#sistabriefen – Stories of sexism in the world of agencies

I’ve been working at different agencies (PR/Communication/Web) for several years now and in light of #sistabriefen: Women in the industry in Sweden signing up to stand united and ask clients and agencies to demand equality and put an end to sexual harassment, marginalization and discrimination, I would just like to tell some of my own experiences and stories in this world.

First of all, I never really thought about working in marketing or at agencies before I actually started, it was more of a coincidence, one of those “being at the right place in the right time” things: While in Oslo for a photo project I met a friends’ brothers’ partner who worked at an agency that happened to be looking for some part-time help with a project managing photos, and I figured I could earn some experience and cash after my last employment as a photographer. What was supposed to be a 2 week job turned into months, which turned into a full time job, which eventually turned into my first promotion as a Production manager. This journey was no thanks to the CEO of the company, who I still think to this day is one of the biggest arseholes I’ve ever, so far, encountered. No, this was due to colleagues, especially one senior developer who saw my potential and competence, and basically persuaded the CEO to promote me. Even though I myself had sent my CV to the boss at least 4 times during the first year I worked there, I am pretty sure he never actually read it.

It’s difficult now, so many years later, to recount all the subtle incidents and remarks I experienced there, I was young and new to that world, still trying to figure out my place in it. I remember getting the work that nobody else wanted, shit tasks basically, even though I was far more educated than say another colleague who was the same age as me and hadn’t even finished her first degree while I was working on my third while also working there, but still had a better position (to be fair, she was in a relationship with one of the owners so… I guess that counts for more). I remember being hit on at the first office party I ever went to by a client who must have been twice my age. I remember the male-dominated tone of the place, the locker-roomish atmosphere. I remember talking about these things with other female colleagues who also felt troubled and frustrated. I also remember being called “cocky” and “tough” right before I was laid off for reasons I can only assume were personal and not based on my work, skills or anything else that should matter. Oh well. Even though it stung, I was glad to be out of that place.

Later I was head-hunted by another agency, which in hindsight did give me some pause before accepting the offer seeing as I was the only woman working there when I started: warning signs that I chose to disregard, thinking that I could manage on my own and inspire some change. And sure, I did change some things and at first my efficiency and ambition was a welcoming force according to my closest boss. Nonetheless, being the only woman (and a strong and opinionated one at that) where the majority of the men working there were scared of conflict and thought discussions meant fights, well, it soon became quite tricky and frustrating. I remember one instance where we had an e-mail thread among some colleagues discussing ideas for our new site. One colleague in the SEO department tried pushing for an idea which basically only involved SEO and was frankly not that good in terms of design and UX, something that I of course tried to put forth after also discussing it with our senior designer (who agreed with me). I explained that I didn’t think the idea was that good and tried to get him to understand why, but instead he went on the offence, personally attacking me because I “obviously did not understand SEO”. I maintained my composure and stuck to the original point concerning the idea and then the discussion abruptly ended. A few days later one of the owners came by and asked to see me in the conference room. I had no idea what it was about but he told me that the e-mail discussion was just not OK, that I had handled it poorly. He said: You are like a bulldozer, you just run everybody over! And I couldn’t help thinking: “If I were a white man in my 30ies like the rest of you, would we be having this exact conversation right now? I fucking doubt it.” I asked him how on earth I was the one being punished for the discussion when it was the other colleague who personally attacked me while I stuck to the topic, never saying anything bad or mean about him personally. But it was no use. He said that I cannot behave like that with my colleagues, it was not acceptable. I had to change and be “softer”. Little did I know that he would use that same tactic against me several times later on, claiming that I was too rough with colleagues, clients, god and his grandma. One time he called and told me he just had a conversation with a client who claimed that they felt like I had run them over and the first thing I did after talking to him was of course to go back in my mind and figure out what I had said or done that had made the client feel that way. I was upset with myself, thinking it was me, that I was the problem. But seeing as I am a grown up who can take responsibility for my actions, I felt the need to apologize to the client so I contacted them and told them I never meant to run them over and that I was sorry about it, that I hope I could make up for it and asked them to just let me know how they would like me to better communicate with them. The response I got baffled me: The client said that they were a bit surprised seeing as they never had claimed that I had run them over… my colleague had either misinterpreted something, or perhaps more accurately, he had lied to me just to put me down once again, just because he couldn’t deal with my no-nonsense approach. Other incidents at that damned place included: me having to take crap from clients due to the lies that the owners had told them and promises that they made (which they knew couldn’t be kept but hey, I was there as a scapegoat when shit hit the fan so, it was fine…); me having to take crap from partner firms due to lies that the owners had told them which I was not allowed to come clean about; me having to deal with them turning into drunken jackasses at every staff party, enduring even more male-macho-boyish talk and behavior, and so on, and so forth.

