In social philosophy, objectification is the act of treating a person, or sometimes an animal, as an object or a thing. It is part of dehumanization, the act of disavowing the humanity of others. Sexual objectification, the act of treating a person as a mere object of sexual desire, is a subset of objectification, as is self-objectification, the objectification of one's self. In Marxism, the objectification of social relationships is discussed as "reification".
Nussbaum found people's understanding of objectification too simplistic to serve as a normative concept by which people evaluate the moral implications of sexualization of women. Thus, her project is to clarify the concept by testing out the 7 dimensions of objectification and distinguish between benign and harmful forms in different circumstances in relation to sex. Nussbaum has argued that the topic of objectification is not only important to sexuality, which has been discussed at length, but to the Marxist view on capitalism and slavery. Nussbaum argues that potentially not all forms of objectification are inherently negative acts and that objectification may not always be present when one of the seven properties is present.
Immanuel Kant believes that sexual desire is a powerful desire that is necessarily objectifying. When people are sexually aroused, we have an urge to take in and engulf the other person for the purpose of sexual satisfaction. Our sexual desire manifest itself as a denial of autonomy which one wishes to dictate how the other person will behave, so as to secure one's own satisfaction. It is also as a denial of subjectivity that one stop asking how the other person is thinking or feeling, bent on securing one's own satisfaction. Sexual desire is so acute and powerful that it drives out other thoughts that consider the well-being of others and people start to reduce others as a set of bodily parts. Sexual Objectification is a general feature of sexuality that both parties eagerly desire both to be objectifiers and to be objects.
Catherine Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin adopt Kant's understanding of sex as inherently objectifying but refuse to accept that both are objectifiers and the objectified one. They argue that objectification of men and women as asymmetrical. The way men express sexuality and the way women express sexuality are structured by a larger social and culture context that the power between men and women are unequal. Men express their sexuality in a dominant way by objectifying women while women express their sexuality in submissive way by being objectified or self-objectified. Hence, women are more vulnerable to violability and lack of subjectivity and autonomy. Nussbaum argues that it is important to put male-female sexuality in a more macro-perspective in which Mackinnon and Dworkin ignore the personal histories and psychologies that are equally morally important.
The objectification theory as proposed by Barbara Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts states that the objectification of a woman or a girl can eventually lead to an increased feeling of anxiety or self-awareness. The woman supposedly immediately internalizes the status that the society has given to her and sees this outcome as a primary view of herself.
Fredrickson and Roberts argue that in some way, the objectification of women can even affect the mental health of the female. The perspective of the public imposed on the female body can lead to body monitoring and obsessive eating patterns which will eventually lead into an internal feeling of shame or anxiety. Fredrickson and Roberts argue that influences from the new wave feminists and scholars have put the female body in a sociocultural perspective. This has led to a new dimension of the perspective of the body, however, it has also underemphasized the significance of viewing the female body in a biological as well as a sociocultural perspective. They argue that the one should not be overshadowed by the other, as it is the combined effect that has created a social construction behind the body image.
The objectification theory tries to push the general idea behind the sociocultural analysis of the female body a step further within the psychology of women and gender. As Fredrickson and Roberts state: "Perhaps the most profound and pervasive of these experiences is the disruption in the flow of consciousness that results as many girls and women internalize the culture's practices of objectification and habitually monitor their bodies' appearance."