Not all sexism is equal
March 17, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
I had a friend I called “Lola” in Ghosts and Ballyhoo. She was a brilliant musician, an incredible athlete, had a great sense of humor, and could draw anything. Now that Mom and Dad are gone, I can admit that when I was eighteen in Stavanger, Norway, Lola used to sneak over at night and visit.
My bedroom was downstairs. I’d leave the back door unlocked, and she’d materialize like a genie out of the darkness. Two years younger than me, she was an uninhibited sexpot who schooled me thoroughly.
This is important only because when I met up with her over a decade later in San Francisco, she’d changed. At the time I was at my peak as a bassist. One day I invited Lola over and played her a video that contained this Billy Sheehan TV advertisement for Yamaha. It was shown only in Japan.
Sheehan had his own two-handed tapping technique that sounded nothing at all like that of all the others who did it. He tapped octaves instead of single notes. Since Lola was always looking for ways to improve her musicianship, I thought she’d love that commercial.
“Isn’t that great?” I asked her.
She glared at me. “I don’t see what’s so great about using women’s bodies to sell products,” she snapped.
I honestly didn’t know what she was talking about. What she meant was the one-and-a-half seconds of female dancers’ torsos shown in that twenty-eight-second spot. The sheer artistry of the commercial hadn’t made an impression on her. Not Sheehan’s impeccable delivery of his line, the editing, the set, and of course the spectacular music. All she saw was sexism.
Well, I didn’t point out that Sheehan’s own body was being used to sell a product. That big hair; the torn jeans; his skinny, spread legs… He was meant to appeal to both men and women. For a long time Sheehan’s sex appeal was almost as important as his playing. That’s him on the left.
The only thing I ever cared about was music, so it always floored me when women got hung up on the objectification of the female form. Not all sexism is equal. That Billy Sheehan Yamaha TV spot can’t compare to the infamous Hamer magazine ad from 1996.
Here’s what that annoying blue copy says.
Remember your first true love? Remember how the curve of the back of her neck fit your hand? How she whispered in your ear? It was like a beautiful new language that nobody but you and God could understand.
When that ad came out, I just thought it was stupid. It was an electric bass guitar, that’s all. A “language that nobody but you and God could understand”? It doesn’t even make sense. The ad is comparing a bass to a woman. Have any of us ever had a woman speak to us in a language only we and God could understand? How would you know God could understand? You’d have to have a direct line to the Almighty.
“Hey. It’s Tom. How’s it going? Cool. So how many people died today? Really? Wow. Anyway, check it out: Betsy said, ‘Scklamnata polpx abravnukto julkbe nog praseylt.‘ Is that hot or what?”
Women wrote angry letters to the editor about that Hamer ad. I can see their point, that naked women don’t have anything to do with bass guitars, but I also wondered if something else was going on.
When I knew Lola in Norway, she had no boundaries at all. Since I was a passive, scared, guilty, lapsed Catholic, she was the aggressor on every level and during every second that we romped in my basement dungeon. She rocked my world in ways I couldn’t even conceive. Twelve years later she was deeply concerned that I might not respect women.
I found it insulting that Lola would now view me as sexist. For one thing I was forever grateful that she’d been a sexpot who gifted me with incredible knowledge. What man would feel disdain for a beautiful South American who took it upon herself to share with him the finer things in life?
For another I never showed Lola the slightest disrespect, ever. I looked her up in San Francisco and rekindled our friendship. Carmen knew that Lola had been my nocturnal genie, and Lola knew that Carmen knew. The two of them got along fine. They were adult women who understood their roles.
And I never held it against Lola that she was two hours late to every single meeting we had. All I did was tell her to meet me two hours before the actual time we were supposed to get together. Those who are chronically late are playing a game. I don’t play games; the most important information my father imparted to me was, “Even if you think everything’s hopeless, there’s always a workaround.”
In This is Spinal Tap, the band is going to put out an album called Smell the Glove. The cover depicts a greased-up, naked woman on all fours, wearing a dog collar around her neck with a leash attached. A man holds the leash in one hand and pushes the other—clad in a black glove—into her face for her to sniff it. Without warning, the record company decides to not release the album because it’s sexist.
The band’s dimwitted lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel is confused. “Well, so what? What’s wrong with being sexy?”
Though an idiot, Nigel has a point. When this Calvin Klein ad featuring Brazilian pole vaulter Tomás Valdemar Hintnaus came out, I wasn’t offended.
Is it different for men? I don’t know.
But what I resent is being accused of sexism when I’m clearly not sexist. And just so Lola and everybody else knows, the term “sexist”—like “racist”—has lost almost all its meaning through overuse. Calling me a sexist didn’t shame me into not watching Billy Sheehan ads.
The only thing it did was make it easier for me to cut Lola out of my life.
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