God's Politics

God's Politics


Ryan Beiler: Am I a Pro-Cancer PC Thug?

posted by gp_intern

Okay, I may be a PC thug. I care less about good intentions – and more about the effects on the targets of those intentions. Not only am I offended when well-meaning white people patronizingly and redundantly call highly-educated black people holding public office “articulate,” I’m also offended when women’s bodies are decapitated and covered with violent slogans to fight breast cancer. (Not literally decapitated – just sliced and diced in the manner perfected by the advertising industrial complex to make sure you focus on the body parts that are really important to them – the parts that don’t talk or think.)

But, for the record, let me be absolutely clear: Just because I think this anti-breast cancer ad is bad, I am not pro-cancer.

I walk past this bus shelter ad every day on the way to work, and knew that I couldn’t be the first person to be troubled by the combination of its sexually provocative pose and violent words. Another DC blogger, techne, describes an experience of the ad similar to mine:

I first saw the ad from across the street. Squint and you’ll get an idea: a young female torso with a heckuva lot of violent words splashed across it. I didn’t see anything indicating what the ad was about until I had crossed the street. It got my attention, so I guess it’s a good ad. But it did so by making me think about violence towards women. Is that really what they want out of their ad campaign, do you think? …

As both a feminist and a photographer, this ad’s goals and its implementation could be a LOT more aligned than they are, and could be far more pro-female. The full text (as opposed to just the text that’s readable from a distance) tries to create a vibe of edgy aggression around the fight against breast cancer, and aims it at younger women. Well, here’s a suggestion: to create an edgy aggressive vibe that will engage young women, show a young woman doing something edgy and aggressive. Don’t use a woman’s body as a passively comely billboard for violent words. [emphasis mine]

The full text of the ad, visible when you’re standing about three feet away:

When we get our hands on breast cancer, we’re going to PUNCH IT, STRANGLE IT, KICK IT, SPIT ON IT, CHOKE IT, AND PUMMEL IT UNTIL IT’S GOOD AND DEAD. Not just horror movie dead, but really, truly dead. And then we’re going to tie a pink ribbon on it.

And am I a hypocrite or dupe for reproducing the ad in question on this blog? Maybe – though I’ve been careful not to mention the organization responsible for these ads, because that would merely reward the geniuses who decided that “edgy” and “chesty” would get more attention. But just because I am choosing not to promote this particular anti-breast cancer organization, I repeat: I am not pro-cancer. To prove it, here’s a link to the top-rated cancer charities according to the American Institute of Philanthropy, which rates organizations on transparency and financial responsibility – not politics. I encourage you to support them. (Conveniently, the organization that sponsored this ad isn’t even on the list … hmmmm.)

And if you think raising breast cancer awareness is a laudable end that justifies the questionable means, please reconsider. Sinking to this form of communication is, as techne suggests, negligently uncreative and lazy on the part of the agency who created them and the organization that paid for them (with money raised from donors whose attention is caught by eye-catching campaigns, ahem). If it’s cultural pollution when objectified bodies are exploited to sell beer, clothes, diets, or dating services (yes, we’ve noticed some of those Beliefnet-hosted ads that we would prefer not frame our blog) then it’s cultural pollution when it’s used to sell cancer awareness.

Am I overreacting? As some have suggested with Sen. Biden’s comments last week, is intent what matters most? Or do words and images have power beyond their surface intent – power that folks whose job it is to use them wisely must carefully wield, and immediately repent when legitimately challenged – and not just offer a non-apology apology? (Again, with fear and trembling I invoke James 3:1-12.)

And why am I wasting time picking on “good” people instead of the “real” bigots like Virginia State Representative Frank Hargrove, or real pornographers like Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie and Fitch? Because though the worst offenders should also be challenged, I want legislators with civil rights records like Joe Biden and organizations that claim to empower women to do a better job at what they claim to be about, for all of our sakes. And when it comes to dismantling racism or sexism, we can all do better.

Ryan Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.



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kevin s.

posted February 7, 2007 at 10:37 pm


“But, for the record, let me be absolutely clear: Just because I think this anti-breast cancer ad is bad, I am not pro-cancer.” Makes sense. Just like I support voucher programs, but that doesn’t mean I hate kids.



