The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Women Are Always To Blame

Posted by caitlinate on November 23, 2008

I’m pretty tired right now so this may not be the best written post ever. But! We’ll try anyway!

The government has a new anti binge drinking campaign out – aimed at the 15 – 25 age demographic. The Age refers to the campaign as ‘graphic’ and had an article about it in the Saturday paper which can be found online here. The link also has the actual advertisements embedded in the article.

The campaign theme is “don’t turn a night out into a nightmare” and is based on showing ‘regrettable’ behaviour you might get up to whilst binge drinking. The intent, it seems, is to embarrass teenagers into not binge drinking!

Nonetheless, the campaign in itself is probably necessary and I haven’t reflected enough on the overall idea to either criticise or praise it at length. Overall. One element though does make me really, really, really angry.

One of the ’embarrassing’ things one might get up to when drunk is “be filmed having drunken sex”. Says The Age:

One advertisement depicts a teenage girl getting drunk at a house party and eventually having sex on the lawn while being filmed by laughing party-goers. It finishes with a reminder that one in two teenagers will do something they regret while drunk.

Sorry, what?

Creative directors found that girls were more susceptible to a message that social embarrassment could be caused by regretted sex acts than any health risks caused by alcohol.

This [section of the] underage drinking ad is meant to be from the perspective of the female. You see a hand with a cup of – presumably alcohol – repeatedly raising to the camera, a male enters frame and speaks to the camera/girl and then finally we see the girls feet on the ground and her underwear being removed, with the male standing above her unzipping his pants. This is followed by the text ‘one in two Australians aged 15-17 who get drunk will do something they regret’.

This is so wrong in so many ways.

Not only does it imply that only the girl will regret it or get herself into that ‘kind of situation’ it also says that she is responsible for what happens to her when she is intoxicated. No questions about consent (particularly when in the ad the guy seems to be more sober than her, though the fact apparently only girls can have this happen to them is also problematic). No public campaign about how having sex with someone who is so drunk they can’t make rational decisions is, oh, rape. No condemning of the people standing at the sidelines and laughing and taking pictures rather than helping. Just condemnation heaped on the girl for drinking so much she got herself into that situation in the first place! Once again! Women to blame for their own rape!



19 Responses to “Women Are Always To Blame”

  1. Bearded Lady said

    I’m glad someone else picked up on this article.

    The treatment of the ‘laughing party-goers’ particularly bothers me. It kind of reminds me of an episode of SBS’s Insight on children and crime which aired earlier this year ( During the show they discussed the filming and distribution of video footage in which a 17 year old Werribee girl was raped, urinated on and set alight by her male peers. But rather than recognizing the gendered nature of the crime and possible related causes like the proliferation and normalization of pornography, social worker Les Twentymen attributed it to a lack of youth services and growing up in ‘a society where the boundaries are all changed’. While I don’t doubt that we need more and better funded community services or that the community is changing, it really worries me that we’ve abandoned the kind of feminist analysis that put issues like rape, sexual harrassment and domestic violence on the map.

    I don’t think its sufficient that we explain crimes like these (and the portrayal of what is essentialy rape in this advertisment) as caused by excessive alcohol consumption, the availability of new technologies or some insubstantial notion of ‘social change’. We need to look at the subordination and objectification of women and the dominant understanding of sexuality and its dissemination.

    Campaigns like this one are a giant step backwards. This campaign says that when it comes to rape, alcohol consumption makes the (female) victim more responsible and the (male) perpetrator less culpable. It says that the ‘laughing party-goers’ who filmed the victims’ rape are part of some kind of practical joke rather than complicit in the act. It says that the victim is responsible and legitimizes her sense of shame. It says that her violation is something regretful that happened to her rather than something which entitles her to take legal action.

    This is not to deny that alcohol plays a role. Just that it’s not a good enough explanation.

  2. shades of blue said

    I had a rather heated discussion with my best friend about this on Satuday night. He maintained that if it stopped even a couple of girls getting assaulted, then that particular aspect of the campaign was fine by him. I tried to explain to him that, whilst we ALL want to reduce the amount of assaults taking place, the way to do it wasnt to restrict further and further women’s movements, and it wasnt setting up scenarios where women are seen as responsible for anything that happens. Telling women ‘You must do XYZ to be safe’ implies they are complicit in the crime when they either dont follow the Golden Rules, or when the Golden Rules dont magically protect them.

    And where’s the campaign with a guy acting innapropriately and his mates coming up and saying ‘That’s not right. Stop that’?

  3. Mel Campbell said

    I’d have liked to see this scenario depicted from the dude’s perspective, trying to teach him not to get drunk and rape people in public. Or someone in the crowd, trying to teach them not to get drunk and laughingly photograph rape.

