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Women for Sale!!!!

by Laura Green
March 2000

I hear $500,000 over there, $750,000 from the gentleman in the back. Anyone for a million ? Anyone? Going once, going twice . SOLD, to the millionaire in the back row. Congratulations Darva, you've been bought!

Welcome to the year 2000, when nothing says I love you like a fat chequebook. The Fox networks' recent program Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? has caused quite a stir. If you haven't heard by now, the Fox special selected 50 women to audition to be the bride of millionaire Rick Rockwell. Much like a beauty pagent, the women paraded in swimsuits and gowns and answered a variety of questions. The show pulled in huge audiences, and surprisingly, much of the commentary following the special was positive. Both men and women liked the show, and Fox planned to rerun the episode. That was before it was revealed that their millionaire had had a restraining order placed on him for having threatened a previous girlfriend. Lucky millionaire bride Darva Conger is now applying to have the wedding annuled and is making appearances on all of the top talk shows.

"I thought it was hilarious,"said second year UWO student Matt Smith.* "I figured it had all just been set up anyway, so I didn't really have a problem with it."

Smith's friend Tammy Graham agreed. "It's all entertainment,"said Graham. "We have all of these shows now on TV like Judge Judy and Jerry Springer and they have huge ratings because they're funny . I don't think people take them seriously."

But student Caitlin Bouchard was stunned when she stumbled onto the show by accident. "It was kind of sick actually," sais Bouchard. "I couldn't believe that women would put themselves in such a degrading position, they might as well sell themselves on the corner ... I really don't have any sympathy for Darva."

And that's the problem. None of the women who appeared on Millionaire were forced to be there. They willingly volunteered to sell themselves, and it's not hard to see why. Even though Conger is now applying for an annulment, she'll still go home with quite a loot. A Fox network spokesman said that Conger has received prizes worth a total of $100,000: the honeymoon, the $35,000 engagement ring and an Isuzu Trooper. It may not be a million, but it's not a bad consolation prize.

But the question remains, is it OK to use women to sell a television show, or any other product? If you think that it's an issue that doesn't affect university students, far removed from the glamour and glitz of Hollywood, think again. Images of women are used daily on campus to sell anything from vacations to cars. Even our free campus newspaper The Gazette uses images of women to increase their circulation, which, after all, sells ads.

This manipulation of women was particularly evident in a recent issue that had a photo on its front page of two women kissing. The cutline below the picture indicated that these women were enjoying a moment at the Charity Ball.

The photo was a smart move on the Gazette's part. It did exactly what they hoped - stir up some controversy and get more people reading the paper. Almost a month after the photo ran, letters to the editor are still being printed on the subject.

It's not that there is anything wrong with the photo itself. Some readers suggested that the picture was pornographic. Actually, the photo is quite tasteful. It's the way it's used that's the problem. How does the photo represent the Charity Ball? What is newsworthy is how much the Ball raised, but the reality is sex sells.

For what reason, other than to increase circulation, would the Gazette print it? To have a good piece of art on its cover? If so, they should have changed the cut-line accordingly. More likely, it was the sensationalism of having two women kissing on the cover of a paper in a largely heterosexual campus community. Also, the connection of lesbian activity with male fantasies would increase circulation.

Unfortunately, the idea that it is OK to use women to sell is well established in our society. Even within the pages of the Gazette's classifieds an escort service ad appears regularly looking for applicants that are "responsible, attractive and realistic."

Intrigued by the ad that they say was "vague at best, misleading at worst" journalism students Michelle Rember and Stacy Pembrooke decided to do a bit of investigative reporting.

"There was no indication that sex was involved except for the fact that applicants had to be 'realistic.'

We wondered what that meant,"said Pembrooke.

It was difficult for them to find out. At an interview with a representative from the service, Rember tried to establish whether or not sex was part of the deal. "When I asked him if male clients were required to wear condoms, he replied "of course." He also admitted that dinner was rarely involved on these 'dates,'" said Rember. But the representative would not answer the question of sex directly.


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