A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on Our Kingdom about Tory feminism. This has blossomed into a conversation with a Tory feminist in which I have clarified what Tory feminism is and stands for, and made the case for anarcha feminism. Check it out here, and join in the discussion!
Advertising, as I have noted before, loves nothing more than to try to grab our attention by playing loudly and proudly to societal prejudices. It is hardly surprising, then, that transphobia features so prominently. Two campaigns have come to my attention in the last few days.
The first campaign provoked controversy when it first aired, and rightly so. In a short thirty-second advert for betting on a horse race, viewers are presented with images of women, some of whom are trans, and are invited to guess whether they are “stallions or mares”. A voice-over cheerily narrates “that one’s a man” “ooh, that’s a woman”, finally concluding with “dog… er, I mean man”, adding a charming little soupçon of misogyny to the mix. Every second of the advert seethes with transphobia, bristling with the form of everyday oppression faced by the very people who are the butt of this supposed joke. As one commentator puts it:
The problem with “spot the trans lady” though is that, for one person in the game, it’s really not that fun. Ask any trans woman. Most of us, at some stage, have faced the humiliation of strangers playing it on us, (I use “on” as it’s something that’s done to you, not with you, and rarely with permission). You know it’s coming, as you walk down the street, like any other member of the public, on your way to buy milk. You see the curious look in a stranger’s eye, the excitement as they wonder if it could truly be – if they could really have found someone as laughable and as exotic as you. You note their lack of subtlety as they nudge the person next to them. They walk by. Seconds pass. And, no matter how you try to prepare for the certainty of what comes next, the phrase “Is that a tranny?” stabs like a dagger every time.
I find it staggering that this advert is recent; it stings of something from a hackneyed seventies sitcom, tedious trope upon tedious trope. It is so overtly hateful, that it provoked a number of complaints. The people behind the ad responded with a fairly typical lack of grace.
“I’m really surprised that it has had some negative responses but overall it has had a mixed reaction. It won’t be pulled because we then run the risk of taking ourselves too seriously or pandering to political correctness.
To them, it is all a big joke. The issues mean nothing to the pack of cis men who make up the company’s executive board and marketing department, and anyone who kicks up a fuss must be some sort of hummus-munching killjoy, yet to blithely pursue such salient oppression in the name of a cheap laugh at a group of people who live under the threat of violence is sickening. Continuation of applied pressure in the form of complaints and boycotts may force a better apology, but if not, I’d give good odds for a well-deserved brick flying through their window.
The second ad campaign I spotted presents a less-immediately noticeable form of discrimination. It follows the latest fad for interactive billboards, using face recognition technology to identify the gender of the viewer, and only those it deems to be women get to see the ad. The stated aim of the campaign is to teach women about their sisters in developing countries and the oppression they face, while teaching men that gender discrimination exists by not letting them see the ad.
There are so many things wrong with this campaign that it is hard to know where to begin. First of all is the horrifying implications of the technology, allowing an era of ever-more-specific targeted advertising to take hold: think Google Ads with all of its data collection, but in the meatspace. Secondly, it seems misguided to believe that men do not know gender discrimination exists without letting them feel a little kick of oppression by denying them access to an advertisement. Likewise, women are unlikely to be the only ones who care about the plight of girls in poorer countries.
Perhaps most importantly, what of all the people who will be mis-gendered by this ad campaign? The publicity materials admit to a “90% success rate” in identifying the gender of the target, though it is unclear as to how this was piloted–on whom did they test the technology. I can see numerous instances wherein it would be difficult to determine someone’s gender based on facial features such as bone structure and jaw shape. Trans people are likely to be smacked with an ad targeted at their birth gender. Cis people who do not conform to the ideal standards of masculinity or femininity in the genes they are given are also likely to be mis-gendered, as will children: face shape changes during puberty.
New avenues for bullying and discrimination open up when in the middle of a public street, a billboard decides to label you. It seems as though this issue has not been given much thought.
