Two ways a woman can get hurt

Today we had our last lecture in one of the first phd courses, and I held my last presentation, this time about my field of research: sexist advertising. I presented a chapter: Two ways a woman can get hurt: Advertising and Violence,  from Kilbourne’s book Deadly persuasion: Why women and girls must fight the addictive power of advertising (1999). Here, Kilbourne speaks about sex in advertising and how this is similar to pornography since it is more about dehumanizing, objectifying and disconnecting than it is about reality. Violence is encouraged in many ads, men are shown to be in power, dominant, to take control, heck, take whatever they want, while women are portrayed as never saying no, or at least, not meaning no when they say it. Women are encouraged by ads to be attracted to the hostile and indifferent men, often the ones that in real life would be absolutely dangerous. Violence is also trivialized, and rape is glorified. Kilbourne argues about the objectification being different for women and men: when women are objectified they are so in a cultural context where this objectification is constant, and where there are serious consequences, from economic discrimination to violence. For men, the consequences are not the same since their bodies are generally not routinely judged and invaded, they are not as likely to get harassed, raped or beaten by women, as women are by men. This is eloquently described and summed up:

“When power is unequal, when one group is oppressed and discriminated against as a group, when there is a context of systemic and historical oppression, stereotypes and prejudice have different weight and meaning.”

Now, that is not to say that the objectification of men is any better, all objectification is bad of course. It is always bad to objectify a person. However, it is important to understand that the objectification looks very different when it comes to women and men. After all, we are not equal in the eyes of the ads.

After my presentation we had a very long discussion that was both interesting, fruitful and extremely frustrating and upsetting. At one point, I was boiling, it came after one of my male colleagues said that it is in the nature of women to want to be looked at by men, and it is in the men’s nature to want to look at women. Nature. Nature? Needless to say, this really heated up the debate with him on one side and practically the rest of us on the other with arguments about the social construction of reality. About the fact that women are not born with an innate desire to be ogled by men, that it is not something in our blood, but rather in the way we are brought up, taught by society to want to look pretty, to want to be wanted. It is something that we daily must think about, decide about. It is about the constant male gaze that is surrounding us all. Quietly, subtly.

It is not in our nature. It is in our heads.