After the “bulldozer incident” I thought, and still maintain: I would rather be the bulldozer, than being the one run over by it. Especially seeing as I was constantly being run over by my male bosses and colleagues any way: Every time I had an idea that no one wanted to listen to; every time I tried to speak at a meeting and was interrupted; every time I got someone else’s shit thrown at me; every time I worked my arse off and had the best damn results there but instead got negative feedback for being “too hard”, “too tough”, “too opinionated”; every time I was denied a raise even though I deserved one; every time I was assigned the role as some kind of mother/maid, as if I was taking care of children in a god damned kindergarten; every time I was given less resources for my projects, but still had to accomplish the same goals and deadlines, lest I be shamed; every time I was told that I was the problem and had to change my ways; every time I was made the black sheep, the scapegoat, the punching bag. It really didn’t matter how much of a bulldozer I might or might not have been, I was still the one being run over for the most part, and the few times I spoke up about it, well, you can probably figure out how that went. Basically: I was damned if I did, and I was damned if I didn’t.

When I eventually told my boss I was quitting, I couldn’t stop smiling. I was finally free.

But then again: Will I ever be free, will any of us who have experienced this type of discrimination and sexism at work ever be treated as equals, listened to, respected, valued? I firmly believe that as long as the agencies are mostly dominated by males, women will always be in a token position, sticking out like sore thumbs. That is why #sistabriefen is such an important and necessary plea. My experiences are far from the worst that have happened and still happen to women in this industry, I consider myself lucky in a way, but I know also that I have deserved more respect than was given to me. However, when reading some of the horror stories that women have endured, I am shocked, yet not surprised, disgusted, and just at a loss for words. Many stories can be read here (mostly in Swedish though), for those of you interested, for those who perhaps don’t really think this is a “big deal”, for those who want to grasp the vastness of these issues. Read, educate yourself, speak up about it, stop it.

mad men

(funny little tidbit: just got a text from a former colleague (one of the few reasonable men at that place who I felt I could confide in and who confided in me), telling me that everything is chaos right now. Since I left, not that long ago, the project management is basically non-existent, the boss is completely lost, everyone is overburdened, irritated and frustrated. I shouldn’t be happy about this, but I am. It is nice to realize that the space I filled there, the hard work I put in, was in fact crucial and without it, well… That’s their problem, I guess. It’s just sad, typical and unfortunate that some people and especially bosses, do not understand or appreciate the value of their employees, especially when they happen to be female. However, I want to believe in Karma, in some form of justice, and I find the fact that they are struggling without me to be the universe giving me a silent nod: I was not always the problem, I actually did know what the heck I was doing, and why.)

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Unaccompanied women

While in Paris for the weekend with a friend, we went to a bar Saturday night enjoying some drinks and nice conversation. At one point the ladies at the table next to us leave and it doesn’t take long until a guy takes a seat next to my friend and starts talking to us. Which is fine in itself, I guess. His English wasn’t very good so we barely understood him at first, but he tried to communicate and explain things as best he could. He was being “friendly” asking where we came from (which became a long ordeal for my friend seeing as he had never heard of her country, but oh well..) and trying to teach us French words/phrases. However, seeing as personal space here is not really the same as it is where I or my friend live, I quickly noticed that she was getting a bit uncomfortable every time he was talking because he kept leaning into her,  so I tried steering us back to our original conversation which only involved the two of us. Surely, he would get the hint. But they never do..

We managed eventually to return to our own discussion and all of a sudden some friend of his appeared joining the table so there I thought, now it should be ok cause he was probably just being social while waiting for his friend and now that he is here they will see to themselves. Sure, that worked for a while, until suddenly the guy starts talking to us again, being even more persistent, asking for our names (fake ones were given), how long we are staying in Paris and so on. The conversation then took a turn for the worse when he said, or pointed out inquiringly: “Oh, but you are here alone..” I frowned and responded: “No, we are not here alone, we are here together.” He then tried in a ridiculous way to explain that he meant that yeah we were technically here together but “separate” as in her and I were two women “alone”, as in not accompanied by men, as in single, and thus in “need” of male company. I was already pissed off at this point so I said: “No, we are together.” Because I learned a long time ago that the lesbian card is handy to use with your friends when trying to get rid of men who just simply cannot take a hint, or even a dozen. While he tried to figure out if what I said was true, we downed our drinks and left the bar.

So. Why is this upsetting to me? Well, it’s simple: In what logical, rational way, would it ever be considered normal for me to go up to two or more men hanging out and say to them that “hey, you are here alone ey *wink wink*”, when clearly, they are not alone, they are hanging out with each other, and that doesn’t automatically mean that they are single, or that they even want my company or anything other than that they are in fact hanging out. I would never even imagine doing something like that, and if I ever did, it would just be ridiculous. But for women to enjoy each others’ company while not accompanied by men, suddenly, they are alone, and of course they must therefore be single, and of course they must want some male company. How does that make any fucking any sense?

And furthermore, even when I happen to be hanging out alone as in not with any friends or whatnot, that does not automatically mean that I want any, much less a strangers, company. I cannot even count how many times strange men have come up to me while I’ve been out in public enjoying my own company and just persisted to invade it, even though my words and body language say the same thing: I do not want your god damn company, go away.

Learn to take a hint guys, seriously. We would all be better off if you could check your privileges and stop assuming women, or anyone, want or need your company when they show you that they don’t.

Like a Princess

This summer after traveling the world and attending three different conferences, I visited my motherland, my birthplace, Romania. I truly love being there, it is such a beautiful country, full of wonder, yet frayed, still in the making, still in the process of rebuilding after being destroyed by a crazy dictator merely decades ago. And perhaps what is always so evident and frustrating for me: still so hung up on traditions built upon religion and patriarchy. Every time I go there some new goddamn church is being constructed: bigger than the one before. And I just shake my head in disappointment. Think of all that money, all that effort, being put to orphanages, schools and hospitals instead. But alas, no, people apparently need more space where they can pray to an invisible man in the sky. Oh well.

While there, I visited an old friend who now has two children, a two year old boy and a four year old girl. I had brought with me two stuffed animals for them, which they seemed to love, and they were playing joyfully with them in the living room, running around, throwing themselves on the soft rug placed in the middle. They had a nanny, an older woman, must have been 65+ I assume, who kept a watchful eye on them. While their mother went upstairs to get something, the children kept playing and I just looked at them, smiling. Then the girl started saying “poop!” and I laughed with her, cause come on, poop is a funny word. But the nanny was not impressed, she told the girl to not say such things, which of course, only made her say it more, cause she is a kid, and kids, as I have noticed, seem to like pushing boundaries and say things they “should not say”. I did not mind it at all of course, but after a while the nanny got a bit angry and grabbed the girl towards her on the sofa, she told the girl: “Now you sit here and behave, sit pretty like a princess”. The nanny placed the girl beside her, making her sit down with her legs together, hands on her knees. The girl struggled to break free but the nanny just grabbed her again and put her back on the sofa: “No, sit here nicely like a princess, show our guest that you can behave like a princess.” I was already feeling uncomfortable after the nanny first grabbed the girl, but now I was getting pissed off. And even though it might not have been my place, I still felt the need to say something, so I did, I said: “Maybe she does not want to be a princess.” The nanny looked at me, a bit confused, she let go of the girl and replied: “No, maybe not…” She turned to the girl and told her, with a bit of spite, that she was not a princess. The girl went back to playing on the rug with her brother.

