The MBTA should not allow advertising from crisis pregnancy centers

The MBTA is where you’ll usually find ads for Jamba juice and Jansport backpacks, local research studies, and public health campaigns. Currently, though, much of this highly-coveted space is occupied by ads for Daybreakinc.org, an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center. The ads don’t tell you that Daybreak has an anti-abortion agenda; they claim to offer “compassion,” “empowerment,” “hope,” and most inaccurately, “options.” This is in fact the major criticism of crisis pregnancy centers—that they misrepresent themselves as neutral parties. They are not, and they should not be allowed to advertise their heavily-biased and manipulative services on the MBTA.

The point of a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) is to keep pregnant women from having abortions, often by delaying them with offers of pregnancy tests and ultrasounds until it’s too late. What is truly sinister about CPCs is their use of untrue or misleading information to scare women away from choosing abortion, with false claims such as: abortion causes breast cancer, abortion is psychologically damaging, abortion can lead to sterility, and birth-control pills cause abortion. A 2006 Congressional investigation found that 87 percent of the centers surveyed provided false or misleading medical information.

Daybreak is guilty of this type of misinformation, although they are careful not to appear so on their website. It’s no wonder they are covering their behinds—legal action has been taken against CPCs in a number of states regarding their deceptive advertising in New York, California, Ohio, Missouri, and North Dakota.

According to their website, Daybreak claims to provide “accurate information about pregnancy, fetal development, lifestyle issues, and related concerns” as well as offer “accurate information about abortion procedures and risks.” They say “our advertising and communications are truthful and honest and accurately describe the services we offer.” But when you dig in deeper, you will find a sample if misleading and just plain untrue “facts” on their website:

  • Daybreak claims: “[Plan B] It may alter the uterine lining which prevents the fertilized egg from implanting, resulting in an early abortion.” (This is wrong—the dissolution of a fertilized egg is NOT “early abortion.”)
  • Daybreak claims: “Complications may happen in as many as 1 out of every 100 early abortions,” when according to the Guttmacher Institute, “the risk of abortion complications is minimal: Fewer than 0.3% of abortion patients experience a complication that requires hospitalization.”
  • Daybreak claims: “Women who have experienced abortion may develop the following symptoms: guilt, grief, anger, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, difficulty bonding with partner or children, eating disorder,” when the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion reported that “the best scientific evidence published indicates that among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy the relative risk of mental health problems is no greater if they have a single elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver that pregnancy.”
  • On the particularly appalling “For Men” section of the Daybreak website, they write: “Many women who have had abortions report that they were waiting for their boyfriends/husbands to stop them. Some even say that they sat on the table hoping the father of their baby would ‘rush through the door to rescue me and take me away somewhere safe.’” (Um, citation needed?)

I’m not trying to make the argument that free pregnancy counseling is a bad thing or that the people at Daybreak are “bad” people, but pregnancy counseling, or any counseling for that matter, should be unbiased and informative. No where on the Daybreak MBTA ads are women informed that the the “free pregnancy counseling” is actually anti-abortion counseling, and that is dishonest, manipulative, and ultimately wrong. Women facing unplanned pregnancies need to know all their options, without the implication that one is better than another, and they need real medical information, not the “facts” listed above.

The MBTA is currently under fire for proposed fare increases and service cuts. They may be desperate for funds, but that does not excuse this moral misstep. CPCs are a growing threat to women’s health and the MBTA is the last place Bostonians should be exposed to anti-abortion propaganda.

“Shame and Blame: Facing the Unintended Consequences of Health Messaging” on Huffpost

Today my op-ed on shame and blame in health campaigns was published on the Huffington Post. Check it out!

Shame and Blame: Facing the Unintended Consequences of Health Messaging

A solemn black and white poster shows a picture of an obese girl with copy that reads: “Warning: It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.” Another poster displays a woman’s naked legs with her panties around her ankles and the word: “She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t say no.” The first is part of the Georgia “Strong 4 Life” campaign to prevent childhood obesity; the other is part of the Pennsylvania “Control Tonight” campaign to reduce excessive alcohol consumption. Though the campaigns are unrelated, they have one thing in common: disregard for the effects of shame and blame — the frequent unintended consequences of health campaigns.

