Is this sexist? And is it relevant in a copywriting community?December 9th, 2013 12 Comments
Yesterday, I saw the above sticker on a ute at McDonald’s.
I posted it in the Australian Copywriters community on Google+. A few people complained to the community owner about it, and one posted comments accusing me outright of sexism. The post was subsequently deleted.
Is the cartoon sexist?
The illustration itself depicts two (clothed and smiling) people in a sexual position. Nothing sexist there. Yes, the man in the illustration is in a position that’s often associated with power (and rape), but they’re both smiling, so I think we can assume it’s consensual and they’re both enjoying it.
So I don’t believe the illustration itself is sexist. And actually, to reduce that particular illustration to power/rape would betray a sexist attitude towards men, because there’s no hint of either in the illustration.
So if it’s not the illustration itself, it must be the writing (or the combination of writing + imagery). The overarching message.
Is the overarching message sexist? I think it depends on the ute owner’s reasons for putting the sticker on his car…
It’s sexist if he’s serious
If he were serious, he’d be bragging about having sex with everyone’s mum and using that fact as a tool to try to upset the viewer, particularly those people who stick family stickers on their cars. I agree, that would be sexist, because it would suggest he thinks it’s ok to advertise his consensual sexual exploits with mothers, and that it’s ok to use those exploits, and by extension the mothers, as tools to help him achieve some other objective. In other words, women are tools.
I think, given the context and the cultural capital this cartoon is built on, that we can also assume the hypothetical mothers in question have not given their permission for such advertising, and that they would be humiliated if he did. Therefore, he’s suggesting it’s ok to dismiss mothers’ preferences, and to humiliate them in order to achieve some other objective. In other words, women are not only tools, but it’s OK to betray their trust and humiliate them.
But is it sexist if he’s joking?
If he’s NOT serious and just thought it was funny, then he’s saying it’s OK to use sexist jokes just to get a laugh. If anyone reading this has never told a blonde joke or a ‘mere man’ joke, I’ll eat my hat. Even those of us who are aware of the sexism inherent in the joke and the possible ramifications of it (and many aren’t) still do it. Because, let’s face it, some sexist jokes are funny!
Is that sexist? I don’t think so. When I tell a blonde joke (or laugh at one), it says nothing about my attitude towards blondes or women.
Does it perpetuate sexism? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, it’s a long way shy of sexism, in my book.
And what if he’s being ironic?
What if the ute owner isn’t just going for the cheap laugh. What if he’s being ironic? What if he’s saying, “I know this is sexist. I’m using it to shock you, to draw your attention to the sexism, to say it’s wrong and to make it very clear I’m not sexist.”?
Is that sexist? No.
We don’t know why he stuck it on his car
We don’t KNOW the ute owner’s reasons. To assume he’s serious because he’s a man is just as sexist as the sexism he’d be guilty of if he were (serious). To assume he’s serious because he’s a ute owner is equally prejudiced. So is assuming he’s serious because his ute looked very much like a country ute. In fact, to assume any single reason is to take liberties, and to flirt with sexism yourself.
For that matter, we don’t even know the ute owner is a man!
Am I sexist for posting it on Google+?
Enough about the ute owner. Let’s talk about me! ;-)
In hindsight, I can understand why some people complained. I didn’t say why I posted it. I assumed, given that most of us in the community are copywriters, everyone else would see the same value in it I did. Obviously not.
But I think accusations of sexism are out of line. In fact, I think they’re sexist, in themselves. Here’s why…
You don’t know my reasons
Just as we don’t know the ute owner’s reasons for putting the sticker on his vehicle, members of the copywriting community don’t actually know my reasons for posting the picture there.
Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s why I posted it:
- From a conceptual/copywriting point of view, I thought the sticker was funny, clever, topical and attention-grabbing. Exactly how I like my copywriting.
- I thought it was funny BECAUSE it was so inappropriate. Who hasn’t laughed at a ‘bad taste’ joke?
- I was being ironic. Those who know me well know that I occasionally say politically incorrect things deliberately, in order to highlight the fact that I know they’re politically incorrect and to comment on the negative message inherent in the utterance (and those who usually use it in seriousness). E.g. I might say “niggers” to draw attention to racism, “pillow-biting sausage jockey” to draw attention to homophobia, or “spaz” to draw attention to insensitivity to the intellectually handicapped. This has landed me in hot water in the past, when it’s been mis-read. And here we are again… ;-)
Now I know everyone’s busy, and to most people, social media is a smash-and-grab sort of affair. And I know I didn’t do myself any favours by not explaining my reasons for posting in the first place. But I think it’s misguided to immediately condemn my post and to label me as sexist for posting it.
You don’t really know me
Yes, I’m sexist. You are too. We all are, simply by virtue of being brought up in a sexist society. Plus we’re all humans, and humans naturally stereotype people in order to make sense of the world around them.
But I flatter myself that I’m one of the least sexist people I know.
So calling me sexist is sexist!
So when someone calls me sexist, based purely on a single image, with no understanding of my reasons for posting it, my history, my relationships or my actual attitudes, they’re making a lot of assumptions and adopting attitudes about me based purely on my gender. I’m male, I posted something that may be sexist, therefore I’m sexist.
Is that not sexism, itself?
Please comment below with your thoughts. I'm not so old a dog that I can't learn a few new tricks!