Monday, August 25, 2008
Does This Image Make You Want To Rape?
I am a strong proponent of liberal expression even when it is somewhat offensive. At the same time I am sensitive to the issues surrounding the exploitation of women. American Apparel ads have served lately to cause a schism in liberal circles between those who would more value one consideration over the other.
When this ad appeared on a billboard in New York's lower east side someone eventually spray-painted it with the message "Gee, I wonder why women get raped?". I've seen the same ad on a billboard on Yonge Street in Toronto and I have to say that I didn't decide to rape anyone as a result of seeing it. Consider that this photo is a self-portrait taken by the Artist Kyung Chung. Her backside wrapped in tights is turned to the camera as she's slightly bent over. It is undoubtedly an erotically charged pose but I fail to see any exploitation. She is a strong women artist in a strongly sexual pose, completely in charge of the situation. There is no hint of compulsion within the narrative of the photo. The character is bent over suggestively and one of the reasons it is so alluring is that she is in charge of the situation and seems to be demanding the service of her imaginary lover. Chung's photo does not portray the female character to be vulnerable in any way in which she doesn't want to be.
People seem more sexually liberal in Europe where you're likely to see this kind of advertising but with even more nudity. In cultures where women are presented and represented in scant cladding we don't find them to be at higher risk of being sexually assaulted. I would argue exactly the opposite. Cultures wherein the revelation of skin is discouraged seem much more dangerous to women. If a women shows any flesh in Saudi Arabia she might be considered a slut and therefore much more likely to be raped than in Copenhagen where she can walk around (weather permitting) in next to nothing.
Someone is quoted in a newspaper article about Chung's photo saying "I don't think you need a PhD to recognize that ... [this] is nothing but an ad for - and I'll put this gently - anal intercourse," - What? First of all who would produce such an ad? Would it be presented by the AIAA (Anal Intercourse Association of America)? Secondly, why does penetration of one kind seem demeaning to her besides another kind. I think there are actually some people who enjoy such things and don't need to be forced to do it. Also she might want to note that that's not the the only kind of penetration possible in that position, but if your dirty mind causes you to leap to that scenario then you have to see that the model in the picture is demanding it not resisting it, so how does rape or a demeaning scenario even come into it?
What if instead of discouraging sexually suggestive ads we just didn't make such a big deal about them? Wouldn't women be safer in a society that viewed such images as commonplace? It seems to me that sexual repression is more likely to lead to desperate acts of violence against women than sexual liberation. I'm sure that the critics of these ads have nothing but the best of intentions to protect women from harm but that photo of Kyung Chung can also be seen simply as a beautiful and powerful image created by a beautiful and powerful women.
As a point for comparison the story being told in the D&G ad below seems to more clearly cross the line. The narrative within this vignette clearly suggests a gang rape scenario. Even though this ad is aimed at women and even though some women may have such fantasies I can see why it may be offensive.