Monday, December 20, 2010

The Plan B ad ordeal--now things are getting weird

As many readers already know, there's been a recent stir in the asexual community regarding an advertising campaign for the contraceptive Plan B Onestep. Using the slogan Get a Real Plan, they had two youtube videos, one of which involved a white female character who had recently had sex with a male whose condom somehow-or-other fell off during sex, and she is worried about becoming pregnant. In the video, Sexy Lingerie, the female character promises that if she isn't pregnant, then she vows to become "asexual, asocial, a-everything."

Along with that were some pictures (which seem to have been taken down, although there were independently captured by at least two people.) As many have noted, the colors--purple and gray against a white background--bear an uncanny resemblance to the recently adopted asexual flag.

The matter has been much discussed after a thread about it was started on AVEN: Plan B ad - Offensive?. There have now been threads on Apositive about it, been subject of discussion and outrage on Tumbler, Twitter, and generally blogged about. A lot of people sent it letters and people are thinking about getting a conference call together to talk about what to do. Those who wrote in letters have gotten a response (it seems that everyone got the same email):

Thank you for reaching out to us about Teva Women’s Health “Get A Real Plan” YouTube campaign. We appreciate you bringing to our attention the unintended misrepresentation of the word “asexual” and want to alert you that new content is being developed that will address your concern. It was never our intention to offend any individual or community of individuals. The purpose of the campaign is to educate viewers about what can be done after an act of unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. We believe that contraception is a serious topic and want to ensure that women have the facts they need about emergency contraception, as not all options are the same.

Again, thanks for bringing this to our attention - we should have the updated video posted very soon.

Just before someone posted one of these letters, I was doing some research on the word "asexual" and was then about the look into "asocial" on the The Corpus of Historical American English, and discovered a passage from the novel Big Sur by Jack Kerouac, published in the early 1960s. It is written in first person, from the perspective of a character who has had a fair amount of wine and wonders if they have been drugged as well:
Romana is handing me a bite and I take it from her big brown hands and chew... She's wearing purple panties and purple bras, nothing else, just for fun, Dave's slappin her on the can joyfully as he cooks the supper, it's some big erotic natural thing to do for Romana, she believes in showing her beautiful big body anyway - In fact at one point when Billie's up leaning over a chair Dave goes behind Billie and playfully touches her and winks at me, but I'm not of all this like a moron and we could all be having fun such as soldiers dream the day away imagining, dammit - But the venoms in the blood are asexual as well as asocial and a-everything -Billie's so nice and thin, like I'm used to Romana maybe I should switch around here for variety, " says Dave

It would seem very curious that a cultural reference to a 1960s novel would be used in an advertisement aimed at teens and twenty-somethings, and yet this appears to be what is going on here. No doubt, we haven't heard the last of this recent episode, but as I stated in the title of this things are getting weird.


SlightlyMetaphysical said...

How... odd.

I haven't personally written a letter of complaint, but I'll make sure, if they do alter their campaign to become less offensive, I'll write a letter of thanks. I wonder how many letters of thanks they'll recieve, compared to letters of complaint. Interestingly, this is all happening at exactly the same time as the feminist community decided they need a dialogue and immediately got thousands of people to use the internet to relentlessly attack the people they want to talk to. So the mental connections I'm bringing to this are questions of how useful it is to get lots of people to berate a company, in the danger that reasonable voices may be lost. I think I might be projecting, though, since the company are being courtious.

Sciatrix said...

I... frankly, the 60s novel theory seems much weirder to me than the theory that they're simply using "asexual" as an insult without considering the fact that asexuals exist. I'd buy the color choice as mistaken fail more easily than I'd buy the idea that it's a reference to a fifty-year-old novel unlikely to be well-known by the clientele they're probably courting.

SM--re: the Michael Moore thing, I think the fact that the person in question founded his career on shouting at people until they came down to talk to him has a lot of bearing on the way that Doyle is running that.

I also think that given that that protest started politely and only began to get mad when it became clear that neither Olbermann nor Moore were interested in actually addressing concerns about the misinformation they spread--that is, it only got nasty when both men involved indicated that they weren't interested in having a dialogue. I highly doubt that Sady Doyle's goal of making progressive men rethink their position on ignoring rape culture would have been achieved if people had remained polite, because both Olbermann and Moore demonstrated that they were not actually interested in having a conversation about Why We Don't Assume That Women Who Accused Powerful Men of Rape Are Automatically Lying. And also Why We Don't Spread Misinformation Knowingly When We Are Media Representatives.

