Friday May 4, 2012
This morning I received an email from a male friend, who had some interesting thoughts and questions surrounding the acceptance of sexualisation against women. He wrote to me saying,
“It’s like people don’t have time to be shocked anymore. As soon as someone oversteps the boundaries of what is acceptable it’s already main stream. The problem is you can only push boundaries so far, then what happens? We have lost sight of what it means to be a gentleman or lady. With each new generation they think that this type of sexist and violent behaviour is normal because that’s all they have seen.
I found it strange that more women weren’t supportive of your friends anti porn campaign. I’ve found that there is huge percentage of girls that love bad boys (not a new concept, just look at the fonz in happy days) but anyway, maybe there are girls/women that turn a blind eye because they think being a bad girl will make them more ‘attractive’ to bad boys. Its just a theory, I’m certainly not saying I understand the inner workings of the female mind, far from it, haha.”
My friend is not alone in his observations, and he certainly raises some worrying issues. Our young women today are so bombarded with false images of what ‘being sexy’ really is that they are believing the lie that it’s normal to use the objectification of women to sell products.
With the bombardment of sexualised images presented to us daily, through media and social attitudes, is it any wonder that we have become so complacent?
Is it any wonder more and more of us feel we simply can’t do anything about it?
And more to the point, when we do speak up, we are so often attacked. Men and women label us as ‘old hags’, ‘feminists’, ‘bitches’, ‘sluts’ and ‘whiners’, or people who are making a ‘storm out of a teacup’.
Sadly people feel they have a right to attack anyone who speaks out about social justice issues, especially if it threatens their own personal attitude beliefs. I feel that this is because we as a society have failed to speak up sooner.
I believe that there are two main issues contributing to the rise in women turning ‘a blind eye’, as my friend noted, to sexual objectification.
- The rise in sexualised media has desensitised women and men toward highly sexualised imagery
- The direct consequence of this is that women are believing the lies portrayed to them by the media
Billboards, music, films, retail stores, supermarkets, television advertisments, newspapers, magazines, clothing….Sex is everywhere and it’s very difficult to escape. You can no longer say, ‘Just teach your kids not to look at porn,’ or ‘Turn the tv off if you don’t like it’. In today’s world, no matter what you do, it is guaranteed that sexualised imagery will find your kids even if they are not looking for it.
We know this particularly in regards to pornography, with producers creating entire genre’s of porn dedicated to children’s cartoon characters such as Dora the Explora, Atomic Betty and Dorothy the Dinosaur. Public speaker and Collective Shout founder Melinda Tankard Reist has found that pornographers have studied the typo mistakes children make when looking up their favourite cartoon characters online, and they use this to re-route kids directly to the cartoon porn websites.
If you think this is far-fetched, I can tell you from personal experience it is not. At the age of 14, myself and a girlfriend were looking up Pokemon pictures online, when up popped cartoon porn images of the main female character Misty, pulling her little yellow crop top and denim jeans aside to reveal her breasts, and… well…you can gather what else.
Research has very clearly shown that by the age of 15, a large percentage of teens will have stumbled across pornography. In 1999, Yankelovich Partners (In Covenant Eyes: The Standard of Internet Integrity, n.d) , a leader in generational marketing, concluded:
- 31% of kids age 10-17 from households with computers (and 24% of all children aged 10 to 17) said they had seen a pornographic web site.
- 91% of the first exposure by a teen to pornography was during benign activities such as research for school projects or surfing the Web for other information.
In 2001, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered among all online youth ages 15-17:
- 70% say they have accidentally stumbled across pornography online.
- 9% say this happens very often.
- 14% somewhat often.
- and 47% not too often.
Is it any wonder, that women (and young men) are becoming desensitised to the harms of pornography and sexualised imagery, when it is all they see from a young age. The more we see of these images on a daily basis the less shocking they become; meaning we become more accepting and less likely to speak out.
Women are constantly told, one way or another, that seductiveness, their looks, their bodies, are what is most important. We are told through media that we need to be alluring and seductive to men, to be cool and accepting of what they want, and to be anything other than, god forbid, a ‘boring’ good girl. For example, look at our own Jessica Mauboy who was shipped off to America for a musical makeover with none other than Snoop dogg (who has SO much respect for women *sarcasm*). We’ve seen the same thing happen with Britney, Christina and so many other pop stars.
