Dear Bloomingdale’s, This Is What We Need To Know…
I gather that you know by now that you really fucked up. There’s not actually a nicer way to say that, or I might have tried, but this is just a royally fucked fucking fuck up.
It is mind-boggling. It literally rendered me speechless, which is damned hard to do.
I assume that, by now, you’ve been educated about the fact that you cheerfully promoted date-rape in your ad for festive holiday mini-skirts. Ho ho ho, and all that. I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you now look at that ad, and even you are mortified by how blatant it is, you can’t believe that you ever thought that was okay and kind of want to hide under your entire bedding department for a while and hope everyone forgets. Been there. Though my walks of shame have rarely been so public.
I’m willing to look past this whole thing. Let’s focus on the future, shall we?
But, in order to do that, I’d like to ask you a few questions. I don’t ask them to be nosey and condescending, or even judgmental. I ask them in order to prevent this from ever fucking happening again. I mean, if you don’t know HOW and WHY it happened, how will you prevent it from happening again?
1. Are there ANY women in any of the hundreds of positions that were involved in the creation of this ad? I figure you’ve got marketing, advertising, art direction, copy editing and of course a bunch of C Level people who had their hands on this. Any of them women? And I don’t mean interns, I mean people who someone might listen to, unless that is inherently mutually exclusive to being a woman. I understand that 6 of your 13 Board of Directors are women, but presumably they don’t oversee your advertising. And that 3/4 of your managers company-wide are women, but I’m assuming that includes retail managers. So, are there women who are responsible for editorial representation in any way?
2. IF there are any women, are they empowered to speak up? I am not asking if you made them an adorable little card that said, “you, missy, I want to know what you have to say, because you are neat-o.” I am asking if you have a culture in which women are treated with respect and are not made to feel that they need to be docile and totes-adorbs in order to hang on to their job. Please look around you and ask yourself that, seriously. Because, you did just put out an ad selling date-rape, so I have to question the culture you’re promoting over there. I want you to imagine something like, say, a mechanics shop filled with posters of women in bikinis. Imagine that there are a few women who work there, but mostly it’s guys, and they’re really nice guys at that. They enjoy and are kind to the women. Do you think that a woman working there would, really, feel empowered to speak up if she thought they were disrespecting women? You’re pretty much doing the same thing here. Tacit support of rape, objectification of women, and incapacitatation of women inherently disempowers women. Even the ones you like, who work for you.
3. What is the process for an ad like this to get approved? I mean that in a really concrete way. What is your process, and does it involve something like “Trope Checking?” It would be akin to a fact checker at a newspaper, but you might want to have someone who specialized in catching this stuff. Things like cultural appropriation, racism, sexism and really blatant gender bullshit. I would think “things that obviously promote rape” would be so obvious as to not need a Trope Checker, but I was wrong. Please hire one. Now.
4. This is somewhat harder, but let’s ask…. Are you aware of the role that advertisers such as you play in promoting harmful stereotypes. Here you have a girl in a mini-skirt, who is obviously asking to be raped by being so pretty, and a guy who is, of course, only thinking about how he can stick his dick in, because that’s obviously all guys do. What are you saying with that ad, besides “rape is the holiday gift that keeps on giving?” You guys, for better or worse, set the tone for what we value as a society. Retail marketers sell not just products, but the ideals of a society. I can live with the materialism and even the debt that it brings – even though I find both of those things disgusting. But retail marketers tell us what we value. Were you paying attention when Target used a physically disabled girl in their Halloween advertising? When Cheerios gave us a biracial couple? When JC Penney gave us a gay family? Why were all those so newsworthy? Because they validated the actual diversity of the actual people who live in our society. Because when people like you say something is okay, it goes a long way towards actually making it okay on Main Street America. Given that, you can see why “Spike Your Friend’s Egg Nog” is soooooooo problematic. Right. (You do know that slipping someone a roofie is bad, right?)
5. Are you open to other potential tag lines? Like, “celebrate all the joy in your life.” Or even “That dinner jacket looks as good on her as it did on you.” (That one tacitly implies consensual sexy times!) Or pretty much anything other than “it’s cool, you can rape her, she’s hot.”
6. How do you plan on using the spotlight that is now on you to make a difference in the epidemic of rape in this country? Especially the epidemic of rape in party culture, which usually involves drinking, and often involves roofies. You have an opportunity here to use this as a way to launch a new campaign, and I, personally, would love to help you design it. I’m thinking that you can do a whole campaign based on what a girl is really saying when she wears certain things….. A woman in nice suit, for instance, could be saying, “I think I’m up for the challenge.” And then the secondary campaign could be centered around the fact that no matter what she’s wearing or thinking, she’s not asking you for sex, unless she is saying that directly.
Look, you guys really messed up. In the most impressive way I’ve ever seen, actually. Because there is no way for that ad to be saying anything other than “it’s okay to drug her and get what you’ve always wanted.”
So, what are you going to do about it? I am sure you think I’m being flippant, but I’m not. I say this as a woman, a consumer and a former marketing & PR chick. There is no way out of this mess except to actually answer these questions. Your “upon reflection, this was a bad idea” approach isn’t going to cut it. We really want to know how and why it happened, and what’s going to change as a result. Not because you, Bloomingdale’s, are evil. You’re not. But because you have finally proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what many of us have been saying for ages. That fashion and media are out solely to objectify women as the objects of men’s sexual fantasies and that our very safety and happiness is less important than your profit. (Ironically, this is just as harmful to men, who are basically told the only way to be a winner is to bag a hot chick.)
No, you are not doing it alone. You are but one small player in an industry that is harming men, women and the society in which we must exist together. You probably see really clearly, now, how these tropes that seem totally okay to the hundreds of people who worked on your campaign are accepted in this society. And how NOT okay they are, even though they are so common. Common enough that you thought nothing of publishing this rape ad. I truly believe that you did not know what you were doing, and that should be terrifying to you. But now you know. So lead the charge.
Create a working group to look at sexism and misogyny in media.
Create a campaign to talk about consent and party culture.
Fund organizations that are teaching consent.
Do some research and really write something about how shocked you were that you could make such a huge mistake. Tell us what you learned about yourselves and the world in which you’re trying to make a living.
And yes, by all mean, celebrate pretty clothes, sexy people and good times. We all need more of that in our lives.
But we need to be safe. First and foremost, we need to be safe. And when media tells guys to go ahead and drug the girl they think is hot, that’s not safe.
And we’re not buying it.