More than we bargain for on our highstreets

I think I did a walk around the high street blog about two years ago. Today, after being faced with Mary, Abby and Jane, I thought I’d do one again.  As we recover from the Danny Dyer ‘scandal’ – in case you missed it, this is where that lovable cad Danny, in his agony column in Zoo magazine, advised a correspondent to ‘cut the face’ of his girlfriend, I mean ex-girlfriend, in order that no-one else will want to have her’ – the prevalence of this sort of image of women seems ever more ubiquitous and it’s not just the Zoos or Nuts of this world that love to exploit it.

So – who are Mary, Abby and Jane? I have no idea, but rest assured, once you’ve had a shower with new Lynx ‘Rise’, they could be yours. There is a distinct aura of Zoo about them. And by the looks of things, they’re available. Aren’t all women supposed to be? But of course … it’s all a bit of harmless fun. Isn’t it?

What bothers me about this image (it’s HUGE by the way), is how symptomatic it is of the current and growing acceptability of plastering the majority of our public spaces – spaces inhabited by me, my kids, their mates, with suggestive images which objectify women in order to sell products. And no, this is not about giving the consumer ‘what they want’. No consumer ever asked for this. It was created, in order to shock, titillate and sell more shower gel.

When I walk through quaint little Blackheath village, there’s a fashion shop, which sells only men’s clothing, but which currently sports a huge image of a woman in Calvin Kline underwear all over the front window. I didn’t ask for that either and it’s certainly not advertising anything that is available inside the shop because they don’t sell women’s underwear. So tell me, why is it there?

Diesel recently plastered huge, neon ‘ironic’ Sex Sells signs, all over their shop windows. It’s our cue to laugh when we read the small print ‘but unfortunately we only sell jeans’. Well I didn’t ask for that either Diesel. I’d rather just see the jeans and I’d also rather my seven-year-old son wasn’t confronted with these images, compounding the likelihood that he’ll be desensitised to what he sees around him and conditioned to think that the objectification of women is not only acceptable, but it’s normal.

Manufacturers, publishers and retailers are fond of arguing that they only sell what people want – supply and demand – but that’s rubbish. I just don’t buy it. Because I know that behind the scenes is a sophisticated mob of marketers, advertisers and profit hunters. They create and shape the market. However, we believe they REALLY DO have a responsibility to ensure they don’t promote images which are damaging and offensive – either to me or, most importantly of all, to my children. Why is my public space for sale to the highest bidder?

And it seems, we’re not the only ones who take issue. Yesterday, a top United Nations

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official encouraged advertisers to join efforts to stamp out violence against women, calling on the industry to help defy destructive gender stereotypes. Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, pointed to studies which have shown that negative stereotyping, including the depiction of women as sex objects, exacerbates gender discrimination. Women have been portrayed in demeaning or damaging ways on billboards, magazines, television and magazines, he added. “We need to put an end to persistent negative assumptions about the role of men and women in society. And we need to turn away from limited and one-dimensional gender portrayals in mass media.”

Zoo might only give the punters what they want, but it’s been recently proven, and not before time, by the hideous Danny Dyer incident, that that doesn’t make it right or acceptable, or just a bit of saucy innocent fun. Says Kiyo Akasaka to the advertising industry, “Imagine what you could do by combining your ideas, technology and entrepreneurship to the mission of eliminating violence against women.” Just try.

So next time I walk past the men’s shop in Blackheath, I might just pop my face through the door and challenge it, because until we do, that tired old argument that we’re only giving people what they want will get pulled out again and again. And eventually we’ll hear it so many times, that we’ll start to bloody well believe it ourselves.

9 responses to “More than we bargain for on our highstreets

  1. What seems crazy in comparison is the anti breastfeeding in public brigade. People are happy to be really vocal against something natural like breastfeeding, but don’t say a word about this kind of stuff. It’s a completely mixed up world :(

  2. Hi! Im Jimena from Argentinia.
    I ´d been a fan of your site for a while and I think that your site is awesome. I am feminist,and you inspired my to start a blog about women´s issues called “un corset más apretado” (A tighter corset). I wanted to thank you for your upstanding work. Love,Jimena

  3. I don’t think ironic means what Diesel think it means.

    Great post.

  4. Another great post. I object so much that these posters invade my space and the space of my children. Thank you for the site and the posts.

  5. Someone needs to tell Mary, Abby and Jane that if they consummate their passion for anyone wearing Lynx, they’re probably breaking the law nothing says “underage with acne” like their stuff.

  6. I don’t think you can call it mixed up when people are anti breastfeeding in public while not being against ads like this: it is totally perfectly logic. Breastfeeding women are too real, they disturb their image of women being there just to be sex objects.

  7. I support yopur campaigns against the insidious sexism that is everywhere in the high street as well as everywhere else! I could tell you lots of stories about arguments in shops with assistants-usually women!- about why toys have to be labelled as for girls or boys and why girls fantasy has to consist of fairies and princesses and boys of superheroes, monsters and violence. Also arguments about pink sandals with little heels for 3 year olds, childrens clothes being steroetyped by colour to such a ridiculous extent that I have to cut out the labels in order to give my granddaughter a dark blue and green top (because it has a label that says BOY!! stitched in it) etc BUT we will only be abe to fight this kind of thing through active campaigning out there on the streets. We need to start defacing posters, sticking labels on sexist articles, staging protests outside stores, bombarding shoppers with protest leaflets, sitting in in the offices of magazines like Zoo etc.The internet is great for raising issues but not so good for collective action. Noone ever achieved justice arguing as an individual alone-we are too weak that way. What we need is a new womens movement.

  8. Fantastic post. Totally agree with you, nobody asked for the wall papering of sexist advertising in our culture. I love what one of the comments has said “we will only be able to fight this kind of thing through active campaigning out there on the streets….” We are at a point where this has to happen, campaigns need to be offline as well as online. Keep up the great work.

  9. I find the Diesel image deeply disturbing. It is something I find myself stumbling over to explain to my 7 year old daughter why a girl of 12 is lying on a sofa in that way. Is she tired? erm no.. then why is she like that…well, because she can’t help herself and she’s waiting for someone to help her…

    Its an awful image, upsetting because the model is so young too, and so thin. God help my 2 daughters if art and media carry on like this. Where has the creativity gone and what is this aggressiveness got to do with clothes?

    It was bad enough seeing thin supermodels when I was a self depreciating 18 year old looking for something to wear, seeing pre pubescent models selling jeans, face cream, elixier of life, etc, is just, well…disturbing to say the least.

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