Seems they were too sweet before.
The introduction of the ‘LFL’ (Lingerie Football League) to Australia is a perfect example of how bad we have let society become. To ask young female athletes to dress in their lingerie and sign contracts dismissing their rights to personal safety in exchange for the ‘reward’ of playing at a national level in front of thousands of screaming fans (more like Neanderthal drooling males) says a lot about how women are viewed in society.
Women may have gotten out of the proverbial kitchen and become successful in the career world, but in so many ways we are still bound.
The overload of pornographic themed merchandise sold in stores such as City Beach is a perfect example of modern day slavery. What better way to put a woman ‘in her place’ than to immortalise her image on a t-shirt, half naked, bound and gagged, splattered in blood with the words ‘relax, it’s just sex’ scrawled across the fabric. Or how about a pair of thongs with a close up of a woman’s boobs and torso? Looks to me like just another way of making the statement (literally) that men can walk all over women, and confine us to a social stereotype of existing only to please men’s desires.
These products show us as being nothing other than tattooed, walking D cup’s with pinched in anorexic waists, and a snarly ‘money shot’ expression etched on our faces. Women are never allowed to look happy, free spirited, interesting or intelligent in these designs.
Hell, a lot of the time the woman’s face isn’t even in the shot! Her breasts, ass and crotch are the only points of interest.
If you have ever watched shows like, ‘Home and Away’, you can see everything that I’ve just spoken about rolled into the one show. In particular, you would have noticed (as my friend has) the concept of the ‘bad boy’ as a prominent feature.
For anyone who has watched channel 7 over the last year, you would have noticed Home and Away’s constant advertising of the ‘bad boys in town’, the Braxtons. Throughout the last year we have followed the storyline of the Braxtons, which saw the usually strong female character ‘Charlie’ fall for one of the Braxton boys, throw away her career as a police seargent, tossing aside all her values and morals, breaking her friendships with family and friends, and ultimately losing her own life. And why? Because this man was just too sexually attractive and alluring for her to walk away from.
This is not a one off event. Below is a summary of some of the Home and Away storylines over the last year concerning these ‘bad boys’.
- Summer bay High School Teacher Bianca falls for ‘bad boy’ Heath Braxton. Heath is the epitome of everything we don’t want in a man – a liar, cheater, drug dealer, a ‘boy’ of a man who spends his days getting into fights, surfing, treating women as sex objects, and occassionally spending some time with his daughter (which he does whilst wearing pornographic city beach tshirts). Bianca knows deep down he is not relationship material, yet she continues to struggle with her sexual attraction for him despite having a loving and supporting partner already. She sleeps with him and ends up falling pregnant, destroying her current relationship and in general putting herself through a whole heap of stress and heartache that could have been avoided.
- Bianca’s little sister April also falls for Heath, dumping her sweet and caring boyfriend, and turning to the walking STD that is ‘Heath Braxton’. Despite being the top of her class with plans for studying Medicine, the usually bright April chooses to pursue a man who is only interested in her for her ability to satisfy his sexual desires. Putting aside her dreams of studying Medicine, she makes Heath her project, choosing to stay with him because she believes that he will change. Eventually, as we all expected, she gets her heart broken.
- Summer bay High teacher ‘Henri’ ALSO falls for Heath, AND his Brax’s younger brother Casey. While Casey is generally regarded as the ‘good one in the family’, we watch as Henri struggles with ‘insatiable’ feelings for Casey, eventually losing her job due to her involvement with a student.
It is as if we are constantly told that these bad boys, despite all of their flaws, are worth pursuing, worth ‘trying to fix’, worth all of our heartache, worth losing our jobs and LIVES over. And why? Because the drama of being kept on our toes is supposedly worth more than being in a supportive, loving, respectful, ‘boring’ relationship.
Similarly these sorts of shows tell us that being a bad girl is better than being intelligent, humble, generous or any other quality that a woman should aspire to.
Melinda Tankard Reist has spoken about how in today’s society, there has been a sharp decline in the number of females aspiring toward careers such as teachers, doctors, or nurses. Instead, she says young girls are expressing that they want to be ‘playboy bunnies’ and ‘strippers’ when they grow up. When we look at the imagery girls are presented with on a daily basis, is this really that surprising? Just look at the following stats:
- A study of prime time television programs by Grauerholz and King (1997) reported that 84% of the 81 programs they analysed contained at least one incident of sexual harassment, and approximately 78% of the this harassment focused on demeaning terms for women or on the sexualisation of their bodies (In APA Taskforce Report on the Sexualisation of Girls, 2007)
- ”Youth Media is a place where young women . . . must consume and beautify themselves to achieve an almost impossible physical beauty ideal. And, it is a place where sexuality is both a means and an objective, where the pursuit of males is almost the sole focus of life. In fact, the objective of attracting males is the only objective presented—it is an unquestioned ‘good’”.– Duffy and Gotcher (In APA Taskforce Report on the Sexualisation of Girls, 2007)
So what can we do? Even when we are brave enough to speak out we are immediately bombarded with insults and abuse labelling us as ‘feminist nazi’s’ or jealous old hags, or told that we are making a big deal out of nothing.
When discussing the objectification of women, it’s amazing the arguments that men (and now even women!) come up with to ‘justify’ the objectification of women. Men love to try and draw comparisons between sexual images of women and men in speedo’s, or ‘male model calendars’ to try and justify that we are all in the same boat.
Without a doubt men are sexualised in the media. Just think of David Beckham’s underwear ads. There are of course, some very big differences between men and women’s advertising though. Firstly, women are used far more frequently to sell products than men, and secondly, it seems that men fail to realise that we don’t fantasize over them in quite the same way that they do over us. I think I can confidently say that it is far less likely that a woman would sit down with a Cleo mag or a ‘sexy firefighter calendar’ and masturbate over the half-naked or naked bodies in there than would a man if presented with a copy of ‘Zoo Weekly’ or ‘FHM’.
“What I am realising is that many men who make these arguments think that we look at male sportsmen the way they look at women. Surely we are hoping to get a closer look at the bulge in a sportsman’s shorts/bathers/wrestling attire? Surely the skin shown by a male wrestler has the equivalent effect of women dressed in lingerie with garter and suspender belts? We don’t see promotions for True Fantasy Diving. Or True Fantasy Wrestling (as we do for ‘True Fantasy Football (LFL) – Melinda Tankard Reist.
Another frequent justification I hear from men is, ‘It’s a woman’s choice’ to be a porn star, act provocatively or pose for men’s magazines. The argument shouldn’t be about whether or not it is their choice. Of course it is. But just because somebody has chosen a certain lifestyle doesn’t mean it has to be imposed on the rest of us. The issue is, do we want our children and future children to be exposed to these sort of social attitudes and images on a daily basis, or do we want a society where women (and men) are praised for our strengths, talent, intelligence AND beauty. Why is it that we can ONLY be presented as sexually attractive, and not also intelligent? It’s the norm rather than the exception for women to be sexually objectified, and that is not okay with me.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is fed up and tired of the objectification of my gender being thrust in my face on a daily basis. I’m not the only one who is sick of the hate speech against women being paraded around on clothing, billboards, television and magazines.
It’s time to reclaim innocence. It’s time to reclaim respect for our gender. It’s time to reclaim the feelings of anger and shock.
Without them, we are destined to shut off our senses, leaving our future children to grow up in a world where a woman’s self-worth is simply derived through plastic surgery, some makeup, lingerie and Photoshop rather than intelligence, a university degree, or her compassion and strength.
Although it can feel overwhelming, I believe that we can fight against the sexism that runs rampant in our society. I also believe that working hard for our future generations to change our current social attitudes, is one of the most rewarding things we can do. I feel encouraged by grassroots organisations such as Collective Shout who name and shame advertisers using women as sexual objects, and give consumers a place in which they can talk with others and take matters into their own hands to make changes. It’s also important for young women and men to develop the skills to culturally critique advertising if we are to have hope for the future. For example, when a young girl can critically look at an image or product and understand the marketing objectives behind it, rather than consuming it as a ‘truth’, she has a far better chance of making positive self-evaluations of herself and her body image.
When you open your eyes to the images and products around you, and choose to become active rather than passive you can be a powerful weapon against poor social attitudes.