Now this incident might seem small and inconsequential, however, think of all the young girls in this country, in this world, who are STILL being told to sit nicely, quietly, like a fucking princess, instead of running around, playing, being kids, taking space, just the same way their brothers and male counterparts are allowed to. What breaks my heart is that this girl is part of a new generation, but she is being taught what to do and how in the ways of an older generation who does not seem to have spent one single thought on gender equality, who thinks that things are the way they are and have always been, and will always be and everything is just peachy. To me, that is just so very sad and depressing. Because if we do not do better with our kids than our parents did before us, and their parents before them, then what exactly are we doing? Isn’t the point of procreating also progressing? Why wouldn’t we want new generations growing up with more possibilities than us, more freedom to be themselves? Sure, some might think I should not stick my nose in how other people raise their children, however, I live in this world too, and if I ever have kids, then the way others raise theirs, will also affect my own kids. Because kids do not only learn about structures from their parents, they also learn from other kids. We are all in this together, basically. So what kind of world do we all want to live in? One where girls act like nice and quiet little princesses who do everything they are told, while boys do whatever the heck they want, or one where all kids are taught to be whatever they are comfortable with being?

I vote for the latter.

princess

Claiming space: Inconsiderate drunk men in public places

While writing this I am on a train ride home from attending a PhD seminar in Stockholm. Exhausted both physically and mentally. The seminar has been really great, but I am not used to being around 40ish people daily, constantly, while also paying attention and trying to understand what is presented and told, as well as articulate what ever the hell it is that I am doing. But anyway, this is not what I wanted to write about. No, the reason for this post is the fact that I just got to switch my seat because of a man sitting opposite of me, drunk off his arse. So here’s to you, Mr Shitfaced Man:

Cheers for getting on a 3+h train ride after drinking what must have been half a bar,  thus reeking of booze and polluting the air that we are supposed to share in this enclosed metal tube (space claiming: You 1 – Me 0). Cheers for cracking open yet another beer that you so cleverly brought with you on this journey where consuming alcohol is prohibited, seeing as how the 1000 you drank before getting on weren’t enough (You 2 – Me 0). Cheers for burping out loud (You 3 – Me 0). Cheers for scaring away the guy sitting next to me so that I was left alone in your unwanted company (You 4 – Me 0). Cheers for trying to make contact with me for one straight hour, when I had my headphones on, gaze on everything else but you, clearly not in the mood for any interaction (You 5 – Me 0). Cheers for being persistent! Cheers for assuming that I in any way had any desire what so freaking ever to speak to you. Cheers for imposing yourself on my personal space, and taking up more than your share of the table that we, again, are supposed to be sharing (You 6 – Me 0). Cheers for being so darn considerate. Cheers for taking up both seats on your side and falling asleep (You 7 – Me 0), finally not harassing me anymore. Cheers for falling down on the floor right when the train staff came to check tickets, so that I could tell them how uncomfortable I was in your presence and finally get to move way the hell away from you (You 8 – Me accepting defeat). I hope to never see you again, truly. Cheers.

It’s not that I am some sort of moralist who always looks down on people enjoying some alcohol, I would be a hypocrite not acknowledging my own alcohol consumption in public spaces. However, I have never in my life acted like that man was acting just now. Not even remotely close. Never. Sure, at times I have been a bit rowdy on bus or tram rides with friends while going from one bar to another, but those rides lasted around 10-20 minutes on vehicles that constantly (i.e. every 1-2 minutes) are stopping at various stations. Those were rides where the people on them are not stuck with one another for 3+ hours. Where fresh air gets in at every stop. Moreover, I (or my friends and I as a group) have never in a drunk state persistently tried to make contact with another person who ignored every one of my/our attempts. Not once. And what’s perhaps even more interesting: I have never myself experienced this type of behavior from a drunk woman (but surely, it happens too…right?). This was however, not my first encounter with a wasted man trying his darnedest to make contact with me without me wanting to or asking for that kind of harassing behavior. Of course, some might say, everything is not about gender so why even go there? Well, basically, everything is about gender. So that is why I am going there.

Now I know that there are countless studies about alcohol consumption and that men in general consume more alcohol than women (as far as I know), for various reasons. However, I do not really care about the consumption per se, but rather this ignorant, belligerent, inconsiderate, persistent, space claiming, harassing behavior that some men seem to develop as soon as they’ve reached a certain level of drunkenness. I do not want to hear any stupid excuses about alcohol making people dumb or behaving differently, cause guess what: 1. I know, 2. If you become an ass when you drink too much, what about drinking less or not at all? How is it everyone else’s fault that you cannot handle your own alcohol consumption? How about taking some responsibility over the way you act and being considerate of the people around you?

