Features | Why women are more than sex objects

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LS investigates the role music videos and online promotions play in promoting the sexualisation of women and rape culture.


Miley Cyrus has attracted recent criticism for allowing the use of overtly sexual music videos in an attempt to transform her previously wholesome image and promote her music career. Sinead O’Connor wrote her an open letter urging her not to allow herself to be prostituted by the music industry and to consider the impact on perceptions of women, particularly among her young fans. Songs in our charts now encourage the use of women as sex objects and that lines are blurred when it comes to sexual consent. It is all a far cry from Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video of the 1980s, which is generally acknowledged as the first modern promotional pop video of its type.

The nation views these videos, often conveying a highly sexualised theme and a lot of young people respond by imitating them through fashion choice, attitude and behavior. Rihanna launched a fashion revolution earlier this year; part three of the pop star’s clothing collection is set to hit stores on November 7. If celebrities are wearing it, there is confidence that you and I will want to wear it too. In an attempt to stop the same craze happening in relation to actions in music videos, Prime Minister David Cameron announced in July measures to try and clamp down on such content. He was successful to a certain extent, as it is now entirely illegal to watch films titled “brutal rape porn” and “daddy rapes daughter” – but there is still work to be done.

According to a YouGov poll, 86 per cent of women think that pornography is damaging to children and 40 per cent want search engines not to link to porn sites at all. Home Secretary Theresa May led work to prevent violence against women and girls. The government can accept praise for its attempts to date but there is still a lot to achieve.

However, despite attempts from the government, artists haven’t changed and face criticism for their raunchy and often violent videos though it has become a successful marketing tool. Twerking is working; Miley Cyrus nabbed the top spot of the Billboard 200 album chart. Her recent dance move is a new kind of hip- thrusting move. But not all pop stars are in agreement; One Direc- tion star Harry Styles, 19, recently slammed the it, saying twerking promotes promiscuity and is “quite inappropriate”.

Rihanna recent video ‘Pour It Up’ faced criticism for its explicit content. Even her biggest fans dubbed the video “obscene, vile, and pornographic”. Questions have now been raised about her suitability to be an effective role model for young children and her millions of fans. Dr Helen Wright, former president of the Girls’ School Association, urged parents to stop their children watching the video.

This is not the first time RiRi has faced criticism for her explicit music videos. S&M was branded “too explicit for daytime broad- cast” and the video was banned in 11 countries.

Such videos and dance moves could lead to the over-sexualisation of young people. This social issue could result in young children putting themselves in danger of sexual exploitation and could potentially lead to child abuse. Rachael Goodwick of the Union’s Feminist Societysaid: “the situation has been getting progressively worse in the last 10 years”.

Miranda Suit, of Safermedia, a charity that seeks to reduce the harmful effects of the media on our children, families and society, said: “[Rihanna’s] crude, tasteless and explicit dancing, combined with the money-focused lyrics, are telling all her fans – many of them still children – that it is good for women and girls to sell their body and right for men and boys to see women purely as a sexual commodity. Nadia Dhannie O’Brien of FemSoc has a different opinion. She sees “misogynists such as Robin Thicke, Pitbull and Flo Rida”, adding: “if a woman decides to be sexy in her videos then I don’t see the problem with it.”

The debate is now focused on how the government is set to tackle online pornography which is the source of so much heat in these recent weeks.

While measures are being taken to protect the younger generation, students now find themselves at the centre of a society where people can get away with joking about the serious issue of rape. This was seen in the recent promotion for Leeds club night Tequila, using a pro-rape video. The footage was titled ‘Fresher’s Violation’ and has since been removed but featured Tequila’s team asking Freshers how they were planning on “surviving violation”.

Former FemSoc member Amy Smith says: “unfortunately some men seem to be seeing this outrage at Tequila’s actions as an attack on men, which it really is not.” Rape culture is something that is still very much alive in today’s society and it is something that must be combated; “It is simply standing up for the rights of people”, declares Smith, “to be able to live in a society in which their sexual attack is not promoted.”


Lucy Reid 

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