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Lauren Beukes

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

The Problem With Slutty Waitress Baby

Sexy girls are standard billboard fare, but there’s something different about the girl blown up huge on the billboard on Roeland street with her provocative little pout, the coy backwards glance over her shoulder, the hand posed provocatively on her hip.  It’s a pose from 100 million fashion magazines. You’ve seen it all before. Or not. Because the girl in question is a baby.

A friend has dubbed her Slutty Waitress Baby. It suits her perfectly – as does her sassy tagline: “Work It, Baby!”

You know, like the kind of thing you call out to models. Naomi Campbell urging on her wannabes: “That’s it, work the look! Work your body!” Stripjoint clientele calling out to the girls on stage: “Come on, baby, work it. Work that sweet little ass, give it to me, baby, oh yeah.” huggies billboard

Slutty Waitress Baby looks a bit huffy – as if her teddy bear customers have been giving her a tough time. She looks like she has attitude – the kind of girl who doesn’t take any shit. She looks like she’s wearing lipstick. She looks sassy. Precocious. Disturbingly sexual.

I know I’m not imagining this. It’s not just me. Everyone I’ve spoken to finds the ad unsettling.  One friend says, “I feel sick every time I see it.” The others in the Huggies Denim series of a painter girl or a cowboy are genuinely innocent and  very sweet. It’s the combination in Waitress Baby that reads so horribly wrong: that pose + that pout + that dodgy tagline.

Perhaps I should just roll with it. This is part of our culture, after all, sexualising little girls. Tweens wear mini high heels and thongs emblazoned with cheeky slogans like “candy” or “hot” accompanied by a picture of an adorable pussy cat.

12 year olds in Australia can go for pole-dancing lessons. The Pussy Cat Dolls are held up as role-models with their own reality show that girls are meant to aspire to. Teen girls willingly give blowjobs but consider it gross for a boy to return the favour, because it’s about being sexy, not sexual. They’re just commodities, eye candy, bodies to be worked.

And we’re starting them younger and younger.

In the context of baby rape

Maybe I find Slutty Waitress Baby disturbing because I’m newly a parent. Because living in South Africa means that among the paranoias about terrible things that might happen to my child – she might fall on her head, she might get meningitis, she might run into the road – is the brutal, unfathomable reality that she might get raped.

South Africa has horrifying statistics on child rape. On baby rape. I couldn’t bear to look up the figures.

But barely three weeks ago, on April 3rd, a 16 month old toddler was raped and beaten when her mother left her in the care of a “friend” while she went to do her washing.

It was so horrific, the police needed trauma counselling afterwards.

Do I think this ad is going to inspire someone go out and rape a baby? No. But I think it contributes to a bigger picture, of normalising this skewed cultural idea of little girls as sexy. It’s a tacit endorsement.

I also don’t think it was intentional or malicious on the part of the nappy manufacturer or their advertising agency – just short-sighted, naïve and grossly insensitive to the reality of sexual violence.

Explanations aplenty

I wrote to Huggies. I suggested that in a country with our statistics of child rape and baby rape that this ad was inappropriate. I suggested they take it down. I suggested they donate the ad space to Childline or donate proceeds of the denim nappies to a charity organisation that helps child victims of sexual violence.

I quoted Dr Helen Moffett, who thought the billboard was “outrageous” and just so happens to have developed the materials on how to prevent child rape for Rape Crisis here in SA and Womankind Worldwide.

The creative director of their advertising agency, Ogilvy, wrote back. She apologised for “inadvertently offending me”. She explained that as a mother of two herself that she would never have been part of a campaign that promotes the sexualisation of children.

She explained that the line “work it baby” was selected because it speaks to “the hard-working nature of the nappy and an attitude of cute confidence.” She said that never, throughout the entire process from conception to final client approval did anyone think the line could be interpreted as “sexual or suggestive”.

I guess they’re not up with popular parlance.

She went on to explain that the campaign was riffing off denim’s durability and its popularity with hard-working types like cowboys, plumbers, mechanics and waitresses.

She said it the denim jeans association played to fashion conscious moms who regularly buy their toddlers brand names. “That borrowing self-expressive and confident attitude of the fashion world would give the campaign the cute-factor.”

I guess the ad is cute. It’s a cute parody of adult sexuality.

Don't look back in angermanga waitress

Slutty Waitress Baby looks backwards over her shoulder at the city, her head wrapped in a fuschia bow, bare-naked from the waist up above her cute high-fashion denim diaper.

