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For His Eyes Only: The Devastating Sexual Objectification Of Nepali Women

09/04/2016 8:32 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters
A Tibetan girl in traditional attire looks into the mirror as she prepares ahead of a performance during a function organised to mark "Losar" or the Tibetan New Year in Kathmandu, Nepal, February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

Slovenian Philosopher Slavoj Žižek fervently argues that love by default is the ultimate freedom in the world. And the privilege of choice to question the very notion of freedom itself is the responsibility of everyone. He adds, furthermore, that because of our perverse super-ego we like to talk dirty and voyeurism is nothing but the fear of reality and a quick escape to a world where we can achieve pleasure without any effort. These two ingredients--verbal abuse and sexual objectification of women--are rampant in Nepali media in the name of free media and sexual liberation.

Censorship in Nepal is almost nil, and with the advent of the internet and globalization, Nepalis now are more exposed to almost everything. Enemies of the Internet categorizes several countries, including China and India, as state bullies for their censorship policies. Nepal is nowhere in the list and it definitely gives a positive signal for press freedom. On the flipside, this freedom has allowed the unchecked sexual objectification of Nepali women in print as well as, most rampantly so, in online media.

The kind of sexual objectification we see in Nepal also perpetuates the idea that having a fair skin is the sole indicator of being beautiful.

Sexual objectification is where women are presented sexually and their bodies are treated as an object, primarily for men's pleasure and desires. It is a dominant phenomenon in the United States and slowly it has emerged in Nepal too within the scope of movies, modelling, beauty pageants, magazines, YouTube channels, music videos, online news portals and advertisements. In short, sexual objectification is a path to quick money and fame.

The kind of sexual objectification we see in Nepal also perpetuates the idea that having a fair skin is the sole indicator of being beautiful. Other skin colours are seen as somehow inferior or subject to racism and other forms of commercial abuses. On an even more distressing level, sexual objectification contributes to men's visual/online fantasies which may transform into action where women are often the victims and men the perpetrators. Seeing women portrayed in this manner skews the perception of men, and it is not such a stretch to believe that they start regarding women as sexual playthings to be used.

Research suggests that sexual and self-objectification is the direct result of patriarchy and male-dominated industries. Second, psychologists argue that it leads to mental health problems, suicides, eating disorders, an uncontrolled desire for beauty products and clothes, body shaming, shallower relationships, risky sexual behaviours, decreased level of confidence, obsession with bodily perfection, depression and so on. Third, it has become a platform for racism, rape, sexual assaults, and intimidation. Ne incident that comes to mind is the suicide of actress Shrisha Karki who allegedly took her life over a nude photo. What might happen to your sense of dignity if your worth is evaluated in terms of your body and its purpose as an object of gratification?

Women may also start believing that harnessing their appearance and sexuality is the only way for them to 'make good' rather than nurturing their talents and abilities.

Soft porn sites featuring Nepali women are mushrooming at an unprecedented rate, and without any regulation, thus perpetuating the idea that women are to be treated as sexual objects, targets for the male gaze. A woman, this way, becomes a man's property. On the other hand, women who self-objectify, may feel obliged to flirt more, to extend sexual invitations because it is somehow expected of them, to see other women as competition for the male attention that guarantees her worth.

Women may also start believing that harnessing their appearance and sexuality is the only way for them to 'make good' rather than nurturing their talents and abilities. Poverty and lack of education are also closely correlated with sexual objectification in Nepal. The Nepali media too isn't gender-friendly and have little compunction about objectifying women to better their business.

If we are to believe that Nepal is going to progress gender-wise then it must hand over rights to women and then let them deal with the issue of sexual liberation. For now the focus should be on stopping the sexual objectification of Nepali women in both the print and online media and educating men about this serious issue in order to cultivate a culture of not treating women as receptacles or embodiments of male fantasies. A woman should have the freedom to wear what she wants and even if she walks bikini-clad no harm should be done against her. A woman should become what she wants to be--even the first PM of Nepal.

Now that's real freedom--where women can enjoy their lives without fear of harm. For us men, we have the choice to either give respect to women and see their value and worth beyond sex or continue to be blinded by the ugly lure of sexual objectification.

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