Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Objectification of Women

I enjoy watching missions-related documentaries. They’re heart-gripping, informative, edifying, and motivating all at once. It doesn’t matter if they’re small-budget, poorly edited, independent films or large-budget professionally-produced ones. I believe it’s important to stay up-to-date on the experiences of Christians around the world and share what I’ve learned with Christians locally. (Two recently-made films that I’ve begun to recommend to everyone are Malatya, on, and Facing Extinction: Christians of Iraq, on

Recently, I watched the Voice of the MartyrsUnderground Reality: Columbia. It’s not a perfect film, the young adults on the mission seeming too self-congratulatory at times and sensationalizing their personal experiences. However, it teaches much about the Columbian experience in the form of a reality TV show, which might appeal to young viewers. It’s also nice seeing the VOM’s well-advertised parachute project in action (a perfect Sunday School craft if I ever saw one). However, one element of the film greatly disturbed me, and unfortunately it occurred early on in the first episode.

Films like this one have disclaimers for a reason. To illustrate the horrific circumstances in which Columbians find themselves, a number of images showing violence and murder flash across the screen. Later there’s even a reenactment of a guerrilla attack on a bus, staged from an eyewitness account. Rather than desensitizing the viewer to violence, I believe that these elements in the film are necessary to drive home the seriousness of the situation. It’s difficult to ignore a problem that involves real dead bodies.

What disturbed me, however, was one of the pictures of a young woman, (presumably) stripped naked, beaten or tortured, shot, and left dead. Immediately after seeing the photograph, I had to backup the DVD for a second look to actually find out what happened to her. The reason I hadn’t noticed was because the black box covering her breast competed with her bloodied body and arms. I even asked my brother to view it (without telling him why initially), and he concurred that the censor bar was the first thing he saw. It directed his attention away from the very purpose for which the image was used: to illustrate the grave treatment and suffering of the Columbian people.

This hit home what feminists have meant by the “sexual objectification of women.” Rather than presenting the contents of the photo as what they are – a brutally treated victim – or leaving it out of the movie entirely, the filmmakers chose to censor the person’s body. A non-sexual picture instantly became sexual by directing attention to the fact that the victim was a woman and, therefore, in need of covering. I find it appalling that the strong message that this picture has to give must be dampened, if not completely eradicated, by its transformation into something resembling little more than pornography (and violent pornography at that). I think very highly of the VOM and it’s mission, but I pray that more forethought is put into their films in the future.