Saturday 10 October 2009

Me, the Patriarchy and my Big Red Pen.

I'm back from the Feminism in London conference, where there were tears, standing ovations, rants, arguments (one between me and a nutty racist apologist in front of about a hundred bloody people) and where, in Bea Campbell's words, 'a good old think' was had by all. My brain is buzzing far too much to give the event the full write-up it deserves, so that'll have to wait. Meanwhile, here's what I did on the way home.

Defacing sexist tube adverts is something that's been pioneered by the Feminist groups I'm involved with in London over the past couple of years, but somehow I never seem to have had a pen, or a sticker, or the nerve, at the right time. At the conference they were giving out free permanent markers, so I shoved a couple in my pockets. The last session on prostitution, rape and objectification made me chokingly angry, and as I walked back to the station the anger was still there. Anger on behalf of the women I spoke to who have been raped, abused and silenced, anger that my sisters and I still have to live in a world where rape goes unpunished and child abuse goes unspoken and women starve themselves to death in their thousands in order to take up less space, where girls are brought up to hate their bodies and service men and be quiet and say sorry and fuck when we're asked to and shut up when we're told to unless we want to be thought of as crazy fucking bitches stupid cunts whores slags, certainly not fit enough for Rod Liddle to shag after a few drinks ha fucking ha ha.

And on this journey home, with all this rage and frustration boiling in my head, it just so happened that I saw one too many adverts trying to sell me painful, expensive surgery to increase my 'confidence'. 'All it needs is a little nip-tuck', the advert promised, next to a photograph of a woman with unreal breasts bulging out of a skimpy top and her head thrown back in a gormless grin like someone had shot her with a tranquilizer dart.

And I thought, hey, screw you. I've got a big red pen.

So I took my big red pen, apologising to the people I stepped past like the ridiculously English person I am, crossed out the slogan, and wrote 'This is not normal - fight sexism!' in big red capitals across the advert.

God, it felt good. It felt good, and it felt naughty - naughtier than shoplifting did as a kid, and the rush was bigger and better and braver. It felt so transgressive. Everyone was staring at me. I was invading sacred advertising space! I was breaking two of our biggest taboos - one, you NEVER mention that there might be something more important to a woman than looking whatever is currently considered 'sexy'; two, you NEVER talk back to the adverts. Never. Not allowed.

Thrilled, I got off the tube carriage and climbed onto the next one along, where I did exactly the same thing on two more adverts. I continued in this manner, with commuters muttering and tutting and one elderly lady giving me a big thumbs-up, until a bloke in his thirties sitting opposite me beckoned me over - crooked his finger and beckoned - and said - 'Come on, what's the problem, isn't it the woman's free choice? Can't she do what she wants with her money?'

I said: 'Of course she can. Just as I can do what I want with my big red pen. She's free to pay people to mutilate her and I'm free to attack people for trying to persuade me that I should do the same, or that my baby sisters should, or my friends. That is MY free choice, and MY free speech. And by the way, the woman in the picture doesn't really look like that, see that little halo around her boobs? Photoshop.'

We screeched into the station, and I jumped off and onto the next carriage with a rush of blood and bile to my head, feeling suddenly powerful.

Because today I know something for sure about the free choice of the theoretical woman the apologists talk about, that theoretical woman who's glad she spent her money on cosmetic surgery rather than education or her financial future, that theoretical woman who just looooves to look good more than anything, that theoretical happy hooker without a care in the world, I know something about the theoretical choices of those theoretical women conveniently put forward by every patriarchal apologist I meet - I know that my choices are just as important as theirs. I know that the choices of the former prostitutes with PTSD who I met today and the choices of the thousands of feminists I know and the choices of the millions of women who would really like to feel safer and stronger in their bodies and lives, that those choices are just as important as any choice we might make to cut ourselves up to look sexy. And you know, I can live with challenging that choice.

By putting up adverts telling me that to feel confident I must look a certain way, for the purposes of which I must have surgery, the owners of these adverts are taking away MY choice to feel good about my body. But with my red pen and a little courage, today I took that choice back. And I feel more powerful, and more confident, than I have in a long time.


  1. "Just as I can do what I like with my big red pen"

    Except that vandalism is, I beliueve, illegal. By all means protest against these stupid adverts but do so within the law.

  2. Um, no. I understand why vandalism is illegal, but I do not consider defacing adverts to be simple vandalism - it's creative license with someone else's transient promotional space.

    And I'm not afraid to say that to anyone petty enough to charge me for it, actually.

  3. It occurs to me that every time I comment on here it's as a pontificating whingebag, so let me preface this with two points:

    1) I agree totally with what you did. I've done similar myself. I can't stand those fucking "Let us slice you back to happiness for several thousand £" things leering at me while I'm on the tube.

    2) Excellent post, really striking. It seems like you always churn out fantastic ones when you've just been the meetings.


    "Patriarchy" makes women want to get plastic surgery? I just...find a little strange the usage of one word to cover both the tendency which guides Saudi Arabian state street thugs to beat up women who walk around outside devoid of near-complete facial coverage & a society where the ideal women exposes practically all of her (surreally alien) cleavage on the tube.

    Because that's what feminism does. It's just a weird way to understand society. Not to mention a little reductionistic. It seems like basically you just grab hold of whatever you don't like about the world (or at least stuff related to gender) & slap on the P-word.

    What I want to know more than anything is whether this is a clique-speak piece of rhetoric, or an analytical tool for you, by this point.

  4. It's always insteresting to hear how things are elsewhere. I live in South Australia and have never seen an ad for any sort of cosmetic surgery.
    If I did well.... I've got to say I'm closer to an MRA than a feminist, but it'd still be big fuck off red pen time.

  5. Unless you actually say which company it doesn't seem too likely that they'd be able to do anything about it.
    And now I must add "black spray-paint" to my shopping list so I can go sabotage someone's marketing campaign.

