While much of this particular wiki definition is in dispute (surprise), I think the opening paragraph is pretty to-the-point:
Sexual objectification is objectification of a sexual partner, that is, seeing them as a sexual object, and their sexual attributes, without due recognition or respect for their existence as a living person with emotions and feelings of their own. Typically it involves disregarding personal abilities and capabilities such as intelligence and problem solving skills, and viewing them in terms solely of attributes relevant to a role as sexual plaything, such as physical attractiveness, submissiveness and gullibility.
As such, in theory, one supposes, that definition could be applied to any gender configuration. It could be, it should be (I would argue)...but, generally speaking, it isn't. Because, many argue, and with good reason (it seems to me), in this our patriarchal (among other things) culture, the subject is male; the object is female. And so, when people talk about sexual objectification, generally they are talking about the objectification of women, for and by men. Men look (gaze); women are looked at. Men act; women are acted upon. Men penetrate; women are penetrated. Men violate; women are violated. Subject: object. Objectification, sexual.
This construct can be and often is expanded upon to encompass other "primary" forms of objectification, sociopolitically speaking. For example: whites colonize/invade; the racial "other" is colonized/invaded.
So then why the emphasis on the sexual part of the objectification, per se?
From Earlbecke of Melted Dreams:
So not all objectification is sexual. None of it is good, beneficial, or in any way desirable. I am a person, not an object. I take particular exception, however, to being made into a sexual object. My sexuality — the firing of neurons in my brain, the combination of feelings and sensations moving along my nerves, my body, my breasts, my vulva — does not exist for the pleasure of anyone but me. This is not to say that I’m selfish, that I would take pleasure from another while denying them pleasure from my body, my sex — it is to say that if I find it pleasurable to give pleasure to a particular person, that is my business. It is nothing that can be taken without my express will, my explicit consent. My body does not exist specifically for the visual or physical stimulation of others, especially those to whom I do not give permission to use me in this way.
“Don’t we all like to be objectified sometimes?”
No. I don’t. I don’t enjoy being made into a passive object to be manipulated. I don’t enjoy being made into something less-than-human. I don’t enjoy being ignored and overlooked as the individual that I am and instead made into something else against my own will.
Do I enjoy being found attractive? Yes, of course. Everyone does. But too often these two phenomona are conflated and confused...
What earlbecke is touching on here is what's been at the root of the "sex wars" as well as, arguably, much of what's at the heart of all of feminism.
"My body belongs to me."
(Your body belongs to you. Her body belongs to her. His body...)
I'm going to tweak this a bit now and suggest the following:
When people say that someone or something is "objectifying," with a negative connotation, what they generally mean is that it's invasive. That is to say: penetrating someone else's boundaries, not necessarily in a concretely identifiable physical way--more on that in just a moment--against the someone else's wishes.
(ok, I'm already seeing a potential objection to this; is "objectification" in the sense of casual dismissal of a service worker or what have you as a pair of hands, an ear, what have you, invasive per se? or is the problem more the refusal to see the person as a person, all by itself? that is, something that's a necessary prerequistite to invasion, but without necesesarily being invasive of itself? well, for now at least):
In other words, we're back to boundaries.
...boundaries have a fundamental place in life itself. Look around you, and you will see that every living creature has its own territory in which it lives and that it defends against intrusion. Boundaries are so fundamental that even criminals who thrive on violating the integrity of others have their own internal code of ethics, their own “boundaries.”
"We all have boundaries. Our original ones are our skins."
Our original boundaries are our skins.
The reason that rape is such a fundamental, hideous violation, even putting aside (as much as one can) all preconceived tropes about gender, the male, the female, the phallus...is that it is an unwanted penetration of that original boundary: the skin. Into the tender unprotected parts of the Self. Into one's very being, physically.
And with that physical, unwanted invasion comes a whole host of other, more ineffable, but no less pernicious invasions. The physical wounds can at least be fairly easily identified and treated, for the most part; the tearings of the psyche, the soul, even, are much harder to quantify or even pin down. Because, unlike the physical wounds, which can be observed by an outside, "objective" eye, those wounds are, by and large, subjective. No one can really know what's going on inside of you but you.
I would argue that there is no such thing as a physical invasion/rape/violation that does not also, inevitably, bring with it an equally, if not worse, tearing of the soul (psyche, whatever term you prefer).
Ah, but. Is the reverse true? That is, if there is no physical invasion, does it therefore follow that there has been no harm done? no invasiveness?
I think (I hope) it's pretty safe to say that most if not all feminists, whichever side of the "sex wars" they fall on, would respond to this with "hell, no, of course that doesn't follow." That is: hey, just look at what earlbecke was talking about; she's talking about street harassment, for example. No one necessarily gets physically touched, there, right? But there's still a problem, isn't there?
Okay, so, but, now what? How exactly do you identify the problem, if it's not through "objectively" observable physical signs or behaviors?
You know, one of the reasons I like earlbecke's piece so much is that she puts so much emphasis on consent, as opposed to any particular act itself. She notes that
Powerlessness as a fantasy or a kink is not the same as actual powerlessness, as actual slavery and bondage.
for instance. This has been one of the sticking points within the "sex wars," of course, whether BDSM, the erotic fantasy role-playing game(s), is problematic (from a feminist perspective) of itself. Another one, which isn't nearly as hot these days, was the whether penetration itself was problematic, of itself. (No, Dworkin did not actually say "All intercourse is rape;" but I think it's fair to say that it's not just her detractors who ever picked up on the idea that PIV intercourse and/or penetration is a/the problem, of itself). And even now, all over the internets, back and forth, on and on, I still see it: are high heels a tool of the patriarchy? Is it inherently feminist to wear a corset, or to create and/or publish pictures and videos of oneself and/or other consenting adults, being sexually explicit, or to deliver (or receive) an erotic spanking?
Well...according to whom?
Hence the problem.
Because, even more so (arguably) than in other sociopolitical thrashes, when it comes to that sort of shit, for the most part, we're talking about highly subjective experiences. Feelings. Desires. Internal states. "I do such-and-so because I like it" is sometimes dismissed as not sufficient to counter serious feminist critique of the historical meaning and uses of such-and-so; "because I like it," the suggestion goes, is not enough.
But if "because I like it/want it" isn't sufficient to justify one's choices for oneself, then how can you successfully argue that "because I don't like/want it" is sufficient to define rape, or any other abuse?
Because, if the real, the only question does not in fact come down to the individual's consent, to taking the woman's word for it when she says she does or does not want such and so ... then, inevitably, it becomes necessary to reify (told you we'd come back to it) certain acts, certain articles of clothing, certain positions, certain words. One could reify, for example, the act of giving a flogging, or anal penetration. Now, it's not a question of whether the person has consented to the flogging or the penetration (i.e. her desires, her internal state); now it's more concretely about the flogging or the penetration, itself.
Further, when one declares such-and-so "not feminist," (as opposed to, "I find this problematic,") one claims for oneself, if implicitly, the objective point of view; now, the participants' subjective desires give way before the objective meaning of the act, as defined by the speaker/voice of authority.
(One of the other reasons I like earlbecke's piece so much: the use of "I" statements).
And once people start getting into that territory, there's a very real danger of objectifying actual women (and others) all over again. No, probably not through forcible physical penetration. Perhaps not in any way overtly relating to sexuality at all. But there are other ways of being invasive.