    But yeah, this is just the same kind of double standard that sees women carrying mace and attending “self-defence classes” to prepare for the inevitable attacks by men if they dare to venture into public at night. Whereas nobody trains men not to attack women. It’s meant to be women’s responsibility to be “sensible”, ie, personally responsible for her and everyone else’s behaviour.

    In that light, have you seen the Spring Valley “Sensible” ad campaign, in which a party girl goes from trampy walks of shame to bike rides in the park with the help of her ‘sensible’. I haven’t seen any ads suggesting that dudes have ‘sensibles’ as well.

  4. Mel Campbell said

    Doh, I’ve just read the Age story and I think the basic problem with ad campaigns is that they can never defy dominant paradigms. In order to work (‘work’ being defined here as behaviour modification), they have to leverage people’s beliefs and fears (and not comment on how fucked and sexist these beliefs are). So in this case, the ‘humiliating sex’ scenario was identified as one of women’s greatest fears and thus it has to be depicted in the ad to get them to cut down their drinking.

  5. Kat said

    I’ve been thinking about what the alternative is for this type of advert.

    The problem with saying “Don’t be a rapist” is that people will shut out the message when they don’t think it applies to them (even when their behaviour actually makes the person a rapist).

    This is why often men are targeted with “Stand by and watch? You’re as bad as he is.” It doesn’t accuse the man, and it plays into the damsel in distress/hero view when someone does the decent human thing and steps in to prevent abuse.

    How about something like thought bubbles around a person bragging about taking advantage of someone, with men and woman alike thinking a variety of “bastard” “loser” “rapist” “i’m calling the cops” “youre trying to justify that?”

    Maybe more a print ad.

  6. scal said

    Mel, those “sensible” ads are stupid on so many levels. The part that shits me the most is the description of the bikey-looking bloke as a “transvestite”.

    Way to be both offensive and ignorant, advertising douches.

  7. Nat said

    Mel, I agree with your second post. It is about behavior modification. 15-second ads rely on crude stereotypes to tell a story. Are they effective in changing behavior or reinforcing stereotypes? That’s a big question.

    What concerned me was how quickly we jumped into the “rape” issue. Despite the sex not being classy, I think there were key aspects of the story that suggested it was not rape. The young girl was conscience, no evidence of force on the males part and the female taking off her own underwear. She may have said NO later on but we do not get to see that.

    @Bearded Lady – I agree the problems with these ads is the reliance on the stereotypes but to argue that the normalisation of pornography is more important than the role of alcohol is just dangerous and unfounded. 30% of all sexual abuses involve alcohol consumption (though there is significant debate about causation), whereas there are virtually no studies that link pornography to sexual assaults.

    @Kat – I think you are right about the problem with “Don’t be a Rapist” ads. And yes, we need to teach our young (males and females) about respect and all that but like most public service health and safety initiatives these days, the message is focused on harminimisation – from sexual health to drug use to avoiding assault. I think this fits into that category. And the reason for the focus on “embarrassing sex” or “regrettable sex” is that teenage girls report significantly higher amounts of sex that was either unwanted, that they regretted and that they regretted due to the being intoxicated (about 30% unwanted and 62% had regretted sex acts).

    As for the government being in control of trying to modify our thinking and behavior – I am not sure they can be trusted to do it well or ethically.

  8. Bearded Lady said

    I wasn’t arguing that one was more important than the other but in any case, I fail to see how such an argument would be ‘dangerous and unfounded’. My point was that alcohol consumption doesn’t sufficiently explain or excuse sexual violence because rape and domestic violence are gendered crimes. These crimes aren’t and weren’t taken seriously by men until women demanded that they should be.
    While I don’t disagree that alcoholism and binge drinking are important social problems that need to be addressed, I think framing rape in terms of ’embarrassing sex’ or ‘regrettable sex’ is harmful to women. I understand that many women might conceptualize sexual violence in this way but I just don’t think the ends justifies the means.

    Also, to claim that there are no studies linking pornography to sexual violence is to neglect a huge body of feminist work on the subject as well as the testimonies of individual survivors. The kind of cultural scripts that play out in advertisments like this do not fall out of the sky. That’s not to say that pornography is completely to blame but I don’t understand why, if we can critique an ad like this as concealing a certain ideology, that we can’t do the same for pornography.

    @ Kat
    Perhaps another alternative is an ad that seeks to empower young women instead. A campaign that says what’s happening to you is unacceptable, you don’t deserve it and we’re going to support you as community to stand up and seek justice. A campaign that promotes solidarity among women while holding men accountable. Just an idea.

  9. caitlinate said

    @ Bearded Lady. I also don’t like the way the blaming on social changes and lack of services kind of paints these sorts of events as… modern? As though back when everything was black and white this sort of thing didn’t happen… It also allows for a shifting of blame rather than an actual deconstruction of why this happens.

