Matthew Hutson in Aeon:
Objectification has been defined in feminist literature to include several elements, including the denial of autonomy and the denial of subjectivity — we see the person as lacking self-determination and feelings. He or she becomes, in the viewer’s mind, an object, a ‘piece of meat’, devoid of any internal life.
At least that’s what we thought. Recent research, however, would suggest that there is a more complex, though no less disturbing, process at play when we objectify not only girls and women, but boys and men as well. In contrast to popular belief, when we ‘objectify’ we don’t treat people as objects with no intelligence or emotions of their own. Several notable psychologists are beginning to argue that, when we objectify someone, we don’t assume that they have less mind overall, but that they have a different type of mind.
We spend much of our day pondering other peoples’ minds. They can love us, hate us, help us, or harm us — but we can never experience them directly, a fact that drives the work of the psychologist Kurt Gray. In his Mind Perception and Morality Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the 32-year-old assistant professor began a research project into how we piece together incomplete data to build an idea of another person. This question led him to research attitudes toward persistent vegetative states, torture and judgments of guilt, robot-human interactions, belief in God, the fundamental structure of morality, and, most recently, objectification — the influence of embodiment on mind-perception. His findings offered what Gray calls ‘a significant twist on objectification’. What emerged was that we see the capacity for feelings, whether pleasure or pain or happiness or anger, as distinct from the capacity for intellectual thought and planning. Namely, that we treat those we objectify as less intelligent, yet simultaneously we endow them with a greater ability tofeel things.