‘Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast’
Earlier this month, I received a call from my friend at 11:30 in the night. I wasn’t particularly surprised to see her name flashing on my phone screen because like almost every other college student, our sleep schedules had been synced to match that of a cicada, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary for us to talk at odd hours. What, however, shook me when I received the call was how scared she sounded. After an anxiety attack and almost 30 minutes of full-blown crying later, she sobbed her way into telling me what had happened. My friend had ordered food at 11:00 after her parents had gone to sleep and soon after she received a call that the food had arrived. About 5 minutes after she had picked up her food, the delivery man called her to ask if she was missing anything from the order, to which answered with a no and cut the call. The delivery man called again and as soon as my friend answered the call, the man had asked her to stay on call because he had ‘liked’ her voice and immediately after my friend asked him to repeat himself, he said wrong number and cut the call. My friend proceeded to immediately block the number and had called me. She received a call from the blocked number again the next day and was overcome with anxiety. For days that succeeded the event, she was constantly anxious, scared and on high alert, every time the dog in her apartment barked into the night. This story isn’t an uncommon one, in fact, the case of wrong numbers and right numbers quickly transgressing into wrong ones, is too familiar territory for far too many women, so much so that even during unprecedented times like the second wave of Covid in India, when many women gave out their phone numbers to help people find resources, they were still not safe from these creepy calls.
Sexualization by definition means to make something sexual in character or quality and is often linked to sexual objectification. On a global scale, girls and women have been subjects of hypersexualization and their worthiness has been equated to their body’s appearance and sexual functions. Infact, if we look around critically, we are bombarded with hypersexualized images of women, so much so that sometimes we barely even notice it. From the smallest of things to huge billboards and magazine covers, women have been portrayed as sexual objects or with sexual innuendo in mind to either increase the sale of a commodity or to attract the audience, even when there is absolutely no connection between the commodity being advertised and sex. Advertisements like men’s perfumes, deodorants, body washes and commodities that mostly cater to men, are advertised in a manner where girls are attracted to them because they start using the product. Even the film and entertainment industry have aided the hypersexualization of women by showing them sex objects throughout movies, song videos, and in song sequences, famously known as ‘item numbers’ in India.
While until a few years ago, the imagery was limited to big screens and billboards, with the rise of social media usage, the hypersexualization culture has only seen a multifold increase, where girls as young as 11-12-year-olds are rewarded for conforming to certain sexualized narratives and punished for the same as well. The duality and the hypocrisy behind this is such that, no matter whichever way we choose to go, the only real beneficiary would largely be men.
Hypersexualisation has not only made women’s lives difficult in terms of unwanted sexual attention, unattainable beauty standards but also has been linked with deteriorating mental health. The trauma of receiving a penis picture, being catcalled on the street, being inappropriately touched, and being sexualized for something as normal as talking a certain way, among other perfectly normal day-to-day activities has a huge impact on women’s mental health. Even the pressure to look a certain way in order to be seen as worthy has pushed thousands of women into psychological distress and increased the incidences of eating disorders, appearance anxiety, body dissatisfaction, body shame, and an internalized self-objectification mechanism.
When women are viewed only as sexual objects, it takes away from them being seen as human beings with an independent agency, their right to exercise this agency, and more often than not they are seen as less intelligent and morally ‘loose’, in short, they are often viewed as lesser human beings, making it difficult for them to not only go about their daily lives but making them more susceptible to sexually violent crimes, which often overlaps with other sociocultural factors such as race, ethnicity, caste, sexual orientation, and social class.
The objectification culture preaches that women need not be powerful, just pretty, they need not be respected, just noticed and that if they don’t look a certain way, they are not worthy, desirable or sexy and if they do, they are lesser human beings, so where is the win really?
- Samikhya Satpathy