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Rock Street, San Francisco

Mr. Secretary General,
Mr. President,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,
My name is Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and I’m addressing you today as Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, with the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to be here on this very special day, the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly.

Today I would like to talk about a series of controversial advertisements, which are viewed by people of all genders and ages. These advertisements give society a justification to objectify women by stealing their individuality. We as women, and members of a community, should be empowered through the media, instead of being degraded in such ways.

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Take, for example, this advertisement from Natan Diamonds, which I find very upsetting. In the left side of the picture you can see a woman with her legs crossed and a man holding a closed jewelry box. In the right side of the picture, the box is open with a diamond ring inside. What is shocking and disturbing is the woman’s legs are also open. Are we really going to let this ad pass by without pointing out what it does to our society?

We can see that gender is very important in this ad. This advertisement should be all about the diamond ring, but instead it is barely visible; its main focus is on the woman’s legs. One of the messages portrayed is that men, and their wealth, dominate women sexually, insinuating that women are worthless if they don’t sell their bodies. But we are more than sex objects, aren’t we? We are also human beings. We have feelings and our own personalities. We can be as smart and successful as any man can be. The fact that the face of the woman is not even shown makes us look not important at all.

I can’t honestly believe the way we as women are portrayed by this ad. It is implying that women literally throw themselves at men to get what they want. Diamonds can be a girl’s best friend, but you can’t assume that all women are materialistic. They are clearly not giving a good image of women to young boys and girls, are they? Furthermore, it highlights the industry’s obsession with the ‘ideal’ body image. You can see that the woman’s legs are slim and flawless. But is this even shocking? Aren’t we getting used to this? But we definitely shouldn’t. We need to do something about this.

In several magazines’ 2007 September issues, such as Cosmopolitan, a Tom Ford’s fragrance advertisement was published. At first glance, this ad may appear normal. She’s absolutely perfect, isn’t she? Her body looks toned; her skin looks smooth and her fingernails are covered by a vibrant sexy red nail polish. So, what is actually wrong with this picture? She doesn’t have a face. The fragrance bottle is placed between her breasts to make it the focus of the ad; the facelessness is just unacceptable. She could be asleep or crying her eyes out, but we wouldn’t know. This could be your sister, daughter, friend, girlfriend or even just a woman you met at the supermarket yesterday. Her lack of identity makes her a random body in a world where bodies are sold daily for the convenience of brands.

The ad is undoubtedly successful at grabbing the audience’s attention, but it doesn’t make it right. Ads such as both of these can do as much damage to men as they do to women. Men are also constantly intimidated by the obvious displays from magazines to make them feel that their masculinity isn’t masculine enough. Since it is directly addressed to men that is the point of this ad. Telling them that if they were ‘real’ men, they would own the female body. What is a ‘real’ man? A man who owns Tom Ford cologne? So, according to Tom Ford men are not masculine enough, and women aren’t feminine or sexy enough either.

What these advertisements portray is what increases the insecurities which teenagers have to face everyday. As if their own issues aren’t enough, they have to deal with the media’s standard of ideal beauty. If we let these brands objectify women, then more women and girls will self-objectify. They will be more likely to be depressed and have no self-esteem at all. All they truly do is give teenagers the idea that physical appearance is all that matters.

As a society, as women, as men, as parents, and as friends, it is important to stand up and take action to stop this degrading and appalling image that the media has of us. There are so many ways to promote a product without being oppressive to a community or individual. No more objectification of the female body. No more stereotypes. We are all different and beautiful. So let’s respect each other by using the media to promote positive messages. Is this the world you want your kids to live in? Let’s create a better world for us and our children to live in. Thank you.

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