SEXISM, MASCULINITY AND THE COMMODIFICATION OF WOMEN
“By marriage, the husband and wife are one person”, can be termed as the first legal statement that abolished the existence of status for women in any society, as it suspended the legal existence of women in marriage. Until the 20th century, many sovereignties including the United States and Britain, observed this system of coverture. This, in a form commodified the existence of women, as they eventually gave up their identity to husbands, legally.
Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech in 1851 is perhaps the earliest, viral, vocal challenge at sexism. At the Ohio Women’s Right Convention in Akron, the weather beaten Isabella Baumfree (christened name of Sojourner) captivated the audience with oratory that reflected her New Yorker upbringing; speaking for the abolition of slavery (countrywide), but especially against, the prejudice of women in the larger American society. This was on a backdrop of women not being legally defined as “persons” until 1875.
Sexism, prejudice, discrimination or stereotype can be used to promote exclusion and hate; affecting any gender but mostly reported to affect women and girls. These prejudices are often rooted in financial payments such as dowry, bride price and dower; which often serve as legitimizing coercive control of the wife by her husband and in giving him authority over her. For example, Yemeni marriage regulations state that a wife must obey her husband and must not leave the home without his permission. Until 1983, Australian women required the consent of their husbands before acquiring a passport. In developing countries across the world (and in some developed societies still), the prejudice of women against the milieu of lavish patriarchy continue to limit the advancement of women’s rights, and access to equitable opportunities.
In today’s age of digital media explosion, the crossroad where media – social, and sexism meet is but a thin line, which contextually can be confusing. While advancement in internet technology has influenced evolutions in healthcare delivery, commerce and governance; it has also promoted the distribution of, and demand for the commodification of women and their sexuality for the gratification of a larger, global patriarchal society. Pornography and advertising have combined well in an unbecoming manner, to objectify women only as tools for sexual gratification, domestic providers who cannot make significant decisions and are dependent on men.
When Jill Abramson, the first woman executive editor of the New York Times was unceremoniously fired, reasons given from some quarters suggested that the publisher was unhappy with the way she was performing her job. Other said it was because she had discovered that not only was she being paid less than her predecessor, she was also making less money than some of her male subordinates at the time. Some attributed it to her “pushy”, brusque and demanding ethic – qualities that are usually admired, or at least tolerated in men. Abramson later opined that indeed, women are often ‘autopsied’ in ways that men never are.
Occupational sexism – discriminatory practices, statements or actions based on a person’s sex, occurring in the workplace is rife today, more than ever. Wage discrimination tops all forms of occupational sexism, with tokenism following behind, especially in an era of increasing sexuality complexities. While gender might no longer refer to just male and female, the commodification of women whether conscious or unconscious (as is debatable in advertising), continues.
Masculinity continues to drive sexism, and as tweep – YeoshinLourdes – opines, “When a man kills a woman, it’s usually because he won’t leave her alone. When a woman kills a man, it is usually because he won’t leave her alone.” So, it is common place for men to share and distribute text, pictures and videos of women in a commodifying way, while society frowns at women for being slutty and immoral for doing the same to men. The issues surrounding sexism and commodification of women transverse conservatism, liberalism and the wont for gender equality in an ever increasing “man’s world”.