We need to combat objectification and sexualization of women in media


Illustrated by Valerie Larsen

Maddie Coyle, Assistant Opinion Editor

“For most of history anonymous was a woman;”–this idea was illustrated in Virginia Woolf’s In Search of a Room of One’s Own  and is pertinent to understand how women used to live their lives. Throughout history, women haven’t always been treated as people, but as mere objects. According to the Women’s International Center, women were thought of as lesser to men. They were given no legal existence outside a male figure, so much so men virtually owned the women and children in their lives to the same extent that they owned a house.  Many believe that it has come a long way from this point in history. In some ways it has, but there is still more work that needs to be done, which can be achieved in part through the media.

 “I think the issue resonates deep into our societal values. From early on, the messaging our society sends is we need to be good looking, make a lot of money, have a big house and marry a prince/princess. Naturally as we grow up and become consumers, we start to align with brands that reflect who we are or we want to be. Our own vision of romance and body image is largely shaped by the Disney movies we watch as kids, and then manifests in the mass media as adults,” says Marketing and Algebra in Entrepreneurship teacher Christopher Manila. 

Objectification and sexualization of women have been prevalent in the media for practically as long as the modern media has existed. For example, one ‘50s ad from the coffee brand Chase and Sanborn shows a woman slumped over a man in a chair while the man is about to spank her. This atrocious example of objectification was meant to show the pressure packed power of this coffee. Even outside this notorious sexist media culture of the 1950s, those types of references are still seen in 2010s. One example was the 2016 Sprite campaign where the tagline was “she’s seen more ceilings than Michaelangelo.” 

“When I see sexist ads, I am filled with disgust. It makes me feel as if our society hasn’t advanced. You would think the U.S., that has many laws to give women rights, would be able to stop sexism, but it hasn’t,” says sophomore Joanna Tafolla. “I am frustrated because it makes me realize that men still see us as lesser humans just because of our gender. I hate how everything we do in our daily lives is based on our gender, making it harder for individuals to realize the extent of their sexist stereotypes.”

Most recently, a KFC ad aired in Australia that showed young boys ogling at a young woman’s body. This sparked a lot of controversy, sexist claims and resulted in an apology from the big name franchise, according to The New York Times. While this apology was indeed necessary, it was interesting how many found the apology surprising. Abhik Roy, a former ad executive and professor of marketing at Quinnipiac University said in an interview with The New York Times that, “they [KFC] would have never apologized 15 or 20 years ago; it’s more because of social media pressure.”

This example goes to show the progress that has made since the #MeToo movement, but there is still a long way to go. Part of the reason that these ads have decreased is because our consumer base has reached a point in which people don’t want to see women, or anyone, objectified. Despite this, there are still sexist ads that play into gender stereotypes and objectify and sexualize women. . None of these are ok.

“I think the sex-sells mentality works similarly to why advertisers have objecting messages. As a society our image of beauty is consistent with what we see in advertisements. We perpetuate this image on a day to day basis on social media- the pictures we post, the filters we use, the people we follow align with how we see beauty. I think at the end of the day, companies are selling hope. They are selling an image of beauty and romance that the mass market aspires to have,” says Manila. 

It’s also important that we recognize advertisements are not the only form of media in which objectification and sexualization occurs. 

More recently, social media apps also play into objectification and sexualization. One example of this is on TikTok, in which there have been young women and girls who wear tighter, lower cut tops as a way to attract more followers and advertisers compared to young men and boys who will wear baggy clothes when they perform the same TikToks, according to The New York Times. Another app that plays into this idea is Instagram, in which there are many people who decide to show off their bodies. These apps give people the idea that putting their bodies on the Internet will get them to become more popular and perhaps reach the point of fame because they have seen that happen with celebrities and think that it could maybe happen to them too. Instagram models and people like the Kardahsians reinforce this idea. Most of them are well known for their lives on social media and their posts–most of which they are showing off their bodies. Even so, it isn’t even real because many of these celebrities will use Photoshop to alter their bodies.

Even without celebrities or models posting to show off their bodies, there are still other accounts that are sexist or objectify women, even if it isn’t their purpose on the platform.   

Senior Dar Anderson says, “sometimes I’ll be following an account that just posts funny memes and I’ll come across something blatantly sexist or blatantly objectifying, and it bothers me so much. I’m not looking for this to be perpetuated into the millions of followers this account has. All these people are there to see something funny, now, thinking that it is funny to be sexist or to objectify women.”

Right now our society is showing that you have to flaunt your body in ways that may make you uncomfortable to be popular. This rise of social media has contributed to people comparing themselves to their peers or celebrities, according to BBC. Those comparisons can allow for an unhealthy mindset and can contribute to unhealthy eating patterns, according to The National Eating Disorders Association.

And it’s not just social media or advertising that contribute to objectification, but it is the content that companies are giving to consumers. One brand that has been revealed as an objectifying and misogynistic brand is Victoria’s Secret. Recent articles by Forbes and The New York Times have revealed the misogynistic culture of the brand. According to The New York Times, the top executive of the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, Ed Razek, was known for inappropriate conduct. He tried to kiss models, would have them sit in his lap. When model Andi Muise rejected Razek’s advances, she wasn’t hired by the brand again. Even the chief executive of their parent company, Leslie Wexner, was heard demeaning women and making lewd comments about employees’ weight. There was another instance similar to this in which models posed nude in front of a prominent Victoria’s Secret photographer, without being paid and made the photos taken into an expensive coffee-table book and some copies continue to be sold on the photographer’s website for upwards of $1,800 and $3,600. 

“Knowing that this happened with Victoria’s Secret makes me regret buying their products. I am a huge consumer of body sprays and lotion and now that I know how women who represent this industry are being treated it’s making me wish I knew before because it’s not right that women have to face so much sexism and harassment in their day to day lives due to a job that people keep support by buying from it,” says Tafolla.

The surprising thing is that despite the character of the brand’s treatment of women, their main consumer base is women. And yet, this company still treats women as mere objects rather than as respected employees. Victoria’s Secret is one of the many companies that use media as a platform to connect with consumers, but the way they have treated their models and the overall message of their company contributes to the way companies and the media objectify women. 

However, it’s important to recognize that objectification isn’t only present in women, but people of all genders. It’s important that we all recognize that no matter what, objectification is not ok. Ads and social media do not need to a play into the marketing ploy that sex sells. It is more important that we empower rather than objectify. It’s time that we banish these ideas and that we learn to create more spaces that all people feel comfortable in. Let us take the step and work to fight for spaces that are accepting and fair to all people because we, as consumers, have that power. According to The New York Times, Britain’s advertising regulator banned all gender stereotypes in their ads because of a report that stated “gender-stereotypical imagery and rhetoric can lead to unequal gender outcomes in public and private aspects of people’s lives.” 

Tafolla says that “I think if the U.S. were to do something similar to this, it would reduce the amount of harassment women face and it will create more equality in the workforce. As teens we can combat objectification within media by not consuming damaging media and companies because if we continue to consume it we’ll continue this cycle of sexism making it harder for us to get people to realize the damage it’s done to women’s lives.”