Objectification of women won't end until advertising and media change
A view from Sue Unerman

Objectification of women won't end until advertising and media change

Without a bigger proportion of women in senior jobs in marketing, media and advertising, better representation of women will be slow to be established, says MediaCom's Sue Unerman.

"It's kinda messed up" 

"It's like gross to see" 

"I don't like seeing that"

"Cover your eyes, cover your eyes"

These are the reactions of a bunch of kids when shown ads featuring the objectification of women according to Madonna Badger of the campaign Women Not Objects.  A campaign directed at you, working in media, marketing and advertising.

Badger, a New York creative director, has created a video about the harm this does to young women which was shortlisted, though not awarded, in the Glass Lion category.  The quotations above come from this related video.  Watch them both, and if you agree, sign her petition

The Women Not Objects mission is a simple one, and one that we can all, if we choose, get behind to end the objectification in advertising and the harm that it causes.  To ensure girls truly understand that their worth is not their weight, their looks or their body parts, but who they are, what they say and what they can do. 

We're born male or female (mostly).  But it is culture and society that teaches us how we are meant to behave.  If children are surrounded by images that show submissive behaviour from women then we shouldn't be surprised if girls grow up lacking the techniques to be as assertive as men.  

Badger's campaign has four criteria to judge a campaign:  1. Is the woman being used as a prop – does she have a choice or a voice or has she been reduced to a thing?  2. Is she plastic – has she been retouched beyond what's humanly possible? 3. Can we only see her body parts (any sign of a face)? 4. How would you feel if that woman was your mother, daughter, sister, co-worker, you?

Madeleine DiNonno from the Geena Davis Institute says that the representation of women is going backwards, especially in newer media channels, digital and social.  

The institute has amassed an enormous body of research on gender in entertainment, spanning more than 20 years.

In the latest findings from the institute covering a huge range of video, if men are speaking on camera, then of course the camera is focussed on them.  If women are speaking, the focus is often predominantly still on the men listening to them.  The research counts the background presence of men and women in incidental casting.  Women are present less than 20% of the time.

This is nothing new.  In the 1970s Marianne Wex, a German photographer, published a collection of over 5,000 images of men and women photographed in public spaces.  They show people waiting for trains, sitting in public.  The women take up as little space as possible.  They make themselves small, narrow, harmless.  Men on the other hand take up as much space as possible, sitting in what Wex called the "proffering" position, familiar to anyone on a crowded train.  Legs are thrown wide apart, the crotch is "proffered", feet point outward and extend.  

It's easy to conclude which is the dominant gender. 

The sooner we can rid the screens and the streets and the pages of magazines and newspapers of objectifying and demeaning images of women, the sooner we'll achieve change for our daughters, sisters and colleagues, change that will mean that they can take up as much space in public as men.

Without a bigger proportion of women in senior jobs in marketing, media and advertising this change will be slow to be established.  Several commentators have pointed out that until women are dictating the media agenda from the top, change will be slow to happen. 

My next book, The Glass Wall, success strategies for women at work, is published in September to fix this, to address the gender lack of balance with advice for women and for business.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom
@sueu

Topics