The promotion of health and social welfare is one of those noble causes that attracts people who want to “do good.” Physicians are taught to “First, do no harm,” but health communication professionals take for granted that their work is “doing good” without considering that it might cause unintentional harm. For example, stigmatizing sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention messages may make people with STIs too embarrassed to seek treatment or too ashamed to tell their sexual partners. Not only can health promotion messages lead to such negative health outcomes, they can also promote destructive social values, like fat stigma and rape culture.

Read the rest at the Huffington Post.

Nike sells addiction: “Just Do It”

The tragic death of Amy Winehouse reminded the world of the gravity of drug and alcohol addiction. One of the leading causes of accidental death in the U.S. (even surpassing car accident deaths in New York and 16 other states) overdose is a serious problem affecting tens of thousands of Americans and their families. Yet, Nike had the audacity to trivialize addiction by conflating it with running: “the only addiction good for your body,” in its creepy, new ad.

In Amy’s words, “What kind of fuckery is this?”

It’s not entirely clear what Nike is trying to do here. It’s possible that the company is trying to convince the most serious runners that Nike “gets” them. It could also be promoting running addiction, hoping that increasing the number of running “addicts” will increase demand for unethically-made sneakers. Or, it might just be an attempt at edginess that missed the mark. Even though running is often thought of as “addicting” and “runner’s high” has been scientifically documented, an addiction to running isn’t the same as an addiction to drugs or alcohol. As Gabriele Beltrone said in Adweek, “Sure, sprinting is kind of like shooting up. Except for, you know, some minor differences.”

Besides the obvious insensitivity of trivializing drug and alcohol addiction, the ad itself is potentially triggering for those in recovery. With imagery reminiscent of gritty heroine movies and lines like “You start slowly, thinking ‘I can stop whenever I want,’” “In no time, you completely lose control,” and “Praying to get out, forget it … I have never met an ex-addict,” this ad is more likely to trigger cravings for hard drugs than a jog around the neighborhood. Considering the high risk of relapse, this ad isn’t just insensitive, but dangerous.

Another serious problem with this ad is that it completely disregards the reality of exercise addiction. A behavioral addiction, like compulsive gambling, sex, or shopping, exercise addiction is often connected to eating disorders. For those with eating disorders who are not getting the proper nutrition to sustain vigorous exercise habits, compulsive exercise is an unhealthy behavior with serious medical risks. In these cases, a running addiction is not “good for your body.” While I’m sure Nike wouldn’t purposefully try to encourage or validate this behavior, the company’s ignorance of the issue is blatant and unfortunate. For people suffering from exercise addiction, this ad is also insensitive and triggering.

According to AlterNet.org, in 2007 more than 27,000 people died from accidental overdoses in the U.S. alone. Organizations and activists are working hard to change the stigma surrounding addiction and get people the help they need. And yet, Nike thinks it’s appropriate to use addiction to sell shoes. When it comes to behavioral and substance addiction, a company who’s slogan is “Just Do It” has no place in the discussion.

What would you write for Klondike bar?

I was watching TV the other day and saw a commercial for Klondike bar that made me spit out my drink. Then, in the next commercial break, I saw a second Klondike ad that made me want to hurl. The ads were part of their well-known “What would you do for a Klondike bar” campaign, but they were just awful.

In the first ad, the thing that this guy would do for a Klondike bar was listen to his wife for five seconds.  No, really.  He listened to his wife speak for five seconds, a feat of endurance so bold and daring that he deserved a Klondike bar as a reward. In the second ad, two men held hands for five seconds. Another feat so bold and daring that they deserved a reward. What was going on here?

You can watch “The Good Listener” and “The Hand Hold” on the Klondike website.

I did some quick scanning on Youtube and found some older ads along the same lines:

(Note: Why is this woman reading a magazine standing up in the kitchen? Is she allowed to leave?)

And this one.

Really, Klondike?

