Monthly Archives: July 2011

Got Media Literacy – Who Gets to Decide when Humour Crosses the Line?

If you’ve ever watched 30 Rock, Friends, Mad Men or even Leave it to Beaver, you’ve probably been exposed to a racist joke or two. If you’ve ever flipped through a Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Martha Stewart or GQ magazine, you’ve probably been exposed to sexist content. And if you live in California, odds are that you have recently been exposed to an advertisement campaign rooted in gender stereotyping. The California Milk Processor Board recently launched a campaign suggesting that milk alleviates PMS. Such claims are based on studies demonstrating that the calcium in dairy milk may reduce the symptoms of PMS.

Instead of marketing milk to women, however, the campaign targets men, based on the premise that men are also affected by PMS. “Are you a man living with PMS?” one ad asks. Another ad featuring a man holding several tetra packs of milk states “I’m sorry I listened to what you said and not what you meant”.  Finally, by using a .org (denoting a non-profit website) instead of a .com (denoting a commercial website) domain name, the campaign further advances the premise that it offers supportive services to men affected by PMS. Indeed, the website includes a “man zone” providing pre-approved apologies, an emergency milk locator as well as a “sensitivity vocabulator”.

Not surprisingly, this provocative campaign has received mixed reviews and widespread media attention. Bitch Media, a popular online feminist blog, swiftly and critically responded to the campaign:

“Haven’t we heard enough of this tired story that men are victims, held hostage by women’s monthly cycles? Complicated milk issues aside, this is problematic on so many levels. Women are not dangerous while menstruating, and men don’t need to wave milk in front of us like matadors to keep us from blaming all of our problems on them. We’ve heard it before! Your jokes aren’t funny and they honestly don’t even make sense!”

Not everyone, however, was off-put by the campaign. According to an online poll by CBC; 68% of respondents (1,213 votes) found the ads to be “funny”, nearly 20% of respondents (352 votes) found the ads to be “offensive”, and the remaining 12% of respondents either voted “other” or “I don’t know”. The corresponding article’s comment section reflected a similar opinion spread:

 “That ad made me chuckle. Men will always find PMS funny. Women will never appreciate that men find PMS funny. This makes the whole situation even funnier.”

“I find the ad offensive to men. I am so tired of seeing them portrayed as bumbling doofuses in advertising – about as tired as I am about seeing women portrayed as irrational freaks when they are going through their cycle. Neither depiction serves any of us well.”

“At the time I am writing this, approximately 1/4 of people found the adds offensive. Since there are approximately 4 weeks in a month, fair to assume that 1/4 of voters are in their week and may find it funny next week.”

Indeed, like many highly effective advertisement campaigns, the latest California Milk Processor Board’s campaign has people talking. Through its cheeky humour, the campaign raises a major question: is it appropriate to find humour rooted in prejudice funny? If yes, where does one draw the line? There is, of course, no simple answer to this question. What we do know for certain is that it is impossible to go about our daily lives without ever being subjected to humour with implicit (and sometimes blatant) homophobic, racist and/or sexist undertones. Whether you find such content offensive, hilarious, or both, is completely up to you. I would, however, challenge everyone to remain aware of and critically analyze the relationship between systems of power such as sexism, racism and homophobia, stereotypes, and humour.

By Nicola Temmel – Summer Student at SWOVA

Don’t Be That Guy

Our last blog entry highlighted a controversial and highly publicized movement headed by women aimed at dismantling pervasive and gendered myths about sexual assault. It seems appropriate, therefore, to highlight how protective services, outreach organizations, and men are taking a leadership role in preventing sexual violence against women. Caught off-guard by 2009 police statistics indicating a 30% increase in sexual assault (half of which were alcohol-related), the Edmonton Police Services along with a coalition of community partners started the “Don’t Be That Guy Campaign.”

Working in conjunction with SAVE (Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton), the Edmonton Police Services created an innovative public education campaign. Rather than encouraging women to employ restrictive safety strategies to prevent victimization, the “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign targets potential offenders. As SAVE points out:

“Research is telling us that targeting the behaviour of victims is not only ineffective, but also contributes to how much they blame themselves after the assault. That’s why our campaign is targeting potential offenders – they are he ones responsible for the assault and responsible for stopping it.”

The pilot-tested posters, which are posted in bars, campuses, washrooms, youth centres, etc., aim at grabbing the attention of young men ages 16-25. The images, which are intentionally graphic, carry an important and clear message that speaks to them in their own language:

 “Don’t be that guy. Don’t be that guy who doesn’t take responsibility. Don’t be that guy who doesn’t make sure his partner is consenting. Don’t be that guy who sexually assaults a young woman too drunk to consent to sex. Don’t be that guy who uses alcohol as a tool to sexually assault. Don’t be that guy who believes it is not rape.”

Working in conjunction local community providers and police departments in other major Canadian cities, Edmonton’s “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign has already spread to Vancouver and Ottawa.

