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

10 commandments for men

In a Swedish newspaper there was a debate article yesterday that made me happy and hopeful. It was written by a man who in his frustration regarding the recent writings in media about sexual assault towards women in different parts throughout the world, lead him to compose 10 commandments that he thought every man should read and follow.

Translated from Swedish, the commandments are as follows:

  1. Never let your sex drive compass over your respect for other people’s integrity.
  2. Learn to read other people’s signals, especially those that imply that what you are doing is not desirable behaviour.
  3. If someone sends out signals described in point 2, stop immediately whatever it was that you were doing.
  4. If it becomes more difficult to follow points 1-3 under the influence of alcohol, learn where to draw the line, or abstain completely from drinking.
  5. If other heterosexual men in your surroundings have problems following points 1-4, make it a habit to always reprehend them verbally.
  6. Make sure that you in depth understand the meaning of concepts like feminism, gender-power order and privileges.
  7. Help other heterosexual men to in depth understand the concepts in point 6.
  8. Understand that you in the reigning gender-power order are one of the most privileged people in society.
  9. Use your privileged position to lift someone who is less privileged.
  10. A gentleman is strong, brave, unselfish and puts others’ well-being before his own. Be a gentleman!

He wrote these because he felt and saw a need for drawing lines, since apparently, many do not know when they are crossing them. Because it is time for men to take their responsibilities and stop blaming women for their own assaults. Because these assaults are not “freak events”; they happen daily, regularly, to women all over the world.

I would like to make my own contribution in the spirit of his. But my attention is towards women instead. Here are 10 suggestions for women (I deliberately did not want to call them commandments, since women have in my opinion, been commanded to do this and that, be this and that, since the beginning of time, and who am I to command anyone to do anything?):

  1. Do not be afraid to speak up; speak your mind. After all: you are woman, let’s hear you roar.
  2. Do not be afraid to say No; nobody should try to force or convince you to do anything that you do not wish to do. No still means no.
  3. Do not feel ashamed if you have ever experienced any form of sexual assault; try talking about it and of course report the incident if possible. Remember that these things happen to most women in some degree, and it is not something that you should feel ashamed of, it is a shame on the society in which you live and it’s the assailant who should feel shame. Not you.
  4. Dress however you feel like dressing, use make-up, or don’t, shave your legs/armpits/whatnot, or don’t. Just remember that the choice is supposed to be yours. Do not let anyone or anything (for instance advertising..) try to convince you that you are less of a woman or a person if you do not follow their standards. There is no such thing as “normal”, it’s just something people have made up.
  5. Remember Spice girls? Well, one thing they did very right was express the importance of “Girl Power”. Remember this concept, cherish it, live by it.
  6. Do not be afraid to call yourself a feminist: even though there are people with wild misconceptions about this term, the basis of feminism is equality. It is not about man-hating hairy women without bra’s wanting to abolish men and all their misogynist ways. No, it’s about fighting for each and every individual’s right in society = Women and Men.
  7. Stop being so judgemental towards other women. There are countless studies that have shown how men in organizations for instance, help other men reach the top (eg. see Kanter), while women on the other hand are fighting both other women and other men. But who helps women? We must help ourselves, let’s change that and help each other as well. We are sisters, not enemies.
  8. Remember that being a woman is a social construction: It is not something biological, it is not something stable, it is not something universal. Thus, be whatever woman you want to be, just be yourself.
  9. Learn more about concepts such as feminism, gender, power structures, institutionalization, norms, patriarchy and so on. They will help you understand what it means to be a “woman” in today’s world, and thus, help you to fight against old-fashioned notions that should just be put out of their misery already. For more information, read: The second sex, by Simone de Beauvoir. She explains it all so well.
  10. Encourage other women around you to follow suggestions 1-9.