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The sad, ironic and really insulting anti-abuse ad

The sad, ironic and really insulting anti-abuse ad published on 4 Comments on The sad, ironic and really insulting anti-abuse ad

 If you really want to see an offensive ad, check out Kabayanihan’s anti-violence print ad below the cut, courtesy of AdverBox. 

The ad contains outlets labeled Wife, Partner, Soul Mate, Confidant, Spouse, Friend, Better Half, Companion, Cover Up, Concubine, Servant, Punching Bag, Vagina. A plug is in the outlet labeled Vagina. The text nearby says, “How some men think of women.” Then it says in smaller letters, “If you are a victim of abuse, please report to Hotline number 603 2143 3361 and we will help. Kabayanihan.”

Where do I begin detailing the stupid, sexist, reductionist attitudes operating in this ad? First of all, let’s start with the symbolism of plugs and outlets. While the women are represented by white outlets of pure vacuity, the man is represented by a black plug. As something that can fill up holes, a plug is an aggressive phallic object. The black color connotes that its power is a negative, dangerous one. This is actually not a bad symbol for the sort of domineering, sexually aggressive man who is assumed to be battering the female consumers of this ad.

While the man=black plug equation works well, the symbolism for women in this ad is problematic. Women are represented as white outlets. Outlets are holes that wait on the wall for something to be stuck into them, or, in other words, to be used. The symbolism of the outlet implies that women are passive, exploitable victims, even if they are held in esteem by men as Friend or Better Half. The color white also brings to mind purity, innocence and emptiness, which makes women not only actionless and limp, but also blank and lacking in substance. So, basically, according to this ad, women are full of negative connotations.

You could argue that it is only the male abuser sees women as white outlets full of negative connotations, but that’s not precisely what the ad says. Remember that the ad text states that it is showing how “some men” perceive women. “Some men” think that women are just Vaginas. But, the ad implies, there are other ways for men to perceive women, as indicated by the alternative white outlets. However, please notice how the whole grouping of outlets is NOT a subset of a wall containing a myriad of outlets including Sister, Mother, Grandmother, Aunt, Cousin, Acquaintance, Role Model, Goddess, Fag Hag, Medium, Dominatrix, Object, Pest, Earth Mother, Bluestocking, Dyke, etc., etc. The whole grouping of outlets is neatly centered in the photo, arranged so that it forms a discrete, total, complete set. The ad, in effect, says that these 14 ways are the only ways in which men can perceive women. So, to get back to my topic sentence, it’s not just the male abuser’s view that women are a yawning void of quiescent, dependent boringness; it’s ALL men’s views of women. Even the perspective labeled Confidant is still, yes, a white outlet, meaning that even the more positive views of women in this ad are contaminated by the demeaning, infantilizing symbolism.

The underlying structures of this ad are bad enough, but even the surface messages are blatantly misleading, overly specific, confusing and just plain wrong. For example, the fact that there is just one plug in the Vagina outlet suggests that ONLY those men who see women as Vaginas abuse women. Also, the fact that the plug is in the Vagina outlet, denoting a sexual orifice, defines sexual abuse as the only type of abuse extant. First, men who see women as Concubines and Cover Ups and, yes, even Wives, also abuse women. Second, there are more types of abuse than just sexual abuse. Am I the only one who is revolted by the casual use of the term Punching Bag in this ad? The fact that the Punching Bag outlet does NOT have a plug in it seems to imply that men who see women as Punching Bags, that is, men who hit women, do not abuse women, since abuse, according to this ad, does not include hitting. This ad has an extremely narrow focus that seems to exclude verbal abuse, emotional manipulation, assault and other forms of abuse besides sexual, not to mention abuse of wives, friends, friends, prostitutes [Concubines], children, elders, basically any woman who is not listed among the outlets. What kind of abuse is this ad thinking of, then? The kind where a stranger attacks and rapes an unknown woman? Such cases form a statistically small percentage of abuse cases. You are much more likely to be abused by someone you know, a relative, friend or acquaintance. Nowhere does the ad accommodate this brutal reality.

Imagine the effect of this ad on the target population: a woman who has been abused. I can envision a woman whose husband jealously controls her phone calls, yells at her when she burns toast and hasn’t had sex with her in two years because he’s been having affairs. This woman is in an abusive situation, but it is quite possible that, thanks to this stupid and confusing ad, she might not call Kabayanihan to get the help that she desperately needs. The ad is clearly talking about men who sexually objectify women as Vaginas, but our hypothetical viewer doesn’t think that designation applies to her, first, because she’s obviously a Wife and, second, because her husband has not had sex with her in two years. Also, because the ad speaks of “men” in general as the perpetrators, when in reality the perp is usually a friend or relation [thus the violence could more properly be called “domestic”], the hypothetical viewer may feel she is excluded because the ad is talking about strangers, not family members. The viewer hurries to return home, where her husband throws an empty beer bottle, hitting her in the head, because she was five minutes late setting the table. And another misguided ad campaign fails to reach out to the very people it’s trying to help. In fact, you could even make a case for this ad being potentially alienating, rather than inclusive.

What’s really sickening about this whole business is that this is an ad for ANTI-abuse services. The help promised by this ad is supposed to empower women [I assume] to cope with the aftermath of abusive trauma and leave abusive situations if they are stuck in them. But instead it’s just a further depressing reminder of how limiting male conceptions of women can be, how invisible domestic violence is and how helpless many women [whether they are abused or not] feel in a world where the threat of male violence against them is almost constant.


As you put it (quite rightly, I might add) it, a large cross-section of the intended audience would not identify because of the terms that apply to THEM are not clearly designated. Perhaps, plugs labeled “Lazy”, “Stupid”, “Frigid”, “Ballbuster”, “Inferior”, “Tease”, “Whore” or “B*tch” would have spoken better to the vast percentage of women who suffer abuse outside of the ad’s unintended definition of abuse (though I realize the latter two might not fit into editorial standards for the typical dailies).

I can’t even begin to express the sense of disbelief I have when it is stated (either outright or by insinuation like this ad) that sexual abuse or rape happens because a man is so sexually pent up he can’t control himself. It is precisely that attitude that keeps so many rape/incest/molestation victims from coming forth and getting the help that they need. A guy doesn’t rape because he’s horny…he rapes because that makes him the one in control, the dominant one. Out of every 10 cases I hear of (in the news or through conversation), 9 folks face law enforcement officials that frankly don’t believe that rape is not about sex.

I viewed the ad slightly differently. I actually felt it was a rather effective ad. I thought the white blankness was actually rather appropriate because it groups all women together as being one archetypal female, rather than having any individual personalities… or perhaps it is the same woman viewed through the lens of many different moods of a male abuser. Even in abusive relationships, there are times when the man might view the woman as his better half… and others, a tramp or waste of space. The textual labels seemed to get progressively worse without any sort of visual change until the final jarring image. The use of the term “punching bag” doesn’t bother me either; I find it to be very effective, especially as coupled with the image of the unmarred outlet. It’s jarring and implies that something has happened, even if we can’t see physical evidence of it.

The symbolism of a female as an outlet isn’t offensive to me; it’s unflattering, but it’s simply an easily-accessible visual shorthand.

Looking at purely on the level of symbols, I am actually more bothered by the fact that according to this, the female element cannot be activated without the intrusion of the male element… as though the vagina aspect is the only label that gives validation. Meaning that in a backwards way, this ad is saying that all of the pristine, unviolated outlets are just wasting space.

I’m also not sure from which country this ad hails. For some countries, this ad would be very offensive. But for others, the sheer fact that it exists, and an organization for women exists, is a step in the right direction.

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