Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Ann Summers: You're Doing It Wrong

While in Brighton last weekend, I walked past an Ann Summers shop and had to stop in disgust as I noticed that the mannequins had their ribcages on display. Mannequins. With visibly protruding ribs.

Yes, apparently now it's not enough to manufacture and display unfeasibly tall, skinny mannequins with concave stomachs and ridiculously tiny waists, apparently now we must all be told that to appear normal and attractive in lingerie that our ribcages must be showing. Never mind that a woman of that height and size would be dangerously underweight* and possibly suffering all manner of horrible side effects, such as osteoperosis, a weakened immune system and infertility.

While I appreciate that some people are naturally the size and shape I just described and are happy, healthy and normal, I think we can all agree that images such as this are designed to make the vast majority of women feel bad and to buy into the patriarchal, capitalist mindset of "if I buy this, then I too can look like that, and be valued by men and envied by other women!".

But, as horrible as that is, that's not the only reason to hate Ann Summers.

I must, here, point out that I'm not a prude in the slightest. I'm not a sexless feminist, and I'm not attacking them because I have a problem with people trying to improve their sex lives, or to increase their enjoyment. I just have a huge problem with the way they go about it.

Firstly, they try to encourage female sexuality by superimposing a version of the stereotypical 'male' view of sex on to it, and hoping for the best. It implies that we should all be hyper-sexual, all the time, and defined purely by what is going on in our (crotchless) knickers. Now, this doesn't work. Not because us feeble womenfolk can't handle the stereotypical male view of sex, but because it doesn't work for men, either. The idea that we should be primarily concerned only with shagging is, frankly, insulting. Yes, it's good to enjoy sex, and yes, it's good to have a happy sex life, but surely we have greater concerns in life? I mean, come on guys - there's Tories sliming around Downing Street and I'm supposed to be constantly thinking about knobbing? I mean, that thought alone is enough to put anyone off it for a month. But joking aside, the implication that you're nothing without an active crotch can be a very damaging one. Society shouldn't dictate to us that possessing only a narrow set of attributes makes us a valued and worthwhile person.

Secondly, on a related note, everything Ann Summers does and sells approaches sex from such a narrow perspective, and that's harmful. In their world, there's no spectrum of sexuality, there's no gender spectrum, and everyone's white and skinny and likes sex that's just ever-so-slightly-to-one-side-of-vanilla-to-impress-the-men-without-being-too-overtly-sexual-or-implying-that-we've-thought-about-it-too-much-because-that-would-be-disgusting (We need a name for this. Magnolia sex?). Again, it's indicative of a society that tells us how we should behave, and what narrow sets of attributes we must possess in order to be desireable, and it ostracises anyone who doesn't fit neatly into their box.

Thirdly, if you have a problem in your relationship, or with your sex life, that's not going to be solved by donning some nipple pasties and hoping for the best - it will be solved by honest discussion and a desire to improve things. But that would fall outside of their desire to make you believe that all life's problems can be solved quickly and easily by going shopping, so this is what we get instead. It's not a desire to help us be 'liberated' and to reclaim the orgasm, but a desire to give us a new range of things to covet and pay for, and they do it by telling us that we're not good enough and we would be much improved, and make others happier, if we'd hand some of our cash to them. It's the capitalist's wet dream.

I also hate them because they promote the same poisonous Cosmopolitan and Sex And The City bilge narrative that has dominated female sexuality for too long. The idea being that we all sit around with 'the girls', sipping crudely-named cocktails and talk about hand-job techniques, and ways to impress the men, and that's the only way to be. On the website, the tag-line for the male sex toys is: "Treat your man, with an Ann Summers male sex toy! We have plenty to choose from, all of them designed to deliver overwhelming pleasure that’ll keep him coming back for more, time after time." - the implication being that the only thing you should want to do is to snare a man and keep him, and the only way to manage that is to be 'adventurous' in bed. It's not a choice you have, or something that you're in to, it's something you must do, to impress the men. Because heaven forfend a woman should just like using toys on a man. 

Their advertising, their products and their whole ethos seems to be about displaying our sexuality to titillate men, with a tag-line of "This is how we're all doing it. If you're not doing it like this, then you're wrong and even worse, you're UNSEXY".

So fuck off, Ann Summers. I am not defined by my appearance, by my sexuality, or by how attractive men find me. If I want to have sex, I'll bloody well have it with who I want and how I want, not according to how your faux-liberation dictates. You propagate the patriarchal ideal of women as objects to be lusted over by men, and jazz it up by offering us a few dildos and telling us we are now empowered. So you can stick your straws shaped like genitalia where the sun don't shine, and stop telling me what to do.


  1. My brother does tech work on the Ann Summers Annual Meeting (runs slideshows, lights, soundtracks etc). Generally the underwear models at the show are fairly normal but the reps are terrifying.

  2. great post. although there are some good things about Ann Summers in that i think they kind of almost creeped towards saying in the open that women do masturbate and that's ok, everything you say about being 'just the right side' of sexual and 'naughty' (magnolia! i love it!) is bang on. and they do treat sex as a performance for a man, in their whole schtick.

