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Published On: Wed, Sep 2nd, 2020

Our society and the commodification of the female body

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By Chinenye Emezie

‘Indecent dressing and exposure of your body reduces your value…’ was the integral message contained within a story on one of the social media platforms that worked up my nerves some time ago. The story was about a father telling his daughter the importance of her body and how she should value it. I had no issue per se with the moment of teaching between a father and daughter, what I had an issue with and sought to point out and thus correct was his methodology which was an analogy of how the girl should value and care for her body like she does her brand new iPad.
When will it end? This rhetoric that a woman’s body has some sort of material value and worse can be compared to an inanimate object? What this father failed to realise was that his method of education is rooted in the objectification of a woman’s body. In his ignorance, he had inadvertently placed a price on his daughter’s body by comparing its value inter alia with a material possession.
The above story ignorantly presented as a well-meaning one unfortunately is not the only one that has got me all riled up in recent times. Another one of these ‘well-meaning’ messages was passed by a rather misguided young man on yet another social media platform. And just like in the first instance, this message was also targeted at young girls and women on how to avoid getting raped with the poster going as far as stating what in his own terms constitute rape and what doesn’t. This young man indicated without reservations that it isn’t a case of rape if after a date, a lady (not necessarily a first date) decides to go home with the man who then succeeds to forcefully sleep with her! The outrage that followed this particular message was understandably huge with many – including men condemning the poster and tagging him a rape apologist and a potential rapist at worst. But there were a few misguided individuals like him who saw his reasons as valid. Their defence being that ‘the lady was asking for it,’‘what was she looking for in a man’s house after a night out if she did not want to sleep with him?…,’ and so forth.
As shocking as that may sound it reinforces the long held notion that men feel entitled to a woman’s body especially if backed up by certain society and cultural ideology. The poster’s argument which he stated emphatically that the girl probably wanted to chop and clean mouth but got played instead i.e. a local parlance for trying to pull a fast one on the guy – an assumption that she wants the man only for material gain, can never justify rape which is essentially what this so-called forceful sex translates to. There’s no denying the fact that there are many women who engage in such practice of stringing men along to satisfy their self-serving wants, but for anyone to suggest that because he has spent ‘enough’ money on a prospective love interest and therefore requires repayment of some sort and in this case her body – is as shocking as it is absurd.
It begs the question of what amount of money would a man spend on a prospective love interest that is worth her whole body? When did it become appropriate to place monetary value on a woman’s body? What makes it appropriate to equate it to material objects? And what necessitates a woman to give up her body in repayment for a good time spent with a man?
The consequence of such belief system as held by the misguided young man is the reality of many women being cajoled or even in some cases choosing to give up their bodies to men whom they feel have ‘tried or spent enough’ in showering material gifts on them; rather than it being from a place of unequivocal consensus.
From a father who thinks it’s appropriate to compare his daughter’s body to a tech gadget and unwittingly encourages her to place a value on her body for the highest bidder, to another male who strongly advocates for the forceful taking of a woman’s body as repayment of money spent, all point to a decadent patriarchal society where women’s bodies are viewed as objects of material value and potentially owned by men.
The ideology that a woman’s body is her whole worth is nonsensical and is another consequence of commodifying and objectifying women’s bodies. A woman’s worth cannot be measured by her body nor her body in terms of commodity and price. Teaching a young girl that her body has some sort of material value only helps to commodify it. A woman’s body belongs to her and no one else and every woman deserve to live in a society where their worth is not qualified nor measured by how they choose to use it. She alone determines how she treats it and nothing should be placed above or before it as a determinant to how she responds with it.
The onus lies on us as a society to start teaching our young men that a lady doesn’t have to give up her body like a sacrificial lamb as a repayment for any favours offered, or lay it down for gifts to be rendered to her. We need to make men understand that it does not matter how much has been invested materially, and that if a lady doesn’t want to have anything further to do with them to move on gracefully. They need to be taught that a woman’s body is only one part of the equation that make up her essence and humanity and as such treating it otherwise is a reduction and misuse.
There is still a lot to unlearn and relearn, but it is upon this knowledge that a hope towards a better understanding and treatment of a woman’s body as invaluable is hinged.

Chinenye Emezie studied Creative Writing at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

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