According to the Guardian, the UK (and Irish) trans community is up in arms at an undeniably transphobic ad campaign devised by Irish bookmaking megacorp, Paddy Power. Darn tooting!
But limiting the debate to issues of trans sensibilities misses an extremely big point. For the “joke” here – as well as the consequences in terms of disrespect and violence – is one that applies equally to all women, trans or otherwise.
Its yet another production in a long line of failed advertising industry productions that seem to think a dose of laddishness and an appeal to “the craic” excuses anything.
The ad, airing on YouTube in plenty of time for Ladies’ Day at the Cheltenham races on 14 March, is based on the premise that not all ladies are “ahem, ladies”. Punters must take care to distinguish between mares and stallions (trans women). Along the way, the voice over takes an oh-so-humourous sideswipe at a woman, mistakenly referring to her as “a dog”.
Loads of nudge-nudge innuendo in the accompanying launch, as women are urged to “get down” for Ladies’ Day. Loads of paddy power afficionadoes prepared to defend the ad as “just a bit of fun”.
Or as one little boy blogger put it: I don’t care what people say or do; it doesn’t hurt me.
Ah: the voice of male privilege. Of course humour doesn’t hurt. Not the way being beaten unconscious on a public railway station for the heinous crime of being deemed a “stallion” by the passing yobbery – as happened to one friend in the last couple of months.
Because this is where most of those defending the ad have got it very, very wrong. For the trans community, this odious focus on whether someone is a “real” woman, together with the equally odious habit of regarding what trans women keep in their knickers as public property, is not about the somewhat academic issue of whether the ad “gives offence”.
First and foremost, it’s about respect.
One of the eureka moments in my career as a journalist was an occasion when someone cut through my defence of whether or not it was right to use a particular phrase when describing someone with a simple question: “If they’ve asked you not to, why would you use words that are clearly disrespectful?”
I had no answer to that. Because it made little difference to the story: sticking to MY phrasing merely made me feel powerful about my status as journalist. There’s a whole other piece in there: towards a journalism of respect, which applies equally to every minority group. But it also argues for a re-phrasing of many protests.
What about violence? Sadly, I think that, too, is a possible issue here.
The piece is misogynistic. It frames women – trans or otherwise – as subject to the judgment of the male gaze: pure objectification, which most feminists would acknowledge as severely problematic and, insofar as it is depersonalizing, possibly leading to abuse.
The problem is, of course, redoubled for trans women,: for in a world where they regularly get beaten up simply for NOT being “real women”, encouraging guys to look twice and judge – particularly in an environment as laddish, as boozy as a race event – feels like it is just asking for trouble.
Except it won’t be Paddy Power paying the price.
Jane Fae is a writer, journalist (The Guardian, Pink News and others) and avid feminist. She writes about political and sexual liberty, ethics, online censorship, IT and the law. In 2010 she published Beyond the Circle, which won her the title of Erotic Writer of the Year. You can find her personal blog here, or follow her on Twitter here.