A Rebuttal : Consumerism And Sex

A reader’s reply to yesterday’s published post.

It is shocking to see the number of advertisements floating around these days which portray women as desired objects and man as consumer, directly or in-directly. According to these advertisements the Man is the hunter, woman the hunted. Man the voyeur, woman the victim. At times some of these women advertisements are so over the top, that it makes it hard for the whole family to sit together and watch television. And sadly, there is no one to question the present market-and-media ethics that turns women’s bodies into consumer objects?

I don’t agree with that because there are plenty of new advertisements that work the other way. Look at Carl Zeiss ads, AXE ads, Kamasutra (get unbuttoned) ads. Each of these portray men as the objects that need to use the products in question to attract women. The last one in particular showed a lot of men in unbuttoned shirts with perfect bodies going about their daily chores. If anything, I take objection to fairness creams that insist that only fair skin can produce success at the work place and attract men’s attention. But that is a problem with the product itself.

Modelling, be it nude or semi-nude is not considered a big deal in today’s society. It is considered as one of the few ways for women qua women to make money. Male desire is aroused by this display of titillating female bodies. This results in passive viewing to active buying. And this is where Consumerism meets Sexism. This however is not where the relationship ends; it at times further leads to “Sexual Violence”.

This isn’t true for only women. Check out any advertisement for male products, they only use men with perfect bodies and good looks, may be it a deodorants or bikes or cars or male underwear. All of them make the same promise. Use our products and have women fall for you. Same positioning as advertisements targeting women, except with genders reversed. I also feel connecting consumerism to sexual violence is absurd and far fetched.

Bodies advertised on television – or others like them – are available in the real marketplace. Therefore today “Sex work” is a fast-growing service industry, in India and abroad. Sex all over the world is still considered to be labour for women and pleasure for men. Obviously there is something not quite natural about the explanation of sexuality if it is a commodity on sale like any other.

Your link states, “Mumbai’s high-class sex workers—both men and women—are at the top of their profession and serve only wealthy clients, many of whom work in the advertising and film industries.” This is applicable for men too. So this invalidates your line about it being a one sided pleasure trip.

Women are learning to wear less and less in order to be appreciated. Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat claims that exhibiting her physical assets was the only way an ordinary woman like herself could make it in glamorous Bollywood. On the other hand, high-circulation daily newspapers discuss the ‘oomph factor’ and present ‘mirchi meters’ comparing various ‘sizzling’ females (Mandira Bedi during the Cricket World Cup matches & Ashwariya Rai during her visit to Cannes Film Festival). Images of nude women, vulnerable and seductive, are doing the rounds on computer, television and cinema screens, mobile phones (MMS controversies).

But Saakshi, this can’t be blamed on men alone. Decision making, may it be advertising, publishing or production companies is not entirely in men’s hands. Women editors in magazines like Cosmopolitan continue to project the image that women need to be thin to be beautiful. On one page they tell you how to pleasure him, on the next page they tell you to love yourself. and on one page, they advertise clothes for thin women, weight loss techniques, wrinkle removing creams, fairness creams. The product does not create demand. Demand creates the product. Women want these things to feel better for themselves, because of their misplaced sense of beauty. It is easy to continue blaming men for women’s body image issues, but the truth is much harder to swallow. And high circulating newspapers also objectify new and upcoming male actors in shirtless photos and air brushed images describing them as yummy and sizzling. If that’s not enough all gossip rags and blogs speculate more about men being gay than women being lesbians in a frenzy to ’emasculate’ them. Isn’t that also a form of objectification?

Tell me, are we returning to the time when slave traders would make a woman open her mouth to count the number of teeth she had, and feel her muscles to ensure she could do the work? Today many Indian women make a beeline towards cosmetic surgery to sculpt their figures and faces into desirable shapes and contours. Why is that even today, the privileged male gaze still seems to determine and dictate ideal female form, image and behaviour.

This again, is because the women refuse to be motivated by anything less than male admiration. Wear this and men will love you, If you use no hair color, your talent won’t be recognized, Use this coffee powder and men will massage your feet. Your link isn’t working, but women are making a beeline towards cosmetic surgery in an attempt to either beat their neighbor who has a slimmer figure or in an attempt to save their marriage or simply as a quick fix as their low self esteem. Sure you can blame this again on the media perpetuated stereotype of a perfect woman. But the media is not a collection of men. Women share responsibility too. Let’s face it, it is easier to fix your nose than your personality right?

Former US President Bill Clinton revealed in his biography My Life, that he did have an affair with Monica Lewinsky (which he had earlier conviently denied). Having confessed, he excuses himself, dismissing it as a mistake that should never have happened. His book sold like hot cakes, the media excused him and men at large were again reassured that they do not need to take responsibility for their own sexual behaviour. This makes me wonder are we still living in Patriarchy type of sociological conditions. Patriarchy has always allocated sexual rights to men and responsibilities to women. It’s simply sad and pathetic to see that this ethical code still exists, even among progressive and enlightened people.

While I agree that the media largely excuses men’s sexual behavior, I don’t agree that can be connected to the book. Women celebrities themselves should be held responsible this. In an episode of Oprah titled, “Why Men Cheat” it is said, ninety-two percent of men said it wasn’t primarily about the sex. “The majority said it was an emotional disconnection, specifically a sense of feeling underappreciated”. Of course the guest on the show emphasises this is about empowering women. But it isn’t. It is actually a case of passing the buck to women. Here, you take responsibility for men cheating and you do X, Y, Z to keep him from cheating. When powerful and influential women like Oprah can endorse such opinion, there is little you can expect from men.

[Guest Post : Vallath]

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