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Payshun

posted February 8, 2007 at 12:00 am


We can all do better. Nice sentiment. p



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Mike Hayes

posted February 8, 2007 at 5:28 am


My impression is that the content of “comments” on the various topics on this blog is improving, with respect to objectivity. Thanks to those (most of us) who have tried to be respectful of the “Beliefnet Rules of Conduct” which are available at http://www.beliefnet.com/about/rules.asp



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I was once unborn too.

posted February 8, 2007 at 1:52 pm


Biden must resign. He’s a bigot and a racist. “Articulate,” is not as utterly reprehensible that the term “clean.” I watched the Bush interview where he used the word “articulate” and it seemed perfectly fine. But then again, I am not an anti-Christian Bush-basher. That is to say, I am not a Liberal-Democrat. Biden, on the other hand, if a Republican would have said what he did and phrased it in the order Biden did, would have already had to resign. BIDEN MUST GO.



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Crippled Dogma

posted February 8, 2007 at 2:02 pm


Abercrombie and this ad aren’t even in the same league. A women’s torso? I see those at the store every day and it’s not sexual. If you and the other blooger have issues with women then it sounds personal. Why would you have ideas with violence to women when reading the ad? I just wanted to know the point! That sounds like brilliant advertising. If you are looking for something wrong I guess you can find it anywhere. Slow day for evil in the world? There wasn’t even cleavage and you complain. It never crossed my mind you were anti-cancer, just on a witch hunt!



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Stephen Davidson

posted February 8, 2007 at 2:26 pm


There ARE certainly PC-Thugs. Guess on which side of the Congress they sit during the State of the Union speech? What ever happened to individual freedom?



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LaShaune

posted February 8, 2007 at 2:45 pm


I commend you on writing this article. Yes, there are people and organizations who are clearly more secular and surround themselves with degrading images of women. But those of us who voice a clear respect for women are held more accountable, because we are not ignorant of the cause. We are not ignorant of the argument…We’ve helped create the argument. Those of us who say we support feminism need to stop resorting to a secular approach to reach the rest of the world. There are celebrities who preach to little girls about knowing we’re beautiful, then promote their videos that suggests we’re only good for one thing. There is a way to reach the rest of the world without compromising our own beliefs, and we need to start sticking to that.



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Daniel

posted February 8, 2007 at 2:46 pm


once unborn, “…if a Republican would have said what he did and phrased it in the order Biden did, would have already had to resign.” The difference is that Biden sent his entire career in the Senate making civil rights his #1 issue. Compare that record to Trent Lott (who did not resign his office).Biden tells an uplifting story that when he got to the Senate Strom Thurmond asked him, “What brings you here?” Biden replied, “Civil rights.” Thurmond answered, “Good. Saved my life.” And yet when I was invited to a pary for Thurmond in Columbia, SC hosted by the Young Republicans of South Carolina they had a confederate band, rebel flags, and picture of Robert E Lee decorating the place. I realize the difference between celebrating hate and celebrating heritage but I think that represented a complete failure to empathize with other people. It is precisely because Biden understand why his comments were offensive that Biden needs to be cut even more slack than he’s given.



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Daniel

posted February 8, 2007 at 2:52 pm


Ryan, I’m a little worried that we have a poverty of metaphor going on here. I believe “fighting this disease” and “beating cancer” are metaphors that capture the situation of a breast cancer patient – she is “fighting” for her life. There is no nonviolent, cooperative metaphor to be had that I can see, she is not going to love the cancer until it goes away or negotiate with it until it feels secure. If we start taking away the cebtral metaphor of the struggle, or the fight, I’m not sure how we CAN talk about breast cancer…. Which is not to say you aren’t 100% right. Maybe we need a little more creaitivity, a new metaphor….



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chuck

posted February 8, 2007 at 4:30 pm


There is no non-violent metaphor for survival, as anyone who has spent months in the hospital staring death back to his door will tell you.



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Anonymous

posted February 8, 2007 at 4:59 pm


But the thing is…you get it. You understand what they are trying to do. You know that they are not advocating hurting women, or any people for that matter… So, why do you doubt that other people will get it too? I think we too often underestimate the brains that God has given people! In order to grab attention, through all the thousands of messages that come at us each day, sometimes ads need to be provacative and shocking. And I think that many times that is appropriate…especially since the results of breast cancer are often so shocking and horrendous. By questioning every single little phrase someone uses…we oftentimes communicate that someone people are too stupid to know what the real point is!



