First: what the hell is it about the women columnists at The Age and their habits with mirrors? First, it was Catherine Deveny making the oddest introduction to a column about International Women's Day I had ever read; now its Tracee Hutchison confessing to her fair share of sub-navel gazing. Who will be next? *
Anyway, the point of Tracee's column this week is to complain bitterly about the recent tampon ad which reminded viewers of the sexual slang (originally American, I assume) meaning of beaver.
Given that, as a conservative, I actually don't disagree with Hutchison's criticism of "raunch culture", and I would hardly accuse the ad of being in good taste; I still find her outrage a bit over the top.
First, it's hard to take the metaphor too seriously. The rodent in question is shown under the girl's arm walking down the street, then under a hairdresser's hairdryer, and then having its nails painted. As these are activities with no real life equivalent, the point would seem to be that the anatomy in question is a young woman's (best?) friend. Given Tracee's self-examination, I take it she approves of women having a thorough acquaintance with their body, but extending that into a jokey stereotypical girly friendship is obviously just too much of a stretch for her.
Tracee seems particularly upset by the fact that a considerable number of young women are apparently not offended by "... their vaginas being referred to as toothy, amphibious rodents.." She seems a bit unduly sensitive about beavers as animals; I thought most people found then interesting and somewhat endearing, and far from the ugliest creature around. Personally, I think some rodent sensitivity counselling for Tracee would not go astray. (Don't watch this, TH.)
But the part that really upset Tracee was the third scene, in which 2 men are shown looking at the bikini clad woman/rodent at the beach. Our columnist reads it this way:
And who in their right mind thought it was OK to thinly disguise a blatant male ogling at beaver-as-vagina sunning itself on the beach as a tampon ad?Well, as a general rule, it's near impossible to underestimate men enough when it comes to their visual interest in what's on display at the beach. And couldn't part of the point be that there is (at least metaphorical) genitalia on open display? Ask Paris and Britney if that attracts attention.
Make no mistake. There was absolutely no ambiguity here. This ad said loudly — and apparently proudly — that women are nothing more than vaginas on legs. It not only offended and degraded women, it underestimated and degraded men.
As I say, I'm not a fan of the ad, and conservatives do share (for somewhat different motives) feminism's concern that men and women would be better occupied not thinking about sex all the time. But this ad's central (admittedly dubious taste) joke is only appreciated by those old enough to have heard the slang already; and to the extent that the "ogling" section can be taken to be mean that young women might enjoy the learing attention of men: well it would hardly be the first ad to suggest that.
Our Tracee is giving it more attention than it deserves.
* (I trust not Michelle Grattan; that would be a mental image way, way too far.)