I grew up eating Klondike bars. They were my dad’s favorite, and since my dad was pretty much the coolest person I knew at 6 years old, I figured they must be pretty great. Watching these ads now, as a Klondike-lover and self-actualized woman, I feel betrayed. How long has Klondike been peddling sexist, homophobic drivel before I noticed?

The most frustrating part is that “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” is potentially a really great ad campaign idea. Think of all the wacky things that people might do for this tasty treat! But instead of taking advantage of the many creative ways you could answer this question, Klondike is falling back on tired stereotypes, trying to “reach” their male audience by portraying men as  boorish oafs, insensitive jerks, irresponsible babies, or homophobes. Nice, real nice.

I don’t really have much else to say. Criticism of these ad tropes is out there and available (check out coverage of recent yearsSuperbowl ads) and I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t been said before by Sarah Haskins.

Instead, I’m writing this from a place of  disappointment and betrayal. Brand loyalty is a real and powerful thing, and it hurts when a company you always liked lets you down. Of course it’s naive to expect that companies will be ethical, or that their branding choices will align with progressive values. So I guess this is just another one of those “innocence lost” situations. The glorious ice cream bar of my childhood is now forever tainted.

What would I do for a Klondike bar today? Nothing.

Think scrubby shower thingies are gender neutral? Think again.

Yesterday on a mission to buy a regular old bar of soap, I came across the Dual Sided Shower Tool from Dove’s line of shower products for men.  If you look past the packaging that looks remarkably similar to that of power tools, it’s just a loofah.

But Dove wants you to think it’s more than a loofah.  And they’re right. It’s not just a loofah, it’s the real-world embodiment of this cartoon from Hyperbole and a Half. Here’s an excerpt:

 

Here at Sueeve, we understand that showering can be one of the most boring, shame and confusion-filled parts of your day and we’ve made it our mission to fix that!

– If the mere sight of a loofah sends you into a gender-confusion-driven, psychotic rage, you need the Shower Hammer!

You no longer have to endure the fluffy, girly bullshit of loofahs. Fuck loofahs.  The Shower Hammer makes you clean with violence!

 

Luckily for us, the cartoon inspired this video:

They’re funny because they’re so ridiculous and unrealistic.

Er…. crap.

More and more advertisers are using restrictive ideas about masculinity to target men the same way they have used femininity (pink-ifying) to target women. (See: Target Women.) This is a feminist issue, even though it’s about men.

Feminism is about choices and the freedom to be however masculine or feminine or gender-neutral you want, no matter your biological sex or gender identity. Feminism is about not having to choose between “manly” or “girly” shower products. Feminism is about calling out ridiculousness like the Dual Sided Shower Tool, in addition to things like Bic pens “for her.”

 

Medicalization and Machines: Is Bad Breath a Disease?

I’ve been doing some readings for my course in health communication and I have been thinking about the idea of medicalization – how it has changed how we think about our bodies, health, and its implications for health communicators and educators.

In The Body and Social Theory (1993), C. Shilling identified “the body as a machine” as a common metaphor we use to think about our bodies and health. From this perspective, our bodies are a collection of parts that, when functioning properly, work like a, er, “well-oiled machine.” If a part breaks, it can be fixed. For every malfunction, there is a scientific solution. Regardless of whether this metaphor is a good one, it certainly plays a role in what we call “medicalization.” In a medicalized society, the mechanics are doctors who use medicine to repair the body when it malfunctions. So when we talk about medicalization, we’re talking about the idea that every physical “malfunction” has a treatment or remedy. And that works oh-so-well with another hugely prevalent force in our society: consumerism.

If every ailment has a remedy, then someone is going to get rich off of selling remedies. A doctor once pointed out to me that the more options there are to treat an ailment, the less effective the treatment is likely to be. I guess that’s the difference between a “remedy” and a “cure.” When we’re talking about something curable, there’s usually only one cure. If it’s just “treatable” like the common cold, there are likely to be more options. And none of them really “cure” anything, they only treat the symptoms.

