Thursday, June 6, 2013

So What?

Quite some time ago, this photo was making the rounds on the Internet:

While definitely humorous, it also serves as a fantastic conversation piece. What if male superheroes did pose like the female superheroes? What if male models and female models posed the same? 

(Warning. That link is a bit racy. Funny that it is supposed to be selling clothes, hmm?)

We are seeing the blatant differences in how men and women are treated in advertising on a daily basis. Last month’s Abercombie stir seems to pale in comparison to the objectification going on over at American Apparel.

So what?

Someone points out the disturbing double standard, the media runs with it, bloggers take sides and rip it apart, memes are created and everyone is up in a frenzy over the injustice or hurriedly trying to defend it. Then what? What happens next?

Sometimes, I really, truly love a good excuse to rant. It feels empowering to get revved up and write up a great post about something infuriating as this, but what good does the outrage do if it is not followed with action?

Boycotts are popular, because money talks. The truth is though, that if sex didn’t sell, these companies would not be making money hand over fist. We have started selling the images of women as sexual objects to our children. It starts young and it is a powerful, omnipresent message. In the past, I have written about the lengths I go to in order to avoid certain styles of clothing for my children and I have had to do this basically since birth. I have seen baby announcements that tell the world to “Lock up their daughters!” I have had to sort through piles of infant clothing that wanted my son to be a Casanova and my daughter to wear a string bikini. When I pulled out the summer clothing and spent some time getting the correct sizes out for everyone a few weeks ago, I noticed that the 2T shorts my son wore had double the inseam of the 2T shorts marketed to girls. Seriously? These are kids that play and jump and run and like to move.

As puberty sets in, things only get worse. Advertising, magazines and the general theme that there is only one way to be pretty, makes it more difficult to find comfortable and fashionable clothing. How does a parent’s voice win out in a sea of sex appeal?

There are companies out there that do better. There are campaigns and strong voices that speak out against the objectification of women.  As parents and as women, we must be thorough in our approach. It is not just a matter of talking to our daughters, but our sons as well. Our children must be thoroughly convinced that they are people of value that exceeds any momentary sex appeal an item of clothing does or does not give them. Our daughters must be aware of all that makes them amazing, and our sons must be aware of what makes them amazing as well. Rape culture, the over-sexualization of our girls, and the violence and dominance thrust onto our boys can be overcome but it must be tackled from multiple angles. An end to rape culture must be fought for at home. We must teach our children how to fight against it by respecting one another.  (It must be fought for in the legal system as well, so that this does not continue to happen.)

When you create a culture that treats any group of people as second class citizens, you have ethical dilemmas and injustice such as the Texas decision. When sex is a commodity, and women are there for the sexual pleasure of men and BLAMED FOR THEIR OWN RAPE, rape culture is winning. You no longer can pretend that it does not exist.

So what now? 


  1. I read somewhere once, and it really stuck with me, that "sex sells" is a myth. Actual sex doesn't sell, but pornography does: women as products.

    Advertising even sells women to other women as products, teaching them to sell themselves in real life to others, which in turn perpetuates the need for more product and more advertising.

    Part of the problem has to be the psychological basis of advertising itself. It rarely has anything to do with reason, like "You should buy my product because it's useful, well made, and fairly priced," and usually everything to do with customer manipulation: "My product will make you what you want to be, my product will feed your selfish desires," (or, if necessary, create the selfish desire first.)

    One argument I hear a lot in modesty debates from women is along the lines of, "We wear what we want because we want it, because we like how we feel and look wearing it, not necessarily because we want to titillate men." On the one hand, in part that makes sense to me, in part because it fits my experience: I usually only think about my own comfort and practicality when getting dressed for the day. On the other hand, a) as Christians we have a duty to consider how our actions affect others, and b) I distrust any claim to such absolute objectivity. In this society we're conditioned practically from birth to consider the group in our every "individual" decision, whether it comes to fitting in, dressing for a particular occasion, or whatever. What the group wants and thinks, how it perceives the individual, affects our decisions--when a woman chooses a short skirt because she feels pretty in it, how can she rule out societal influence--a society that wants to feed not just her image, but her, to others as pornography--as a reason for why she feels sexy and confident wearing it?

    Sorry, bit of a tangent there. Another thing I wonder about, more immediately related, is how "sexless" the male poses in advertising really are--whether they're superheroes or models. With models, nudity isn't always necessary to attract women; with superheroes, same, but they also tend to cater to male fantasies of power and strength. Which is the problem, I suppose, the whole thing caters to male fantasies, but I wonder sometimes if part of the reason it's so difficult to purge the objectification of women from advertising and storytelling is because it's tied into the objectification of men, which is also harmful, less well-recognized, and difficult to bring up without being told you're downplaying the immediate and awful degradation of women (sigh.)

    Anyways, lots of thoughts. I'm so glad you're posting about these issues!

    1. That is a truly interesting point: posing males to show power. I can stretch that a bit to even show what seems to be the new "thing"... posing men to look like they don't care. Almost as though women should be the ones trying and men need to be convinced. Hmmm. Thanks for giving me something to think about!


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