A lot of what I do at work is in support of informational campaigns, often it's blatant advertising. Usually these campaigns are for internal audiences, but some campaigns that we've supported are external. For the external ones, think mostly regional and low-level national.
Yesterday, one of my coworkers was looking at old-school propaganda online and came across this little gem to the right, here. It really cracked me up, for various reasons, but also kind of bummed me out, as well.
My first reaction is that it's hilarious that the government will tie anything and everything
to whatever the current national effort is: "Don't dip your wick where it don't belong boys, 'cause if you do, you may as well be handing the keys to Il Duce!" The featured girl's face is so apple-pie that even I wouldn't suspect her to have the clap. And, of course, it's easy for me, 60 some years on to laugh at the concerns of my forebears. That's what we do!
However, what bums me out is that this ad just perpetuates the notion that sex - and any consequences that follow - is solely a woman's accountability. Men can't be held accountable for their actions. Those poor souls are programmed to bang anything in their path with an orifice. Women are wily and want to destroy them whether it be with STDs, babies or the allure of that most destructive of all powers, love.
Look, I get it: on the whole, men seek sex more aggressively than women. And men in wartime even more so. And the government and society want to make sure soldiers are healthy. So, I totally understand why that campaign was created, and probably still exists to some extent today. And for sure, I wish there was more of a pop culture notion of sexual discretion and discrimination (not sexism, but partner discrimination).
For instance, one of mine and Honey's current favorite shows is Entourage. We both really like it - though I'm sensing a post soon on it, because I tire of its portrayal of women. However, I have yet to see an episode where someone either doesn't have sex or the show doesn't end with a segue into someone about to get laid. The guys' only goals in life are sex, getting stoned and material goods. They're so promiscuous, I'm astonished they've not mentioned burning pee, yet. And why wouldn't they mention it? Because there's never any indication that they use condoms. It's never discussed. Think about it: when was the last time condom usage was discussed in any movie, TV show or widely and easily accessible morsel of the pop culture diet? Aside from Knocked Up, none comes readily to mind. As one who went through puberty and adolescence in the late 80s and early 90s, I was bombarded with AIDS, and by extension, STD prevention information, a huge chunk of which was dedicated to condom usage. MTV had PSAs every other commercial break; posters about safe sex, waiting and partner discrimination were all over school; Channel One did sex ed segments all the friggin' time. I didn't watch much in the way of 90210, but I seem to remember them, and shows with teen and young adult audiences, at least positively addressing condom usage fairly regularly in the 80s and early 90s. By the time I was 13, I knew full well that a supportive tangent to the "abstinence till marriage ethic" of my household, was the cultural ethic of "know who you're sleeping with; make sure you're both clean; get tested; use condoms." It didn't occur to me not to use condoms by the time I was having sex - even when I was on the pill. And then it just seemed to stop right around 1996. Poof! AIDS wasn't killing as many people, so we can just stop letting condoms get in the way of our sexy characters having sex. Rubbers aren't sexy, so why should we spoil the moment? Where did our pop culture sense of partner discrimination and condom usage go? I would love to see a return to some sense of sexual responsibility on TV and in film.
That mini-rant is to say: I appreciate the government's having wanted to persuade soldiers to be cautious.
But there's still something about that poster that just smarts. Maybe it's that the girl does look so innocent. Certainly, just because you look healthy doesn't mean you are. But there's an interesting dualism in the message of that poster, I think. It's the tacit acknowledgment that boys seek out the "innocent" kind of girls as much as the "slutty" ones, because they're safe: a virgin can't tell you if you're good in bed or bad; she won't have an STD; you can trick her into your pants with the promise of "love." And that that's preferred - because boys can't be expected to only masturbate! And the flipside of this poster goes back to what I brushed up against, earlier: women are out to lure you into a trap; some of them use their innocent looks to ensnare you and leave you with a pus-filled penis!
As a society, if we buy that women in relation to sex are to be viewed essentially as succubae, then it makes it easier to punish us for being us. It allows for stupid rape laws, like one I remember reading about in Italy in the 90s: it cannot be considered rape if the purported victim wore blue jeans, because jeans are too difficult to remove and therefore she must've consented. (I really hope that's been struck down.) Or like the legal conversation that comes up every now and then: if the victim asked her aggressor to use a condom, then can it be considered rape? If that's not rape, then I propose a scenario where a man is mugged, stabbed repeatedly and not wanting a withdrawn death, asks his assailant to slit his throat: he hasn't been murdered, he's committed suicide; his attacker should go free. But beyond stupid rape laws, the woman as succubus idea punishes us in other ways: well, if you wanted to make a good living, you shouldn't have had babies; if you wanted to climb the corporate ladder, you shouldn't have worn a short skirt (or worse, you should have). Or in other far less fortunate countries: well, if you wanted to learn to read, you should've been born a boy! Woman, you knew what you were in for - you created sex!
It seems as though we're taking a step backward these days what with both anti-sexuality in many abstinence-only movements, and hyper-sexuality in pop culture. It's like those two conflicting points of view are pushing us back, making sex more male oriented and promoting succubus-driven attitudes on sex. However, I do feel, very much, like attitudes towards women, sex and our shared responsibilities have shifted a lot in this country in the last 100, 60, 40 and even 20 years. So for that, I'm tremendously grateful. And if/when Honey and I have children we will definitely instill in them shared sexual responsibility, none of this "boys will be boys" and "girls must be guarded a Swiss bank" bullshit. But I don't look forward to the uphill battle we'll face with the ghosts of that poster in our culture.