Is that confidence in her eyes? Or a come-hither? Can you tell the difference?

————————————————————————————————————————————

Think the ad is totally innocent? Or dodgy as hell?

Email Huggies on: careline@ddsa.co.za with your comments.

Or, if you’d like to complain about the ad, contact the Advertising Standards Authority. Their handy e-complaint form is here. http://www.asasa.org.za/Complaint.aspx

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://sarahlotz.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    April 17th, 2009 @12:38 #
     
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    Am horrified.
    Way to go, Lauren. Excellent argument. I really find it hard to believe that no one at Ogilvy considered that 'work it, baby' would not be construed as sexual. And that looking over your shoulder pose - bloody hell. And lipstick.
    I love this bit:
    'She went on to explain that the campaign was riffing off denim’s durability and its popularity with hard-working types like cowboys, plumbers, mechanics and waitresses.'
    Clearly they thought that as all these professions deal with shit of one sort or another (like hard working nappies), they'd form the basis for a campaign. Shame they didn't consider the ramifications of the tag line.
    And the 'baby high-heels' pic is also deeply, deeply disturbing.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 17th, 2009 @13:17 #
     
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    Hi all, am not officially back from holiday yet, and haven't even opened most of the 81 mails in my Inbox, and am trying my best not to wade into much-missed Bookchat, but this really got me breathing fire. I nearly had a conniption when I first saw that billboard, and writing a complaint to the ASA raced right to the top of my list of long-delayed priorities.

    I can't even recount all the reasons this ad is so profoundly disturbing (anyway, Lauren's done a grand job), but this is one hat I have earned the right to wear -- my published work on sexual violence (and the unspeakable task of researching child rape for Womankind Worldwide and Rape Crisis) looks specifically at so-called "benign" messages that tacitly present vulnerable people (specifically women and children) as objects for sexual consumption. This isn't even that benign -- that the creative director of Ogilvy okayed the line "Work it, baby", which has a specifically sexual connotation -- beggars belief.

    The other disturbing thing about this is the way the baby has been posed. The unfortunate infant in the horrible Heelarious ad looks like a bewildered baby that has been ridiculously dressed up by stupid adults. The baby in the Huggies ad, however, has been styled and painted (that make-up!) into an alluring and adult pose, and that's what is so problematic. It's the fact that she's cute that's dangerous: cute is blurred with sexy by the choreography and that appalling tagline. We SO DO NOT NEED babies to be perceived as sexual objects in a country with our shameful rates of baby rape.

    Back officially on Monday, a 1000 things to finish today, including my official complaint to the ASA.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    April 17th, 2009 @13:42 #
     
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    Lauren, I am completely with you, haven't seen the actual ad, maybe was in a daze. But your writing about it is completely on the mark. It is completely outrageous. Sexualising takes place so early. The lady was lying - either that or she is very doff.

    Helen, glad to see you are back and on form. Missed your voice and presence here. (Please give me a call V soon re your book.)

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    April 17th, 2009 @13:52 #
     
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    I hadn't seen this image before, but when I first saw the denim nappies in the shop I thought they were horrible and misconceived. Who are they trying to impress. When my son toddles around in his nappy, it is only at home. When we take him out we put clothes on over his nappy. Nappies, essentially, are underwear for children under 3. My child's underwear is not a fashion statement. A baby makes sticky poo in a nappy. Babies wear nappies because they are not yet old enough to wear jeans without nappies. Also, disposable nappies are bad enough for the environment to have unnecessary barrels of blue ink thrown into the landfill.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    April 17th, 2009 @14:07 #
     
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    I also found that advert offensive - because of the sexual suggestiveness, Which for the advertising agency is obviously so normalised as to be invisible. The sexual stereotyping too and the horrible lewdness that is there in the gaze of the spying viewer (me) glimpsing the little working girl. I have three (nearly) grown daughters and I found the projection of an adult sexuality onto them when they were infants very offensive. Huggies and their advertisers are shameful. If I were them I would pull the ad and think very carefully about how they use children to sell their products.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    April 17th, 2009 @14:16 #
     
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    Chris Roper's comment here:
    http://mynewsblogs.24.com/ViewComments.aspx?mid=095c7256-ee42-43db-b967-f7ef9e74af5d&blogid=1b3bdf7b-2002-43bf-a65b-5b370e67ef34

    "Every time I drive past the Huggies billboard on Roeland St in Cape Town, I say to myself - I've GOT to write a column about how distasteful that ad is. It shows, essentially, a sexy baby strutting her stuff, and pursing her come-hither lips. Yep, you read that right. And it's not 'baby' as in, 'hey baby, sit on my face'. Nope, it's baby as in toddler. Except... it's ALSO baby as in 'hey baby, sit on my face.'"