    @Shades of Blue. Exactly!!

    @mel. Ad campaigns can defy dominant paradigms and generally the most successful ads are the ones that do. By just portraying a known scenario and saying ‘tut, tut’ there isn’t going to be any modification in behaviour and most advertisers should know this! The best advertising is about providing an alternative or reinforcing one that is already know.
    This does just buy into the dominant paradigm but I don’t see any scenario in which I can find that acceptable. Trading in education about rape to stop binge drinking? Seriously? Obviously I can understand what they are trying to do. But tackling wider societal attitudes about violence – regardless of whether it is sexual or gendered – is going to get them a lot further than reminding people you do stupid shit when you’re drunk and here are some examples. Additionally it’s a campaign that is approved by government bodies – and presumably there wasn’t a point at which someone went, oh this girl is getting raped and we’re saying it’s her fault, better not put it on the television – and that is also worrying.

    @Nat. I’m not at all concerned about how quickly I jumped on the rape issue. I’m concerned by how quickly the people behind the ad didn’t. Sexual assault is any behaviour of a sexual nature that you have not agreed or consented to. In Australia the law defines consent as ‘free agreement’. It can’t be given if the person is asleep unconscious or significantly affected by alcohol or other drugs. Plus. You may not have seen her say NO but I certainly didn’t see her say YES.
    There are a lot of studies and evidence that link sexual assault and pornography. Or rather than the behaviours and attitudes shown in mainstream pornography – dehumanisation of women, violence, etc – directly affect it’s users. To point out that we live in a world where violence against women is acceptable is a lot more reasonable than excusing perpetrators because they were drunk and certainly not ‘dangerous’.

    Yay all for good ad ideas!

  10. Mel Campbell said

    Caitlinate: Can you please list for me some ad campaigns that have successfully defied dominant paradigms? Please list the paradigms in question and how the campaigns defied them.

  11. scal said

    Don’t the “if you drink then drive, you’re a bloody idiot” ads do exactly that?

    It took the image of the average, blokey, sociable man who was behaving in what what then a socially-acceptable “laddish” way, and used the language of that group to subvert the paradigm.

    I am sympathetic to a lot of these criticism of these ads. However, when I was a teenage girl – and a terrible binge drinker – these are the kinds narratives which would have influenced me. I wasn’t worried about my health, I didn’t really consider my safety, but being publically embarrassed? That possibility would have made me think.

    It could actually be a clever tactic for the ad to be shot from several perspectives to show how all the participants in the story were affected negatively by alcohol.

  12. Clem Bastow said

    They discussed the use of “shame”/”embarrassment” regularly on The Gruen Transfer (in the context of “leakage” and tampons, admittedly); it seems to be a favoured tool of the advertising community (the idea that young girls are terrified of perceived embarrassment amongst their peers) and I’m sure that’s what they’re going for here. It’s just a shame that they’ve turned what is, ostensibly, a rape scenario (i.e. the dude taking the girl down the back of the garden) into something simply “embarrassing”. It’s a damn sight worse than that!

  13. […] Said What Clem Bastow on Women Are Always To Blamescal on Women Are Always To BlameMel Campbell on Women Are Always To Blamecaitlinate on […]

  14. Nat said

    @Bearded Lady
    I wasn’t framing rape as ‘embarrassing sex’ or ‘regrettable sex’. I was framing the act that i witnessed in the ad. I again reiterate, there was nothing to suggest it was rape. Now, if the ad extended further and showed scenes of the teenage girl saying it was, she didn’t consent, or passed out after taking her underpants off etc, then yes, we can start to definitely call it rape. Looking at it another way, there are lots of things we don’t know about the scenario- did they have sex at all for instance? If this was a real-life scenario, would you feel comfortable in calling that guy a rapist when there is so much we do not know about the situation.

    As for Porn:
    Yes there is anecdotal literature and those scary uban but the Empirical and experimental literature don’t stack up. Yes there the two holy grail studies of Malamuth & Co and Mike Allen (they are the ones where men electro-shock women after viewing porn and the one where jurors attitudes in a hypothetical rape case change after viewing porn). Both of these studies have been discredited and in the first case, by Malamuth himself, got contradictory results. (this is true for mainstream legal pornography)

    The recently released porn report (McKee, Albury and Lumby) is a good starting point for those wanting to look into the science/attitudes behind porn. They show that the viewing of pornography has virtually no effect on attitudes towards women (with slight data showing a positive correlation).

    What factors go hand in hand with more negative attitudes toward women? Age, Religion and Political persuasion (interpret – old, religious and right-wing). Surprise, surprise!