But that is a digression.

ACH said...

The 60s novel theory makes extremely little sense to me as well. But in the corpus I got it from, in 12,000,000 words from the 1960s, there was one use of asexual, and three of asocial. And "a-everything" is a novel coin--and I cannot imagine that it's a common one. And all three of them together, in that order? My opinion as a linguist is that the chances of "asexual" "asocial" and "a-everything" appearing together, in that order, is infinitesimal.

On the rape culture issue, I find a lot of the rape-culture rhetoric profoundly troubling. To get an idea where I'm coming from on this, I'd strongly encourage you to take a look at The pedophilia smear by the late historian of sexuality Vern Bullough. In the past, the sexual abuse of children was something that we tried as hard as possible to sweep under the run and pretend that it doesn't happen. Now our culture has swung the other way, and we've gone absolutely insane on the issue.

Now we're in a situation where anyone who is accused of sexually abusing a child is pretty much screwed, even if they're innocent. We have horrible laws for sex offenders--laws that Human Rights Watch views as human rights violations. (Many of these laws do intense harm to people and don't protect the public.)

Public attitude in the US has become increasingly punitive. We say that we want to protect people, but really what we want is to punish, punish, punish those "evil" people doing evil things--perhaps because we don't want to admit that people who do horrible things to others aren't really that different from ourselves.

Issues involving sexual violence are very complicated, and how to effective address them is also a very complicated matter. Highly emotional rhetoric works--but at a profound human cost.

Sciatrix said...

Except we're not discussing child rape here, which has a considerably different context and reaction in this culture than rape of adult women (particularly forms of rape that aren't stranger rape) does. Rape is not always treated equally. If child rape is on one end of the spectrum of "taken very seriously where accusations occur," women accusing powerful men of rape is all the way at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum.

It is very common for such women to be met with threats of further violence, to have their names and reputations dragged through the mud, to be stalked and harassed and generally publically shamed. In fact, this is happening right now with the Assange case, and the #MooreAndMe hashtag the Twitter protest is being organized around is being flooded with... further rape threats. The problem is not that people take accusations over-seriously, here. Or rather, perhaps they do--but not by listening to them and carefully weighing whether or not there is merit to them.

When you say that public opinion in the US has become increasingly punitive: yes. And that's a big factor in the way that people who are fans of a person absolutely want to refuse to believe that a person they like and respect could do such a thing. So they try to silence anyone who claims otherwise. Because if we don't want to admit that such "evil" things are done by people we like and respect... well, the easiest way to make those allegations go away is to harass the person making them into shutting up. And this happens with depressing regularity in these kinds of situations.

We live in a society where any woman who attempts to press charges on her rape is almost certain to be met with the defense arguing that she deserved it, that she was lying about not wanting sex, that her clothing invited sex. We do not live in a society where accusations of rape by women "pretty much screw" any man who is unfortunate enough to be so accused. So I find your comparison of this case to the example of child rape to be very disingenuous, because reactions to such accusations are very, very different.

ACH said...

I don't think I made myself vrey clear regarding the point I was tring to make with my analogy. I am very much aware of differences in reactions to the two different kinds of accusations. My point was that I'm afraid of a similar situation happening with the rape of adult women. Now we're at a stage where we don't take it seriously enough, but I fear that overly sensationalistic rhetoric to get people to take it seriously might result in a situation like the one we have now where policy is driven by panic.

A major issue that has to be dealt with is many men's fears of false accusations of.rape--i evn know celibate men who are horrified at the rape-culture rhetoric because of fear of false accusations.

Ily said...

Wow, interesting find. English majors have to make a living somehow...

SlightlyMetaphysical said...

Eep. Sorry I disrailed this so badly. I kinda forgot that asexual bloggers who are likely to read feminist blogs/people who live in the US and don't have a policy of avoiding newspapers/people who actually know how to operate twitter will probably have heard a lot more about this than I have.

