Writing From Factor X

December 18, 2010

FAIL, Teva.

So this morning I finally heard about this awesome new ad campaign that Teva Pharmeceuticals is running for Plan B. There are a ton of things to criticize about this campaign, and I’ve done my bit by writing a letter explaining them to the representative listed in very small words. (Among other things: if you seriously think asexuality implies asociality, I’m going to have to question whether you sleep with everyone you’re friendly with, right down to family members.) There is a lot of fail, lots of people are talking about the fail, awesome. There’s more than enough fail to go round.

The thing is, the campaign actually plays into existing use of the word “asexual” as a pejorative. See, one of the things I do as a blogger is keep tabs on what people are saying about asexuality. I use a couple of blog tracking sites to find out what people are saying, and I read just about everything that’s not clearly about bacteria and also isn’t in Spanish.

And I have noticed a growing number of people using the word “asexual” to mean “ugly.” “Unfuckable.” “Unattractive.” “So ugly I think of them as genderless” is a particularly frustrating minority usage. I’ve had that one used on others around me, by people I considered actual friends and whom I was out to. I was not pleased then, and I’m damn well not pleased now.

I think it’s actually possible that Teva Pharmaceuticals didn’t know about asexuality as an orientation before they orchestrated their ad campaign. (Although Ily has some compelling arguments that they might have, most notably the grey-and-purple color scheme, and you ought to go check that out. Certainly I’m not inclined to take not knowing as an excuse.) I think they’re using “asexual” in terms of the popular pejorative meaning I’m beginning to see. To wit: they’re using it as an insult. An insult which is meant to make women yelp “Oh, I’m not like that!” and use their product. Which is really, now I think of it, a slightly more subtle insult to women.

We’re not totally invisible anymore, folks. Our orientation is now a bona fide insult. Fuck visibility, we’re out there now, we’re home free–! Oh, wait, now we’re having to deal with other kinds of oppression. Funny how visibility isn’t turning out to be the all-consuming panacea that we’ve all been told about.


  1. We’re not totally invisible anymore, folks. Our orientation is now a bona fide insult. Fuck visibility, we’re out there now, we’re home free–! Oh, wait, now we’re having to deal with other kinds of oppression. Funny how visibility isn’t turning out to be the all-consuming panacea that we’ve all been told about.

    It has been for awhile, hasn’t it? *sigh* this’ll be a fun fight… I can see AVEN now. “But we can’t tell people not to use asexual as a pejorative, you’re being unnecessarily harsh and argumentative! How dare you offend precious, precious sexuals!”
    I really wish that site would implode these days. Okay, no, I just wish the forum would. The rest of the site is a great resource. The forum needs to go.

    Comment by Dreki — December 19, 2010 @ 11:39 am | Reply

    • Also, I really like hwo this is another example of transphobia intertwined with [non-hetero orientation]phobia. “So ugly I think of them as genderless” is blatant. There was also an example of an article calling the wardrobe of a female character from Inception “asexual”, I believe saying that she didn’t “dress like a woman” and gender policing her heavily. And there’s the gender policing inherent in the idea that men must want sex ALL THE TIME so calling a man asexual is to say he isn’t really a man. (although I think “asexual” usually gets applied to women, because, you know, a woman is just WORTHLESS if men don’t want to fuck her. That’s all women are there for, you know, mens’ sexual pleasure. And this isn’t a swipe at men, because plenty don’t think like that, it’s a swipe at society)

      I don’t even know what that ad… ugh, I don’t get it. I don’t get who could possibly have thought that was a good idea. There are plenty of people, even sexuals, who aren’t having sex for whatever reason who don’t do that. This isn’t going to make the women who are morally opposed to birth control say “OMG, I have to give up my religious beliefs so I don’t become like those freaks!”. This isn’t going to make people who are confident in their birth control suddenly become quivering masses of insecurity who have to rush out and buy it every time they have sex. You don’t need to do this to raise awareness of your product, I really agree that this very well could have been a deliberate attack on asexuals for no reason other than lulz. I think they did an earlier ad about how it feels the morning after your birt control fails that tried to emphasise that you aren’t alone, and it wasn’t half as bad as this. Why can’t they appeal to THOSE emotions rather than the emotion of “IF YOU DON’T USE OUR PRODUCT YOU WILL BECOME A FREAKY HERMIT BECAUSE WITHOUT OUR PRODUCT YOU CAN’T HAVE SEX AND WITHOUT SEX YOUR LIFE ISN’T WORTH LIVING”.

      Comment by Dreki — December 19, 2010 @ 11:46 am | Reply

    • To be fair, apparently they are organizing a letter-writing campaign to request Teva Pharmeceuticals to discontinue the campaign and issue an apology. I have no idea what the tone on that is, though.

