Guest Post: by C. Stave
“If a woman is objectified, she is made less than human. Once she is less than human, violence toward her becomes more acceptable.”-Kate McGuinness
According to Kate McGuinness, women can be objectified in five different ways: “(1) interchangeability; (2) reduction to appearance; (3) being an instrument for someone else’s purpose; (4) inertness or passivity; & (5) capacity to being violated or lacking bodily integrity.” The media uses all of these techniques to steal the identity or worth of women, and reduce them to the levels of femininity that are effective in the purpose of said media.
Television shows and movies often box women into a role or purpose that is useful to the males in the show, or in some way useful to the viewer. Music videos and song lyrics can also be extremely objectifying of women, especially as sexual objects. The focus here will be objectification through advertising.
Advertising is a form of mass communication and is used to “encourage, persuade, or manipulate an audience” (Wikipedia). Women are too often a tool of this manipulation process. This dates at least as far back as the 1800s.
This advertisement from the 1890s wants to encourage its audience to “drink Coca Cola,” as the sign explicitly requests. While a pretty women has very little to do with the carbonated beverage, she is shown daintily enjoying a cup. She is the tool being used to encourage this behavior in the advertisement’s audience.
Many interpretations can be made about this dated advertisement. While it would be difficult to argue that there is anything offensive about this image, it is undoubtedly strange that it would be so simple to choose nothing but a pretty girl to show off this product.
Now days, it can be difficult to find an advertisement involving a woman that is not offensive in some way. Whether the advertisement is for men, women, or both, if a women is used to manipulate the audience, she is more often than not, objectified. Sometimes her body is replacing an object or an object is replacing her; other times she is merely reduced to the worth of her appearance; in others she may be an instrument being used by someone else (often a man); she may be a lifeless specimen of passivity; or it could be that she is being taken advantage of or is missing physical respect for herself or from others.
In the first example, this woman’s body (minus her face and head) is covered in mud, as a car or truck might be, with the words “wash me” written on her stomach. This relates her to a dirty vehicle that needs cleaning. Since her head is cut out of the picture, she has no identity, and it is difficult to interpret her emotions. She is merely a sexy, dirty truck in the shape of a female body.
In the second example of interchangeability, the woman’s body literally takes the place of a beer bottle. The bottle’s labels then become her clothing, with her stomach exposed. The curves of the bottle are the curves of her body. Her entire body is then being held in the hand of a man. Again, there is no identity here, only a feminized beer bottle.
In the third example, the woman has her face. She is sleeping next to a man, and both are naked. This infers that they had some sort of sexual encounter the previous night. The only thing that objectifies this woman is the sticky-note on her forehead with “Jade” written on it. Under most interpretations, this is to help the man next to her remember her name when they awaken. If she had more value to him than a sex object, he would have no trouble recalling her name.
Reduction to Appearance:
In the first example of reducing a female to her appearance, a girl’s perfectly sculpted midsection is shown. She is supposedly on the beach of Australia, but has no identifying features; she’s just a pretty girl’s torso. The caption of this image is the worst part. While this woman is labeled as beautiful, she needed the help of a low carb “body beautiful bar” to be skinny and sculpted. This is not to mention her flawlessly toned skin. The caption should say “keep Australia’s women in the box of what is considered beautiful.”
The second example shows a women standing in her bra, with large, round breasts. She is definitely within the socially constructed box of beauty; everything about her is without flaw. She would be reduced to nothing but her appearance even if it wasn’t for the caption, but those words take it to the next level. Her lack of the gender-role talent of cooking is of no matter, because who would care about that with such great breasts in their face?
The last example here deals with the “enhancement” of the female body. Not only is the skinny, small-breasted version of this girl looking downward, while her enhanced self is proudly facing up, but each version of the same girl is labeled with an old and new version of a Nikon camera. This could overlap into interchangeability, but the focus here is the enhancement of her breasts in the “new” version of body.
Being an Instrument for Someone Else’s Purpose:
This first advertisement shows nothing but the women’s lower face, with an emphasis on her mouth. The sides of her perfect lips have been injured. By what? A man’s “XXL” penis. Her mouth must heal after being used and harmed as a tool for male sexual pleasure.
In the second image, it is difficult to determine what is being sold. It is a shoe advertisement, but what are really being bought is women. There are four beautiful women standing flirtatiously in a vending machine, waiting to be chosen by the man standing outside. After being purchased, the girl will surely be more excited about his shoes than getting out of a “chilled” box.
Even when an ad is advertising a positive movement, the woman can be objectified. Here, Pamela Anderson is advocating for PETA with her body. Her body parts are sectioned off and labeled as if she was being related to a cow or other animal that human often consume.
Inertness or Passivity:
This first image of passivity could be offensive in many ways. There is one woman, and four men. The girl is being held down by one of the strong men, and she is looking away from his face while he stares down at her. The other men are standing at the side, patiently waiting their turn, perhaps? Or maybe they’re just watching.
The next image is of a man, awkwardly wearing a suit on the beach, standing over a plastic-like woman. She is secured under and between his legs, while he proposes the idea that they have a drink. She does not appear to have a choice in the matter. She is lying down, nearly naked; vulnerable in comparison to the fully dressed, upright man.
The final example of passivity and inertness is a confusing advertisement. It might be selling shoes, but it consists of a naked woman and a single shoe. The caption states that the viewer should “keep her where she belongs.” It is unsure if “her” refers to the shoe or the woman, but she best not get out of her place.
Capacity to Being Violated or Lacking Bodily Integrity:
The final category of objectification begins to show where objectification can lead. The first image is an advertisement for vodka, but it is also advertising the idea that some girls do not go down smoothly. This is left to the viewer to interpret, but most would agree that it infers that the female in the image is not as willing to sleep with the man as she should be. Belvedere, though, she will do whatever the man wants.
Once again, this last advertisement has the good intentions of starting a positive movement. This anti-smoking ad is relating smoking to oral pleasure and sex slavery. The woman’s eyes are at belt level, looking up fearfully. The cigarette seems to be emerging from the man’s pants. The caption (not included in the image) is “fumer c’est etre l’esclave du tabac” or “smoking is to be the slave of tobacco.” This woman is not only the slave to tobacco, but to a man who is pushing her head downward with his hand. The ad suggests that this act of slavery is negative, but it is still an image of a female being violated by a man, and this sexual act has nothing to do with smoking.
Some advertisements are more blatant than others, especially outside of the United States. However, all of these advertisements are advertising more than just the product or movement. These images surround us on a daily basis. The slowly and subconsciously brainwash us to believe these ads place women where they should be; into the box to which they must adhere.
This box involves decreasing women to be of no more worth than an object, an object that must be beautiful, flawless, skinny, curvy, and lifeless. An object that is available to others to use to their liking, especially sexually. An object that best remain passive, or be violated regardless. An object that has no personality, no values, no passions or dreams.
The objectification of women is profitable and entertaining. As many say, “sex sells,” but so does violence, power, and dominance. These advertising methods manipulate an audience to buy the product or follow the movement. But do they? Is anyone really going to quit smoking because a girl is subjected to the notion of sexual slavery? Is anyone going to become a vegetarian because Pamela Anderson is related to a cow? Do people buy these products merely because these women’s identities are stolen and replaced with inert sexuality? Perhaps.
On the other hand, the box of femininity is being sold. Young girls and boys are growing up in this society with these images brainwashing them to feel inadequate if they do not fit into these boxes of passivity or dominance. Not only women are affected by these advertisements, and this is merely a slice of media. A slice among a whole system of manipulation and brainwashing.