Saturday, May 31, 2008

Flipping it around


There has been much discussion and debate about the "Lisa" ALAC ad in a variety of blogs and other fora. Sexism in the MSM continues pretty much unabated, but something which addresses rape in the way this ad does takes it beyond the usual run of boring misogynist tropes usually used for marketing. Anna McM at the hand-mirror has bravely shared her story of the night something "Lisa"-like happened to her and it's important reading for anyone with an ambivalence about what the ad is trying to say. Victim-blaming in relation to rape is pervasive - and sadly, judging from Anna's story and the comments thread at Charlotte's Crazy, it would appear that a group of people very likely to do this are the victims themselves, because this is what they imagine everyone else is doing anyway, and, looking at the content of the Lisa ad, they are perfectly justified in doing so. How brave you have to be to run the gauntlet of public opinion in claiming you've been sexually assaulted and in confronting the person responsible. It's a very rare woman who does, an even rarer one who would be 100% supported in doing so and a still rarer one who ever gets justice through the legal system.

In a striking example of administrative incompetence, Julie and Joanna's complaints to the ASA about the "Lisa" ad were dismissed even before they arrived, on the grounds that they made the same point as an earlier submission. Both posts about this situation fully illustrate that the earlier complaint was made on a different basis, which makes the ASA look truly incompetent. Anyone interested in making an additional formal submission about the ad can find a full list of posts on this issue at the handmirror which has tips and Julie's new letter of complaint which could be used as a jumping-off point.

As per suggestions made in the comments threads at the handmirror and Charlotte's Crazy (links above) it's quite illustrative to address the issue of drinking in sexual assault from a different perspective. Imagine that, like the other two ads in the ALAC series, the "Lisa" ad looks at the implications of drunkenness in relation to MALE behaviour. Men are usually the ones who perform sexual assault whether on women or on each other. An American study (I couldn't find relevant NZ studies but if you know of any please let me know) has shown that alcohol is involved in sexual assaults at least one half of the time, and that these crimes usually occur between people who don't know each other well, but who have met in a bar or similar. The most common scenario is not that of a predatory, sober, male dragging a drunk woman off into an alley as in the "Lisa" ad, but a drunk man subjecting a drunk woman to unwanted intercourse.

If I was writing an ad that actually addressed this issue head-on, I'd start with a pub situation - a group of guys getting shit-faced, a few misogynist comments bandied about in relation to the women in the bar, a focus on one guy who drunkenly hits on several different women and groups of women and gets laughed at or repelled, some piss-taking by his mates over his lack of success in scoring, and his growing aggression. A group of woman come over to the table where his mates are and start talking. Our main character is pushed into a conversation with a shy woman. Suddenly we're outside in a dark street and our character and the woman get into a taxi together as our character's mates make approving hooting noises. Inside the taxi the woman smiles uncertainly and drunkenly at our character. Suddenly we're inside a bedroom and the light is flickering - the woman is partially undressed on the bed, coughing, crying and pushing at our character, saying "please, just get off me, get off me", and our character, on top of her, is confusedly going "what?". Final shot - the ALAC banner - "It's not the drinking - it's how we're drinking".

I can't imagine a broadcaster who would screen this even though it's not even a worst-case scenario and all of the most horrible bits have been missed out. But it attempts to place responsibility for rape squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator and address the role that binge drinking plays in sexual assault by men. It's crucial to remember in this scenario that a drunk woman behaving like a dick does not result in sexual assault. That part requires the addition of the perpetrator - almost always a man, probably drunk, and the permission/encouragement of his mates and all the people in the situation that the two people are located in. I'm not sure why ALAC decided that emphasising female vulnerability would be the most effective way of addressing this issue. Considering the way that alcohol aids and abets sexual assault through male drunkenness it seems beyond ridiculous.

11 comments:

Julie said...

Thanks for this Lyn, it is fantastic. More later.

Anna McM said...

This couldn't be better said, Lyn. For me, it emphasises how little
ALAC seem to know about the complex realities of the real world.
ALAC obviously feels comfortable portraying drunk young women as dicks - and that's in itself an argument we could have - but there's so little sensitivity to what its like being young and female in a culture where it's difficult to meet people except by drinking, hard for many of us to be confident except after four or more drinks, where misogynist behaviour is rife, etc.

The more I watch the 'Lisa' ad, the more I feel that ALAC couldn't care less about the welfare of Lisa or her ilk, so long as we don't show up in alcohol-related harm statistics. The damage done to prevent women drinking to excess - eg blaming them for rape - is incidental so long as women can be convinced to stay sober.

Maybe I'm just having a cynical day.

Lyn said...

Anna - thanks for your comment. Maybe you are having a cynical day but it's evident there's a wealth of justification for how you feel. Myself, I like to believe that the ad was made with good intentions but without enough thought about the ramifications of what was being said. It's taken me a while to really get my position on it sorted. And I'm still going really - your final comment has served to remind me that the point of the ad is to add "rape" to the list of things women should be frightened of if they drink too much, rather than addressing the issue of sexual assault and the part alcohol plays in this. It's an utterly distasteful sort of leverage.

l_d said...

I think you're right Lyn, good post. Having a good night out doesn't equate to walking down a deserted dark alley way at night, which I think is how it's being portrayed in the ad. That having a good time out is equal to putting yourself in harm's way. The problem the ad exposes is a separate one, that probably deserves its own advertising campaign, namely, that some men for whatever reason believe they're entitled to criminally abuse.