The “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign marks another important and necessary step toward dismantling victim-blaming ideologies, policies and practices. Not only does this campaign distinguish itself by focusing on holding perpetrators accountable, it also addresses and clarifies myths surrounding alcohol-facilitated sexual assaults. In doing so, it is creating a healthy public dialogue that challenges traditional and gendered assumptions of personal responsibility.  Finally, the “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign provides an excellent example of how protective services, community service providers and organizations can work cooperatively to examine and prevent complex issues such as sexual assault.

For more information on the “Don’t Be That Guy Campaign” or to view the posters, visit http://www.sexualassaultvoices.com/our-campaign.html

by Nicola Temmel, summer student at SWOVA

Take Back the Night 2.0: Are Young Feminists Around the World Finding Their Voice?

 [Please be advised that his article contains sensitive content regarding sexual assault and contains language that some readers may find derogatory and/or offensive. This article was written with the intent to encourage others to participate in a wider global conversation about gender-based violence and activism.]


Beginning in the early 1960s, the second wave of feminism saw woman around the world rallying together to fight and dismantle pervasive, patriarchal and oppressive political, cultural, social and legal structures. The second wave had a transformative impact on many aspects Western society, particularly in the areas of reproductive freedom, employment rights and addressing gender-based violence. Though feminist theories and practices continue to shift and evolve, the famous phrase coined by Carol Hanisch, “the personal is political,” remains as relevant today as it was during the second wave. It is in this context that, as a young feminist, I will examine how two seemingly oppositional activist measures, the Take Back the Night March and the SlutWalk, share common feminist roots.

In October 1975, microbiologist Susan Alexander Speeth was stabbed to death in the middle of the night, blocks away from her house. Her tragic death prompted the citizens of Philadelphia to rally together in protest of violence against women. And so began the annual “Take Back the Night” marches aimed at recognizing the streets as a gendered and all too often dangerous space for women.  Today, Take Back the Night is an internationally recognized protest against sexual violence.

Nearly 4 decades later, Toronto Police Const. Michael Sanguinetti told a personal security class at York University that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Comments made by the officer served as a springboard for young women who, like millions of women before them, took their frustration to the streets.

In April 2011, thousands of Torontonians participated in the first ever SlutWalk aimed at calling the Toronto Police force to task and protesting the slut myth – the age-old notion that women who dress provocatively are somehow ‘asking for it’. Crowds comprised mainly of young women wearing a range of both provocative and conservative attire hit the streets holding signs that read “Don’t Tell Us How to Dress; Tell Him Not to Rape,” “My Clothes are Not My Consent,” “Men of Quality Respect Women’s Equality,” and quite simply “Got Consent?” According to the Toronto SlutWalk website:

As the city’s major protective service, the Toronto Police have perpetuated the myth and stereotype of ‘the slut,’ and in doing so have failed us…Being assaulted isn’t about what you wear; it’s not even about sex; but using a pejorative term to rationalize inexcusable behaviour creates an environment in which it’s okay to blame the victim.

Toronto SlutWalk took their mission above and beyond addressing pervasive and gendered victim-blaming ideologies. Indeed, organizers also aimed at reclaiming the word slut. As their website explains:

Historically, the term ‘slut’ has carried a predominantly negative connotation aimed at those who are sexually promiscuous, be it for work or pleasure, it has primarily been women who have suffered under the burden of this label. And whether dished out as a serious indictment of one’s character or merely as a flippant insult, the intent behind the word is always to wound, so we’re taking it back. “Slut” is being re-appropriated.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Toronto’s SlutWalk has garnered a great deal of media attention and has since sparked an international movement of rallies from Saskatoon to London and all the way to New Delhi. Blatantly and strategically provocative, SlutWalks are once again highlighting that sexual violence against women is a pervasive and ongoing issue that affects all women, and that when it comes to public safety and sexual assault, the personal is political.

SlutWalks have also generated a great deal of controversy and criticism. Challenging the premise that SlutWalks promote sexual liberation, Gail Dines and Wendy J Murphy of the UK Guardian state that:

While the organisers of the SlutWalk might think that proudly calling themselves “sluts” is a way to empower women, they are in fact making life harder for girls who are trying to navigate their way through the tricky terrain of adolescence.

Similarly, Tracy Clark-Flory at salon.com suggests that SlutWalks are problematically divisive:

I’m tired of the polarizing rhetoric: Are you a prude or a slut? You know what, I’m neither. I understand the concept of re-appropriating slurs, and that many people find it freeing and empowering.

Whether you agree or disagree with SlutWalks, feminists of all walks can rejoice in the fact that they have generated an important public conversation about consent, public safety, sexual assault, and female sexuality.  Importantly, they also demonstrate that feminism is alive and well among a younger generation of women, who like their aunts, mothers, and grandmothers, are committed to re-defining and challenging what a feminist looks like.

 By Nicola Temmel, Summer Student at SWOVA