  6. Also, I can't help thinking that advertising interferes with people's free choices, otherwise it wouldn't work, and companies wouldn't spend money on it. And we don't get a choice about whether we want to see plastic surgery advertising when we're going about our business, so if people are going to quibble about choices, I say fair play to you.

    As far as legal methods are concerned, I can say from experience that the ASA is not terribly sympathetic to complaints about this type of advertising. It is, after all, not the advert per se that's objectionable, but the whole industry, and if you accept (as the ASA do) the premise of the industry, then adverts which reflect that premise are not in themselves problematic as far as they are concerned.

  7. Billy the Kidder11 October 2009 at 08:31

    That made me laugh!

    Did Penny Red storm the barricades screaming "Give me equality or give me death", hurling a Molotov cocktail at fifty berserk Cossacks on horseback who were trying to ride her down and take her life!

    Erm. No. Like the good little middle class girl that she is at heart she merely scribbled on a cosmetic surgery poster with a magic marker! And felt good about it later! What an outlaw! Now you'll have to go on the lamb to avoid being sent to a work camp by the Gulag.

    As I indicated before, funny and kind of endearing.


    More seriously I'm kind of interested to know what the author of this blog thinks about Labour plans to force teenage parents to live residentially in a foyer, i.e., hostel, or lose their right to support from the state?

  8. @Dandelion - if freedom of expression `interferes` with peoples free choices, what exactly is a free choice? The one made by our box-raised baby?

    Penny... next time you attend a feminist meeting, I presume I`ll be welcome to bring by ghetto blaster and brass band chums along to drown out your speech and ruin your free speech (you might be influencing someone to become a feminist, after all.)
    Let me know when and where.

  9. *sigh* well, that depends, Mark. Would you, like me, be willing to keep the 'noise' quiet enough so people could at least hear what was originally said? And do you genuinely believe that people who run feminist meetings are amoral, apolitical tossrags, as I believe of cosmetic surgery groups? Do you believe that influencing people to become feminists is just as bad as influencing people to hate and hurt themselves? Or are you just tossing out bullshit this morning?

    The point is that people ALREADY hear things influencing them NOT to become feminists every day, in every newspaper, in every magazine, all over the internet. Your brass band would not exactly be a voice of dissent. It is because feminists are denied a mainstream voice or a right of reply to misogyny that I felt justified in making a statement like this.

  10. It's best when they advertise surgery to "get ready for summer". What do you do to prepare for the next season, I wonder? Fuckwits.

  11. So why deface the posters?
    Thing is Penny your rage was perfectly understandable and even the trolls that inhabit this place would have been filled with anger at the plight of some of these women.

    But does that really excuse your actions? Is that going to change anything by writing on a couple of posters that piss you off but don't come anywhere close to the the injustices that you heard about in the conference?

    Don't lash out at what are relativley small potatoes for women because it doesn't help, the bigger more serious issues and all that happens is that you put across a negative petty image of femimists.

  12. I'm sorry Mike, but who the hell are you to tell me what form my feminist activism should take? Who are you to tell me what's 'serious' and what's not serious?

    These adverts hurt and offend me every single time I take the tube. I have a right to speak back to that power.

  13. I didn't say that freedom of expression interferes with peoples free choices. Although clearly, there are cases where it would, and in those cases, the free choices of the majority would have to trump the free expression of a few.
    For instance, tobacco advertising. I don't think freedom of expression applies when you are exhorting people to harm themselves or others. I would say unnecessary surgery which, like all surgery carries a risk of complications and even death, would come under that banner, and that's if you're just considering direct physical harms.
    As Penny has already mentioned, being judged on the "attractiveness" of our appearance and pressured to comform is harmful.

    James, I think it is your attitude that is strange and reductionist. We object to the control and domination of women in whatever form it takes. The alternative to being made to cover up entirely is not being made to expose or display ourselves in public. It's the being made to that we grab hold of, not the thing itself. And when I say "being made to", we object to all forms of coercion, whether it is done by physical force, by the law, by economics or by threat of rejection or disapproval.

  14. I think that certain brands of feminism have the potential to be extremely damaging for society at large. Also, while it is regretable that some people haven`t developed the ability to filter out messages which might upset their self confidence, I can`t see a succesful conclusion to your quest to protect the thin-skinned from offense.
    If you accept that people must be trusted to filter and interpret information for themselves, I can`t really see the justification for the defacement of posters in this case (as opposed to expressing your message in a legal fasion.)
    Having said that, the above is actually irrelevent to my brass bands since the real reason why I`d want to dirupt your meeting is that I can`t abide hypocrisy.

    @Dandelion - I think if people are so easily (and evilly) influenced by the words of others, we`re going to have extreme dificulty running any kind of democratic, bottom- up (matron) society.
    What exactly do you have in mind?

    My personal opinion is that since other people cannot be trusted to have intelligent opinions, it is entirely sensible to limit the power of the collective to compel the individual.
    I.E. give me the isle of wight and leave me the hell alone.

  15. Oh and if being judged on attractiveness (is being judged on the attractiveness of your personality any less damaging to the shy than judging physical appearance is to the facially challenged?) and be being pressured to conform is a problem, then maybe we`ll have to agree that being a human is harmfull. Not sure what we can do about it though.

  16. These adverts offend me most days as well, Penny.
    It's not petty, and if anyone thinks people who are angered by them are being petty, then their feminist agenda isn't very strong.

    No cause at all gets far when it ignores smaller issues all the time in favour of bigger ones. If we did that within everything we believe to be important, it'd all boil down to just one issue receiving attention at any one time. That's not the way to make progress.

    These adverts affect many women every day, that's not trivial.

    It is illegal to deface TFL property but to be honest, these adverts make me so sick, I find it hard to care.

    I sent a complaint to the ASA about the 'get ready for summer' advert, it was not upheld. They said only 4 people complained or something like that, and I cannot believe that, I really can't.

  17. Sorry Dandelion... just read the bottom of your comment.
    Raised eyebrows = cracked heads in your world?


  18. Dandelion, you're arguing that you pursue libertarian ideals, but at the same time note that the views of the majority supersede those of the minority, but not always?

    Penny, your activism is to be applauded, but you might want to think about the charge of vandalism. The advert is transient and you don't like it, but it is not your property. Who owns that particular property is not terribly important, the fact is: you don't. Someone paid for that space, for others to put together the ad, and someone else got paid to print it, and still another person was paid to place the ads in their holders. The point is - you don't own the ad.

    How is your action any different to those who deface subway and tube trains simply because they can?

    I happen to know a doctor who does breast augmentation. How he ended up in that profession is an interesting, altogether quite astonishing, and not relevant, tale. He doesn't see his work as anti-feminist; his wife would also be surprised at the charge. He provides a service to people who want to have their breasts changed, for whatever reason. Some because they want to look like Page 3 models (so to speak), and others because they want to enhance their self esteem. Is there anything wrong with either case? They don't like some aspect of their body, and seek to change it. They can, and do. If that is not empowering a woman and her taking charge of her own body and destiny, you'll have to tell me what is.

    Some women want the breast augmentation because of breast cancer. Quite a few women who have had radical breast surgery seek ways of restoring an element of their body, their identity. Is that so wrong? Are you saying that the messenger (the ad) is to be penalized for that, as well?

    Sure, the ads promote an ideal. They wouldn't be very effective if they didn't! Are you saying that the ads shouldn't be displayed? That one service within the fashion and medical industries should be barred from telling people of its existence? That some people are not entitled to know how they might pursue a legal, legitimate goal?

    You seem to be more concerned about the idealization of the feminine form than in any actual consideration of the service provided. Would you prefer it if the ads used real women? That's a different argument to the one you're making here.

    Is your protest against capitalism? Advertising works because it's been perfected over decades. The fashion industry exists because it provides something people want. Do you object to that? Do you object to the fashion industry? Or simply to the idealized images of that are put forward?

    Why not deface Vogue, In Style, Elle, while they sit on the store shelves? It would be same protest. I admit it would carry a higher risk of arrest. (Someone was recently arrested in the UK for "defacing" a pro-God poster that was designed to look like a multiple choice question. Is your protest more or less legitimate to the stated goals of that person? I support that persons' actions, by the way. (This does not imply I do not support yours.))

    Is there a challenge between feminism and fashion? Is there really a deleterious dichotomy between feminism and a desire to look our best?

    Carolyn Ann

  19. "I know that my choices are just as important as theirs"

    .. which implies that the converse is also true; their choices are as important as yours. And what is a "patriarchal apologist" anyway?

    I'm not entirely averse to fighting back against advertising, incidentally - but I also assume that people are intelligent enough to figure these things out for themselves. People are smart enough to enable their own bullshit filters too.
    (My girlfriend had breast surgery - before we met - and she is one of the strongest, most professional and empowered women I've ever known.)

  20. Well, Mark, the fact that advertising works is evidence that people are influenced by it (and not just the thin-skinned, weak-willed, or intellectually-challenged). So yes, we do have a difficulty running a democratic society.

    Carolyn Ann, describe my argument any way you like. Freedoms must be subject to a harm test (which is why we try to curtail murder, for eg) and the rights of majorities and minorities must be balanced in that regard. Sorry if that's too complex for you.

    As for your plastic surgery argument, why do you suppose it is that women's self-esteem should be improved by undergoing painful surgery to make their bodies fit some idealised version of the female? I don't doubt that it is improved, I just can't help but feel it's my duty to be curious as to why, and to what it tells us about our society.

    Why should our bodies in their natural state be a cause for low self-esteem, do you suppose? And what does it tell us about our broader cultural attitudes towards women's bodies that our bodies are considered to be more plastic (ie changeable) than the socially constructed abstract ideals and stereotypes prescribed for our gender?

    On top of which, women having plastic surgery in large numbers skews the distribution, which is harmful to the rest of us, in that it increases the pressure to conform. Which is why I especially like the fact that Penny wrote "this is not normal".

  21. I only recently realised how much of a problem there was, when I saw an NHS ad featuring a thin-faced teenage girl asking "Should I be worried about my weight?"

    My instant, gut reaction to that poster was "oh my god, if she should be worried about her weight, I haven't a chance!", before realising that, unlike almost every other advert about weight aimed at women, the answer was probably no, and why not talk to us if you are?.

    The fact that there are so many adverts targerting women's appearance in every way, asking leading questions and intended to sound like a wiser friend giving you guidance on - what? becoming "perfect"? - means ... that my first response to a poster targeting eating disorders was to think I needed to "obey" the implied conclusion to its question and get thinner. That's problematic. The whole advertising culture is fucked up. Well done you for challenging whatever you can get your hands on.

    ~ M.

  22. I notice that whenever Penny raises a traditionally "Lefty" issue, the support for her words from commenters is (almost) universal. Whenever she dares to talk about a feminist issue, those same commenters, most of them male, suddenly withdraw their support and become incredibly pro status quo.

    Who gives a toss if she's "vandalizing" or not? Do you all think that revolutions are fought by throwing daisies at the bad guys? And what's with the whole "it's private property" argument? May I introduce you all to this thing called the Left which questions precisely the validity of "private property"?

    Bottom line is this. These corporations are impinging on public space. That's "public". As far as I know no one goes and asks the public if they want this kind of BS in their field of view all the bloody time. We are forced to take it. So they can stick their "private property" up their arses. My field of view is my property too. There.

    And yes, scribbling on a poster is a small act of rebellion. But no one is born a full blown radical rebel, all ready to bring down Capitalism. What's important is that Penny went from Knowing she is right, to ACTING on her being right.
    At the very least, an elderly lady went home thinking that young women nowadays may not as clueless as we are portrayed to be.

    So, in one word (or three), YOU GO GIRL!!!