I've gotta admit, given all this, I'm rather ignorant of how Doyle has been running her campaign. If I hadn't been glued to Tiger Beatdown for the last few days, I wouldn't have brought it up at all.

On a different note, I've just realised that I've been completely missing the point with this novel quote. If we have, based on probability, to accept that this comes from a 1950s novel, then doesn't that indicate that the company may have been completely unaware of modern asexuality, in a way which didn't seem possible when we first saw their ad?

Anonymous said...

You know, re: the fear of false accusations, I really think men just need to get the hell over it. And like, you know, actually read the real statistics instead of spreading false information like Olbermann, who I am EXTREMELY disappointed in right now. The problem is, if people who talk about "false reports" of rape don't actually know what rape IS (i.e. what consent is and why the responsibility for attaining it explicitly should ALWAYS be on the initiator as well as why it can be withdrawn at any time during the act), then... yeah, they'll think there are way more "false reports" than there actually are. Plus there's the fact that so many people take a case that's dismissed because of a lack of evidence as proof that the accusation was false, when really it only means that it just can't be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's true.

In reality, it's extremely awful to subject oneself to the retraumatization, outright vitriol, and potential safety issues that come with reporting a rape, so for most people it's so not worth it. As Harriet J from Fugitivus said recently, "I'd rather be raped than prosecute a rape trial." Which I agree with completely. Assange's accusers could be murdered tomorrow because their names were leaked. And yet somehow, people still ask questions like, "Well if you were really raped, why didn't you report it?"

It should be noted that I'm against panic-driven punitive sentencing as well, and I don't think that sort of stance is one compatible with anti-rape culture activism at all. Rape culture in prison is still rape culture. Even if it happens to a rapist, it's still wrong, and no one should ever think otherwise. We ought to be focused on rehabilitating rather than punishing people, otherwise we'll just create more trauma, more victims, and the cycle will go on.

ACH said...

@gray, What things people fear most and what things pose the greatest threat to them are often wildly disconnected. My impression is that fear of false accusations (and fear of being powerless to do anything about it) has long been a motivating force for disbelief of claims of rape. Also, on the subject of charges of child molesting, the word false doesn't have to be put into scare quotes--because consent is essentially completely irrelevant in cases involving age of consent, all that matters legally is whether sexual contact occurred. I've spent a lot more time learning about this issue largely because age of consent laws are where some of the most ridiculous stuff takes place--for instance, teens having consensual sex with somewhat younger teens and ending up on public sex offender registries because of it. Also, it seems that if someone wants to get a false conviction against someone, allegations of child molesting work a lot better than allegations of rape. (The are plenty of cases of vindictive ex-wives fabricating charges of child molesting in custody battles turned ugly.)

My own perspective on this is (much to my surprise) largely based on the horrific things that our society does to those labeled as "sex-offenders." Ultimately, I think that protecting them from irrational hatred and combating sexual violence can very much go together, but I am coming at this from a rather different perspective than many in the asexual community. Part of the reason that I brought up the issue of changing attitudes about sexually abusing children is because feminist rhetoric beginning (I believe) in the 70's has played a major role in promoting the current panic, and I have talked to and come to understand the experiences of casualties of this. Thus, my concern regarding some of the rape culture rhetoric.

The issue of rape in prison is a very important one--and I think that if this is taken as seriously as it deserves to be, then many of my fears about rape culture rhetoric will (thankfully) prove unfounded. It is precisely because our society takes such a punitive approach, where we think that everything can be solved by simply even tougher sentencing (often for really petty stuff) that we have the massive over-crowding in prisons that is responsible for many problems.

And yes, I am very much aware that our current system treats rape victims like shit, just as it does with those labeled as "sex offenders." It's a lose-lose situation.

Yes, my point in bringing up this novel (that I'd never heard of) from the 60's is that it almost certainly had to have played some role in things, which both complicates matters and makes you go, "What?"

Anyway, I would prefer that comments not get too much off topic. If anyone would like to continue discussion of issues pertaining to "rape culture" rhetoric, feel free to email me.

Shawn Landis, Philadelphia Asexual Examiner said...

After going back to school, I now have access to many of these databases.

While this is an interesting theory, there is one problem with it -- at least for me while I continue to play at journalism.

There's no proof of a connection between the novel and the makers of the ad.

I wouldn't doubt that this is the case.