Fashion for Freedom: Students Against Sexual Objectification in Advertising
"One, two, three, four - that's not what our bodies are for!" Impassioned voices interrupted the normal Ann Arbor bustle Friday afternoon, when the University of Michigan student organization Fashion for Freedom marched down State Street.
"Five, six, seven, eight - stop the ads, stop the rape!"
Fashion for Freedom is a student-run organization that was founded based on the desire to help end the sexual objectification of women in advertising.
"We got inspired by the idea of being respectful of women in fashion," Mary Dudek said. Dudek is one of the group's leaders. "Advertisements hold such an influence in culture." The group believes that the objectification of women contributes to a sexualized society that perpetuates rape culture and sex trafficking, and hopes that by eliminating this objectification in advertising, they may help reduce those other issues.
The organization staged a two-part event Friday to bring their message to campus. Part performance art and part a march to applaud and protest certain retailers, the group cautioned locals to "shop responsibly."
The event began with a pseudo-fashion show on the Diag. Eight models stood in two lines with stoic faces, taking turns walking down a mock runway, each holding an advertisement with a statistic written on the back. The advertisements were examples of sexual objectification throughout the ages, ranging from 1950s style slogans like "Show her it's a man's world" to advertisements from current magazines.
The harrowing statistics on the back served as an illustration of how sexual objectification perpetuates a culture full of sexism, violence, and human trafficking; They hope to enlighten the world about how sexual objectification can contribute to rape culture, due to how sexual objectification often portrays women as submissive to men. Human trafficking generates 9.5 billion yearly in the U.S. The average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim in the U.S. is 13-14 years old. 1 in 3 teens on the streets are forced to prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. 1 in 4 college women will be sexually assaulted.
It was refreshing to see a diverse mix of women represented among the models, serving as a reminder that these are real women who don't deserve to be victimized. It shouldn't take sexual objectification to sell a product.
"It's wrong to treat women as objects. These models are real people," Dudek said. "They are deserving of respect. They're more than their sexuality."
Fashion for Freedom has visited numerous retailers in Ann Arbor, asking them to help their campaign by taking a pledge not to objectify women in their advertising. Many local stores agreed, including Get Up Vintage Apparel, Ragstock, Bivouac, Pitaya, and Adorn Me.
After the pseudo-fashion show, the organization marched down State Street, visiting several retailers to applaud the ones that took the pledge and protesting the ones that continue to promote sexual objectification in their advertising.
"Hey hey, no no, ads like these have got to go!" The group chanted their way from the Diag to State Street, turning heads and generating both cheers and curiosity from passers-by.
After visiting Bivouac, Pitaya, and Get Up Vintage, thanking them for their effort to support their campaign, the group visited two major retailers that did not take their pledge - Urban Outfitters and American Apparel. Dudek noted these companies as being "notorious" for objectifying women in their advertising.
They entered these businesses chanting, commanding the store's attention.
"We are Fashion for Freedom. We would like to acknowledge that this store has not supported our campaign to end the sexual objectification of women in advertising. As a result, they are more a part of the problem than the solution that leads to things like violence and rape culture and human trafficking. Please join us in a moment of silence for all the women who have suffered as a result of sexual objectification."
There was tension in each store as music played in the background and workers continued with what they were doing, but there is no doubt that the students had the attention of everyone in the stores.
The organization ultimately hopes to help people know where to shop and to understand the importance of ending sexual objectification in advertising.
Though the fashion industry and retailers as a whole may have a way to go in eliminating sexual objectification, this passionate group succeeded in getting several retailers in Ann Arbor to agree to respectful advertising - a first step in an important battle.
"What do we want? Respect! When do we want it? Now!
Photos by Rachel Beglin.