Director Nicola Fan on Rejecting the 'Sex Sells' Mantra in "She Objects"
In her debut full-length documentary "She Objects," director Nicola Fan looks at how women are objectified in Hong Kong and how they feel about it. The documentary is part of a campaign of the same name by The Women's Foundation that challenges the media and consumers to think critically about how women are portrayed, and the impact it has on young girls in the city.
What inspired you to make this documentary? Growing up in Hong Kong, there were many voices telling me how to be a girl. I grew up during the first wave of social media—Xanga, MySpace, MSN, etc. It was fun for a while until the pressure built up—[I constantly compared myself] to celebrities and everyone else in those virtual communities. At the time, I didn't question anything. I simply believed in the “criteria” everyone was following. So when I first read research and statistics on the media's influence on young girls' self-esteem and development by The Women’s Foundation, my experiences as a young girl growing up in Hong Kong immediately came to mind. We hope to create dialogue and awareness amongst girls, guys, their parents and society. With new media at our fingertips, we are no longer just media consumers but also creators. I hope the documentary encourages us to be more mindful of what we’re contributing to our media environment, and to build a culture that celebrates diversity and the positive portrayal of women in media.
What were some challenges you faced while filming? One of the biggest challenges was finding girls who were willing to share their stories and experiences about how social pressure has affected them. Often their insecurity runs deep, thinking their ugliness is rooted in them. They are ashamed and blame themselves for any teasing and personal attacks they receive. Many of the interviewees willing to share their experiences, such as Joyce Cheng, are people who have only now come out about their challenges, after battling social pressure for a decade or more.
Do you believe that deep-seated values in Hong Kong can be change such that women are no longer seen primarily as sexual objects? I have faith that Hong Kong can change. Yes, the “sex sells” mantra has been around for a long time and it works, but it’s also predictable and obvious. Is this really the only way to sell? Personally, I think it’s outdated and just taking the easy way out. Fortunately, nowadays, the female characters I’ve seen in some modern ads and films aren’t as sexualized and are a more realistic depiction of real girls. New media has given us a great platform to express ourselves. We no longer need to conform to traditional standards and beliefs. We can open each other’s minds by showing ourselves as the multi-dimensional people that we are. Let’s welcome more of that.
What is your advice to women on countering self-objectification and the internalization of social values? There is still so much room for girls to develop their own opinions, thoughts, values and aspirations. These areas of self-expression are often regulated and diminished because of their preoccupation with conforming to the media and society’s mold of how women should look and act. I encourage girls to fearlessly pursue their interests, to develop their passion and to truly make something out of it. The world will soon realize what talents they’ve been missing out on.