Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Barbara Kay: Dallas Transit throws all men under the bus in male-bashing ad campaign

Thousands of emails, fax's and phone calls descended upon DART yesterday to protest these discriminatory ads using children as bait. MJM

Posted: October 29, 2008, 4:00 PM by Jonathan Kay

The images you see here are taken from an ad campaign about domestic violence that has been running on, and inside, Dallas City buses since October 1. The young boy with the cheerful smile announces that one day he will beat his wife. The demure, sweet-faced girl shyly asserts that one day her husband "will" (not may) kill her.

The ads were created for a nonprofit domestic violence shelter called The Family Place, which paid $25,000 for 45 bus-side and 300 bus interior placements. A spokesman for Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), which serves 10 million commuters, all of whom will see these ads continually for two months (the campaign finishes November 30), said the DART board considers the ads to be "consistent with community standards." If true, it's hardly flattering to the citizens of Dallas that "community standards" countenance unwitting children being enlisted to deliver messages that are tantamount to hate speech against an identifiable group of their fellow citizens.

Other organizations were less cavalier about them. Two major billboard companies - Clear Channel Outdoor and CBS Outdoor - rejected the ads. A CBS spokesperson said the ads could be read as "both misleading and disturbing."

The ad campaign is shocking and offensive on every level. How does it offend me? Let me count the ways. In the first place, the juxtaposition between the fresh-faced innocence of childhood with words that evoke violence and hatred between the sexes is viscerally distressing, because no child should be thinking such thoughts, let alone speaking them aloud without shame.

In the second place, the statements are not simply an exaggeration of the truth, they are outright lies. They imply that every boy, no matter how sweet and good as a child, will end up as a matter of course beating his wife - in other words, that violence against women is hardwired in males and is more likely than not to erupt in all intimate relationships. The same message is delivered by the wholesome little girl, who expects that in the course of her relationship with a man - any man - she runs a high risk of being killed.

Implied are the corollary lies that only men are violent and all women are victims in scenarios of domestic violence. The truth is: i) domestic violence affects perhaps 7% of the population, and in virtually all such cases, mutual psychological dysfunction or substance abuse are heavily implicated, so the odds of healthy children like these ending up suffering or inflicting violence are extremely slim; and ii) domestic violence is as likely to be initiated by a woman against a man as a man against a woman. Women are more likely to be severely hurt when they are victims of violence, but not by a wide margin. Men incur a third of domestic violence-related injuries, as women are prone to use the elements of surprise and weapons (as one violent woman told a shelter worker, "Knives are a great leveller").

As for the risk of being killed, an outcome that occurs in a statistically nugatory number of cases, in the U.S. rates of spousal homicide are almost equal. In Canada, in 2006, out of 605 murders, 78 were spousal homicides - a trifling figure in a country of 35 million people. The total for the women - 56 - is 6 fewer than in 2005, and represents the fifth consecutive annual decline in numbers of women killed. But spousal homicides were up altogether in 2006, because more men were killed by women. Killings of male partners by women increased from 12 in 2005 to 21 in 2006. That is a significant leap, yet Stats Can did not flag the unusual jump in figures, a notable omission, given that the reverse situation - an upward tick in women's deaths - would certainly have been made much of.

The DART buses are public conveyances, and no man who uses them can escape the ads' presence. One fathers' rights advocate termed the ads "hostile to fathers," a risible understatement. I have to wonder what the board members of DART (don't any of them have sons?) were thinking when they allowed such overtly incendiary sexism to pass without revulsion.

Not only because of the man-bashing per se. Outright expressions of hatred against men are a commonplace in our culture, especially when it emanates from the women's shelter movement, ground zero for misandry. So prevalent is male-hostile discourse in the west that one can almost forgive the DART board for being numb to bigotry that, if expressed in the same words but directed against gays or blacks or Hispanics, would have set alarm bells ringing.

What is truly mind-boggling is DART's complacency around the exploitation of these children, who had no idea of their complicity with lies, hatred and - in the boy's case - self-indictment on the basis of his sex for a crime he has not committed and is unlikely ever to. These pictures and words will follow them around for the rest of their lives, at what eventual psychological cost we cannot predict.

It is my fervent hope that as adults the children in this ad will sue The Family Place and DART for conspiracy to exploit children. It's ironic that an organization supposedly dedicated to the protection of women is so irrresponsible and emotionally predatory where children are concerned. In it's own way, it's child abuse. Shame on The Family Place and on DART. A campaign petitioning DART to remove the ads is presently under way.

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