Jan 29 2007

Public Service Announcement Watch ’07

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here

Speaking of PSA posters that objectify with pornulated imagery the very class of people their message purports to serve, get a load of this “consent awareness” ad from the British Home Office. The ad is intended for publication in a magazine read (or, possibly more accurately, looked at) by puerile male heterosexuals, the chief attraction of which periodical is photos of “Bedroom Babes!” and “Celebs Naked on TV!” The magazine, naturally, is called Nuts. The Home Office hopes their ad will guide the insightful readers of Nuts “to greater awareness and understanding of what consent means” and even that it will somehow “[dispel] myths about the type of people who commit rape.”

The notion that puerile male heterosexuals might wish to acquaint themselves with difficult modern concepts like “right” and “wrong” sure is ground-breaking. Never before in the history of the world have young men been called upon to assume such awesome responsibility.

And, it turns out, they still haven’t been.

A crotch-shot with a “Do Not Enter” sign, coupled with the authoritarian threat of imprisonment, appears to be the extent to which Britain’s babe-obsessed youth are expected to appreciate the concept of rape.

According to an Amnesty International report referenced by BBC News, 1/3 of the UK population believe that flirty women are to blame for their own rapes. I suppose the Home Office doesn’t want to swim against the tide of public opinion by suggesting to anyone that rape is wrong because women are human beings.

[Gracias, Judith]


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  1. Rainbow Girl

    A similar example comes from 2003 when Oktoberfest organizers decided they should do something about the number of alchohol-related rapes that were occurring annually. In this article the campaigner makes damn sure not to “ruin anybody’s fun”, because that would be too high a price to pay for the sanctity of a woman’s body.


    I remember reading elsewhere that some men attending the festival were annoyed by the campaign, feeling it “politicized” the event.

    It is frustrating to see that where rape awareness-for men-happens, it is always watered down in tone and often focused on the consequences for the man rather than the woman (human) whose fundamental rights he violates. Surely organizers make that choice out of pragmatism and desire to match their message to the views of their target audience, and I do not demonize them. However, it is just one more forkful of manure in the crapload of stupidity I deal with every day.

    To all the (dare I say it) potential rapists, you’re ruining my fun!

  2. Puffin

    The poster is rife with misogyny and everything that’s wrong with how the media, service agencies, and the justice system deal with sexualized violence against women.

    Decapitated, almost-nude, airbrushed image of a hawt chick? Check.
    Conflation of rape with “having sex”? Check.
    Metaphor comparing a woman’s body to an inanimate object marked by an entrance? Check.
    Simplification of rape to an easy matter of ‘yes’ or ‘no’? Check.

    This campaign will do more to titillate boys and men than educate them, but women might learn a lot. Particulary from the fine print instructing the viewer that non-consensual sex COULD lead to a prison term. Most rapes don’t, after all.

    Daft British men may not make the connection that non-consensual sex = RAPE (though I’m betting they already do), I think a far better campaign would be one with posters showing statistics about how many rapes are reported, how many are actually prosecuted, how many actually end up in lengthy prison sentences, and then demanding that the UK sponsor a program that provides every girl and woman with a lifetime supply of pepper spray. Pepper spray, it seems to me, goes a lot farther as a deterrent to rape than the “threat” of prison time.

  3. EE

    “Simplification of rape to an easy matter of ‘yes’ or ‘no’? Check.”

    While I find this ad mostly odious for the reasons already stated, I do think that one positive thing about it is the language of saying “have sex with a woman who hasn’t said yes” rather than “have sex with a woman who said no”, emphasizing (even if subtly) that it can still be rape when the woman’s not kicking and screaming and shouting. I wish that they would spell that out more explicitly, though, and nix the sexxxified delivery.

  4. SusanM

    … [demand] that the UK sponsor a program that provides every girl and woman with a lifetime supply of pepper spray.

    That. Or one of these:


    I’ve requested one for my birthday.

  5. goblinbee

    I wish that jacket were a bit longer — aren’t the most vulnerable spots still exposed?

    It puts me in mind of Emily Prager’s “L.P.A.R.D.” I haven’t read that story in a long, long time — I think it’s time to dust it off and enjoy!

  6. donna

    They shoulda at least included the shot of Bubba coming after the rapist in prison….

    Hey, if you’re going to scare people, use the right tactic about rape….