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  • <a href="http://www.sapartridge.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sally</a>
    Sally
    April 17th, 2009 @14:32 #
     
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    Has anyone seen the Clover trucks with the kids being spashed with dairy products? Kinda risque?

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 17th, 2009 @14:47 #
     
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    I've written to both the ASA and the Huggies careline. This is what I said (complaints have to follow a specific formula, hence the structure):

    [begins] The offending advertisement shows a baby in a Huggies Gold jeans-print nappy. She is also wearing a French-maid-style frilled apron and a deep-pink bow in her blonde hair, at a table set out for a teddy-bear’s tea-party. The baby is standing in a typical fashion model pose, legs apart, arms back and chest thrust forward, presenting her bottom to the camera, looking over her shoulder and pouting. She is clearly wearing make-up – lipstick and mascara. The tagline across the top (visible for miles, particularly to every motorist who drives in Cape Town via Roeland Street) reads “Work it baby”. Immediately underneath it, in much smaller letters, we read “Huggies Gold now in jeans print”. At the bottom, we see the Huggies Gold strapline again, with a small pic of the nappy in question.

    Before listing some of the many reasons I find this ad offensive, a few words about my credentials. I am an academic and writer, whose work on how social and consumer culture has created a climate of excessive sexual violence in post-apartheid South Africa has won me fellowships both here and abroad. I have lectured on this topic at (among others) Emory University, Stanford University and the Poynter Institute for Ethical Journalism in the US, and at international and national conferences held here in South Africa, including the Royal College of Surgeons Conference on Non-accidental Injuries to Children, the University of Cape Town (both the African Gender Institute and the Dept of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine) and the School for International Training. I have also published this work widely, including in South Africa and in overseas journals. I have been commissioned to write in this field for the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (which uses my work all over the globe and has translated it into Spanish for use in Latin America), Womankind Worldwide (a UK-based NGO that also works globally) and Rape Crisis here in South Africa. These materials are used for training purposes by these organisations.

    A few years ago, Womankind Worldwide and Rape Crisis, particularly interested in my work on how apparently neutral and benign media messages contributed to a “rape-positive” culture with regard to the appalling phenomenon of increasing child and baby rape in South Africa, commissioned me to research and write on this topic – one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.

    Without wishing to repeat all my findings, the most pertinent for purposes of this complaint is that in our culture, children and even babies are persistently and publicly presented as sexually receptive, and commodified as sexual objects.

    This is why I nearly had a heart attack when I drove down Cape Town’s Roeland Street and saw the billboard for the first time. From a distance, one does not even see the teddy-bear’s tea-party, or even realise that a baby is represented – the first thing that registers is a female figure in a recognisably sexually provocative pose, with an equally sexual tagline – “Work it baby”. A few seconds later, the viewer realises that it’s a baby in the picture, modelling an adult stance.

    My first objection is to the tagline in conjunction with a baby. I fully appreciate the pun on both “work” and “baby” – the idea being that “jeans” are “hard-working” (and therefore the jeans nappy is too). The biggest problem is that no matter how hard you might try to argue it away, “Work it baby” has a sexual connotation that is well known. This is what photographers call out to fashion models strutting on a catwalk, or patrons of a strip joint shout at pole-dancers, and in these contexts, it always refers to the act of explicitly presenting sexual attributes, specifically to exaggerating the movement of the bottom and the hips. Putting a tagline like this anywhere near a visual representation of a baby is an absolute no-no in a society in which tiny babies are regularly and brutally raped.

    So this tagline would be unacceptable even if it accompanied a visual image of a baby dressed appropriately and doing something neutral (sleeping, drinking from a bottle, etc.)

    However, the advertisers have compounded the problem with the styling of the photograph. The way the baby has been posed is extremely disturbing. Everyone knows that it’s cute when babies copy adult poses. However, they do so in utter innocence – they are not trying to look cute, much less (as in this case) alluring. But the baby in this photo has been styled and painted by adults into an alluring and adult pose – one that mimics the position of a model “flaunting her assets” – and this is highly problematic.

