The WHO Speaks campaign has returned to campus with a new mission.
A poster campaign launched Wednesday by the Women’s Housing Option aims to spread awareness about the impact of media and language on gender violence. By placing text over images, the posters draw attention to advertisements, books, movies and other media that objectify and exploit women. This is the second WHO Speaks campaign, following last year’s which focused on body image problems among women.
Sophomore Nandita Singh, an organizer of WHO Speaks, said she joined the campaign not because she’s a “raging feminist,” but because she wanted to bring attention to how language and the media desensitize people to rape.
“Our aim with this campaign is to show students that there are a lot of parts of our society that make rape okay without explicitly saying so,” Singh said, “That is the definition of rape culture.”
The Women’s Center provided services to 163 student victims of gender violence in 2013, said Sheila Broderick, gender violence intervention services coordinator at the center.
“One in six college-aged women are the victims of rape or attempted rape during their college career,” Broderick noted. “Sexual assault on college campuses is pretty consistent from one university to the next, so there is no reason to believe that Duke’s numbers of sexual misconduct differ from other universities.”
Broderick expressed concern that most media depictions of sexual encounters are unrealistic and never mention STI and pregnancy prevention.
“I encourage all of us to be wise consumers of the media—to know that what we see on screens is pretend,” Broderick said.
Broderick commented that she hopes a campaign like WHO Speaks will spark dialogue on campus and encourage students to go to the Women’s Center for help.
Senior Hanna Metaferia, a media activism intern at the Women’s Center and editor of feminist blog Develle Dish, worried that the campaign will not encourage students to think about sexual objectification of women in a lasting manner.
“Even if a Duke student were to glance at the WHO campaign, it would do little to change the way in which that student reacts to the heavily sexual media landscape that we are submerged in,” Metaferia said.
She added that, she objects to the “semi-nude, sex-filled advertisements” put out by companies such as American Apparel—one of the brands featured in the campaign—but is no longer surprised by them.
“Most people born in the digital media age are already immune to sexually objectifying imaging because we see it everyday, multiple times a day,” Metaferia said. “Whether you browse search engines, open up a magazine or watch porn, sexually objectifying imaging is everywhere, everyday.”