February 3, 2012

Slut-Shaming In Advertising (But Not Really)

Report This Article
What is the issue?
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. – Inigo Montoya

A new HIV/AIDS awareness ad just dropped and it’s got everyone’s panties in a hyped-up frenzy. Short story: the ad features a girl reclining in her underwear, legs akimbo, with the Facebook “check-in” emblem positioned over her hoo-ha. The ad reads: “Matti Vertanen and 19 others have been here.” Annnnd everyone is generally losing their shit about it, calling it cheap, offensive slut-shaming.

I think we need to collectively have a conversation about what exactly “slut-shaming” is, and what is just “still not knowing how to digest a woman being honest and proud about her sexuality.” Because one of those claims to be in the name of sexual progress and acceptance, and one exposes how far from that we still are.

So everyone inject a sedative into your jerky knees, and let’s think about this ad. The model is barely dressed, being looked at from above, legs spread, and yet she’s laughing, seems completely comfortable with the position she’s in. This woman gives off a strong sense of being in control of her situation, despite the fact that the angle of both the camera and her knees would suggest that she could be vulnerable, exposed, even exploited. But she’s not. She’s just having a good old time, feeling fine, being open and honest about the fact that she’s been with 20 other people in the past. Given the context that the text imposes, this woman’s attitude couldn’t really be any more positive, liberated and empowered. So far, I’m not yet understanding where the “shame” comes from. Let’s press on.

The ad itself isn’t implying that lying naked on a bed makes you a bad, bad, dirty, whore-ible slut. Nor is it implying that doing sex on 20 folks is something to be ashamed of. If the ad campaign was based around a bunch of guys talking about their sexual experience with the same girl, then yeah, that has the potential to hold a shitty, unfair position of women and sex. The difference between something like that and what’s happening in this ad is that the woman is owning this information about herself and her past. She owns it. She offers it up for the safety of herself and what we assume is a faceless new partner behind the camera. It’s her information, her choice, her power, and her smile as she offers it up like the unashamed modern sexual beast she is. Cue the f-cking applause.

The choice of using an Internet “check-in” to denote her number of partners past is a benign way of communicating the facts without judgment. The ad isn’t analyzing the woman based on that number, in fact, it’s not offering any additional information. It’s only a neutral conduit for conveying information that happens to draw on another currently relevant cultural staple, Facebook. In other words, they’re just being cute so relax.

It’s unfair to assume that ad is suggesting that a public listing of your bedpost roster is necessary for safe sexual health. All it seems to imply is that you should, quite simply, be real about modern sex lives: you’re probably not Christopher Columbus landing upon virgin banks, ya know? I see zero indication that this is a fact worthy of judgment, nor do I see some bogus implication that number of sex partners = increased HIV risk. All they are saying is don’t be a doofus; You never know because you have no control over someone else or where they’ve been, or whom they’ve been with. So wrap your junk up, get tested, fall in love, be happy, or don’t fall in love, and then go be safe with someone else, and have fun, live your life, don’t get AIDS, etc.

All considered, we should have a much bigger problem with people’s super-fired-up response to ads like this. We claim we want honest campaigns that promote education, sexual health and the candid addressing of relevant social issues, but the minute one of these attempts a blunt approach (which, in our over-stimulated information age, seems the only effective way to reach people), our delicate sensibilities tell us to be offended. We’re way too quick to cry slut-shaming, racism, sexism, fattism, etc., in advertising, even when there are clearly the best of intentions at play. We need to calm down and be as careful in our attacks as we ask them to be in theirs. These hurtful forms of judgment do exist and they do plenty of damage to people. Women (and men, to be fair) get hated on for their sexual behavior — especially if they are open about it. And the more honestly and brazenly they address it, the more harshly they are criticized. By now, we all know that’s wrong, right? Well, by those same standards of being evolved enough to be comfortable with #realtalk, let’s not punish a public health ad for communicating its message with the same clarity and gusto that we encourage in each other personally.

HIV is scary. It exists. Fortunately, so do sexy, fantastic, well-lit, in-control women in eerily well-fitting lingerie having sex with multiple partners and while both of you are celebrating that fact with orgasms, just be safe. That’s all this ad is saying. Save your “rage against slut-shaming” energy for those who truly deserve it (because trust, there are plenty of those who do), and spare the good-willed folks who are just trying to protect your naughty bits from a sad, sad, VD-ridden doom.

About the mostly-naked girl on the poster: Jesus Christ. Let’s not freak out. The immediate line-drawing between “nudity” and “exploitation” or “indecency” is only demonstrative of the hang-ups of the viewer, not the advertisers. The art director didn’t invent a negative connotation for this ad, your brain did. Take responsibility for that, if you’re upset about what you’re seeing. The attitude of this girl, and this photo, is so clearly light-hearted and empowered that it’s ridiculous to imagine that it’s offensive to women. She’s chillin’ in her underwear, 20 dudes have been inside her, and she’s like “WTF-ever, NBD, I’m awesome.” Where exactly is the slut shame here? So everyone lighten up. You’re the ones making this dirty. If that girl doesn’t mind her T&A (or T&V, I guess) being out there, neither should you. That’s respecting a woman’s sexuality, kiddos.

PS — If you want to be upset about anything with this ad, let it be the notion that some douche actually has checked-in on Facebook from some girl’s vagina because he thought it would be “funny”. Be upset because you just know some idiot did that at some point. TC mark

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63,823 other followers