    It’s the fact that the little girl in the image is so adorable that is dangerous: this is a classic example of what I have termed the sexualising of a child’s body and face with benign intent and sinister results. Although I seriously doubt that this was the advertisers’ intent, cute is blurred with sexy by the choreography already described: the pout, the make-up, the “hot” adult pose that focuses attention on the baby’s bottom, parted legs and chest.

    The last straw is the frilly pink “French maid” apron, which looks like something “naughty but nice” adults would pick up in a sex shop for role-play in the bedroom.

    All of these components are offensive, but together, they add up to a horrific blurring of “cute and adorable” – appropriate attributes when advertising baby products – with “alluring and provocative” – used regularly in adverting all other products.

    That is another debate entirely, as is the downward creep of sexualised products into the children’s market (thongs and push-up bras for twelve-year-olds, etc), but let’s at least not deliberately present babies in full make-up, sexy adult accoutrements and catwalk poses. I am sure that neither the makers of Huggies nor the advertisers intended to present babies as sexual objects, but ignorance isn’t a defence in this case. We do not need babies to be perceived as sexually available or alluring in a country with our shameful rates of baby rape. [ends]

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    April 17th, 2009 @15:30 #
     
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    Wow, Helen, that's a helluva letter. I'll be offline for the rest of the weekend. Catch you guys on Monday.

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  • <a href="http://sarahlotz.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    April 17th, 2009 @15:33 #
     
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    Brilliantly put, Helen. And welcome back. You have been missed. Also need to unplug the internet. Have been naughty today, snacking and splurging ad nauseum.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 17th, 2009 @15:35 #
     
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    I'm afraid I used my cudgel instead of my stiletto, but I am REALLY mad about this one.

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  • <a href="http://karinamagdalenaszczurek.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Karina</a>
    Karina
    April 17th, 2009 @15:44 #
     
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    Shocked and speechless.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    April 17th, 2009 @15:51 #
     
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    News24.com just picked up on the column. Feel free to take the conversation over there: http://www.news24.com/News24/Columnists/Guest_Column/0,,2-1630-1647_2503039,00.html

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  • <a href="http://www.jassymackenzie.com" rel="nofollow">Jassy</a>
    Jassy
    April 17th, 2009 @15:51 #
     
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    Awesome article Lauren and a really great, pull-no-punches complaint letter, Helen. Can't believe that billboard. That's just soooo wrong in soooo many ways. What on earth were they thinking?

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  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    April 17th, 2009 @15:56 #
     
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    Jeez, well done, Lauren - way to get heard!

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 17th, 2009 @16:00 #
     
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    Good work getting the story out there, Lauren!

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 17th, 2009 @16:10 #
     
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    Lauren's News24 link is hinky -- can someone fix, pliz?

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  • <a href="http://liesljobson.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    Liesl
    April 17th, 2009 @16:20 #
     
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    http://www.news24.com/News24/Columnists/Guest_Column/0,,2-1630-1647_2503039,00.html">Try this link to News24.com

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 17th, 2009 @16:46 #
     
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    I sent the Huggies Careline my letter. This is their response, followed by my reply:

    Dear Helen
    We thank you for your comments on the Huggies advertising and would like to apologise that the "waitress" execution in our current Huggies Denim Jeans campaign has inadvertently offended you.

    In general, the campaign has been extremely well received and we've had very positive feedback both on the product innovation and the advertising execution. Our intention is to show a child hosting a tea party as any other little girl would. The line "work it baby" was selected as it speaks to both the hard-working nature of the nappy, and ties in with the fact that she is doing it in style, in Huggies Gold Jeans.

    This is a limited edition campaign and will be coming to an end in April. We can assure you that at no time during the entire process was there any intention of this line or art direction being sexual or suggestive.

    We trust that we have given you a different perspective to the advertising.

    The Huggies Brand Team.

    [my reply] Dear Huggies people,

    No, sorry, this doesn't cut it. However inadvertent the sexualising of the baby, it's there and it's real. And with respect, this is my area of expertise. I doubt that anyone on the Huggies or Ogilvy team is a specialist in social factors that create an enabling environment for sexual violence against children. Sure, the tagline can be read the way you've suggested here; but no amount of wishing or fudging can get around the fact that it also has a sexual connotation, and its use is therefore wildly inappropriate.