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Sondra

posted February 8, 2007 at 5:01 pm


The way that advertisers use female sexuality to promote their products (whether it be for a worthy cause or not) is an issue that women (and men) of both progressive and conservatives stripes can agree is wrong. Conservative women can agree that this type of advertising once again sends the wrong message that promiscuity and carefree sexual activity is desirable and fashionable. Liberal women can agree that these images objectify women and, consequently, contribute to their harassment and subjugation in society. Ryan, you said it best, when you wrote that these advertisers “make sure you focus on the body parts that are really important to them the parts that don’t talk or think.” The sad thing is that these advertisements are not primarily targeted at men, but they are trying to appeal to women. And I am sure that these ads will be successful, because we women are also guilty of accepting, promoting and trying to emulate the very images that contribute to our oppression. Our culture has made it is so difficult for us women to discern between what advertisers are telling us how we should be AND our inherent worth and beauty as children of our Creator.



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Hali

posted February 8, 2007 at 6:04 pm


To those of you who might wonder what appealing to the lowest common denominator might bring us, I suggest the delightfully funny, uncomfortably true (and not at all politically correct) film “Idiocracy.”



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Emily

posted February 8, 2007 at 8:20 pm


Ryan, I don’t think you are over-reacting, either regarding Biden’s remark or the anti-breast cancer ad. In my opinion, when it comes to communication in general, particularly in public speaking, what matters is not the intention behind the words, but how the listener understood the words. For anyone who’s ever been married or in an intimate relationship, typically arguments are not about spoken words themselves, but how the other person understood the spoken words.However Biden meant what he said, it communicated to many (most?) that he perceives most African-American politicians (and perhaps African-Americans in general) to be un-clean and inarticulate. And, however the ad agency meant the anti-cancer ad, it communicates that women’s bodies are justifiably exploited for important causes and that violence is well-associated with the female body.In communication there are two parties: the communicator and the receiver. Communicators are responsible to do everything in their power to be sure that their words are interpreted correctly by the receiver. This will not always happen. Yet, we should not alleviate communicators from the responsibility of trying simply because we “think” they “mean well.”



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fasternu426

posted February 8, 2007 at 8:48 pm


Not PC, but Newspeak. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspeak “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”



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George

posted February 8, 2007 at 9:18 pm


Good Lord! Over 3000 of our citizens have been killed in Iraq, untold tens of thousands of Iraqis, millions of human beings are slaves (I could go on) – and we are taking issue with a T shirt? Why don’t we give this young lady the benefit of the doubt and assume: (1) She is personally acquainted with someone who has breast cancer and has witnessed the devastation and (2) Some portion of the money that she paid for the shirt is going to fight breast cancer.



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Byron Borger

posted February 8, 2007 at 11:22 pm


George, The passion and firmness of your remark, including the opening line, is a bit off-putting, but I’ll reply anyway. Do you not agree that demeaning images of women help create a culture of violence against women? To pit child slaves and the war dead over-and- against the public saftey of women is shallow, I think. I’m with Ryan, here, and I am grateful that he reminds us that our metaphors and images and cultural ethos is as important as political policy. So a dollar of the tee shirt sale goes to fight cancer. Maybe another dollar ought to go to the local rape crisis center.I think Wilberforce’s sense of God’s call was right on: to politically end the injustices (of racism and slavery) AND to reform the manners and morals of the culture. It would be worse than shortsighted to try to do one without the other… I would say the same to Crippled Dogma, but more: what makes you think that the column was against sex (“no cleavage”, you insisted)? If you don’t see the danger of a pile of violent words on a gal’s tee shirt–the kind commonly called a “wife beater”–you ought to visit the Domestic Violence center in your community. For maybe two minutes. A witch hunt? Because he cares that my daughter not get beat or raped?



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kevin s.

posted February 8, 2007 at 11:42 pm


The overtones of sexual violence in this ad should be readily apparent to anyone who works in the business of advertising. To the extent that the ad is provocative, is is so for this very reason. My question is why any agency would want to use these overtones to market a cause? This is a miscalculation, an attempt to create controversy at any cost. Maybe they should be hired to do ads for John Edwards.



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fasternu426

posted February 9, 2007 at 2:40 am


“…the danger of a pile of violent words on a gal’s tee shirt–the kind commonly called a “wife beater”…snip…Because he cares that my daughter not get beat or raped?” I’m sure that breast cancer awareness t shirt will cause many beatings and rapes./Sarcasm off Maybe it would in Iran or Saudi Arabia.



