Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Shades of abuse

A new Welsh social marketing campaign is trying to show men how more "accepted" forms of sexual harassment can add up to make women feel threatened and abused:

According to The Drum, the It all adds up campaign "aims to generate debate about gender inequality by challenging the conscious and subconscious attitudes which can lead to the normalisation, acceptance and tolerance of violence towards women".

The campaign was created by Manchester's Access for Llywodraeth Cynulliad Cymru (The Welsh Assembly Government). There's a site, too, at onesteptoofar.org.

The Drum quotes the Access's Managing Director as saying:

"Essentially we’re looking at changing behaviour which has been instilled through years of upbringing, society and the media, this is very tough - it could take years to change attitudes, but it’s great that the Welsh Assembly Government has acknowledged there is an issue and are tackling it head on.

"I believe we’ve come up with a great campaign which highlights the problem in a very simple, none preaching or judgemental way and because there will be research conducted pre and post campaign, I'm interested to see what impact this will have.”

Let's hope it helps, although I wonder if the exaggerated harassment situations will work against it. Generally, when you vilify people in social marketing, it is easy to turn them off and lose your intended audience. In this spot especially, all the guys harassing the woman are really obvious jerks. (Either that, or Wales is still in the Neolithic.)

As an ordinary man who has to ask himself if this compliment was inappropriate, or if that joke made someone feel uncomfortable, I would have preferred an approach that was less about obvious villains and more about the ingrained (and sometimes instinctive) sexism that threatens the safety and confidence of women in a supposedly gender-equal environment. It should be about "nice guys" taking a hard look at behaviour they take for granted, and maybe even seeing it through someone else's eyes.

We will never live in a non-gendered world (thank God!), but this ad — while heartfelt — feels more like it's going to make people hate the obvious pigs even more while letting the subtler ones stay in denial.


  1. Just as a note those situations are not at all exaggerated. Many women including myself are in these types of situations every day, even here in Ottawa.

  2. I was just going to say the same thing... not exaggerated... and maybe even less so in the UK.

  3. Oh, I know guys like that exist. It's just that we all see them as assholes - so what change in attitude is the ad going to produce? I think this campaign would have been better to deal with the subtler forms of which most of us men have been guilty on occasion.

  4. I think the point is that this is not over the top and is still considered 'harmless', subtle or not. I think most women, myself included, know that not all guys that whistle at women are assholes or abusers... just momentarily thoughtless. And i think that's the target... the message being its not the singular action its the accummualative and to think about it. And perhaps the non-asshole whistlers will actually get it and think about it. The 'assholes' wont... and a lot of assholes go the more subtler route... and they are the scary ones to be honest.

  5. Fair enough, Kerry! It's great to get a woman's perspective on this.

  6. It's (almost) a fact that every decent guy has an asshole friend. I think this campaign also targets the decent guy in hopes that it will give him the confidence to put his asshole friend in his place the next time he witnesses a comment, horn honk or whistle.

  7. Great write up, Tom. Definitely a hot topic worthy of attention and discussion.

  8. Just pointing this campaign out and having this discussion here, Tom, will shift a few guys' perspectives and make them perhaps think twice (so they will be less likely to speak/leer thoughtlessly). You offer good insight.

    I agree that most men are not as over-the-top as those depicted in this campaign. But, the idea may be for men to perhaps see a bit of themselves in the situations (perhaps they think rather than actually say or leer?) - and get a gut check about how awful each little incident can make a woman feel.

  9. Interesting site. Speaking of harrassment, this popped up on another site I read quite a bit: http://sexyvideogameland.blogspot.com/2010/06/you-look-nice-miss.html

    Basically, a video game where you are catcalled constantly and blocked from moving. The solution? Gun them all down. The discussion is well worth reading also.