  7. TrespassersW

    The ad seems to be addressing the issue by appealing to a man’s sense of self-preservation rather than appealing directly to any notion of right and wrong. It could actually be interpreted as “Men: protect yourself from rape allegations.” But you know what? This will be put in front of a bunch of meatheads, I doubt they would do anything but stick two fingers up at anybody who tried to talk about fundamental human rights. This may be a pragmatic approach to the intended audience. It’s counter-intuitive but psychology does show that behaviour change can precede attitude change. People act begrudgingly then internalise, for example, drink-driving laws in the UK preceded the now widespread disapproval of the practice. But I’m not expecting any sea change on the issue of consent given the appalling rape conviction rates.

    Anyway, here’s the other poster in the campaign:

  8. Scratchy888

    What if the picture featured was that of an erection, cross out.

    “Put this where it isn’t wanted, and you could do jail time!”


  9. Jess2

    SusanM, I *love* the no contact jacket! Awesome. Of course, you know the first woman that uses one on a would be rapist will be arrested or sued for assault.

    What would the ideal version of the ad say?

    “Sex with a woman who has not consented or who has withdrawn her consent is rape. Sex with a woman who is too incapacitated to consent is rape. Sex with a child is rape. Rape is wrong and rape is illegal.”

    Or perhaps more snarky, along the lines of: “Think the words ‘no’ and ‘stop’ are sexy? Your cell mate probably will, too.” (Of course, I suppose we don’t want to go endorsing prison rape and all, but still.)

    Any clever suggestions for communicating that rape is wrong in such a way that the reader can identify with it? What would the ideal image be?

  10. TP

    Ad industry pathologies are surprisingly rampant in free ads done for good causes. The face is usually invisible so that certain fees don’t have to be paid. There’s a natural reluctance to being the poster girl for rape victims on the part of models, also.

    I agree that a focus on empathy for the horror of being raped might be better, since most men don’t know they hate women and would never admit it to themselves – they just feel the pavlovian arousal it incurs. That it comes across through demeaning the idea of female sexuality never occurs to them, but if you tell them dead to their face what the end result is, maybe they’d feel human empathy instead of thwarted arousal.

    Most men are so evil and stupid that the slightest threat to their presumption of constant arousal is greeted with grievous baby whines rarely heard outside of a nursery.

  11. Puffin

    “Any clever suggestions for communicating that rape is wrong in such a way that the reader can identify with it?”

    You’d have to ask the viewer to identify with women’s humanity. I don’t think it would need to be ‘clever’ it would just require that the viewer acknowledge something that most men have a vested interest in denying.

    If women stop being rapable then they might also stop being a bunch of other things (not that the rapability thing isn’t enough for men to deny women’s humanity in itself) like entitled to a fair wage for their labor, entitled to complete bodily sovereignty, entitled to be more than three holes and a uterus.

  12. Jess2

    Check out the ads at http://www.mystrength.org. It’s a campaign by the organization Men Can Stop Rape (www.mencanstoprape.org). (Of course, I would change the org name to “Only Men Can Stop Rape” but the ads are pretty good.) All of the ads start with, “My strength is not for hurting…” and finish with various statements like, “…so when she said no, I said OK.”, “…so when she was too drunk to decide, I decided we shouldn’t.” and “…so when she changed her mind, I stopped.” Men are clearly identified as the primary actors in rape, the ads offer examples of the various situations a man might find himself in and emphasize the appropriate response, and the ads use images that depict both men and women as human beings.

    Why haven’t I seen more of these? Someone needs to start a frat-house postering operation.

  13. Mandos

    I think that TrespassersW has a good point though: the behaviour change has to precede the attitude change. I can’t remember when someone changed their attitude on being told that they should stop having a bad attitude. Most changes happen when consequences are felt [trails off meaningfully, best expressed by an ellipsis]

    [trails on meaningfully, best expressed by an ellipsis] of course, a lot of the consequences can be counterproductive. For instance, jail is usually not a great place to improve people’s attitudes, even if it *might* be necessary in some cases for other reasons. Personal consequence campaigns that make use of the target’s current attitudes and fears seem, to my non-advertiser eye, to work best.

    What do people think of this campaign?


    I don’t think that any anti-rape campaign that targets men can obtain radical feminist perfection because any advertising campaign has to take off from the target’s current mentality. However, I think that the Men Can Stop Rape campaign at least uses masculine self-image in a way that doesn’t directly objectify women in the same way that the British campaign does.

    However, I have a sneaking suspicion that the British campaign might be more effective.

