Belvedere apologizes, but what do we want?

Belvedere has officially apologized for their rapey ad, and made a donation to RAINN. Which is… fine. But kind of always how these things go, right? Someone fucks up big time, and the fuck-up appears to be an institutional problem and not just one idiot running their mouth off, and then Outrage, and then a Statement that the fuck-up is Not What We Stand For, and then a donation to X organization. Here’s Belvedere’s statement:

I am Jason Lundy, SVP of Global Marketing for Belvedere.

Unfortunately a Facebook &Twitter posting was made today that has offended many of our fans and followers — and indeed the people who work here at Belvedere. The post is absolutely inconsistent with our values and beliefs and in addition to removing the offensive post we are committed to making sure that something like this doesn’t happen again. As an expression of our deep disappointment and regret, we are making a charitable donation to a women’s support cause. We deeply apologize to our fans & followers.

I appreciate that Belvedere is committed to making sure that something like this doesn’t happen again. My question is… how? Donating to RAINN is great, but it doesn’t do much to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. And I’m not usually a big fan of calling for someone’s head, but it does seem to me that whoever created/approved/tweeted/facebooked that ad shows such a profound lack of judgment that perhaps they should not remain employed if Belvedere as an institution actually believes that ads depicting its product as rape-related are a bad idea.

Belvedere’s facebook page also showcases a solid number of people who are defending the product and twisting themselves in circles to argue that maybe the ad doesn’t depict what it actually depicts. And look, it’s an Internet Commandment that People Shall Be Wildly Stupid in Facebook Comments, and it’s unfair to claim that the people defending Belvedere are in any way representative of Belvedere. They’re not. But this is one of many reasons why ads depicting sexual assault are a Bad Idea: Because a lot of people are very stupid, and get accustomed to seeing sexual assault portrayed as a joke, to the point where they can’t even recognize the ad as a rape joke (or just don’t care), or don’t consider it sexual assault to force your girlfriend to give you a blow job. Here are but a few examples (may be triggering).

Ladies, meet Zakary Davis:

and Luke Soltys:

and Matthew Young:

and Rob Weiser:

and Tom Hoffman:

and Janet Trill Andeson Anderson and Jacqueline Patek:

and Jeremy Webb:

and Tom Scusa Cucchi Brennan:

and Vinny Roman:

and Christopher Prouty:

and Kevin Griffin:

and Paul R. Alcatraz

and JoyLynn McIntire:

Depicting sexual assault as a joke in ads is a problem for a lot of reasons, but a big one is that a lot of people don’t seem to know what sexual assault is. Ads like the one from Belvedere normalize rape and assault. They send the impression that it’s socially acceptable to force or coerce a woman to give you oral sex if she “doesn’t go down easy.” And clearly plenty of Belvedere fans hear that message loud and clear — since they’re insisting that the ad didn’t actually portray assault, or that it wasn’t a big deal, or that we’re all just being too sensitive.

That’s why a “this isn’t our culture” statement and a donation to RAINN don’t really cut it — because they don’t do much to actually change the culture at Belevedere that led to this ad in the first place. But beyond terminating the people responsible for creating and disseminating these ads, I’m not sure what does send the appropriate message.

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Advertising, Sexual Assault and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Belvedere apologizes, but what do we want?

  1. Systemic oppression cannot be excused by individual acts of contrition, just as constant abuse cannot be excused by apologies for each act as it happens. A company that is serious about counteracting the negative effects of its thoughtless advertising will engage in an ongoing, open-ended effort to campaign against sexual assault and coercion, without constantly asking whether all is forgiven and can they stop now and when will feminists just forgive the menz already?

    I’ll be watching. I won’t be holding my breath.

  2. Julianne says:

    Those facebook comments are so infuriating, and the only thing I can think that would make these commenters realise why the ad is so disturbing is to personally be put in that position of being forced into sex. To truly understand what sexual assault, belittlement, harassment, violence, and rape feel like. We need the “point-of-view gun” from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as trite as that reference is. I am exhausted by fighting these kind of commenters, and feel like they simply have no frame of personal reference, and are doomed to be privileged, unfeeling persons for the rest of their lives. The lack of empathy and perpetuation of the bro attitude of “I’m just too cool to care” makes me depressed to no end.

  3. Julia says:

    “Systemic oppression cannot be excused by individual acts of contrition”

    I love this, so true. And it’s similar to what my male friends say whenever I talk feminism with them — “not all guys are like that.” Duh.

    The point is that there is a systemic problem, and individuals aggregate to form that system.

    And PS – f*&k Belvedere.

