My 8 yo daughter is old enough to read the slogans on the Wicked Camper vans we see around Byron Bay when we go there on holidays. We’re there a couple of times a year and I’ve seen dozens of these repugnant things being driven by budget travellers and backpackers.
Thankfully, we’ve never sat behind one in traffic or she’s never been interested enough to notice the vile things proudly scrawled all over them.
Vile things like this:
Or maybe she has seen them and she just hasn’t said anything. Maybe she just digested what she read in the same way our kids digest all the messages that come at them from the media. Maybe she just read slogans like this and they silently embedded themselves into her understanding of what the world thinks of women:
Sometimes I feel like I am human shield, standing in front of my daughter, trying to protect her from the tsunami of screwed up images and ideas coming at her about what it means to be a woman and a girl.
They’re coming from everywhere. The media. Music videos. Instagram selfies of bums and boobs and thigh gaps and pouty preening. Of course there’s a spectrum to how messed up these messages are on a scale of ugh to WTF.
At one end there’s objectification and the way the media and social media relentlessly hammers home the message that a woman’s value lies solely in her appearance and her weight.
A visit to the supermarket any day of the week and we are constantly faced with covers like this at the checkout:
What is this teaching her about pregnancy and motherhood? That the most important thing about having a baby, your absolute top priority must be to look good in a bikini. Forget the baby. Forget being happy. Looking hot is everything.
Then there are images like this:
What does this teach her about aging? About the value of a woman’s life? That even when you’re a grandmother with a decades long successful career, the most important thing is looking hot in a bikini.
At the more extreme end of the negative media spectrum are the putrid misogyny ‘jokes’ on the side of Wicked Camper vans. Misogny masquerading as humour is among the worst kind because it mocks those who object to it with a, “Come on, can’t you take a joke?” response.
I have cheered as the movement to have Wicked Camper Vans’ slogans removed after Sydney woman Paula Orbea started a petition on behalf of her 11 yo daughter at Change.org.
Yesterday, Wicked Camper Vans issued a statement, professing shock and surprise that anyone may have been offended by their slogans.
“As is often quoted: ‘A sense of humour is a sense of proportion’,” said the statement, attributed to company director John Webb. “And in this instance, we admit that we have taken things out of proportion and out of the realms of what is considered to be ‘socially acceptable. It is impossible for us to conceive that a throw-away message written on a van could have such far-reaching implications for the community at large.”
You can almost hear them laughing as they drafted that statement like the naughty boys they are pretending to be. But before they did, Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson had this gob-smacking thing to say about the petition to remove Wicked Camper vans from public roads. From ABC online:
Earlier today, Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson defended the right of the company to use offensive slogans on its vans. Despite the success of the online campaign, Mr Wilson said people who disapproved should protest by not using the business.
“Government shouldn’t be going around telling people what they can and cannot say, unless it leads to direct and explicit harm,” he said. “Just removing things that are offensive, while it may seem attractive, is a very dangerous precedent at least because people always have very different views about what is offensive and therefore should be limited.”
Are you kidding me? What about my right – and the right of my children and husband – to live in a world that doesn’t advocate the rape and abuse of women? What about our right to drive or walk along the street without having to read the worst kind of sexist crap?
Like most little girls, my daughter is taking a lot in as she grows up. She’s watching and listening to the way women are discussed. She’s watching and listening to what society is saying about the value of women and girls.
So what can I do. I know I can’t shield her from the world and it’s messed up values. I know that I’m in a David vs Goliath battle against a media machine that makes money out of the insecurity of girls and women and brands like Wicked who have made misogyny their business model.
I will keep standing in front of my daughter to shield her and I will do my goddamn best to intercept all the toxic messages pop culture keeps hurling at her, at all of us. I will speak up and lend my voice to protests like the one against Wicked Camper vans.
And I will continue to tell her about amazing girls and women like Malala and Sheryl Sandberg. And I will encourage her to aspire to something far bigger, better, more substantial and more important than looking hot or being thin. And I will never accept that disgusting slogans about raping women or girls being sluts should be allowed to drive around on our streets.
Do you think society has a right to not be exposed to deeply offensive material, such as that seen on the back of Wicked Campers? How do you try to protect your children from messages like these?