Women don't need a 'smart dress' to know that men feel entitled to objectify our bodies – we live with it every day

This advert posits itself as highlighting the very thing that women have been speaking out about for eternity. Do we really need a magic dress to show men what women are faced with when they go out? Can’t they just, you know, listen?

Harriet Hall
Saturday 01 December 2018 15:37 GMT
Schweppes campaign highlights female harassment in nightclubs

Science has been put to good use this week. Most often employed to expose and explain misunderstood phenomena or undiscovered terrain, much can be learned from the studying of things invisible to the naked eye. Thankfully, tonic brand Schweppes has swooped in to save the day and employed the services of tech developers to reveal how women really do get groped in clubs by men – and how often this actually happens.

Praise be, finally the truth will out.

To discover more about this largely unknown matter, a tech developer built a dress covered in sensors to measure how many times women’s bodies were touched over the course of three hours in a nightclub. This, he says, “helps us understand in real time and gives us a broader vision of harassment”. For how else would we understand that women were being groped? These geniuses couldn’t quite figure that one out, it seems.

The advert entitled The Dress for Respect, which launched in Brazil in May but went viral this week (with many headlines praising it as “revealing” women’s experience and how “shocking” it is), opens with the statistic that 86 per cent of Brazilian women have been harassed in clubs. It then goes on to say that “many men don’t see a problem in this. That’s why we decided to show this reality.”

We’ve seen countless brands attempt to jump on the feminist bandwagon only to get the trajectory so embarrassingly wrong that their thinly veiled virtue-signalling sees them end up face-in-concrete, mopping up the errors of their ways.

Brewdog’s “pink beer for women” – announced earlier this year – claimed to be a “clarion call to close the gender pay gap in the UK and around the world”, and that it would “expose sexist marketing to women, particularly within the beer industry”. Attempting to mock cliched pink marketing methods, the beer brand adopted… cliched pink marketing methods. Sadly this misguided attempt to expand beyond their laddy demographic proved unpalatable to women. Awks.

Then there was that time that time fashion brand Boohoo created an #AllGirls campaign in 2017, saying: “’Sup tall girls, ’sup small girls…” etc etc, while several able-bodied, size slim women danced and leapt across the screen. Or how about the other time in 2017, that Kellogg’s tried to make eating a feminist act? (Yes, really).

The “smart dress” feels even more off-base than those vacant stares into the pseudo-feminist abyss. We don’t often see brands being so bold as to use sexual assault to their advantage. One of three women sent into the nightclub to use her body as fish bait in the name of “science” says beforehand, “it will be interesting to see, and to show it to people later, so that they’ll be aware and stop this behaviour”. Ah, I get it. Sex offenders aren’t aware that they’re sexually offending when they’re doing it. Is that it? Another says “every woman has been harassed in her life, but there isn’t a real overview of what happens”. Err… is there not? Makes you wonder what all those victim accounts, police statistics, comprehensive surveys and witness reports are referring to.

This advert posits itself as highlighting the very thing that women have been speaking out about for eternity. Do we really need a magic dress to show men what women are faced with when they go out? Have we not been shouting loudly enough? The level of stupidity required to make a dress claiming to be this smart is astounding.

And then, to package it all in a skin-tight, sparkly gold number that is apparently so irresistible that magpie men can’t help but touch it, implies that a “smart” T-shirt and jeans might not have been quite so effective – by extension only serving to suggest that women who choose to go out in dresses like these are more likely to receive this sort of unwanted attention. Victim-blaming at its finest.

Then there’s the title, The Dress for Respect. What does this mean, exactly? Should women be wearing this tech dress if they want to be respected? Or is Schweppes suggesting that sending three women into a club, watching as they’re groped, manhandled and grabbed has somehow resulted in increased respect? For and from whom, exactly?

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Oh, to have been a fly on the wall of that planning meeting.

How all this is in any way related to tonic water escapes me. Are men who drink Schweppes statistically less likely to be misogynists? Will women who drink it become immediately immune to unwanted sexual contact? How wonderful, pour me another.

Ah, no, my mistake, it’s just another way of manipulating women’s fears, and treatment at the hands of men, for the sole purpose of selling a product that doesn’t actually do anything to help women at all. All hack and no spit.

Women don’t need a dress to tell us someone has placed their clammy, uninvited hand on our arse and men shouldn’t need one to know it’s unwanted. How about, instead of spending goodness knows how much developing a piece of technology that tells us what we already know, men just listen. It’s remarkably effective, actually. You can stir that into your gin and drink it – it’s free.

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