In response to the uproar, Bloomingdale’s issued a prompt apology: “In reflection of recent feedback, the copy we used in our recent catalog was inappropriate and in poor taste.” A spokesman wouldn’t say how the spiking directive was approved.
Sarah Murnen, a psychology professor at Kenyon College in Ohio, printed the image for the gender studies class she teaches.
“The way he’s looking at her,” she said, “is definitely in a leering manner. And is saying ‘best friend’ supposed to make them gender-equal?”
Murnen scanned their outfits: Blazers, with a dash of glitz — apparent holiday party attire.
“And what is this?” she asked. “Some kind of business function they’re attending? This is the way we’re going to treat women in the workplace?”
The photo is perfect, she said, for a lecture about consent.
“It’s sending the message that it is it okay to have sex with people who are incapable of consent," she said. "These are decisions that should be made consciously and willingly.”
The conversation around America’s rape problem roared this year, as the Department of Education investigated at least 106 universities for their handling of sexual violence reports.
Following pressure from activists nationwide, California recently became the first state to adopt an affirmative consent policy, requiring students on public campuses to get permission at every stage of a sexual encounter. Roughly 1,400 places of higher education, now use some type of “yes means yes” standard in their sexual assault policies, according to the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management.
Jean Kilbourne, the filmmaker behind the award-winning documentary series "Killing Us Softly: America’s Image of Women," said the catalog "shows how deep these attitudes run and how subconscious they are, really."
She added, "I doubt the person who created this was consciously thinking about sexual assault. Male or female, whoever it was who came up with this — and the many people who okayed it — just don't get it. Date rape is still a huge problem — and yes, there’s more attention paid to it than before, but not enough attention."
Bloomingdale’s, however, doesn’t have a similar gender imbalance. Nearly three-quarters of managers across Macy’s Inc., its parent company, are women, an investor’s report shows. Six of the 13 board members are women.
So as the issue of sexual assault in the U.S. breaks into mainstream consciousness, how did a company of women catering to women allow what one Twitter user called a “pro-Roofie Holiday ad” into its catalog?
Murnen, who has co-authored several studies on how women are portrayed in the media, offers one theory: “Women can be sexist, too.”
“There’s a type of sexism called benevolent sexism, and it doesn’t seem as bad to people,” she continued. “It’s seen as less harmful but it’s more insidious.”
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