  14. Rainbow Girl

    One more thing that is disturbing about the poster is the “no entry” sign over her groin. It gives the message that without rape, there is no sex for you…sorry guys!

  15. Edith

    I am so depressed for humanity.

  16. C-Bird

    *in the advertisement room*

    I have a GREAT idea! Lets use the abuse of women as an excuse to show a sexy half-naked decapitated woman!!!

  17. cycles

    The one – one – thing this ad has going for it is that even though the model is clearly asking for it by having the gall to possess a porntastic body that is minimally clad, she’s not in fact asking for it. You’re not allowed to rape someone just because you think their appearance is provocative.

  18. Flamethorn

    That looks more like a pubic service announcement.

  19. J

    “If women stop being rapable…”

    It’s interesting to think what this means in the converse, with men who are raped. It happens, and maybe not a lot. That fact may be because there is something almost inhuman about a man claiming to have a sexual encounter that he did not want. The issue has come up with female teachers who have sex with younger male students. Whether the guy really wanted it or not is beside the point. The “wrongness” of the issue is pushed because of the statutory factor in the definition of the rape, and yet with male victims there is a stronger inclination to blow it off because the guy “had to have liked it.”

    In a way it is a one-two punch from the patriarchy, at once denying that men are on some level humans, while implying that the women who rape them are not capable of being sexually dominant simply because they are women. Yet, yet at the same time this is really a re-inscription of the patriarchal view of women as sex-bots, since it is okay for the woman to have sex with the guy, who didn’t want it, because it is more important that the guy had sex with the woman than that she is sexually violating someone else.

  20. wren

    While I feel the need to blame for the existence of the audience for such an ad, the fact remains that this magazine seems well suited to the kind of guys who’d think a non-consenting girl is merely being coy. In that case, these might be the guys who most need to see this sort of message, and putting a nearly-naked female body in the ad might be the best way to get them to look.

    In a way it is a one-two punch from the patriarchy, at once denying that men are on some level humans

    How is that different, exactly, from the message that gets pushed on every woman every day? Not that raping men is any more excusable, but it also isn’t a worse crime when it happens to a man than a woman.

  21. J

    “How is that different, exactly, from the message that gets pushed on every woman every day? Not that raping men is any more excusable, but it also isn’t a worse crime when it happens to a man than a woman.”

    Who said that? Certainly not I. You take me out of context too, because my point was that the patriarchy is co-opting male degredation to *still* demean women, and then still again through the fact that the rape of a man by a woman is a double-inscription of the woman’s sex-bot status. The patriarchy is strictly for men who always want sex from women who want to give it to them, which entails not only that a man who says he was raped “really wanted it,” but that (in the case that it is) the female rapist is having sex with the guy *because he wants her to*.

    What’s interesting about this is the way it double-crosses the sexes in such a narrow scope.

  22. wren

    Ew. Okay, glancing back at first paragraph of my comment above, I was grossed out by my own porn-justifying patriarchal apologist garbage. A brief moment of falling through the looking-glass, I suppose. My apologies all around; sometimes this crap just worms its way into your brain and the only way to excise it is to see it on (virtual) paper. I’d do a purification ritual, but my familiar appears to be asleep on my bed, and it’s probably best to keep the blood away from the laptop at any rate.

  23. TrespassersW

    Wren, technically you are correct: putting a half naked body on anything is indeed the best way to get a man to look at it, which is of course why it has been used. But yes that is an entirely different issue to whether it should have been used.

    Turning to Jess2’s practical point of what other campaign could be used, I was wondering about role models. Get respected others to deliver a ‘my strength…’ type message. So in the UK, that would be David Beckham or similar multi-millionaire sportsman whom the male population worships for achieving those patriarchal goals of playing competitive games for a living, earning a disgusting amount of money doing it and having access to all the totty you want. Now no male in my local pub is yet following David’s example of wearing a sarong so I suspect it would take every male sporting ‘hero’ in the country saying it for twenty years for there to be an effect but you’ve got to start somewhere.

    Instinctively, I want to agree with any suggestion of trying to increase men’s empathy for women but I just get this horrible suspicion that rapists actually enjoy knowing they’ve humiliated someone and ridden roughshod over their human rights.

  24. jezebella

    I note that the woman in the poster is a “place” to be entered, not a “person.”

    Sigh. I had no idea I was a location, like a titty-bar or an outhouse.
    I guess you learn something new every day.