    And the answer to "Can't she do whatever she wants with her money?" is "NO". And the reason is "Because we live in a society. And unless that woman got "money" all on her own, in the wild, and is opening up her chest herself, in the wild, and stuffing her breasts with silicone she produced herself, in the wild, she has to accept that her actions take place in a society, where you can't do what you want just because you want to. If you don't like it, you move to the wild".

    PS: Penny, did you get to meet Rebecca?

  23. Yes, Dandelion, your argument is too complex for me. Far too complex.

    I merely pointed out that you espouse libertarian ideals, but only under certain conditions. I can only presume that you exclude conditions you're not comfortable with - otherwise, you wouldn't need those restrictions. So, tell me - how would you balance rights between oh, one group and another? Which rights would you, or anyone, ascertain should be exchanged?

    Does Penny have the right to deface property, because she doesn't like the message? If so, do skinheads have a similar right to deface posters that promote tolerance? Can a Labour supporter rip down a Tory billboard? Can Democrats prevent Obama haters from protesting? What about protesting war? Can those who agree with the war in Afghanistan protest those who want to replicate the 1990's in that region?

    What is free speech if it has to balanced with the minority and the majority? How do you, generically and specifically, decide whom is a minority, and who is not?

    You see, when rights are tradable, they become commodities. They become privileges, capable of being bartered. Pretty soon the ability to protest is traded for something else, security perhaps? So yes - your point is far too complex for me.

    When it comes to rights, it pays to be simple. I'm a simple person - I prefer an immediate understanding of what a right is. If that's a fault, it's one I'll proudly wear.

    By the way, that is a different argument to your "balanced rights" one.

  24. [continuation]
    On to another point! Freedoms must pass a harm test? Surely not? What is harm? Is it harmful for me to own a gun? To whom? The burglar I find in my living room? I have a fundamental right to own a weapon, it's enshrined in the 2nd Amendment. I have a fundamental right to say hurtful things about individuals and groups; I insult Christians, homophobes, and Republicans (as well as some within the transgender community) with alacrity. Enthusiasm, even. That right is enshrined in the 1st Amendment. It's also in the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

    The 5th Amendment would never pass a "harm" test. It is extremely harmful to public interest; it gleefully inflicts this harm to protect the individual. (Admittedly, there have been some Supreme Court decisions that are definitely questionable when it comes to the 5th Amendment. That does not negate the actual Amendment, itself.)

    Any harm test must be highly restrictive - as in "does this right entail giving someone the right to physically harm another, or place them in immediate physical danger?" Which I suspect is not quite what you mean by a "harm test".

    For your final points, I don't know. If someone wants their breasts enlarged because doing so will make them feel better, who is anyone to question that? Whether they do it for trivial or serious reason, the personal motivation is not for anyone else to question! To assume it is because the person wants to fit some ideal is neither here nor there. If they do - so what? Would you rather the woman endure a test to ensure her reasons are palatable?

    I know that many more women do not get breast surgery than do. Which says at least something about how women perceive themselves. (Of course, it doesn't say anything about any individual woman.)

    I'm really sorry, I have no idea what you mean by "more plastic (ie changeable) than the socially constructed abstract ideals and stereotypes prescribed for our gender? " (I do know what plastic means in this context, though.)

    If there is pressure to conform, surely that says more about the individual than it does about society? I often consider the conformist to be a person who prefers to let others think for them. Or, more kindly, someone is conforming when they make the same choice as their peers. I do separate the political from the material, I consider many contemporary "Republicans" to be almost Borg-like in their adherence to a small collection of inarticulate ideals. I found the Labour Party to be quite similar, when I was a member of that group. Materially, a Harley-Davidson rider might think his machine to be unique, but from my perspective, it isn't. He probably thinks my Ducati to conform with "rice rockets". We both perceive ourselves to be individual, and making individual choices.

    Anyway, I ramble. The Yankees won, and that's a good thing. :-)

    Carolyn Ann

  25. Your post has started a very interesting debate.

    I will just add that there's an ad I see on tv two or three times a day - it's for hair-augmentation for men. So if you're a bit thin on top (Im getting there..) you can have this procedure and have a nice full head of hair, and the ad says "women will love it."

    I wonder if feminists are to blame for this..?

  26. I think you did the right thing. Of course sexist men aren't going to approve of your actions, but by writing your message on those adverts in public you encouraged people to think. It's good to do something active like that and not just sit and be annoyed with the ads privately.

  27. "Some women want the breast augmentation because of breast cancer. Quite a few women who have had radical breast surgery seek ways of restoring an element of their body, their identity. Is that so wrong? Are you saying that the messenger (the ad) is to be penalized for that, as well?"

    Except that's not what these ads are doing, are they? The people you describe will have been referred to surgery by their doctors - or at the very least will have discussed the matter with a professional medic before going down this path.

    Conversely, these adverts are - as Laurie points out, and as almost all ads are designed to do - there to make the "target demographic" feel insecure and seek to remedy this insecurity by shelling out for a load of shit they don't need.

    "Giving confidence," my arse. If the advertising industry didn't exist, I firmly believe that people wouldn't lack quite so much confidence in the first place.

    The sexism of modern advertising in a nutshell:

  28. @Dandelion - I completely agree. OF COURSE advertising works - why else did Thatcher pull in Saatchi to do her ('Labour Isn't Working') election campaign?

    @Mark - see above comment and yes (in agreement with Dandelion) we do indeed have a problem making democracy work.

    @Viking 'I'm not entirely averse to fighting back against advertising, incidentally - but I also assume that people are intelligent enough to figure these things out for themselves.'

    - except they don't, really, do they? Otherwise, wouldn't capitalism have collapsed a long time ago?

  29. There are much worse things going on in the world than scribbling on posters.

  30. I was also at the Feminism in London conference, and I'd like to say thankyou so much for picking up that crazy rasist apologist on what she said. She was talking such ridiculous bloody bollocks, and I was so pleased that you told her so! As wonderful as "Ms" is, it doesn't excuse xenophobia like that.

