Uhoh! Bacardi Breezer firefighting team will be in overdrive

I cannot believe this ad and social media campaign. I think a lot of comments to the post on Jezebel – Bacardi Ad Uses Misogyny To Sell Alcohol To Women – Bacardi get an ugly girlfriend are very interesting, especially those which I will  categorise as the “beauty is not the be-all and end-all” comments.

The mind boggles! Did the advertising team working for Bacardi think that women would admire the honesty of Bacardi, telling it like it is? Not featuring half naked women on beaches as per usual? Do they really think I am going to buy Bacardi because they understand my motivations for having friends? They bloody well do not! When I think of my female friends (and anyone will tell you that most of my friends are female, it’s just the way I am wired) how they look does not feature among the reasons I am friendly with them. Naturally I am happy for them when they get an outfit/ haircut/ shoes that makes them feel and look great. Naturally I listen to their concerns about their body issues and they listen to my occasional moans. We try to think of things to help each other improve but ultimately it doesn’t matter. If a friend lost or put on weight or other dramatic changes occurred in their body I would be concerned about them because it’s rare that such changes are merely physiological. I would expect my friends to have the same concern for me.

Anyone with half a brain knows that advertising is manipulative. It occurs to me that Bacardi may not care that most women will revile them, and possibly revile them publicly online, for this stunt. Maybe it’s part of the brand awareness raising. Personally I would prefer to be manipulated by a witty campaign* or even by a glamorous, escapist campaign (see above, semi-naked, beaches comment) rather than a flipping alcoholic beverage company saying to me, “You are totally shallow. Have some Bacardi!” I mean what the **** sort of brand is that? Your life is so vacuous, you will need alcohol such as Bacardi to give it meaning? I actually bought some white rum at the weekend to make mojitos and I am very glad I did not but this brand.

Maybe there will be comments here and elsewhere along the lines of “Oh girl where is your sense of humour?” and I always feel perplexed by such comments. No-one can tell me something is funny if I don’t find it so. Even if you explain to me and especially if you have to explain to me why it is funny, the moment has passed. Plainly I am not the only person who thinks this campaign has completely missed the mark. Even if I was, there would still be no point in asking me the whereabouts of my sense of humour.

Is it not bad enough that women are constantly bombarded with unreal, airbrushed images of unattainable beauty but now we are being given a catalogue of what amounts to being ugly according to Bacardi? Cross-eyed? Yuck! Cellulite? You minger! Red hair? God help us!

Okay maybe I am an unwitting pawn in their social media campaign and they intended to rustle up some online notice with this campaign but generally it’s better to try for a positive reaction. This campaign is so, so, deeply wrong and misconceived. I hate to say this in the current economic environment but I hope Bacardi are firing their ad execs asses right now.

I thought a quick poll might help those ad execs understand why their asses are getting fired. Of course I might be wrong and you all might think it’s hilarious!

*Did they or did they not run the series of ads about Jamaicans being really laid back? They were great! They did not – it was Malibu. Hurrah I can continue unabated with my rant!

Is your mother proud of you?

I couldn’t help thinking of that great rum ad that was on Irish screens in recent years as I finished Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers – the story of success. The scene is the Caribbean and a family attempt to park their boat; another boater whips into the space that they finally find and among the insults shouted in a Jamaican accent is “Is your mother proud of you?” (I can’t remember for sure which brand it was so I’m finding it impossible to find the ad on YouTube – any helpful tips would be appreciated. Thanks!)

I couldn’t help thinking about this as I finished this book. The premise of Outliers by New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell is that traditional notions about what makes successful people, that there is some sort of magic formula for success, is pretty much nonsense. He believes that success is a result of circumstance, being born at the right time and in the right place. He has some pretty convincing examples and all in all it’s an interesting read as he delves deeper into what created groups of successful people at certain times. The example that he uses to introduce us to his notion is that in Canada the cut-off date for joining ice-hockey leagues is January 1st; you must be five-years-old by January 1st to start playing in the beginning teams. This gives an unfair advantage to those born in January over those born in December at an age when even three months is a developmental advantage, mentally and physically. Gladwell presents tables for a championship team and right enough, it’s plain as plain can be, that the relative ages of the team are very much weighted to the beginning of the year. Compelling stuff indeed. As an aside, I have to say I wondered throughout this chapter, considering Canada’s extreme seasons, do babies tend to be born at certain times of the year? I know, say, that Canadians tend to move house between May and August for obvious reasons; do they tend to have kids more in certain months for obvious reasons too and could this also affest their relative ages? But I digress!

