Open Thread: Rape Culture USA

I was so shocked by the “high tech stalking” app that Dakinikat wrote about earlier today that I thought I’d follow up with some more examples of the rape culture American women have to survive in every day.

I missed this story when it first happened, so forgive me if you already heard about it. On March 23, Belvedere Vodka posted an ad on their Facebook page with a photo of a man apparently trying to sexually assault a startled, frightened woman. The ad copy read, “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly. Women quickly bombarded the page with outraged comments. From Jezebel:

Facebook comments ranged from “tell the cry-babies to shut up… this picture is AWESOME!!!” to “this kinda looks like rape.” Belvedere apparently decided to side with the “kinda” camp, because the photo disappeared from their Facebook page and Twitter account within an hour. An apology followed soon after: “We apologize to any of our fans who were offended by our recent tweet. We continue to be an advocate of safe and responsible drinking.”

The president of the vodka company, Charles Gibb, quickly apologized via Twitter; but really, this was simply inexcusable. Why anyone ever thought it was a good idea I never understand. But as some commenters noted on Dak’s post, some men just don’t get it no matter how many times it’s explained to them that rape isn’t funny or sexy and it’s not a good way to sell your product unless you’re looking to go out of business.

Now there’s more bad news for Belvedere. It turns out the woman who appeared in the ad–which has been plastered all over the internet even though it’s no longer on the company’s facebook page–is suing because she did not give permission for her image to be used in the ad.

Alicyn Packard is a vocal actress living in Los Angeles whose likeness was used in the Belvedere ad….

Packard never gave her permission for her likeness to be used.

In fact, the image of her was stolen from a comic on-line video by her production company, Strictly Viral Productions.

“The repercussions have been huge,” Packard told KTLA in a phone interview. “It’s been a really terrible experience. The whole thing.”

Unbelievable! But of course ads depicting rape are not new. Women are often shown in violent situations in high fashion ads. You may recall the famous Dolce and Gabbana ad depicting what looks like a gang rape in progress.

And you may have seen the series of Calvin Klein ads, which were banned in Australia. Here is one of the banned ads.

Why is sexual violence being used to sell products? The Belvedere ad appears to have been aimed at men, but the Dolce and Gabanna and Calvin Klein ads were designed to appear in women’s fashion magazines lke Vogue. Do women really respond to violent ads by running out and buying whatever product they are selling? I came across a 2010 article at Alternet that addressed this question.

To learn more about this issue, researchers, Barbara J. Phillips and Edward F. McQuarrie, interviewed regular readers of fashion magazines and discovered that most women don’t consider the implications of violent sexist ads, but rather, they gravitate to them for the tantalizing narrative.

They recently published their findings in the Journal of Consumer Research and explain that the women who liked such ads, “Would be transported into the story world set in motion by the ad’s pictures, asking themselves, ‘What is happening here?’ and ‘What will happen next? These women would immerse themselves in the images, examining its lighting, colors, lines, composition, and creativity.”

Unfortunately, the “researchers” only talked to 18 women, so this conclusion is really based on case studies and not particularly scientific. Experts in Australia argued that ads like this could encourage gang rape.

Clinical psychologist Alison Grundy, who works with sex abuse victims, said advertisers were reaching a dangerous new low by using sexual violence as a marketing tool.

“If we continue to subject future generations of young men to great barrages of aggressive, misogynist, over-sexualized and violent imagery in pornography, movies, computer games and advertising, we will continue to see the rates of sexual violence against women and children that continue unabated today. Or worse,” she said.

The thing is, we’re bombarded with these images all our lives. No matter how hard we try to protect ourselves from them, we’re going to be exposed to them at least occasionally. Frankly, the people who create these ads are also products of our rape culture. They have grown up seeing images of sexualized violence. No wonder so many women are raped and murdered! Young women especially are treated by our culture as objects for men to use and discard.

What do you think? Feel free to discuss this or any other topic in the comments.