What would you say about those posters?

2012-10-02 00:00

YOU are away, studying in a different town. You are 19 years old, a College old boy, a passable rugby player and a beer drinker. You are the target of that poster. I want to talk to you about it, but as you are not here, I will invent the conversation. I don’t want to talk about the objectification of women, female oppression or male chauvinism. Such heavy, tired words are likely to send you to sleep before we even start talking.

So I imagine that you are in the car with me. We drive past the posters for the first time. Initially, I ignore them but there are more and more and more of them, on virtually every lamppost, so I say “urggh”. You don’t take much notice as I say urggh a lot when I’m driving. They are selling those breasts along with the beer. I can just imagine all those men hoping to bury their faces in that cleavage when they buy their beer tankards. Oh Mom you say. You mean you’d really prefer your mother not to talk like this. And anyway, I wonder to myself, what’s so bad about that? Men bury their faces in breasts —— it’s a nice feeling, and goes together well with the warm fuzziness of drinking beer. They have done it for centuries. It’s how babies are made. Well, sort of. But then I develop my argument. This woman doesn’t have a face. Without a face she could be a blow-up doll with pigtails, a thing that can be bought or sold. Without a face, it’s hard for her to have much say about whether she wants a particular man to bury his head in her particular breasts. Perhaps without a face she reassures men who are scared of meeting her eye to eye, levelling with her, engaging as an equal, as a person with opinions, rights and complications that have to be taken into account.

The breasts in this poster are offered for free. There are no strings attached, or head, torso, legs or much in the way of arms, come to think of it. These breasts have been thrown in with the beer. They are part of the rollicking jolliness of the beer fest, the long rowdy tables, the tankards of foaming ale, the thumping arms, the laughing, the shouting. The men. The women are in the background, scurrying, serving, smiling, red lips, blonde plaits, wide arms, open breasts. These women don’t require the hard work of relationships. They are there for fun, for a good time. Oh Mom, says my son, you take everything so seriously, it’s just a beer fest, they are like that.

It’s just a beer fest. It’s not about rape or genocide or ethnic cleansing. My son cares about things like that. He also understands that women are equals of men, and when they are not, something has gone badly wrong. He doesn’t say this out loud, to me or anyone because it is so obvious, that stating it would be absurd. But I wonder if he has made the link, that the first step to genocide is when you dehumanise people. Take away their faces, so they are not real people like you and me, with real feelings. If we look closely at this poster, we can unravel all sorts of messages from the pictures and words. And now after a few weeks in the sun, the posters have taken on a tinge of green. Is she an alien from another planet? This really is taking dehumanisation a bit far.

Moraig Peden

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