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.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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