Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sorry Dr. Geagea, women are not flowers waiting to be plucked by men

Pin ThisEmail This

According to the Lebanese Forces (LF), women are flowers waiting to be plucked by men. In a recent campaign against underage marriage, we see a lurking man’s hand approaching a little girl. And the line reads: “don’t pluck her before her time.”

In other words: wait for her to blossom, then go ahead, pluck her and put her in a vase somewhere in your home. Her role is to beautify your life, not be your partner, your equal. Perhaps when her beauty starts to fade and her petals become too wrinkly, you can throw her away and pluck a new one. Just be kind enough to wait until her “time” has come.

The intention is noble – underage marriage is legal pedophilia and should be unequivocally denounced at every opportunity – but the message is shameful. Most Lebanese political parties use traditional advertising agencies for this type of communication. I don’t know which agency Samir Geagea's party hired to create and produce this piece, but this wasn't the first time the local ad industry objectifed women.

Over the years, many ads have shown a pitiful image of the fairer sex. Like this billboard featuring a voluptuous starlet next to the line: “My jewel, my right”. In a country where most Lebanese live in poverty and women don’t have the same rights as men – the right the give their nationality to their children, for example – it was rather distasteful, to say the least.

In 2015, during the garbage crisis, an ad posted on social media said: “To clean Lebanon, hand it over to women”. It could have been seen as a clumsy attempt to spread some obscure feminist message if the ad weren’t for a household cleaning brand. And if the chosen word for women – neswén – weren't so derogatory. As Now journalist Ranya Radwan wrote: “Essentially, the sexist advertisement insinuates that only women can clean Lebanon, because, as we all know, it’s the only thing they’re good at...”

That same year, a commercial for a bank promoting its home loan service told the story of a young man visiting the parents of his beloved. He is seeking their permission to marry their daughter. He’s a successful guy that just won a Nobel Prize! But that’s not enough for the dad. He asks: “do you own a home, my boy?” The young man looks embarrassed – obviously he’s not a homeowner. So he gets politely kicked out.

Forget the fact that Nobel winners get 1.4 million dollars and can easily buy a home (common sense where art thou?), the most appalling factor in this commercial is the daughter. When her dad asks if her fiancé owns a home, her expression is disgraceful: the utter disdain she expresses towards a man she’s supposed to love is, at best, shocking. She doesn’t defend him, she doesn’t express her undying love, she doesn’t say how brilliant he is (the guy won a Nobel, right?), she just implies he’s a loser.

And when the young man is kicked out, his dearly beloved doesn’t utter a word and lets it happen – she actually vanishes from the commercial and is not shown again. In other words: this daughter who’s supposed to represent Lebanese young women can’t care less if the man she’s going to marry is decent or brilliant, the most important is that he owns a home. What a sad and despicable image of Lebanese women!

One may argue that these ads are mere reflections of reality. But this logic is absurd. If sexism is a reality, is it ok to have sexist ads? Let’s push further: if racism is a reality, is it ok to have racist ads? People using this line of reasoning to defend this type of communication are actually promoting sexism, racism and everything that’s wrong with the country. Ultimately, it says more about who they are than about society at large.

The only way to stop these sexist and chauvinistic ads from being produced is to boycott any brand or company that indulges in objectifying women. For a political party, like the Lebanese Forces, a boycott may prove difficult. Like all other parties, the LF have a hardcore fan base – men and women alike – that will cheers at anything and everything. But we can make enough noise on social media to compel them to withdraw their awful piece of communication and never make the same mistake again.

© Claude El Khal, 2017