Viral illnesses like the common cold are great for people selling remedies; they are malfunctions of the body-as-machine that need fixing, but they aren’t really “curable” so we shell out money hoping for that “magic remedy” to fix the problem and get our bodies back in working order. Rather than put a hole in the body-as-machine metaphor, we accept the remedies as necessary, just as necessary as medical “cures.” The body-as-machine metaphor transcends the reality of the common cold as something that can’t be “fixed” and instead legitimizes our need or demand for products like Advil Cold and Sinus.

But what if you have a product for which there is no medical need? If you’re Listerine, you invent one. Ever heard of halitosis? It’s a term for “bad breath,” which is not, by the way, an actual “disease” or “illness” of any kind. Halitosis is a term invented by Listerine as part of an epically successful ad campaign.

Joseph Lister developed antiseptic at the end of the 19th Century. A similar but less potent form was developed by Jordan Wheat Lambert, who asked the famous Lister if he could use his name to market the product. Thus, Lambert’s Listerine was born. It was used for sterilization, cleaning floors, and even treating gonorrhea. In 1895 it began to be marketed towards the dental profession as they discovered it was good at curing oral germs. And then, Lambert hit on the best idea ever: medicalize bad breath and sell Listerine as the cure.

He and his copywriters all but invented the term “halitosis” and used it in an aggressive ad campaign designed to make everyone self-conscious about our smelly breath. Remember, at this period in history, there were different standards of oral hygiene. This ad campaign is in part responsible for the difference in standards today. The campaign asked, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride?” or “Could I be happy with him in spite of that?” and stated plain and simple, “Halitosis makes you unpopular!”

(I know there were a few ads directed towards men, but I can’t find them online. It seems as though the majority of these ads were aimed at women.)

Do you remember a time before we had to carry mints or gum, talked about “coffee breath,” or just spoke freely without worrying about the smell of our words? Well, Listerine killed it. James B. Twitchell, author of Twenty Ads that Shook the World (2000), names this advertising strategy “generating constructive discontent,” and Listerine wasn’t the only company to use it successfully.

Body odor came from Lifebuoy soap; athlete’s foot came from Absorbine Jr.; “five o’clock shadow” from Gilette; tooth film from Pepsodent; and split ends from Alberto V05. Americans today spend almost $4 billion a year on products whose only purpose is to alter natural body odors, odors unsmelled a generation ago!

(I wonder what Twitchell would think of vaginal rejuvenation surgery and the Va-J-J Visor…)

The halitosis ad campaign was so successful that most of us know the word, and understand it to be the “medical term for bad breath.” We also consider athlete’s foot a medical condition, and can buy “prescription strength” deodorant that costs over $10 a stick. They say that “sex sells,” but I think health may sell more directly. And as these products are labeled as health remedies or medical treatments, they expand the medicalization of our society and reinforce the idea that our bodies can run like machines if we maintain them properly.

It makes me wonder about my own so-called “health condition”: eczema, or “dry skin.” While some have more extreme cases of eczema, or psoriasis, my eczema is mild. It’s just dry skin that gets worse in dry weather. In a worst case scenario, patches of dry skin become itchy and feel rough to the touch. Yet, I have seen a dermatologist and I have been diagnosed with mild eczema. I was even prescribed a steroid cream to use during “outbreaks,” and it was recommended that I use a “dermatologist approved” moisturizer like Eucerin or Cetaphil every day. A bottle of Eucerin costs nearly $15, compared to something like Jergens, which costs $4. But then again, I think Eucerin is in a different class than “regular” moisturizers, and does a better job with my eczema. Or do I just feel that way because I have developed brand loyalty, and enjoy feeling like I have a medical condition with a simple, successful, medical treatment?

So is my eczema a disease? Or is dry skin, like bad breath, just an occasional annoyance of being human? Would I feel differently about my skin if I had never been diagnosed by a dermatologist?  Would it change the fact that I find comfort in the routine of, literally, “oiling” my body-as-machine?

And if eczema, like halitosis, is just a made up word in order to medicalize a normal physical thing, is the deceit harmful or benign?