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Wolverine

posted February 9, 2007 at 2:52 am


Kevin, for once we’re going to have to disagree. I don’t see this ad as overtly sexual, nor does it have overtones of sexual violence. The giveaway to me is “it”, as in punch it, strangle it, kick it. It, not her. This is a woman wearing a tee shirt expressing her opinion about cancer, nothing more. In the absence of gratuitous violence, nudity, or obscene language, I think artists should be given some leeway to express their ideas. I see nothing in this ad that is deserving of rebuke. Wolverine



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Wolverine

posted February 9, 2007 at 2:10 pm


Just to add some perspective, let’s consider the matter of Amanda Marcotte, the official blogger of the Edwards campaign, and her, um, less than positive take on the Immaculate Conception, which in the interests of decorum I shan’t repeat but anyone who’s interested can read more here: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0207/2693.html Meanwhile we’re arguing about the deeper significance of a picture of a a young woman in a tee-shirt. Wolverine



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kevin s.

posted February 9, 2007 at 2:46 pm


I’m surprised that Sojourners hasn’t said anything about that blogger (or the fact that the Edwards campaign is wooing the Dailykos crowd by keeping her on board). There’s quite a bit of overlap between the left-wing blogosphere and this board, so maybe they are afraid of offending their base. Nonetheless, it would be a good way to help Obama and seem evenhanded at the same time.That said, I stand by what I said about the ad. I don’t see how an agency can miss the message of violence, and I don’t see why they would want to evoke it.



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Daniel

posted February 9, 2007 at 2:58 pm


Wolverine, Just a point of calrification – the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception does not refer to the Virgin Birth of Christ but to the belief that Mary mother of Jesus was also born of a virgin.



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Daniel

posted February 9, 2007 at 3:00 pm


Kevin, Agreed – if this blog comments on Joe Biden’s offensive mishap I think it’s an oversight not to comment on Edwards’ bloggers.



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Byron

posted February 9, 2007 at 3:02 pm


Wolverine, You aren’t discussing this fairly, it seems to me, when you say we are arguing about the significance of a “picture of a young woman in a tee shirt.” That would be dumb, of course, if that is what Ryan had posted about and if that was the topic at hand. But, no, you know that those with whom you are disagreeing, do not see this as just a tee shirt. It is a tee shirt with words. The words are violent and in the not too recent past just such graphic designs have been used in violent ways against women. (Take a look at the horrible images in Can’t Buy My Love, for instance, a good study of sexualized violence in advertising.) I wouldn’t waste my or anybody else’s time if Ryan was saying we shouldn’t like a tee shirt. Of fighting breast cancer. It is, though, in fact, a tee shirt with violent iwords, inviting violence (against the allusive “it” which for those who take the time to read the thing, realize is cancer.) My hunch is most people won’t get the cancer connection, and if they do, it is at the cost of the not so subliminal emotional connection of violence and women. The art piece on the tee stands in a tradition, the designer knows that it is a play on the same notions, except aimed at cancer, instead of the more typical target of women and girls, of which there are dozens of examples in art and advertising (remember the “Black and Blue album cover of the Rolling Stones?) Hence, the stunning power of the piece. To not “see” this makes me wonder why you don’t see in this ad campaign what Ryan and others saw? Why didn’t you make the (obvious to me) connotations? “Nothing more” you say, which I find astonishing. I’d be eager to hear, if you care to keep thinking about it, why we “see” this so differently. But you can’t say that the words aren’t there, because they are! Offer an alternative reading of the shirt, tell us about your thoughts about the relationship of media and violence, help us think together about our already too-violent culture, ponder how an abused woman or girl would “see” that ad. But don’t say “it is just a shirt” as that is disengenious.



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DC woman

posted February 9, 2007 at 3:31 pm


Ryan,Thanks for expressing how I feel when I see these billboards every day. Although in addition to the intellectual outrage, there’s a knot in the pit of my stomach as I’m forced to face personal fear around violence against women. The ad definately affirms the cultural association between women’s bodies and sexual violence–and seems to be targeted to men, in any case. For me the misogynist messages scream far louder than the pro-women’s health ones.



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DC woman

posted February 9, 2007 at 5:22 pm


Wolverine, That’s precisely what objectification is. . . the woman’s body becomes “it,” an object, rather than “her,” a person.



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fasternu426

posted February 9, 2007 at 6:57 pm


I don’t see how some people leave the house every day without being offended by everything they see, hear, smell or touch. Maybe we should all wear grey, unoffensive pant suits and shave our heads so no one can look at us as an “it”. I don’t see a real problem where men will see the ad and then be encouraged to go and and sexually assault a woman, or pummel her. But, then again, I don’t live in Washington DC either.



