On the way to a class last week, I picked up a copy of The Rebel Yell, UNLV’s student newspaper. As I finished flipping through it, what I saw on the back cover made me cringe a bit, and I wondered if there would be any problems over it.
The back cover consisted entirely of an ad for a hamburger joint called The Burger Grind, and the ad featured a picture in the corner of a nude 1950’s-era Betty Page-esque model, kneeling and shown from behind, her body divided up by dotted lines and labeled with common kinds of cuts of meat–“tenderloin,” “rump,” etc.
Within days, I was getting mass emails that had been sent out to the entire staff, apparently, by people at the school’s Women’s Center who wanted to protest and boycott what they called an example of misogyny.
Now, it’s certainly their right to be offended and to make their voice heard, but I have to wonder if this is really an appropriate stand to take.
First of all, the picture, while tasteless and not nearly as clever as the advertiser seems to think, is hardly obscene or deeply offensive. The “joke” is that young men (such as those who might read the student paper and frequent a burger joint) might see a woman as “a piece of meat,” not unlike a cow. Yes, that’s rude and tacky, but in Las Vegas, it’s also pretty much par for the course. With all of the many kinds of exploitation of women going on here, why would someone choose this one as the one that crosses the line? When there are so many more serious violations of dignity out there, why make your stand here? What’s the goal–contrite apologies from any men involved in the ad and promises to sponsor day care facilities for the daughters of working moms?
This ad–worst case scenario–encourages college men to develop and indulge in sexual appetites…not exactly something they needed much help with, anyway. The ad doesn’t actually hurt any woman in any way. Rather, Las Vegas is filled with dozens of venues, publications, and social dysfunctions that cripple the lives of actual women every day. Why not raise a voice against any of <i>those</i>?
Taking such a strong stand on such a relative non-issue will only make those taking it look desperate and silly. Critics on the right often depict social progressives as using “manufactured outrage” to further their agendas for publicity and narcissism–won’t this “controversy” just end up being someone’s example of that, as out of proportion as it is? Why start a crusade that a reasonable person must know might end up being embarrassing?
Why not dedicate this time and energy to something that will actually improve the lives of local women? Promote breast cancer research. Mentor teen mothers or help tutor at-risk girls so they can get into this college. Reach out and offer counseling to the “adult entertainment” workers who themselves are being or have been abused in ways that will hinder their healthy lives (alas, not all such women are independent, secure single moms just trying to save up for school, despite what Hollywood says).
David Letterman has apparently given money and career promotions to a much younger woman on his staff in exchange for sex. Where’s the outrage over <i>this</i>? A man using his authority to seduce a younger woman and then rewarding her for it? Especially in the post-Clinton world, shouldn’t advocates for women be up in arms over such a blatant abuse of dignity?
But no, I don’t think it’s reasonable for any Donna Quixote to take up her lance and go charging off after the sexism windmill that is a mildly sleazy picture in the student newspaper. We all have bigger fish to fry.