When activists say its OK.
Recently I’ve read about multiple new campaigns that are using sex, or more particularly, naked women, as a major piece of their advertising. I know I’ve already gone over how much I hate PETA, but it seems that mixing objectification and activism is not an uncommon tactic at all.
Via Jezebel: Kim Zolciak from the Real Housewives of Atlanta in an ad for NOH8, protesting Proposition 8.
Sociological Images shows a series of ads from the “Aids is a mass murderer” campaign which uses women having sex with famous mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin, and Sadaam Hussein to grab attention. NSFW!
Also from Sociological Images we find “Angry Green Girl” who uses her sex appeal to raise awareness about environmental issues. Here’s her talking about the car wash she’s having only for Hybrid cars. Notice particularly how amazed the interviewer (and the news station) is about the fact that she can use “big words”:
Now we all know objectification is wrong, and we all know why and we see it every day in every other advertisement, so what makes these different?
I think the fact that these advertisements are from non-profit organizations who are working to change the world, say that objectification is OK, as long as they’re asking for it. Yeah, we expect these portrayals of women from Carl’s Jr. but we know they’re assholes. Even those who like these advertisements think they are funny because they are so offensive. When activist groups choose to objectify women in the name of a cause, they’re saying that the negativity of objectification is debatable and compromisable. They’re saying that the choice to sexually objectify women is one you can make, as long as its for the right cause. They’re saying that even in their ideal world women are objects.
I know that the defense is shock value! Anything to get you talking! No publicity is bad publicity! But objectifying women is not the only way, and honestly this strategy of “show boobs, get attention” is tired. While in Norway, I’m interning with the group Changemaker, a youth organization (meaning 13-30 year olds) who work on issues of international peace, trade and environmental issues. They also use shock tactics or “stunts” as they call them to get public and media attention. For example here’s an ad they’ve used to protest the Norwegian arms trade:
Here, they counter the tourist slogan “typisk norsk” (typically norwegian) with the campaign, “Det er typisk norsk å tjene penger på krig” (It is typically Norwegian to make money off the war). The images from this campaign is shocking and grab attention without compromising any values of gender equality.
Because most of all, I feel betrayed by these ads. I feel betrayed by these activists who work on issues I care about, because they don’t seem to care about me. Activism must come from community. How can I be part of a community of activists that fights for aids awareness, when I don’t feel like my body is respected? I don’t want to be part of a green movement that thinks the environment is greater than gender equality. I won’t join a movement for same-sex marriage, if they can’t understand that sexual objectification contributes to a culture of sexual violence, and that all these issues are intertwined.
These movements don’t have to be antithetical. Take Smitten Kitten, our favorite sex toy shop. It sells environmentally friendly toys free of chemicals, educates about contraceptive choices, all while promoting healthy sexuality, acceptance of all genders and gender expressions and sex positivity. These issues are intertwined and any compromise made for the sake of publicity, compromises the larger cause for a better world. We can do better than a world where only 7 countries recognize the right of same sex couples to marry, where 95% of those infected with AIDS live in the global south, where people in these regions also bear the burden of the environmental carelessness of the north. But this can’t be at the expense of women. Because we also must be working towards a world where 1 in 3 women don’t experience sexual assault. We can do better than this, but these ads aren’t helping.
When I wrote this reaction, I hadn’t yet viewed the video for the “AIDS is a Mass Murderer campaign, but after watching it, I was absolutely appalled. (again, very NSFW)
I wrote this comment over at Sociological Images:
To me, that video does not look like passionate sex, it looks like a rape scene. The camera angles and haziness are clearly showing that the woman is very drunk, and by the end she seems to be unconscious. It’s a completely horrifying scene with or without the presence of Hitler as the male partner. Without the tagline of “aids is a mass murderer” the final line “protect yourself!” means: women, protect yourself from being sexually assaulted by not drinking so much!
I can’t tell if the campaign intended this to be a scene of sexual violence but it’s disturbing either way. (1) If this is supposed to be an ideal sex scene before you realize Hitler is the male partner, they’re portraying sexual violence as sexy, which it’s very much not. (2) If the scene was supposed to depict sexual violence, than the message of the campaign is: “Women! You have a responsibility to protect yourself from HIV/AIDS by wearing a condomn, just like you have a responsibility to protect yourself from sexual violence by not drinking too much.”
I also really agree with other commenters that these ads equate someone with HIV/AIDS with a murderer (and a rapist), which is absolutely wrong, and the opposite of what we mean by aids awareness.