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Mythbusting Monday – Sexism in advertising is normal and acceptable

Upskirting is witty. At least, it is according to one advertiser.

The controversial billboard in question is being used to market new high-rise condominium units in the downtown district. It consists of an image of a woman in a short skirt photographed from a low angle, with the caption “look up… way up.” Calgary resident Travis Gertz has brought attention to, and spoken out against this billboard, correctly pointing out the image as sexist and highly offensive.

Upskirting, for the uninitiated, is where someone contrives to take a photograph up a woman’s skirt from below. The most prized versions of upskirt, photos which get shared online and amongst buddies, are those captured without the woman’s knowledge or consent.

Of course, the woman in this ad for condos is presumed to be a professional model and to have consented to the photograph. Since you can’t actually see anything up her skirt, what’s the kerfuffle about ? It’s just a lame joke. Not!

In a previous mythbuster, we have explored the idea that sexist and racist humour promotes discriminatory behaviour more than sexist and racist statements do. Beyond that, this ad is couched in the notion that invading a person’s privacy is harmless, something to be snickered at, or even a way to draw attention to yourself (or your condo project, as the case may be).

One of the bedrock teachings at CCASA is something we call the “violence pyramid”. All violating behaviours pass through a series of stages before we become aware of the end result:

  1. The foundation – attitudes and beliefs– the basic belief system of a person: upskirting is not only okay, it’s even funny
  2. The second tier – justifying or rationalizing the behaviour – it’s okay to take this photograph if: the woman doesn’t know it’s being taken,  I can make my friends laugh, or, she’s wearing a short skirt
  3. Top tier –action is taken –*snapsnap*

The behaviour is reinforced every time someone simply accepts it without protest, and especially if it elicits chuckles from others. Sexist advertising keeps being used and reinforced as desirable when we just accept it as normal and defend it as harmlessly funny.

This obnoxious ad cements the societal attitude that some people don’t deserve the kind of privacy and respect other people get – whether it’s because of their clothing choices, gender, or, for other reasons. It also hammers in the idea that it’s okay to disregard other people if they can be used to get the results you’re looking for: exploitation for financial gain.
In the grand scheme of things, this ad doesn’t seem like such a big deal compared to real crime. But it’s definitely a good indicator of the kind of respect the agency and real estate developer have for women’s privacy and dignity, and men’s sophistication.

Travis Gertz has received a lot of criticism for his vocal dissent to the ad. Some commenters have even painted him as too sensitive or prudish. Putting himself in the public eye with such an (apparently) unpopular opinion shows he’s nothing of the sort. Gertz is taking a stand against the exploitive and sexist media that is pervasive in our society. Hear! Hear!

Raunchy Calgary condo ad stirs controversy

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