Object-Oriented Feminism

Object-oriented feminism (OOF) represents an intervention into philosophical discourses like speculative realism, object-oriented ontology (OOO), and new materialism, aiming to integrate feminist perspectives. OOF criticizes OOO’s abstraction and ahistorical theorization as dangerous for its legitimation of instrumental capitalism and neoliberal ways of controlling objects. OOFfinds valuable insights in OOO’s non-anthropocentric perspective though, which challenges traditional hierarchies that privilege human experience. This perspective resonates with feminist critiques of human exceptionalism and opens up new possibilities for understanding the agency of nonhuman entities.

Object-oriented feminism offers a transformative approach to understanding the relationships between humans and objects, integrating feminist politics, erotics, and ethics into the discourse of OOO and new materialism. By embracing the political, embodied, and agential dimensions of objects, OOF provides a nuanced framework for addressing contemporary issues of objectification, materiality, and agency. This synthesis of ideas from key authors demonstrates the potential of OOF to contribute significantly to both feminist theory and object-oriented philosophy.

Feminism + OOO #

OOF addresses historical and ongoing practices of treating certain humans—particularly women, people of color, and the poor—as objects. It intertwines feminist politics, erotics, and ethics to create a robust framework for understanding and transforming the conditions of objectification. Behar notes, “OOF engages with histories of treating certain humans as objects” (Behar, 2016, p. 3). This approach emphasizes the importance of intersectionality, recognizing that objectification is experienced differently across various axes of identity.

Object-oriented ontology posits that the world consists exclusively of objects, rejecting the privilege traditionally accorded to human subjects. Harman’s notion that objects are fundamentally withdrawn and independent forms a crucial basis for OOF. However, OOF critiques OOO’s tendency to overlook the political and social dimensions of objecthood. By integrating feminist perspectives, OOF addresses the ways in which power, exploitation, and objectification intersect with the ontological status of objects.

Politics of Objecthood #

OOO, articulated by thinkers such as Graham Harman and Timothy Morton, posits that the world consists exclusively of objects and rejects the anthropocentric privileging of human subjects. Harman’s notion of “withdrawn” objects, which exist independently of human perception and interaction, forms a crucial basis for OOF, which also critiques OOO’s tendency to abstract objects from their socio-political contexts, emphasizing that such abstraction often perpetuates existing power structures and overlooks the lived experiences of marginalized groups. As Katherine Behar notes, “all too many humans are well aware of being objects, without finding cause to celebrate in that reality” (Behar, 2016, p. 5). By integrating feminist insights, OOF seeks to address these dimensions, advocating for a more inclusive and politically engaged approach to object-oriented thought.

OOF’s political dimension involves recognizing and addressing the ways in which objectification under patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism assigns certain groups to the status of objects. As Elizabeth Grosz notes, “object-oriented feminism shifts its operational agencies from a ‘politics of recognition,’ of standing out, to a politics of immersion, of being with” (Behar, 2016, p. 9). This shift challenges traditional feminist approaches that prioritize visibility and recognition, advocating instead for a deeper engagement with the material conditions of objectification.

OOF critiques OOO’s abstraction of objects from their socio-political contexts. As Marina Gržinić argues, “OOO and new materialism participate in an ahistorical (perhaps even dehistoricizing) project” that replicates the humanization of capital (Behar, 2016, p. 28). By addressing the political economy of objects, OOF seeks to avoid replicating the very structures it critiques. This involves recognizing the historical and material conditions that shape the existence and interactions of objects.

Gržinić argues that new materialism participates in an ahistorical project that replicates the humanization of capital (Behar, 2016, p. 28). This critique underscores the need for OOF to address the political economy of objects, considering how they are instrumentalized within global capitalism. In “Political Feminist Positioning in Neoliberal Global Capitalism,” Gržinić critiques the complicity of new materialism in neoliberal capitalism. She argues that OOF must address the political economy of objects to avoid replicating the very structures it seeks to critique (Behar, 2016, p. 201). This involves recognizing the ways in which objects are entangled in systems of exploitation and value extraction.

Erotics of Objecthood #

OOF employs humor and eroticism to explore the entanglements between objects. This approach aligns with the radical feminist laughter described by Irina Aristarkhova, who asserts that humor is a feat of thought increasingly difficult for theorists but achievable by artists (Behar, 2016, p. 14). By embracing the absurdity and contradictions inherent in object relations, OOF challenges the rigid boundaries between subject and object, human and nonhuman.

In “All Objects Are Deviant,” Timothy Morton explores the concept of “weird essentialism,” suggesting that all objects perform an internal deviant self-differing. This aligns with Luce Irigaray’s theories and offers a way to understand objects’ inherent deviance and intimacy (Behar, 2016, p. 65). Morton’s exploration of ecological intimacy and object relations contributes to OOF’s understanding of the complex, often contradictory nature of objects.

Ethics of Objecthood #

OOF refuses grand philosophical truth claims, instead advocating for a modest ethical position that embraces wrongness as a form of rightness. This is exemplified in Behar’s analysis of “cosmetic Botox,” which she argues provides an opportunity to radically objectify the self, suppressing faciality and the subject-oriented ethics associated with it (Behar, 2016, p. 17). This ethical stance challenges the pursuit of objective truth and embraces the messiness and contradictions of lived experience.

