Is it any wonder that the #metoo campaign, sweeping Facebook over the past few days, snowballed out of Hollywood, the one industry notorious for objectifying women for cash?
Long before a guy whistles at a passing woman, makes an inappropriate remark, reaches out to touch without an invitation, or worse, he had learned somewhere down the line that women and their bodies do not need to be respected. He had picked up the message that in women, what’s on the outside is more important than what’s on the inside. That women’s bodies are meant to gratify.
You don’t have to think twice to figure out where he might have picked up this idea. It’s all around us. Screaming from every billboard, reflecting from every movie screen, flickering on every electronic device. In fact, he would need to have been pretty aware and selective, or have had a mom seriously set on educating him to respect women, to think otherwise.
The extent of trauma people experience from any form of harassment or abuse is a testament to the fragility and the emotional impact of this area of our life and to the effort we need to make to protect it. Yet the society has normalized public displays of sexuality.
When flaunted, human sexuality loses its sanctity and becomes a cheap commodity. If it’s OK to use people’s bodies to sell makeup and jeans, the perverted thinking goes, why is it not OK to abuse them for other forms of gratification. Perpetrators of harassment and assault are deft at rationalizing and excusing their behavior and the visual messaging around them provides ample material for such rationalization.
And guess who is paying for all this objectifying messaging? We do. Every single one of us. As we post #metoo message on Facebook with one hand, we enable and finance the mindset that leads to sexual harassment and abuse by swiping our credit cards with the other.
Every time we buy from a company that plasters half-naked people on billboards, we set off the next perpetrator. Every time we consume sexual content in entertainment, we make the culture of rape more prevalent. Every time we excuse or overlook indecency in public domain, we legitimise it.
And no, posting #metoo on Facebook is not enough to solve the problem. There are extremely few women who have not experienced harassment in some form, so no, the women don’t need their “awareness” raised. And the perverts who hurt women aren’t going to pay attention in a meaningful way. They don’t see women as people anyway. And they may just get new ideas.
Solving an issue as pervasive as sexual harassment would require a whole lot more than a Facebook post (though for many victims the experience of sharing already requires a great deal of courage). It would call for the commitment and discipline to fight objectifying messaging. For example, by allocating our money to ethical advertisers and buying from companies that respect their female customers.
Having researched women’s buying patterns and having consulted to companies on reaching and serving the female market, I am convinced that revealing, explicit advertising is not even effective. Study, after study, after study have shown that while violence and sexual content may get people to sit up and notice, they do not translate into more sales (and possibly drive customers away).
But unethical companies, the kind that would stoop to objectifying women in their ads, aren’t paying attention. Thankfully, we can make them listen.
Women are responsible for 80-90% of buying decisions, and have the definitive influence across almost all industries and product categories. If we stop buying from companies that use revealing images of women’s (and men’s) bodies en masse and let these advertisers know the motives behind our choices, the financial losses will drive in the message.
So the next time you are grossed out by an ad, make it a priority to buy from their competition. Share the ad on social media and call on your friends to boycott. Take a couple of minutes to leave negative feedback on the company’s Facebook page, send them a tweet or an email. Vote with your wallet and make your voice heard.
This is the only way to abstain from funding the culture of rape. This is a big part in finding a long-term solution to making sexual harassment as socially unacceptable as smoking or driving without a seat belt.
And one more thing. Before we can expect the world around us to change, we need to look at our own part. As we walk out of our houses, we can send a clear message that what’s on the inside is vastly more important. Please consider your contribution to shaping a society, which respects the human body. Let’s remind ourselves and those around us that inside that body is a feeling, thinking human being that is infinitely more precious than the externals.