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Wolverine

posted February 9, 2007 at 9:41 pm


DC Woman, Byron, When I was younger, I was obligated to attend a fundamentalist church, which took a certain twisted delight in interpreting all sorts of cultural things like music and movies and advertisements in the darkest, meanest, most sinister way possible. I remember being quite embarassed by having to be associated with such a mindset (and even worse, having to act as if this constituted spiritual enlightenment) and this sort of eagerness to take offense is no more endearing to me now. The young woman is wearing a tee-shirt. She doesn’t appear to have any bruises so I have no reason to believe she’s been a victim of domestic violence in the past. The tee-shirt has angry slogans on it. Women get angry about all sorts of things. So do men for that matter. In this case she’s angry about breast cancer. Perfectly understandable. But even if I can’t read precisely what she’s angry about, I have no reason to believe it’s a come-on, let alone a call to violence against her or any other woman. Maybe it’s because I’m generally not eager to see women as objects. As a Christian, I am called upon to be an instrument of Grace. It seems to me that, as such, I should not take offense at a song or picture or, in this case, an advertisement, where there’s a perfectly inoffensive interpretation that makes at least as much sense. I’ll admit it’s a wierd ad, and I doubt it will be very effective. It looks to me like some ad agency was trying too hard to be edgy instead of just spreading a message. But that doesn’t make it an outrage that must be condemned. Wolverine



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sangerinde

posted February 9, 2007 at 9:50 pm


Daniel, Wolverine, not that it’s especially relevant to this dialogue, but you’ve both got the Immaculate Conception wrong. Daniel’s right, it’s not to do with Jesus, but it’s not about Mary being born of a Virgin. The doctrine asserts that Mary was born without the stain of original sin. A fair discussion from several angles is at: http://www.gotquestions.org/immaculate-conception.html



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Wolverine

posted February 9, 2007 at 10:11 pm


I stand corrected. I got my Immaculate Conception confused with my Incarnation. What can I say? I’m a Prod! Wolverine



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kevin s.

posted February 9, 2007 at 10:16 pm


Following the immaculate conception led me to some more links about those bloggers. What is striking to me is not that they are vulgar and vicious, but how utterly insipid their arguments are. It’s just a bunch of screaming and hissing. Obviously there is an audience for this nonsense. But who cares? To the extent the people who read that crap vote, why would I want a leader who would appease them?They’re probably the target audience for this stupid ad.



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fasternu426

posted February 10, 2007 at 12:20 am


“immaculate conception” Oh, I thought you were talking about the Immaculate Reception: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immaculate_Reception



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kevin s.

posted February 10, 2007 at 5:31 pm


“Oh, I thought you were talking about the Immaculate Reception:” I doubt the Edwards blogger is much of a football fan, either.



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Mike Hayes

posted February 11, 2007 at 3:23 pm


sangerinde, The link was illuminating, to me. I had never before heard (or forgot it if I did) that a logical extension of the belief that Mary was conceived without sin is that she and her mother and her mother’s mother and on back in time would have had to have been conceived without sin and that in order for that to have happened there would have had to be virgin births all the way back in time! So, “Eve” could not have been responsible for the act of disobedience, in order for the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to have been logical! I’m not sure that I comprehend the logic of it, but it is a fascinating thought! And that whole thought process takes me back to the startling thought expressed by one of my classmates at Loyola in about 1963: “…the concept of original sin just makes no sense… how can we be responsible in any way for an act that we did not do…”! Fascinating thoughts! Thanks! As an aside, the Cathedral Church in Springfield is the “Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception” (and yet the mosaic on the main altar is of the Assumption… the story goes that the wrong mosaic materials were shipped in 1928 and the builders went ahead with what they had received).



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Shane Vander Hart

posted February 14, 2007 at 1:51 am


Good post, that ad and ads like it are in poor taste.



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Audrey

posted February 19, 2007 at 6:30 pm


And to add to the list of supposedly progressive organizations using the oppressive tools of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (as bell hooks puts it) in order to challenge that very system – have you seen the cover of the latest issue of Adbusters? (Adbusters has never been top on my list of woman-friendly mags in terms of HOW they get out their message, which is all the more disappointing because what they SAY they want to do, I can fully agree with.) Two white male cops slamming a prettily-dressed and made up blonde white woman onto the street, just outside her car door. I already wrote in my letter of protest to them; we’ll see if they actually run it.



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