  3. A couple of fantastic lines in this blog. My personal favourite is:

    "I'm not a sexless feminist"

  4. I barely notice Anne Summers. But I am fast becoming a sexless anti-feminist. Imagine the hell that must be!

    I agree with a lot of what you say apart mainly from the initial assertion that we live in a 'patriarchal' capitalist society. I think it is just plain old capitalist.

    If it is patriarchal,why is it so obsessed with selling us the male body in all his glory as well? Or is the patriarchy a homo after all? I always thought as much...

  5. Elly:

    If it's not patriarchal, or otherwise male-privileged, why are almost all rapes except the stereotypical, 'grabbed-in-an-alley' stranger-rape, still often excused away as not rape, often with officials who really should know better managing to imply that 'she was asking for it'? Why do most traditionally female jobs still lower-paid than traditionally male jobs?

    And there's probably a thousand little things that add up, which I, as a privileged male, would probably never notice unless they were pointed out to me. One that springs to mind is how a man's opinion is often given just that little bit more weight than a woman's.

    Sorry if that was too argumentative, but blimey!

  6. "Why are most traditionally femalejobs still lower-paid than traditionally male jobs?"

    And why do I never spot errors that make me look illiterate until after I click submit?

  7. Hi Daz. I don't think you are a 'privileged male' you are so far to me someone who calls themselves Daz on the internet. Who I think is probably a man.

    I will get some links to some writings on this subject. Bear with me.

    Patriarchy, bless its cotton socks, is a made up thing!

  8. Elly:

    I'm privileged by virtue of being a male in a society which has traditionally favoured males. That doesn't mean I, or any other individual man, consciously use that privilege — just that it exists.

    Don't get me wrong. This isn't me being all self-castigatory. The last thirty years in particular have seen huge jumps forward in attitudes to gender, sexuality and race. To expect all traces of -isms to have disappeared so quickly would be ludicrous. But that's my point. They haven't.

  9. If you have privilege Daz you are lucky but I expect it is not by virtue of your genitalia.

    Men suffer many gender discriminations-different ones to women,but they are there in many contexts. eg fathers/prisoners/trans men/soldiers/young men/black men/gay men/working men who have accidents at work or get killed/depressed men etc etc

    Here's my latest piece on why I disagree with feminism

  10. As for rape-male rape was not made a crime in the UK til 1994 and there is just very little research on it. Men do not report rape on the whole. The figures are in no way a reflection of reality.

  11. Elly, I'm white, male and straight, in a society where all such have traditionally been accorded favoured status. How could I not be privileged?

    That's not to say privilege isn't a nuanced subject. There are degrees of it, and sometimes it can, indeed, flow in the opposite direction, or two conflicting privileges may cancel each other out or cause confusion, but the over-all trend is still male→female, or white→black etc.

    For the record I'm fairly comfortable with this, as it's still noticeably better than it was when I were a lad, and seems to be improving. When I notice it, or it's pointed out to me, I do my best to avoid taking advantage of it, which is about all I can do. Just like biological evolution, we change things by degrees.

    Re: rape. What has male rape got to do with the dismissal of non-stereotypical rape as not being rape, but somehow the fault of the victim? I'd tentatively agree that rape of males is a bigger problem than we'd normally think, but I don't see how it's pertinent to the issue.

    Off to read your article now.

  12. Because you were claiming rape as an example of women's oppression and I was contesting that.

    I also contest men's privilege over women.

    But you'll see in my blogpost!

    Enjoy the imaginary patriarchy...

  13. Elly:

    I ended up fisking your post. Way too long for a comments-board, so it's on my site. Not sure where you'll want to reply, if at all, but I'll leave that up to you. And to our hostess here, of course. Maybe she wouldn't want us stringing this out on here.

    "Enjoy the imaginary patriarchy..."

    Ah now, seeing as I'm claiming to be of the privileged class in this particular issue, that would be pretty easy, now, wouldn't it...

  14. thanks will take a look. Not that I am a massive fan of 'fisking'.

    But I like a debate! Oh i think the people who enjoy the imaginary patriarchy the most are those who believe they are oppressed by it!

  15. Fisking's nothing but answering an argument point by point. Surely that's what anyone who advances an argument with multiple points is looking for. Why else post it?

    My my, we are the cynical one, aren't we!

  16. I find when I respond to a post by someone I tend to argue around the topic, not do a 'point by point' analysis, which, as you have shown, can be very long-winded. I'm not cynical about blogging I appreciate you taking the effort to respond.

  17. I prefer to argue the points. After all they're, well … the points. Stop doing that, and all you do is mouth generalisations at each other as you circle the subject but never get to grips with it.

  18. Hey! I came to your blog via twitter.........hello !
    I'm still getting my head around the first comment here about the 'Ann Summers Annual Meeting'.I bet the Ribs served in the buffet are plastic too...........

  19. This was really excellent but I'm upset that you didn't say you solve relationship problems with dialectic.

    Kit x

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