By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria

The word "Heresy"

was used by Irenaeus in Contra Haereses to discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. It has no purely objective meaning without an authoritative system of dogma.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Contested Meanings of Women's Rights : The New Sex Police

Don't look now but it looks like there is going to be a new Philippine law that penalizes "any portrayal or attitude of an individual or an object as sexually attractive or stimulating, and whose portrayal or attitude is aimed merely to excite the imagination, and has no relevance to the goods or services being promoted.”

It didn't eaxctly make headline news because right now, both local and international media are still swept up with the unfolding story of the recently resolved kidnap for ransom case which involved ABS-CBN Journalist, Ces Ojena Drilon.

The new law purports to penalize advertising agencies, television and radio stations, and publications that produce and use such advertisements. Interestingly though, in recent years, a lot of "technology oriented" magazines selling devices which range from laptop computers, game consols, cameras and cellular phones are among those publications which have featured scantily clad and sexy women models to sell both the magazine and endorse the products in them. On the other hand, there are also cheap tabloids that feature naked women regularly.

The problem with such a law of course is that despite their purported objectives of protecting women, they will in all likelihood end up focusing all the negativity on the women (specifically "sexy women" who make a good living as such) and their bodies. As much as it penalizes advertisers, publishers and media, the "judgement" on whether something falls within the purview of the law will be based on the "visible." Here of course, it is the women and their bodies. Many of these women are models who earn a lot. Many of them (of the tabloid variety) may not earn much at all. Clearly, while exploitation remains a likely possibility in some cases, it isn't clear whether the preferred course of action is ngotiating better terms for those who don't get fair compensation or fines and jail time for the advertiser/media/publisher.

Exploitation in the law is clearly not something for the actual women who pose for the pictures to decide. The lawmakers have spoken.Who needs their opinion on their own status anyway? The last thing such a law obviously expects is for women to be frank and open about their own sexuality. Such women hardly resemble the "victims" the law expects.

Of course the feminist discourse on what constitutes sexual exploitation is much more complex than what is usually oversimplified as "pro and anti pornography" or negative/positive sexuality. Even in questioning such penal law approaches for instance, many feminists won't overlook other issues such as the standards of beauty in the fantasy and airbrushed world of men's magazines.On the other hand, who ever said a little fantasy ever hurt anyone? (As long as it remains clear that it is a fantasy?)

Too thin models with eating disorders are emulated by young girls but it isn't always that simple (or linear) either. A while back, riding the crest of "PCness" a boycott of "too thin models"was launched and guess who everyone started criticizing? Persons on the street weren't saying the modelling industry or the fashion industry perpetuated this standard. Individual models were citicized as being "unhealthy examples" and banned from the runways. Ironic of course is that when these models became models,they fit the industry's standards. An industry trying to clear its conscience simply chose to "punish" the models.

In this case, what is the law trying to change? Does it expect advertisers and publishers to have an epiphany about the sexual exploitation of women and actually start treating women better? Or has it merely driven the issue away from public contestation, where the complex issues of sexuality, women's agency, exploitation, power and pleasure can continue to be tackled in all its complexity and diversity?


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