Uh geez, sorry, but this is getting ridiculous. Now another man who I saw in the train bistro drinking a beer a while ago, sitting on the other side of the aisle in the seat behind me has started talking out really crazy loud on his phone while making himself comfortable by taking off his shoes and placing his feet on the empty seat in front of him which happens to be directly to my right. I was wondering what that smell was, and now I know. Cheers for that Mr One of Way Too Many Men With The Same Pattern Of Inconsiderate Rude Space-Claiming Behavior.

I might just take off my boots that I have been wearing all damn day and stick my feet out towards him from my seat. The only problem is that there are people directly behind me who I do not wish to disturb in this inconsiderate way. Should I really have to sink to their levels in order for things to change? In order for them to understand what they are doing? I hope not.

Oh, and now he is drunkenly singing by himself and tapping on the table. How nice of him to share that with the rest of us, even though we never asked him to.

Empowerment – the long winding road

Happy women’s day to us all!

For me, today is a day that inspires me to keep fighting, keep moving forward, keep striving for empowerment and equality. Today is also a day with sad and frustrating undertones since it reminds us that we still have such a long way to go. The road ahead is never ending, or so it seems..

For the last months I have been working with several papers for my doctoral thesis, mostly I have been gathering empirical material in the form of interviews and focus group discussions for a particular paper that will be about female sexual agency in contemporary advertising. I will not go into too much detail, but needless to say there is an ambivalence towards this shift in advertising where the idea, the message is that women + sex = power. As always, women’s bodies, their appearance, is at the core of this subject, and sadly it is still and will still be up for many discussions in years, decades to come, I’m afraid. Personally, I am a bit torn between thinking: “women should be able to display themselves any which way they want”, and “hm, yes sure that does sound lovely, but we cannot ignore the fact that the social construction of women and their bodies/appearance is not the same as for men, and women are unfortunately much more sexualized, still, so trying to gain power by being sexy is kind of another side of the male-gaze coin. Is this really the way to empowerment?”. I do not really think there is a correct answer or solution to this conundrum, but getting to study what other women  think about it has provided me with different perspectives and inspirations. This work is for me so thrilling, frustrating, eye-opening and tough, I am truly blessed to have gotten this opportunity to delve into such issues that I am so passionate about.

On another note.. in a couple of days it will be the 20th anniversary of one of the best tv-shows ever: Buffy, the vampire slayer, first airing on the 10th of March 1997. For me, growing up in the 90’s/00’s, Buffy was such an inspirational, kick-arse feminist character that inspired in so many different ways to be yourself, to be strong, to take place and claim space, to be brave, to be ok with being sad, afraid, thinking that you may not be good enough, but realizing that you are. I feel a bit sad for generations that have come after me, who instead got to grow up with Twilight or whatnot instead of Buffy, because Buffy is a fighter, not a push-over, she is not obsessed with guys all the time, since she is a bit too damn busy saving the world.

In her own words:
buffy
Truer words were never spoken..

So happy 20th anniversary Buffy, and thank you for inspiring me and other young girls to be empowered.

So what else is new, well, I recently got the lovely news that one of my papers was accepted to the Macromarketing conference held in New Zealand, yay me! And today, of all days, I also got the news that another short paper was accepted for another conference, in Paris. So double-yay for me, on this wonderful, women’s day.

The boys club, or: How women have been, and still are, kept out of history

As I am writing this, I have just finished my first day at a seminar abroad, and I must say, the seminar started off on a frustrating and infuriating note for me. As we were listening to the first lecture this morning, which was supposed to be about Ricoeur, the lecturer, a male Professor from France, began with a brief sort of history slash back story of philosophers and great thinkers, among which Ricoeur was one (along with Derrida, Husserl, Foucault etc.). After talking about this and that philosopher he showed us a slide of all he had touched upon with their names and pictures, dates and such, and I couldn’t help thinking: There’s something wrong with this picture.
All the faces looking back at me from the screen, were Men. My anger and frustration was instant, I felt my pulse rising as the question boiled in my head; Why is there not a single woman pictured there?

Alas, I bit my tongue and let him continue on uninterrupted. I figured, maybe he will mention more, maybe he will say something. Or, maybe I am overreacting. But no, I am not, and I hate myself for even thinking that for a second, for going there, for almost forgiving yet again the erasure of women. Fuck that.

