Women objectified

First of all, let’s get a few things straight. Yes, I am the Emily Elder who has been raising stink about some of the Gauntlet’s advertising, for reasons you’ll soon learn if you finish this article. Yes, I am a feminist. No, I do not hate men, or sex, or porn.

Let’s talk about advertising. Let’s start with one particular ad that has now been pulled. There are lots of problems related to this ad, but not confined to it. It showed a young, buxom, scantily clad woman holding a cigar. Originally, she also wore a button, reading "Get me drunk! And then see what happens." In the context of the image, this drew a link between alcohol and sex that poses a threat to women. After all, if the same button had appeared on an image of a nun, would it carry the same image? I don’t think so.

In what world would anyone consider this acceptable? Clearly, since it appeared in the ad, someone did. Apologies were gracefully given, and the text was edited out of the ad, replaced by a smiley face. But did that change the message of that ad?

I don’t think the explicit message telling male viewers what to do is necessary. This, and similar images in bar advertising, say it implicitly. Su-zen Harris, a PhD student in the Department of Education, explains.

"It’s insulting to us as readers to claim that this is a neutral image when advertisers want us to believe that certain images don’t carry a message," Harris states. "That’s how they work, we come with a certain kind of literacy because we’ve seen them repeatedly. To remove the text didn’t cleanse the image of its sexism. Those sexist ideologies are embedded in that ad and other ads are all part of the same system of images."

Feminists have been struggling to get sexually objectified images of women out of every form of advertising for 40 years.

"I agree with the idea that on some level this kind of linkage between sex and alcohol stays with us. It gets to the point where we don’t question it anymore," says Harris. "That’s what’s problematic here. We’ve come to normalize these images as acceptable images of women."

Why, on a university campus, are images sexualizing and degrading women still so common that no one even blinks at seeing them in a school paper?

As a matter of fact, these kinds of ads mostly appear in campus newspapers. This particular ad ran in the Gauntlet, the Mount Royal College Reflector, and the SAIT Emery Weal and nowhere else. Hyper-sexualized imagery is being aimed solely at students.

What are we being told about ourselves? That all we care about is partying, booze, and sex? Aren’t we paying too bloody much for our degrees to care about nothing but a good time?

Let’s talk to you, boys. Rather than being snagged by the hot chick technique, when you think about it, they’re talking about your sister, your girlfriend, your best female friend. Do you want any woman you care about to go to a bar, and get looked at like she’s a piece of meat? Do you want to look at women like they’re pieces of meat? You’re being told your penis thinks more clearly than your brain. Is that how you want to think about yourself?

Girls, one in four Canadian women experiences sexual violence at some point in her lifetime. That’s you, or your sister, or one of your best friends. These exploitative images are linked to that. You’re taught to be more accommodating and submissive than boys, so when you’re approached by a guy who has learned to be aggressively sexual, you may not know how to keep saying no, or to fight off sexual attention you aren’t sure you want, especially after some drinks.

This is especially true when the images we receive about ourselves, even in our place of study where we should be safe and equal, tell us implicitly the only interesting or useful thing about a woman is her body. We should all be bikini-clad and wet, or undressing after some drinks, or "girls going wild." The sexualization of the school girl outfit again tells us, "who cares what your brain is doing, honey? It’s your boobs I want."

Now, I’m all for sex and feeling sexy, but not to market drinks for someone else’s profit.

Fiona Nelson, Director of the Women’s Studies Program in the Faculty of Communication and Culture, agrees.

"It’s problematic for women who deserve to be here on campus on equal footing to be surrounded by objectifying imagery," Nelson explains. "Women are not equal on campus in ways that are pervasive. The fears women feel on an empty floor in the library or walking alone across campus really make for unequal access to education. These inequalities are insidious and invisible to men. Women can feel nervous alone at night, in the library, can feel offended by professors making innuendoes or sexist jokes, and not leap to ‘that’s inequality’ and that’s an issue."

Why do women not protest advertising like this?

"Part of the problem is that girls are given the message early and clearly that our primary worth lies in our sexual attractiveness," Nelson continues. "For women at university, even career women, this still remains priority number one, so it doesn’t seem that odd for women to look at sexualized images of women. Women have been constructed in our culture as the sex, so many women are not looking at those images and feeling alienated by them."

Ads like this aren’t aimed at women. Why not? Women constitute over half of the University of Calgary’s undergraduates. Why would bars choose not to advertise to women on a campus where most undergraduate students are women?

"There is also a dialogue between businesses and heterosexual males, to the exclusion and exploitation of everyone else. That’s just as problematic, the fact that women are not part of that dialogue, that no one thinks, ‘what would bring women here?’ It’s like we’re not even part of the public realm," Nelson states.

It’s also disturbing that we’re seeing pornography used as advertising. Yes, I said pornography. The specific ad I described was originally the cover of Playboy, November 1980.

Think about that.

Softcore pornography is being used to market booze to people who are supposed to be intelligent and critically minded. And yet, there’s no outcry on our campus. As soon as this ad appeared in the Reflector, MRC’s Womyn In Action organized a petition calling for sexist ads to be banned in their paper. They were also the organizers of a protest at the Whiskey nightclub Fri., Sept. 26.

Finally, anyone who either isn’t straight, or doesn’t fit the woman/man gender categories, you’re being told that your business and your money doesn’t count. Harris sums it up well.

"This isn’t simply a women’s issue and it’s not just women who find this offensive."

So, what are you going to do?

Any further questions? Direct them to eelder@ucalgary.ca.

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