That’s an example of the kind of unnatural selection at work that creates success according to Gladwell. He is not saying that these hockey players aren’t the best; he is saying that they could have twice as many brilliant teams with two cut-off dates, for example. Now that he has us thinking like him he goes on to examine individual cases. By chapter six I was thinking, “There’s something not right here. He seems like an intelligent guy, he must be lulling the reader into a false sense of security. He’ll twist it all around now and comment on the very thing that he is missing.” As the book progressed my sense of unease grew and grew, not one of the Outliers he discusses is female. Sorry no I’m wrong. He writes about his grandmother. Oh and his mum. If I was his mother, I’d thwock him over the head with the book.

His final chapter describes his family history and how because of certain historical events and family circumstances his mother managed to get an education and get out of Jamaica where she was brought up. It’s very weak after the rest of the chapters and a disappointing end to his otherwise thought-provoking book. I’m not the only woman who has noticed apparently and he gives an interview on the Today Show on MSNBC in which he discusses some of the main themes and even counters the issue that I have with the book as a whole. Again he may have a point in this interview, that his thesis that success is a product of our environment, the time we grow up in means that therefore time and environment have yet to produce successful women. He may have a point but I don’t agree. And neither do others.

In fact, he gives the lie to this explanation when he writes about the Borgenicht family in New York and how they grew their garment business from a few yards of cloth and one sewing machine to an empire. He describes Louis Borgenicht’s eureka moment when he comes home with his big money-making idea:

He grabbed [Regina, his wife] by the waist and began swinging her around and around.

“You’ve got to help me,” he cried out. “We’ll work together! Ma, this is our business.”

The italics are Gladwell’s but they make my point very well I think. This is extracted by Gladwell from Louis’ own memoir as told to Harold H. Friedman and published in Friedman’s 1942 book, The Happiest Man: The Life of Louis Borgenicht. Gladwell goes on to describe the early days of the Borgenicht’s business:

Day and night, he and Regina cut and sewed. […] Before long, he and Regina hired another immigrant just off the boat to help with the children so Regina could sew full-time, and then another to serve as an apprentice.

Note that they did not hire a seamstress to allow Regina to bring up the children. This was Regina’s business too. Yet Gladwell does not place the same emphasis on her contribution to the success of that business or his narrative.

The other issue I have with his argument about history not being kind to women is that it allows for a very narrow notion of success. He even gives that away himself when he talks about hockey players, computer programmers and lawyers being successful. Success is not just about power and wealth. Success is about fulfilment and leading a meaningful life. Gladwell emphasies the importance of meaningful work in creating success. What could be more meaningful than happiness, passion for life and joy in our daily existence? In his final chapter possibly he makes the oblique point that his grandmother and mother were successful because how many Jamaican women can boast that their sons have been on the bestsellers lists throughout the world? Only more than those who can boast the same about their daughters I would say. Of course this is only success if you consider being a good parent success and unfortunately this is not the kind of success that Americans obsess about and that propels books such as Gladwell’s to the lofy heights of those bestseller lists.

There are many women who could be considered successful and could be considered Outliers in Gladwell’s terms. For example, if we examine any female political leaders in the last twenty years. Gladwell divides his sucess stories from his not successful stories by examining the differences that a generation can make or even five or ten years to the circumstances his protagonists find themselves in. If women had attempted to begin their political careers five or ten years previously  more than likely they would not have achieved the success that they enjoyed. Society would not have been ready to vote for them, they would not have had legislation to protect them from the marriage bar or allow them time off to have children, the support in the political parties for their campaigns (based no doubt on voter research in many cases rather than any grand ideas but this is mere assumption on my part!) and possibly the temerity to go for it. Female political leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Clinton and our own Mary Robinson are truly outliers. If I knew more about the background of Susan Denham for example or female leaders from the world of business, journalism, sport, the Arts and technology I am sure I could thrash Gladwell to pieces. Sadly he’s paid healthy sums of money to write badly formed theses; I most definitely am not.

I would read other books by Gladwell because I enjoy reading anything that gets me going like this did. I chose Outliers for this month’s book club so I look forwar very much to hearing what the other members of the club have to say about it. Of course I haven’t even started on the exclusion of every single person beyond the continent of North America from his book but I’ll keep that for book club!

Little Box sets, Little Box sets

My lovely cousin Bea gave us the box set of Seasons One and Two of Weeds as a Christmas present. I LOVE box sets of good television series. Himself and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the whole six series of Sopranos from spring to autumn of 2007. Last winter Lilbro gave us the boxset of the first series of Rome which was entertaining and the enhanced features explained many of the day to day aspects of life in Rome when you got confused. Mind you there were some confusing historical details that the producers were obviously less confused by than us… Watching a whole series on DVD gives a much more focussed experience of a series I think. I was going to use the word intense in the place of focussed and while I think you could apply that adjective to The Sopranos, it doesn’t fit so well to the likes of Weeds or Rome for example. The one drawback with box sets is that I don’t care to own DVDs after I watch them but I turn this into a positive by always passing them on to others when we’re done.

So back to Weeds. I’m really enjoying it so far. I’m not going to get into the moral question at the very centre of this series: whether or not cannabis should be legal or not. Not here anyway 🙂 What interests me about the series so far is the manner in which traditional male and female roles are highlighted. Nancy Botwin is the embodiment of many traditional female roles: mother, friend, loving wife, homemaker, widow. However her character is refreshing on the small screen: she’s rarely perfectly made-up or coiffed; many of her outfits are unremarkable and some are even ill advised; she is erratic in her mothering, her housekeeping and only sometimes manages to be the kind of friend we would all like to have. Honestly, I could be describing my own life. Compare this to any one of the Desperate Housewives even the kooky one who struggles to juggle working life with being a mom to 4 boys and a stepdaughter but never has roots or a spectacularly messy house. Nuff said.

Desperate Housewives and Sex in the City another recent popular American series aimed at women and about women, their relationships with their friends, families and lovers, were, I always felt, a touch unreal. Yes, true mother turned drug dealer is also unreal but it’s so unreal that you have to discount it: it’s artistic licence, a conceit. It allows the writers to introduce characters that normally would not co-exist. If you examine your own working life and think about your colleagues, the truth is you probably would not be brought into contact with many of them except through work.

Whenever I hear people questioning the likelihood of people knowing each other I always think about a play that I acted in when I was a member of Dublin Youth Theatre. Reading my blog you may or may not realise that I would be considered quite posh in Ireland. I have a south Dublin accent. In 1994 I was in a play about six women who dreamed of travelling together to the World Cup in the US. My one and only brush with the beautiful game: I had a solo in this musical about Denis Irwim. Don’t ever ask me to sing it. For your own sake. One of the critics, reviewing the production, complained about the unlikelihood of six women of such obviously disparate backgrounds ever knowing each other. The director, Gerry Stembridge, swept this criticism aside by saying, “But you’re all here and you know each other.” There’s nowt as strange as folk and what brings them together is the lesson I learned from that experience.

What is very true about the Widow Botwin’s experience is the fact that her home life is inhabited by women, her work life by men. I find that the series so far (seasons 1 and 2) highlight many truths about women’s working lives; about being a working mother or a stay at home mom. I really love the way many of the roles are turned on their heads: Nancy is incapable of counselling her youngest son on the changes he is experiencing as he battles through adolescence (women are compassionate and empathic); her brother in law, Andy, does most of the cooking in the home and many of the dishes he prepares sound pretty complicated; Nancy remarries for purely business reasons; Nancy knowingly uses her “pretty brown eyes” to get her way and those caught in her gaze refute it (Conrad: “Every time you flash your pretty brown eyes at me I get dropped in shit.”); we rarely glimpse Nancy in sex scenes and when we do they are low key love scenes while Andy is frequentely derided while being rided. (Sorry I couldn’t resist!)

Similarly I thought that The Sopranos tackled gender questions in a very honest and forthright manner, developing the main female characters in a fascinating manner while constantly underlining this depth with the shallow nature of the roles of the female staff in Badabaing, Tony’s topless bar.

I’ve noticed that in recent years many series that might not consider women as their main target audience have displayed a better understanding of what I as a woman want to see on the small screen. Real 21st century women’s issues being addressed and sometimes resolved but not always.

And my final reason for loving Weeds as a woman and a mother? Vaneeta James, the daughter of Heylia James, breastfeeds her baby. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I’m a big fan of breastfeeding.

Facebook owns your boobs

I hate to admit it but I first read about Facebook bannning breastfeeding on Paul Walsh’s blog and considering he has never breastfed in his life to my knowledge and he doesn’t reveal whether he has supported the breastfeeding of his own children, he is certainly as he calls himself the Irish Opportunist. Talk about jumping on the bandwagon. This is apparently a common tactic among bloggers of which innocent little me was unaware. Blogging about trending topics will pull traffic towards your site. You can find out about trending topics on the likes of Twitscoop for example.

Anyhoo, as anyone who has been reading this blog since day one will know, I breastfed both of my children for the WHO recommended period of six months. However I wasn’t trying to live up to any international standard: I went back to work after six months. I did try to continue with Nipper 1.0 after going back to work but it was just too weird and hard with the stress and the cycling and being away from him so I stopped. Unfortunately it took the ol’ milk machines a while to catch up but I learnt my lesson well.

I am lucky in that most of the women in my family breastfed and I can actually remember one of my aunts breastfeeding. According to a study published in the IMJ women’s previous experience of breastfeeding, their education level and their early decision to breastfeed are significant indicators in the length of time women would breastfeed so I consider myself lucky. It also had a generally positive experience although I did experience some problems especially with Nipper 2.0. I partly blame myself because I had a lot going on at the time as well with the house being renovated. A great help for me in continuing was the Breastfeeding Support Group in Rathgar run by the Public Health Nurses in the area.

However not all women are as lucky to be able to fulfill their biological destiny and use their bodies to their full potential. Similarly not all of us are Olympic athletes or can even jog around the block. All of us have different physical and mental thresholds and this goes for breastfeeding as it does for all activities that require not just physical perseverance and mental perseverance too. Top athletes always thank their support team when they win a prize and similarly a modern woman choosing to breastfeed needs the support of family and friends to do this. Top athletes will also talk about how their mental well-being was an essential part of their winning formula. Similarly I think feeling good about oneself and being confident about you body is essential to being able to continue breastfeeding.

Sadly I am in a minority and by the time I had reached even month two of breastfeeding the minority was getting even smaller:

Currently approximately 47% of mothers in Ireland are breastfeeding at discharge from maternity care (NPRS, 2008). Breastfeeding duration rate figures are not currently collected at national level, however, research studies indicate the fall-off in breastfeeding following discharge is worryingly high with less than 10% of infants still breastfeeding at 6 months of age.
From Breastfeeding.ie

What has all of this got to do with Facebook’s ban on pictures of breastfeeding women? As far as I’m concerned the central issue is not Facebook banning pictures of breastfeeding women: Facebook is not a democracy, they can ban pics of whatever they damn well please. What is at issue is the fact that somewhere once upon a time breasts, boobs, tits, hooters, jugs, jabs, knockers, puppies, bazoobas, (and Himself just added kajungas…) and whatever you’re calling them yourself stopped belonging to the women they were attached to and became the property of the people looking at them. The problem is not that breasts are sexual objects as well as the point of delivery for food, nurturing and comforting for babies. The problem is that they are rarely positively represented in the latter role and far too often represented in the former role but in a hyper, unreal, impossible manner to which it is difficult for many women to even dream of comparing themselves. If you feel your boobs don’t measure up to the Baywatch boobs it’s very hard to get ’em out in public. If you think that people only see them as sexual it’s discomfiting to get ’em out in public.

The irony of the whole Facebook campaign is the fact that once you upload pictures to Facebook, according to their terms and conditions, Facebook then owns those pictures. As one guy I was talking to about this last week said, “Expect the world’s largest stock photo site to be launched by Facebook in a few years…” Well, it looks like all those campaigns to encourage breastfeeding (which campaigns? Exactly!) will have to use real stock photo sites for their tasteful imagery of breastfeeding women.

To finish up here’s two points from someone who’s been there done that (breastfed, not appeared on Baywatch or sold my boobs to Facebook.)

  1. The best thing about breastfeeding is that it gives you total freedom. As a former colleague of mine said once, “All you’ll need is a nappy in your back pocket and off you can go!”. This is so true. I also really think that once you get the hang of it you will sleep better too because you can do it in your sleep. All you have to do is wake up to latch the baby on and even then it’s not as disturbing as some of the carry on you get from then when they are older. I actually found it quite relaxing when I got the hang of it with Nipper 2.0. I was too nervous to have Nipper 1.0 in the bed with me but I generally dozed through all the feeds anyway. You can also go on holidays without having to worry about bringing or finding suitable formula. You can feed the baby indoor and out, on the beach, in the car (not while driving though!), anywhere that you can sit down with a glass of water and relax.
  2. The beauty of breastfeeding is that with all the modern nursing bras you can be very discreet when feeding. You’ll need to wear loose clothing or bring a large scarf. When you get really good at it (and you will!) a Happy Baby Sling is a great help if you want to feed on the move (although it seems that they are no longer making them). I fed Nipper 2.0 while browsing for door handles in B&Q. Y’see I wasn’t messing when I said I overdid it!

If you’re expecting a baby and considering breastfeeding I say go for it. You’ll have to have a supportive family and your partner should be willing to take on ALL other responsibilities certainly for the first two weeks and even up to six while both of you get the hang of it. It will stand to the whole family in the long run.

Pandora’s Box

The title of this post is a little clichéd for my liking but it’s right. A blogger based in Ireland called Sabrina Dent has called us all out in relation to conferencing and the dirth of women speaking at them. She pointed out that the particular conference that got her thinking about this had a particularly bad track record in relation to gender balance regardless of the location of their event.* In other words that although the pool might be limited in Ireland the same can not be said of the British and North American locations of other events that have been organised by this group.

Her commenters responded posing questions and opinions about whether it was not just representative of the actual gender balance in IT, whether it would not be worse just to ask women to speak just because they are women, whether it’s the fault of the conference organisers or is society/ the education system/ wussy women/ childcare/ macho macho men to blame? (I added the last three myself because I’m a helpful person.)

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot since Sabrina posed it. *Not least because she pointed out to me (very nicely in a private message) that she thought that my place of work, the Irish Internet Association, didn’t have a good track record in this area either. My only defence on behalf of the IIA is that we have a strong line-up of women on the staff and board and amongst our speakers but we generally try to get the most expert person in the field and not think about gender at all. Also when you are listing presenters at an event you don’t generally list those who turned you down for obvious reasons! Anyway I don’t want to blog about work here!

So I thought about this question from a personal point of view. I’ve only ever been asked to speak at one event on a topic remotely related to this sector. I presumed that this was because I worked for the IIA and it never crossed my mind for a single moment that they might be trying to gender balance their event. Maybe they were. Had I found out by some crazy mishap that this had been the case how would I have felt about it? Would I be as enraged if I found out that they hadn’t considered me because I am a woman? Is it very different to just being asked because I was the only IIA staff member available? If they had asked for my boss would I have said “Ahem excuse me have you considered the gender balance of your panel? Do you not think you should ask one of the women involved with the IIA to speak?” No I would not because I would presume they were asking him because of his specific expertise.

I think those who say it’s hard to gender balance speaker panels in the IT sector have a point to a certain extent. However I have not always worked in the IT sector and sadly it seems to be a similar breakdown in the other sectors I worked in, Irish Language and more generally, the charity and voluntary sector both of which are top heavy with male staff and bottom heavy with female staff based on my eyeballing them at conferences.

I also think those who say would you prefer that a woman was asked just because she’s a woman are being fallacious. You’d lose your event organising job pretty damn quick if you operated on those lines. However sites like GeekSpeakr will give event organisers a chance to find women who are willing to speak in the IT sector worldwide. I haven’t signed up to it myself because I wouldn’t consider myself an expert and because Hugh McLeod of Gaping Void is totally putting me off!

I remember when I was in school one of my best friends was really into debating. She went on to college and did well for one of the college debating societies in at least two languages. She is one of the few women I know well who speaks at high end specialist conferences regularly. I remember back in the day when we were in secondary school she would complain about the shrinking violets who wouldn’t get involved in debating but equally we found it difficult to compete in debates. I wonder whether our experience then and the grandstanding approach to competition doesn’t continue into adulthood. Maybe debating didn’t suit us and maybe the traditional conference with speaker as *ahem* rock star doesn’t suit women.

I actually met Sabrina Dent for the first time at my first unconference, PodCampIreland, (it’s been a year of firsts!) where both of us had volunteered to speak: she in her inimitable style about pimping your website; me about Twitter. In fact many of the presenters who spoke were women. The underlying approach at an unconference or camp like this is the participative nature; the emphasis on starting conversation. Maybe I’m going to finish on a stereotype but I wonder does this approach suit women’s style of information sharing. Is it fair to say that women share information through conversation and possibly prefer this mode?

And that’s exactly the kind of generalisation I hate! So maybe it is down to education so I will continue to play my part here at home and continue to ask my boys “Why is it a girl’s toy? Because it’s pink? Pink’s a girl’s colour? What makes it a girl’s colour? A colour isn’t a boy or girl etc.” They’re only little – I’ll develop on the theme as they get older.