One can argue that this campaign is for “a good cause” which will do good, and therefore should not be criticised too heavily. This logic is faulty: any good it can do is at the expense of others, and transphobia has no place in feminism. The number of people helped by a billboard advertising a charity is likely to be smaller than those harmed by the existence of the billboard. We must be critical of this campaign in order to help effect change.
Ultimately, these ads buy into the myth of acceptable targets. Whether by malicious bullying or unthinking ignorance, advertising still buys into the myth that it’s all right to dehumanise trans people. It is an unflattering reflection of societal attitudes on the whole, and these attitudes must change. Taking out these adverts is a good place to start.
Unilad are advertising for new writers. I couldn’t resist…
I notice you are looking for new writers who are–as you put it ‘banterous’. I should very much like to apply for this position.
I have several qualities which I feel would be of vital significance in my contribution to your publication, and which your current and former writing team appeared to lack.
Firstly, I have a good command of the English language, and do not make up stupid words like ‘banterous’. Indeed, my command of English is so comprehensive that, unlike your former and current writing team, I actually understand the meaning of the word. Your present gang of witless wankrags appear to lack the basic intellect to construct a good joke and are amused by, frankly, very worrying things.
This brings me on to my next point, Unilad. With me on the writing team, you’ll never fall prey to the dreaded Twitterstorm, as you will sort out all the shit in your backyard. I will not have you lot belching out guffaws of K Cider laughter at the notion of violent crimes, and develop a higher calibre of discussion than ‘Ooh, boobies’.
With my help, Unilad, you could cease to be the furtive wank-material of a Lynx-reeking fuckstain.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Update: Unilad replied! It looks like they just can’t take the banter:
Thank you for your application. We regretfully decline.
As it looks like they are going to continue to be a festering pit of misogyny and grunting tedium, I wish all the best to my fellow applicants Chris Coltrane, who wrote a satirical application so good they may just fall for it, and Chris Nicholson who put it gloriously succinctly. I have now decided to apply to compile cryptic crosswords for them.
This is one of those posts I can’t believe needs writing. Moving in the social circles I do, among intelligent and sensitive people, it’s easy to forget that unpleasant, obnoxious individuals exist in the real world rather than merely popping up in the pages of the Daily Mail.
I banter with my wonderful, intelligent, friends, and it is a hoot. Banter is fun, it’s lively, it’s an art form in and of itself. Outside of this bubble, though, it is something else. It’s used as nothing more than a word to add a veneer of acceptability to bullying, to oppression, to being a witless tosspot who fancies hurling a bit of abuse around without being called out on it. This is most obvious in the recent Unilad fiasco, where banter translates as threats of rape and violence for its braying mob of fans, though it has also been used as an excuse to cover for unacceptable language from pointless oxygen-bogarts Jeremy Clarkson and Ricky Gervais, to name but a few.
And it’s not on. Were banter-masters Oscar Wilde or Shakespeare alive today, they would wince at the sorry state of their art form. It’s time to reclaim banter. It’s time to kill the popular perception of banter as nothing more than bullying.
What is banter?
Numerous dictionary definitions of banter exist, and all fall on the same two crucial characteristics. Surprisingly, UrbanDictionary manages to sum up the meaning of banter rather well.
Supple term used to describe activities or chat that is playful, intelligent and original.
Banter is intelligent. It is witty wordplay, a game of verbal jousting. Banter is also playful: it is harmless, fun and pleasant. Vast swathes of the “banter” that the gaping chancres of lad culture struggle to preserve fall completely short of both of these goals.
Banter and wit
Most of the population believe they are more intelligent than everyone else. Statistically, almost half of them must be wrong in varying degrees of magnitude. It is due to this effect that grunting nincompoops tend to believe that their banter is worthy of Shakespeare himself. Chances are, you are nowhere near that level of greatness. You would probably find your arse intellectually handed to you by Stephen Fry and wander off thinking you had won, because that’s how your brain is set up.
Be aware of this; be wise to the fact you are probably not as clever as you think you are. You will be less likely to defend your banter tooth and nail if you consider every word to pour from your mouth to be a fecund fountain of foetid faeces.
