It's less than two weeks into 2016, and there's already a new crop of sexist ad campaigns rising to take the place of those that horrified us throughout 2015. Today's edition is brought to you by Ili's "Kisses in Tokyo" ad, which has come under fire for what many say is a tone-deaf depiction of sexual harassment at best and a perpetuation of rape culture at worst.
Let's get this out of the way first: The product itself is the coolest thing to come out this year, hands down. Created by tech company Logbar, Ili is a wearable translator for English, Chinese, and Japanese, with more languages to come in the future. According to the Daily Dot, it can translate over 10,000 words and phrases without Wi-Fi or any data usage, and it's so small you can wear it around your neck. Basically, it's our first step towards Star Trek 's universal translator, which would normally be enough to get the denizens of the Internet (including myself) all in a tizzy about The Future.
Unfortunately, the ad accompanying the product is so obnoxiously sexist that it overpowers the product it's trying to sell. The commercial features a British man wandering around Tokyo, using the translator to try and convince random women to kiss him. It's pretty much the definition of sexual harassment, but the video seems to imply that because the harasser is young, blond, and hot, he's really doing the women a favor by wanting to kiss them.
In a turn of events that will shock exactly no one save for the minds behind the video, the women disagreed. Who wouldn't be taken aback by a random man — no matter how attractively dimpled — interrupting their daily business to try and stick his tongue down their throat? Furthermore, this is especially invasive in Japan, where public displays of affection are largely frowned upon. Although the model insists that kissing is "very normal in the U.K.," that doesn't change the fact that for the women he's harassing, such a request is an enormous invasion of personal space.
Some women giggle awkwardly and shuffle away, but others are clearly threatened by his harassment: At one point, he literally chases someone through a park, and at another, a woman hits him with her purse, rips her arm out of his grasp, and stalks away. Although the video presents the undertaking as a bit of fun, it's clear that the women in the video aren't in on the joke — and, in fact, that it's not a joke to begin with.
After all, only men have the luxury of interacting with strangers without worrying for their safety. To someone who isn't subject to regular street harassment, asking for a kiss might seem flirty and fun, but a woman who has experienced the effects of rape culture from birth knows the same act could be a prelude to something much worse. In fact, statistically, it very likely will be.
Even setting aside the possibility of sexual assault, asking to kiss a total stranger is sexual harassment, pure and simple. "Kisses in Tokyo" is a perfect illustration of how women are objectified even today: We aren't people, we're playthings for men to harass every time we go out in public. It takes a very particular sense of male entitlement to walk up to a stranger, interrupt her time with friends (or commute to work, or trip to the grocery store), and expect her to be so enthralled by your manliness that she drops everything to make out with you instead of, say, hitting you with her purse and running away. The idea that women are just waiting for men to sweep them of their feet isn't just infuriating; it takes away our agency in our own lives.
The question, of course, is why sexist ads like "Kisses in Tokyo" keep popping up, even though the companies behind them frequently draw the ire of the Internet. The full answer is beyond the scope of this article, but it boils down two things: First, any publicity is good publicity. Second, they're mere extensions of the patriarchal society we live in. It's doubtful that any marketing executives sit down with the intention of creating a sexist commercial; instead, they're just basing them on traditional gender norms that ultimately perpetuate the patriarchy.
Of course, that doesn't make "Kisses in Tokyo" any less creepy. If you want to get your feminist blood pumping, check out the video below:
Images: ili/YouTube (3)