As the day went on, my frustration grew, but as a sign from the universe, it so happened that in the last section of the day, the group discussions, I was placed in the same group as the lecturer. I kept going back and forth for most of the discussion on whether or not I should now take the opportunity to ask him what he was thinking, why he decided to ignore female philosophers completely, and at the end of the discussion I raised my hand and spoke out. I said that I noticed that there were only men included in his presentation, that he didn’t mention a single woman, that while talking about this and that collaboration or link to Ricoeur he did not make a single connection to, say, Simone de Beauvoir, who, one could say, had similar thoughts on identity as did Ricoeur. Why was she left out?

The answer I got was, what I would call: a generic-non-reply-excuse. Basically, he said that he was not that familiar with her work (! How about reading up on it then?), that women at that time were not that encouraged to take part of the discourse (! Sure, but what about those who did?), that in France, Simone de Beauvoir is not that “popular” (! Ok, but we are not IN France, and you just gave a lecture about Ricoeur and how he was not that popular in France and had to go to America..), that the university at that time was very misogynist (! Obviously, still does not explain why you insist on keeping it that way..), and then another male lecturer chimed in trying to save the situation by saying: That was still not that long ago, and surely in a hundred years it will look different and more women will be included in the seminar then. And my honest response to that is: Well. No. Actually, things will in fact NOT look different then, unless we MAKE it different. If we keep excluding women, they will never be a part of the discourse. If we keep ignoring women, overlooking them, they will remain in the periphery.

Women have been written out of history for too long, it is not always that noticeable, it is not always complete or permanent, but it has happened, and still is happening. As Rebecca Solnit writes in one of the best books I’ve read this year, or probably my entire life, Men Explain Things to Me:

“Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.”

By say, not including female philosophers at a lecture where you mention a dozen male philosophers, you are, whether consciously or not, keeping women out of the discourse. You are showing your students that great thinkers equals men. You are holding on to the misogynist rules that have kept women on the outside for centuries. The fact that you have not read up on any female philosophers is of course also part of the problem, in fact, I can almost be certain that when your teachers presented their lectures on great philosophers, they most likely also did not mention women. And so the story goes. So it spins. Round and round. And if we keep spinning like this, we will forever be too damn dizzy to notice what is wrong with the bloody picture.

Enough is enough, is enough. It’s time to write a new history.

Not all men

I recently came across this article (in Swedish), in regards to the “not all men” debate, about how men, ordinary Swedish (or other..) men, help themselves to women’s bodies. Somehow, the “right” that men (think they) have to put their hands on women, surpasses the woman’s own rights to her own body. How is that normal? How can anyone think that this is ok, truly, really, ever?

The author of the article, an ordinary Swedish man, talks about this skewed, unjust problem, and tells stories about how this all started in middle school, where boys, ordinary boys, chased girls, put their hands on them, looked down their pants. How it then morphed in adulthood and was translated into more violent sexual assaults and rape. The author saw his friends, co-workers, acquaintances, all ordinary men, help themselves in different ways to women’s bodies, and he thought, foolishly, that he would never, could never, do something like that. Until he did. Cause the problem here is not that the rapists, assailants, grabbers are all monsters that hide during the day and come creeping out of the bushes at night. No, it’s that they are ordinary men, who take a step, or two, or a hundred, too far, who help themselves to something that they have been brought up to think, is rightfully theirs.

The stories he told all sound familiar to me, and I am sure, to all of my female friends, however my, our, point of view is from the other side. I too remember how the ordinary boys in middle school all of a sudden started to grab us girls, how they sometimes playfully, sometimes violently, put their hands on our bodies. How we were just supposed to deal with it, to feel flattered by it, how “boys will be boys” was an ever present echo in the air. I cannot possibly recall all the numerous times that my ass was grabbed by an ordinary boy in school, but I do remember a specific instant: a regular day when I was sitting on a table outside the lunch room, waiting for my friends, and this ordinary boy, one of the cute older boys, came sitting next to me, how we talked, joked, and how he suddenly slipped his hand on my butt, like it was inevitable, normal, something that I should feel good about. And the problem was, that I in one sense did feel good since that was what I was supposed to feel; if the cute boy at school put his hands on you, you were supposed to feel proud, flattered, happy. The question of whether or not you wanted his hands on your body at that particular moment, was not even a question at all. Obviously, whenever he felt that some ass-grabbing was due, that was always the appropriate time. So while I sat there, feeling his hand on my butt, I felt nervously happy, but at the same time, very, very uncomfortable. In my head, I tried to convince myself that it was ok, that it was something good, that I should just shut up and be glad about it, about getting this sort of attention. Cause if I told him off, surely, I would be the biggest dork ever. Right? He would then probably tease me, or even worse: never pay attention to me again. And since my “worth”, my raison d’être was (I was taught) linked to the amount of attention received from the cute ordinary boys at school, I could never say no. Looking back now, I wish I had done something, but while thinking this, I get angry, because no; it was not my responsibility to not get grabbed by him. It was his responsibility to not put his hands on me. It was not my fault then, and it was not my fault years later when snorkeling in Egypt, where a guide decided to conduct me away from the group and put his hands on my breasts inside my bikini. It was not my fault any of the numerous times while out dancing with my friends when  someone came and touched me from behind. It was not my fault when I was grabbed on the tram. It was never my fault when some ordinary man put his hands on me without my consent. It’s their fault, always.