Cami Secret: When classism underlies feminist snark

Just the other day I was getting dressed for work and found myself super annoyed that I would have to wear a camisole under my shirt. Wearing camisoles is fine in the winter, and they let me wear wrap shirts and other interesting necklines to work and not show everyone my boobs. But when it’s super hot and sticky outside? The last thing I want to do is put on an extra layer with an extra set of straps, just so it can ride up and get all up in my business. “Wouldn’t it be great if they invented some sort of panel that you could attach to your bra so you didn’t have to wear a whole extra layer?” I thought.

What do you know – it exists!

Jezebel had this for comment:

Buying work-appropriate tops and making your asshole boss stop looking down your shirt can be such a hassle! Finally, there’s Cami Secret, a cheap piece of cloth that snaps to your bra, giving you “custom cleavage.” Control that flesh, ladies!

Sigh.

Okay – I agree that the ad was totally lame and maybe just a little bit sexist. It’s not a woman’s fault if her male colleagues are pervy. Perviness, like rape, is always the fault of the perv. Also, there is no reason for that dude to be leaning over her desk like that. This parody video for “Boob Apron” pretty much demonstrates the kind pervy attitude (that men are entitled to women’s bodies) we’re talking about here.

Okay, so we’re getting snark from the feminists and parody-snark from the not-so-feminists, but is that much snark really warranted here? Infomercials are easy targets. Is the product necessarily dumb because the ad is? Should I feel dumb for wanting a product like this, especially when lots of work-appropriate attire is designed to be worn with camisoles? (Clever business model, fashion industry.)

While I agree that the patriarchy has historically controlled women through notions of modesty and “appropriate dress” (and still does quite often in many parts of the world – burqas being the extreme example), Cami Secret seems less about controlling women and more about providing a tool that gives control to women. At it’s core, this is a product that gives women more control over their wardrobe.

The Consumerist also has some snark for Cami Secret:

Now you can wear your lowcut top to work without worrying about your boss staring down your shirt, then quickly and easily remove it for after work drinks with the girls. It’s as easy to dispense with as your pride.

It’s interesting to compare the reactions to Cami Secret to those of Spanx, another product that works within the systems that control women’s bodies. Spanx is a man-made fabric that you wear under your clothes that works like a girdle or corset, to both “hold you in” and smooth out your unsightly cellulite. So why do feminist women embrace Spanx (or at least discuss it respectfully) and snark at Cami Secret? Well, I would argue that it started with Oprah endorsing Spanx and the leagues of middle and upper class women who embraced it as a result. Spanx is socially acceptable and sold in trendy, upscale boutiques. Cami Secret is considered  “trashy” and sold via infomercial.  I hate to say it, but I think that the Cami Secret snark overload has as much to do with classism as it does with sexism.

Do we really need to be ashamed of wearing a “faux” camisole? Is wearing an actual camisole some sort of mark of dignity? I think the fact that The Consumerist mentioned “pride” is evidence of classism and the “real” vs. “faux” value system – the same system that makes it “classier” to get real granite countertops rather than ones made of man-made materials that look virtually the same, last longer, and are easier to maintain. It is also the same system that makes it “classier” to wear real fur rather than faux fur, even though the fake stuff is cheaper and doesn’t involve killing animals. The “Boob Apron” parody guy might have a point about the Cami Secret being manufactured in sweatshops, but is there much evidence that regular camisoles (especially ones that are comparably priced) aren’t?

The Cami Secret provides a relatively inexpensive way make tops more versatile so you can stretch your budget and your wardrobe. Since women are not all the same and have personal preferences regarding cleavage and necklines, it also seems like a great way to customize your clothes to get the look you want.

Is that really something to snark at?

Allstate’s “Mayhem”: A Clever Play on Gender or Offensive Joke at Women’s Expense?

I just saw this post from the Daily Femme arguing that the Allstate ads featuring “Mayhem” as a woman jogger are offensive to women. That post cited an earlier post arguing that the Allstate ad about “Mayhem” as a teenage girl driver was also offensive. This caught my attention because I have seen those ads, and to be honest, I enjoyed them. It seems that when we’re talking about humor and comedy, the line between funny and offensive is pretty fuzzy. I was curious to see why I had a positive reaction to the ads while other feminists did not.

