Molesting of cardboard cut-out reveals a deeper problem

JULY 7 — I am rather averse to looking at problems atomistically. I do not believe things happen in isolation. From acts of terrorism to poor examination results, everything is interconnected and when we understand said connection, we would be able to discern cause and further effect. 

In the last few days, selfies taken with the now famous Shell model, Nor Shafila Khairusalleh, 25, have been viralled and laughed at. 

Cautionary words by people who saw some of these selfies as inappropriate were simply pooh-pooh’ed and condemned as being too uptight. "Only joking-lah," such commentators said. 

But what does Shafila herself say about it? "If little things like covering the eyes, pinching the nose or hug I can still accept since it’s just a poster... but if it is towards harassment or sexual, I feel that is too far,” the petrol station supervisor was quoted saying.

“They may just be joking, but I feel ashamed because that is still myself although it is just an image,”

It would be a different case if the cardboard cutout was a caricature or was faceless but being a picture of a person, I believe that person should be the one who decides what offends her or not. 

To their credit, Shell, even after presumably spending much money on realizing the advertising campaign, decided to pull the cardboard cutouts back. 

This was definitely a case of "doing the right thing", in my opinion. Even more commendable, one of the men who took a lewd selfie with the cardboard cutout actually came forward and apologised. I did not think he could be identified but the fact that he came forward on his own volition should be applauded. 

Having said all the above, we do need to ask ourselves why this incident arose in the first place. If I were to say "because of rape culture", I would be jeered for being "over dramatic." 

No, of course I do not believe these aforementioned selfies to be "rape." Rape is a physical act causing unthinkable trauma to the victim. Comparing this incident to actual, physical rape would be doing a disservice to the global campaign against it. 

However, "rape culture" does not begin with physical rape! It would take a man extreme deprogramming from his human nature (which I believe to be the very antithesis to rape) to be able to commit such an act. Rather, rape culture is a total phenomenon.

Let us look at the pornography industry. In the days before the deluge of infinite information overwhelmed us (called the "internet"), it was not easy to find porn. 

I remember how excited my classmates were when one of us sneakily brought a copy of Playboy to school! We clearly had not seen such lewdness before. If this were to happen now, I guess the students would just yawn in boredom as they can access porn at the mere touch of a button on their phones!

Access to pornography gives rise to over stimulus of the sexual response and unrealistic expectations of the sexual experience. Given that more than 90 per cent of porn is aimed at males, is it any wonder that they see women as sexual objects? 

A man raised on such delusions would be sorely disappointed when his first sexual partner performs unlike the depictions he has hitherto seen. Worse still, he will see sex as his god-given right and this gives rise to rape as an end product. 

Of course those young men pictured molesting the cardboard cutout of the Shell model were not thinking that. They were just having fun without thinking of the deeper implications. But the fact that they did not think about it is symptomatic of what rape culture has done to us. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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