On Mutilating Penises - An Australian Article I Stole

Taken from an article in Australia's The Age:

sexual mutilation glorified

On mutilating penises

Hahn's beer ads have been an amusing series for some years now, and the latest offering for the company's Super Dry brand poses some interesting questions about double standards when it comes to gender in advertising.

You may have seen the ad; a good looking couple bounce around on a beach in the Seychelles when the lovestruck woman draws a heart in the sand with a piece of driftwood which the guy then converts to a pair of breasts by adding nipples with the heel of his foot.

As "revenge" for the guy's insensitivity, the woman snaps the driftwood branch (meant to represent a penis), then crushes a nut, minces some sausages and proceeds to disfigure various other phallic symbols.

On the scale of clever television I'd rate it about a four, but it begs the question - what would happen if a nationally televised commercial acted out the mutilating of a woman's vagina? ...

Interestingly, when the Super Dry ad first aired, minus the penis mutilation, Victoria's health advisory body, VicHealth, wrote to the Advertising Standards Board asking for the ad to be shelved because of its treatment of women.

In December 2006, the Advertising Standards Board rejected this and other complaints finding that when taken in its full context, it "condemned the man's insensitive actions by implication and humour."

"The Board agreed that the advertisement did not condone sexist or insensitive behaviour and, if anything, poked fun at men. The Board considered that the advertisement was not discriminatory against women."

However, when Hahn and its advertising agency Clemenger BBDO added the 15 second "revenge" component to the commercial some time later, not a peep of protest was heard; if you search the Advertising Standards Board's database, there's no record of a single complaint having been made about the acting out of mutilating of a man's penis.

Campaigners against sexism in advertising are only too happy to beat the drum for a healthy depiction of the female form, yet when it comes to blokes, the excuses appear from the clouds.

A couple of years ago when Voodoo Hosiery came up with this billboard depicting naked men being led on leashes feminist commentator Eva Cox told the Sydney Morning Herald: "You can't always apply the same gender analysis. Objectifying women on its own is not a problem. But part of the problem is that it feeds into the idea that women are just there to be f---ed."

"[The ad] is actually sort of spoofing something and putting women into a dominatrix position. But, apart from giving the odd bloke a slightly uncomfortable feeling from looking at it, do we really need to get our knickers in a knot?

"[Objectification] doesn't feed into men being raped, which is the main issue with women being objectified," she said.

But it has led to men being sexually assaulted, sexually tortured, and sexually mutilated, as well as outright murdered, which apparently, according to feminism, is fine.

Funnily enough, Cox is the same woman I quoted in yesterday's post about Kevin Rudd visiting a strip joint and who said Rudd getting "on the piss" and "doing something dumb is not a cardinal sin".

I spoke to her yesterday on the phone and she struck me as a very fair and open minded woman, not prone to moralising, who admitted that part of the reason there's not an uproar about ads where men are denigrated is because women have "copped it for a very long time" and men being ridiculed is "a pretty new thing."

30 straight years is new? I don't think so.

She conceded however that "this tit for tat stuff doesn't work for either, it makes it look like it is as war ... I don't think turning women into penis haters works for anyone, except the advertisers; they use this as way to get their ads written up. They put up something they know is anti-women or men and use it to gets it lots of publicity. Purely and simply it's marketers playing on fears and anxieties to sell their product."

The man who created the Hahn Super Dry advertisement is Chris Pearce a copy-writer at Clemenger BBDO agency. I called him last night (admirably still at work at 6.30pm) and he admitted there was no way on earth he could ever get way with writing an ad that showed a vagina being cut up by an angry man.

"There's a lot more latitude to make fun of men, it's easier to laugh at guys and it has a lot to do with the tone with which the message is delivered," he said.

When I asked Pearce whether he thought commercials like the one he'd penned contributed to an antagonistic dynamic between the sexes he said: "You're applying a seriousness to a subject that most people don't think exists. It's just a bit of fun to most of the public."

"Within that scope there will be a minority that are offended or look deeper into it like you have, but most do not."

Which is a fair call. It's a big ask to demand some bloke dreaming up TVCs for the alcohol industry consider responsible depictions of gender when every other medium, from newspapers, magazines, film and the Internet seems to delight in pitting man against woman, penis against vagina.

Sophie Farquhar, part of the creative team responsible for Jim Beam's 'The Tragedy', 'The Party' and 'The Girlfriend' TV commercials says the portrayal of men in advertisements is a chicken and egg thing.

"Culture and ads feed off each, neither comes first, so yes, advertisers are playing with precious perceptions. Most of us [in the advertising industry] realise this. Ultimately, the point where the truth meets the clients expectations is up to us."

Farquhar's ads, which also had complaints against them dismissed by Advertising Standards Board, tend to play to most male stereotypes, including our widely assumed love of lesbian sex, football and beer.

"Yes, I wrote 'The Party' and 'The Tragedy' with my female partner and male Creative Director ... We are not lesbians, we tend to shave our armpits regularly and no, we don't hate men."

"I hear you on the whole - not every man grunts and builds beer castles even though TV makes it look like it, but this is entertainment. Rightly or wrongly, it uses characters. You've only got 30 seconds, sometimes 15. Stereotypes are necessary, even though we don't all fit in the boxes provided and that can be frustrating."

Pearce says it's possible for advertising to subvert those stereotypes and reach for greater subtly "depending on your audience and how savvy they are" but in the end he reckons advertising doesn't drive culture; "we hold a mirror up to society, not the other way around."

So what's my point with all these words?

As I get older, (and yes I'm slow on the uptake) I'm starting to realise that we're all in this together; what we do to one person, we do to ourselves and as I've said in other posts, you cannot separate women's rights from men's because they're one in the same, it's a matrix where if one half is degraded, the other suffers as well.

Advertising may reflect "culture" but the culture I see on our TV screens, where men disrespect all that is female and females belittle all that is male - it's cannibalism, we're eating each other (and that's not a blow job joke).

There is no "us" or "them" and the whole "war of the sexes" attitude pushed by advertising, the media and business can either be viewed as mindless static or venal manipulation; I just wish I could work out which scenario I'm more comfortable with.
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