A rather useful heuristic for checking if your banter is in the slightest bit witty is to imagine a six year-old child saying it. If you are faced with an amusing mental image of a precocious child saying something incongruous, then you might be on to something. If that hypothetical child sounds right at home speaking what you believe to be a blistering comeback, you probably lack the art of banter and should accept defeat.
The point of play is that it is fun for all involved. In some scenarios, there can be a fine line between play and abuse, wherein one person is having fun while the other is not. Banter is one such scenario. Sex is another. We can learn rather a lot from how to play safely in a sexual context and apply these insights to our banter.
The key thing here is enthusiastic consent from all parties. Some people don’t like to banter. This is fine, and you shouldn’t inflict it on them: it doesn’t mean they lack a sense of humour. For those that do, some topics are likely to be off-limits. If your verbal sparring partner appears to be upset by one of your remarks, apologise. Again, they do not lack a sense of humour. You (probably) unintentionally upset them, and most decent human beings do not revel in hurting others.
In short, exercise sensitivity and don’t be a cunt. I cannot believe there are people out there who do not understand this very simple matter.
Topics to avoid
Let us remember that humour hinges on something unexpected. It is therefore completely unacceptable to drag everyday oppression into your banter. Avoid misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and class hatred, for example. People from oppressed groups experience derogatory language and treatment throughout their lives. It ceases to be funny fairly quickly.
In a few select instances, it may be all right to use such topics in your banter. In general, it tends to go down better when your jests are about oppression itself rather than the colour of your banter partner’s skin or their genitals, e.g. Ultimately, make sure it is all right with your banter-buddy. If it is not, then, once again, they are not at fault.
The internet age has pulled banter from the parlours and pubs into the public domain. Other people are now party to your banter. Your banter may not take the form of a conversation at all, but a piece of writing. Even the conversations are visible if you are bantering through Facebook or Twitter. In this case, be super-mindful of all of the above. Perhaps the person you are tweeting at doesn’t mind you joking about rape. This does not mean that the whole world doesn’t mind you joking about rape: you may be called out on this by a complete stranger.
Once again, don’t be a dick. It is not their fault for being offended. Take this criticism with good grace.
Banter is an art, and it is one I would like to see survive. By not acting like a prick and by exercising intelligence, banter can be saved.
Sometimes I wonder if the capitalist calendar is marked not by months, but by abstract concepts from which to draw profit. March is the month of maternity; October, horror; April, rebirth by the medium of chocolate. And so forth. February happens to be the month where romantic love is the money-spinner, by accident of having the feast of an early Christian martyr plonked squarely in the middle of it. This has been twisted into tawdry pink cards, oversized teddies, lavish dinners for two, knickers, flowers and chocolate. Nothing, we are told, says “I love you” like excessive consumption.
To sell this idea, the marketers and media-types operate in stereotypes. It’s easier for them, that way. In the first few weeks of February, therefore, we are bombarded with narratives of “getting him to propose” and “getting her in the mood”, because of course men only want to get laid and women only want to get married. The tropes of hegemonic monogamy are paraded around, playing on the niggling fears of the masses that they may end up alone if they do not capitulate and buy that heart-shaped box of champagne truffles.
It’s all grindingly awful for those of us who do not subscribe to the ideals of the default brand of monogamy. It is probably worse still for those who believe, but are single. It is the sort of thing that makes one want to leave the country and head far, far away, were it not for the fact that flights seem to cost more in the middle of February due to the glut of minibreaks for two. Instead, I learned to filter out the monotonous drone of “BUY BUY BUY”. It is only the truly terrible that makes it through. This year, I have noticed–rather fittingly for National Monogamy Day–two particularly horrid ad campaigns.
While walking through Waterloo, I encountered a set of billboards featuring a model in underwear covering herself with a bunch of flowers. LOVE STUCK? it proclaimed, before breathlessly telling me to hold my smartphone up to the poster and view it through an app to “see the model come to life” and get gift ideas. I didn’t bother. I guessed that what would happen would be that the flowers would fall away, leaving the nubile young model prancing about in her scanties. One quick Google later, and I was proved right.
