I love the recent video and social media campaign and video #WomenNotObjects.
It calls out the way women’s bodies are used in degrading, disrespectful, and highly sexualized ways, literally as props to sell products, including many products marketed to women. As an advocate working for the past 12 years with sex trafficking survivors as young as 9, as well as the mother of a 16 year old daughter, I have been deeply troubled by this kind of advertising for a long time, and I’m thankful to the producers of this campaign for bringing it to light.
The #WomenNotObjects video suggests that little progress has been made. Recent ads feature a perfume bottle with a backdrop of a woman’s vagina, a woman gazing at a hamburger with her mouth suggestively open featuring the tag line ‘This will blow your mind’, and a woman puppet dancing in a man’s bedroom with the tagline ‘for your entertainment’. And worse.
Such images and messages are damaging to the self-esteem, body image, and identity of young girls, and are contrary to the intrinsic human worth of women and girls.
Worse, they contribute to a culture in which it feels acceptable to many men to purchase girls for sex at brothels, to use and abuse the girls’ bodies any way they want, because they see girls are objects for their entertainment. Our Managing Director, Paul, who lives in Calcutta, was appalled when some acquaintances from another local nonprofit casually invited him to join them at a brothel after work on a Friday! It was as casual at a night at the pub.
When I was in Cambodia, I saw so many men of all ages pretending to be on dates with beautiful young girls from the red light area. Looking at these gorgeous, expertly made up young women, it might be hard to see the cowering, sobbing village child that they were just a few years earlier when they were first sold into prostitution. But that is how they got to where they are today. They were forced with indescribable violence into smiling and looking glamorous and pretending to enjoy sex with strangers. When I look at those pretty young ladies, I see the frightened, exploited children inside them.
When my daughter Maya was 7, the Bratz dolls were all the rage at toy stores and a hot gift item for kids birthday parties. I had to be ‘that mom’, the humorless, angry feminist asking other moms to please not buy Bratz for Maya’s birthday, because a doll that features a thong diaper could not possibly be unrelated to child sex trafficking. When children’s toys or children’s clothing are sexy, it sends the message that it’s okay to have sex with young girls.
Around the same time came the infamous Calvin Klein ad campaign that was so suggestive of a child porn video that Klein was actually investigated by the Department of Justice. In those very sick ads, a young teen boy and girl clad only in underwear or short shorts look embarrassed as a creepy off-camera voice make suggestive comments in a suburban basement. That was a long time ago, but not so far away.
When I look at the hyper-sexualized ads of the #WomenNotObjects campaign, I see the traumatized, recently rescued 14 year old with cigarette burns on her neck. It’s not unrelated. Knowledge is power. Let's take some action around changing the ad culture. Who's got a plan?
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By Sarah Annay, creator of Vision for Empowerment workshops.
We first started offering Vision for Empowerment workshops in 2015. What started as an employment exploration project has turned into something even more empowering—a workshop that gives young women and girls a voice in Kolkata, through photography and visual storytelling.