Elizabeth A. Povinelli, in “The World Is Flat and Other Super Weird Ideas,” critiques the flat ontology proposed by OOO, arguing that it fails to account for the hierarchical and power-laden relationships that characterize human and nonhuman interactions (Behar, 2016, p. 107). By highlighting the limitations of flat ontology, Povinelli underscores the need for a more nuanced and politically engaged approach to object-oriented thought.

New Materialisms #

OOF intersects with feminist new materialisms, which emphasize our common condition as matter to overcome anthropocentric distinctions. Patricia Clough highlights how recent work on bodies, science, and technology propels feminist theory to “open the study of bodies to bodies other than the human body” (Behar, 2016, p. 9). This perspective fosters alliances with nonhuman and inorganic entities, extending the ethic of care to the object world.

Jane Bennett’s concept of “vibrant matter” emphasizes the agency of things, independent of human influence. She describes the “thing-power” of objects to become vibrant entities with their own effectivity (Behar, 2016, p. 13). This perspective enriches OOF’s understanding of objects as active participants in the world, challenging the anthropocentric bias that often characterizes both feminist and philosophical discourses.

Dialogues with Key Thinkers #

Irina Aristarkhova #

In “A Feminist Object,” Irina Aristarkhova explores the complex relationship between subject and object, using a student’s video artwork as a case study. She questions the objectification of objects and its implications for feminist goals, highlighting the difficulty of identifying with objects while also moving beyond their utilitarian status (Behar, 2016, p. 39-40). Aristarkhova’s analysis underscores the ethical challenges of engaging with objects from a feminist perspective, emphasizing the need for a nuanced and critical approach.

Aristarkhova delves into Heidegger’s concept of “thingness” to distinguish between objects and things, arguing that the process of objectification strips things of their inherent value and relationality. She contends that feminist theory must grapple with this assaultive process to reclaim the agency and significance of objects. “Heidegger’s account of the ‘assaultive’ process of objectification by which things become objects” provides a critical framework for understanding the ethical stakes of object-oriented feminism (Behar, 2016, p. 39).

Timothy Morton #

In “All Objects Are Deviant: Feminism and Ecological Intimacy,” Morton explores the concept of “weird essentialism,” suggesting that all objects perform an internal deviant self-differing. This aligns with Luce Irigaray’s theories and offers a way to understand objects’ inherent deviance and intimacy (Behar, 2016, p. 65). Morton’s exploration of ecological intimacy and object relations contributes to OOF’s understanding of the complex, often contradictory nature of objects.

Morton argues that the withdrawal of objects makes them inherently deviant, constantly looping through other objects and themselves. This deviance challenges traditional ontological categories and invites a rethinking of object relations. “All objects perform an internal deviant self-differing, which he compares to Luce Irigaray’s theorization of woman’s divergence from phallocentric logic” (Behar, 2016, p. 65). This perspective enriches OOF’s engagement with the complexities of object-oriented thought.

Frenchy Lunning #

In “Allure and Abjection: The Possible Potential of Severed Qualities,” Lunning discusses the notion of allure as a way objects draw us in, while

abjection repels us. This dynamic interplay of attraction and repulsion reflects the complex nature of our relationship with objects (Behar, 2016, p. 83). Lunning’s analysis provides a nuanced understanding of how objects can simultaneously attract and repel, challenging simplistic notions of object relations.

Lunning explores how the female body, as both alluring and abject, complicates traditional notions of objecthood. She examines the fetishization of feminine objects in popular culture, arguing that this duality of allure and abjection reveals deeper insights into the politics of objectification. “Lunning uncovers a complex by which the abject menstrual body, covered over with signifiers of an alluring premenstrual body, is resexualized and compounded as abject again” (Behar, 2016, p. 83). This analysis underscores the need for a feminist critique of object relations that accounts for the complexities of attraction and repulsion.

Elizabeth A. Povinelli #

In “The World Is Flat and Other Super Weird Ideas,” Povinelli examines the flat ontology proposed by OOO, where all objects are on equal footing. She critiques this view from a feminist perspective, arguing that it fails to account for the hierarchical and power-laden relationships that characterize human and nonhuman interactions (Behar, 2016, p. 107). Povinelli’s critique highlights the limitations of flat ontology and underscores the need for a more nuanced and politically engaged approach to object-oriented thought.

Povinelli explores the material relations between social and nonlife communities of objects, arguing that the flatness proposed by OOO overlooks the complex power dynamics that shape these relations. “Flat ontology often ignores the social power accompanying certain objects, preventing encounters for subaltern objects” (Behar, 2016, p. 107). Her analysis calls for a rethinking of object-oriented thought that takes into account the socio-political contexts in which objects exist.