This ad campaign features several of the oppressively tiresome Valentine’s Day ad tropes. It essentially says “Hello men! I know Valentine’s Day sucks, but if you buy her some nice undies, she’ll have to let you look at her in a state of near-undress. Then you’ll probably get to have a go on her tits.” It unabashedly, unashamedly advertises to the male gaze, taking the objectification of women to giddying heights. The only thing that differentiates this ad campaign from the dull static hum of the rest of it is the technological side of things. It is, at its heart, the digital age equivalent of pens that reveal a naked lady when you click the top.
The other campaign that came to my attention was one flogging gin, using the folk tradition of women being “allowed” to propose on the leap day by putting on murkily misogynistic events. Here, if you are a woman, you can learn “the knowledge and skills to trap your man” in a way which is presumably unrelated to how the words “gin” and “trap” traditionally fit into a sentence together. In order to provide equality in advertising, men may attend a “school for scoundrels” where they may learn how to “retain their liberty”. I would say that implicit in this campaign is the stereotype that women want commitment while men do not, but it is actually spelled out in the top of their publicity materials.
Far too many young women run the risk of a Horrendous Disappointment – and too many men may succumb to dread ‘Commitment’…
What is to be done about such egregiously awful ad campaigns? So much of what they are trying to do is to gain attention, and by being so overtly hideous, they are bound to draw the eye. I have purposely avoided naming the brands in the post for this reason, and I have a personal policy of not buying from brands whose advertising has really pissed me off.
The problem is not so much that these campaigns will cause controversy: neither campaign has provoked more than a tiny murmur of frustration. The issue here is that to most people they are eye-catching not because of their flaws, but because they’re a little bit different, a little bit exciting. There is a fine line to walk between discussing misogyny in advertising and accidentally publicising companies that blithely push stereotypes to make a little bit more money in the post-Christmas slump.
The fact is, it is simply not acceptable to turn humans into cartoonish parodies: the ogling, horny man and the woman who will do anything to marry him. It is patronising, dehumanising, and reinforces a power structure which reifies these archetypes, while wiping away any person who does not conform. This wearisome shit needs calling where its seen in the faint hope that one day we can chip away enough that February is just a short month and if you fancy giving a lover a present, then that’s absolutely fine, but nobody’s going to try and make you.
There is no ad-blocker for life, unfortunately. We need to work around that.
Hegemonic monogamy of the “default option” variety is usually rooted in the set of ideas that give rise to the erotic capitalist dystopia. It is a mutually-beneficial arrangement wherein both parties get the sex that they want and there’s two people to raise any kids, should the need arise. The hegemonically monogamous relationship generally means that neither partner strays: if one does, they will usually make an effort to cover their tracks, as breaking the rules means the partnership will end, or the cheater will be punished. Of course, monogamous relationships are often far more than this coldly clinical arrangement of mutually-assured destruction, and it’s an arrangement that works well for many.
Not for all, it seems, as this is an actual product that actually exists in the world: the Handzoff wristband. These colourful little bands bear the words “HANDZ OFF MY BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND”. Once applied, they cannot be removed, a point the site is so eager to push that they wrote it in BIG RED CAPITAL LETTERS. Also in BIG RED CAPITAL LETTERS is a list of potential uses for these wristbands: perhaps the discerning customer may wish to mark their partner when they go on holiday or a business trip?
These lurid colour-coded bands–reflecting the traditional pink-for-a-girl blue-for-a-boy–have two important characteristics distinguishing them from the wedding ring, that more traditional “stylish… perfect symbol that you are in a committed relationship”. Firstly, they are far, far cheaper at only £2.5o a pop. Secondly, the only way of getting it off is by cutting or otherwise tampering. A boring old wedding ring can merely be slipped off; how will the suspicious wife know that her husband is cheating if he can hide his marital status so easily?
