Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The most talked about woman in Halifax isn't real.

I really did not think I’d have to write this post. Trying to avoid the super topical, I figured that the Bridget campaign would be pushed off the bridge, apologized for, and swimming with the three eyed fishes of the Halifax Harbour by now. Or maybe in a Mayor Quimby-esque scandal she’d flee the country with Peter Kelly in October. She could also go to night school and get that other degree she always thought she could! I don’t care. What matters is, once again my faith that common sense would eventually prevail was wasted on an event that happened in Halifax.

The debates have already been had & the names have been called. Some of us are sexist pigs, while the rest of us are prudes who need to get laid. One might claim I’m beating a dead horse with this, but oh no, this eyeliner loving horse is still in great shape. Big Brother of the bridges, she watches over us, hurling ‘sassy’ yet tollpayer appropriate insults that makes her sound like a sixth grade girl who wears those terrible shirts that say “Attitude” in glitter. As she extols the virtues of wearing a seatbelt (or else!), an uncomfortable swell of voices asking “No, seriously, is this seriously serious?” grows louder. They are serious, but I am too. The Bridget campaign is a detriment to women’s progress, a blemish on our city, and not even an original concept, which means my outrage can be conveniently recycled when someone rips it off of us.

I have provided the following responses to common “insights” about the campaign in an easy to reference list format. This is a definitive guide to all the major sorry excuses that I’ve heard for Bridget, and why you should defriend these people on Facebook, or at least put hair in their food the next time you’re at their house.

“Bridget’s not that sexist.”
I feel as though I’m cheating with the ol’ “not that” arguement, as I’ve heard it so many times before, although usually referencing race. I figured I would call in the experts for this one, and like anyone who loves anecdotal evidence, I messaged the only black person I know who would understand why I would ask which term was more offensive to her at 11 o’clock at night. I mean, she’s also doing a thesis on apologetic culture in the 21st century, but I have my priorities in order. What followed was laced with words that probably should not appear on my blog.

“Hey Niki*,” my message read, “which would you rather be called: a (expletive word that is not the n-word) or (the n word)?”

What makes her the best internet friend a girl could have is that she promptly messaged back. “Girl you cray” but then insisted “(non n-word expletive). Obviously. But they’re both as racist as (the f-word.)”

“Yea,” I devils advocate, which I am just now making a verb, “but isn’t one kind of less racist?”

“Hell (yea, I’m not expleting that) no,” came the typed reply. “I mean one is old crazy uncle at the family reunion racist and the other is just you KNOW you shouldn’t say that so (the f-word) you racist, & I’d rather be called one than the other, but to pretend that either isn’t racist is embarrassing and apologetic. What’s this for, anyways?”

“A metaphor for sexism.”

“(Eight expletives in a row.) Are you serious? That’s even worse. Racism sucks, and it’s sly, but at least when people rip on race it’s considered offensive, whereas with sexism it’s touch and go. Sure, there are exceptions, but people generally take it very, very seriously when I complain about racism, but when I say something is sexist people get the impression it’s less important? I’ve dealt with lots of crap for the colour of my skin, but I am sexually harassed because I am a woman. Don’t tell me one’s more important. Where do they get off?”

“K thx.”
Expert indeed.

“It’s empowering to have a strong figure of authority. It’s the OPPOSITE OF SEXIST.”
Somewhere between when women everywhere got access to birth control and Sex & the City became a thing, the myth of the slutty feminist emerged. The slutty feminist exists mostly in the imaginations of people who fantasize about Bridget everywhere, although there is a kernel of truth in every urban legend. Described as both a man hating army like character who’s unappealing but also lipsticky and do-able, the slutty feminist (or SF, if you will), uses MEN FOR SEX. MEN. For sex! That’s sexist against men, right? Alas, in reality, society finally recognized that ladies had a right to sleep with who they please, and some pleased to sleep with many men. But that’s okay because who cares? However, where this gets annoying is SF, our mythed up heroine, gets her poor taken out of context self used by marketers are some kind of empowerment figure. Like, go ladies! Reference genitals all you want because you are SASSY but classy because you do it over brunch. Men, it’s okay, that birth control she fought for means you’ll never have to call her again. High five fellas! Am I right?

These stereotypes hurt everyone. Bridget is reduced to a domintrix figure that may not be blatantly pornographic, but her overt sexuality is hard to mistake. Once you accept this unarguable truth, this opens the ability to make some pretty frank statements. Bridget is a figure of authority because she is sexual. It’s okay for Bridget to be sexual because she is attractive. Bridge safety is important. All of those are messages that this campaign is sending out, but only one of them is relevant to my getting from point A to point B, and it’s the only that involves the least amount of latex.

“Shocking ads are what gets through. It’s tame compared to other ad campaigns right now.”
In the first year of a public relations degree, you learn that the term for someone who actually believes the old adage “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” is “a gullible idiot.” Sex certainly sells, but what? Sex in advertising is the most painful way to admit that you pulled an all nighter and had no better ideas. Using pure sexuality in a branding campaign for a bridge is the best way to communicate you could not come up with anything clever, or meaningful, or touching, or funny, or clear, or effective, or pretty much anything that would be any good. Sex is boring already; if this campaign is tame compared to others, that’s part of the problem. This is either a potentially offensive and boring ad or just a boring ad, so why bother? There are times when sex makes sense in advertising. These times are called condom commercials, and sometimes maybe body wash. Do we get an inflatable Bridget at cultural events, like that kind of creepy dancing Mac Pass?  I don’t want to give them any ideas, but I’m guessing not, because all Bridget is a picture and a sultry voice designed to get you to slow down or something. I forget. I don’t remember what she’s actually saying because she keeps trying to make it sound inappropriate in an appropriate way. How effective.

Although Bridget certainly doesn’t hold a perfumed candle to what’s happening in Guess, or Tommy Hilfiger, or Dolce & Gabbana in the pages of teen magazines, at least there’s some logic there. These companies want to prey on young women’s insecurities to familiarize them with the product. Bridget wants you to drive safe on the bridge. How can one even explain that to a young woman? The Bridge Commission is admitting that women’s sexuality attracts attention, so they’re going to manipulate it for the “benefit” of “society.” Who wants to grow up in a world where girls are considered so worthless? In all the focus on target demographics, key points are forgotten. I propose what I am dubbing the “Is this awkward?” test: if you can’t explain a city wide ad campaign to an eleven year old girl without feeling like a terrible person, and you really can’t here, then it shouldn’t get the go ahead.

I included that statement for all of the idiotic, nonsensical babble that make you wonder when the standards for literary comprehension got so low. Trust me, this is a required category. In it, I could talk about how a perceived increase in public safety is not an excuse for sexism. Or how we undermine men by assuming that an onslaught of potential bridge breast is the only way to grab their attention. I could bring up that when people are called sexist, they start to list off every woman they ever knew. Or, just for you, we could even chat about how I’m just a wrinkly old prude feminazi who never shaves her armpits (untrue) , but really, those are your conversations to have. I may have corrected some repeat offenders here, but a talk about how sexuality is represented in the media is frequently unwelcome but always necessary. So while I may not take the bridge for a very long time, and I don’t have a car to tailgate in anyways, Bridget has made an impact on my life. Hopefully, I can make an impact on hers as well. I can only hope after this gig she goes on to speak about the importance of literacy, or of staying in school, or of any real human woman in a real position of power. 

& maybe this time she could leave the leather at home.

Thanks for the picture, Globe & Mail.