Women are still enslaved, only the “how” has changed.

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This was published in the Irish Times and Irish Examiner and is my response to a discussion I heard on Today FM about a ‘glamour model’. This interview coincided with newly published figures on sexual assault in Ireland and I address the probable link between the glamour culture and objectification of women.

As a psychotherapist and a woman, I was saddened to see your front page article headlined ‘Rape: Our Blame Culture’ (March 26). Coincidentally, that morning the Ray D’Arcy show on Today FM featured a discussion about Ireland’s first page three girl.

It was timely that the day’s media coverage highlighted the fact that rape victims were held accountable for the crime committed against them, while simultaneously hoisting a young girl onto a pedestal because she poses nude. What is the connection between the two? Well, it is simply this.

As an astute Today FM listener correctly pointed out, women today are judged on their looks, their perceived sexiness, as compared with or contrasted to the various images with which we are all being bombarded every day. If a woman doesn’t look a certain way, she is not deemed good enough. Making women feel bad about themselves is a multi-billion euro industry. Cosmetic companies spend more on advertising than on research. Why? Because it works. We soak it up, trying to find better ways to change how we are. And how we are will never be the same as a magazine cover. But we keep striving for that elusive glow, those perfect legs, the whitest teeth, the firmest bust. And all this time we must also get that balance right between being sexually assertive — but not too slutty, mind! — and raise kids, hold down jobs, avoid aging at all costs and still do more than half of the domestic chores.

And what we have also seen in recent years is the gradual sexualisation and exploitation of children. Models are getting younger and younger, children are developing eating disorders, thongs are being sold in children’s underwear sections, age-inappropriate slogans are printed across the bums and chests of prepubescent girls and schoolchildren are considered fair game as marketing targets for Playboy paraphernalia.

What a cynical way of normalising pornography for children. And we wonder why our girls and boys are contracting STDs? Wy are they self-medicating with alcohol and drugs Why all the suicides? Why is sexual assault and on the increase? Why are our young people so unhappy? And then we put a page three girl on the radio, claiming, among other rather shaky notions, that she is trying to raise breast cancer awareness.

There are many ways of raising breast cancer awareness, and this one is not appropriate. Having myself a family member who contracted this awful disease, and having contact with women and clients who are affected by it, I very much doubt that seeing a woman posing on page three is going to do any good for a cancer patient’s already crumbling self-esteem. It’s insensitive in the extreme. I am angered and afraid for all of us women. Publicly to promote so-called glamour modelling and to regard it as “‘harmless fun” — a term I hear often in this context — is irresponsible in the extreme.

It is not harmless fun. It feeds into and affirms the attitude that women are second-class citizens, valuable for our looks and ability to satisfy men sexually. Women have been, and continue to be, relentlessly objectified by all the media. We are not the liberated generation campaigners have been fighting for. We are more enslaved than ever. Just differently. Not harmlessly.
And this harm, in its many forms is being normalised daily by all of us — pornography, lap-dancing and the coercion and conditions that often accompany it, sexual assault and rape. Your survey results illustrate this: women are held responsible for men’s behaviour based on how they look, dress or behave. And they are judged so by both genders — how effective all the propaganda has been!

That is not harmless. More than 40% of women have been victims of some form of sexual assault. No wonder only one in 12 rape victims report the crime. They will not be taken seriously. We are a society in crisis. We need to change our attitudes and we can all do so by not being dismissive of this letter and others who feel and say similarly.

Sally O’Reilly
Cork

 

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