On Wednesday, we heard about Tessa Jowell’s plans to ban sexist advertising from the Underground if she wins her bid to be London mayor. The candidate told the Evening Standard that “Women ought to be able to travel in an environment which doesn’t constantly demean them or present an unrealistic image of women’s bodies.”
I then did what you should never do on a news story about a woman talking up about sexism; read the comments section. It’s pointless, depressing, and predictable, but I still find myself internally wailing when an internet troll writes “this is silly cultural Marxism” at the bottom of the page.
Every day when they wake up, women living and working in London are affronted by thousands of images that chip away at their confidence, self esteem and wallets (which are, of course, already lighter than those of their male counterparts). Through billboards, mannequins, shop windows and tube ads companies that attack women are now so prevalent we’ve stopped registering sexism when it rears its head on our daily journey to work. Thank god a mainstream politician wants to put an end to this nonsense.
Tessa Jowell’s calls for a sexism free tube journey (imagine that bliss for just one second), comes after a flurry of social media campaigns aimed at drawing attention to demeaning adverts that promote an unrealistic beauty standard. Protein World came under fire for their “Are you beach body ready?” campaign which featured the line adjacent to a very slim bikini clad model. It’s a phrase we are bombarded with almost constantly on magazine covers from March until September every year, but in 2015, women used Twitter to vent their frustrations and vandalise the posters with new, body positive messages.
What ensued was a war between Protein World and feminists. For example, when one woman tweeted this:
— Ariana (@ArianaLee721) June 23, 2015
Protein world and their supporters responded like this:
Perhaps the highlight of the Twitter warfare was when Protein World called the UK a “nation of sympathisers for fatties”.
— Protein World (@ProteinWorld) April 23, 2015
But despite the backlash, the Advertising Standards Agency ruled that the Protein World billboards were not offensive or sexist, and there were no grounds for removal. Tessa Jowell called the adverts “unrealistic” and “overly sexual”, but Ian Twinn of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers said that “If Tessa Jowell has the answer of what is a healthy body,” she should “share it with us. She appears to think that the ‘beach body ready’ ad is sexist. Is being healthy and a low waist size offensive to her? Or is she asking for obesity to be normalised?”
Silly woman! How could you possibly know what sexism looks like? Now why don’t you shut your big ol’ gob and lose a few pounds while you’re at it!
It’s not just body shaming adverts which we’re somehow still dealing with in 2015. The same day that Tessa made her announcement, this Bic Facebook picture was widely circulated for its depiction of a woman in a suit next to the words “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, work like a boss.” Although the company has now apologised for the post, the question remains, how the fuck did this advert make its way into existence?! WHO OKAYED THIS?!?
There remains an institutionalised issue that a lot of men, however supportive they hope to be, fail to see sexism without it being pointed out to them. Whilst this might be a challenge that could possibly be overcome, there’s also a worryingly large number of people who think it’s ok to call a woman “frumpy” on a public forum, or emoji cackle their encouragement of the sexist banter. However, with difficulty, it is theoretically possible to cut out nasty fedora bros on Twitter, and even rise above the comments section if you have the willpower. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had the same level of choice on our daily commute?