Monday, December 17, 2012

Sorry, Felicity Ward, but I think you got it wrong.

So, it seems a few people are getting bent all out of shape over this billboard ad for Who Exclusive, an online shopping site. 

On the face of it, the tagline is hugely offensive to anyone who thinks that women are… you know … equal to men. Without meaning to labour the obvious, it would seem to be suggesting that a woman needs a man to earn the cash required to be kept in the manner to which she is accustomed. Very pre-Cora Downton Abbey, very Betty Draper before she discovers the washing machine's spin cycle. That a woman without her man is nothing.

In response to this ad, comedian Felicity Ward wrote an impassioned and beautifully crafted open letter on her website, later reproduced on Mamamia, titled 'An open letter to the most sexist ad of the year'. I thought the letter's tenor, its craft, its icy fury was first rate. Stand and applaud. It was angry but dignified, much like Julia Gillard hunting Abbotts. 

Except I think Ms Ward got it completely wrong. 180 degrees wrong. As wrong as you can get it.

Putting aside the fact that the people at Who Exclusive will, at this very moment, be doing  a happy-fun-time dance around the boardroom at all this unexpected publicity, I’d like to look at the actual words in the ad. Or more specifically, the punctuation.

Anyone who grew up before texting was the preferred method of conversation knows that punctuation is important. Very important. “Let’s eat Dad!” becomes much less sinister with a simple comma: “Let’s eat, Dad!” Likewise “I love her period”, which should (one hopes) feature a comma betwen the last two words.

Or this: “A woman without her man is nothing.” With the odd comma here and there it becomes: “A woman, without her man, is nothing.” That’s really no better at all. This, however, will probably draw the Mamamia office to its collective feet: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.” To be honest, neither version flies, since equality means… well, being equal. But you see my point.

Returning to the ad in question, those words certainly carry the potential to be offensive. As some Mamamia commenters have pointed out, it’s meant to be ironic, cheeky, provocative. Sure, but “Spend his money wisely” still comes across as hamfisted.

Except that’s not how the tagline is written. The choice of colour for the text is unfortunate, not just because it’s terribly hard to read, but because the first apostrophe is somewhat lost in the colour of the model’s leg. But the second apostrophe is very clear, and changes the entire tone of the sentence. Spins it that full 180 degrees I mentioned earlier. 

“Spend ‘his’ money wisely.” 

In other words, play your cocky partner for the arrogant fool he is and spend the money that he thinks is his. The money that he thinks you need his permission to spend. The money that he’s earning while you, the ever dutiful wife or girlfriend, are at home, watching daytime TV, making pot-roasts, flirting with air-conditioner salesmen, and leaning up against the washing machine. Or worse, playing at having a proper job.

This ad isn’t an attack on feminism. Quite the opposite – this is a huge middle finger to anyone who thinks that a woman needs permission from a man to do anything. And for that we should stand and applaud.


Jack Heath said...

Hear hear, James. I understand that the world is full of people who get off on righteous outrage, but they could at least point it in the right direction.

Kaz said...

Might even be a little bit clever if the print could be read easlily, and the irony didn't have to be explained to the target audience. It's a bit like a joke losing it's impact if you have to disect it to find out why it's funny.