Feminism can be defined as a belief in the social. political and economic equality of the sexes. Gender equality meaning that women have the same human rights and equal opportunity and treatment as men.
“I call myself a feminist. Isn’t that what you call someone who fights for women’s rights?”–Dalai Lama
This statement is a simplistic interpretation as to what feminism is. However, it is important in that it illustrates that feminism is not just about attacking men. That anyone who wants equality of the sexes can be considered a feminist.
In Britain, the feminist movement dates back to the 19th century when the Suffragettes campaigned for the women’s vote. In 1918 the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who owned houses. In 1928 this was extended to all women over twenty-one.
To illustrate that the rights of women has been an ongoing subject of debate and political contention I discovered the following quotation:
“Women should have every honourable motive to exertion which is enjoyed by man, to the full extent of her capacities and endowments. The case is too plain for argument. Nature has given woman the same powers, and subjected her to the same earth, breathes the same air, subsists on the same food, physical, moral, mental and spiritual.” –Frederick Douglass (American Human rights leader c1818-1895)
Feminist movements and activities continue globally. With the goal of empowering both men and women to break out of gender roles. So that both sexes have equal shares in society’s opportunities and world resources. However, there has been a lot of negative publicity surrounding feminism. It has been recurrently mis-represented by common stereotypes. An American ‘comedian’, Rudy Limbaugh on Premier Radio Networks, stated that feminism was created “to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.”
An article that appeared in The Independent last year reported that “1 in 5 think being called a feminist is an insult”.
This is how Suffragetes were being portrayed in press articles (propaganda) at the time:
Personally I prefer Gandhi’s reasoning,
“To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater courage? Without her man could not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with woman … Who can make a more effective appeal to he heart than woman?” –Gandhi
I think these images are self-explanatory as to what sexual objectification means. The women are clearly been seen as sexual objects. Their sexual and physical attributes are separated from the rest of their personality and existence as an individual. Reducing them to instruments of pleasure for another person.
Catherine MacKinnon, an American lawyer, teacher, writer and radical feminist believes that sexuality is controlled by men in a patriarchal society: “Women are socially disadvantaged in controlling sexual access to their bodies through socialization to customs that define a woman’s body as for sexual use by men. Sexual access is regularly forced or pressured or routinized beyond denial.”
The Leveson Report, published in November 2012, looked into the culture, practice and ethics of the press. It criticized the way women are depicted in the press. Suggesting that there is evidence to show that the tabloid press often fails to show “respect for the dignity and equality of women generally”, while there is a “tendency to sexualise and demean women”. ‘Object’, an organisation set up specifically to challenge the sexual objectification of women, had submitted various examples of how women were portrayed in the media.
Despite protests against page 3 of The Sun in November 2012 it was not actually dropped until January 2015. The Sun had been printing photos of topless women on page 3 for more than four decades.
Images below show how sexual objectification of women continues in the press. Most notably in The Daily Star and The Sun whose demographics lean towards a working class, male audience.
The debates on both feminism and sexual objectification will continue to rage. Within the press there are numerous angles to consider. Both in terms of how women are portrayed and also women’s roles in the industry. For example the proportion of males/females in senior positions and salary differences. There is still a long way to go for everyone’s right to have an equal chance at a good life in what feminists would see as a predominantly patriarchal society.