You may have seen some of the controversy over this image which appeared on Twitter (photo courtesy of @jenharrisbede) today. Harris, an actor/comic/writer/rapper was disgusted to find this item on sale in River Island and took to Twitter to let the brand know how unimpressed she was.
And then, we got to see the ugly side of the Internet. As Sali Hughes tweeted, regarding the same incident:
For my part, I mostly saw people in support of getting this removed from stores. It makes light of domestic violence against women in the most crass way possible; using what has been described as a "novelty item" and playing on old fashioned, offensive concepts. The fact that they've used an actual functioning tool to physically silence the "nagging woman" and one that is better known for its use in muting victims of sexual violence etc makes it all a bit grim really. Then I saw that Irish website Her.ie put a post up about this on their facebook page. Now, generally I try and avoid the comments on either her.ie or the Journal because really, my blood pressure can't handle all that stupid but I clicked in just to see if the mood was the same as it had been on Twitter.
Here's a sample of some of the comments (and yes, these were 99% from women):
"If only there was a way to gag these nagging idiots who complained."
"The complaints just reinforce the stereotype - idiots "
" I think the people complaining should be given one for free and taught how to use it. It's a joke for god sake why do we all have to be so bloody politically correct all the time now. Just have a giggle and move on."
"Sali Hughes could do with one"
"Get a life..... Get a sense of humour... FFS..."
"Does no female have a sense if humour....?!"
""Novelty" item jeeeezeee people see the fun in it...the empty shelf or space should be filled with signs "humerous" gifts on sale discount for people without it "
"Too funny, would love 1 me these the world's gone mad & lost its sense of humour"
"Pity they don't sell senses of humour they probably would get offended by that too "
Where to start. OK, firstly, the "get a life/sense of humour/grip/whatever, is a seriously weak response. If you can't tell me why this isn't sexist, isn't offensive and is in fact, hilarious without resorting to one of these then I'm not sure you've fully understood the issue.
You don't find it offensive and you're a woman? Great! Delighted for you. There are lots of women and men that have found this disturbing including my husband and I and most of the decent people of twitter who I know. Does that mean that we're all right and those people are wrong? No, but at least I can explain why I think the way I do.
Not one person who commented said it was funny for any particular reason, other than "it's a novelty item", "it's humerous" (poor spelling, also to be found throughout comment sections everywhere) or "it's a joke". A joke that uses embarrassingly lazy, sexist generalisations to demean and abase half our population is not a joke and it's not acceptable. The problem with things like this is that it's a domino in a long line; it seems fine and innocent now (to certain people) but added with all the other little jibes about women, the comments, the abuse in the street, the sexual harassment in the workplace, again in the streets, in pubs and nightclubs and you're laying the foundation for the following (and these are just the tip of the iceberg):
Organisations like The White Ribbon Project are trying to stamp out the sexist mentality that is still so pervasive in our society by stopping all types of violence against women, starting with "jokes" and comments made between the "lads in the pub", street harassment and all types of verbal, physical and sexual violence where men are the perpetrators. I think there's a long way to go before that is actualised but in the meantime, the fact that people of both genders think this is not only acceptable but hilarious is very worrying. If you think there's nothing wrong with this then at best, you have a terrible sense of humour. At worst, you think little of the degradation of women and are in fact, a misogynistic ass. And yes, women can (and are) misogynists too. Before you suggest it, if River Island were to bring out a similar product for women, I would be equally as offended. That's what makes me a feminist, I want equality for women AND men. One can't exist without the other. Things like this that reduce one sex to a lower level than the other through the use of jaded gender stereotypes and humiliation is NOT OK.
The good news is that plenty of people are aware that ignoring this won't help; River Island had to take the product off the shelves and offline following complaints.
I'd love to hear your opinions on this, especially if you can explain to me why this is funny! To the comments!