Coming home from work today on a hot, sticky, delayed train, and with no book, I resorted to reading the adverts on the wall. The one opposite me was an appeal for a charity called Plan. The headline read:
"Remember your first period? Leaving school? Getting married? Having your first child? Anita does.* She's 12."
So far, so hard-hitting. There followed a paragraph of text explaining that, for many girls, starting their periods is the first step to forced marriage - and that every year, thousands die in childbirth because their bodies aren't ready for it.
At this point I guess you may be wondering where this is going. As regular readers of this blog will know, I basically only ever blog when I am cross, and how could a well-meaning advert for a worthwhile charity make me cross? Well. Just to be clear, I'm sure Plan is a fantastic charity that is well worth supporting. And, fairly obviously, forced marriage is much more worthy of getting cross about than the content of the remainder of this post.
But the thing is, the next paragraph of their advert began:
"As a woman, you know how terrible this is. And as a woman, you can do something about it."
I'm sorry, what?
Obviously, I do realise that the advert was targeted at women, and
perhaps they assumed that most men would stop reading at the word
'period' (although if so, I suspect they underestimated the power of
commuter boredom). But really, this just strikes me as massively crass.
Now, don't get me wrong. I entirely accept that there may be aspects of the female experience that men can never entirely grasp or share, as this piece (found via this other one on the same theme) argues far more eloquently than I could manage in this post. But "knowing how terrible it is" to die in labour at the age of twelve? Not so much one of those things. Still less "doing something about it" - unless Plan has some bizarre women-only donations policy that I'm unaware of.
Partly, this bothers me because it erodes the legitimacy of the phrase "as a woman", which - see links above - I do actually believe is sometimes reasonable and important in discussions about women's rights. But partly, I just wonder whether it's the smart PR they clearly think it is.
It's one thing to exclude half of humanity from your advertising pitch -
it's another to insult them by implicitly labelling them with an epic
inability to empathise.
* names have been changed, because I can't remember the one they actually used.