It is no secret that the female body is heavily sexualised in the media, the music industry and advertising. The notion that ‘sex sells’ is an undisputed truth and sexism is a deep-rooted trait of these lucrative industries. Throughout history, advertisers have managed to find a way to sexualise any product: clothes, makeup, perfume, beer, cars, burgers, the list goes on, each product more far-fetched than the rest. While British advertisers have gradually reduced the blatant sexualisation of women, the same cannot be said for Latin America, where the problem is rife and images of scantily clad women are readily available.
Any student of Spanish or Portuguese is likely to have studied this issue. It is a classic oral class topic that teachers love using to kick-start a discussion. The growing intolerance in western culture towards degrading women in this way has not been matched in Latin America, where machismo culture often reigns supreme. Indeed, this perceived masculinity is so ingrained in Latin society that many women don’t just tolerate sexism; they encourage it. Men will surreptitiously drop a coin at a woman’s feet, in the hope that she will bend over to pick it up. It is seen as something playful and harmless to latinos, but feels perverted and wrong to me. The last time this happened, the young man in question was far more amused, but no doubt less aroused, when I flung my backside into the air to retrieve his change.
Taking the notion that ‘sex sells’ to be true, it is no surprise to discover that sex also pays. For women with few economic prospects and the pressure to support a family, using one’s body can be a direct way of making more money. The constant availability of sexualised images indicates that there is no end of work opportunities and it breeds a vicious circle: demand increases and men are encouraged to treat women as they are treated in the media and on television. As far as one can tell, this problem will endure.
In Nicaragua, one of many countries that face this problem, newspapers and magazines are littered with sexualised images. In Britain, The Sun recently did away with printing topless models on Page 3, but the problem persists in Nicaraguan publications, with many showcasing nude models not just on Page 3, but on pages 7, 11, 14 and in some cases 1. If the ‘Page 3’ concept was so hard to eradicate in Britain, imagine how difficult it will be in a society where this attitude towards women is so entrenched and accepted. There will always be demand, and there will always be profit-hungry media conglomerates willing to supply.
Music videos are perhaps the most striking example of sexualising the female form. This is prevalent in the western world as well, but one video in particular caught my eye the other day, whilst riding on a Nicaraguan bus. Roger Molina’s ‘Popurri Chinamero’, which features Roger and ‘his dancers’, is a crude and blatant sexualisation of the female body. The camera angles are particularly perverse. Of course, these women are entitled to do as they wish and, in many cases, the freedom of a body should be applauded, but there is something about Roger that doesn’t sit right with me. The televisions on Nicaraguan buses seem to only broadcast videos of this ilk. Am I the only one who’d like a heartfelt rom-com?
These examples barely scratch the surface of the wider issue of women's place in Latin society. There is so much more that I could have mentioned: the harassment that female travellers face in this part of the world; Dominican men using Facebook as a dating site, to stalk and chat to women on the other side of the world; Stacey Dooley’s documentary on Honduras and her interview with a man who killed his wife because she ‘disrespected’ him. Unashamed misogyny is rife in Latin America. The problem starts with how women are perceived. The sexualisation of women has damning consequences, but change, sadly, does not seem likely to happen any time soon.