The product seems to be based on a fundamental mishearing of the phrase “keeping tabs on each other”: Handzoff bands are designed to “keep tags on each other”. This original phrase is loaded enough: it evokes ideas of spying, of checking those text messages and fitting a GPS locator to a partner’s phone. To tag one’s partner is simply taking this to its logical conclusion.
It is not polyer-than-thou to suggest that a relationship ought to be based on trust: all of my mono friends I know would agree with this. And yet there is this thread running through hegemonic monogamy which suggests that the person you are with just cannot be trusted. It manifests everywhere: the frequent magazine articles promising to tell you “HOW TO TELL IF YOUR MAN IS CHEATING”; the media fascination with non-wifely places footballers are putting their penises; the vast incomes raked in by private detectives for adultery cases. Mistrust seems to be the foundation on which we are told to conduct our relationships, sold to us part and parcel with the default optioning of monogamy. The only surprise with the Handzoff wristbands is that they didn’t appear earlier.
And of course this isn’t the way we should live our lives, fretting every time a partner pops out to the shops, just in case she’s going to get a quick fingerfuck from the postman. We need to rethink the way we view relationships and see that if there is no trust there, it is not a relationship worth keeping in the first place. A cheap rubber wristband is not going to help that.
Before I begin to take Hakim’s flimsy arguments to their logical conclusion, I feel like it is only right to provide some balance and say something positive about Honey Money. The book is printed on nice, thick paper which would probably make ideal roach-material or kindling for a small fire. It has a good weight to it, meaning it would also serve as a handy doorstop or a easily-carried weapon for braining enemies while looking suitably innocuous in a police search.
Niceties aside, upon reading Honey Money it becomes apparent that Dr Catherine Hakim has unwittingly created the most horrifying dystopia imaginable. Margaret Atwood should step aside, as Hakim has thoroughly trumped her.
Ultimately, it is a good thing that the central thesis of Honey Money is not rooted in the reality experienced by the vast majority of humankind. Hakim reduces sex to a scarce resource, a thing to be bought, sold and bartered; whether financially or socially. It takes all the sticky, sweaty naked fun out of sex, making it a cold, clinical transaction. An individual’s appreciation of another’s beauty becomes a power relation: the beholder beholden to the beheld. It leaves men as desperate consumers, utilising the assets they have to maybe, just maybe, have a go on someone’s tits; they are no longer agents, but end users.
As for women, what path is there? For the young and the beautiful, there is the quest for ultimate power: through prostitution and flirting, they may become rich, and then marry so they need never work again, provided they pump out a few kids, because their fertility is also a very important asset. In Hakim’s universe, erotic capital equates to empowerment, to true women’s liberation. This power is hinged on something fleeting: erotic capital is highest in youth, and as a woman’s looks fade, so, too, must any power she has accrued. This transient moment of glory is hardly a hook on which to hang one’s life.
The queer, the non-binary identified, the disabled, the old, all are swept away in Hakim’s world. There is nothing for them, for they are ugly. This is a world of heterosexual power struggle, and there is no place for them. Furthermore, there can be no place for them: almost all of the evidence Hakim presents focuses on those who are naturally beautiful, rather than those with the economic capital to buy erotic capital (which still leaves swathes of the population unable to “enter the market”). Without meaning to Godwin, Hakim is not the first to conceptualise a world where the tall, genetically-blessed people are encouraged to breed, while leaving everyone else out in the cold. It has never ended well.
It is a horrible vision of a horrible world, and that one person believes this could be a desirable state of affairs is a terrifying notion. Fortunately, many are unconvinced: the book has been largely poorly received, even by customer reviewers on Amazon. Not everyone is so critical, though: almost immediately after publishing Volume I, this comment appeared. Perhaps they are attempting to disingenuously capitalise on a poorly-argued thesis, or perhaps they are genuinely convinced. Either way, I hope in writing this series, I have killed the book once and for all.
Honey Money presents a nasty idea, poorly argued. It must not gain traction.
Das erotische Kapital: