Demi and Ashton’s anti-child sex slavery PSAs miss big-time

Ya’ll know I appreciate using humor to raise awareness of important social issues. So, although I do think it’s generally very, very difficult to find the funny in child sex slavery, that’s not really my criticism of these star-studded new PSAs created by Ashon Kutcher and Demi Moore. It’s just, well, take a look…

Here are some more.

What?! Real men use household appliances, maintain basic personal hygiene, and feed themselves? No fucking way. First, it’s so sad that the stereotype of the inept man-child embodied in so many a Judd Apatow movie and Superbowl commercial has become such a key part of modern masculinity that this kind of frame even works as a ironic joke.

Sadder still that buying child sex slaves is treated as just another one of those things that men do. Boy will be boys, right? Always eating cereal from out of the box and sometimes buying child sex slaves. Except real men, of course. Yeah, sure, I do prefer men who do their own laundry and “don’t buy girls.” But one of those things is just a little bit more of a deal-breaker for me. And do we seriously need to appeal to men’s desire to live up to some standard of “real” manhood to convince them not to support child slavery? For once, isn’t being a good fucking human being enough?

And who is supposed to be the audience here? OK, “real men don’t buy girls.” But it’s also true that most men don’t buy girls. And the men who do probably aren’t the target of this campaign. As Videogum notes,

“I’m pretty sure that anyone who is interested in buying a CHILD SEX SLAVE isn’t going to be particularly swayed by AN IRONICALLY CLEVER ADVERTISEMENT FEATURING JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE THAT PLAYS ON MODERN CONCEPTS OF MASCULINITY. “

Certainly, raising awareness among men–and women–that sex trafficking is a huge problem that we should be working to combat is a worthy goal. And at least there’s actual info on the campaign website. But the videos themselves are completely substanceless. Random dude who stumbles upon this on the interwebs could “take a stand against child sex slavery” without learning one single thing about it. It’s a campaign that seems perfectly designed to do little more than make people feel good about themselves. You don’t buy girls? Congrats! You get a “Real Man” badge! Carry on drinking a beer on the couch.

And seriously? When I watched the first video, I half-expected that right after the words “Real men don’t buy girls,” some dude would pop into the screen and say, “Cuz we don’t have to, bro! Amirite?!” Self-congratulatory high fives all around!

I shudder to think of how many idiots watching these videos actually made that joke.

Be sure to check out Melissa Gira Grant’s list of organizations to support if you’d like to support the actual real girls involved in the sex trade and not just the well-intentioned but misguided celebrities who thought they had a funny viral video idea.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Shaunta Grimes

    Random dude who stumbles upon this on the interwebs could “take a stand against child sex slavery” without learning one single thing about it.

    I think that’s the big problem. Also, the ads seem a little misguided to me because is random dude who stumbles on this really teetering on the edge of the decision to buy a child sex slave? Its not the same as, say, hiring a prostitute. It seems like the people who would buy a child sex slave probably not be swayed by supposedly ironic star-studded ads like these.

    Also, aren’t there boys involved in child sex slavery? Do real men not buy boys, or are they free for the pickin’? (I didn’t watch all the ads, so many one of the others addresses boys?)

  • Viraj

    Great post, Maya! Also, all of the “real men” in the pictures present as White to me- can men of color not be “real” too? ughhh.

  • Robert

    What?! Real men DON’T prostitute children? How have I been going wrong all these years and no-one had the good sense to just tell me?

    Cheers Ash, that’s me off the Rape for good…..Now where are those dirty socks?

  • dudley

    These PSA’s have flaws, don’t think that what follows isn’t aware of that.

    The technique here is to get the average, sometimes diffident, young guy to internalize the idea that child sex slavery is wrong, so that when he encounters it, he is motivated to do something. This is an appeal to the hard-headed “bros-before-hoes” demographic that is likely to listen to Ashton saying “stand up and do something correctly.” The usual “diffidently endure it’s existence” is what they are trying to fix. The target audience is a “me-first” male mentality, not bona fide actualized Americans, so of course it will ring hollow. Using male pride to effect change is inherently morally inferior than using our common humanity, but it is effective for a certain type of male mind, (myself as an 17 year old for example) that is assembling the “rules of the world” for ones’ self. (American men are socially taught against the common humanity of women, so a different coercive tactic to effect change is necessary) The Judd Apatow/kutcher fan crowd would probably balk if it was “told” the solution rather than guiding them to search for a solution as well, because of a stiff sense of autonomy/masculinity.

    The biggest problem that I saw was there was no advice on how to actually recognize the problem. Men believe the artifice of the craigslist ad, or the Atlantic City massage parlor because there is a potential “reward” for believing the wrong thing; your friends, idols, or yourself fuck children/women who don’t want to be there. Not Piercing those “pleasant” little veils of disbelief is where I think these PSAs fail. Not even a good direction to how to see the warning signs of this sort of abuse.

  • Tahl

    This ad is ridiculous, dirty socks? (female)child sex slaves? totally related!
    The concept of a “real” man standard is a huge pet peeve of mine and I think that is really the only thing this ad does, reinforce detrimental standards of masculinity.

    Human trafficking is a horrible horrible thing and I think the issue probably deserves a little more class then a celebrity smelling his dirty socks.

  • bailey williams

    maya your sarcasm made me laugh.

    i agree this was not the most sophisticated way of going about raising awareness. but possibly the star-studded ads will eventually direct people to actual information.

  • Casimir

    Any sentence that begins with the words “Real men…” smacks of gender essentialism. Fuck that noise.

  • Erin

    Thanks for posting this. I appreciate their effort and concern for the cause, but the ads were a) uninformative and b) really not that funny. And agreed, not folding laundry? that’s a behavior we can work on. Buying children for sex? Total deal breaker.

    Do you think there’s a way to contact the foundation just to say we support this, but there’s a better way to go about it?

  • Sarah

    How about not buying sex in general? Or a “real” man who does something “feminine”. Or a “real” man that doesn’t have a penis? Or not just parading a “beautiful” woman out at the end of the commercial to heterosexually fawn over these “real” men? How about a “real” man that doesn’t buy boys, either? I could go on and on and on, but how about someone who is actually just that: real? We can’t do that because funnily enough “real” precludes so many realities. I am so sick of the “real” man dialogue and sick of the ” “.

  • Jessica Stephens

    At best, this campaign is a classic example of slack-tivism. At worst, this whole “be a real man” ideal perpetuates the objectification of women. That’s ironic considering that the campaign itself is protesting the objectification of children.

    Tony Porter talked about how harmful the “be a man” mentality is on TED last December: