The objectification of women in this day and age is abhorrent

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo

As we draw closer to the end of Women's Month, we are seeped back into the reality of how far we still have to go as a country when coming to how we think about women.

I am referring to the tweets made by spokesperson for the department of basic education, Elijah Mhlanga. In a series of tweets, Mhlanga posted explicit images of women, with the aim of promoting the department's "Read to Lead" campaign.

The purpose of the campaign is to promote reading among young children and young adults.

I do not want to centre this piece around Mhlanga's problematic tweets. I do, however, want to use them as a necessary moment that we can use to reflect on how deeply entrenched the objectification of women continues to thrive in this day and age.

Since time immemorial, women have been hyper-sexualised and objectified in the media to sell ideas or goods. This has dangerous consequences for the society we are trying to create.

We need to start thinking carefully and critically about the implicit messages in images that objectify women. We need to think deeply about who receives these messages and the effects of these messages on women and men in our society.

An obvious consequence that immediately comes to my mind is the danger of raising boy children who think of women only in relation to their body parts. And seeing women only as an object for a man's indulgence.

Many women and young girls have grown up being barred from self- expression and a normal childhood, because of the hyper-sexualisation and objectification of women.

Growing up, we are careful to dress our girl children in "modest" clothing because we are scared of the reaction revealing clothes may illicit, a practice we do not have to be mindful of when coming to boy children, because their bodies have not been turned into objects of satisfaction and adoration for others.

Women are forced to think carefully about how they dress in public or in the workplace out of fear of being disrespected, stalked, catcalled or groped.

This is no coincidence, it is a result of our own society objectifying women - for centuries. Women are given this task of covering up their bodies as much as they can because should they do otherwise, they will be blamed for being harassed, assaulted, or worse, they will be blamed for being raped because they didn't dress themselves "appropriately".

Women should not have to think that it is their responsibility to cover up so that men do not think of them as objects of sexual gratification.

What is the consequent of objectifying women in a campaign where the target market is young children and young adults? We run the risk of further deepening and perpetuating the idea that women are objects in the heads of boy children and young adults.

As a society, we are trying to undo the works of patriarchy, sexism and of toxic masculinity. Seeing the objectification of women continue in 2019 is a shocking drawback but a necessary and rude awakening to the amount of unlearning we still have to do.

What we should be seeing more of are images of women breaking boundaries, irrespective of the limits patriarchy has placed for them. We need to see more positive role-modelling for girl children to make them re-imagine the possibilities that are not limited to their looks.

With all the strides women have made and continue to make, it is frightening to see women continue to be reduced to their physical attributes.

We need to be cognisant of the ways in which we depict them for the sake of the society we are trying to build, where women do not have to work 10 times harder or dress "appropriately" for them to be 'recognised'.

We need to be cognisant of the implicit messages that we drive when using images of women in the media to promote ideas or products.

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