  25. Puffin

    Yeah, TresspassersW, I think you bring up an important point about what rapists get out of raping – it is, in large part, about a woman saying no and then doing what they want with her anyway. This poster seems to be directed toward men who are, you know, accidentally-on-purpose confused about what rape is but gimme a break. I posit that a guy who “has sex” with a woman who does not or cannot unequivically consent is exploiting both her and the situation. It’s as much about power as it is about sex.

    And I think that people would be surprised (or maybe not) at how much rape is a part of how all boys and men are sexually socialized and how much of a turn-on raping a woman is to men. I can’t recall off-hand the name of the study – if I recall correctly it was out of UCLA in the 80s – where over half of the men questioned reported reading a story about a woman’s rape as a sexual turn-on, the majority identified with the rapist in the story, and when asked if they would rape a woman if they knew with certainty that they could get away with it, the majority answered to varying degrees in the affirmative.

  26. Q Grrl

    Jezebella: on top of that is the transparent reinforcement that a man’s manhood/personhood is situated in his stiffie. Which dovetails into the male whine of “I couldn’t help myself.” But of course! If the entirety of your psyche enters your penis at the moment of penetration, it’s quite unlikely that “you” can help anything.

    But indeed the ad is horrific for reducing the already decapitated body to a place. One wonders why the “no”
    sign didn’t extend to the entire body. Well, maybe one doesn’t wonder. Apparently it’s not rape if you force a blow-job or anal sex. Or if you just happen to wank all over a woman’s body because you’re trapped in your tumescence.

  27. Frumious B

    They shoulda at least included the shot of Bubba coming after the rapist in prison….

    Hey, if you’re going to scare people, use the right tactic about rape….

    yeah, make sure you use the scary, feminizing tactic.

  28. gennimcmahon

    Having just learned the lesson of using a text editor first, and finding out that 2 plus 8 isn’t 10, I’ll try again.

    I’ve been thinking about what would constitute a better anti-rape awareness campaign in light of this discussion. My thought would be to utilize those images of women that tend to be more closely identified as human in our, admittedly limited, culture. What about a poster with the quintessential grandmother, saying, “Your Grandmother slept with the lights on for ten years after a man she trusted raped her.” It could be followed with a statement pertaining to the fact that all women are someone’s loved HUMAN, and men can stop this from happening. I recognize that it plays on patriarchal stereotypes of women and the idea that men must “honor” and “protect” them, but would it not be a start towards reminding the public that women aren’t meat? There could be pictures of regular women that are sisters and mothers, neices, etc. After all, the ad referenced in this post suggested that only hawt chicks are in danger, and in reality, rape has nothing to do with how porntastic a woman’s appearance is.

  29. J

    What’s also interesting about this ad is the way that it isn’t even about women. It’s about the would-be rapist men. I see this because in the ad the point is not that raping (“having sex with”) a woman is bad, but that going to prison is bad. Raping a woman isn’t just, I don’t know, morally fucked up, makes you an awful human being, or anything like that. Raping a woman in this ad is just a ticket to something that is, presumably, *bad for the rapist*.

    It’s almost a reversal on the whole “women use common-sense” schtick. Rather than demonizing rapists and what they do, the ad actually shows a kind of concern for them, in giving them a sort of “heads up” on how the law against rape will come and get them if they don’t watch out. This has nothing to do with bringing into question the mentality that allows a human being to rape another, which feeds back into the initial criticism of the blog that the the sexualization of the woman posing give credence to the idea that she is the sex object the rapist would see her as in the first place.

  30. Catherine Martell

    Flamethorn: you beat me to it! I also misread Twisty’s headline with horribly apt Freudian slippage.

    The argument about whether the ad is effective or not needs some context. Nuts magazine (along with its evil twin, Zoo), is one of the most disgusting publications I’ve ever seen. I believe Gloria Steinem once said that for a woman, reading Playboy was like reading Mein Kampf; well, Nuts and Zoo are ten times worse than Playboy. Even within media circles, I have heard these mags described with horror as ‘rapist training manuals’. They are filled with endless pictures of extremely young, photoshopped, identikit sexbots, bending over to proffer their bald undercarriages to the reader, no gleam of life in their sad, dulled eyes. One of these magazines recently featured a competition to win ‘your girlfriend’ a boob job. An omnipresent characteristic of the journalism is the connection between masculine success and persuading girls to do something sexual which, implicitly in the magazine’s rhetoric, they won’t like. (Yes, ‘they’.)

