This article was first published in the Q? zine created by the Radical Queer Affinity Collective. Cyborg monkey is happily part of this collective 🙂 The article was written in response to a campaign organised by the Sustainable Campus Initiative at the Central European University in Budapest.
The golden rule of capitalist marketing says that ‘sex sells’. Although using sexual and erotic imagery in salesmanship is as old as the idea of advertising itself, it has not died out. ‘Young entrepreneurs’ still believe that whatever they want to sell (be it beer, cars, hammers, jeans, coffins, roof tiles or, organic fertilizer), putting an image of a female body next to it will increase the chances of catching their clientele’s attention. That is why public space is literally littered with boobs and asses. Vintage sexist ads are being mocked now as an obvious example of anachronism, but the trend to make a more or less subtle ‘wink’ to customers still continues.
Ok, everybody knows what’s wrong with sex in advertising and how it objectifies women’s bodies. But what about using sex to promote a ‘good cause’? Let me give you an example of that: “Two on one? Is much more fun!” or “Turning this off turns me on!”
Sounds familiar? Yes, these are slogans from the new SCI (Sustainable Campus Initiative) campaign that you might have noticed on the posters put in computer labs. The Sustainability is sexy campaign seeks to make CEU students aware of energy savings that they could make by turning the computer screens off in the labs and printing double-sided. But why on Mother Earth do they have to do that using sexist means?! Let me briefly review the message that comes across with the beautiful posters I am talking about. If I print double-sided will it enhance my chances of getting laid or maybe even to have a threesome? If I turn off the screen in the basement lab do I run the risk of some guy creeping up behind me because he was inexplicably “turned on”? And who knows what would happen if I were to turn the lights off (apparently it should get better)? Not to mention that all the posters are meant exclusively for a heteronormative eye.
SCI seems to be inspired by the infamous PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) strategy that uses sexism and nudity as a cheap trick to attract attention to animal rights. Naked sexy bodies wrapped in plastic like chicken meat, models posing with animal skins, a shot of female lingerie with body hair (the slogan says: “Fur trim. Unattractive”), urging ice-creams producers to use human breast milk instead of cow milk – that’s PETA’s shock therapy. ‘Sex sells’ in its fullest!
The latest video commercial from the “Veggie Love” campaign shows barely dressed women getting down and dirty with… vegetables! So who is a target of this kind of advertising? Licking pumpkin and imitating masturbation with asparagus somehow does not convince me to go vegetarian. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy green porn and I know sex toys are expensive, so cheaper organic substitutes are not such a bad idea, but PETA’s ads are clearly misogynist. PETA responds to criticism by pointing out that, “since the organization is run by a woman, they could not possibly be accused of sexism.” Great logic, let us think about that for a second. Hmm, “The US is not racist, because Obama is black”. The problem is that one type of oppression is prioritized over another. Hey PETA, why not try to be more concerned with the ethical treatment of women?
Coming back to the SCI case, what is it all about? In the Proposal for a Sustainable Campus at CEU in the section 2.1.1 on education it is argued that:
The most important task during the year students spend with CEU is to make them feel that the sustainable lifestyle and habits that CEU supports and takes for granted are desirable, normal and things, habits to be taken home and inculcated into their local populations when they return to their countries, that this is ‘the way things should be done’ by civilized, socially and environmentally aware citizens.
I think that my ‘local population’ better knows how ‘things should be done’ and how to care about the environment without offending women and using them as tokens only. Unfortunately the author clearly assumes that my lifestyle (and yours too) is not sustainable enough, as the ‘local population’ of my species has to be some savage, uncivilized, non-western wasteland. Let there be dragons! The report on the sustainable campus conveniently doesn’t mention the key word here: development. ‘Sustainability’ inevitably comes in a package with ‘development’. The whole project is yet another alliance between the patriarchal system and capitalism to launch a developmental mission to civilize savage populations. Of course what is also nearly forgotten is that the idea of sustainability is linked to responsibility. The poster action and SCI’s strategy can in no way be termed ‘responsible’. By utilizing such techniques to reach a goal, SCI leaves a giant sexist footprint behind and they’d better deal with it soon, because the struggle for the environment is a serious one! If you are not creative enough to come up with something actually interesting, and if you cannot make yourself fight for a clean campus without simultaneously exploiting women, it is better to say nothing instead. Sustainability should be thought of in relation to equality.
Feminism shares the environmental concerns! While we appreciate the tremendous efforts of SCI to raise awareness about environmental issues, we certainly do not appreciate the cheap mainstream tactics of selling the message.This is a common fight, and powers should be consolidated, instead of being compromised by sexist culture. Hopefully SCI will realize that and try to change their poor strategy of drawing students’ attention to a very important cause. But maybe they need some help, so I invite you to come up with an alternative to the shameful Sustainability is sexy campaign. Anyone can think of a way to prove that green activism doesn’t have to be sexist, racist, or classist. Design a poster or leaflet, make a video or sticker, and share! Let’s turn it into a kick-ass action!