And like the author in the article argued: this is such a regular, normal, ordinary thing that happens to everyone, and if you cannot count at least 10 women who have been sexually assaulted in some way, and 10 men who have assaulted a woman, that is because they have not told you about it. It is not because it does not exist in your immediate circle of friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, it is not because the ones who do that are monsters in hiding, or because “not all men” do that. All men, ordinary men, are capable of doing that, even the nicest ones, even the ones who “would never”. That is why the “not all men” argument has to die out. It has to be buried and forgotten so we can move forward and deal with the issue at hand, the norms that teaches ordinary men that they have the right to women’s bodies, that they may put their hands wherever they want, whenever they want.

This is a man’s issue, a woman’s issue, a human issue, everyone is involved, in some way or another, even those who de facto do not put their hands where they do not belong, if you are silently letting that happen around you, it makes you culpable too.

All men, ordinary men; it’s time to take a stand.

Banning sexist ads

Things are starting to happen, more and more debates are stirring up regarding the sexist misrepresentations we have been force fed for decades by ads, institutional and systemic activities are blossoming in the form of bans. If things continue to progress in this order, we might, might, be able to overcome the daily litany of sexism we are exposed to each and every day. I do not think that we will ever be rid of sexism altogether, that would be too much to ask, right? But if we could at least not portray ourselves in demeaning ways, then that would surely affect the way we see and act towards each other as well.

There are and have been many different projects dealing with these issues for the last couple of years, to name a few: The Representation Project with social media campaigns like #NotBuyingIt and #MediaWeLike, the ad agency Badger & Winters’ campaing #WomenNotObjects, the underwear brand Aerie with their #AerieREAL campaign. Not to mention the many scholars and authors who have been discussing the way we portray women and men in ads, art and film since the 60’s and 70’s (for instance: Laura Mulvey, Jean Kilbourne, John Berger, Erving Goffman, Sut Jhally, Denice A. Yanni, Debra Merskin, and many, many more). Nonetheless, real change takes time, and effort, and endurance. Since advertising as we know it is a social institution, changing it is not just a matter of flicking a switch, as Warlaumont wrote:

Advertising images have a special importance to scholars of popular culture because of the “reality” they construct for the viewer, especially in terms of gender portrayals. Because they are ubiquitous, these portrayals often become our established visual grammars of gender. Since these images are driven, in part, by economic conditions – which often encourage the exploitation of women and others in order to sell products – change has been met with some resistance.

Needless to say, the images we are given have become established, we have breathed them in throughout our lives, they are a part of our norms and value system, therefore, not all see or understand that this is in fact an issue, that this is not the way it has to be, that such images are socially constructed, and thus, they can be re-structured. Thankfully, there are those who do and who have brought this up time and time again, who fight for all of us, even the ones who do not want to see or admit that this affects them as well.

Lately, other larger organizations and institutions have also started to understand the problem, and taken a stand towards it. Some weeks ago the city of Trondheim in Norway declared that ads conveying negative body image will be banned and no longer displayed in public spaces.

“No advertising that conveys a false image of the model/models’ appearance and contributes to a negative body image will be permitted.”

And in a similar manner, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has recently banned body-shaming ads on the transit system.

“As the father of two teenage girls, I am extremely concerned about this kind of advertising which can demean people, particularly women, and make them ashamed of their bodies.”

