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The Objectification of Women in the Media
Letters From My Bed

We are socialized into accepting violence against women mutely.

— Deepanjana Pal, senior editor at FirstPost


It’s 4:00 AM and I found myself wide awake staring at my dirty laptop screen with fingers typing the dinner-stained keyboard. It has been an eye-opening week for me and a huge personal lesson in realizing that the fight for women’s equality is not fought out in a battlefield of someone else’s land, the war is alive and well in my own backyard.

A friend of mine who owns an advertising agency in Jakarta posted this job ad online:

Objectification of Women in the Media

My friend Veny showed this advert to several of her male colleagues. The majority of her male friends thought this was a brilliant advert with added wit and humor. As a female writer and entrepreneur, she was livid. I was not as livid, but I was overwhelmingly disappointed to learn that many of our educated and accomplished male friends would find this ad witty.

The agency received a backlash from the public and eventually issued a mea culpa. The ad was retracted, all was forgiven, but this was far from forgotten.

If anything, it opens up a much needed conversation that extends beyond the subject of objectification of women in the media. It made me reflect on myself and my journey of becoming a woman reckoned with for my extraordinary talent, peaked emotional intelligence, commended leadership skills that steer the ship of my own self-made enterprise in a sea of male-dominant industries. The fact that I, too, am beautiful, should just be an icing on the cake, but NOT the cake in and on itself.

Later in the week, I learned that many of our circle of female friends in Jakarta would also find this ad witty.  I was presented with a counter argument that objectification of men also occurs and rampant in today’s society. This is true. However, the objectification of men in a sexualized way to sell a product does not impose an imminent danger to men, but the vice versa is true. The objectification of women in a sexualized way to sell a product or service in the media sets the tone for the public on how to treat women as the inferior half of the human population and this is a social problem. This adoption of attitude sows the seeds of inequality for our future daughters. Most importantly, it poses great danger for being a woman in today’s modern world.

We are plagued by a cancerous disease of complacency and it has metastasized into other aspects of our lives. It has placed supreme the notion of masculinity by muting a woman’s autonomy and despite its pervasiveness in today’s culture, it remains impervious to many women and this poses a threat to a nation that strives to build the pillars of equality.

The advert signifies a big problem, not just in third world country like Indonesia; the plague does not discriminate based on geography. It makes home on the 34th floor of New York’s 5th Avenue skyscraper as comfortable as it does in a startup advertising agency in Jakarta. It graces the second page of Vogue, and flickering on channel 7 of my television set. It was with me in the boardroom, decked in all  Italian suits and John Loebs when I seek funding for a company; it wears the best color lipstick sending me off with a NO from a swerving chair made from Design Within Reach. It catcalled me on Second Street, rubbed against my thighs on a bus in Singapore as I boarded to go to school, it pinched my butt as it exited the bus in San Francisco. It says ‘I’m not all that’ after I declined a second date and called me a bitch when I chose not to give out my numbers. It tells women to cover up their body, no I am not talking about the Middle East, I am talking about the hallways of our very own universities. It proclaims that the mini skirt begs for rape. It encourages thigh gaps and ridicule a size 12. It does not trust in your decision making despite your academic accolades and experience. It silences a woman’s character and intelligence and dismissing it into as small and insignificant as labeling them a temptress, a nymphet, a seductress, existing just for the viewing pleasure of those around us.

I want to call upon the women in the media whose voices are heard, lifestyle wished for and mimicked, with our messages, subtle or direct, subconsciously ingrained in the minds of the people who look upon us by chance, or by purpose, to those much is given, much is expected. Perhaps our greatest task is to correct this misconception that above all else, sex sells.

Change cannot be demanded from our male counterparts alone, it must be commanded by the very people the media exploited: women. It must begin with an awareness of how dangerous it is to objectify women as sexual objects and then exploit those images to sell products or services. If you analyze all the adverts that sexualize women in the market, almost all of them are laced with humor to diminish the explicit suggestive content. The repercussions of this type of ad for women are far from funny. We must end this kind of irresponsible advertising. The fact of the matter is, when you objectify women as sexual objects in the media world, it creates a reality that sustains the rape culture, violence against women, and inequality in the workplace. Can you imagine these ads with a male model? You can’t and you won’t see it in mainstream media.

objectification of women in the media

Yesterday, I was walking the neighborhood with a friend. We came to a stop because somebody had thrown away trash onto the pavement where we walked on. I was going to jump over and continued walking. It was somebody else’s trash, somebody else’s problem. It was not even my neighborhood. Instead, he stopped and bent over to pick up the trash. He said: if we see this, we have to pick it up and throw it away. I said: but it’s not my trash. He said: it was in front of our eyes. That makes it our problem. And therefore, our trash.

I learn that in life, it is never somebody else’s problems. It is all our problems.

I wish I can end this post with a story of how I want to make it better for my daughter. I don’t have a daughter. I only have a younger sister who works as an architect and works in construction – a very male-dominated world, so my wish is for her. I hope the world works in her favor, that she will be respected in her workplace and not catcalled disrespectfully in the construction zone. I hope potential clients size her up by the wealth of her portfolio and not by how short her skirt is. I hope she is friends with male who will speak up and stand up for all her feminine glory and shortcomings. I hope she is surrounded by strong women in her life whose description of ‘pretty’ would serve as a great understatement when the weight of their total experience and characters make them more than mere pretty, but crowned them as women who are ‘pretty incredible’.





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