Katherine Behar #

In “Facing Necrophilia, or ‘Botox Ethics’,” Behar explores the ethics of self-objectification through cosmetic procedures. She argues that such practices provide an opportunity to radically objectify the self, challenging traditional notions of subjectivity and ethics (Behar, 2016, p. 123). Behar’s analysis of cosmetic Botox highlights the potential for self-objectification to subvert conventional ethical frameworks and create new possibilities for feminist praxis.

Behar contends that the elective deadening of the face through Botox can be seen as a form of radical self-objectification, which disrupts the subject-oriented ethics associated with faciality and liveness. “Cosmetic Botox, employed in elective deadening of the face, provides an opportunity to radically objectify the self, suppressing faciality, and with it the subject-oriented Levinasean ethics of faciality and liveness” (Behar, 2016, p. 123). This perspective challenges traditional ethical paradigms and invites a rethinking of self-objectification as a feminist practice.

Adam Zaretsky #

In “OOPS: Object-Oriented Psychopathia Sexualis,” Zaretsky delves into the intersection of object-oriented thought and sexual deviance. He provocatively suggests that understanding objects’ sexual agency can offer new insights into both objectification and liberation (Behar, 2016, p. 145). Zaretsky’s analysis challenges conventional notions of sexual agency and objectification, proposing a radical rethinking of these concepts from an object-oriented perspective.

Zaretsky explores the use of modifying technologies like the “gene gun” in transgenetic research and bioart, arguing that these practices produce new forms of objectification and sexual agency. “Using modifying technologies like the ‘gene gun,’ transgeneticists and bioartists often produce failed and partial forms that suggest disability studies could well inform object-oriented feminism alongside discourses of gender and postcoloniality” (Behar, 2016, p. 145). His analysis highlights the intersections between object-oriented thought, sexual deviance, and biopolitics.

Anne Pollock #

In “Queering Endocrine Disruption,” Pollock addresses the impact of endocrine disruptors on bodies and identities. She argues that recognizing the agency of these chemical objects can inform a queer feminist politics that challenges normative understandings of sex and gender (Behar, 2016, p. 183). Pollock’s analysis emphasizes the need for a feminist critique of endocrine disruption that accounts for the complex interactions between bodies, chemicals, and identities.

Pollock explores the queer potential of endocrine disruptors, suggesting that these chemical objects can disrupt normative sex and gender roles. “Endocrine disruption appears to cause queer traits and behaviors like same-sex partnering or intersex characteristics in wildlife” (Behar, 2016, p. 183). Her analysis calls for a rethinking of endocrine disruption from a queer feminist perspective, highlighting the potential for these chemical objects to challenge and transform normative understandings of sex and gender.

Marina Gržinić #

In “Political Feminist Positioning in Neoliberal Global Capitalism,” Gržinić critiques the complicity of new materialism in neoliberal capitalism. She argues that OOF must address the political economy of objects to avoid replicating the very structures it seeks to critique (Behar, 2016, p. 201). Gržinić’s analysis underscores the importance of addressing the material and economic conditions that shape object relations, emphasizing the need for a politically engaged feminist critique.

Gržinić contends that new materialism often overlooks the ways in which objects are instrumentalized within global capitalism. “New materialism replicates what she terms the ‘humanization of capital'” (Behar, 2016, p. 201). Her critique calls for a rethinking of object-oriented thought that takes into account the political and economic dimensions of objectification, highlighting the need for a more critical and politically engaged approach.

Karen Gregory #

In “In the Cards: From Hearing ‘Things’ to Human Capital,” Gregory examines how objects, particularly digital ones, are implicated in contemporary forms of labor and exploitation. She highlights the need for a feminist critique of the ways objects are used to extract value from human and nonhuman actors (Behar, 2016, p. 225). Gregory’s analysis underscores the intersections between object-oriented thought, digital labor, and exploitation, emphasizing the need for a politically engaged feminist critique.

Gregory explores the role of Tarot cards in contemporary forms of labor and value extraction, arguing that these objects compel humans to engage in affective work. “The cards’ agency and communicative liveliness is foregrounded, contrasting the passive stance of the human reader, listening meditatively for messages from the cards” (Behar, 2016, p. 225). Her analysis highlights the ways in which objects are used to extract value from human labor, calling for a rethinking of object relations from a feminist perspective.

R. Joshua Scannell #

In “Both a Cyborg and a Goddess: Deep Managerial Time and Informatic Governance,” Scannell explores the intersection of cyberfeminism and OOF. He argues that understanding objects as both cyborgs and goddesses can inform a feminist critique of surveillance and governance in the digital age (Behar, 2016, p. 247). Scannell’s analysis underscores the potential for cyberfeminism to engage with object-oriented thought, highlighting the need for a politically engaged feminist critique of digital governance.

Scannell explores the implications of viewing objects as both cyborgs and goddesses, suggesting that this dual perspective can inform a feminist critique of digital surveillance and governance. “Understanding objects as both cyborgs and goddesses can inform a feminist critique of surveillance and governance in the digital age” (Behar, 2016, p. 247). His analysis highlights the intersections between cyberfeminism, object-oriented thought, and digital governance, emphasizing the need for a politically engaged approach.

References #

Behar, Katherine, editor. Object-Oriented Feminism. University of Minnesota Press, 2016.