When it comes to sexualisation in the media, often people respond with – “sex sells.” Although sex may sell, I often wonder at what cost? Who is footing the bill? The answer: everyone.
Sexual exploitation in advertisements affects the whole of society in one way or another.
However, women bear most of the costs and, as a result, our mental health and well-being suffers. Although much has been said on the sexualisation of women and girls in the media, sexual violence, particularly in fashion advertising, must be addressed.
In 2007, Dolce and Gabbana (D&G) published the advert below:
Many women’s rights groups and advertising watchdogs have argued that the advertisement above clearly symbolises gang-rape. Held down against her will, the woman in the image falls victim to her male oppressor while an additional three men look on eagerly, seemingly awaiting their turn. Gang-rape is a horrifying and grotesque human rights violation from which no one should ever have to suffer. Why then, is it perfectly acceptable to normalise gang rape and use it as a concept in advertisements and marketing campaigns? In response to the global public outrage, D&G withdrew the advertisement from all its publications. However, D&G insisted the image was not meant to be controversial but simply represented an erotic dream.
The fashion industry continues to push the boundaries of what is new, edgy and original. Some argue that fashion advertising is art and therefore should not be taken literally, yet I beg to differ. Take this 2012 winter collection titled ‘Shameless’ from the Dutch company Suit Supply:
The advertisements above suggest that, by buying a Suit Supply suit, women will allow men to do whatever they desire, including sex, touching and groping and peering at our vagina’s. Suit Supply’s advertisements not only represent women as sexual slaves, but also imply that men buy suits to enhance their sexual appeal solely to women, thereby ignoring the entire homosexual population.
Some advertisements are ridiculous, stupid and extremely offensive, others are indescribable:
Considered ‘fine art’ by the fashion world, marketing executives marvelled at the degrading advertisements.
Studies show that such violent images negatively impact adolescents’ self-esteem and confidence. The continuous bombardment of violent images on television, magazines and the internet reinforce negative gender stereotypes and normalise violence and the sexual exploitation of women and girls.
Whether deemed fine art or fashion, it is wrong and unacceptable.
It didn’t take time for it to make news in the men’s locker rooms after a group of sweaty, tired football players pulled out their i-phones and yelped—“what the f**k!”
It traveled faster than just some who’s-that-hot-chick thing that forms the usual mode of conversation at post-practice sessions among hefty male athletes who “just need to relieve themselves of some dangerous testosterone.”
“Hey Higgins that’s you,” cried Ralph, pushing aside a towel and making his way to a big, muscly guy who was recruited to the university a year ago for his innate ability to throw a ball. “You’re an impressive 8.6.”
Who cares if Rihanna’s ass just got bigger on screen and Amanda Bynes just passed a racist remark?
A dude who considers himself an alpha-male, a “chick-magnet” and “the big guy” just got rated on an application by a bunch of giggly, gossipy college girls who were once arm-candy and bed-warmers for our big football star.
Slowly, and poisonously, like a hydrogen gas leakage, it seeped out of the men’s locker rooms into the rest of campus. Within minutes, curious 19-year old boys were begging their female counterparts to lend them their i-phones so they could log onto this application and traverse what seems to be the expanding universe of the Lulu app—‘Luluverse’ let’s call it for now.
For those of you naïve enough not to have rated your ex-husband, ex-boyfriend or hook-up, let me introduce to you the Lulu application: It’s available on the i-phone for free and allows you access through your Facebook account only if your gender is listed as “female” on your Facebook profile. You may download the app, log on and review ratings on your male friends by the women in their lives. You could add a rating (1 to 10) for your male Facebook friends, “like restaurants” as the Huffington post put it, along with the pluses and minuses of every guy you’re rating.
And it’s not only the athletes. The nerdy science geek who always perfects his lab reports has a Lulu profile too! The cashier at 7/11 who smiled at you yesterday—yepp—he’s got 1100 reviews on his Lulu profile.
It’s hilarious how my male friends reacted to this new development. Facebook gender changes were conducted and many felt the need to convert to “female” in order to avoid any public humiliation. (Transgendered folks, Luluverse didn’t take into account that gender might actually be a spectrum) Many used their galpals phones to enter ‘Luluverse’ (and maybe give themselves a 10 through her account). My gay friends felt the need to use my phone to “make emergency calls” and my neighbour checked her boyfriend’s profile every two minutes to “keep a tab on his life.”
Lulu, which is described as the “first-ever app for reading and writing reviews for guys, sharing tips, and having fun with your girlfriends” was started by Alexandra Chong earlier this year in an attempt to provide a platform for women to wind down, have some fun and objectify the men who’ve always had the upper hand on them.
The next time you’re hunting for your next prey, looking for a relationship with someone you know, or just inquisitive about the sexual life of the man who sits beside you in office, all you have to do is log onto Lulu and see what your anonymous, virtual girlfriends have to say about him.
Scrambling through Lulu involves zero emotional, material or time investment. It even allows hashtags to get you through the torture of having to write about that one night you spent with that douchebag. Anything from #SexualPanther to #TrustFundBaby can be used to berate the guy (#NotADick and #SmellsAmazeballs if you actually like him) to a woman who might be a potential partner.
That’s all it boils down to. An application page with his picture and a number on it. That and you’ve given him a taste of his own medication.
All those times that the men put a number against your name and looked at you like a piece of meat…you’re objectifying them and it feels great, doesn’t it?
“It’s liberating and so empowering” said one of my friends when I caught her hooked on to Lulu one morning. “I can’t help checking my phone!”
It is. For her and for a million of us who’ve been cheated, betrayed and objectified by the male race in their attempts to “find that chick” right for them.
Technology has it all. We finally have our chance to give it back to them, to leave them shaking in their boots and feeling insecure about their reputations.
The question is—are we really willing to risk our integrity for a minute or two of thrill?
All those moments when you rested your head against your grandma’s shoulder and cried about the boy-who-wronged were results of objectification of the human body, or even worse, your body that you couldn’t bear to witness. You were above it all, weren’t you? You felt cheated and certain that a number couldn’t define who you were.
Men will continue to rate you. You’re going to have to face what you’ve always battled: sexism and objectification.
The important part is how you deal with it.
If Lulu offers you any respite from your war against the sexist male race, by all means, keep your battlements sailing.
If you’re having a good laugh with your girlfriends watching his image torn apart, keep laughing.
However, if you really do want to shoot the very demon that created ratings—this is not the solution.
Rating him is only going to enliven the drama that he used to rate you. You’re going to be known as bitchy and gossipy, characteristics women have always been associated with. A “cheap comeback” to when they objectified you.
I personally believe the application does make men insecure about themselves, and hits them hard with revenge. Has our revenge arrived at a solution?
In an act of revenge, do we really want to forget all we’ve fought for? Weren’t we the wiser of the two sexes; weren’t we supposed to be above-that-filth that characterizes humans based on superficiality?