    Yes there are people and things to blame for violence and negative attitudes towards women – but porn is not one of them.

    I reckon the ad from the range of perspectives would work well!

  15. Christine said

    The Herald Sun website front page promo’d a story on the ads by showing a print ad featuring the scenario where two teens get drunk and another takes a photo, with the caption: “Is This A Bad Night? A new anti-drinking campaign launched by the government shows scenarios that may do anything but put young men off drinking.”

    And another caption on the article page: “You pull a hot chick, your mates find out, AND there’s photographic evidence. Is this sort of ad really going to put young men off drinking?”

    Sickening. They could have made the point that these are not aimed at young males without basically saying “this won’t work on guys, because it’s an awesome scenario, right dudes?!”

    The ad the Herald Sun featured shows two pictures, the first a guy and a girl gettiing drunk and the second them being photographed. Though they both look embarrassed in the 2nd picture, the first pic has the girl in the centre of the frame, facing us and the boy barely in frame, his back to us.

    I thus suspected these ads were targeted at girls, so it’s interesting – and horrifying – to read this direct info that confirms that.

  16. Mel Campbell said

    @Christine – Well, yeah, this is the same attitude that plays down female teachers sexually assaulting male students because, hey, everyone’s hot for teacher, eh?

    I’m not exactly surprised as when I first saw the ad I, too, was struck by how good-looking both of the kids were. The message seemed to be, Beer goggles: they work!

  17. Bearded Lady said

    @ Nat

    I’m afraid we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

    I wasn’t attacking your interpretation of the campaign but the advertisement itself. To me the situation depicted is clearly rape or at least some form of sexual assault. Your understanding of what constitutes coercion is clearly different to mine.

    Re: porn.

    I agree that there’s little evidence for a direct causal link between pornography and sexual abuse and that pornography is not the sole cause of rape but I do think there’s some direct link between, say, the popularity of gonzo pornography and teenagers filming and distributing videos of sexual encounters between their peers. What I was trying to argue was that pornography isn’t ‘just sex’ but an ideological tool for legitimizing inequality between groups and, as such, plays some role in sexual assaults where the violence is gendered. It’s my view that pornography is misogynistic and promotes sexist and racist attitudes towards women. If you doubt that, you obviously haven’t had a good look at the stuff that passes for ‘non-violent erotica’ these days. If we can agree that the Bible inculcates sexist attitudes, why not pornography? I don”t get it.

    The problem with ‘scientific’ research like the ‘ Porn Report’ is that it doesn’t treat the sex of pornography as hegemonic, but as natural. I put very little stock in the findings of Albury, McKee and Lumby’s research and would hesitate to call it ‘scientific’. Considering that the research was based on interviews with pornography consumers , and Lumby’s roles as “gender adviser” to Big Brother and the National Rugby League, I’m even less convinced.

    Personally, I doubt that you can make a firm distinction between politics and science in any research on human sexuality and the politics of Albury et. al. are really questionable. Their study may be ’empirical’, but let’s not forget that the great pantheon of sex researchers includes such luminaries as Havelock Ellis, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey and Alex Comfort. Hardly writers untainted by sexism.

    Take Ellis in Studies in the Psychology of Sex for example: “[We]found that the primary part of the female in courtship is the playful, yet serious, assumption of the role of a hunted animal who lures on the pursuer, not with the object of escaping, but with the object of being finally caught…[the male] will display his energy and skill to capture the female or to arouse in her an emotional condition which leads her to surrender herself to him, this process at the same time heightening his own excitement.”
    And: “When the normal man inflicts or feels the impulse to inflict, some degree of physical pain on the woman he loves he can scarcely be said to be moved by cruelty. He feels, more or less obscurely, that the pain he inflicts, or desires to inflict, is really part of his love, and that, moreover, it is not really resented by the woman on whom it is exercised…Moreover, we have to bear in mind the fact – a very significant fact from more than one point of view – that the normal manifestations of a woman’s sexual pleasure are exceedingly like those of pain.” (both in Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Vol 111, 1903)

    Similarly, Albury et al. buy into patriarchal constructions of sex when they argue that pornography might actually decrease incidents of sexual violence. Presumably because men’s sexuality is so out-of-control that it needs some kind of outlet. If not in the form of a partner or intimate, then in the form of prostituted women and pornography.

    The feminist critique of pornography is not just a critique of pornography, but of the conceptual distinctions made by researchers like Albury et al. I personally find them very convincing.

    An interesting article on the subject:

  18. Bearded Lady said

    See also:

  19. […] like drunken harlots they’ve only got themselves to blame for the consequences, covered in Women Are Always To Blame at The Dawn Chorus and Protecting their Virginity: Saving Girls from Sex at Girls’ Literature […]

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