Why normalizing ’Sexual Objectification' is dangerous
What does Sexual Objectification mean?
Sexual objectification is the act of treating a person as a mere object of sexual desire- one that serves another’s sexual pleasure.
When did the term originate?
The phrase “sexual objectification” has been around since the 1970s. Women have been objectified for as long as women have been used for men's sexual pleasure. If earlier it meant strip tease shows, brothels, and pornographic art, today, it is rampant in our mainstream pop-culture.
How do you know if someone is sexually objectified or not?
A classic question that you can ask is:
Sometimes sexual objectification does not need an image…words more than suffice.
.@NandosIndia disgusting, disappointing, disturbing, absolute rubbish# u need sensible marketers @unwomenindia pic.twitter.com/TL8VtKUXQM— Nishtha Satyam (@SatyamNishtha) March 26, 2016
There are several ways women are objectified in ads. Read this article to find out more.
Normalizing sexual objectification
Watch this funny video to understand the extents we go to sell a product.
This video perfectly portrays what I am talking about. Not only do we objectify women everyday...by not saying anything and consuming such content, we normalize it.
In her thesis for Doctor of Philosophy, Ms. Madhusmita Das analysed 268 advertisements and corroborated the findings with the perceptions of people by surveying 500 respondents to understand the ‘Portrayal of Women in Indian Television Advertisements’. The study found that women in Indian TV advertisements are mostly portrayed in decorative and family role, and rarely as working and free wheeler (Where the decorative role of woman in advertisements refers to the portrayal of women as concern for physical beauty and as sex object and freewheeler as independent decision maker).
We see it in our movies, our TV shows and our web-series. The only place where we see a few real people and character thankfully are in our short films. What does that mean? That everything that’s commercial needs a sex element to sell it?
We have all seen these underwear ads. The man has washboard abs and lip marks all over his body. This ad actually objectifies both men and women. The underlining (pun not intended) idea here is that men who are strong, well-groomed and have a good physique attract women whose job is to then shower the men with attention.
The effects of sexual objectification
Our images, ads, movies etc. make people feel that their job is to ‘be wanted’.
The ‘six—pack’ objectification of men results in men wanting to spend too much time in the gym or driving for perfection. It drives many men to consume steroids or body enhancement drugs. Little do they know that unsupervised consumption of such drugs could be fatal. Often in films, if you see an unfit guy, he will play the role of the hero’s friend and is usually funny. The message to men: if you are not good-looking, you better be funny!
While men are objectified, the extent of it is limited. Also, as we saw in the above ad, the power-play between men and women still tends to be intact with the man shown as the more dominant one.
The effect of sexual objectification on women on the other hand, has more far-reaching impact. The need to be viewed as sexual objects creates tremendous pressure. In case one does not measure up to the impossible standards set out by these ads…then it negatively affects your self-worth. This leads to several issues:
a) Mental health issues
b) Eating disorders
c) Sexual dysfunctioning
Read about what NYU Steinhardt Department of Applied Psychology has to say on the effects of sexual objectification on the victim.
The link between sexual objectification and violence
An extensive and terrifying study published in Archives Of Sexual Behavior in 2016 points out how this link tends to work. According to the scientists behind it,
"the more men are exposed to objectifying depictions, the more they will think of women as entities that exist for men's sexual gratification (specific sexual scripting), and that this dehumanized perspective on women may then be used to inform attitudes regarding sexual violence against women (abstract sexual scripting)."
It is this sense of entitlement that men feel, that leads to sexual assault and rapes.
Women who play provocative characters in films or any other form of entertainment suffer from the negative aspects of objectification in their real lives as well.
Recently Hindi Film actress, Vidya Balan revealed that- “Once an Army official came in front of her while I was standing at a station and he was staring at my breasts continuously which made her feel very uncomfortable.”
What followed next will shock you. Army officer named Rahul Sangwan created a video to respond to Vidya Balan’s statement in a poetic manner. The Army Jawan gave an argument that rather than tarnishing the entire defense forces, the actor could have chosen to ignore the man who stared at her. He references her role in Dirty Picture in order to imply that sexual harassment more as a result of female provocation and less as male aggression.
You cannot negate sexual objectification by arguing the right and freedom for women to wear what they want
When PETA India ran the above ad, with the ex-porn start lying alluringly on a bed of chillies to encourage the public to stop eating meat. (in line with their international campaigns which are also equally provocative), Sowmya Rajendran from TheNewsMinute wrote an article: ‘PETA India’s Sunny Leone ad: Is it ok to objectify women to save animals?’
PETA India CEO Poorva Joshipura wrote a rejoinder to her article. I have placed an extract of it below:
As a woman who, like Leone, has used both her mind and her body to campaign for animal rights, I have to say that I find it offensive that Rajendran is essentially dictating what another woman must wear, what she should do with her body, and, now, how she should engage in a social justice campaign. Rajendran's tut-tutting is reminiscent of a father forbidding his daughter from wearing a skirt, and from going out alone, while he decides whom she would marry.
Sowmya wrote back and defended her stand by saying:
One can never talk about the objectification of the female body in any media if we’re going to equate this with someone dictating a woman’s choice of dress. The women we see in films and advertisements are performing with their full consent but that doesn’t mean that there is no objectification involved in these representations and that they cannot be subjected to feminist critique. Or that the companies and organisations who run these campaigns cannot be questioned.
To conclude, sexual objectification is a dangerous element of our society and I am not being dramatic when I say that it is poisoning people’s minds. When men or women are depicted in all mediums as objects of desire whose aim is ‘being wanted’, the pressure to match up with the impossible standards of physical appeal is incredible. On the other hand, glorifying man’s entitlement is normalizing rape as well. High-time we stop normalizing sexual objectification.