A Rant on Bell Sympatico

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I have to feel passionate about something before I write, and lately I’ve been pretty unmotivated to do much of anything, including working and writing. Today, however, my passion came to a boil when I picked up my mail and there was a flyer from Bell Sympatico that I find hugely offensive.

The flyer is regarding their parental controls product, and the front of the flyer appears to be a page from an anatomy textbox labelled “The Female Body”, showing a diagram of the internal organs, circulatory system, etc. of a woman. However, the areas around the breasts and reproductive organs have been cut out, as well as a sidebar picture of an ovary, and Bell’s tagline is “You’ll do anything to protect your kids from inappropriate content”. Since when did the “female body” section of an anatomy textbook become “inappropriate content” for kids?

There’s a rabble.ca thread discussing the ad and showing a picture of it, and one of the participants in the thread says it best: “It [the ad] says that women’s bodies, even in a desexualized, biological context, are dirty and something to be ashamed about! Secondly, it’s insulting to educators, medical professionals and biologists that the act of studying a biology text would be the equivalent of looking at pornography.”

I wrote a version of this rant to all of my Canadian female friends, and I’m starting to get responses trickling back in. I hope that many of them to see fit to make complaints, as I did. I started out by posting a complaint about the ad online with Advertising Standards Canada at www.adstandards.com. I then wrote a letter to Bell’s communications offices at executive.office@bell.ca and bcecomms@bce.ca, as follows:

I received a Bell Sympatico flyer in my mail today that I find highly offensive and sexist. It appears to show a page from an anatomy textbook opened to a page on the female body, with various parts of the woman’s body cut out of the page, including the breasts and reproductive organs. Your tagline is “You’ll do anything to protect your kids from inappropriate content. So will we.”

The portrayal of a woman’s body, especially in a non-sexual medical context, as “inappropriate content” is incredibly offensive. Furthermore, the mutilation of the female figure in your ad subliminally promotes hatred and violence towards women. You must discontinue this ad immediately, and issue a public apology for using such an offensive image to promote your company.

The executive.office@bell.ca address forward my email to
executivecare@sympatico.ca, but I received an almost immediate response from the bcecomms@bce.ca address:

Please be advised that in no way does Bell Canada find the female body inappropriate. Our advertisement was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to show the lengths some people will go to in order to protect their children from “inappropriate” subject matter – the implication being that textbook diagrams of the human anatomy are the furthest thing from “inappropriate”. This message was intended to play off of some of our other recent television ads that poked fun at those that go to far. This was not meant to be taken literally.

These guys really don’t get it. “Tongue-in-cheek”? No. Blatantly offensive and sexist? Yes. I replied to their email with my own:

The TV ad campaigns are also offensive on many levels, not the least because they portray the mother as being neurotically overprotective, so you should not be proud of the fact that you’re playing off those ads.

The print ad of the female anatomy page with portions cut out is highly offensive to women, and sends a message to everyone — including our children, who see these ads, too — that the female body is shameful. You’re not poking fun, you’re proselytizing censorship of the female body, even in non-sexual contexts. This is not tongue-in-cheek, it’s a blatant message that women’s bodies are bad, and that any representation of the female body is pornographic. It follows that you would also condone censoring information about breast cancer, since it would require the use of the word “breast”, and maybe even a picture of breasts. And that you’d condone censorship of art sites, since there might be pictures of Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”.

You should be ashamed for publishing such advertising, and further ashamed for trying to defend it by characterizing it as humour.

I stopped short of calling them Brown Shirts and suggesting that they burn books, but just barely.

It’s good to feel passionate about something again, even if it does make my blood boil.

2 Comments

  1. MJ says:

    MAny months of overcharging for ‘usage’ fees ($30 one month, $7 another month) because I went over my allotted gigabytes. Problem was that I had a 40 gig insurance plan and had only used 22 gigs at the time. Even when I was on the phone with Bell and they told me to check my usage I could see it was telling me I had accrued $7 in overage fees by using 27 gigs of a 20 gig plan… but I was being billed for a 40 gig plan. In the end, after about 5 months of calling, I told them to cancel the service and that I wasn’t paying the $100 cancellation fee. They refunded the amount and reimbursed all the overage fees. This was ongoing for almost half a year.

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