We have seen them posted all over campus. They scream their messages at us complete with ridiculous and over-dramatic images. Going along with this semester’s theme of sexual assault awareness, Manhattan College administration has posted a series of “positive reinforcement” posters around campus.
Great…administration is acknowledging there is a problem and that something needs to be done. Great…they took action and didn’t just talk about the problem.
However, while it seems that this is a great step for our school, what messages are these posters screaming at us. Are they an attempt to solve the problem at hand, or just merely reinforcing a larger one? Let’s take a look at some examples.
PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST SEXUAL ASSAULT
So close and yet so far. The premise seems great in the fact that it reinforces the idea and message that no is always an acceptable answer, regardless of the circumstance. The problem however is in the circumstances described. The poster displayed near the 5th floor entrance to Lockes Loft depicts six scenarios in which it is still acceptable to say no. Some of these include drinking, wearing sexy clothes, making out, saying yes before, flirting, or changing your mind.
While it should seem like common sense that no means no in all instances apparently it isn’t and that is sad. While all of these are perfectly fine scenarios in words, the imagery is completely neutral in terms of sex. It is evident that through the language used and the imagery that this poster is geared towards girls and is basically victim blaming light.
In every picture there is some girl either displayed partying with guys just staring at her, or despondent on a bed or couch. “Girls, yes you can say no, but just know it may not work and then all bets are off” “Girls, you always have the right to say no, but you are still putting yourself in danger and objectifying yourself, but have fun!”
No. This is just so wrong it makes me nauseous. Let’s just ask some questions like, what are guy’s sexy clothes? Are the men portrayed as flirtatious (NO)? Why is it assumed that the ones changing their minds or have said yes before are portrayed as women?
The answer to all these questions is basically because we don’t know how to speak about assault in an equalized manner. It is not something we are used to seeing and not something we are used to doing. It is also not okay. This poster would have been fine if the language and imagery had been tweaked in a sense that it wasn’t so evidently targeted towards women.
WITHOUT CONSENT….IT’S SEXUAL ASSAULT
This one is just plain bad. Let’s just start with the obvious. Here we have a nice girl literally pushing away a guy who looks like he just got hit in the head with a box of rocks. The words blared across “Without consent…it’s sexual assault” all but scream that this nice woman has not given consent and the little man in the background doesn’t get it. This poster firstly just plays on the stereotype and reinforces so many bad ideas in our minds. The first is that because the woman is yet again portrayed as the victim, and the man as a dopey aggressor, the gender binary and hierarchy is enforced. Women are continually trying to squeeze their way out of the aggressive sexual hold of men, and really just cant quite make it. Great…what a great message to be sending.
I don’t think this was the intended message of this poster because actually, the words underneath this horrid image are really good. This poster goes into detail about the different situations when consent is still needed such as in marriage, long term relationships, that silence is not consent, sex is not an expectation, and the right to say no.
The language used here is more or less equalized in terms of gender, but one would never think that now after seeing this image. Actually this image probably distracts the passerby altogether and they forget or ignore the messages underneath and just glean the harmful surface level messages that this poster oozes.
I think that both of these posters show something extremely evident. We cannot break out of what is familiar and we cannot move away from this idea of separating roles. If we want to move forward on this issue, and actually do something about it without highlighting or creating even bigger issues then we need to start thinking more broadly about rape, rape culture, and all the avenues where sexual assault can occur.
We need to stop thinking about men as dominant uncontrollable aggressors, and we need to stop portraying women as continual victims, who are passive, weak and unable to help themselves. Maybe if we stop portraying this and encouraging this behavior, it will stop in real life as well.
We need to stop focusing on how not to get raped, but telling people that rape is not okay, and that in every situation it will continue to be not okay. Asserting power over another human for sexual pleasure is not okay, because it distorts the beautiful and positive purpose of sex itself.
These are the messages that need to be conveyed on a poster. Have any thoughts on the matter, or have any ideas about what a gender neutral and positive sexual awareness advertisement should look like? Contact us online or through email and we can get the discussion started in next semester’s issues.