Finally. Action is taken, for real, in a way that can actually bring about some change. Now, I must also express that I am not that particularly happy about the fact that such ads have to be banned, it would be so much better if companies and ad agencies just stopped producing them by their own free will. But since this has not occurred to many (or most..) of them, well, then I guess it’s better that they get stopped by any means necessary, such as bans. It is not enough to just have some advertising standards that companies should follow, without there also being repercussions when they refuse to follow them. In Sweden for instance, we have the Reklamombudsmannen, a foundation where consumers can for instance report ads that they do not find ethically acceptable. There are different types of reports that can be made and one of them concerns gender discriminatory ads, but even if you report an ad, and even if that ad gets condemned for sexism for instance, there are no repercussions what so ever for the company behind the ad. They can, if they want, take it down, or they can totally ignore it and keep spewing their sexist agenda. Such a system is a nice thought, really, it is nice to think that people would behave and if someone tells them they have done something bad, they apologize and try never doing it again. But, unfortunately for us all, people are not like that, not all the time, not everyone. So if they will not listen to reason or just have a general understanding of equality and not want to demean and exploit both women and men, well, fuck it, let’s ban them. In a Swedish newspaper today there was a debate article about just this: the leader of the feminist party in Sweden argued for a ban on sexist ads. On the flip side the chairman for the youth liberal party claimed that such a ban would invade on the freedom of speech, and sure, that may be true, but hey, what about the freedom of not feeling offended when walking out your door, what about the freedom of not having misogyny thrown in your face, what about the freedom of being seen as an equal, what about the freedom of not being brainwashed with in-human, perfectly flawless body and beauty standards that no living person can ever live up to? Of course, sexist ads are not the root of the problem, but they are a part of it. And if all sorts of different brands have not yet understood that they should perhaps try not creating sexist ads in order to sell their products, well then perhaps it is time to do something about it.

If ever there would be a vote or petition in Sweden for banning sexist ads, I’d be the first to sign it. Bring it on, I have my pen ready.

broadcity

Mansplaining

Ah patriarchy, the gift that keeps on giving..

There has been some recent buzz online regarding the concept of “Mansplaining”, which simply put is when a man (or woman) interrupts a person (often a woman)  in order to explain something to them as if they were a little child not having the slightest clue about anything. Lovely, isn’t it? If you have never heard this before, you might want to check this informative video:

Now, first of all, there are those that behave in this disrespectful way regardless of gender, however, the issue at stake here is that mansplaining happens a lot both in films, TV and advertising as well as in real life and also that it seems most often to concern men mansplaining things to women, thus women are and have been systematically silenced by men for a long time. This really should come as no surprise, right? Seeing as how history is written by men, how society was shaped by men and it’s barely been a hundred years, even less in some countries, since women got the right to vote, i.e. “speak” their mind regarding important societal matters. Mansplaining may be a fairly recent term, but the act itself is older than feminism. Women and minority groups have been shushed and silenced in all types of manners for centuries, so this should really not come as a shock to anyone, the only thing I find surprising is that it took this long before we formulated a word for this type of behaviour.

Of course, whenever such topics get talked about online one will soon find people going on about “yeah well women do that too” and thus not really getting the point. But hey, let me manspl..ehm, explain it then:

The point is not that all men mansplain things, or that women never mansplain things, the point is that mansplaining is a phenomenon that occurs relatively often, and in most or at least many cases that are depicted, that many of us are exposed to, it is a man explaining things to a woman in a patronizing way, thus assuming that she is incompetent, that he is superior and knows best without having any reason for this belief. The point is that such an occurrence should not be happening in the scale that is has been and is happening, the point is that it should not be taken for granted that a man will always know more than a woman, regardless of topic.

So, how about treating each other as individuals, hearing each other out instead of silencing each other? There are always more sides to a story than yours. And in the words of David Brent:

Don’t assume. It makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.

Sexist Advertising Survey

Hello dear readers, time to stop reading and start writing; I would greatly appreciate if you could take 10-15 minutes of your precious time to participate in the following survey:

Sexist Advertising Survey

This survey is open for everyone, anyone, who would like to share some thoughts on the research topic of “Sexist advertising”. No previous knowledge necessary, all that matters are your own personal thoughts.

Cheers a lot!