    Some appropriate responses would be:

    * withdrawing the ad immediately
    * apologising publicly (this would have the valuable effect of educating and raising awareness)
    * making a contribution to a charity or NGO that supports child victims/survivors, or offering them ad services.

    I accept your bona fides -- that there was no intention to sexualise this little baby girl, and others like her -- but the point is that you did, regardless of intent.

    I will be pursuing this matter, which has already filtered into the Internet news: see http://www.news24.com/News24/Columnists/Guest_Column/0,,2-1630-1647_2503039,00.html

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 17th, 2009 @17:01 #
     
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    Whipping up a storm! Here's the link to Lauren's column: http://is.gd/sXxz

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    April 17th, 2009 @22:39 #
     
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    Excellent column, Lauren. I drove a different route today and found myself looking at the ad on the William Nicol highway here in Jozi. Still feeling nauseous.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    April 20th, 2009 @09:37 #
     
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    Thanks everyone for your comments.

    @Margie, I think you nailed the agency's befuddled complacency: "is obviously so normalised as to be invisible."

    Helen, I'm in awe. You broke it down so succinctly and sensibly - all the reasons this ad creeps me out. You want to go into politics?

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 20th, 2009 @13:26 #
     
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    Nooit, Lauren -- the only thing I have in common with politicians is that we both get up people's noses.

    BTW, based on my (deeply scientific) readings of the comments threads elsewhere, I conclude that there's a hard core group of folk out there (their comments usually begin with the scintillatingly original phrase "get a life") who are infuriated by any argument that's presented sensibly or logically. Methinks schools should reintroduce debating clubs.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    April 25th, 2009 @11:44 #
     
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    The Huggies billboard on Roeland street has been taken down. I'd like to think its because Huggies / Ogilvy realised that however inadvertently, the image is inappropriate.

    But it may well be that it's just the natural end to the campaign (which was supposed to wrap up at the end of April anyway).

    I'd love to see the brand take some kind of accountability.

    The appropriate reaction IMHO would be appalled horror, because they didn't realise it could be read this way and working quickly to make amends and take a very vocal, very public stand against sexual violence towards children.

    In the meantime, there's an article in The Weekender on the whole debacle with quotes from me and Helen, taken from this very blog (not the first time book.co.za has featured in the media) http://tinyurl.com/corcbt

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 25th, 2009 @13:44 #
     
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    And in the meantime, the ASA machinery has ground into motion. They may well be coming along after the horse has already nipped back into the stable, but I'm hoping that Kimberley Clark and Ogilvy have learned a valuable lesson. Like Lauren, I'd like to see them do something constructive, like donating "kiddie kits" to centres/clinics/NGOs that deal with child rape. (These contain clean underwear, tissues, soap, cream, cotton-wool, pads or nappies and a soft toy. These are given to survivors/victims who come for treatment and counselling. Some operate in conjunction with the police.)

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    April 25th, 2009 @14:48 #
     
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    That's very well done, Lauren and Helen.

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  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    April 25th, 2009 @15:15 #
     
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    I got a form letter from ASA - headed to L Beukes and others. In a nutcase it said that the ASA was looking into the matter. Congratulations Lauren. Activism works. Yay.

    It isn't the end of April yet. It must be activism.

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  • <a href="http://victordlaminini.co.za" rel="nofollow">Victor Dlamini</a>
    Victor Dlamini
    April 25th, 2009 @15:19 #
     
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    This is digital activism with serious punch, and well done to both Helen & Lauren for staying the course

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    April 25th, 2009 @19:32 #
     
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    Thanks to everyone who took the time to fill in the ASA's rather laborious form and / or email Huggies directly.

    Helen and I have been chatting about it and we'd like to take it one step further.

    I don't know if a rant against badvertising really counts as activism. More like slacktivism (you know the kind of protest that doesn't require moving out of your armchair). So I'd like to put out a call for something more proactive - let's call it proactivism.

    Helen's come up with a list of organisations that provide support for child rape survivors.

