As though my early-morning commute isn’t frustating enough as it is, I found myself this morning confronted with a scene designed to fry the brain of any feminist. Especially this feminist, who had not yet had her tea.
Remember the not-quite-there advertising campaign by Coca Cola for their genius scheme, Coke Zero? The way that even though there didn’t seem to be much hype, suddenly it was there and everybody knew they were meant to call it “Bloke Coke”. Because real men wouldn’t be seen dead holding a bottle of diet coke (which is for girls, because only girls would diet!), but nevertheless need a brand of coke that has no calories. For body-building purposes, naturally.
Well, this morning the not-quite-there advertising suddenly turned in-your-face.
A big cool-bin full of bottles of Coke Zero. A big, burly, masculine black man in promotional uniform. And….
A young, tall, slim, big-breasted blonde woman wearing a tight, form-fitting promotional T-shirt, tight black hotpants and, as the icing on the cake, knee high white socks.
What. The. Fuck?
At quarter to eight in the fucking morning? I don’t want to have to think about all the ways in which that kind of advertising is wrong, not before eight in the morning and especially not before I’ve had my breakfast!
I’m guessing the not-so-subtle message behind it is that, by drinking Bloke Coke, you too could become a big, burly, masculine black man, with a hot blonde woman as your sidekick. Not that there’s a whole heap of pornographic stereotypes about “blacks on blondes” or anything. Not that there’s that lovely racial stereotype about black men having huge cocks. No, I bet the good people at Coca-Cola never had those thoughts cross their minds, as they sent out that particular team.
Oh, and the thought about how a hot, big-breasted blonde woman in hotpants would look as she bent over a conveniently sized bin to get more free samples…. yeah, I bet that never crossed their minds either.
It must’ve just been my filthy mind that leapt to those kinds of conclusions.
And don’t even get me started on the way she was offering all the men the coke by shifting her posture to look up at them, calling them all “sir” whilst in knee-highs….
Yep, sex sells. Especially thin, female, big-breasted, blonde, submissive sex.
That woman? I don’t know how she felt about what she was doing, and I’m not going to speculate. I could see that she was making the effort, though. Making an impression. Fair enough; it’s a job, it must pay. There’s always the satisfaction of doing a job well.
I just wish it wasn’t this way. Wish that it wasn’t all about Teh Sex. And worse, that it’s so…. male-orientated. That sounds daft, but what I mean is – that Coke Zero was being linked inextricably to sex. The kind of sex that’s advertised as good sex – for men. Really good sex. But only for men.
And it’s always that way.
If food is advertised for men, it’s packaged in a way that links it to good, male-dominant, heterosexual sex. Socially approved hunger, both for food and sex. All tied up in a fizzy drink, or a beer, or whatever.
Whereas, if food is advertised for women, it’s packaged in a way that links it to the fall of Eve*. It’s always, always about the sin of it all. Chocolate. Sweets. Naughtiness. Knowing you shouldn’t. Knowing you will. It’s about submitting. About surrendering control. About not being able to help yourself.
It’s no wonder we’ve got so many hang-ups about food. And sex. The two just link. All the time. And that’s not what I wanted to think about before I’d even started my day.
Of course, I wasn’t the demographic that Coke was targetting. So I was safe from being accosted, and walked past, unnoticed, and bought a chocolate croissant instead. And I didn’t link it to sex, not even a little bit. The crumbs would get everywhere.
*Also, I object to the phrase “the fall”. I rather think she jumped.
My sister is 18 – only 19 months younger than me. And, whilst I grew up tomboyish and vain, she grew up feminine and vain. So we make quite a good combination, all things considered, and never have to compete for being ‘the best’, because we’re so very different there’s nothing to compete for – I’ll be best at wearing skanky jeans, she’ll be best at wearing frilly skirts. It’s fine.
It also means that whilst I get quite animated about feminism, and LGBTQ rights, and fat acceptance, and so on and so forth, she…. doesn’t.
So when, a few days ago, she told me about this, it made me hurt inside. Because although I’ve read a fair amount about it, she hasn’t – and for her it’s personal.
My sister’s friend, V, is anorexic. Severely, can’t-leave-the-house-she’s-so-weak anorexic.
She had all her lessons at school rearranged for the morning so that she could get through her A-levels and not collapse and die. So far, she lives.
But she wasn’t the “fat” girl in their friendship group. Not by a long shot. That was my sister. Not that my sister was fat, of course, but when everybody around you is 4’6″ and wearing child clothes and you’re 5’3″ and wearing adult clothes, then you feel fat. And she did. But she didn’t diet, other than the odd half-hearted cutting-out-chocolate-for-a-month type diets, and eventually the tiny thin girls that she was friends with got taller and filled out a bit.
It’s just that when V filled out a bit, she took it badly.
And my sister got very upset.
It could so easily have been her, she told me. She read the same magazines, she saw the same adverts, she watched the same programmes – and everything told her that she needed to diet. It’s just that she never did. It wasn’t, she said, that she was any stronger willed, or any more clever – she just got lucky. It just didn’t affect her in the same way.
But it could have done.
The girl lying listlessly in her bed, refusing to eat, terrified of being “fat” whilst wasting away before her friends’ eyes – that could have been my sister. It could have been me.
And, she said, it made a real difference to the way she felt about food.
She and V have a male friend who is very close to them both. They’ve both known him for years. And he, seeing V wasting away, is now terrified that every female friend he has will do the same. Which means that my sister is faced with a dilemma whenever she goes out with him – because he wants to see her eating “normally”.
“I can’t eat salads in front of him now,” she told me, sadly, “he thinks it means I’m dieting, just like how V started out. He always wants me to eat burgers and stuff, and I don’t always want to. And I know he’s only scared but I’m scared for her too, and it’s hard enough as it is to not get funny about food without him watching what I’m eating all the time.”
My sister knows. She didn’t have to read Shapely Prose to learn about fat acceptance – she worked it out on her own, growing up. She didn’t have to read a few hundred articles about the pervasive messages of self-hatred that the patriarchy throws at us – she can see them in every magazine she picks up.
My sister is 18. And she’s a brilliant feminine feminist.