They’re creepy and they’re … creepy. Three datapoints.

Via IBTP, buried in a long stoush about bigotry against children and whether under-18s are subhuman:

To passer-by, crying child’s ear-piercing rings of abuse.

Marilyn Johnson thought so when she heard a girl’s screams in a Wichita Wal-Mart on Sunday — and she reported it to police.
“This little girl was about 5 years old and was crying her eyes out,” Johnson said. “Her face was beet red, and she was screaming and coughing and saying things like, ‘I don’t want this! It hurts! Please stop!’ She was grabbing her ears so the adults couldn’t touch them.”

Johnson attempted to intervene verbally, and when she was rebuffed, she called 911. She was told by police to butt out, and banned from Wal-Mart. The article continues:

Ear piercing has long been the subject of controversy among parents. For some, piercing an infant or young child’s ears has deep-rooted cultural or religious meaning. Others pierce babies’ ears because of family traditions, or simply because they like the look or want to more easily identify the baby as a girl.

Because the worst possible fate for an infant or child in our society is to have random strangers mistake them for another gender, it is necessary to poke holes in screaming children and adorn them accordingly. Creepy.

Creepy number two comes via the Kate Harding comments section: American Apparel “Intimates” section. I was in two minds about linking this, so be warned – I don’t know whether these photos could trigger someone, but they might.

The American Apparel models, while they may be over 18, look to be in their early to mid teens. About half of them are displaying that awkward trapped deer-in-the-headlights look. The photos remind me of nothing but the iconic “photographer”-pedophile scene in TV dramas, with an aspiring teen model about to burst into tears, and the “photographer” leering and slavering “Come on honey, take it off, all the other girls do underwear shots, come on, just a bit more, oh yes”. Some of the models even have a pubescent body shape – a slight waist pudge, slim hips, very small breasts.

Creepy, creepy, creepy.

Creepy the third: “Hitman” videogame ads. Reminiscent of the “America’s Next Top Model” shoot from a while back, Hitman is using sexxxay murdered women to push their product.

[Image grabbed from Joystiq]

[Image grabbed from Guilded Lilies]

The Joystiq discussion of the”Beautifully Executed” ad is full of sexualised-violence apologists. There is the usual stuff, of course: It’s-just-a-game, why-aren’t-you-fighting-world-hunger, you’re-thinking-too-deeply, you’re-censoring-my-frea-speach. Before any frea-speachers start up here, please note that I’m not constructing a campaign to have these things banned. What I want is the world to change, such that nobody would consider designing this sort of hate crime depiction, let alone putting it on the subway. (How would people react to a subway ad explicitly depicting an all-in-good-fun lynching to sell a videogame?)

A smorgasbord of comments [Joystiqers are in italics, my comments aren’t.]:

“christian”: “without pushing the envelope or being ‘edgy’ we’ll never get anywhere.. . and that’s in games, movies, tv, advertisement, everything.. . someone has to always be the one that pushes things to another level .. .”

“Edgy” is the new “politically incorrect”, isn’t it? A way for swaggering bigots to excuse their hate speech in the name of “art” or “rebellion”.

Are these commenters disingenuous, or just wilfully thick? There are a few plodding joke-explainers like “Satiate”: “Anyone that gets ‘offended’ by this ad is an idiot, all it is, is a play of words. We have ‘Beautifully Executed’ because the game is about a hitman, and if anyone didn’t know, they ‘execute’ people for a living, and in this ad we have a ‘beautiful’ woman (although I agree with some other posters, she looks more like Bowie than a hottie :) so you get Beautifully (woman/nice job in shooting her) Executed…get it? get it? anyone? Bueller, Bueller?”

There’s a reason “Can’t you take a joke?” is the free square in Anti-feminist Bingo.

Then there are those who wander around oblivious to the world. Perhaps they’ve spent the past fourteen years in a box? FrankieJ humphs: “I still don’t see why a dead girl on a bed is so controversial!

HotShotX has a lunge at the moral high ground: it’s a cautionary tale. “It’s to teach younger girls that prostitutes are often killed, and that they shouldn’t become one. :) Maybe it’s just the image, but she doesn’t seem to be wearing any bottoms…the fact that she looks like a total skank probably doesn’t help, and as you can all see from the photo, the Hitman clearly did not pay her. Now there’s just one dead prostitute, and some bald guy who owes a pimp ten dollars.”

Then there are the one-liner Buttheads: a sterling chap who wants to fuck the bullet-hole (“It might be another orfice (talk about good head)”), and this thigh-slapping fratboy comedy gold: “Well let me be first to say, i’d hit it.”

“heretrix” tries to turn the tables, claiming that anyone who reads a lingerie-clad woman draped on satin sheets is the pervert, so ner: “Why in the hell do people automatically have to throw sex in the mix? And where in the hell does anyone get the idea that the chick has been raped? You are a hitman, the lady’s your target. She just happens to be in sexy lingere at the time of the hit.” A few posters pompously point out that the ad can’t possibly be about sexual violence, because the woman still has her underwear on.

In good news, “aj” hits the issue dead on: “As Kate noted, it is a combination of someone in a sexually submissive pose, with the ultimate “power trip” of killing them, that makes this ad disturbing. It doesn’t matter that there is no actual rape here; rape is about power, not sex, and this ad is all about sexualized power.”

Yes, that. Creepy to the power of ten.

Rape-culture denialists? Read this post again, please.

Categories: gender & feminism, social justice, violence

Tags: , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. Jebus. Leave the little girl alone. In a few years she’d probably have been begging her parents to let her have her ears pierced. Also I have big problems with mall and pharmacy “piercings” – those things aren’t hygienic at all and the way they do them (ie, with a fairly blunt stud earring) is unnecessarily painful and has high risks of infection and slow healing. So 1. Wait until the kid actually *wants* earrings of their own accord and then 2. Go to a proper professional body piercer instead of some teenager with a plastic gun.

  2. I really like AA’s clothes and wish that I could buy them without reinforcing the incorrect impression that the creepy ads work on me. I’m fairly certain the success of the company is due to the quality of the product at this point, but who knows?

  3. About children, I didn’t read the IBTP thread, but I think that some of the hostility against children is because women are conditioned throughout their lives that it is women’s nature to love children and that we must be perfect, nurturing mothers. It’s a bit reactionary, I think. I don’t, however, think it’s alright at all to call women “breeders” or call mothers selfish – and I frankly think that some of the childfree rhetoric is very misogynistic.
    American Apparel=disgusting, and yes, their models do look underage. The founder of American Apparel is also a dirty old man and I read somewhere is rumored to have sex with all his female models. Ick, I hate seeing vulnerability and underage-ness sold as sexy. It grosses me out. There’s an American Apparel boutique near my university and I get a real snob vibe, although I think its hipster image draws people in.
    The rape and dead women fetish ads – it makes me angry, but sometimes I just feel very numb about it, because that garbage is just plastered all over the place.

  4. On the numbness – I’m reminded of the Simpsons episode in which Lisa is covering her eyes at a violent movie. Bart is trying to yank her hands away, saying, “If you don’t WATCH the violence, you’ll never get desensitised to it!”
    I don’t know. I think it’s possible to consciously sensitise yourself, but it can take a pretty significant mental effort – and the sensitivity is at least partly academic/intellectual. That’s been my experience, anyhow – I was definitely number to these things ten or fifteen years ago.

  5. The “Lighten up, it’s just a game!” commenters are, with 100% certainty despite the fact I didn’t bother clicking the link and don’t know them, the exact same guys that endlessly whine about how people don’t take games seriously enough. It’s this irritating case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Same deal with comics and animation. I mean, I want to dispel the idea that it’s all a bunch of adolescent wank too, but I do this by not buying or defending adolescent wank. It’s easy and saves both time and money!
    Also, I’ve babysat people who look older than the American Apparel models.

