The uneasy compartmentalization of the male gaze
EasyCard Corporation stepped on a landmine Wednesday when it was revealed that Japanese adult film actress Yui Hatano would be appearing on its payment cards as a limited edition set. As per usual, mainstream Taiwanese media have drawn the battle lines as a war over public decency. While supporters of the corporation say that Hatano’s image represents nothing indecent or suggestive, an equally vocal camp accused the corporation of pushing the boundaries of marketing too far.
The recent knee-jerk reaction from parts of society to condemn Easycard’s decision to feature Hatano reflects an uneasy relationship between the prevalent objectification of women on the one hand and the resultant sexualization on the other. What voices of condemnation have focused on is Hatano’s role as a professional adult entertainer, saying scant about why the line has been drawn there. In fact, EasyCard’s denial of indecency belies something more repugnant, that the majority of Taiwanese society is so far unwilling to face up to: if today Hatano’s image was replaced by an unknown woman with the same physical features, would the ensuing condemnation be just as vociferous?
As an island densely embedded within global markets and marketing practices, Taiwanese society is subjected daily to advertising that objectifies and increasingly sexualizes women (and increasingly men). The nexus of product announcements with scantily clad women is omnipresent whether in electronic trade shows, new automobile rollouts and now Easycard releases.
During a media event to promote Taipei City’s hosting of the 2017 Universiade, municipal organizers demonstrated clearly the division of labor between the sexes as male SBL basketball stars were on hand to provide encouragement to athletes. A corresponding group of female athletes was not present. Instead, female cheerleaders from an “all star squad” of different baseball teams danced as dozens of fanboys took photos in a state of frantic ecstasy. This was viewed as business as usual.
The Costs of Objectification
When society condones the blatant objectification of women in advertising, it becomes complicit in a move in which women become the sum of their body parts that are highlighted and cropped to raise commercial yields. Scientific studies have shown that both men and women are primed cognitively to perceive women differently than men. While both men and women use global cognitive processing to view men more fully, both sexes are more prone to focus on specific body parts of women rather than viewing them as a whole.
The results of objectification not only remove agency, but as the Scientific American writes, it creates the perception of women being “different kinds of humans — ones that are capable of feeling but not thinking.” When these practices of fetishization become unquestioned norms, the resulting negative psychological impact creates an even greater barrier from within, one which suppresses women through shame and inferiority and effectively discourages their meaningful participation in society.
Identifying the mechanisms that inform basic perceptions can help us overturn the deep seated norms that underlie the latest EasyCard brouhaha. Only then can we speak genuinely and compassionately about public decency.
A riverside embankment was washed away after heavy rains hit parts of Greater Taipei, yesterday. The 10-meter long by 3-meter wide section of the embankment was located in New Taipei’s Xindian District on Antai Road, Alley 7. An abandoned dormitory of the Central Engraving and Printing Plant is shown nearby.