Monday 12 December 2011

Ryanair: red hot fares, red hot sexism

This, from

In the new Pan Am series, Christina Ricci says to a customer with wandering hands, "I'm not included in the price of your ticket." Pan Am is supposedly a recent-historical drama series about the birth of air travel, set several decades ago... and yet, as we see, its depiction of sexism and harassment is still pertinent today. The Guardian have covered this in an excellent article, Flights of Fancy: The Truth About Female Cabin Crew.

The most recent perpetrator of sleaze-in-the-skies is Ryanair. Ryanair has a poor record when it comes to sexist advertising, but a newspaper advert they produced recently is their most offensive, sad and demeaning so far. Featuring a woman in her underwear with a finger in her knickers, the slogan proclaims "Red hot fares & crew!" As you can see from the charmingly retro ad on the left (setting it in the past makes it okay, as every sexist ad man knows), it looks as if the woman herself is being sold for a tenner, along with a freezing cold flight in a crumb-filled tin can, where the other passengers applaud upon landing because (a) they can't believe they have got back to the ground in one piece, and (b) they have never been on a plane before and are not v sophisticayted. Relax, Ryanair, I am only having a little bit of light-hearted bantering fun - the same kind you no doubt think you're having with this sad ad.

[UPDATE, as at 15th February 2012: the advert has now been banned by the ASA but the man behind it, Ryanair head of communications Stephen McNamara, has branded the ASA "PC quacks" for upholding human women's right not to be objectified as pieces of meat. Sexist men really are angry, aren't they? Much angrier than women's advocates. I mean, I write these articles all day, but I don't go completely mad and throw insults about when I do. I don't need to, because the gendered contempt I'm talking about is obvious. It's often simply a matter of looking, reading, counting. Misogyny-peddlers get angry when called on what is, after all, blatant and deliberate, as though they are victims rather than perpetrators, targets rather than attackers, subjects of punishment rather than malicious objectifiers whose actions have been questioned instead of passively accepted.]

Women throughout the airline industry are furious at Ryanair's attempt to cast female flight attendants in a predominantly sexual role, undoing years of work to change their image -- and possibly encouraging harassment and advances by male customers.

Ghada, a member of an airline cabin crew, started a petition on demanding that the advert be pulled immediately. Click here to sign Ghada’s petition and tell Ryanair to stop using this demeaning advert.

"My work colleagues, many of whom are male, work hard with me to ensure the safety of our passengers. Safety is our number one priority, not the brand of our underwear," says Ghada. She wants to make it clear that sexist representations of women in the airline industry will not be tolerated. A public outcry can get the ad banned -- and send a clear message to other companies considering similar marketing ploys.

Add your name to Ghada’s petition now, and make it clear that Ryanair should be selling their service, not the attractiveness of their female staff.

text (c) except the sarcastic additions which are obviously by me.

UPDATE, as at 14th December. I have spent part of this afternoon speaking with people on both sides of the process: the advertisers who invest in print campaigns which start at several hundred thousand pounds and can go up into the millions; and the newspapers, magazines and other outlets which need advertising in order to survive. My conversations shed an interesting light on the mentality of both parties. It is no secret that print matter - especially big name glossy magazines and broadsheets - are funded by advertisers, not by sales to readers. It is extremely expensive to keep a publication going without committed and plentiful advertising. When a contract or relationship is in place it is the advertiser's responsibility to maintain the level of its images and messages; the publication does not have the time or resources to look over every single thing that comes through and cannot exert the kind of editorial control that it would have over its own writers, art department and other staff. More than that, the power is weighted in the advertisers' direction. Advertisers have been known to exert some influence on editorial, particularly in the fashion, beauty, lifestyle and luxury goods magazine sector. If an advertiser is displeased, for some reason, the retraction of their support from a publication can cause that title to collapse.

If we set aside the issue of the mainstreaming of the objectification of (young, thin, white, passive-looking, conventionally beautiful) women and the way they are used to sell everything from insurance to cat food to aeroplane seats, advertising is supposed to integrate relatively seamlessly with editorial. Even a strikingly clever advert should not jar. It should be easy to read, easy to understand, easy to act on, easy to skip, easy to forget about, easy to be impressed by. Given the amount of advertising out there, there are relatively few complaints. So if something snags on readers' consciousness and provokes a strong negative reaction for its sleaziness, it is not only poor gender politics and poor advertising but a sign that something is seriously wrong. If an ad is considered particularly sexist within an already-very-sexist cultural context, that means it really is, really, rather, very, very sexist. It mars the brand for a much longer time than the ad campaign lasts.

Another comment from a major publication which runs advertising prompted a smile: major brands often run slightly different adverts for "inside London and the M25" and "outside London and the M25" - bringing me back to my earlier point about what is considered v sophisticayted and metrosexapolitan, and what is not. Either way, Ryanair (along with Lynx deoderants and Pot Noodle) have been in trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority before and seem, for all that, remarkably committed to their current route despite the turbulence. That was an aviation joke. Maybe, like the naughty cheekie chappie teasey schoolboys they no doubt think they are, they like to be spanked by an ASA reprimand every now and again. That is an advert I would like to see, but am unlikely to, as Ryanair only objectify women, although both sexes work as their cabin crew and both sexes (and all ages, creeds, nationalities, shapes, sizes and orientations) travel as their passengers.

Activists and women's advocates have long been critical of the ASA as sexism in advertising is, after all, obvious and endemic, and the ASA has done relatively little to take a strong stance against it in the past. However, I think this is now changing, as this Mumsnet thread indicates, and am delighted to learn that the campaigning group OBJECT are working with them to get them to understand, however laboriously, that we are human beings and not stupid useable pieces of meat.

I wonder what exactly Ryanair are trying to say, and what they are trying to sell. I will write this in small words and simple sentences so they can understand. It is mainly women who organise and book family holidays. This advert would not appeal to them. Women who do not have to do this type of unpaid family labour also travel, for both work and leisure, in equal numbers to men. They would not be interested either. This advert would not entice me to buy anything from Ryanair, it would prompt me to boycott them. Equally, I cannot imagine a sleazy man (the only type of person to whom this ad might possibly appeal - non-sexist men would not be impressed) paying a whole tenner to buy a ticket to go to Stansted to get on a plane to sexually harass a Ryanair cabin crew member when he could harass multiple women, all the time, on the street, for free victims of endemic street harassment know. Ryanair, you are an airline, as your name implies. Your job is to sell oddly small and sometimes vomit-encrusted vinyl plane seats to a range of international destinations. You are not sex traffickers, selling human women to harassers, johns and punters. Get a grip on yourselves, so no-one gets a grip on us.

With thanks to Mr Anonymo, who phoned me today.