Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A marriage proposal that ISN'T every woman's dream? Couldn't be...

Violence against women is a leading concern in the women's rights movement. While we are desensitized through the media to what is (or rather should be) unacceptable, real life violence makes the headlines. This morning I was late for work watching a story on GMA about a woman in Spain, Svetlana Orlova, who was proposed to by her (abusive) x-boyfriend on national TV. She declined the proposal and was found dead five days later. I guess Patricia's Diary producers didn't do a very good background check, otherwise they would have found that Svetlana had taken out a restraining order against this man in the past.

The spin that GMA takes on this story is an important one. GMA asks the question whether or not the show is to blame for the death (arguably) caused by the appearance on the Patricia's Diary Show. This story is similar to a few others involving TV appearances that lead to tragedies. For example, in 1995 the Jenny Jones Show did an episode about secret admirers where Scott Amedure confessed his love to a blank-faced Jonathan Schmitz. Jonathan, who turned out to be homophobic, killed Scott later that month. Two other shows that ended in tragedy are Nancy Grace and Dateline: To Catch a Predator.

Although I can write about media's direct accountability in all these cases, I'd rather discuss the culture of violence that we are overwhelmed by every day. What makes it acceptable for 1. a show to invite an abusive x-boyfriend onto their show for a surprise proposal and 2. for said x-boyfriend to then murder his x-girlfriend (disclaimer: he hasn't yet been found guilty but is the lead suspect).

As a culture, we still don't take violence against women seriously enough. Although there have been great leaps in laws such as establishing marital rape laws, domestic violence and abuse still way too often remain a private, rather than public, concern. Our culture's attitude towards violence against women is evident through how women are portrayed in media and advertising. Objectifying women (and people in general) is the first step towards violence against them. Dismembering women such as in countless ads and commercials is a perfect example is objectification. More blatantly, some designers advertise directly with images of violence against women. Now I ask you, am I reading into this or does this set up a culture of violence towards women in our country? Below are some photos to help demonstrate what I am referring to.

Another way in which we don't take violence against women seriously enough is evident in countless human rights violations through history. Women are the victims of rape as war crimes; in some cultures, baby girls are unwanted and devalued in relation to their brothers and thus killed in hopes for a baby boy during the next pregnancy; human trafficking in Nepal; I can go on and on. Here and internationally, violence against women is not taken seriously enough and thus leaves open opportunities for the "romantic reunion" of an abusive x-boyfriend and his terrified x-girlfriend. Romanticizing violence is a completely different story that I am sure I will cover one of these days. But really, would the audience have "oohed and aahed" if they knew what was coming out of this marriage proposal? They may still have based on how much pressure and value we put on marriage...

* The Fetish ad reads: "Apply generously to your neck so he can smell the scent as you shake your head 'no'." Seriously?!?!

(photos courtesy of about-face)


Smirking Cat said...

I could go on and on about this particular subject, but bottom line, in a culture that does not respect women as people, violence will continue. I question the women who pose for these ads; are they oblivious to the message it sends, to the hateful standards they are helping to uphold?

Gary said...

I'll play my usual contrarian role and say that I don't think this story has anything to do with our views on violence against women. The show screwed up and didn't do background checks. Ooops. Big ooops. Should they have expected something like this to happen? I don't know. I don't think this is a foreseeable turn of events, but i bet they learned their lesson. It's clearly not acceptable for this man to kill ex-girlfriend, just as it's equally unacceptable for her to kill him, or both of them to kill their neighbors or their accountants aunt. Violence is violence, and murder is murder, and he is being held accountable, which clearly shows that society doesn't think it's acceptable.

Jeff said...

Hey Galina,

Interesting topic. Though I agree that advertisers shouldn't be allowed to suggest that men commit violence against women, there isn't much research to show that viewing these ads results in violence. Another issue is the 1st Amendment. I'm not one for censorship... and freedom of speech is what we hang our hat on in this country. Some of those pictures are grotesque, and the companies that used them should be fined and the ads should be pulled. But for some of the ads, its hard to say what exactly the company is pushing.
Just one point to make though, on the positive side. Domestic violence, and actually ALL violence, in this country has reduced dramtically over the past 15 years. Violent crime is the lowest on record, and domestic violence against women has reduced by almost half since 1993. So that is a good thing. The problem isn't solved. But unlike some problems in this country, we're actually making progress.

Danielle said...

Galina, I need you back here at UConn to share these kinds of conversations!
Anyway, those ads reminded me of something one of my friends was telling me about. One of the fashion shows on tv was having the models pose as victims of violence and who knows what else and it was just so disturbing! I couldn't believe a show watched by millions, mostly aimed at teenage and college aged women, promoted such a message. What are we telling each other when we allow ourselves to be portrayed as beaten and submissive victims in an outlet that is created to be "sexy" and the ideal image for women. It disgusts me to no end.

Jeff said...

I want to pose this question for everyone reading. Keep in mind that I am not trying to downplay any societal movement, merely just stimulate conversation and gather a better understanding.

If society shifts to a belief that all persons should be equals to each other, is it possible for us to survive? Is it possible for us to fight the natural tendencies of natural selection and survival of the fittest?

Some out there believe if we gave every single human out there a fighting chance to life a long prosperous life that the human race will over-run this planet and overuse its resources, thus eventually leading to its own demise. Any thoughts?

Smirking Cat said...

I'm not convinced that social equality would have an impact on how humans overuse the earth's resources...don't we do that already, with the added bonus of social injustice? Arguably, wouldn't a more just society be more willing to work together to improve the status of the environment? I don't have faith that people are capable of harmonious co-existence with each other, other species, or the planet, to be honest, so we will never be able to test the theory.

Feminist Gal said...

Jeff wrote: "there isn't much research to show that viewing these ads results in violence."

Actually, there is very much research suggesting that violent media (such as video games, movies, music videos, movies, etc) may lead to violence. In fact, this is a huge debate right now in social psych. If you want to “go there” (when really, Jeff, why would you get all psychology research on me ;) haha) then feel free to check out Craig Anderson’s publications on his website, he’s one of the leading researchers on the effects of violence in the media:

My point though, isn’t the direct effect of violent media. No, I don’t think that someone who sees a woman get shot in a commercial for a pair of shoes is going to go out and shoot a woman and think that s/he will then be cooler wearing those shoes… All I’m saying is that it sets up a culture of violence that makes certain actions socially acceptable. To reiterate what i said in my post. Violent media sets up a culture of violence and a culture that is desensitized to violence thus normalizing it.

And Jeff, I’m not one for censorship either, all I’m saying is that we shouldn’t have to censor in the first place, those ads just shouldn’t be acceptable and desired by designers.

Also, "domestic violence against women has reduced by almost half since 1993.” Although i agree that this is a fabulous statistic and I would be extremely glad if it were true but the truth is, so much of violence against women, including domestic violence and rape goes unreported and under-reported.

The other thing is, I’m not trying to single out men. I’m not saying that men only cause violence. Obviously women are violent as well. The statistics show that most of the violence in this country is caused by men, onto men and by men, onto women.