ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Sexualisation of Public Spaces

Why is the public space being so heavily sexualised?

Earlier this month, some companies which manufacture food and beverage items announced that they had taken a voluntary pledge not to advertise their products to children below 13. According to media reports, this agreement had been mediated by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). This is a welcome move, though it remains to be seen whether this is merely a public relations exercise by these corporates, or it is a real measure of self-control. While some attention is being paid to the targeting of junk food at children, there is perhaps no attention being given to the constant barrage of highly sexualised content that children, and adults, are exposed to from all sorts of media at all hours of the day and night.

Whether these are television advertisements, television shows (dance-song programmes, fictional serials, music videos and travel shows), print advertisements, roadside billboards or other such media, the level of sexualised content has exploded in the past few years. It is now not uncommon to find suggestive advertisements for chocolate flavoured condoms with the 8.30 pm news on television, or even a “kisan helpline” of the government being publicised with the help of an extramarital twist. Advertisements are the most obvious in their misdemeanours, but newspapers and magazines too make no distinction between publishing news and carrying sexualised gossip. A generation ago, children were encouraged to read newspapers to learn about the world and improve their language, today exposing children to newspapers is to expose them to languages, images and stories infused with sex. There is no restraint on the manner in which words are used and events are described in the media on matters dealing with sex and sexuality. Unfortunately, much of the response to this growing sexualisation of public spaces has been knee-jerk, even reactionary. While this phenomenon is a serious matter, it has almost always been viewed only through the lenses of “vulgarity”, “decency” and “defence of tradition”. This is not merely insufficient as a response, it may also be ill-informed.

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