Is it Feminism, or is it just really cold outside?
I recently had a discussion with some people about a controversial poster that was used to promote a Valentines Day speed-dating night at an 'alternative' pub in Nottingham. The main strap line for this event was 'BAG A SLAG, GRAB A HAG'. The designer, barmaid Lydia Hunt, defended the poster by saying "It was just to have a laugh and grab attention. I'm not saying women are either slags or hags, but I think it is an empowerment thing." Yes, Lydia, you are. And no, it isn't.
Here's the poster, below, and this is the BBC article.
For the record, I don't often get involved in debates on Facebook... Arguing the toss with strangers is great fun, provided they can back up their point, and of course, everyone has the right to an opinion. Debates on sexism and political correctness tend to bring up interesting patterns in social convention; learning what other people think, even if their views are poles apart from mine, is insightful. I love a good argument, and generally speaking, will happily change my opinion if I realise I'm wrong.
Here's the full, unedited discussion (I am TLN), with peoples' names removed for consideration's sake, so that you can have a think. (Be warned - The link on free bleeding is not particularly nice, in my opinion, so don't click on it if you're easily grossed-out by things):
Quite where right and wrong come into this argument, or how they should be apportioned, is hard to gauge. Not only are there questions of context, but also reasonable response, and the assessment of what exactly is being said by the poster. My boyfriend at the time I wrote this article told me to "calm down", shushed me, asked me if was possible that I might be overreacting. Other male acquaintances told me that I needed to realign my humour nodes, somehow. Anyone who knows me at all knows that there are few things that offend me and that my sense of humour is fully intact (and quite dark), so it seemed a little bizarre to be pulled up on this specifically. I appreciated the fact that my male friends were being protective of me and are perhaps trying to offer good advice, but I couldn't seem able to keep quiet on this one. Perhaps it's the posting of a link (directed at me) to an article on 'Free Bleeding' (from a bizarre website mostly concerned in wasting space on conspiracy theories) which sums it up. To discredit one's opponent is a standard tactic, fine, but this seemed to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater somewhat, since the person that posted it was a woman. It was almost like she was saying:
Let's remind everyone of how disgusting women are because they menstruate. We must shun them, send them into purdah. Also, women are hairy when they don't shave! Isn't that disgusting!? It's just not right... Or natural. Let's put this loon who refuses to shut up (, and her argument) to bed. By herself, YEAH. No man would go anywhere near such an argumentative monster! She's probably frigid or something anyway.
Bad luck, lady. I get along fine, thanks.
The way I see it, there isn't a dichotomy of either 'treat people with respect or get insulted'. What happens, it seems, (and this proves my point) is that the culture I'm dealing with here, is one which incorporates flippant disrespect, and colludes with images of womanhood as the depersonalised, and ostracised 'us'; basically "bag" some big game, and leave the way open for men who grope or more accurately (because that's what it is) assault women, to laugh it off, asking where their victim's sense of humour is. One of the defences in the debate, above, says that the word "grab" isn't being used literally... I'm not sure that I even know what that means. Far from empowering women, this is the ultimate in disempowering them - either get drunk and get laid, or get accused of having no sense of humour. It actually reminds me of this story in The Mail, today. NekNominate acting as the means by which to encourage people to take part in drunken dares that are bizarre, humiliating, and occasionally fatal.
To me, this poster represents wider views on drinking culture that I find distasteful, (like the NekNominate article above), and are pervasive (in a negative way) but that few people really talk about, because to look at the facts too closely would likely reveal their own pseudo-alcoholism (, I say this as one of these ostriches). One could try to excuse the imagery and language, and the offer of shots (solely for women) on this poster as either satire and/or sarcasm. I'm a big fan of both when they are used to good effect - but if it was either of these things, it was a shoddy example, and bad advertising practice. I'm still struggling, really struggling, with the wider implications of the language on the poster. To me the whole visual impact of that poster advocates this:
Get a girl paralytic on cheap booze, and then fuck her senseless, because she's easy, 'asking for it' and probably desperate (what with *gasp* not having a man in her life on Valentine's Day).
To be clear - that reading of the subtext is not because I'm a raging Feminist (although if I was, why would that be a criticism?) Wouldn't any human being have to be severely lacking in basic cognitive function to assess it as meaning anything else? Why is it that anyone wanting any woman to be given the respect any human being deserves is branded as a Feminist or a Feminist-lover, as though it's something terrible?
The fact that this poster was put up by a drinking establishment that I probably would have gone to before all of this is even more irritating. I lead a reasonably alternative lifestyle and it seemed like my kind of place - I have tattoos and stretched ears, and listen to heavy music. Alternative culture - or at least the kind of alternative culture I've been lucky enough to be involved in, has always been something that I've seen as being wonderfully creative, edgy, avant-garde, very friendly, and a forum where I'd be judged on my attributes perhaps more fairly than by standard cultural values. The fact that it appears, in this instance at least, to conform to exactly the same negative sexist tropes, and feature the same negative collusion from other women under the guise of humour and empowerment, makes me unspeakably sad.
And so I leave you with this... Is drunken barely consensual sex really a substitute for being alone on Valentine's Day? I'm not sure I hate my own company that much to consider this alternative as preferable.