The Women’s Foundation latest campaign
Unable to escape the influence that both the media and social media has on our day to day lives, we are constantly bombard with airbrushed images of celebrities and influential women looking flawless whom, in turn, are giving us an unrealistic threshold for positive body image and instead pressuring women and young girls into pursuing and conforming to ridiculous beauty standards – to the extent that these images are having a negative impact on their health and self-esteem.
With the media acting as a catalyst for negativity, home-grown documentary maker, Nicola Fan alongside The Women’s Foundation, is confronting the industry and challenging you to think critically about the way in which women are perceived in the media through their newest campaign, She Objects. Exploring issues like the Thinness Ideal, the link between pornography and sexual gratification as well as the role of gender stereotyping, we chat to the foundation’s CEO, Su-Mei Thompson and Nicola herself to learn more about the movement, their inspiration behind the documentary and how you can get involved…
Tell us about She Objects and what inspired the documentary?
Commissioned by The Women’s Foundation and directed by Hong Kong director Nicola Fan, “She Objects” challenges viewers to think critically and resist the biased and often dehumanising portrayal of women in the media. The film explores the impact of this on Hong Kong society and breaks new ground in bridging local, regional and global research and trends. Featuring engaging insights from celebrities including singer-actress-writer Joyce Cheng and real-life stories and interviews with leading experts, the documentary explores the correlation between the media’s portrayal of women and eating disorders and self-esteem issues for girls, violence against women and the erosion of female ambition.
While media can be a powerful force for good whether it’s in terms of providing a voice for marginalised groups or corralling support for social causes or inspiring new mindsets, too many parts of the media continue to collude – if unwittingly – in the on-going objectification, sexualisation and diminishing of women. The negative consequences of this extend beyond women and girls and include men and boys. But the stakes are particularly high for girls today. Research confirms that the more TV a girl watches, the fewer options she thinks she has in life. We know that 6 out of 10 girls choose not to take part in an activity because they don’t want to draw attention to the way they look. “She Objects” also explores how the portrayal of women as sex objects contributes to a culture where sexual coercion is more permissible. We hope “She Objects” will provoke Hong Kong society to pause, reflect and act to change the status quo.
How can our readers get involved in the campaign?
Join our movement on sheobjects.org and take the pledge! The pledge is to safeguard the positive portrayal of women, reject stereotypes and celebrate diversity in the media. Please encourage your friends, family, colleagues and networks to take the pledge as well. Every voice counts, every vote matters!
More generally, as individuals, we can all be more thoughtful about the messages we post and photos we upload and the way we compliment people so it isn’t just about looks but also about actions and values, we can all be braver about calling out sexist comments and behaviour, we can all do more to help our children think critically about the content they’re watching and help them become the kind of human beings we hope they’ll grow up to be.
What is the end goal of this campaign and what do you hope women take away from the documentary?
We hope women will embrace the fact that how we look is just one part of our identity and besides, we don’t all have to subscribe to the beauty myth peddled by the media that one size should fit all. We hope that women and girls will see being self-reliant as being positive and powerful instead of subscribing to the overwhelming media narrative that you need to be in a romantic relationship or you have to have a lot of material possessions to be happy and successful.
But besides girls, there are a lot of messages in the film for parents, educators, brands and media platforms. For instance, we hope media platforms will start taking more responsibility for the content they’re promoting. Businesses can also do their bit by reviewing their brand ambassadors and whom they are using in their ad campaigns to ensure they reflect and celebrate the diversity of shapes and sizes in the whole of society. Parents need to engage with their kids to help them decide what is smart and appropriate phone and internet usage. It’s very easy for kids to over-react to posts they receive or conversely to think they are being ignored or excluded. Parents can helpfully coach kids to deal with malicious taunting and criticism on the one hand and to help them distinguish mean behaviour from harmless teasing. We also need to help put things into perspective and how to balance time spent using their devices on down time activities with what is truly important like doing tangible things in the real world to solve problems and help others.
Growing up in Hong Kong, what was your experience like with the media and the portrayal of women and girls?
One night when I was in high school, my girlfriends and I went to a bar. It was quite empty as it was relatively new then. We were enjoying the space to ourselves, when two men approached us. One introduced himself as a writer for a well-known local magazine, who would be writing an article about the bar and said he would like to interview us about it. The other was a photographer who said he would take some photos of the space and of us hanging out.
The whole interview was conducted in a very proper and polite manner. Then they took some photos of us walking around the bar. Overall, it was really just a 20 minute encounter.
A few weeks later, the magazine article came out. The story of my friends and I was spread across a three-page article. The content was entirely fabricated. The writer created a story around how my friends and I were being increasingly forward towards him throughout the night. The photos they took of us were all shot in low shutter to create the illusion of a drunken, hazy atmosphere.
It was then I began to really wonder how much truth is sacrificed for entertainment value in the media, especially when depicting women and girls. What a waste of paper.
Which women/woman are you most inspired by and who has had the strongest impact on your career?
I’m inspired by people who are passionate for their craft and creations, who follow their heart and create their own path, and those who can be free with themselves from others. Missy Elliott is one of my earliest female inspirations! She really stood out to me in the sea of over-sexualised female artists in mainstream media. I admired her musical style and bold attitude in being herself. She gave me the impression that she focuses on what she wants artistically and delivers it.
In terms of career, my mum has had the strongest impact. She was the first to introduce me to the fascinating world of cartoons, movies, TV shows, illustrated books, musicals, and plays, from when I was very young. Her love for traveling and exploring other cultures also opened my mind. In many ways, she’s always nurtured that side of me. Watching her balance motherhood, work and life also inspired me to be a strong woman.
What should young women and girls keep in mind/be aware of when using social media?
Social media is actually a wonderland of information and knowledge, use it to advance yourself as a person. For me, it has made it easier to share my work, and has led to open doors and opportunities. It has also allowed me to connect with like-minded people and exchange ideas, join gatherings and activities, to see, experience, and learn new things.
Use social media to help push forward your passion, interests, and voice. Since we are all content creators and consumers, it’s important to be media-literate, and to be mindful with our contributions to our media environment.
Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
If you have an idea or vision in your mind- write it down, record it, sketch it out. Plan it and execute it. Most importantly, stick to it and finish it. Lastly, share your creations. Collaborate.
If you are interested in watching the full documentary, fill out and submit this contact form and She Objects will be in touch soon to let you know how you can access the film. Or simply drop them a message at [email protected] with any questions! Don’t forget to show your support and make a pledge, girls.