  4. I agree with Julianne–battling the attitudes from commenters anytime one of us “gets our panties in a bunch” over blatant sexism and promotion of rape culture completely exhausts me.

    I am especially frustrated with people who suggest we should have something better to do with our time, as they are clearly using their time more wisely by arguing with us. If rape culture is no big deal and just a side effect of an overly politically correct culture, then why spend the time working so hard to make sure it stays in place?

  5. Carol says:

    Between these comments, the racist tweets about Rue in Hunger Games, and in general anything to do with Santorum, I feel like staying off the internet for the next year or so until I stop hating humanity.
    But of course, I can’t. (Stay off the internet, that is, I can still hate humanity). Sigh.

  6. Kathleen says:

    oh wow — I didn’t even get the “joke” until now. I clicked on the ad and thought, ?what?

    in stuff I DO think is funny: they are giving a charitable donation to “a women’s support cause”. oh god, that phrasing. Like they have NO IDEA what something like that might be, or how even to describe it grammatically, but they should throw some money at something, women, support, cause, you know, because THEY CARE.

  7. mh says:

    Wouldn’t it be cool if the vodka company actually went into the comments and explained to the commenters individually?

    Seriously, coming from Belvedere itself, little statements like “One reason we pulled this ad is because apparently some people don’t understand that sexual assault includes oral sex. Comments like yours indicate we were right. Just to be clear: assault is assault.”

    Or, “Taking a stand against violence is the opposite of emasculating, and it isn’t about politics, correct or otherwise. It’s about doing what’s right.”

  8. Blitzgal says:

    I honestly don’t think this is a fuck-up. I think companies are doing this on purpose. Create an outrageous ad, post it on the internet, and if it goes viral, free publicity. They don’t even have to pay for any ad space. And now everyone knows about it. They’ll turn off a segment of the population, but unfortunately will appeal to another.

  9. Liz says:

    I’m with previous commenters on being exhausted by online ignorance. I used to fight people like this, and I used to try to patiently explain things like this, but no approach works. You can use up all your patience rephrasing, and linking to helpful resources for beginners, and so on and so forth… but it just doesn’t work.

    I make a conscious decision to avoid comments to public Facebook posts, as well as comments on news stories on my local newspaper’s website, for exactly this reason. It exhausts me. It makes me want to seal up my home and put tinfoil over the windows. It makes me bitter and cynical beyond belief. I try as hard as I can to be open to new ideas in my own life, but just can’t force these people to do the same.

    I agree, it would be much more helpful if Belvedere replied to some of these. But the way they’re positioned right now, it’s like a bunch of uptight bitches made a fuss, Belvedere did what they have to in order to appease them for PR purposes, and now it doesn’t matter.

    Hey! The rape jokes may be on our page, but at least they’re not coming from us now; are you happy, feminists? Plus, money.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Wouldn’t it be cool if the vodka company actually went into the comments and explained to the commenters individually?

    Seriously, coming from Belvedere itself, little statements like “One reason we pulled this ad is because apparently some people don’t understand that sexual assault includes oral sex. Comments like yours indicate we were right. Just to be clear: assault is assault.”

    Or, “Taking a stand against violence is the opposite of emasculating, and it isn’t about politics, correct or otherwise. It’s about doing what’s right.”

    Seconded! What a great idea.

  11. librarygoose says:

    the racist tweets about Rue in Hunger Games

    What? Seriously?

    pfft..

    What am I saying? Of course there were racist tweets about the sweet little girl, man fuck this world.

  12. Mxe354 says:

    Too bad we live in a society where everyone is so sensitive.

    We live in a society that treats victims of sexual assault like shit as a result of ubiquitous victim-blaming and rape apologists. Sensitivity is desperately needed.

    The misogyny and pro-rape attitudes inherent in the comments on that page are extremely disconcerting. I feel both livid and distressed when I hear of people who lack sympathy for victims of sexual assault. I feel even more repulsed when I think of the bullshit that victims of sexual assault must face in our culture. Haven’t they endured enough? Wait, scratch that – they shouldn’t have to deal with a single fucking part of rape culture.

  13. Jordan says:

    Perfect example of a company trying to save face. I completely agree, its the same thing every. time. This speaks miles of the conception of people’s attitudes towards rape. I cannot imagine why someone wouldn’t consider oral sex rape. The people in the comments are just trolls trying to stir up trouble with their bigoted opinions. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the women that commented turned out to be men trying to justify themselves.

    Thanks for the update.

  14. shigekuni says:

    How are they just apologizing to their “fans and followers”? It’s not, like, offensive to every fucking person who saw that ad? >.<

    Also, yeah, the Rue (and Cinna) related racism is absurdly disgusting.

    What the fuck is wrong with people?

  15. Jane says:

    Actually, I think it’s a win that they feel obliged to include material support for a survivor support organization instead of just an apology. To me, accountability = behavior change + reparations. Not convinced this will result in behavioral change (especially considering some of the cynical comments above suggesting the point is to drum up controversy for free advertisement), but let’s be clear that not long ago no booze company would think they’d need to donate money to make an apology appear legit. Push for more & don’t be bamboozled, but take the win– which is that feminist activism is responsbible for companies 1) apologizing for & retracting rapey ads and 2) donating money, material support.

  16. faithless says:

    @shigekuni

    How are they just apologizing to their “fans and followers”? It’s not, like, offensive to every fucking person who saw that ad? >.<

    well, the bigots weren’t offended, thats the problem with offense, it’s an opinion, even the bigoted have opinions. Those entertained by the add may be oblivious oppressive people in the minds of most but like the old saying goes, if everything is offensive to somebody, it stands to reason that nothing is offensive to everybody.

  17. shigekuni says:

    My point was more that I am not a fan of Belvedere, I don’t drink 50$ a bottle Vodka, I am not a follower and people like me were also offended, because THIS IS FUCKING INSULTING to any non-bigots (you are right about that distinction) and it’s triggering, whether you’re a fan of the brand or not. Am I wrong?

  18. Alara Rogers says:

    Julianne:
    and the only thing I can think that would make these commenters realise why the ad is so disturbing is to personally be put in that position of being forced into sex. To truly understand what sexual assault, belittlement, harassment, violence, and rape feel like. We need the “point-of-view gun” from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as trite as that reference is.

    It wouldn’t help. CF Jacqueline Patek in the screenshots above, who says, “For all those ‘it depicts rape’ and those who state that people just don’t understand — cuz they have never experienced it. I am truly sorry that your experience has scarred you so deeply, but maybe it is time you find a real therapist to deal. I have personally been through those situations, but I am not placing an event that happened years ago on everyone’s conscience.” She finishes up by saying she’s going to go buy a case of Belvedere to make up for the protesters.

    So actual *rape victims* who experienced this specific form of rape (or at least that’s what she seems to be saying with ‘those situations’) are standing up for “rape is lulz!” Great. Peachy.

    I’m reminded of a woman’s story in Susan Brownmiller’s “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape” in which a woman who was raped in an elevator in New York City never pressed charges because “she doesn’t want to ruin the guy’s life over something like that.” Some people deal with the trauma of rape by minimizing it and presenting themselves as too tough to be bothered by it. Unfortunately, some of *them* go further than minimizing their own rape, and end up becoming rape apologists, apparently.

    so no, the point of view gun won’t necessarily help.

  19. EG says:

    Here’s what I want when shit like this happens: I want a point by point explanation of how such an ad was created, and a point by point explanation of the various steps that the company is going to take to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and how those steps are going to be implemented and enforced. I don’t want an opaque “this won’t happen again.” I want a transparent “here’s what we’re doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

  20. LotusBen says:

    **TRIGGER WARNING FOR A DEPICTION OF ATTEMPTED RAPE**

    I think Belvedere should take it upon itself to have all its advertising be explicitly feminist for the next year. I want to see CGI ads of a woman throwing a drink containing Belvedere vodka in Rick Santorum’s face with the caption “Fuck the forced birthers! Drink Belvedere.” I would like to see a TV ad where a man is attempting to rape a woman, she manages to temporarily push him away, takes a shot of Belvedere to steel her nerves, then pulls out a gun and shoots him. Voiceover: “Belvedere, the handcrafted Polish vodka that’s been helping women kill their rapists since 1605.” I want to see a montage with pictures of Sojourner Truth, the marches of the suffragettes, the Ford sewing machinists’ strike, the 1968 Miss America protest, Bikini Kill playing a live concert, and Julia Serano reading a poem with the ad copy: “Belvedere salutes 200 years of feminist heroes working to smash the patriarchy.”

    You taking notes Mr. Lundy? A year of ads like these in your Twitter feed, major national magazines, and top radio and TV markets around the country, as well as in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region, and I’ll be satisfied.

    P.S. I agonized about whether part the middle part of this post was appropriate or not. Rape and attempted rape are not funny. I was trying to make a serious point using irony, but am still somewhat uncomfortable about how things read as juxtaposed. Please call me out if you think I was offensive.

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