      And also, thank you for whacking me in the cis privilege, because I had a faily moment and completely failed to identify the transphobia inherent in the gendered usage. You’re right, it’s totally transphobic. As if being genderless inherently meant “ugly,” which it manifestly and obviously does not. (I remember that article! It was actually one of the first times it started to click to me that this terminology wasn’t a disturbing neologism coined by someone I knew who wasn’t thinking, it was a growing pejorative usage.)

      What gets me is that they’re advertising emergency contraception here. This is not a product where you have to create a demand for it, you know? People who need it are going to try to get access to it, and I am going to bet that if they want to increase their profits, starting with the laws which allow pharmacists in some states to refuse to dispense it miiiight just be a better use of their time.

      Comment by Sciatrix — December 19, 2010 @ 6:21 pm | Reply

      • I’m guessing the tone is overly polite and chastising anyone who’s too harsh. Admittedly, I doubt AVEN would go that far, but, ugh… I can see it happening anyways at this point.

        Genderless is also often, in some form or another, used to mean inhuman as well- because everyone has a gender. And asexual is basically the same thing if they mean “without a sex” because, of course, sex=gender so someone without a sex (that is, without a binary sex, so there’s also interphobia) must be without a gender and must be an inhuman freak. Isn’t it just awesome when oppressions come together in a seemingly “innocent” insult?

        They really should be focusing on fixing the laws. I’m sure they could take their advertising budget and do a lot more to help people. Maybe put towards education to make sure people DO know that they can get access to it, help work against slut shaming or any stigma that women who get this very well may face (it wouldn’t surprise me, especially in particularly conservative areas).

        Comment by Dreki — December 23, 2010 @ 10:50 pm | Reply

        • Right, exactly. And asexual HAS to equal ‘without a sex!’ It couldn’t possibly mean anything else… It’s fucking fantastic how that happens. It’s like the worst possible dark side of intersectionality.

          Oh, yeah, if helping people–or even simple education!–was their goal, I could see a bunch of different much better ways in which it could be done. As is, the ad campaign fails on the most basic level of letting people know what their product is and what it does. I can tell you that if I didn’t already know about Plan B, I wouldn’t be at all enlightened.

          Comment by Sciatrix — December 24, 2010 @ 8:54 am | Reply

          • All intersectionality is a dark side. Because the more privileges a person doesn’t have (and depending on the privileges), the less of a person they’re perceived as, the more okay it is to treat them as less than and the harder it is for them to do anything about it. Being able to attack more than one group with an insult is a problem as well, though. And it’s really freaking common. I’m pretty sure most insults that attack a group either attack another one as well or are paired with insults that attack other groups.

            Definitely. It sounds more like it’s either anti-birth control (YOUR BIRTH CONTROL MIGHT FAIL WHOOOOO SO DON’T USE IT), and there ARE a lot of problems that can happen with birth control that wouldn’t require that. Or pro-abortion… (never seen the commercials, basing this on what Ily’s posted). It really does seem scuzzy, especially the way tht “ASEXUAL” is the focal point and the “coincidence” with the colors.

            Comment by Dreki — December 24, 2010 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

            • Right, exactly, like transphobia and homophobia being historically used to reinforce each other, or asexohate and ableism… two terrible tastes that go awful together. You have a really good point about how common it is.

              I did see it–sorry, I realized after linking to the LJ post that it wasn’t open and up for viewing for non-community members, and the video has since been made private. But the print ads are still up, and if you’ve seen Ily’s you’ve seen the main one. It struck me as… not for anything, really! I mean, the video had this woman talking about how her birth control had failed, and now she was going to deal with this by being ASEXUAL and ASOCIAL and also throwing out all of her clothing that might make her look remotely sexy, and then saying “not a real plan.” at the end of that. Well, duh that’s not a real plan, not to anyone but a pod person–what’s your alternative, exactly? It felt kind of like a straw argument.

              Comment by Sciatrix — December 24, 2010 @ 2:02 pm | Reply

  2. That ad campaign is horrible. And like Ily, I find myself a little surprised at the colours. Grey and purple? It could be a coincidence, sure, but it would be a bloody big one. That’s not exactly a common combination. (Especially because it’s not just “two of the colours of the asexual flag”, I’ve seen grey and purple on their own used for asexual colours or AVEN colours before.)

    The funny thing is, I’d had the impression that usage of “asexual” as an insult has been lessening in my corner of the internet. I have the habit of running a search for “asexual” on blogs I’m thinking of following, which often has extremely depressing results – all the perjorative stuff. But lately it feels like I’ve been seeing less of that, and a bunch of feminist blogs I follow seem to have stopped entirely. Of course, social justice =/= the whole world. 😦

    Usually, I consider this stuff an unfortunate coincidence of terminology, that they aren’t actually thinking of asexuality-the-orientation but various stereotypes to do with desexualisation and using the word “asexual” for that (see e.g. “asexual” as used in disability discourse, where I think it’s been used that way for longer than we’ve been around.) This doesn’t stop me from asking them to please knock it off because it hurts, but I don’t usually ascribe malice to it. This, on the other hand… it’s the colour, and something else I am having trouble articulating right now, but this feels more like a direct attack.

