pop goes the world: lost in the land of prejudice

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 13 January 2011, Thursday

Lost in the Land of Prejudice

In this supposedly modern day and age it is appalling to realize just how deeply embedded prejudices and stereotypes are in Philippine culture.

I was offended by the insensitively-written copy for an advertisement for Wayfinder GPS that appeared in another daily newspaper last January 7. The text sprawled across half the page and read: “Men would rather get lost than ask for directions. Women, well, they get lost even if they ask. Good thing GPS is finally here.” It was accompanied by an illustration of the symbols for male and female, snarled together in a tangled knot.

In a blog post I wrote on the topic, I said, “Whatever ad agency wrote this sexist copy should be slapped upside the head, and the client too, for having approved it. There are all kinds of wrong here.

“This copy is sexist. It reinforces negative male-female stereotypes and the double standard. It sets back women’s rights in the Philippines. It is galactically stupid.

“This copy makes women sound so dumb that they can’t read a map or follow instructions.  Let me tell you, my eldest daughter was born with a GPS system in her head. She never gets lost. She can take one look at a map and have it memorized. Bring her to any place just once, like a mall, and she can find her way around it the next time and direct you to any store there. She is so good, men ask her for directions.

“A resounding boo to the ad agency that wrote this and the client that approved it. I am a woman and I will not buy this brand of GPS. There’s always Garmin, which already has dealers in the Philippines.”

Digital media professor and PhD candidate Bea Lapa agreed. “If we want to talk sexist…It’s always my male friends that get lost, even when we give them directions. It gets really frustrating, noh. In fact, I usually draw on Google maps. They still get lost! They can’t read maps. Even when you highlight the maps and encircle the landmarks. May drawing na nga noh! The icons are so freakin’ obvious.

“I read a map once and I always remember where it is already. Whoever wrote that copy can’t get his facts right. And by the way, it’s women who actually have buying power. Next are gay men. (Never underestimate the power of the gay community. They have destroyed famous brands.) Studies have already supported these.”

Another comment my blog post received was this one from “Max’s Mom”: “Hi, I totally agree with you. When I read the ad in the paper a few days ago, I was so upset that something so inaccurate, offensive to women and completely un-funny could still make it to print here in the Philippines.

“I’ve found out that the local dealer of Wayfinder is responsible for this — ie, he was the copywriter. I think the last laugh will be on him though as I’ve forwarded the ad to Vodafone (Wayfinder makers) and the Ironman organization and they were just as upset as you and I.

“They have informed me that their attorneys will be drafting a letter to this guy soon (they’ll furnish me with a copy). [The] local Wayfinder dealer may be shocked that a woman he thought couldn’t find her way (even if she asked) could send an email to his parent company.”

Way to go, Max’s Mom! I applaud her pro-active stance and am grateful that she shared her reply with me. I had also emailed both Mycom-Digiserv (of Ironman GPS, which was mentioned in the ad) and Vodafone UK, introducing myself as an MST columnist and inviting their comments for publication here, but I have not received a reply from either as of presstime.

It’s reassuring to know that Ironman and Vodafone were also dismayed by the ad copy, which, apparently, was a one-man production by the dealer and published without their approval and knowledge.

It appears that the person who wrote this ad meant for it to be humorous, but it didn’t come across as funny. Instead of enticing potential customers like myself to try a new product, had the opposite effect – it antagonized some members of a substantial segment (women motorists and car owners) of its potential target market. For me, it resulted in my looking up the other brands locally available so I could support those instead, just because this particular ad annoyed me.

As consumers we need to be more discerning. As the ones who shell out the pesos, we can choose which to support among the many product brands available. With people becoming increasingly savvy about fair trade practices, eco-manufacturing, and other positive marketing practices, why allow corporations that harbor prejudices to profit?

A prejudice is “a prejudgment, an assumption made about someone or something before having adequate knowledge to be able to do so with guaranteed accuracy…[it is a] preconceived judgment toward a people or a person because of race, social class, gender, ethnicity, age, disability, political beliefs, religion, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics.” A stereotype is “a generalization of existing characteristics that reduce complexity.”

Saying women can’t find their way around even when they ask reinforces a negative stereotype about women. It’s an irrational judgment about half of the entire human race, an assumption based on sex-based notions that run counter to facts.

Not only is sexism rampant in the Philippines, racism is too. The other morning I was listening to former vice-president Noli de Castro on radio and regretted doing so after hearing him make derogatory comments against Africans.

He was discussing a news item about several Africans who had enticed Filipinas into becoming drug couriers for a syndicate. Instead of confining himself to commenting on these individuals’ criminal activities, he wondered how Filipinas could fall in love with such men, hauling out the hoary old misconceptions that they have strong body odor and are not good-looking, among other things.

It is fortunate for the Philippines that this bigot did not become president.

Any form of discrimination within a society, whether it be sexism against women and the LGBT community; racism against fellow Filipino Muslims and those of Chinese, Indian, and African heritage; prejudice against the disabled and atheists and those who are just different, is counter-productive, and must actively be debunked and resisted.

International Space Station commander Scott Kelly’s statement on the recent shooting of his sister-in-law, Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords, is an eloquent appeal to reject intolerance: “We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station. As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not.

“These days, we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another, not just with our actions, but also with our irresponsible words.

“We’re better than this. We must do better.” ***

Screenshot of Garmin GPS here. Commander Kelly’s image here.

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1 Comment on pop goes the world: lost in the land of prejudice

  1. Bea
    14 January 2011 at 11:21 am (3461 days ago)

    I applaud Max’s mom. :D

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