Annamarya wrote about the color pink and how it was used to portray the female “mayhems” in both the teen driver -

…the “typical” teenage female driver recklessly pulls a hit and run—in a massive medicinal pink SUV, with huge pink glasses on her head, while reading a text on a blinged out cell phone about her BFF Becky kissing a boy she likes. Her “emotional distress” and subsequent “mayhem” is summed up with this little ditty: “Whoopsies. I’m all ‘OMG, Becky’s not even hot.’”

- and woman jogger ads:

And why the hell is she in pink anyways? Is it some play on the asinine color associations, where blue equals boy and pink equals girl, that have been engrained in our psyche? And what are you going to tell us next, Allstate? That we shouldn’t leave the house dressed in miniskirts if we don’t want to be sexually assaulted?

While Annamarya sees the use of Pepto-Bismol pink as an “offensive and asinine” color association, I see it as a wink and a nod – a message from Allstate that they realize they are playing with gender in a completely over-the-top, satirical way. If the ad featured women actors dolled up with pink accessories acting like “bimbos” and men crashing their cars to gawk at them (like plenty of ads do), I would find the concept offensive. But since the part is played by a very obviously male actor wearing a suit, the pink accessories call attention to the stereotype rather than perpetuate it. I think I enjoyed the Allstate commercials because I interpreted them as making fun of these stereotypes about men and women (that women are bimbos and men crash cars because they are distracted by women) and not making fun of women themselves.

Annamarya and I do agree on one thing, though:

I won’t lie. When I saw the first commercial in the Allstate’s “Mayhem is Coming” campaign, which involves a puppy ripping up the backseat of a car, I thought it was funny. I have cats that can be destructive to my possessions, so I understood in my own way. I even found the tree branch falling on a car commercial relatable. Admittedly, those two things fall under the “mayhem” category because they are unpredictable and can destroy your property when you least expect it. But to blame a female jogger for a driver’s stupidity? That’s just offensive. It’s the driver’s fault the car accident happened in the first place,he took his eyes off the road. He is mayhem, not the female jogger.

I agree that women out jogging should not be considered “mayhem.” Women should be able to exercise outdoors, wearing sportswear or whatever clothing like want, without eliciting sexual advances or gazes. And though Annamarya’s “What’s next, endorsing sexual assault?” is a bit reactionary, I see why she is making that comparison. Wearing sportswear and exercising outdoors is not an invitation for men to watch, just as wearing a mini skirt is not an invitation for rape. Just like rape is ALWAYS the fault of the rapist, accidents that occur because a driver is distracted are ALWAYS the fault of the distracted driver, not the object of his distraction. (I recently got rear-ended by a guy who was reaching down to get an antacid when he plowed into me. It wasn’t the antacid’s fault.)

But then again, I’m not sure I think it’s inappropriate to classify a teenage driver as “mayhem.” Let’s be real – teenagers on the road with cell phones are pretty terrifying. (I know, I used to be one.) Of course, the study that Allstate used to gender the issue of teenage driving — which found that just over half of the girls said they are likely to drive while talking on a phone or texting, compared to 38% of the boys – is behind their decision to make the ad about a teenage girl rather than a teenage boy. I would argue from a common sense standpoint that ALL teenage drivers are capable of causing “mayhem” on the road, regardless of gender. However, I don’t find the premise as offensive as Annamarya and Cherie did.

I guess we all interpret things differently. Even though I agree that a woman jogging shouldn’t be considered a cause of “mayhem,” I found the ad’s gender-play to be an interesting twist on stereotypes about women that, if anything, pointed out how ridiculous they really are. All it takes to be perceived as a woman is a pink sweatband? You could even argue that this ad is progressive for identifying and making fun of the performativity of gender. But clearly not everyone reacted to the ads the same way I did and even though they did not offend me, I am concerned about the fact that they offended others.

What do you think about the Allstate “Mayhem” ad campaign? Clever play on stereotypes about gender, or offensive jokes at women’s expense?