Mar 27, 2011 Editorial
Yesterday, during the World Cup cricket match there were some ads by a car-parts company that featured a number of young women draping and otherwise provocatively exhibiting themselves in the skimpiest of short pants. There was not even the slightest pretence of creating a nexus between the product and the models that were being used (and there is no other words for the practice) to sell the cars and car parts.
It was a most cynical example of exploiting the female body to sell a product by pandering to the baser instincts of males, who are known to be in the majority when it comes to viewing sporting events.
The instance cited above is not an isolated one and in fact is a growing phenomenon: not just using the female body to sell products but specific parts of that body – primarily the ones that provoke a sexual response in males. We have seen these ads in one for a particular beer that is seeking increased market share in Guyana.
The female form is in this fashion made into objects of sexual gratification: the ads are very suggestive – buy the product and you will (not may) possess the female.
In one study (by Donnerstein and Linz) it was demonstrated that “exposure to media depicting women in degrading and subordinate situations, even if not explicitly sexual or violent in nature, will lead to increased violent behaviour of men against women in society.”
Over the last few years we have had several organisations, including the government, attempting to sensitize the public about the extraordinary level of violence that is being inflicted on the females of our society. But it would appear that no one has attempted to connect the imperatives of that violence to the dominant images of our women folk in the media – especially TV – as mere vehicles for the titillation and satisfaction of male fantasies.
But the objectification of women also acts insidiously on women. They begin to internalise the standards of beauty, modes of dress and behaviour etc. depicted on the TV and eventually often self-objectify i.e. they see their bodies as objects that exist for the pleasure of others.
It is not a far stretch for some of them to accept abuse if the ones that they are supposed to “pleasure” claim dissatisfaction. Then again there are the standards of beauty that are established as necessary for capturing the attention (read “love”) of their significant others – no matter how far fetched and extreme.
So women end up starving themselves, straightening/crinkling/relaxing their hair, inserting implants into their breasts, and lipo-suctioning their hips etc. And hating their own bodies.
MS. magazine identifies this dangerous trend: “A steady diet of exploitative, sexually provocative depictions of women feeds a poisonous trend in women’s and girl’s perceptions of their bodies, one that has recently been recognised by social scientists as self-objectification — viewing one’s body as a sex object to be consumed by the male gaze.
Like W.E.B. DuBois’s famous description of the experience of black Americans, self-objectification is a state of “double consciousness … a sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.”
Numerous studies since then have shown that girls and women that self-objectify are more prone to depression and low self-esteem and have less faith in their own capabilities. This can lead to diminished success in life. They are more likely to engage in “habitual body monitoring” — constantly thinking about how their bodies appear to the outside world — which puts them at higher risk for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
While we are very leery about any moves that smacks of censorship we are yet convinced that the present trend in the objectification of the female body in our advertising is not one that we can afford to continue. The best compromise to avert governmental or bureaucratic intervention is for the advertising fraternity in consultation with our local female-oriented groups to establish guidelines in this crucial area.
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