“Part of what it is to be courageous is to see reality accurately and to respond well in the face of it." ~ Jonathan Lear

28 April 2015

In solidarity with the feminists (for once)


As I have explained here on several occasions, I am no fan of modern feminism. I don’t like the bad ideology, authoritarianism, unpleasantness, elite-centeredness and sometimes downright idiocy that many feminists engage in.

But on the latest hoo-ha whipped up by feminists defacing and removing ‘body-shaming’ adverts from the weight loss firm Protein World, I have more than a little sympathy.

It’s all about choice. We have no choice about viewing adverts in our public spaces – for example on billboards, at bus shelters and train stations. That wouldn’t be a problem if only so many adverts weren’t so blatantly propagandistic.

The one that has got feminists hot and bothered features an extremely slim young woman in a bikini with the slogan “Are You Beach Body Ready”, sited next to the company’s ‘Weight Loss Collection’ range of products [I have decided not to copy the image in here; Google it or click on the link above if you want to have a look]. A petition against the adverts attacks it for “targeting individuals, aiming to make them feel physically inferior to the unrealistic body image of the bronzed model, in order to sell their product.”

This is fair enough.

These and so many other adverts amount to private sector propaganda, forced on us just for going outside. One that has got me annoyed recently features two good-looking young women seemingly having a great time, with the slogan “Regret Nothing” attached (thankfully I don’t know what it is advertising). This is the propaganda of our age, and it’s utterly cynical in seeking to mould our behaviour.

As the street artist Banksy has written, advocating guerrilla action against adverts, “They have rearranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”

Adverts have colonised our public spaces and it is about time we made an effort to re-capture them. In my more militant moods I’m tempted towards going the whole hog and banning them altogether: a mass re-capture of our public spaces from the tyranny of adverts.

That may be a bit harsh though.

The alternative is regulation. This could easily get out of hand but I think is the best option. Keep it simple: say to companies you are free to advertise your products but no lying and propaganda please. If you breach the guidances and the regulator upholds someone's complaint – hefty fines.

I’m no prude but I also see no good reason why we should be forced to look at half-naked young women as we go about our mundane daily business (if you want to do that you can do it freely in your own time). So let’s just ban them too (with maybe an exception if you’re selling underwear).

Advertisers and other companies will bleat, but they’ll get over it and soon adapt to the new times. The rest of us get a more pleasant and more civilised public sphere, and with Labour leader Mr Ed in interventionist mode, I hope this is one he’ll pick up and run with: not just to please the feminist tribe, but for all of us.


For more on feminism and other identity politics, see Identity Politics and the Left page.

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