Canada

Sex sells

Yet again, the traffic-hungry media prioritizes seedy sexualization over substance

written by Shannon Slade
February 12, 2016 11:49 am

I’m generally not surprised when I hear about some new way in which the media is trying to objectify women. The industry generally lives and dies by the idea that sex sells, and hey, it’s true—they wouldn’t do some of the gross things they do if the public wasn’t responding to it.

But this week, the media managed to make me raise my eyebrows—kudos to them for managing to mildly surprise this jaded girl. In the trial of Jian Ghomeshi, abusive asshole extraordinaire (…okay, “alleged abusive asshole”, I guess—innocent until proven guilty and all) there was a certain picture revealed in court recently. The picture is one that one of the alleged victims took and sent to Ghomeshi after the alleged incident. Now the media is scrambling, salivating, and generally pleasuring itself at the idea of releasing this photo. Why? The woman is in a bikini.

Really, media?

No—let’s not hide behind the niceties of generalization. All of the media outlets that participated in this are vile, but let’s single out the worst of them.

Really CBC?

The CBC has the image of being the most venerable news source in Canada—the publically funded purveyor of journalism at its noblest—but lately, they haven’t behaved in a way that warrants the reputation. This is my second article calling them out this school year alone—just last fall, they published an article that made it sound like South Street was Hamsterdam from The Wire.

But let’s get back to the objectification of an alleged sexual assault victim, which is what this is. A bunch of media outlets, CBC included, hired a lawyer to try to lift the publication ban so that they could publish this photo of the victim in a red bikini.  Of course, because they wanted to be sensitive, they vowed that they would blur out the woman’s face and identity.

What they didn’t say, but seems obvious to me, is that her face doesn’t matter anyway: it’s all about them titties! In the long history of publishing suggestive photos, when has the face ever mattered anyway? Seriously, how transparent can they be? Sure the director of journalistic standards and policy for CBC news claimed that publishing the picture might be “worthwhile in assisting the public to reach conclusions about what it contained and about the significant testimony concerning it.” I guess describing the picture and explaining the claims made about it aren’t helpful enough for the public. That concept is clearly too hard for us dumdums to understand—how can we possibly decide whether the picture is damaging to the alleged victim’s credibility without seeing those melons for ourselves!

I call bullshit on all of this. When a trial is about a drug deal gone wrong, I don’t need to see a bloody corpse to understand that someone was shot. The picture here has nothing to do with enriching our understanding of the legal arguments—it will drive website traffic, plain and simple.

Nevermind that this woman in the picture is an alleged sexual assault victim (I say alleged, but you can probably guess by this point that I believe the victims. If I slip up, mentally insert the word yourself). If all of this is true, this woman has been through a hellish experience, and once again she’s being subjected to judgment, scrutiny and the unwanted lust of the male gaze.

The CBC may have another reason for all of this. Ghomeshi worked for them for years, and this whole nightmare hasn’t been great for their image. They say they want the picture to fully explore the case. This picture was sent to Ghomeshi a year after the attack, and it was brought up by the defence lawyer in an attempt to discredit the victim. CBC only wants it to fully tell the story? I somehow doubt that. It’s beneficial to them to discredit her. Ghomeshi was one of their darlings, and people have questioned how much they knew about it before the scandal broke to the public. The visuals of a scandalous photograph only help distract the public and discredit one of the women whose speaking up has caused them over a year of terrible publicity.

Once again, there has been an attempt to both discredit and sexualize a victim. To paint a scarlet letter on her. To make her promiscuous, dirty and a liar. The kind of girl who was asking for it—who probably liked the abuse. This was the spin the defence team was selling, and whether intentionally or not, the media seems ready to help them close the deal with the public.

And you know what? I’m really fucking sick of it. I’m tired of victims being viewed as somehow wanton. Like the sickness that provokes sexual violence and misogyny originates in women. Like the curve of our hips and the shape of our breasts somehow has the magical power to spark these thoughts of rage in men—that sin lies deep within us and was created by us. Somehow we deserve it, somehow we provoke, somehow we want the attention. Eve unleashed sin, didn’t she? It was our fault from the start. It’s always our fault.

Fortunately, the judge called this out for what it was: a bunch of pathetic media outlets banding together to profit from a bikini photo of a victim like it was their God-given right. Okay, he might have used less colourful language than that, but he did the right thing. He sent a signal to other victims of abuse that they should not be afraid to come forward for fear of public shaming, which is more than I can say for our national public broadcaster.

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