Advertisements that promote the prevention of sexual assaults are poignant in today’s media. However, these ads need to be done right and interpreted correctly.
By now I’m sure most University of Saskatchewan students are familiar with the Edmonton-founded “Don’t be that guy” campaign, as its posters are present in numerous locations on our campus. This campaign was a collaborative community response to increased alcohol related sexual assaults, launched by Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton. Rather than making women their primary audience, this campaign targets men — essentially challenging them to end rape.
These ads range from stating “Just because she isn’t saying no, doesn’t mean she’s saying yes,” to “Just because you help her home, doesn’t mean you get to help yourself.” In both cases, an image of an intoxicated woman is used. These messages are blunt and accurately target the campaign’s male audience.
However, this summer a controversial parody campaign, “Don’t be that girl,” was launched by Men’s Rights Edmonton. Their campaign uses the same images depicted on the “Don’t be that guy” posters, but twists them to target women. These advertisements are deeply offensive as they promote victim blaming, and they discourage women from coming forward about their sexual assaults.
One poster reads “Just because you regret a one night stand, doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual,” while another claims, “Just because you regret it, doesn’t mean it was rape.” These ads are sickening to say the least.
In fact, reading the commentary regarding both of these campaigns online is rather horrifying. Men are being vilified by women; women are being vilified by men. Admittedly, these posters are potentially troublesome because they can be interpreted in a variety of ways.
The “Don’t be that guy” campaign encourages men to be respectful of women — especially when alcohol or drugs are involved. Simply put, no means no. This demand is completely reasonable and I hope all men choose to adhere to this standard.
This campaign has been successful because it actually forces men to acknowledge their role in sexual assaults. This awareness brings an important issue to the forefront of the minds of both men and women, focusing on the seriousness of sexual assaults within our local, provincial, national and global communities.
Through Men’s Rights Edmonton’s interpretation, the campaign can also imply — however indirectly — that all men have the inclination to rape and can demonize the male gender. No one wants to be grouped in with the one individual who does commit a sexual assault.
However, men must remember that the poster claims, “Don’t be that guy.” In other words, don’t be the exception — that guy who commits sexual assault. The use of “that” signifies a small portion of the male demographic, not all of it.
Men must realize that the “Don’t be that guy” campaign was not created to demonize men nor to label them all as sexual predators, but rather to protect women and to ultimately prevent sexual assaults from taking place.
Nonetheless, Men’s Rights Edmonton still felt the need to respond and defend their gender. In the process they effectively perverted the original campaign, turning it into a means of victim blaming.
The “Don’t be that girl” posters discourage women from acknowledging their sexual assaults and, subsequently, from coming forward and reporting such crimes. In some terrible way, this campaign vilifies women for being sexually assaulted in the first place.
While not all men are rapists, it is men who are more often than not the perpetrators of sexual assault crimes. Men’s Rights Edmonton need not forget this.
Although the “Don’t be that girl” campaign was executed without any kind of civility or grace, it has if nothing else propelled sexual assault activists to work harder at dismantling myths about such crimes. As a result, a man’s role in a sexual assault has become ever apparent, which was the goal of the original “Don’t be that guy” advertisement.
Rather than looking at what either campaign does wrong, why don’t we look at what they do right?
In both cases, issues surrounding sexual assault are brought forward. These discussions and debates — however heated — still bring awareness to what is still a taboo subject for many.
If an individual feels their sexual integrity has been violated, the act is considered a sexual assault. Enough said.
So please, don’t just look at these posters for what they are and make an immediate judgment. Don’t be that guy or that girl. Be the person who understands why each of these campaigns were launched in the first place. Educate yourself and others about sexual assault and how its affects, stigmas and traumas change the lives of everyone involved.
And for the love of everyone, don’t be a victim blamer.
Photo: aloha nico/flickr