    So you have an entire magazine visually devoted to belittling, ridiculing, objectifying and humiliating women. This is supplemented by copy implying that the relative success of a man’s interaction with a woman can be measured in terms of whether he has persuaded her to go down on him, take it up the arse, or whatever other act they have decided is suitably submissive to the great phallus that week.

    So the Home Office is probably right to place its anti-rape advert in Nuts: it’s where the rapists hang out. But the image of yet another image of disembodied female flesh is, in context, just another image of disembodied female flesh. And the juxtaposing of a no-entry sign with some virginal white cotton panties is, I think, less likely to put the rapist-in-training off than to appeal to him as an exciting new challenge.

    In conclusion: ad not only yucky, but potentially counterproductive. If rape is to decrease, women have to be seen as human beings. Not very likely to happen overnight. Best buy one of SusanM’s jackets.

  31. J

    “Raping a woman isn’t just, I don’t know, morally fucked up, makes you an awful human being, or anything like that.”

    I should be the first to point out that this is almost kind of slightly hypocritical of me to say, given that I also said the ad’s fault is with the fact that it is more about the rapists than their victims.

    A thoughtful and responsible acknowledgement of the wrongness of rape will focus on how it hurts the victim, not on how it reflects badly on the rapist.

  32. Ron Sullivan

    Jezebella: I had no idea I was a location, like a titty-bar or an outhouse.

    Well geez, haven’t Operation Rescrew and the rest of the fetus-flingers reminded you of that for years?

  33. Antelope

    Any guy who never realized that his mother and/or sisters were human is not about to suddenly recognize women’s humanity because of any image or text that he might see on a poster.

    I agree with the posters saying that humiliating someone is a big turn-on for a lot of guys. Some of them know that about themselves and are perfectly okay with it, some don’t know that about themselves but still act on it under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And then there’s the whole slew of ’em that like to cast themselves as “protector” in their rape fantasies so that they can spend lots of time thining about rape AND thinking about what a great guy they (theoretically) are.

  34. roamaround

    Why not a picture of the woman aiming a gun right at the camera?

    “Rather than demonizing rapists and what they do, the ad actually shows a kind of concern for them”

    Right, J. I think that’s what bugs me about it.

  35. mearl

    If this doesn’t make your skin crawl, has anyone heard of a trend in Japan (and possibly other Asian countries) where the girls routinely say “no” during sex to turn their male partner on? I have no proof of this one, but more than one guy I know has reported knowledge of this. The story came to my ears thus: this social-worker dude I work with has a friend teaching English in Korea who has been there for a few years. One fine breezy day, the English-teaching dude got it on with a girl from Japan. During this encounter, the girl started saying “no.” The guy, who is a polite Canadian dude, stopped as requested. The girl looked at him funny, and asked why he stopped. He, confused, said, “Because you said ‘NO!'” She laughed and informed him, “Oh, that’s just what we say.” The previously inflamed dude was so disturbed that he couldn’t get it up again. WTF, I shrieked, tearing my hair. But this is the solemn hearsay of a serious dude. I don’t suspect foul of the informers, but does anyone know of anything like this or have any thoughts on the story?

  36. Twisty

    Mearl, it’s nothing new, I’m afraid; rape fantasy has been a staple of sex since the dawn of patriarchy.

  37. roamaround

    “a trend in Japan (and possibly other Asian countries) where the girls routinely say “no” during sex to turn their male partner on?”

    It gets worse. When I was in Japan, the big compliment Western men coveted from a Japanese sex partner was “Itai!!” (“It hurts!!”) I had to listen to that night after night (different women, of course) from my stockbroker flatmate’s room downstairs, so I know.

  38. Flash

    Reasons why this ad won’t work:

    A significant proportion of young British men have poor literacy skills – they won’t read it.

    Young drivers account for the highest number of RTAs, hence pay the highest insurance premiums (if they insure at all). ‘No Entry’ signs mean nothing to them.

    The turn-on image cancels out the turn-off message.

    Increasing numbers of Young British men read lads’ mags, which aren’t on the top shelf but should be. Lads mags are full of ads for ‘services’ like phone sex. The same young men are increasingly likely to end a stag party with a visit to a prostitute. Their attitude to women is generally rubbish. An ad like this won’t change that.

    Rapists are unlikely to be prosecuted, so why should they care?

  39. Sarah

    “They shoulda at least included the shot of Bubba coming after the rapist in prison….”

    I seem to remember there was another poster in that campaign which hinted at the possibility of the man being raped himself if he went to prison for rape.

    And here it is.

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