As White Ribbon Day comes around again (Nov 25), I’m wondering what it actually does to address a culture that celebrates – indeed eroticises – violence against women.
Sure, men buy white ribbons. They attend events where they eat sausages and swear not to hurt women. They raise money (none of which goes into services supporting survivors of violence).
Of course it’s good that men stand up and pledge not to be violent and put white ribbons on their shirt collars. We need men to be engaged in the issue. But since the inception of White Ribbon Day, violence against women and children has continued unabated. And the culture that helps to makes violence against women permissible, even something to be celebrated, remains unaddressed.
Moreover, the cultural messages that eroticices violence against women and make it appear sexy, is the same culture in which survivors of sexual assault have to survive. What happened to them is made into something others call art and fashion.
Media, advertising and popular culture reflect values. Any reading of the social landscape tells us that women are really only good for one thing: to be used sexually.
The proliferation and globalization of sexual imagery, often overlaid with violence, is a cause of distress for sexual assault survivors, those who care for them and those working to end violence against women. Is it also a cause of distress for White Ribbon Day ambassadors?
Colonising the public space with images that approve and perhaps even incite sexual violence, creates and shapes attitudes. Yet government and regulatory bodies for the most part allow it to go on.
How can violence against women be addressed effectively if the advertising, marketing, music, clothing, and gaming industries continue to treat it as chic fashion and fun, like something that is just so hot right now? I’d like to hear a White Ribbon Day ambassador publicly condemn these permission-giving artefacts of violence.
Rape-proud t.shirts collapse rape into a punch line, adorned with slogans: “It’s not rape, it’s surprise sex” and “It’s not rape if you yell surprise.” The text promoting the second reads:
“Remember to yell! Now we know this is a little controversial, but you know you’re laughing. Just remember to let them know before you go for it. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the effort.”
Other t.shirts feature images of women gagged and half naked, sold by Roger David. Porn-inspired ‘T.I.T.S’ t.shirts are sold in youth skate stores, including this charmer, ‘Relax it’s just sex’, depicting the bound body of a naked woman spattered in blood. City Beach has a t-shirt with a woman with a black eye, crying. The slogan reads: ‘It’s only illegal if you get caught’. ‘Bitches get stiches’ is another title on t.shirts in youth stores.
A woman drenched in blood – her body entirely red – featured on the SBS film website. She was kneeing beside a toilet in a pool of thick blood. Her lower limbs appeared mangled.
Sexual violence is used as a marketing tool. Calvin Klein advertised its brand through large billboards intimating sexual assault. Alison Grundy, a sexual assault psychologist with 20 years experience, wrote:
How can it be OK to use sexual violence as a marketing tool? When did gang rape stop being abhorrent and become “sexy”? When did gang rape get minimized to “group sex”? … if our boys and men are watching and masturbating to endless scenes of women being sexually tortured by groups of men… we can hardly be surprised that our daughters are less safe from this type of sexual crime now than ever before…
I have sat in counseling with many women – often very young – and therefore just beginning to define what they would like their lives to be – who have experienced the terror and unrelenting horror of rape and gang rape. It’s a struggle that goes on and on through years of rebuilding a sense of self, a world view and working out a way of being part of a society again that not only allows the vast majority of rapes to never be punished but allows constant in your face debasement and trivialization of their trauma in billboards like this.
I cannot escape one simple fact: that if we continue to subject future generations of young men to great barrages of aggressive, misogynist, over-sexualized and violent imagery in pornography, movies, computer games and advertising, we will continue to see the rates of sexual violence against women and children that continue unabated today. Or worse.
There are many Facebook sites promoting violence against women: ‘Cleaning foundation off your sword after a hard day of hunting sluts’, ‘Dragging slut’s into you’re room unconscious in a sack’, ‘Kicking sluts in the vagina because its funny watching your foot disappear’, ‘You know she’s playing hard to get when she takes out a restraining order’, ‘I like my women how I like my Scotch, 10 years old and locked in my basement’, ‘What’s 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? My knife’, ‘I know a silly little b–ch that needs a good slap’.
Some of these were removed after 20,000 people signed petitions calling on Facebook to remove them, but many similar pages cropped up shortly after, such as ‘Throwing eggs at sluts, brick shaped eggs — made from brick,’ which invites people to rate other users’ photos with comments like ‘drown’ or ‘hit… With a shovel.’
A Pippa Middleton Ass appreciation Society page on Facebook was set up in honour of the sister and bridesmaid of Kate Middleton, attracting tens of thousands of members. Men described all the things they wanted to do to the 29 year old, including injuring her so much she would need ‘straw and a wheelchair’.
The Kanye West Monster video featured the semi-naked corpses of women hanging from chains, with West holding the head of a decapitated woman in scenes of eroticized carnage. The video was described as a rape scenario set to a soundtrack.
In February Brian McFadden (his now ex-fiancée was an anti-violence ambassador) produced a song titled ‘Just as you are (Drunk at the Bar)’ which contains the lines:
I like you just the way you are, drunk as shit dancing at the bar, I can’t wait to take you home so I can do some damage…I can’t wait to take you home so I can take advantage
So, Brian McFadden, do you think this is something to poke fun at? Does my story deserve its own catchy tune and rounds of laughter and applause because you were so clever to come up with something witty that ultimately diminishes the trauma of my experience and belittles my feelings about it?
I’m really ever so glad that we live in a society where cretins like you can influence a whole new generation of young boys and men to sexually assault women and girls and then have a big old laugh about it later on…
Alison Grundy described the lyrics as “one more open demonstration of the contempt shown to women’s human rights and the fundamental legislation that is place to protect them”.
Amazon came under fire for selling a book titled The pedophile’s guide to love and pleasure: a code of conduct for child lovers. This child rape manual was eventually withdrawn from sale on the site, after much resistance from Amazon.
My Best Friend’s Ex has a song out called ‘Bitch shut your mouth’. This instruction to be silent depicts large-breasted women with their mouths taped shut. Women are to be silent and be the receptacles of whatever treatment men want to enact on their bodies.
But many women are rising up against this landscape of abuse.
Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation is one example of a new movement against this, naming and shaming corporations, advertisers, marketers and media who objectify women and sexualise girls to sell products and services. We’ve just released a blacklist of corporate sexist offenders to cross off your Christmas list.
We’d love some of the White Ribbon men to join us.