Disturbing ad labelled “a work of art”
Behold! The ShearEwe ad.
Here’s an ad for a Tasmanian livestock and sheep shearing services company, ShearEwe. In case you can’t quite make it out, it depicts a male shearer ‘shearing’ a woman - Norwegian skier Kari Traa, to be exact. Traa, (who I’m guessing is hard-up for sponsorship deals?) is wearing a bright pink thermal undergarment. Or perhaps it’s a unitard. Well, whatever it is, it appears as if she won’t be wearing it for much longer.
First the good news: some awesome person complained to the Advertising Standards Body about it and explained that, after mistaking it for porn, they looked closer and guess what? Still found it to be gross.
“The objectification of women, the sexual positioning of the woman, the representation of a woman as an animal and the restraint used were offensive. I actually thought this was someone’s idea of a sick joke.”
Bravo, awesome person, bravo!
But then, ShearEwe did what all great companies do when attacked, they doubled down, calling their advertisement – wait for it – ‘a work of art.’
“I am not really clear about how she is being depicted as an animal while seated comfortably and clearly not odjecting, [sic] to treatment, guess it depends on your point of view. Again depending on your point of view, who is being taken advantage of? You could argue that Miss Traa is taking advantage of the shearer, though I see it as a mutually beneficial arrangement.
“I believe that Kari Traa exudes confidence, strength of character. Is a master of her own domain, individual, decisive and both sexualy [sic] and mentally liberated. I don‟t [sic] feel that she would let herself be objectified and vilified. I would not be using this piece of art in our advertisement [sic] if I thought otherwise. I obtained full permission from the Kari Traa Organisation to use the picture.”
Putting aside the question of whether the Seinfeld reference ‘master of [her] own domain’ was deliberate or not, it’s still not clear to me how that could not be clear to them.
There is a lot of imagery in our postmodern society that is up for subjective analysis. But a woman getting sheared by a man in a shed as if she were an animal? And looking as if she’s, you know, into it? I’m pretty sure that’s not one of them. It kind of reminds me of that scene in This is Spinal Tap where the band members pitch an idea for the cover of their album Smell The Glove. When they’re told that the photo of a greased, naked woman on all fours with a dog collar around her neck with a man’s glove in her face is a no-go because it's sexist, lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel has only one response
Nigel is not malicious; he’s not some cruel misogynist – he’s just ignorant. And so it is, I believe, with ShearEwe. I don’t think it was their intention to go out and produce an ad that would offend anyone. I just think that because they’re so entrenched in an unthinking, sexist culture they don’t bother to stop and question the type of messages their images are sending before they create them. Because they don't question themselves. So, look, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, ShearEwe ad man, but I always thought that’s kind of what advertising was all about: you know, considering the sort of message you want to get across before you produce it? And not in a 'Don't all blokes want to shear an undergarment off a hot hot chick's body?' way.
And if I could just go on a tangent here, if your company’s name is ShearEwe and the majority of shearers out there are blokes, why not have a bloke shear another bloke? Because that would look bonkers, right? He should shear a sheep! So why, in the name of click go the shears, is he shearing a woman?
In any case, the Advertising Standards Body took the complaint seriously.
“The Board considered that the representation of the woman as a sheep being shorn was irrelevant to the service advertised. The Board considered that the impact of the advertisement as a whole is exploitative of women and is also degrading.”
The final outcome? ShearEwe has opted to ‘modify the material’. Which I hope means they get rid of the whole ‘woman getting sheared’ thing. I’d hate to think that we’d have to see that ad again, only this time, Traa is wearing a blue undergarment and all ShearEwe can say is
You can read the full case report here.