag for a few days now, and a while back I mentioned to someone on Twitter that I thought of this as kind of a software-development exercise; we had come up with a possible new tool (the objectify thing), and we were going to try it out, see what went right/wrong, and eventually iterate based on its success or failure. (Read my last tumblr post on this topic to see what I found promising in the whole #objectify thing, if you like — I’m not going to recap that.) While I’m sad that it’s not happening (in an “official” capacity, anyway), I think there is still plenty we can learn just from the last week alone.
First: It seems to me that connecting a popular movement to an actual name is kind of a risky endeavor. On one hand, Leigh and Ben hold enough sway in their respective circles that it all popped off much faster than it would if, say, I had come up with this whole thing. This is good for virality’s sake! However, I suspect that it also created its own problems as well. Two of them come to mind:
- It’s exhausting for the names attached to the project. My only contact with Leigh on this was fairly tangential, but it seemed pretty clear to me that being the highest-profile name attached to this project meant that she’d be a lightning rod for criticism, both the intelligent kind (potential for #objectify to skew rather *phobic and hurtful) and the unintelligent kind (“If you don’t want to be objectified, why is your blog called Sexy Videogameland?”). Every time I put my name out on something remotely controversial, I am straight-up terrified that either A) someone will expose me as an ignorant fraud by legitimately dissecting all the flaws in whatever it is I’ve written, or B) a bunch of stupid people on the Internet will find it and waste my time. #objectify had plenty of both going on, and it was all pointed straight at Leigh (and probably Ben, too, though I don’t really know him so I dunno how much heat he took for it).
- The endorsement of one of the most outspoken games writers on the Internet had a lot to do with its rapid uptake. I suspect that it also may have caused some people to jump on board without fully examining what was going on, or why, because two smart, critically-capable people had started it, so let’s leave the thinking to them.
Compare this to, say, #1reasonwhy, which just kind of happened, and didn’t have a specific group on the cross for it (though there was a conversation which prompted it).
Second: I think the whimsical, non-confrontational tone of #objectify, and the way it targeted specific behaviors (making comments on a woman’s appearance in the context of linking her work), were both Good Things. However, #objectify was supposed to be about more than just ogling men — see this tumblr, which kind of misses the “dismissive” part of #objectify — and that bit was lost on lots of the folks who just read about it on BoingBoing or whatever.
From where I stand, the whimsy and specificity of #objectify was actually something of a barrier to entry; in order to really nail it, you’d need to read a three-page FAQ on how to not fuck it up. As far as I can tell, the original point was “Let’s point out how nonsensical this insidiously sexist behavior is by doing the opposite for a day and laughing about it”, but for people who didn’t quite grasp the nuance, it became “HEY LET’S MAKE COMMENTS ABOUT MALE WRITERS’ APPEARANCES”.
Of course, the two are not the same. It was never about “turning the tables”, or “making men feel like they make the women feel” (that’s not how patriarchy works, folks), but despite everyone’s best efforts to the contrary, we ended up with a good amount of that stuff anyway — which, then, provokes the people who disagreed with that into denouncing the whole thing, and then people start going down the straw-man rabbit hole, and we all collectively get a little bit dumber.
As it turns out, the conversation Leigh/Ben/etc. intended for us to have is actually really nuanced. It’s not as easy as just making comments on a man’s appearance — they need to be subtly dismissive, but not hateful or over-the-top or HONK HONK AAOOOOGA or any other of a million things that went in that FAQ. In other words, in order to participate The Right Way, you kind of need to be somewhat On The Level re: feminism/oppression/social justice issues, and you need to be a good enough writer to express those nuances perfectly. Basically, it’s the kind of thing which I imagine Leigh and her folks could pull off pretty well, but it wouldn’t be quite so easy to have others participate without risking the integrity and focus of the conversation.
Anyway, I still think this spawned a few neat conversations and that’s kind of cool. Now back to work.