In a controversial new Snickers ad airing on Australian TV, construction workers shout empowering messages to women on the street, like: “I’d like to show you the respect you deserve,” “You want to hear a filthy word? Gender bias!” and “You know what I’d like to see? A society in which the objectification of women makes way for gender-neutral interactions, free from assumptions and expectations!” I sort of thought it was sweet but people are up in arms about it, saying it’s sexist to both men AND women.
“On the one hand, the women in the advertisement are naive props shocked that men would ever treat them with respect. On the other, the men are portrayed as presumably idiotic, disgusting and flat-out predatorial in their natural state. In the world that Snickers Australia envisions, it seems like whether you’re a man or a woman, it pretty much sucks to be you.”
In addition, Ad Week argues, the “You’re not yourself when you’re hungry” tagline at the end of the commercial has an offensive message about class: “By saying blue-collar guys ‘aren’t themselves’ when they’re being polite, it pretty clearly implies they’re otherwise a bunch of misogynistic boors.”
I was confused by that, too. Like, if being hungry makes you act different, eat a Snickers and you’ll go back to your regular objectifying self? That’s an odd message.
Feministing had even more to say on that:
Do we really want to think that the only way a man can be pro-gender equality is if he’s not being himself? Shouldn’t that be a part of everyone’s character?
Another, perhaps more important, point about this ad:
Even though the construction workers are saying positive, non-harassing things, they are actually still engaging in behavior we do not support. They are singling women out and demanding their time and attention as they yell at them. Men are able to walk by the site and go about their business and keep thinking their thoughts, but the same is not true for women. They are interrupted, their attention is demanded. That is not equality. If you wouldn’t yell it at a man, you probably shouldn’t yell it at a woman. Remember: women do not owe you their time or attention!
The last point here is crucial: women do not owe you their time or attention. This ad assumes there could be some redeeming factor to yelling at women you don’t know, if only you’re saying things they may welcome hearing. However, these men are still expecting that these women, who are doing nothing more than walking down the street, should devote some portion of their day to paying attention to these men. And in this instance, they should be grateful, because they’re so beside themselves with hunger, they’re not even saying their normal disgusting things. They actually care!
It’s the worst assumptions about men, wrapped up in some nice guy entitlement, and topped off with an excuse for street harassment. In other words, patriarchy doing its damndest to remain relevant.
We don’t have to accept that the default position of manhood/masculinity is anti-woman. We shouldn’t. It’s a false binary that forecloses on possibilities of partnership and personal gender expression. We don’t have to consider masculinity at odds with the feminine. We only do so to assert dominance and gain power.
Likewise, we don’t have to accept that the price of being a woman in public is that men will yell things at you — whether vile or uplifting. We can ensure that women feel as safe and unbothered in public spaces as men (generally speaking) do.
What do you think? Harmless commercial or polarizing propaganda perpetuating misogyny?