Dear Advertisers, There's Nothing Sexy About Violence Against Women


Editors Note: This article contains graphic images of violence that may be disturbing to some. *Trigger Warning*

Monday marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and for the next two weeks, people across the world will be sporting orange in solidarity with survivors and sparking important conversations about what gender-based violence looks like.

This awareness campaign couldn't come soon enough in the world of fashion, where violence against women is still considered an appropriate way to market products to consumers. Don't believe me? Check out this sampling of disturbing images used by prominent fashion brands to advertise in women's magazines.

One of the pictures from a spread from a Bulgarian fashion magazine.

A recent Calvin Klein ad showing a man creeping up on an unsuspecting woman.

An image dating back to 2010 when America's Next Top Model televised a photo shoot where models were instructed to play dead.

An ad for Istanbul's Beyman Blender, in a magazine in Instanbul.

One of the bloody Lindsey Lohan portraits that hung at London's Tyler Shields exhibition in 2010.

Advertisers may think it's OK to deliberately perpetuate violence against women, but here's the truth about violence against women that every one of these companies needs to hear, courtesy of feminist writer Soraya Chemaly: Every nine seconds in the U.S., a woman is assaulted or beaten. Someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the U.S. (overwhelmingly women). One-third of women murdered each year in the U.S. are killed by an intimate partner. At least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime around the world.

So why does the fashion industry continue to use ads like these to sell products? Why is being abused and dismembered, portrayed as edgy and hot? And more importantly, what does this obsession with battered and dead women do to society?

Media scholar Jean Kilbourne says advertisements that objectify and dehumanize women make violence more acceptable and legitimate. "When women are constantly shown as objects, the abuse and the violence makes a chilling kind of sense," she told the Journal Inquirer

As it turns out, exposure to violent and degrading images of women affects our attitudes and behaviors towards them in real life. Aggressive behavior is a lot like texting at the dinner table, it's more prominent when it is perceived to be socially accepted. A study conducted in 2010 showed that men who were exposed to sexually degrading depictions of women in video games reported a "greater likelihood to sexually harass women and a greater accessibility of a woman as sex object." In a similar study from 2008, men who had been subjected to sexualized video game female characters also felt less empathy for female victims of sexual harassment and were more likely to blame the victim.

In other words, images like the one below aren't just offensive, they increase the likelihood of dangerous behavior.

The good news is violence against women is entirely preventable. According to the WHO, the very fact that violence against women varies so much amongst and within countries is evidence that the problem is the result of nurture, not nature.

Preventing this kind violence begins with changing the very attitudes that perpetuate it. 

Source: World Health Organization

A UN report found that we can reduce the incidence of gender-based violence simply by making violence against women unacceptable and by promoting non-violent and caring ways to be a man.

So, it's time to call out ads that promote masculinity through the violent repression of women for what they really are: an unacceptable and dangerous way for men to assert their power.

Join me in using the next 16 days of activism to raise awareness about gender-based violence. Tell me what you'll be doing to speak up using the #OrangeUrWorld and #16Days hashtags on Twitter.

For more on feminism, gender-based violence and female empowerment, follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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