Sexual objectification underpins attacks against women

Alice Wu says the disease of sexual objectification is a major cause of violent attacks on women all over the world, and HK isn't immune

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 3:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 4:49pm

The late Dr Maya Angelou tweeted last May: It is sad but true that sometimes we need the tragedy to help us to see how human we are and how we are more alike than we are different.

A year after that tweet, a young man in California created another tragedy for the world to grapple with. Less than a week after Elliot Rodger's "Day of Retribution", Angelou left our world for the next, while we continue to struggle with finding meaning in the innocent lives lost to hate.

It was not just misogyny that drove Rodger to the depths of evil; there was a host of other issues. Society played a part in this too. We continue to objectify and/or condone the objectification of women. Perhaps, that was what Angelou was saying. In that sense, we are more alike than we are different.

At the heart of Rodger's twisted world was his blinding fury and hatred for women. There's no need to look any further than this line from his manifesto: "Women represent everything that is unfair in this world, and in order to make this world a fair place, women must be eradicated."

I'm still trying to understand how some people - hidden behind internet anonymity - felt that his hatred was justified. We should be wondering why Rodger, others who came before him and, unfortunately, those who will come after him, would see themselves entitled to anything to begin with.

Last week, Farzana Parveen, a pregnant Pakistani woman on her way to the high court in Lahore, was publicly beaten to death with bricks by her father, brothers and a cousin who was also her ex-fiance. At the heart of the barbaric "honour killings" is the notion that women are men's property, and, as such, men can do with them as they please.

Objectification is objectification. Rodger wrote that he was giving the female gender one last chance to provide him with the pleasures he deserved from them. Perhaps Parveen's father, who has already admitted to the charge of murdering his own daughter, would use Rodger's words to justify his act: "[Women] don't deserve to have any rights. Their wickedness must be contained in order to prevent future generations from falling to degeneracy."

Don't dismiss this as a disease of distant shores.

A prominent Hong Kong academic is on trial for allegedly assaulting women. And in response to the California tragedy, a Facebook page attributed to a local columnist and broadcaster "well known for his sarcasm and wry sense of humour" has something akin to the following (which I translated from Chinese), posted together with an image of Rodger: "Why not come study at Hong Kong University, Chinese University or City University? So many girls will be lined up outside your dorm room that you won't be able to 'eat' them all. And with a US passport, [you can] go to Peking University, Fudan University and be guaranteed Gao Yuanyuan and Fan Bingbing every night. "

Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit, but there's nothing funny here. Nurturing misogyny can be deadly. Unless we seek a solution, we'll be affording murder, honour killing, rape, sexual assault, abuse and harassment a permanent place in our lives.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA