The pendulum swings and as far as sex segregation and marginalizing women, it seems Israel is at the very end of the swing: Surely it cannot get worse than forcing women to sit at the back of the bus or requesting women dress modestly when visiting a doctor. And so the silent majority is silent no more, protesting extremists pushing the country away from its founding principles. I am very hopeful we will soon experience again a sane and equal normalcy.
Having said that, I take issue with all the brouhaha about the exclusion of women from advertisements: leading Israeli companies have come under scrutiny (1, 2, 3) for print ads that did not include women in them. Essentially, these people are demanding that women will be returned to advertisements – and I think that’s laughable:
Until the day comes when ad agencies are no longer havens for misogynistic men, portraying women in their stereotypical positions as secretaries and housewives – or seductresses; Until the day comes when women in TV ads will try to persuade us to switch banks or buy car insurance, and not just as gratuitous eye candy to hold the product up against their naked, heaving bodies: Until the day comes when women are shown as equal to men – until that bright day arrives, getting rid of images of women in advertising might just be a breath of fresh air; An extreme measure to combat an unbearable situation that have been going on for far too long. To quote the fictional Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: “[We've] got some real honest-to-god battles to fight. [We] don’t have time for the cosmetic ones.”
To prove my point, here is an assortment of newspaper ads published this week:
In various workplaces around Israel, including mine, one may find the following poster depicting a woman demonstrating the safe way to manually lift items. These kind of workplace safety posters, issued by Israel’s Institute for Occupational Safety and Hygiene, can be found in most Israeli production plants and warehouses, and are supposed to eliminate work-related injuries.
Now let’s properly examine this image and try to determine whether it is sexist:
A young blond woman, wearing a pale blue sleeveless summer dress and flat white shoes, bends down in order to lift a rather large yellow box. The model’s attire seems totally out of place; Not only does it look unprofessional, it doesn’t seem to comply with safety regulations which require clothes that cover most of the body and steel-capped boots to protect the feet. Moreover, choosing a woman as the exemplary worker seems odd, as the vast majority of factory workers who lift heavy boxes are men. To top it all, the phrase ‘Proper Lifting’ (Hebrew: Harama Nehona) appears in the upper-right corner of the poster. In Hebrew, the word ‘lifting’ may be used as slang to describe sexual intercourse.
All and all, I think it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to assume that in all the production floors in which these posters hang for oh so many years, not once had a similarly dressed woman tried to lift such an object; And so, the only logical conclusion I can come up with for using this model in such a poster is good ol’ fashioned ‘sex sells’ chauvinism which claims that women sell cars and women sell men’s perfume, so women can ‘sell’ safety.
The good news?
In preparing this blog post, I tried to order this poster from the Israeli Institute for Occupational Safety, only to find out that while it does appear in the online catalog, it is no longer in stock and there are no plans to print additional posters.
I guess we can call that progress; Tiny, minuscule progress towards gender equality.
After covering WIZO’s newest annual tradition of giving out a most-chauvinistic-ad award (2008, 2009), I thought I’d one-up myself and actually suggest a couple of ads for next year’s shaming ceremony. Following are two TV spots that caught my eye, one is gratuitously sexual in a let’s-find-an-excuse-for-leering kinda way:
I should probably mention that I have discussed these ads with a couple of female friends who did not see anything particularly shocking with these ads. They did note the ads’ sexist nature, they just didn’t think it was any different from most other Israeli ads.
Obviously, I disagree.
There is a long history of ‘Visit Israel’ ads that seem to miss the mark. Various organizations want the world to visit our tiny country, but apparently good intentions are just not enough, and these often result in offensive adverts. The latest spot, by the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), should get some kind of an award for bad taste:
Following are a few more ‘Visit Israel’ ads you might find offensive. One thing I find common to all these ads is that they all probably started as funny jokes during a brainstorming session, but there were probably no adults in the room to say “Ha, ha… very funny, now let’s think harder”. Some of these were specifically aimed at quote-unquote going viral, hoping for a lot of FW: FW: FW: THIS IS FUNNY emails.