On Commodification Of Women

by Benjie Oliveros

There is a saying that lightning does not strike twice in the same place. But in this case, it did. On September 20 Saturday, during the Naked Truth and Denim and Underwear show of apparel company Bench, a popular actor entered the stage holding a scantily-clad woman on a leash. This generated a lot of flak and Bench had to apologize three days after. In its Facebook page, Bench said, “We at Bench apologize to the public for all the offensive elements of the show, ‘The Naked Truth’. We will take all these concerns seriously and will serve as a lesson learned when we plan our next show. We at Bench shall continue to uphold the dignity of women and our commitment will remain so.”

Would Bench issue an apology if it did not receive a lot of negative publicity because of that segment? Surely, that disgusting segment was planned and did not just appear by accident or by the spontaneous act of the models.

In the first place, the whole show was meant to titillate the public into buying Bench’s underwear products. The disgusting segment with a woman on the leash generated the most controversy, but the show was designed to attract a big following by parading scantily clad women and men on the catwalk. It even had some raunchy poses of pairs of men and women. The objective of the whole show is to sell products through sexually suggestive images. And when this is the objective, women suffer the most.

Two days later, a netizen posted an image of a t-shirt being sold at SM at the Teens section. Printed on the shirt was “It’s not rape. It’s a snuggle with a struggle.” When the photo of the shirt went viral, reportedly generating 3,100 shares and a lot of angry comments, SM issued an apology.

Interaksyon printed the following apology, sent through Twitter, by the management of SM malls: “We have been informed via social media that we have a t-shirt in stock with a message that we too find unacceptable. We do not tolerate such action. SM does not support such irresponsible and malicious acts that mock important and sensitive social issues. We have immediately pulled out all the t-shirts of the consignor that distributes them, and we are investigating why it was included in our delivery of assorted t-shirts. Appropriate action will be taken to ensure this does not happen again. Thank you for informing us.”

Would the management of the biggest retail chain in the country SM issue an apology if the abhorrent shirt did not generate a lot of flak?

This writer knows for a fact that no product enters the SM department store without a purchase order, whether under consignment or not. And products being offered to SM department stores undergo a rigorous process of selection. There is no way that a product such as a T-shirt would be inadvertently included in a delivery even of “assorted t-shirts,” much less be displayed in its racks without a SM manager approving it.

So what were the people at Bench thinking when they designed that segment with a woman on a leash? What were the people at SM thinking when they approved the order for that abhorrent t-shirt? They were thinking that it would sell because women and sexual imagery sell products.

In a backward, agricultural country, which has been penetrated by the production and market for commodities, women suffer twin violations: women are regarded as having a lower status, as property of men, and as commodities for sale. These twin violations of women in Philippine society are aptly being described by women’s group Gabriela as feudal exploitation and commodification of women. Women from the working masses suffer even more because aside from these twin violations, they are being oppressed and exploited as part of the working class.

Political, social and economic structures and institutions are reinforcing this lower social status of women and their treatment as property of men. The commodification of women is being promoted to the hilt by corporations to sell products. This, of course, emanates from the same socio-political and economic system that perpetuates the oppression and exploitation being suffered by women, and men for that matter, who are part of the working masses.

To counter these, women and men should continue protesting against and expressing disgust over these twin violations on women. But to eradicate these, Gabriela is right in saying that the material conditions for the oppression and exploitation of women, and men from the working classes, should be radically swept aside to make the situation favorable for correcting the historical injustices being done to women, especially working class women. (bjulatlat.com)

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