The ad's sending mixed messages, although as you say with good intention, but I guess the question is where is the condemnation of the criminal in that ad? There's a message that's missing in there.

stilltruckin said...

Lyn, you continue to be awesome. :)

We so desperately need rape to be covered as a men's issue. To co-opt their own tag line, it's not that they're blaming, it's who they're blaming ;)

If someone leaves their window open and they get burgled, while they might not get insurance, it certainly doesn't lessen the charges that would be brought against the criminal who did the actual act. If we're going to be doing ad campaigns, we need to be targetting the actual problem- which is the attitude that rape and "grey areas" of consent are okay, when clearly they are not. Sure, shutting windows is nice, but preventing people from wanting to climb into them in the first place is better, because then you stop the people who like to break windows, too. :)

Anna- Even if they do care, they certainly don't seem to understand the problem very well. I'd say your cynicism is justified, typical or not. :)

l_d- Essentially there is no criminal. There's just a disembodied shadow. Nobody is to blame. That's the thing that annoys me the most- there's no face, no background, no context to the perpetrator at all. The only "ownership" for the crime that is assigned is that Lisa is drunk. :(

Lyn said...

Thanks for your thoughts l_d and Ari/stilltruckin. I think we're definitely missing the criminal here. I should probably put some thought into doing a submission to the ASA. Does anyone feel like undersigning it if I do, or should we all do our own? I almost feel like it would be better to do something in a group and make it a mixed gender type of thing - and that way it can't be dismissed as a lone-nutter rogue feminist issue. Thoughts?

Julie said...

A group submission could be a good idea, I'd be keen. I've had no response from my last email, not even an acknowledging receipt one. :-(

I feel like there does need to be something collective happen next. I'm not quite sure what. It's partly complicated by the fact that we are dealing with two fronts - ALAC and the ASA.

Oh, there is a Facebook group to join on this by the way.

zANavAShi said...

Hey Lyn! I've been semi-lurking here since the other (standard) Lynn pointed me in the direction of your place. There's a handful of posts of yours I've been meaning to add supportive comment to but by the time I finally get here it's already old.

In this case however, it's too bad if this is too old cos hopefully one day somebody will read my comment and it will resonate... first I just want to say (as an 11yrs sober alcoholic) that you are 100% spot on with the examples you site here - both with your analysis of our boozy male pickup-chick culture and your alternative ALAC ad!

To answer the question about why ALAC didn't take this tack with their TV ads... IMO it is purely and simply because the consequence is not "BIG enough". I support their endeavours to use a shock campaign of public awareness, but in your example where is the "shock value" of a drunken young woman muttering drunken protest - in a culture where I dare to suggest that over half the sex that happens between "just met socially in a pub or party" people happens like this. IF ONLY some agency would have the gumption to to a research paper that unearths those statistics yes?

Which had me musing a few days ago on the other (apparently very very effective) "shock and awe" campaign we have running here on NZ TV which is targeting drink driving culture (which is so deeply entwined with the kiwi pickup-chick culture described by you) and their efforts to make it cool to "take one for the team" as the designated sober driver.

So, in ALAC's warped universe, how do you think this would look....

A group of women giggling and fussing around the mirror as they gussy up to go out for the evening... four of them step back to reveal one of their GF's dressed up like x5-452 (my fave heroine from the Dark Angel TV series) with doc boots, and a collection of chick-weapons hanging from her belt. And the message is "take one for the team" be the designated sober party-grrrrl who makes sure all her GF's get home safely while drunk.

OK, OK, that didn't sound as cool and sexy in words as I had imagined it in the movie in my head (LOL) but you get my general drift right? About the hypocrisy of it all?


Cheers Lyn and thanks for the great blogging!

Zana

Lyn said...

Zana - thanks for coming out and making a comment - I try to come back to everything everyone writes even on the older posts, so feel free to revisit anything you've liked in the past.

I gave some thought to your assertion that the scenario I described in my proposed ad isn't shocking enough, and I actually think it could be, depending on how it was shot and the levels of distress shown by the female actress - the issue with these kinds of encounters is that they can easily be interpreted as "just normal sexual behaviour" but are actually rape. It's the ambiguity that's part of the problem.

I like the images you describe in your ad concept (they are sexy!) but I still think that an unsophisticated reading that misses the irony would mean that for a lot of viewers it would still put the onus on women to be on-watch and thus makes us responsible for protecting ourselves from male behaviour by moderating our own. All the other ads focus on the people actually doing the problem behaviour - including the guys taking one for the team, and I think that would necessarily confuzzle things to cut across that. Other readers may disagree however....cheers!

zANavAShi said...

Doh, I made my "not shocking enough" comment on the assumption that you are a lurker over at the Hand Mirror, had read my rather lengthy comment there and thus register the sarcasm and bitterness behind my reply here. As well as my deep cynicism that our culture is so infested with the kind of rape apologist attitude where when an event like this happens the instinctive reaction of so many is to feel sorry for how badly put out the blokes must have been.

Sorry for assuming you were already familiar with my style of humour. To clarify, my suggested ALAC ad was entirely satirical... as a comedy skit for somewhere like Jon Stewart's Daily Show who's audience has (I am assuming by the quality of his content and the ratings it draws) an audience intelligent enough to know that this is a pisstake on ALAC's victim blaming culture.

Cheers,
Z

C.C. said...

What an excellent post. Sorry I am coming to this a bit late, but I only just found your blog. I would really love to see an ad campaign aimed at men about not raping.
I really really would. Perhaps it can be centered around a group of young rugby players....

anyway, thanks for linking me! I'll add you to my blogroll too!