Objectification of Women by the Mass Media
Women and their bodies have always been commodities and sources of pleasure and exploitation for patriarchal cultures. From the twentieth century, in television, films, commercials, and music videos, sexualization and objectification of women became an increasingly growing trend. Mainstream media has always used a false and unreal image of women’s physical appearance, body image, behavioral standards and beauty. Today, across television, billboards, glossy pages of magazines, and social media we can see hypersexualized and unrealistically perfect female forms. Advertisements, music videos, and films dehumanize girls and women and portray them as commodities. Women’s bodies are used to sell everything from car tires to entertainment.
The exploitation of girls and women by the Fashion Industry
Over the last 25 years, big clothing and cosmetic brands have started targeting young girls and women. The fashion industry hypersexualizes girls and women’s clothing. Wearing tights, extremely short, or revealing dresses are characterized by boldness. Advertisements show them wearing highly provocative dresses, make-up, and often in age-inappropriate, hypersexualized postures and body language. Trying to keep up with the latest fashions, often kids and parents become victims of these brands. Models, supermodels, beauty queens, even dolls reinforce the idea that girls and women must have unrealistic beauty and figures. Fashion brands not only target women customers but also price girls’ and women’s products much higher than boys’ and men’s products. gender-based pricing is often referred to as the “Pink Tax.” The Pink Tax costs the average woman over $1,300 a year and impacts all aspects of daily life.
Sexually Objectification in Different Professions
There are many professions such as certain forms of dancing, beauty pageants, modelling, and cheerleading where women’s objectification is encouraged and promoted. In addition, many women work in environments where the main purpose is to offer explicit targets for men to objectify them e.g., exotic dancing and cocktail waitressing.
Self-objectification, Depression, and Self-harm Among Young Girls and Women
Many studies have shown that media has negative effects on the mental health of young women and girls. Women perceive that their physical beauty is a measure of the amount of love and the power they should receive, putting tremendous pressure on them to conform to conventional beauty standards. According to psychologists, women internalize people’s objectification of their bodies, resulting in them constantly criticizing their own bodies. Girls and women compulsively monitor their own body’s outward appearance. They become overly concerned about how others may perceive their physical appearance.
According to Jess Wiener, the cultural expert for the Dove Self-Esteem Project, “Viewing unrealistic and unachievable beauty images creates an unattainable goal which leads to feelings of failure. This is especially true of young girls who have grown up in a world of filters and airbrushing.”
Sense of Empowerment in Self-Objectification
Women in many western cultures participate in their own objectification, often without realizing it. This is the result of an increasing acceptance of the pornification of mainstream media in a culture that largely embraces materialism and objectification. Thus, many women actively consent to objectification and overt attempts to gain male attention by purposefully and consciously advertising their own object status. Girls and women who think they must wear revealing dresses to look beautiful are victims of patriarchy. But, when women need to use their bodies to draw the attention of the world, it is counterproductive to empowerment.
Normalizing Violence Against Women
According to UNICEF, “The objectification and sexualization of girls in the media is linked to violence against women and girls worldwide.”
The media normalizes the act of dominance and aggression against women by constantly showcasing them as objects of pleasure. Boys and men tend to internalize that message, and it influences their subconscious biases of how they view women. They tend to legitimize violence, harassment, and anti-women views and behaviours.
Andrea Dworkin writes in her book Woman Hating, the process of turning women into sex objects is the first step towards justifying violence against them. Dworkin explains that if the media views women as a series of parts rather than a whole person, then inflicting violence upon them becomes easier to justify. Sandra Lee Bartky also describes sexual objectification as a form of dehumanization in her book Femininity and Domination. She explains that turning women into sex objects disciplines them into a state of submission. It teaches them to monitor their appearance and behaviours in order to suit harmful cultural norms. Sexual objectification is thus a way of denigrating women as a class.
Attitude of Boys towards Girls and Relationship
Boys, from a very early age, are exposed to unrealistic, vulgar, hypersexualized images of women everywhere. The roles, and behaviours of women in films, music videos and commercials are too stereotypical and a far cry from equality. Along with objectifying women, glorified male masculinity, male dominance in media and mass media have deep impacts on shaping up a children’s mind.
If a child is exposed to certain experiences as a part of his/her normal developmental dynamics, they tend to normalize it and develop a lot of unconscious biases towards that experience. These children would definitely grow up to replicate those experiences in their lives as adults.
Boys learn to dehumanize women and view them merely as bodies or body parts of pleasures. It causes mental health issues among boys and their unrealistic expectations from women. Women’s sexuality and body interfere with their ability to have a healthy and functional relationship as adults.
Resources for Media Literacy and Media Activisms
Killing us softly is a documentary first released in 1979 and since revised and updated four times, focuses on images of women in advertising, in particular on gender stereotypes, the effects of advertising on women’s self-image, and the objectification of women’s bodies.
Studies suggested “the need for media literacy and media activism to help change the current normative body discontent of women in the Western world.” We have seen a growing number of actresses, models, and feminists activists have started speaking against media and the internet for objectifying women.
4 Every Girl campaign is calling on entertainment and media industry leaders to create an environment where young girls feel valued and are defined by health media images of themselves. Sign their petition to call on leaders in the media to produce media images that respect, empower, and promote the true value of every girl.
Preventing eating disorders: A handbook of interventions and special challenges is a published book of the comprehensive resource provides multiple prevention strategies, programs, and approaches for health and mental health workers, educators, researchers, students, and interested members of the community at large who work to prevent eating disorders and related problems.
“Go Girls” (adapted from Giving Our Girls Inspiration and Resources for Lasting Self-esteem) program is a program that brings junior and senior high school girls together to advocate responsible advertising and positive body images of youth by the media.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media works within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate and influence media producers to dramatically improve gender representation in films; to stop stereotyping girls and women; and to create diverse female characters in entertainment targeting children ages 11 and under.