    If you feel strongly about the issue (and based on your response I'm guessing a lot of you do), here are the websites of some very worthy causes, if you'd like to donate some cash (the price of a pack of Huggies Denim might be an appropriate amount) or volunteer:

    FROM HELEN:
    http://www.rapecrisis.org.za/index.php/rape-resources-key-contact-information
    (Unfortunately, no details on how to donate or volunteer)

    But then there's the Sarah Baartman Centre, which has a useful button on its site, telling visitors how to make contributions and volunteer: http://www.saartjiebaartmancentre.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2&Itemid=39

    Here's a wishlist for Childline: http://www.childlinesa.org.za/content/view/50/69/

    And Rapcan has a direct donations button on: http://www.rapcan.org.za/aboutus/

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  • <a href="http://poetsprintery.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Amitabh</a>
    Amitabh
    April 25th, 2009 @22:24 #
     
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    Great work Helen and Lauren. Rape victim examination and court testimony are a part of my everyday work. I deal with physical assault and trauma and therefore such ads are in poor taste which may give the wrong message to somebody. Happy that you have alerted the company concerned.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 26th, 2009 @11:42 #
     
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    Thanks Lauren, for posting the links, and I hope they'll inspire folk to donate (esp Huggies & Co).

    Just wanted to say Amitabh and the many like him do the REAL work in cases like these. I am in awe of those dedicated health-care workers who are often the first port of call for someone who's been raped. As a community health nurse, Sine Duma, once said to me, "My job is to help a victim become a survivor".

    And believe it or not, there's a poem for people like Amitabh and Sine. It's in Finuala Dowling's I Flying (one of my favourites). Here it is (warning, you'll need tissues):

    To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair

    I just wanted to say on behalf of us all
    that on the night in question
    there was a light on in the hall
    for a nervous little sleeper
    and when the bleeding baby was admitted to your care
    faraway a Karoo shepherd crooned a ramkiekie lullaby in the veld
    and while you staunched
    there was space on a mother-warmed sheet
    for a night walker
    and when you administered an infant-sized opiate
    there were luxuriant dark nipples
    for fist-clenching babies
    and when you called for more blood
    a bleary-eyed uncle got up to make a feed
    and while you stitched
    there was another chapter of a favourite story
    and while you cleaned
    a grandpa’s thin legs walked up and down for a colicky crier
    and when you finally stood exhausted at the end of her cot
    and asked “Where is God?”
    a father sat watch.
    And for the rest of us, we all slept in trust
    that you would do what you did,
    that you could do what you did.
    We slept in trust that you lived.

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  • <a href="http://poetsprintery.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Amitabh</a>
    Amitabh
    April 26th, 2009 @13:52 #
     
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    Thanks Helen

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    April 26th, 2009 @17:42 #
     
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    That is a wonderful poem ... and I did need tissues.

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  • ar
    ar
    April 26th, 2009 @19:56 #
     
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    When I first read that poem, I could not breathe properly for days. Reading it again, I will not breathe properly for days. Good work, Lauren and Helen. I used to go on about this premature sexualisation of children ad nauseum, and got so vilified for it that I retreated in desolate frustration. The world is mad.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 27th, 2009 @23:16 #
     
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    If it's any help, AR, we're mostly sane here (not sure about Richard, though). I comfort myself with the notion that being vilified is better than being ignored.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 28th, 2009 @01:02 #
     
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    Still wondering whether there's a possibility to use the World Cup as a platform for a powerful message on rape. Call me insane if you must, but perhaps we can use momentum gained here to take things further.

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  • ar
    ar
    April 28th, 2009 @01:23 #
     
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    I can see why you're not sure about Richard, Helen.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 28th, 2009 @10:32 #
     
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    In Richard's case, "Much Madness is Divinest Sense" (my favourite Emily Dickinson poem). I'm with you, Mr Nooi. Shout if there's anything I can do or write or say.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    April 28th, 2009 @10:33 #
     
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    That poem was devastating. It reminded me of the stop-motion animated short made by Lara Foot Newton and Gerhard Marx And There In The Dust, which deals with the rape of baby Tshepang,. Like Finuala's poem, it brings it home in a way that hits you so you can't breathe. Unfortunately, I can't find it online, but some of the imagery includes a baby built up from band-aids, the silhouettes of people walking through shifting breadcrumbs, the paramedic's glasses floating away.

    Very strangely, the only time I know it's been shown in theatres was before Rodrigues'Sin City. It was really hard to get into this ultraviolent high-gloss cartoon story that kicks off with the imminent rape of a young girl when you've just been potently reminded of what the reality of that is.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    April 28th, 2009 @10:34 #
     
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    @Richard. Give rapists the red card?

