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.