A beautiful and apparently not yet dressed young woman is facing the camera with half a smile that is accentuated by very glossy red lips. The photographer has used sophisticated lighting techniques that emphasizes her cheeks eyes and shoulders. Her open-palmed hands seem to be caressing her shoulders in almost softporn fashion. This photo is singing the praise of the woman’s beauty. The woman’s character, however, does not come across. Her beauty is not personal but generic and abstract. She is, however, nice and likeable.
The text “You know you are not the first” tells us that she is far from being a virgin and is, indeed, a woman that may have been once or twice around the block. While this makes her a bit of a slut the visual signals contradict that: She is too beautiful and loveable. And the text is from a lover’s point of view anyhow. And in another ad there is an additional question: But do you really care?” The answer – on the basis of the visual charm offensive – is clearly NO. This would still be shocking if there had been a change in public opinion. Neither men or women are expected to enter marriage as virgins any longer. Today both men and women go through a stage of sexual experimentation before they tie the knot. There is a hidden consensus about that though it clashes with the family values that people believe in.
The photo is an ad for used BMW cars. It states: A ‘pre-owned’ woman remains desirable in spite of having lost her maidenhead, So does a sexy car like a pre-owned BMW.
The BMW advertising agency merely copied a Canadian Dale Wurfel ad. That came in two forms a female and a male one: A real man need not be a virgin either.
Sister Namibia thinks that the car dealers and the ad artists acted immorally. Women – and for that matter men – should not be likened to objects for sale. Human relationships like love and friendship have to be mutual and inter-subjective You are both giver and taker, subject and object. That the object’s beauty is stressed does not make being an object more acceptable. Being put on a pedestal is part of turning women into objects.
Sister Namibia is not especially shocked by the ads’ cynical acceptance of promiscuity. Most of Namibia’s young adults, even adolescents claim the right to be sexually active with whatever partner is available. We support the right to love men, women or both and to ‘shop around’ for Mr or Mrs Right. We, however, do not have the right to be gullible and stupid because we have an obligation to ourselves and, potentially, our children. We have to practice safe sex and mistrust those who want to manipulate us in the name of love, so-called tradition or religion.
Men’s and women’s magazines and a whole range of media in cahoots with the commodity, fashion and beauty industry reify (turn into things) and objectify women because it sells.
The advertising industry is not the only culprit. In southern Africa the lobola, roora or brideprice are quite widespread and it is a tradition that many women – also highly educated ones – accept. Unfortunately many husbands today believe that a wife they have paid for is their property and demand unacceptable degrees of obedience. As long as this tradition is not either reformed or abolished this means that democracy and gender equality is missing in people’s private lives and that new generations are raised in the name of patriarchal rule.
The three Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – share Genesis in the Old Testament presents. Woman is presented as God’s gift to man. God said after the act of creation that it was not good that the man was alone, so woman was created out of Adam’s rib to be a companion or helper just for man.
We believe if God intended a gift for man, he should not have given another human being. That would have been akin to slavery. And in the Roman familia that included slaves, the pater familias (father of the family) had the right to kill his wife – and children – just like his slaves.
What bothers us about Genesis is how that story has been used to place women on pedestals and make them subordinate at the same time. “Oh, but you are a woman. You are too GOOD to have authority. You are too GOOD to have a career. You are too GOOD to have choices. Stay on that pedestal and don’t complain because you are on a pedestal.”
Sister Namibia is not antireligious, antitraditionalist and antifashion. We, however, believe we should not be brainwashed into believing that we are objects and chattel and should not allow anybody to treat us as second-class. We feel, indeed, safer in the hand of (evolutionary) science. That Africa is the Cradle of Humankind and that an African Mitochondrial Eve is at the beginning of human development is something that we think is supportive of the women’s cause.