  6. Interesting post, although I disagree with the notion that piercing a child’s ears is primarily to ‘mark’ the child as unambiguously female. (An increasing number of males have pierced ears on both sides, so it has become rather diluted as a gender signifier).
    To my mind this is not so much about gender politics, but age politics. In particular Parents’ law-protected power to ‘mutliate’ the bodies of their minor-age offspring. It would be interesting to compare with circumcision, a ‘hidden’ and ritualistic mutilation which (in North America at least) is so acceptable that the values of the parents of uncircumcised males are viewed with a certain amount of suspicion. At least a female child without pierced ears does not signify that her family are ‘unclean’ in some way.
    As to politically-incorrrect ads. OBVIOUSLY the point is to stimulate discussion so that the brand name gets more attention: It’s a double bind! If you’re offended enough by the ad to discuss it, you’re (on some level) raising awareness of the product. The strategic feminist must therefore ‘ignore’ ads designed to provoke feminist indignation. (There are plenty of other egregious examples of sexism we might use our energy on, such as wage differences, marriage laws or whatever).
    A recent ad here in Denmark seeks to equate an extremely narrow and idiotic form of masculinity with drinking [a certain unnamed beer] during a summer barbecue. Again, this is sexist claptrap which enlightened males such as (ahem) myself find nauseating, but I have to hold back from complaining about it to my acquaintances, otherwise I am merely doing the ad-jockey’s work for them.

  7. Pet peeve: Men instructing me that I’m “doing feminism wrong”, or which other issues are more important.
    I’m not responding to the rest of your comment because it seems to be an attempt to derail this thread, which is about the gendered objectification of girls’ and women’s bodies, onto a focus on boys and men.

  8. “How would people react to a subway ad explicitly depicting an all-in-good-fun lynching to sell a videogame?”
    – Exactly. I think when you’re feeling disgusted by the depiction of women in something and you want to know if you’re reading too much into it or not it is always a good test to substitute in their place another group of people and see how that feels. Making a fetish of killing any particular group of people feels very wrong, its amazing that so many people don’t feel concerned when that group of killing-candy is young women.

  9. Hey, I’m not a troll! Derailing the discussion? What?
    Your lead-in above refers to ‘bigotry against children’ and you also refer to racial bigotry (i.e. lynching), all of which I (apparently mistakenly) took to indicate slightly broader boundaries for the debate, or at least that the set of acceptable examples for comparison was slightly more copious than ‘girls only’.
    As blue milk points out, substitution (e.g. children in general, black people) is a very useful technique for revealing contradictions. Although I certainly apologise if my particular choice of substitutions contradicted your railway timetable for this discussion in some way. ‘Not going to apologise for being male, though. That was an accident.
    Please note, I’m not saying those ads aren’t offensive, or aren’t sexist. They are, and they are designed to be. The ad agency as good as wanted/expected you (or someone similar) to make this blog entry (or something similar), and that’s exactly what you did.
    My main point was that expressing indignation about ideologically ‘offensive’ ads is mostly serving the interests of the advertising agency and their client, *especially* if the product is named or the ad is directly quoted in the indignant response.
    The ‘edgy’ people you mention are not merely “excusing their hate speech in the name of ‘art’ or ‘rebellion’”, they’re just in it for the money and they have decades worth of statistics which show that sex (violent or otherwise) sells more units, especially if some people complain about it. Same excuses, different underlying intentions. I’m not apologising for that, even though you may be inclined to ‘kill the messenger’.
    No, you don’t have to take any of that on board, or accept it completely, it’s just something I notice many people overlook. It’s exactly the mechanism whereby much anti-drug propaganda lends a narcotic lifestyle a certain appeal to young people who are looking for rebellion. (I hope that example wont be seen as derailing the discussion).
    It wouldn’t peeve me especially to think you might ignore my comments because I’m not a woman. Well in fact, I got most of these ideas from Naomi Klein, if that helps the ethos at all.

