by: Emma Rose
My roommates and I have a Douche Jar in our apartment (thank you, New Girl). It’s the same premise of a swear jar, only instead of monitoring our language, it ensures we remain socially acceptable human beings. At the moment, it only has $0.50 in it but we’re waiting on about $30.00 of IOUs. Namely, these outstanding debts belong to my friend who won’t stop talking about weight-lifting and protein supplements, the new boy band kid on Glee with the swirly hair, and Rick Santorum. Plenty of celebrities and businesses have open tabs running for the jar, but three weeks ago Belvedere outbid them all.
In March, Belvedere Vodka posted an advertisement which read: “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly.” The foreground of the ad pictured a distressed woman trying to escape from a man who was grabbing her from behind. Avid social media users, who caught the post before Belvedere retracted it, rose in outrage against the not-so-subtle date rape reference. The advertisement was active for less than two hours, but it sparked a lawsuit and a three-week long discussion about the way our culture values women and sexuality.
One of the first questions I asked when I saw the advertisement was, “What self-respecting woman would agree to model for this?” Turns out, she didn’t agree at all. Alicyn Packard, an up-and-coming actress and comedian, is suing Belvedere for using her image without her consent. The still image came from a YouTube video that featured Packard acting as a girl whose parents were forcing her to reenact a childhood photo. Packard neither knew of nor agreed to Belvedere’s use of the picture. Belvedere formally apologized to upset consumers, but they did not address Packard. The KTLA News quoted Packard saying, “To be associated with an ad that’s so offensive to so many has just been horrible. I just want to distance myself from the ad as much as possible.”
I hoped that all responses would have matched Packard’s offense and that the world would agree that joking about date rape is not an acceptable way to sell vodka—or anything for that matter. However, the ad attracted a small group of supporters. Shortly after the controversy, BuzzFeed posted a string of Facebook comments which made light of the ad. Some of the more charming reactions include, “From now on I’m not going to tell girls to blow me. I’m going to say, ‘Belvedere me, beautiful’” and “Maybe she’s shocked because his dong is so large it’s not gonna go down easy?” “All depends on your perspective, the words indicate a blowy, not being raped.” Those two owe some serious amounts of money to the jar. Although their comments were crude, crass, and completely unacceptable, I was more disturbed by women’s responses.
After hearing the negative feedback about the advertisement, more than one female consumer said that people were overreacting and should have expected this kind of humor when they decided to follow a vodka company online.
To them, I have to say: Dear Fellow Women, please respect yourselves. You are worth being loved. I know the anti-objectification message has been out there for years and that angry, justice-driven women (and men) speak out about it all the time. Some may even consider it old news. But shouldn’t it bother us that it still has to be a topic of conversation? After all of the time and the many voices dedicated to the dignity of women, why has nothing changed? Why have we been taught not only to accept that alcohol companies will make these jokes, but to expect it?
The wise Tina Fey once said, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” If we let jokes about date rape slide, we tell the world that it’s okay to disrespect our bodies and our personhood.
I was in a relationship once where my partner would tell me that he “wanted to play” or refer to me as his “little plaything.” In those moments, I was not the person he loved — the one who could have intelligent conversations and witty banter, the one who could humble him in a heartbeat, the one who understood the weird places his mind went when nobody else could. Instead, I felt like something that fulfilled his appetite.
He was my first love, my first kiss, and holds many other (though, thankfully, not all) of my firsts. At the time, I was 20, naïve and inexperienced but old enough to know that I deserved the right to say no. I was completely unprepared for the physical relationship but cared about him so much that I went along with a lot of things, even if I didn’t want them to happen. The hardest times were when I would let him “play” but mentally check out. I would find my happy place, usually the setting of whatever book I was reading at the time, and stay there until I felt comfortable enough to return to reality.
Eventually, he started expecting reciprocation. I had no idea what to do. Of course, in a healthy relationship, physicality would be a two-way street. However, in this case, I was still trying to figure out how to tell him that I was in an unhealthy place and that I felt violated. Asking to slow down only led to irritation, and so I gave up on that pretty early in the relationship.
I tried to find other ways to show him affection — cooking fancy dinners, planning a cheesy scavenger hunt, leaving notes or letters around his apartment — in hopes that they could make up for the parts of myself I wasn’t ready to give. They didn’t.
One day, he asked for oral sex and got angry when I said no. He tried to “play” with me, and I said no again. This was the first time I stood my ground. It was also the crack that made the relationship split.
The next day, I left Chicago to pick up a summer job back home. Within a week, I woke up to a text that said, “I’m so sorry. I feel like such a dick.” In a state of drunkenness, he spent the night “playing” with another girl.
I blamed myself for so long. It was my fault for getting involved in the relationship, my fault for not speaking up and (in the really dark times) my fault for not giving him what he wanted. If I had just (in the words of Belvedere) “gone down smoothly,” maybe he would have respected me more and listened to me.
I’ve always prided myself in being a strong woman, one who stands for her values. In those moments, though, I was weak and vulnerable. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself because some twisted part of my subconscious thought that it was normal.
I am by no means alone. Every day, countless women struggle with finding the voice to say, “You’re not respecting me” or “Stop” or “No.” Strong, smart, amazing women have endured unhealthy relationships, assault and/or rape but stay quiet about it. Maybe it’s because they’re scared or embarrassed. Perhaps, they’re in denial. Or maybe, they choose not to speak because they don’t think anybody will listen.
None of this should be the norm. Advertisers should not be promoting a world where women are merely a tool that men can use to attain their desires. When consumers expect date rape jokes from ads, it is a sign that society does not value the dignity of the human person or healthy, communicative sexuality.
It took me about a year to sit down and talk about everything that happened. That year was a long, slow process of forgiveness and learning to let go of self-blame. I had to figure out on my own terms that I was worth love and respect. When we finally did talk, we were both able to apologize for our mistakes: me for not communicating and him for the times I felt used and/or manipulated. He said that he learned from the experience and had a new understanding of how relationships should work.
I am very lucky. Not many people can return to destructive relationships and come to a place of reconciliation. If you’ve been through something similar and are still on speaking terms with the other person, I invite you to be open to the conversation. It’s terrifying to reopen wounds and face the past; but, little conversations can lead to big changes.
If you’re not in a position to face the other person, I urge you to seek help in another way. Every college campus should have counseling resources, and organizations like One in Four offer resources to both men and women who have been through unhealthy relationships and rape.
If you have been affected by these issues (or want to be an ally to those who have), speak out against ads like Belvedere’s. Find organizations in your community that work to promote healthy relationships and human dignity, get involved and make a difference. For those who are able, share your own stories. Together, we can use our voices to build a world where objectification is not the norm and where sexuality is something beautiful and life-giving to share with a loved one.
Also, Belvedere: you owe $100 billion dollars to my jar.
Emma Rose is a fourth-year student at DePaul University and is studying Catholic Studies, Creative Writing, and Spanish. She is passionate about blues dancing, service and justice work, baking, faith, laughter, and relationships. She hopes to pursue an MA in International Studies to research the systems that drive politically driven violence and material poverty in developing nations and the role that developed nations play in said systems.