Thoughtful Revolution

An Unfortunate Advertisement

There is plenty that could be said about the ANSWER Coalition; all of it — whether pro- or anti-ANSWER — has been said ad nauseam, and so you will not find my opinion here.  But however one feels about the controversial coalition, it is difficult to deny its status as an influential, often galvanizing force in the anti-war, anti-imperialist movement.

So I was disappointed, though not entirely surprised, to view the official poster for this year’s keystone march.

First off, I don’t believe that ANSWER is an intentionally sexist organization, any more than I believe that it’s an intentionally colonialist one.  On the contrary, its stated mission is to combat colonialism, and I have no doubt that — though a cursory search of the website yields no mention of women’s rights — the progressive ANSWER crowd endorses them wholeheartedly.  But this image, to me, smacks of both sexism and colonialism, simultaneously presenting women and Afghanistan/Iraq/Palestine (and especially, needless to say, Afghani/Iraqi/Palestinian women) as powerless victims in need of marchers’ rescue.

The meme of the damsel-in-distress has been deployed in many a movement, from temperance to anti-choice to pro-“war-on-terror”; I don’t need to explain that it plays on the patriarchal fantasy of “saving” a nubile young woman from the destructive ignominy of alcohol/abortion/scary-faceless-terrorists.  And as admirable as the cause may be, implying that we Americans are the only ones who can save poor miserable women from colonialist aggression plays into the same fantasy, while reinforcing the all-too-prominent stereotype that Middle Eastern women are obedient, spineless victims in constant need of white male protection.  Which is a very effective marketing tactic, no doubt, but from a coalition that advocates following our better instincts rather than the allure of the convenient, it seems out of place.

ANSWER, I’m sure, would have something to say about the way that “the defenseless Middle Eastern woman” has been used as a pawn to advance right-wing political agendas.  First, however, it would have to embrace that there are two problems with that attitude: not only the right-wing political agendas but the infantilizing use of women as pawns.  And while I understand the efficacy of enticing potential marchers with the lure of a damsel in distress, the ad’s underpinnings contradict the very ideals that ANSWER so hopes to protect.  In conclusion: ANSWER, find yourself a better marketing team, one aware that a big ol’ font and a catchy slogan can be every bit as eye-catching as, and far less of a turnoff than, an offensive picture.


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