Guest Column

Society objectifies women

2017-06-04 06:02

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Thabang Pooe

The recent surge in reports of violence against women has brought femicide and gender-based violence as a discussion squarely into the public space. However, discussions about the women involved often take an all too familiar twisted turn. “Oh but o ne a phapha” [She was forward] or “Ne a rata banna badi chelete” [She loves rich guys] or even “Ke yellow bone wago rata di-instagram” [She is fair in complexion and loves Instagram]. This serves as some sort of justification for the violence that these women’s bodies were subjected to. What’s worse is that some of these unfortunate remarks come from women themselves.

Perhaps the starting point is the objectification of the female body. Society – and even women themselves, deliberately or not – teaches women from an early age to view themselves as objects. They are taught that in order to attract a man they need to look a certain way, be a certain weight and present themselves in a particular way. This manifests itself in young girls often prioritising body image over all else.

This internalised objectification can lead to low self-respect, body image issues and lack of awareness of one’s own autonomy. It is often at the root of many feminist issues. This of course results in the misogynistic idea that women are objects, not subjects. By “object” I mean something that exists to fulfil someone else’s desires, and by “subject” I mean somebody who has their own desires. We reduce women to complete object-hood. If you are socialised as a woman, it is very likely that you have learnt to view yourself as an object.

Public perception

So many women, especially in this era of social media, spend much of their time trying to look insta-perfect: with flawless skin, wearing the hottest outfits and sporting the latest accessories. This is hardly frowned upon – after all, they are living up to the object that they need to be in order to be loved and adored by society, especially men. This is all good and well until something goes wrong.

So, say you are abused, raped or even killed – as opposed to looking at the conduct of the man and the norms that allow aggression against women to be acceptable – we more often interrogate the woman’s life, character and even looks to justify why this horrible thing could have happened to her.

In the cases of the young women whose brutal murders were in the news more recently, the attention slowly turned to public perception of their looks and conduct. Soon their lives were impugned as people said things like “that one was known to like rich men”, “she was loud and into night life” and “that is what happens when you are a gold digger”.

All this is said in order to justify the violent acts perpetrated by the men involved in these incidents. As if the women’s attire, looks or behaviour gave the perpetrator the right to violate and even kill them.

It is as if there is an invisible line between when a woman aims to become the object of men’s affection and when their conduct goes too far such that it becomes acceptable for them to be subjected to the cruelest of acts. It suddenly seems more tolerable … well because she was a slut, whore or gold digger…

Much of the time it is as if we need to justify their very being for them to be important – because they don’t fall into the categories of special extraordinary blacks (those who are edu-macated or celebrities) – there is no reason for us to care.

Surely we should stop!

A different message

Over the weekend we saw how various newspapers quoted Karabo Mokoena’s uncle when he talked about how, “When a girl child is unemployed or still in school‚ and she brings all those expensive bags‚ while she isn’t working‚ as a mother … just ask her to return those things to where they come from.

“… You are giving power to that young man over your child because that young man thinks he owns your child.”

Again we look to the conduct of the young women and not the men who use gifts and money in an effort to control women. And even here, society expects women to bear the burden of responsibility while men police how women ought to be or what they should do in the name of ‘moral’ preserve.

Should the message not be that no amount of money or gifts ever give you ownership over a woman’s body?

Should we not teach girls and women that their self-worth is not tied to being someone’s object of affection?

Should we not stop judging young women for doing that which we said was necessary for them to be worthwhile?

Should we not encourage women to take charge of their lives, have full agency to make decisions, express and identify themselves in the way they are most comfortable with, and reject the narrative of being subservient to or at the mercy of patriarchal standards and expectations?

And finally #MenAreTrash because they continue to objectify women but, as a community, we are probably junk too because we feed into this narrative and continuously shift the blame to victims who need our support and understanding.

We need to be better than this!

Pooe is a researcher at Section27

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