The ‘this’ in question being this.
Basically, a video advert that recognises the person standing in front of the viewer as male or female, and only shows a video about the campaign it is part of (highlighting women’s lack of choice around the world) if you are identified as female. If you’re male it just gives you a link to the charities website.
Now, let us first talk about what is good here. First of all, we’re talking about it. It’s successfully highlighting the work of Plan UK. This is, these days, the most important thing for an advert to do. It’s to not just reach the people in front of it, but to find a way of starting a conversation amongst those who aren’t. This is a success. And for a charity that is doing good work (I believe Plan does do good work) that is clearly a good thing. Awareness translates to funding translates to more good work.
That part at least is straightforward.
The second thing it does is find an interesting way of highlighting gender issues. It does raise the issue of choice. It deals with the bare truth that across the world people are discriminated against on account of their gender. It makes that real, in a particular way, by reversing the traditional binary, and providing the male viewers with less. It’s concise, it’s too the point, and it highlights a real issue.
This is all good.
But there’s a huge but hanging over this.
Not everyone identifies their gender as in line with their sex. Biological sex, which is what the technology in the advert attempts to measure (with 90% accuracy, apparently), is not the same thing as gender. There’s a very real risk here of this advert actually damaging the esteem of someone who identifies one way, and is told by a machine that they are not.
This is not a particularly nice thing.
The inaccuracy almost plays in its favour, but even there, it’s possible for cisgender people (those whose gender identity and physical sex line up), to be told they are the wrong gender, and feel some sense of shame around it.
The whole concept is based upon reinforcing (through a mild subversion) the notion that men and women are different.
Really, it is saying that men and women are treated differently, but this remains problematic. The main reason why women and men end up feeling different is because they are treated this way, because differences are reinforced and encouraged and impressed upon people.
It’s a great publicity stunt. It’s a neat and tidy campaign. But it plays into the root of what it is protesting, rather than challenging it. It plays a very normative role, even in its subversion.
I hate being told what gender I am, because I don’t feel I fit naturally into either box. Within myself, I am content being boxless, but I don’t like being told who I am.
I am not the distance between my eyes.
Illustration by Helen