The objectification of women in advertising is diverse and ubiquitous: the female body is used to sell everything from fast food to cars to hair care products. This objectification is symptomatic of a larger social problem: the tendency to define women by their sexuality. As deplorable as this form of advertising is, it is so common that I’ve almost become desensitized to it. However, the last place I would have expected to see it is in a poster promoting International Justice Week for Baylor’s chapter of the International Justice Mission (IJM).
IJM is an organization that, among other things, seeks to end human trafficking and help survivors of the international sex trade. These goals are commendable, and I have no doubt that IJM is sincerely working to end this terrible injustice. However, the posters distributed around campus promoting IJM’s International Justice Week are guilty of the same type of objectification that is prevalent in other forms of advertisement. The poster features a young, slender woman facing away from the camera. She is attractive, drawing the viewer to the poster. Her shoulders are bared, with the words “Justice Week:
March 24th-28th” superimposed upon her naked back. This image embodies so many of the things that are wrong with society’s view of women. She is helpless and submissive; she is an attractive body without a face, beautiful but anonymous. While the sexualized anonymity of the woman in the photo is perhaps intended to be a reflection of the sex trade, it nonetheless uses the attractive female body to draw attention and advertise. In doing so, it essentially uses sex to promote a campaign against sex trafficking.
I am by no means equating the sexualization of women in advertising with the enslavement and abuse of women that occur in sex trafficking. Nonetheless, this form of advertising is damaging to the way our society regards women, reinforcing the idea that women can be defined by and reduced to sexual objects. This tragic and misguided idea is the same belief at the foundation of the sex trade that IJM is fighting against. Bringing an end to sex trafficking requires changing the way society views women and female sexuality, including the way women are objectified in advertising. I sincerely hope that IJM takes this into consideration and chooses more empowering images to promote their fight against sex trafficking in the future.