Last week, a promotional video was released on Facebook advertising a club night called Tequila UK, hosted by Mezz in Leeds. It was ugly. A presenter went around asking clubgoers ‘How are you going to violate a fresher tonight?’
This is kind of close to the bone, because I studied at Leeds. I’ve never actually been to Mezz but I’ve walked by it a few times.
“She’s paying for the cab, she’s paying for the drinks… she’s gonna get raped.”
“I’m gonna fist them in the ass, they won’t even know”
“Violate is a very strong word. I would say I’mma take advantage of someone”
As an extra bonus, the presenter makes fun of one guy who says he’s not up for raping first years:
“How are you going to bring girls back to your little den?”
“I’m not, mate, I’m taken”
“By who? Who would take you?”
I’m pretty familiar with Tequila’s advertising, and I’ll admit that while it’s generally sexist and objectifying, before I saw the video I didn’t really expect to be as outraged by the video as people were making out. What’s new about another sexist club night? Maybe it’s because I would never have imagined that any PR exec would think this would help their image.
Tequila has since taken the video down, but the LS (formerly Leeds Student) has managed to get hold of the audio file.
LS did a great job of reporting on it quickly, gaining national coverage. After seeing the video I did feel a little swell of pride that my ex-student paper is leading the charge against Tequila UK, along with the uni’s feminist society and Equality & Diversity officer.
They weren’t the only ones condemning the video, though – people shouted it down on social media, and Leeds RAG announced that they were ending a sponsorship deal with Tequila:
Unfortunately we are no longer working w/ Tequila on Safer Sex Circus. Monday’s footage was irreconcilable with ‘safer sex’ and RAG’s ethos.
— Leeds RAG (@LeedsRAG) October 9, 2013
However, there was the ever-predictable tide of people rushing to defend the video as ‘banter’:
Don’t you guys think your overreacting and taking it all a bit too seriously? No one’s using the word violate seriously its all for a bit fun. Why don’t you all just learn to take a joke
tongue and cheek? its when something said or done shouldnt be taken at face value. the tequila brands advertising and promotions has always been like this. if you dont like it you shouldnt go
People who claim that the rape ‘jokes’ in the video are just that fail to admit that they’re part of a wider, cultural problem. Sadly, this is one of the uglier sides of student life – misogyny is everywhere, but there are particular areas of student life where they’re particularly prevalent. One of the last features I wrote for Leeds Student was about lad culture at university.
Here are some of the stats that came up:
Almost two thirds of female students said that they had experienced verbal sexual harassment on campus, compared with under a tenth of men
20% of female students said they had experienced verbal sexual harassment several times
10% of women said that they had experienced physical sexual harassment on campus – this despite the Union’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and assault
Off campus, the figures were far higher:
86% of female students said they that had experienced some form of harassment on more than one occasion; 28% said that this was a regular occurrence. 20% of men said they had experienced either form of harassment on a night out.
Women (and, yes, a couple of men) described being groped, pinched, threatened and having hands shoved up their skirts and tops. Tequila’s video reeks of the attitude behind this kind of assault – one that disregards the consent, even the humanity, of the person being assaulted. This is a problem in the UK, and it is definitely a problem in Leeds.
Joking that rape is commonplace and consequence-free rings a little hollow when rape is commonplace, and when severe consequences for the attacker are not.
Are we going to have to go over the rape stats again? I’ve written about rape humour in more detail here, but here are a couple of figures released earlier this year if you can’t spare the time to read more of my rants. It’s estimates that between 60,000 and 95,000 people are raped every year in the UK. Only 15% go to the police. Just one major sex crime in 38 leads to a conviction.
Draw your own conclusions.
Tequila finally apologised yesterday. This was after they removed the video, replacing it with another, more toned-down version, before being forced to take that one down too and actually address it:
[W]e wish to apologise unreservedly for the offence that has been caused and would like to explain, without trying to excuse, a little about who we are, what we stand for and how we hope to change for the better as a result of this situation.
We could say: “We can’t control what the public say” and we could say: “It’s the videographer who chose the final cut” which although accurate, would mask the fact that we are accountable for comments like this getting into the public domain and we will take full responsibility.
For the past 20 years, we have encouraged students to enjoy a safe, positive experience on a night out in Leeds and this still remains true.
You can read it in full here. TL;DR? “We apologise unreservedly, but you should bear in mind that we didn’t film, edit, or actually watch* the footage before it was published in our name, so we’re not really responsible, are we?; there’s no excuse, but here are some excuses anyway; we don’t condone sexual assault, even though we just did; we get that you don’t like it, and SORRY FOR YOUR FEELINGS LOL”
Clearly, no one’s ever taught Tequila UK how to apologise properly. In case you ever find yourself accidentally releasing a video encouraging sexual assault and subsequently needing to apologise for it, here are a few pointers:
- You don’t get to make caveats. Taking full responsibility means you don’t get to say “someone else had the video rights”. The “we could say (which we won’t… but go on, we will anyway)” is slimy and evasive, and not what ‘taking responsibility’ looks like.
- Taking full responsibility means accepting that your actions have consequences – not just upsetting people, but perpetuating a culture that normalises and trivialises rape. That’s actively making students less safe.
- As a general rule, an apology loses all sincerity and value as soon as the words ‘for any offence caused’ are added. Here’s why:
Saying “sorry for any offence caused” allows for the possibility that no offence has Tequila’s peddling of misogyny and rape culture to sell a club night is offensive. Claiming that the video did not promote sexual violence is offensive. Attempting to deny responsibility is offensive.
Allowing such a broad scope of possible offence or non-offence also implies that offence isn’t a reasonable reaction. Apologising for ‘offence caused’ (note passive voice) is very much like apologising for someone else’s feelings. It’s saying ‘I’m sorry you feel offended’ rather than ‘I’m sorry I did an awful thing, and you have every right to be offended’.
And here’s the kicker: the impact of the attitudes in the video are far, far more serious than just offence. When you mock rape, don’t have the barefaced arrogance to brush off the feeling motivating every angry voice as mere offence. You’re causing pain to people who’ve experienced if: pain of having to live with the experience; of knowing people may not believe you; that your attacker may never face justice; that you might even be blamed for wearing the wrong clothes, drinking too much, or not saying ‘no’ loudly enough.
Not just that, but you’re mocking people while fuelling the attitudes that contribute to the prevalence of victim blaming and poor conviction rates and, ultimately, rape.
The upshot of all this is that it has forced the issue into public discourse. This is a particularly heinous example of sexual violence being used to sell a product, but it’s by no means a localised issue. Student club nights regularly rely on the objectification of women to sell tickets, and rape jokes are not uncommon in halls. So the fact people are talking about it is a really positive thing. Hopefully it will send a message to other promoters to be cautious about the level of misogyny in their advertising.
LS has launched a petition calling for Mezz to stop hosting Tequila, which over 1,800 people have signed so far. I’d encourage you to sign it. Despite Tequila recognising that a lot of people have a problem with their general marketing strategy and not just with the video, I’m highly dubious that they’ll make a dramatic change. Equally as important is the message it sends to other clubs and promoters: that misogyny and violence is bad for business. Perhaps then we can see a move away from the possibility of this ever happening again.