1 Jul 2009

Which is more offensive - misuse of religious imagery, or sexism?

According to the Advertising Standards Agency, the former. They have ruled that an ad showing a nun and a priest about to kiss is "deameaning to those with a religious vocation". Hmmm. I'm all for respecting other cultures and lifestyles, but I'm less patient when the respect is not applied consistently. Contrast ASA's ruling on this ad, with their comments on this unashamedly sexist ad for Virgin Atlantic Airways . When I complained to ASA about this ad, I was met with the following rebuttal:"Complaints about offence often require difficult judgements but we don’t intervene where advertising is simply criticised for being in poor taste."

OK. So why is a nun and a priest about to kiss not deemed simply 'poor taste' too? Let's be consistent - Virgin have got away with making and showing an ad that objectifies women with camera shots lingering over their chests and legs, portrays 'ugly' women as bitter and jealous of their 'attractive' counterparts, and depicts men as all powerful and women as harem-like followers. Why are Gelato, the makers of the nun/priest ad, being victimised for an ad that hints, extremely mildly, at the crossing of a religious and social boundary? Why does sexism = a good laugh, but religious transgression = incendiary material that must be banned?

ASA went on to defend the Virgin Atlantic Ad thus:

"Apart from freedom of speech considerations, even well-intentioned and thoughtful people will have different and sometimes contradictory opinions about what constitutes ‘bad taste’ or should be prohibited. We can only act if the ad, in our judgement, offends against widely accepted moral, social or cultural standards."

Hmm. This doesn't really wash with me either. IMHO, sexism is far more corrosive and offensive to current society than poking fun at a religion which is largely irrelevant to the majority of western culture. Christianity has been on the wane in British society for decades, and in our multi-cultural society, isn't afforded much, if any, special treatment over the other religions which are growing on our isle. Apart from a few archaic laws re: shop opening hours on a Sunday, we're a secular state in terms of governing and our legal system, and yay for that. For ASA to imply that Christianity constitutes a 'widely accepted moral, social or cultural standard' any more is at best, stretching the truth, at worst an out-and-out lie.

I think what pisses me off is the arbitrary selectiveness applied here, and the fact that traditions based upon myths and fairy tales are still afforded far more respect than genuine issues of social concern. Religion remains seen as an all-encompassing practice that has to be universally respected, whilst feminism/anti-sexism, remains seen as a 'niche', or minority, concern. Even tho it directly affects half the population, and indirectly the Y-chromosomed rest. I just think something's really slipped out of balance here, where we're too afraid to point out that no one is obliged to respect a belief based on nothing more than millennia of myth, yet we're happy to let knuckle-dragging sexism go unchecked. It strikes me as utterly topsy-turvy, and I do wonder
what kind of gutless apologists are working for ASA when they can defend the Virgin Ad as playing upon "perceived attitudes of [the 1980s] in a humorous way", yet they ban the Gelato ad for playing on the perceived attitudes of nuns, priests and Christianity.

The troubling unwillingness of those responsible for media content in the UK to confront sexism is nothing new, although it was really disheartening to see ASA being so obtuse on the issue. However, what's a different concern is the equal unwillingness to leave religion open to the same slings and arrows that us anti-sexists have to put up with. If I have to witness the female body objectified and trivialised in the name of the free press, then you can damn well put up with the same being done to your religion. You don't deserve, and should not receive, any special treatment just because you have a book of fairy tales and a band of clerics to back up what you believe. Without wanting to resort to the knee-jerk thinking of the likes of the Daily Mail, I can't help wonder if there is an element of fear about confronting, satirising or rejecting religion - after all, this country and the US are all too aware of the deadly extremes to which religious nutcases will take their cause. But this is all the more reason not to be bending over backwards to accommodate the beliefs of those who refuse to accommodate anyone else's. If my beliefs can be taken the piss out of with impunity, so can yours. The British state and media need to make up their minds - either we're all open to mockery, or none of us are. No special allowances for religion. I worship at the altar of feminism and there's no hate crime bill to protect me.

No comments: