I was just speaking with a colleague earlier today about how there are things that I love about Edmonton and things that I hate about Edmonton. And this applies across the board – whether it has to do with Alberta politics, or local politics; or the character of the city itself; or the weather – you name it.
Feminist politics in the city, for instance, I’ve written about here before. But they go beyond the public library and the naming of city parks. Edmonton’s anti-rape campaign has been widely discussed online as a progressive effort to target rapists and change their behaviour rather than targeting the victims of sexual assault. Nevertheless, this campaign exists in the same city where a teenager is sexually assaulted, and rather than getting support and assistance, is sent to the overcrowded Remand Centre for the weekend. Although she finally did get to a hospital and get some support, she also concluded that she didn’t want to press charges because “How am I going to prove it, with the cops already mad at me, the way they are?” If you follow the link, you’ll see it’s a complicated story, but it nevertheless speaks to a very problematic culture around women and sexual assault – one that, at the very least, demands progressive campaigns like that noted above.
But my particular example for today is less appalling and tragic, but nevertheless part of Edmonton’s anti-woman urban landscape. For several months now, on Gateway Boulevard (the main drag in the centre of the city when you arrive from the south), there’s been a large billboard using a naked woman in a chef’s hat to advertise Halford’s Hide and Leather company, which appears to offer for sale a range of butcher supplies, leather, fur and craft supplies, and “animal damage control” products.
This is but one of countless billboards with partially clothed (if the hat counts) women used to advertise a local business. Most advertise bars or restaurants. And while I don’t know how a partially clothed woman is essential to welcome you to “cowboy country” (not to mention that Edmonton is hardly cowboy country, but that’s a whole other matter), the connection drawn here between a naked woman and buying sausage, jerky, and leather making supplies is, on some levels, even more problematic.
Certainly, all I think about every time I drive past is Carol Adam’s Sexual Politics of Meat, and her persuasive argument that the oppression of women and animals is historically shared. While a sympathetic reader of the billboard might argue that the woman is the “professional” shopping for her meat-modification supplies, that seems pretty unlikely, given that no sensible person is going to operate their “Big Easy Infrared Turkey Fryer” or stuff their “Natural Hog Casings (Tubed)” in the nude. At least not if they have any concern for personal safety or sanitation. The lazy interpretation is that naked women draw attention, (it got mine after all, didn’t it – aha!) So it’s a successful ad and we, in our capitalist world, should celebrate the advertising acumen of Halford’s. Well perhaps, except (a) I rarely feel like celebrating capitalism and (b) the billboard wouldn’t work at all if there wasn’t some sense to the connection being drawn between the naked woman and the products for sale. And this sense lies in the, rarely so explicit, linking of women and animals as vulnerable, foolish creatures, each subordinate to men.
I can thank Edmonton that it offers me tangible, daily, and ridiculous examples of why I am a feminist. But in the grand scheme of things, I’d rather such billboards not pollute my urban landscape.