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 28th, 2009 @10:52 #
     
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    Sounds like an excellent slogan, Lauren, but perhaps a little too light-hearted. I previously suggested using players' shirt numbers to count out annual rape statistics. In combination with a powerful slogan - How badly do you need to score? - and perhaps a couple of explanatory lines. Maybe we could club in and get a full page in the Sunday Times (with some additional sponsorship). And if we push it online we may get some coverage in other countries. All eyes will be on SA and I'm sure the media will be looking for background stories. A simple message can carry a long way.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 28th, 2009 @11:01 #
     
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    Another idea: South African Rapists Win World Cup! And then have different photos of players' shirt numbers (in national colours) giving the official rape stats for countries participating in the World Cup. That way the campaign would attract attention in those countries and stress just how big the problem is in SA.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 28th, 2009 @11:10 #
     
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    Oooof. I love it. This means that almost everyone else in the "civilized" world will hate it. Good.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    April 28th, 2009 @11:16 #
     
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    I love the idea, but see so many pitfalls ahead. If the government wouldn't give the Dalai Lama a visa because he might "distract focus away from the World Cup", imagine how they'd react to an anti-rape campaign.

    Also, every scrap of soccer-related advertising is owned by FIFA. One isn't even allowed to use the words "soccer" or "cup", or the logo of a soccer ball during the run-up to the tournament. Plus, all advertising space - including the players' shirts - has already been sold years ago.

    Sorry to be a downer, but I can't see it happening. However, if one thought smaller, like a lower-division local football team, then maybe they would be prepared to consider wearing the statistics on their shirts.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 28th, 2009 @11:19 #
     
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    I'm pretty sure I could find a soccer team willing to offer their backs for the campaign, and a photographer willing to offer his services free of charge. A designer and copy-writer shouldn't be a problem

    All we need is the official rape stats and sponsors. What does a full page in the Sunday Times cost?

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 28th, 2009 @11:24 #
     
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    You wouldn't need to use the actual players for the campaign or even the official shirts. As long as the colours are clear. If FIFA takes action, this whole thing will rocket way out of proportion via the web and other media (excellent!). And if they don't take action, it will run its course as planned.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 28th, 2009 @11:39 #
     
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    Even better: have a team photographed with the stats written (tattoo-style) on their backs. The corporates don't yet own our skin (although if David Mitchell's books are anything to go by, it's about 5 minutes away from happening).

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 28th, 2009 @11:44 #
     
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    Shirt colour is (relatively) neutral, while skin colour might convey all sorts of additional/unwanted messages. It might also detract from the obvious connection that shirts and their numbers have with soccer.

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  • ar
    ar
    April 28th, 2009 @12:42 #
     
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    Nooyt. You'll be vilified to Helen gone. In this instance I'm not going to go with the theory that that's better than being ignored, because dignity is important and especially so in this context. Rather sustain the consistent whisper, than try to compete with the special-needs din of the world cup.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 28th, 2009 @14:06 #
     
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    I find sustained whispering quite annoying, if I may be so literal. Like aural spam, preferably ignored or blocked out. And surely there are instances when dignity should be vehemently and vociferously defended?

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    April 28th, 2009 @14:20 #
     
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    I know exactly what ar means. Rape activism shouldn't be the preserve of marginal nutcases who launch illegal guerilla-style campaigns that generate a massive media furore. That associates us with the likes of flat-earthers and alien-abductees.

    It should have all the weight of the mainstream behind it. A message from the centre, rather than from the lunatic fringes.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 28th, 2009 @14:32 #
     
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    Flat-earthers and alien abductees make claims that are quite easily negated. Rape is a very real issue that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been thrown in the face of the broader public. Sometimes you need the lunatic fringe to kick the mainstream's arse into gear.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 28th, 2009 @15:04 #
     
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    Interesting. The problem with anti-rape campaigns, research, lobbying, you name it, is that you can start out as mainstream as you like (attending conferences, ploughing through acres of scientific data, referencing every claim, publishing in the worthiest academic journals, writing thoughtful pieces for the media, arguing as lucidly and logically as you know how...), the minute you insist that men MUST stop raping women, children and other men -- bam, you're lunatic fringe. I know whereof I speak.

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  • <a href="http://richarddenooy.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 28th, 2009 @15:33 #
     
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    I think we may be blowing the concept out of proportion: essentially, it's just a creative way of confronting people with comparative rape statistics.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    April 28th, 2009 @17:55 #
     
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    And I still love it. If we photograph a team of "players" from behind, they could be anybody. Shirts in team colours, with country stats 1 in 3 (SA), 1 in 10 (UK) etc. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Ogilvy styled it for us?

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