Last week, the #WomennotObjects campaign, whose mission is to end objectification in advertising and support brands that empower women, published a powerful new video calling for men and women to acknowledge and “stand up” against the harmful effects of the hypersexualization and objectification of women in the media. The video, entitled “#IStandUp Against the Harm Caused By Objectification of Women in Advertising,” juxtaposes the demeaning ways women’s bodies are used in advertisements against the cruelty with which women are judged, disrespected, or assaulted in real life. From the phenomenon of trying to have a “thigh gap,” to the “Kylie Jenner Lip challenge,” to violence portrayed in both ads and in real life, the video draws a clear connection between the virtual world and the real world.
The #WomenNotObjects campaign, which was launched earlier this year by way of another captivating video, was started by Madonna Badger, co-founder and chief creative officer of advertising agency Badger and Winter. After years of contributing to the glut of hypersexualized advertisements, Badger’s agency recently resolved not to create ads where women are objectified or overly photoshopped. Badger is now pouring her tremendous talents into persuading other agencies to stop objectifying women while proving that it is possible to create compelling and effective ads without doing so.
It is truly refreshing to see an organization, one with roots in marketing at that, acknowledge something the media is far too content to ignore—that the hypersexualization of women in advertising has tangible negative consequences. Just like other forms of communication, advertisements do not exist in a vacuum. They affect us. They affect how we see others, as well as ourselves. That means that, just as we all have a responsibility to consider the ways in which our words or actions affect others, agencies have a responsibility to consider how their ads affect society.
Not only does WomenNotObjects tell it like it is in the videos it's been circulating, it also provides guidance for advertising companies looking to join the movement. As ads are inherently two-dimensional and can never fully encapsulate the essence and humanity of the models in them, it can be difficult to know what is or is not crossing the line. A picture of a girl modeling a sweater can be an apt and appropriate way for a clothing company to show interested buyers how the sweater fits. Unfortunately, it can just as easily become a tool for objectification. Needless to say, delineating effective and captivating ads from harmful ones can be tricky. That's where WomenNotObjects provides simple guidelines, cleverly called “filters,” to help agencies do so.
FILTER 01: Props. Does this woman have a choice or a voice? Has she been reduced to a thing?
FILTER 02: Plastic. Has this woman been retouched beyond human achievability?
FILTER 03. Parts. Has this woman been reduced to provocative body parts?
FILTER 04. What if? What if this woman was your mother? Daughter? Co-worker? Wife? You?
Hashtags and viral videos may not solve the advertising world’s problems, but it is encouraging to see agencies likes Badger’s taking a stand for positive change. Pulling support from organizations that exploit female sexuality, supporting organizations that empower women, and encouraging others to do the same are meaningful steps in the right direction—ones we can all take, however small, in our own lives.
Several years ago, Verily became the first women's magazine committed to not using Photoshop on women's bodies and to offer an alternative to the hypersexualized content everywhere else in media. It's great to see #WomenNotObjects furthering that cause.