In today’s day and age, one does not need to look very far to find examples of the role the entertainment industry has played in the sexualisation and over-sexualisation of the human body. Any Bollywood movie must contain a few ‘item numbers’ for it to become a hit. The fact that the majority of female stars in both Hollywood and Bollywood are well below the age of 40 is testament to the fact that the film and television industry has few roles for women who serve as anything other than eye candy for audiences. The sheer difference between the number of active male actors post the age of 50, and the number of actively employed female actors belonging to the same age bracket only helps drive home this bitter truth.
While one may argue that the feminism movement and other social awareness campaigns around the world have succeeded in marginally improving the world’s attitude towards women, the large (and very prominent) number of instances of objectification and sexualisation of the female body are still very pressing issues in the entertainment and advertising industries. For some reason, the powers that be in television and online media productions seem to completely immune to the changes taking place as far as progressive attitudes towards women are concerned. Far from the expected decline, recent years have seen a surge in the amount of objectification female superstars and models have been subjected to, often to the point of downright harassment.
A potential reason for this could be the simple fact that “sex sells”. The human pupil is known to dilate as much as five times when it looks at something it likes, and focus group testing has shown that the advertisement of deodorants and alcohol with the use of scantily clad women does in fact attract the male gaze. Sexual icons today are used to sell everything from soaps to cars. Moreover, the addition of innuendos and implicit sexual remarks in mainstream media allows the industry to give their advertisements and productions a humorous or comic spin. In a world where sensationalism and scandal are the only things people interest themselves in, the entertainment and advertisement industries merely capitalise on this and use it to their advantage.
Over the ages, civilised society has made continuous attempts to de-sexualise itself. The recent decision by the former head of the Indian Censor Board Pahlaj Nihalani to even go so far as to remove the word “intercourse” from the dialogue of a film is proof of just how far some countries are willing to go to ensure sex is viewed as a highly taboo subject. This taboo, however, is the exact reason why sex and the sexualisation of goods grabs so many eyeballs. The more taboo the subject, the more these industries feed into the people’s inner desires. The taboo associated with the naked human form has only intensified the lust it is a subject of, and has inadvertently contributed to the objectification process.
The question this raises is whether we can hold the media accountable for the evils of a sexual nature which prevail in society. To say that the media is responsible for the very creation of lust is false. Carnal desires are inherent to mankind and all forms of animal life, for obvious reasons (the proliferation and survival of the species). Lust is therefore a primal facet of the human psyche, and one which we arguably cannot do without; so much so that in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, sex occupies the lowest tier along with other essential human needs like air, water and food. Sex, therefore, is natural, and blaming the media for the creation of lust is unjust.
It is equally unjust, however, to completely absolve entertainment media of any kind of blame. The oversexualisation of the female body and the insertion of a sexual imagery into almost every form of entertainment and advertisement has normalised acts like that of ease teasing and cat calling (read: almost every item number ever), and portrays women as mere outlets for male sexual fantasies. The roles the women occupy in films are often shallow, and their characters do little more than play the part of the damsel in distress who is good for little else.
The idea that women are just supposed to look good and sit back while the man handles all the work is one which is deeply rooted in patriarchy, and an attitude which no doubt facilitates the aforementioned objectification and sexualisation of women in the real world. The road ahead is a tricky one, to say the least. Apart from the obvious Orwellian concerns, censoring has proven that it merely aggravates the problem. The only hope now is for the global wave of feminist ideas and attitudes to find their way into the entertainment industry, so that women no longer have to struggle to be treated as more than sex objects. Perhaps when enough women have broken through the glass ceiling, it will cease to exist entirely.
-Contributed by Prithviraj
Picture Credits: sacw.net