It’s just a joke

Occupational hazard of wanting to end rape culture: you spend lots of time designing training and education packages for people around the ways alcohol facilitates sexual violence which try very hard to avoid traditional victim blaming ideas.

The simplest way to do this is to remind people that drinking (unless you’re underage, or in the wrong place) isn’t a crime, but sexual violence is.

Another way I’ve done this in the past is by asking people to think about the messages alcohol manufacturers and sellers give us around alcohol.  What’s going to happen when we drink?

Well, if we drink beer:

Or how about this one?

These are real advertisements, and hopefully I don’t need to explain why they are deeply problematic in terms of messages around sex, consent, masculinity and femininity.  Hint:  if I do, you’re less media literate than young people going to VIBE Youth Health Service in Lower Hutt, where I first focus grouped these images.  They were pretty clear in what they thought the key messages were “girls who are drinking are up for it.”

(And you know what, we just might be.  But to find that out, you’ll have to talk to us, and listen to what we say, even when that’s different to what you want to hear.)

What can be harder to unpack is humour.  When we make something a funny, any criticism risks the defence of bigots everywhere “can’t you take a joke?”  That’s why the Tui beer ads have run so long, despite continued real offensiveness.  Because they are funny.  Yeah, right.

I’m not able to comment on Tui television adverts, I hardly ever watch tv, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one.  But Tui billboards – there’s the homophobic one, the transphobic one, the one about children lying about sexual abuse, and far, far, far too many to mention that have been about treating women like we are stupid barriers to men drinking and having fun.

There’s been several explicitly supporting male violence against women – the sexual harassment one, the one bemoaning Tony Veitch’s inability to pay his way out of assaulting his then partner, and this little gem from 2005:

I’m going out on a limb here and saying making fun of violence against women, and queer people, and transpeople, and childhood sexual abuse, is part of creating a tolerance for violence and hate.  It is part of victim blaming when violence is perpetrated against those groups.  It makes us see domestic violence from the role of the perpetrator, as a bit of a laugh.  It makes us look at people who say they have been sexually abused, or assaulted because they were queer/trans, with cynicism rather than compassion.

It is part of sustaining a culture which puts a particular kind of straight men at the top of the pile, where, with irony of course, some might think they belong.

It’s time to put Tui billboards where they belong – on the scrapheap – by supporting Feminist Action.  Watch this space.

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