    Comment by Kaz — December 23, 2010 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

    • Yeah, this usage is not what I’d be used to seeing in social justice areas or from people familiar with the phenomenon of desexualization at all. I have been seeing some of that, mostly from running general blog searches on asexuality, and I have a lot to rant about it, but this seems to be a separate phenomenon. I see this usage in fashion commentary, mostly. Talking about the way that people look, and judging them.

      And part of this… well, firstly this isn’t about desexualization as I think of it at all. The woman in the commercials is quite sexualized, and her “turning asexual and a-social” is all about her own choices–not a desexualization imposed on her by others. The campaign’s about intentional celibacy, about “wanting to turn asexual,” and it feels so damn appropriative.

      Incidentally, they’ve apparently since removed the word “asexual.” Which totally fails to get into the many other ways in which the campaign is made of fail. We’ve also gotten a condescending quasi-apologetic form letter out of it. Apparently it’s about EDUCATING WOMEN, GUYZ!

      Comment by Sciatrix — December 23, 2010 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

      • Aha, this is interesting. I’ve tended to conflate all usages of asexual-as-perjorative but now that you mention it I think I’ve seen that use of “asexual” before, and, yeah.

        …come to think of it, I think that’s part of what’s really annoying about the commercial, that it’s not tying into the common asexual-as-perjorative stuff – which tends to be about how people are perceived instead of any sort of thing they think or decide about themselves. Although that stuff is infuriating I think I find it easier to stomach because it seems like an accident of terminology to me (although this has its own issues, e.g. one of my objections to that usage is that whether you mean to or not you are conflating all these unrelated negative things with my sexual orientation). This, issues about “turning” aside, is pretty damn close to asexual-the-orientation, even if they didn’t explicitly have us in mind (which I am suspicious of, really), and having that used as a negative hits much much closer to home.

        And OH GOD HEADDESK WHAT FAIL FAIL FAIL. I was actually a bit :/ at all the people I saw going “you are using the word asexual and that is offensive please replace it” because that’s not all by any means. It’s, the issue isn’t just the word, the issue is, well, what I said above – that the concept-behind-the-word is one that overlaps with us quite a bit – so even if you replace it by “celibate” the issue is STILL that they’re associating deciding not to have sex with being asocial and immaturity. (Whereas, you know, usually for perjorative uses of asexual I am perfectly happy if you just replace it with “desexualised” or something similar because it’s the word, not the meaning, that’s offensive.) And the ad doesn’t even make sense, so the potshots at asexuality and celibacy and the condescending “this is what we meant since you are too stupid to figure out” (asldkjfal;skdjfSTRANGLE) are pretty damn galling.

        I am confused trying to figure out what they were trying to achieve here. I’m wondering if they were meaning to target the “I’ll wait until marriage!” crowd (although even then it doesn’t make sense because Plan B is EMERGENCY contraception?!), but those people don’t call themselves asexual or think of themselves as becoming antisocial. Unless the ad wants to helpfully inform them that if they do try staying celibate that’s what will happen to them, in which case my rage grows.

        Comment by Kaz — December 24, 2010 @ 5:40 am | Reply

        • Right! And you know, at least asexual-as-oppressive stuff is all about trying to deal with marginalized groups and unmarginalizing them–as you said, it’s terminology fail and hurtful terminology fail, but at least they’re trying to help someone. Whereas this stuff is basically using “asexual” in its quest to hurt people. And you’re right, they’re also using the concept in this particular case, not just the word.

          They claim that “The purpose of the campaign is to educate viewers about what can be done after an act of unprotected sex or contraceptive failure.” Which is obviously and totally a complete ass-pulled lie, since none of the ads I have seen even mention the words “Plan B” and rather the slogan is “get a real plan.” You wouldn’t catch that last allusion unless you already knew that Plan B existed and its name to boot! There’s no mention of what it is and how it works, or the circumstances you would use it in, or whether or not it’s the same as an abortion, or frankly any useful information whatsoever. Education this is not.

          As far as I can tell, their targets must be the sexually active birth control-using crowd who… don’t have a plan for what happens if the BC fails? But if you’re on hormonal birth control and it fails, you don’t notice until it’s already waaaaaay too late for Plan B. So maybe the specifically-condom-using crowd?

          Comment by Sciatrix — December 24, 2010 @ 8:42 am | Reply

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