I was reminded recently that it had been twenty years since the murder of Tejano singer Selena by the person who had been in charge of her fan club. Like most fans of pop music, I was not familiar with her work in Tejano music, but later that year, as a teenager inclined to appreciate romantic songs full of passionate longing (a proclivity that remains), I remember her songs from time to time, and sing them to myself. “I Could Fall In Love” and “Dreaming Of You” remain enduringly popular romantic songs to this day. Although Selena is not remembered by many people, unless they are familiar with the best acting of Jennifer Lopez’s career in the Selena biopic, her music is remembered, and so people know her by the words she sang so beautifully. And that is as it should be—she is remembered for her works, not merely famous for being famous, or being famous because of what someone else said or did.
One of the main themes of “I Could Fall In Love With You” is the tension between Selena’s romantic longing and her concern about being taken advantage of. This is a real concern, to be viewed not as a person with whom one wishes to spend time with and get to know and fall in love with and build an enduring marriage and family with, but merely as a sexual object to be possessed until no longer of interest, and then tossed aside unceremoniously like yesterday’s garbage. It should be noted, as it may not always be obvious, that this desire to be loved for who we are is a universal one. Whether we are old or young, male or female, rich or poor, attractive or plain or even homely, we desire to be loved and respected as human beings for who we are, not merely for what we are. Even though Selena as a woman who made full use of her attractiveness and put it on full display as a musician, she still wanted to be seen for the person she was, and not merely for her attractiveness or desirability.
Recently, I was looking up information about the far more obscure woman with the birth name of Honora Sneyd. She grew up a poor English girl from a family with too many mouths to feed, and was raised as the foster child of a progressive family, where she acquired a possessive foster sister whose poetry forms part of the lesbian literary canon and who wrote love poetry about her. What Honora’s feelings were about the matter is impossible to say, as her own words have not endured, but given that she had an engagement at seventeen with a man (John Andrè, who later was executed as a spy during the American Revolution while serving as a British officer) rejected on account of not being wealthy enough as a Swiss merchant’s son, rejected another man’s suit because she did not feel he respected her enough, and eventually married an inventive widower with a young daughter, it is clear she was interested in men and a person of her own thoughts and excellence.
There is a deep irony in the fact that Honora is known, where she is known at all, as an object of perhaps unwanted romantic interest rather than as a person in her own right. One of the most pointed criticisms of men that is made by the same sort of people that hail Honora’s foster sister as an exemplar of womanhood is that men relentlessly objectivity women. Yet when a female poet objectifies another woman, is not the same violence done to a woman as being objectified by the man? What is the real offense? If it is wrong to see someone as merely an object, regardless of what quality is objectified (be it attractiveness, or intelligence, or wealth, or anything else), then it is wrong for anyone to objectify and for anyone to be objectified. It becomes a moral absolute that people must be respected and viewed as people, not for the purposes we have for them or for the qualities they have that we desire to possess? This is a position I would respect; in fact, it is one I hold. If, however, it is only wrong for men to objectify women, and that women can objectify whomever they will, or that men can be objectified with impunity, then we are not dealing with moral absolutes, but merely a question of hypocrisy and double standards, where everyone is to look out for their own interests. If that is the case, then feminists in the guise of experts in women’s studies are as sexist as the worst sort of sexist pigs they criticize, all the more because they condemn objectification as a moral wrong when they practice it themselves, and praise its practice against other women so long as it is done by women. That is the worst sort of hypocrisy, unworthy of any respect.
I would not wish for anyone to be remembered merely because I wrote about them. The people whom I care about, who I am concerned about, whom I love, are people I love for their own thoughts, their own feelings, their own character, their own personality and attributes, and my words about them, however rich and profound, are merely a two-dimensional representation of complex and worthy people whose own words and whose own stories are worth telling in their own words. I speak because I can, because for my own compulsions I feel it necessary to fight against the enveloping silence, to wrestle with my own demons, to leave some record of my life so that I may not be consigned to oblivion, to bridge the gulf from my own little island to the wider world around that I may not be isolated and obscure and unknown forever. These are among my own reasons for casting my words out. None of those reasons are a desire to be the person who defines who someone else is, as that would be a gross act of violence. To be sure, I have not always appreciated the words others have written about me or said about me , but they are responsible for their words just as I am responsible for my own, a responsibility that rests heavily and unhappily on me. After all, those of us who rebel the most against being objectified, or that struggle with the burdens of the horrors of exploitation, ought to be the most careful not to objectify or exploit others. Only by being more honorable and decent in our own conduct than those who have sinned against us do we decisively overcome the libels of their own objectification.
 See, for example: