Over the Christmas break, I had the displeasure of being dragged to a nightclub. Not a particularly good nightclub either, but one of those where they rob you of your five pounds before you can even place your foot onto the sticky, sweat-infested carpet, a nightclub in which you immediately regret not being in your warm, cosy bed at 2am as you attempt to dance to Cheryl Cole’s ‘Fight For This Love’. Trust me; I tried it and you cannot physically dance to this track. It is soulless.
On this particular evening, my resentment for nightclubs was fuelled not only by the incidents listed above, but also by an advert in the toilets. “Career Women Make Bad Mothers” blazed across the toilet cubicle door in bright purple capitals. What was this campaign advertising exactly? And how the fuck were they getting away with it?
After some research into the unidentified advert, I found that this horrendous campaign was instigated by Beta agency to highlight the effectiveness of ‘outdoor advertising’. Confused? You should be.
I, like many other intelligent men and women in the UK, was outraged by the sexism of the statement in a time when women’s rights are still under scrutiny. At a time when politicians are insinuating that single parents and working mothers are contributing to a ‘Broken Britain’ of gun crimes, benefit fraud and general disarray. One woman posted a poignant complaint on the Mumsnet website in which she wrote: “The one on the side of the building today felt like a kick in the stomach.” She is right. It does.
Sharon Johnson, the strategic head of Beta, said that the posters were meant to spark debate and were not representative of the opinions of the agency. Thankfully, the posters have been taken down from public view, replaced by another ‘debate sparking’ statement: “1966. It won’t happen this year.”
One must ask the question: do Beta actually think that scepticism surrounding England’s chances in the next World Cup compares to the sexual discrimination in the slogan “Career Women Make Bad Mothers”? In my eyes, the two cannot compare.
If England are unsuccessful again this year, a few wealthy footballers may have a couple of thousand pounds cut from their hefty pay packets and some football hooligan may punch another football fan in the face as a result of Owen missing an open net, but I wouldn’t exactly call this calamity. Compare this to a century of women’s rights campaigning being overturned, and the dissemination of patriarchal ideology across the UK.
What worries me more is the location where I first saw the advert, plastered on the back of a female toilet door in a nightclub in a largely working-class area. For starters, this location means that the viewer will be female and isolated when confronting the advert. In addition to being intoxicated by alcohol, she’d most likely be uneducated in gender debates and women’s rights.
In this location, there is no room for the debate that Beta claimed to covet. When you are inebriated and isolated in a toilet cubicle, the ideology of the advert is less likely to be questioned and more likely to be consciously, or in most cases unconsciously, absorbed.
My fear is that pointless advertisements like this can have a profoundly negative effect on working-class women, who already have low aspirations and doubts about their abilities, and that these kinds of ideas will inhibit them from making ambitious choices for their future.
This shameless product of patriarchal ideology does feel like “a kick in the stomach” after women have died in trying to make tomorrow a world of gender equality. It seems that women have come so far, but yet have so far to go, especially when blatantly chauvinist campaigns like this raise their ugly heads.