  10. Brennan, I don’t know whether you’re trolling deliberately, but your post can be glossed to this:
    – It’s not about gender
    – What about the boys
    – You’re doing feminism wrong
    – What about the men.
    Replacing “men” for “women” or “boys” for “girls” doesn’t work in the same way that replacing “black” for “female” can work (or sometimes cannot work, depending on the parameters of the discussion). Gendered oppression is intensely asymmetrical. There is a reason that “What about teh menz?” is used as a ritualised slapdown of antifeminist arguments on feminist blogs, and why “PHMT (Patriarchy Hurts Men Too)” has its own abbreviation entry in the FaF101 blog: we’ve heard it way, way too many times. See this and this for further explanation.
    If you have a poke back through the archives, you’ll find that we bring to light and discuss all sorts of commercial crap from a feminist perspective, and we don’t tiptoe around naming the companies and the products involved. The vast majority of our readers are (a) not in the market for sexist, violent videogames, and (b) would be are far more likely to boycott the game on reading something like this than to run out and buy it. Our reaction to violently sexist bullshit isn’t “Shhh, don’t talk about that!”, nor will it ever be. The feminist cause has ever been advanced by loud, angry women.
    I do not ignore valid, feminist points in discussion because of the sex or gender of the interlocutor. (A contention also known as the “Some of my best feminist friends are men, though they’re few and far between”.) On the other hand, your declared status as a hardcore pornhound doesn’t exactly make me inclined to assume good faith in this conversation on this blog, and nothing you have said here so far has disabused me of my initial impression.

  11. What part of “I’m not a troll” don’t you understand? I contribute to the discussion and you jump down my throat, make incorrect generalisations about me and my intentions, and implicate me in all kinds of unpleasant things, apparently because I picked an example which reminded you of something you don’t like.
    1) Your gloss is a gross misrepresentation.
    a) It IS about gender, but it’s also especially about money. I don’t believe those topics can be entirely seperated from one another, as you are apparently seeking to do.
    b) Ear piercing is less gendered now than it once was. (My starting point, but not my main point). This does NOT mean “boys suffer too”.
    c) I never said ‘you’re doing feminism wrong’. You’re mixing logical levels: “This soup is cold” does not mean the same thing as “This restaurant is dreadful”. Disagreement in feminist discussion does not automatically mean that one or the other side has a covert patriarchal agenda or secretly ‘hates’ women. (e.g. compare Andrea Dworkin with Alison Assiter). I’m interpreting your comments as an invitation to see myself as a crypto-sexist, and my follow-up posts here are a rejection of that invitation.
    d) I’ve never sought to steer this discussion towards “what about the men?”. I was giving another example of how advertisers exploit indignation on the fringes of (or outside) their target audience to raise brand awareness. Just ignore that example if it enflames you so. I could easily provide many more non- “PHMT” examples, if you were interested. Ever heard of viral marketing?
    2) You misrepresent me by referring to other people slapping feminism, or by suggesting that I think that all substitutions are of equal value in testing feminist hypotheses. A false suggestion. You tell me about asymmetry in power relationships… in bold type, as if to signify that I’d never considered such a thing. Also false: Every substitution provides a unique and necessarily asymmetrical perspective. We use substitution precisely to reveal that assymmetry. Some examples reveal it more clearly than others. Other examples seem to cause biliousness.
    3) I’m NOT advocating silence as a response. Give me a defaced billboard or a public demo any day. The suffragettes used to burn down churches, but we don’t see much of that kind of thing these days. My main point is that much of this armchair indignant discourse draws attention to products deliberately marketed in a ‘controversial’ way, EVEN if those discussing aren’t in the target audience themselves.
    4) I’ve NEVER declared myself to be a hardcore pornhound (what? hello? where did that come from?), although I have argued (elsewhere entirely) that softcore porn (and advertising, for that matter) tends to objectify women more than hardcore porn, and I stand by that argument, even if it does seems mostly irrelevant that you bring up glib and inaccurate assertions about my views on pornography as part of a general attempt to discredit everything I have written. In fact, it looks for all the world like an ad hominem attack.

  12. Brennan, if you reject crypto-sexism, you’re welcome, as you have been throughout, to post a feminist contribution to my post. I’ve signposted above that I’ve been waiting to be disabused of my initial impression, which entails that I’ve been open to it. Yes, this is an invitation to put up or shut up. Repeatedly saying “I’m not sexist!” is far less convincing than just not being sexist.
    If all you want to do is play tennis, keep it off the blog please.

  13. Ear piercing is less gendered now than it once was.

    I don’t think that’s really true when talking about ear-piercing for very small children as a parent’s choice rather than as the child’s choice. If you see a small child with earrings it’s an indication that it’s a girl. (And generally, both ears pierced is a female signifier unless you’re part of a culture with a significant Rom population).


  1. Songvids of femininity and masculinity: “Women’s Work” and “vogue_300″ at Hoyden About Town

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