Why Sex Doesn’t Sell
by Elizabeth Muse on Friday, May 16th, 2014
On Wednesday, May 7th, Milton welcomed Caroline Heldman as this year’s Gender Committee speaker. Heldman earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from Rutgers University and is currently an Assistant Professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Dr. Heldman has been featured in a number of top journals and plays an active role in politics; she has held positions as a congressional staffer, campaign manager, campaign consultant, and political activist.
Dr. Heldman’s speech was an extended, analogous version of a TED Talk she gave in January of 2013, which was titled The Sexy Lie. During the discussion, Heldman touched on a number of issues facing women: particularly sexual objectification. She defined this expression as the process of representing a person like a sex object, one who serves for another’s sexual pleasure. Heldman went on to explain how sexual objectification is deeply rooted in our culture. She argued that most children and teenagers are not able to identify what sexual objectification is, explaining, “It’s like being raised in a red room, pulled out of that red room, and asked to describe the color red.” With teenagers seeing an average of five-thousand advertisements a day, a number that seemed to most students, as Caroline Ward (III) articulated, “shockingly high,” it is understandable why our generation has a difficult time identifying sexual objectification in the media.
Mateen Tabatabaei (IV) agreed with Dr. Heldman’s observation that adolescents do not always perceive sexual objectification in today’s advertisement-saturated culture. “The pictures she showed seemed like ads we are used to seeing without giving a second thought.” he stated. Hannah Nigro (III) concurred, saying, “I think that especially in film and TV we are immune to this sexual objectification that older generations see as inappropriate.”
Having defined and discussed sexual objectification, Dr. Heldman challenged the ever-popular mantra, “sex sells”. She debunked this myth by citing the lack of male objectification in our culture, arguing that, if sex truly sells, advertisements featuring scantily-clad people–both men and women– would line the streets. Instead, our culture fosters the ill-informed idea that objectifying women gives power to men. Dr. Heldman explained that our society supports a culture where men need to feel powerful and woman need to appeal to men’s tastes. Dr. Heldman also included a lengthy list of all the ways female objectification is detrimental to the mental and physical health of women and girls, including lower GPAs, eating disorders, and extreme self-criticism.
Towards the end of her speech, Dr. Heldman pointed out that during her presentation, the female students in the room had engaged in habitual body monitoring–such as the positioning of legs, the positioning of hair, and the checking of who around the room was “checking them out”– on average about once every thirty seconds. This observation impacted both the men and women in the audience; when asked what was the most shocking part of the assembly was, Mateen continued, “the piece about how a woman’s role in society as just an object that has to be beautiful has become so ingrained in our heads that women and girls are constantly checking how they look. Sure, I want to look good too, but I never realized how important it must be for girls and what the source of that [pressure] is.”
Dr. Heldman captivated many students throughout her assembly. Caroline Ward (III) disclosed that she understood and connected with Dr. Heldman’s speech more than she had with that of a speaker earlier this year who also addressed sexual objectification. Other students disagreed with aspects of Heldman’s speech, such as Aeshna Chandra (III), who articulated, “Saying that ‘all women do this’ or ‘all men think that’ was wrong, in my opinion, but I agree that a large majority of each gender does do what she said.”
Having explained the provocative reality of modern media, Caroline Heldman ended the assembly with one piece of advice for students: we must fight our society’s perpetual encouragement of objectification by making our voices heard in any way we can, whether on media outlets and social sites or simply in our day-to-day lives.
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=6306