For a few years now, Snickers has run ad campaign based the slogan “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” where people in extreme states of hunger act completely out of character until they’re able to eat a Snickers. A number of celebrities have lent their talents to this campaign, including Betty White, Joe Pesci, Robin Williams, Aretha Franklin, and others. The premise is clever enough, as far as advertisements for candy bars go, and generally not worth the time analyzing.
But I had only ever seen the US ads. Yesterday, I saw a version of this that’s aimed at an Australian audience. Holly Kearl posted it at her blog, Stop Street Harassment. It’s…perhaps too clever for its own good.
The idea here is that in a state of character-altering hunger, these construction workers — that notoriously misogynist bunch — still yell at women passing by the construction site, but instead of catcalling, they say things such as:
“I’d like to show you the respect you deserve!”
“A woman’s place is where she chooses!”
“You know what I’d like to see? A society in which the objectification of women makes way for gender-neutral interaction free from assumptions and expectations.”
But see, here’s the thing: why is this so outrageous? Why is the idea of gender equality presented as out of character? Why do these men have to be starving in order to believe women deserve respect?
I get that it’s being played for comedic effect, that in our popular imagination construction workers are the worst offenders when comes to hurling sexist and misogynist insults at random women, typically under the guise of compliments. They’re the ultimate “guys being guys.” And in the universe of Snickers, the logical conclusion when they’re not being themselves is that they’re somehow feminist grad students. But do we really want to think that the only way a man can be pro-gender equality is if he’s not being himself? Shouldn’t that be a part of everyone’s character?
Holly brings up another, perhaps more important, point about this ad:
Even though the construction workers are saying positive, non-harassing things, they are actually still engaging in behavior we do not support. They are singling women out and demanding their time and attention as they yell at them. Men are able to walk by the site and go about their business and keep thinking their thoughts, but the same is not true for women. They are interrupted, their attention is demanded. That is not equality. If you wouldn’t yell it at a man, you probably shouldn’t yell it at a woman. Remember: women do not owe you their time or attention!
The last point here is crucial: women do not owe you their time or attention. This ad assumes there could be some redeeming factor to yelling at women you don’t know, if only you’re saying things they may welcome hearing. However, these men are still expecting that these women, who are doing nothing more than walking down the street, should devote some portion of their day to paying attention to these men. And in this instance, they should be grateful, because they’re so beside themselves with hunger, they’re not even saying their normal disgusting things. They actually care!
It’s the worst assumptions about men, wrapped up in some nice guy entitlement, and topped off with an excuse for street harassment. In other words, patriarchy doing its damndest to remain relevant.
We don’t have to accept that the default position of manhood/masculinity is anti-woman. We shouldn’t. It’s a false binary that forecloses on possibilities of partnership and personal gender expression. We don’t have to consider masculinity at odds with the feminine. We only do so to assert dominance and gain power.
Likewise, we don’t have to accept that the price of being a woman in public is that men will yell things at you — whether vile or uplifting. We can ensure that women feel as safe and unbothered in public spaces as men (generally speaking) do.
And Snickers doesn’t have to package sexism in order to sell their product. They’re fucking Snickers! Chocolate, caramel, peanuts, nougat. You don’t need any help selling that. As a matter of fact, that’s all their ads should be, big bold letters against a black screen that reads “CHOCOLATE. CARAMEL. PEANUTS. NOUGAT.” They’ll never go out of business.
That’s a million dollar idea. I accept PayPal.
Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.