According to the U.S. State Department’s 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report:
- At least 12.3 million people are human slaves at any given time.
- Of these, 1.39 million have been sold into sexual servitude.
- 56 percent of all human slaves (“forced labor victims”) are women and girls.
The enslavement of women is nothing new: Throughout history, women have been the victims of every kind of oppression, and the horrors continue even today.
Yet what makes the current situation of women unique is that the victims themselves are perpetuating their own oppression. No other exploited group willingly buys into the symbols used to oppress them – no slaves ever thought that iron chains around their wrists looked cool.
Nevertheless, women today actively consume the commercialized images of women that are sold on Madison Avenue. More than that, we demand them. Often these images are literally pieces of the female body: faces, hair, legs, teeth, and so on. The popularization of branding is what imbues the broken-up parts with “personality.”
In other words, the products, as they work, make you a more whole person, say the advertisers: Crest Whitestrips make you bubbly; Neutrogena foundation makes you clean and pure; Pantene makes you strong. You were not OK the way you were before, but when you buy these products, they will restore you to being OK and even make you better.
The result of all this marketing is that women become brainwashed to copy what they see in fashion magazines, on the runways, on TV, and on the billboards.
In short, they become the very images that are used to sell women to men. And not only that – the images say that it is OK to think about women as pieces and parts, rather than as whole individuals.
And we women continue to pursue brands anyway.
I’m not saying that women are causing their own victimization – far from it. But I am saying that the cycle is continuing out of more than the pure greed of criminals or the financial desperation of those who are exploited by them. No – it takes other people to perpetuate the cycle of human trafficking. Some of those people, for example, are the “customers” of the victims, who may not even know that the victims are being held by a captor. Others are people who may know what is going on, but do nothing to speak out or stop it. And others, unfortunately, are women as uncritical consumers of brands.
The more that women unquestioningly buy into the brands that target them, the more we perpetuate the cycle. We must not allow others to dehumanize us, and we must not dehumanize ourselves. We are whole people, and we must stand up for the integrity of ourselves and our sisters.