    I took a marker pen as well, and I've been improving adverts since then. I don't understand these people who say that "by all means say what you think about the world, just don't interfere with it!" Because as we all know, being a vandal is much worse than attacking womens self esteem in order to slice them up at a price.

    From a fellow vandal, and long time reader,

  31. @James

    -""Patriarchy" makes women want to get plastic surgery? I just...find a little strange the usage of one word to cover both the tendency which guides Saudi Arabian state street thugs to beat up women who walk around outside devoid of near-complete facial coverage & a society where the ideal women exposes practically all of her (surreally alien) cleavage on the tube.

    Because that's what feminism does. It's just a weird way to understand society. Not to mention a little reductionistic. It seems like basically you just grab hold of whatever you don't like about the world (or at least stuff related to gender) & slap on the P-word.

    It's all about a society where men are privileged above women, James, that's what patriarchy is, simple. Women (as a group) are an inferior class, compared to males (as a group)

    Hence, depending on other social conditions, such as the ruling regime being a religious one (Saudi Arabia) it can order that women cover themselves up, or in a free market capitalist society, it can suggest that women may want to make themselves more fuckable (by men) by sticking bits of plastic in their chests. But it's still about males being the ruling elite. Easy when you think about it....

  32. A woman getting bigger tits is socially beneficial, so rather than using soft compulsion (persuasion as mind control), the government should force all women to undergo such surgery, (unless they already have big 'uns).

    If we recognise that we are all too stupid to make decisions for ourselves, it would be pure hubris to assume that we are capable of making decisions for others. (The above would be my first kingly proclimation). The best that we can hope for is that where possible negative impacts are made to fall upon those making the bad decisions and that they learn from this negative feedback.
    So in the end, democracy and markets are the only way to proceed.

    Now, with regards to what we consider to be acceptable advertising - I don`t have a problem with rules in general (though obviously, I`d prefer that we were able to have a choice of places to go, with a corresponding choice of rules), or rules with respect to advertising specifically - but if you`re saying that the best way for the majority to express their view of what constitutes an acceptable advert is to scrawl all over it with a little red pen - you`re sadly delusioned.
    If, on the other hand, you accept that the majority of people have no problem with these adverts and that it is acceptable for the minority to vandalise property which they happen to find offensive (presumably because the majority are stupid), I am going to want to smash the fuck out of your house and rip up all of your femminist tomes.

    I find that to be both reasonable and fair.

  33. Only problem is that size 0 models have very little to do with men.

    Women do it to themselves. (that`s what really hurts)

  34. What the heck is so awful about a pair of false overinflated tits? Prime Minister Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling are doing their limited best and don't deserve such condemnation!

  35. Mary, I notice that you conflate feminism with vandalism. Britain's far left might have a hard time with the concept of private property, but it is a generally accepted notion.

    Is that what feminism has become? An acceptable substitute for far left political ideas? Or is it still about ensuring that women are treated as equal members of society?

    What is your idea of feminism?
    What is your idea of what the left stands for?

    Anyway, the last I checked, the left still retained the idea of private property. Communists and neo-communists don't, but they're so befuddled and delusional they need public help, not unreachable (and ethically dubious) conclusions about private property.

    Regardless, vandalism is vandalism. Writing on a poster is not actually a protest, is it? Marching through the streets, picketing outside the clinic, persuading women through op-eds and the like - that's protesting. Scribbling on posters? Teenagers do that. (I used to enjoy walking along the platforms of the 82nd St subway stop, seeing how creative some of these vandals could be. It helped that it was also the Museum of Natural History stop, a "used to be" frequent destination of mine. And at least one or two fairly interesting artists have emerged from such venues (Haring and Basquiat, at the very least). But I digress. )

    Just because an ad is offensive, or not particularly good or whatever other standard you wish to apply, you do not get the right to "improve" it. You get the privilege, but that can be taken away by being arrested. Make the protest in an interesting manner, and you have my attention. Make it by scribbling all over a poster, and you don't.

    I don't support Penny's actions, but I don't condemn them, either. I don't particularly like them, but that's neither here nor there. (Okay, I frown on them.) What I do question is the reasoning for the action - I don't think Penny has thought through what her protest was really about. She wasn't clear on what she was protesting.

    Carolyn Ann

  36. [Sorry in advance to Penny for the length of this comment]

    Well, Carolyn Ann, where do I begin? Perhaps I do “espouse libertarian ideals but only under certain circumstances”. So what? What is your point?

    The idea of rights being balanced is not a new one, or a complex one; in particular it isn’t controversial that rights should be balanced across groups and against responsibilities. I have already broadly explained how I would balance rights between groups, though I don’t believe I suggested for one moment that rights should be “exchanged”, as you put it.

    The point I was making was that absolute freedom includes the freedom to harm others, and to curtail others’ freedoms, which is clearly and uncontroversially problematic. Hence why certain freedoms are restricted (eg murder). Rights are balanced between different groups based upon the extent to which they harm others, or infringe other’s freedoms, and there must be a balance between the both the scale and the degree of the harm. It’s not new, and it’s not rocket science.

    It may be that certain of our disagreement stems from the fact that I am British and not American. To me it is taken as read that guns are wrong (certainly guns in private hands), that the death penalty is wrong, that using freedom of speech as an excuse for doing harm is wrong.

    I would say that Penny has the moral right to deface a property which seeks to disseminate a message which is harmful to her, or which is harmful to a significant proportion of people, or a message which misrepresents her, or misrepresents a significant proportion of people. I’d say the encouragement of women to plastic surgery is actually harmful to men as well as women, and as such, she has every right to deface it. On the broader point of advertising, where we, the advertisers’ audience have not consented to view their advertising (ie the vast majority of the time), there is an additional moral right to respond to it as we see fit. If advertisers have the freedom to push their manipulative message at us, then surely we the unconsenting audience have the right to respond (and, some might argue, the duty to protect vulnerable others from its malign influence).

    Skinheads defacing a poster promoting a non-harmful message would not have the same moral right as Penny on the first point of the paragraph above, though arguably they would have on the second point. Ripping down a billboard is not the same as defacing one, as a moment’s reflection will no doubt reveal. Everyone has a right to protest, but that does not include the right to silence others. Personally, I would modify this, in that speech which demonstrably distorts, misleads, or misrepresents (such as advertising) should be restricted.

    What is free speech? It is a noble ideal, albeit one which doesn’t come without responsibility, and one which therefore has to be restricted in certain ways to prevent it from being abused.

    The notion of a sociological minority is not a new one, and fairly well-defined. I'd suggest you google it.

    I’m afraid I don’t buy your argument that because the points I made are subtle and complex, that makes them automatically incorrect. The brute force of using crude arguments as blunt instruments cannot be justified on grounds of simplicity. Unfortunately for the simple amongst us, some things in life (notably the subtleties of an egalitarian or humanitarian agenda) are complex; to force “simple” solutions upon complex things is, to my mind, both lazy and ethically dubious, and certainly nothing to be proud of.

  37. ...
    On the subject of breast enlargements, you ask “who is anyone to question that?” You don’t need to be “anyone” to be curious, or concerned about the reasons why women seek cosmetic enhancements, or what that implies, either about women or men. Your lack of curiosity or concern (and your challenging of mine) about why it is that women’s self-esteem should be bound up with the size of their breasts is to my mind tantamount to an endorsement of the socio-cultural factors that oppress women in this way. That most women do not have breast enlargements is indicative of the fact that most women are too poor to afford them, more than anything else, I would venture to say, but that’s a whole other debate.

    On the subject of “plasticity”, I was merely raising the question of whether it is fair or right that the ideals governing what women’s bodies should look like should be more rigid and unchangeable than the women’s bodies themselves. Is it right that it should be psychologically easier for our society to perform expensive, risky, invasive and painful operations on women’s bodies than to question or challenge the ideals that women are expected to conform to?

    On conformity, I don’t know if you are familiar with the experiments of Solomon Asch on the subject? The pressure to conform actually says more about human nature than about the individual, and is widely understood to constitute a form of bullying, in view of the costs to the individual of non-conformity. Your view on the subject seems very close to “blaming the victim” in preference to holding those who exert the pressure to account.

  38. Good stuff, Penny. Wish I could have made it to the conference. Btw, you can buy HUGELY fat tipped permanent markers in Staples - much better for ensuring your message is seen on bigger ads.

  39. Brilliant, Penny! I hope you start a trend. Why the hell we continue to put up with this shit is beyond me.

    Mark wrote:

    I think that certain brands of feminism have the potential to be extremely damaging for society at large.
    Yah. Society has been left *reeling* from a couple of ads being defaced. Imagine the impact if everyone started doing it? People might stop being made to feel like shit by adverts... oh, wait.

    Also, while it is regretable that some people haven`t developed the ability to filter out messages which might upset their self confidence
    What a ridiculous comment. If your self-confidence is so monumental that no meesage can affect it, chances are you're a pompous git. Oh, wait...

    Having said that, the above is actually irrelevent to my brass bands since the real reason why I`d want to dirupt your meeting is that I can`t abide hypocrisy.
    Absolute balls. The real reason isn't even that you can't tell the difference between 'free expression' and 'expensive advertising designed to induce feelings of inadequacy in the half of society's members whose worth is measured mostly by their adherence to the ridiculous standards imposed by such advertising'.

    The real reason you'd want to disrupt women talking about feminism is because, despite your vaunted self-confidence, you feel threatened by challenges to male dominance. And rightly so, because your idea of clever banter is, er:

    A woman getting bigger tits is socially beneficial

    so the chances are, you'd be relegated to shining shoes if the world were a fairer place.

  40. I mentioned in a comment, presumably to be published, that I "frowned" upon Penny's protest. I was wrong. I look at it askance; I look at it with a skeptical expression.

    Perhaps my objections come from the what my parents taught me: respect that which is not yours. Meaning, don't deface it simply because it is there, and/or you don't like it. (Knowing online debate as I do, I will strenuously state that this does not imply anything about anyone other than my parents.)

    It also means that I look after library books, even the ones I don't like. By the standards of Penny's protest, I could deface a book that propagates a "traditional" view of marriage, and women's roles within it. So I'd be perfectly "correct" in scrawling all over John Ringo's books, or Tom Clancy's or a variety of other writers. Heck, some of the world's greatest literature already gets short thrift because it puts forth a view others don't like. I can't do that because it goes against just about everything I believe in.

    Penny, your actions were morally dubious. Why couldn't you simply raise the money to put up aggressive ads refuting the plastic surgeon's? It would probably be more effective, and I'm sure enough people could chip in a pound or two, enough to buy at least some space.

    Carolyn Ann

  41. Somebody I work with knows a woman who went through a terrible time. She had a relationship with someone who was violent and very controlling, and at the discovered she had a medical condition which meant she was progressively losing her sight. When she finally got out of the relationship, unsurprisingly in a very beaten down psychological state, she was left with some cash from the sale of the house.

    And what did she do to make her feel better? She had breast enlargements. I'm not condeming her for doing that, I am condeming the society that pushes the idea that that's the way women find happiness.

    Women who get breast implants are three times as likely to commit suicide as other women.

    Which, seems it seems unlikely that breast implants make you suicidal, seems to indicate, not entirely surprisingly, that women who are already vulnerable are the most likely to succumb to pressure to have implants.

    Carolyn Ann: I imagine it's quite expensive to advertise on the tube, whereas marker pens are very cheap. And an advertising poster is not a library book. I have yet to hear someone say how much they enjoyed an advertising poster on the tube.

  42. Carolyn Ann

    I'm not quite sure why your parents' views have any relevance to the debate - there is certainly no a priori reason why they should be more correct than anyone else's, or why anyone would want to give special weight the views of someone else's parents. That just isn't an argument, I'm afraid.

    As for books (library or otherwise), it is not a good analogy. I can choose whether to read a book or not. I don't have the same choice regarding advertising.

    Your suggestion for Penny is not really fair or realistic - have you any idea of the amount of money and time that would be required to be able to compete on a level playing field against big business?

  43. Carolyn Ann makes an excellent point -
    "Is that what feminism has become? An acceptible substitute for far left political ideas? Or is it still about ensuring that women are treated as equal members of society?"

    One would have thought the latter.. but I suspect the former is sadly more true nowadays. Just look at how (some) feminists treat conservative women, and how "capitalism" is conflated with "Patriarchy".

    Are all feminists required to be Socialists too?
    Didn't men also invent Socialism? Or would not a remime that treats people as a collective be worse for women that one that treats us all as individuals?

    In regard to the Feminism in London Conference, I noticed that the first workshop of the day was entitled Racism and Sexism. Now what has Racism to do with Sexism?
    Can one not be a feminist and be, say, anti-immigration? Seems logical to me; whatever way you cut it, Third World Immigration imports "patriarchy" and intolerance to women.

    In regard to advertising, I don't condemn Penny's actions per se, but I do think that advertising exists to invent problems and then present the solution. Your breath is never minty enough, your hair never silky enough, and your boobs never big enough....

  44. Dandelion, it's merely an expression. It tells you of *my* experience, that's all. You don't need to read anything into it.

    Oh, for your information - I am British. I just happen to live in New Jersey. Why and how is irrelevant.

    So what you're saying is that because it is expensive and time-consuming, it's okay for Penny to deface the poster, because she perceives it one way? What about the ways of looking at it that I suggested? What about the money and time the plastic surgeon put into it? Does that not count because the message is not liked?

    Let me understand you. It's okay for Penny to vandalize a poster she doesn't like because the alternative - her own poster - would be expensive and time consuming. Got it. Disagree with it.

    Free expression has responsibility? I thought you were inclined to the left wing! That's a conservative ideal you've stated. It's often used to repress dissent. It's the same argument that has Islamic nations preventing criticism of Islam, and in denying women their rights. Evangelical Christians use it to prevent criticism of their beliefs. It's quite the rage when it comes to restricting what can and can't be said, across the entire political spectrum! That's why I prefer the simple view; it restricts no one. And if offense is caused - so what? We're not in kindergarten!

    I don't understand your argument why free expression has responsibility, though. Not because I'm lazy, but because I don't understand how someone who relies on free expression being happy to restrict for others the right they enjoy.

    The 1st Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    I'm sorry, I don't see anything about any responsibility to avoid causing offense in there. Unfortunately, it doesn't say "Parliament shall..."; it pertains only to America. The marketplace of ideas should be a frenzy, because I don't want to restrict what you say. But you do appear quite willing to restrict what I, and others, can say. Are you so eager?


  45. [continuation]

    I hope you'll agree that the discussion about guns is a bit of a distraction. It's related, but it is a distraction. (You can't actually have the 2nd Amendment without the 1st.) However, it is worth noting one or two things about gun ownership in America, if only for your information.

    Where I live, it can take the police half an hour or more to get here. I live in a rural area that is not especially well patrolled. Am I to be restricted in how I can respond to those who threaten me, my wife and my property? Can I not use force, up to lethal force, to defend myself?

    Anyway, the 2nd Amendment is important because of its history. The British banned guns in old New England, because they were concerned about rebellion. The simple answer? Stop the blighters shooting back. The British troops kept their guns. The denial of guns actually caused a lot of hardship - more than a few people hunted for their meat. Preventing them from shooting it meant they went hungry. When the States insisted on the Bill of Rights, gun ownership was made the second most important amendment to the Constitution. They needed the 1st Amendment to make the 2nd one valid; the 2nd one was needed to prevent Congress from restricting gun ownership as the British were fond of doing. A misplaced comma in the 2nd Amendment has caused confusion ever since, but in general - the right to own a gun in the US trumps any political will to restrict such ownership.

    Anyway, the gun thing was a distraction. I didn't intend it to become a focus of the discussion.

    I must admit to being a little perplexed: you consider my views to those of a lazy mind? Goodness me. It's a wonder you bother to argue with me! I should feel flattered, I guess. Personally speaking, I often wonder how fearful the mind that favors restrictions on speech must be. Is it not a laziness of the mind to assert that only approved views are to espoused? Please do not take this to mean anything about yourself; it is perfectly clear that you have thought quite extensively about this issue. You just arrived at the wrong conclusion! :-)

    Carolyn Ann

    PS My apologies if I missed any of your points.

  46. Viking, your arguments (and Carolyn Ann’s) are all mixed up. Of course you can be feminist and anti-immigration. Just as you can be anti-immigration and anti-racist. I think you may also be missing the point of [some] feminists. To object to patriarchal aspects of things is not necessarily to object to the thing itself.

    But one’s position on immigration of course has nothing to do with your question what does racism have to do with sexism. If you went to the workshop, maybe you wouldn’t be asking the question. From the point of view of a layperson, surely it’s not too far-fetched to infer that if there’s a workshop on it, there must be some content for discussion? Just because you can’t imagine it doesn’t mean there isn’t a link. I’m sure there are many things that manage to exist or be true despite your failure to envision them.

    And as it happens, racsim and sexism are psychologically very similar in terms of motive, mechanism and effect. And there are sensible questions to be asked in the comparison between responses to racism and responses to sexism too.

  47. Hi Carolyn Ann

    It’s nice if you feel flattered that I’m taking the time to respond. Where I come from, it’s called basic good manners, which of course reflect more about the person extending the courtesy than the recipient.

    If I don’t need to read anything into your reference to your parents’ views, then why may I ask did you mention them? Or were you just free-associating?

    I’ve already said very clearly why Penny had the moral right to do what she did. The context of the action is not the same as the rationale. You’ve clearly confused the two, so no, you haven’t understood me at all.

    Another thing that would be good would be if you could think outside of a framework of neat little political boxes. I think your keenness to label me with one school of thought or another is hindering your understanding of what I am saying.

    Just as you say that the responsibilities of free expression are used to repress dissent (they aren’t, though I’d object just as strongly as you if they were), so the absolute and inalienable right to free expression is used by the dominant and abusive to excuse and perpetuate their dominance and abuse. And although you seem happy to condone that, I’m not. In fact I’m pretty disgusted by it.

    I haven’t said anything about a responsibility to not offend people, and neither have I attempted to restrict what you say, so I’m not sure why you’re bringing these things into the discussion, as if to refute them would have any bearing whatsoever on what I did say.

    Regardless of whether you are British or not, I do not take the US constitution as my basis for determining what is right or wrong, and as such I’m afraid I can’t confess to having as great an interest in it as you.

    Without wishing to resort to an ad hominem remark, I hope you won’t take it amiss if I end this discussion here. The frustration of being repeatedly misunderstood and misrepresented is more than I can be doing with right now. You’ve obviously decided irreversibly not only what you believe, but also what I believe, and I doubt there’s anything more I could say that would get through to you, hence any further discussion on my part would be pointless.

    I'm sure some of the other commenters here could do a better job than I in reasoning with you.

  48. Dandelion: It is your argument that is incapable of supporting itself. I don't mix anything up - you conflate free speech with restrictions on any expression. Except any expression you approve of.

    If that's not mixing things up, you'll have to explain why - because it is clearly beyond me.

    Also, I would offer, without editorializing, that just because there's a workshop on something doesn't mean that workshop has any relevance, or is engaged in meaningful discussion. The lay person can conclude that if there's a workshop on it, someone merely thinks there's something to discuss. (This, in no way, reflects any opinion about that particular workshop.)

    Carolyn Ann

  49. Our comments crossed on the wire, Dandelion.

    I was quite enjoying this conversation, Dandelion. It was robust and had a fair amount of give and take. I am sorry you have decided to end your participation.

    Oh, the reason I mentioned my parents was simply as a turn of phrase. It was not free association, it was not to imply anything, it's just a common, and occasionally useful turn of phrase.

    I protest! I have not put you in any political box; speaking for myself, I tend to find boxes far too restricting. It's one reason I left the Labour Party - they wanted to put me in a metaphorical box; I saw it as a fairly concrete coffin.

    I turned your words against you, that's all. You have a utilitarian view of life (the common good overrides the individual desire), and I hold the opposite. I tend to consider the common good to be in someone's interest, usually the one telling me it's for the common good. In my experience (another useful turn of phrase), when someone tells me something is for the common good, it's usually at the expense of my good. If I am wrong in my guess, please tell me, and explain how I am so egregiously mistaken.

    We haven't even skirted the peripheries of free expression. So I don't quite know how you can claim we have discussed the speech of the powerful versus the speech of the disenfranchised.

    I do regard the US Constitution with, and in particular the Bill of Rights, with awe. The Constitution itself has some odious compromises in it; they are rectified in the 14th Amendment. (It took awhile, but it did happen.) The reason I like the Constitution so much is that it describes the limits of what society, through its government, can do. Britain has no such limitation, something I deplore. The limits in America are always tested, and that is as it should be. The balance of power between the States and the Federal Government is always tested - I'd have it no other way. (Although I do tend to a Federalist view.)

    Anyway, I am sorry that you feel I am not able to agree with you. I can't, because I value the individual and the right to free expression substantially different to you. I would like you to know that I enjoyed this discussion while it lasted.

    Carolyn Ann

  50. Your bottom lip is very similar to mine. I used to be called rubber lips at school. Yet in adulthood, they're prized possessions eh? All power to your lips Penny Red.

  51. After all this wheedling, polemical discourse and moaning here's a substantive question for the feministas:

    Should elective cosmetic surgery be banned?

  52. Great work, but as we found at Somewhat Strident But Who Cares, they (CBS, who sell and maintain the ad space) are the sort of cunts that will try and prosecute you so be careful identifying yourself in relation to specific vandalism... but by all means keep doing it! You'll bring a smile to my face any time I come across your deeds :)

  53. The Mysterious Masked Marker Man14 October 2009 at 14:49

    "I'm sorry Mike, but who the hell are you to tell me what form my feminist activism should take? Who are you to tell me what's 'serious' and what's not serious?"

    I've no idea who Mike is but I have to say I agree with him, and I speak as a card-carrying Tory-election-poster-defacer.

    I was down there with me big black marker at the last election writing a rather witty (if I do say so myself) "annotation" on one of their more offensive billboards. One of the big ones by the side of the road.

    And what did it achieve? Bugger all. Well. I guess it made them pay to put up another poster on top of it which was quite satisfying. But I was a lot younger at that point and in retrospect it was immature, pointless, and oh so self-indulgent. Sure it felt good. And obviously the wankers deserved it. But it wasn't activism.

  54. Carolyn Ann - If you know of a superior principle to the utility principle then please inform me of it. I have found that all others tend to be the "Arbitary Principles" identified by Jeremy Bentham.

  55. Penny, keep up the good work :D I look forward to seeing your red pen when I am on the tube one day.

  56. I personally have nothing against people wanting more of a pleasurable body-part. Hell, I applaud it. But I've heard that boob-jobs destroy sensation - what a cruel trick! The woman looks more sexual and feels less. This is objectification reified.

    You'll know feminism has won, when the equivalent posters are for surgery that adds extra sensation to boobs.

  57. So what you're saying is that because it is expensive and time-consuming, it's okay for Penny to deface the poster, because she perceives it one way? What about the ways of looking at it that I suggested? What about the money and time the plastic surgeon put into it? Does that not count because the message is not liked Tax Preparation NJ


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