Go Ahead, Spit In My Face

I like to think of myself as a relatively easy-going guy. I'm not easily offended and I don't go around looking for an excuse to wag my finger in peoples' faces. I can be serious when I need to be, but generally prefer not to expend mental energy uselessly. So, when I say, "I Was Offended", I hope you'll all understand that I mean I was ready to burst a vein in my forehead. As opposed to the pathetic "ooo, you've offended me" line that weaklings trot out to try and get an apology out of people who dared to disagree with them. How did I almost end up with an aneurysm? Well it's a fun story, so read on.

Men Don't Shop

I'm not much one for shopping, but had occasion recently to visit one of the larger malls in my local area. I was on my way past one particular display when I had to stop and do a double-take. There, in large lettering, right in the centre of a major thoroughfare were the words "Men Just Don't Get It". And then below that in gold-coloured text was "Tell us why and win a $1000 shopping spree!" My jaw just kind of dropped open. I re-read the words on the poster. As I started to comprehend what I was readying, I felt like someone had just spit in my face. No, seriously. My head jerked back like someone had walked up to me and sneeringly fired a ball of saliva right between my eyes.

"What in the hell is this sexist crap?"

I started muttering to myself as I walked over to the display and picked up one of the entry forms. It had a picture of a smiling woman, her arms full of shopping bags and next to it a space for the prospective entrant to fill in some kind of snarky comment that would win her (let's be honest - the competition was aimed at women, and don't try to tell me otherwise) a grand to be spent at any shop in that mall. All she had to do was explain why Men Just Don't Get It. Below that, it noted that the top 10 responses each week would be prominently displayed throughout the centre. How wonderful. So every time I turned a corner, I was to be insulted anew? Way to make your male customers feel welcome. Hold on, who was I kidding? What male customers!? Most of the men within my field of vision were poor schmucks who had been dragged along to this place at their wife's bidding. Not surprising, considering this mall boasted "the most fashion outlets under one roof in the entire metropolitan area".

I sure wasn't impressed so far, but I decided to look at the current top 10 responses. Big mistake. Attached to a large notice board were a series of printouts on some expensive-looking paper using nice big letters to make sure nobody would miss them. I'll quote the winning entry for you below:

Men just don't get it because they'll never understand the joy of spending someone else's money on things you like!

My eye started to turn purple. I was going to have a seizure. I was sure of it. I... I was offended! Something had actually managed to provoke me to the point that I wanted to punch someone.

I crumpled up the entry form in disgust and threw it in a nearby bin. Then I thought better of it and grabbed another one. I decided right at that moment that I was going to make... a complaint (*cue disbelieving gasps*).

"Ummm... can I... help you?" was all the girl attending the display managed to stammer out before I had raced off muttering under my breath.

I went to the mall's main reception and asked as calmly as I could if there was a feedback or complaint form. The older lady at the desk, obviously informed by the scowl that had taken over my forehead was as polite as she could be under the circumstances. She asked if the problem was anything she could help with.

"No, not really" I replied. "I want to formally register a complaint about this. Is this competition run by the mall itself or by one of the stores?"

"It's run by the mall, yes" she responded.

"And what makes them think this kind of sexism is acceptable in 2010?" I asked.

Her face took on a momentary smirk. You know the kind. The "here's another fruit basket" kind.

"Oh, I don't see how that's sexist at all" she said in the kind of tone you use when explaining something to a child or a dog.

"So you'd be perfectly OK with a competition titled "Women Just Can't Drive: Tell us why and earn $2000 towards your next car!" would you?"

She suddenly looked like I'd slapped her in the face with a dead fish. "I... er... no. I don't think that would be appropriate."

"Then perhaps you should hand me a complaint form."

Looking too shellshocked to do anything other than comply, she handed me the form without saying a word. I scribbled furiously for a few minutes, repeating the comparison I'd just thought up. Perhaps it would have a chance of getting someone's attention. I handed the receptionist the form and asked for a stapler so I could attach the entry card to my complaint. She'd partially regained her composure and started to apologise (in a somewhat backhanded manner, but still...).

"I can see you're really offended by this. We do take complaints seriously, you know."

I figured that if there was a chance of preventing her from just throwing the complaint into the shredder under her desk that she kept glancing towards, I'd have to take it. Even if it meant swallowing my outrage for the moment.

"Look, I'm not the kind of person who goes around looking for things to be offended about. Really, I'm not. But I got quite a shock when I saw this competition. So yes, I am offended. But I don't want to take it out on you. I just want to get this seen by the proper people and have it addressed."

That appeared to satisfy her, and the form I had just filled out went into a little box on the side of the desk. At least someone would see it at some point. Perhaps if I got lucky they'd even call the mobile phone number I'd written on it.

I finished up my business and left the mall. I did notice on my way out though that there was another guy standing with his girlfriend at the competition notice board and looking like he'd just swallowed a lemon. I went home and poured myself a stiff drink and decided to put the whole thing out of my head for the time being.

A Few Weeks Later

My phone rings. It's an out-of-state number. Odd... I answer it.

"Hi, is this Mr. NiceGuy?" says a perky female voice on the end of the phone.

"Er, NiceGuy will do. Who is this?"

"Mr. NiceGuy, we were very sorry to hear that you were offended by our Men Just Don't Get It campaign." continued Miss Perky as if I hadn't replied. "We really did mean no offense by it. It was meant to be in good humour. We really do hope you'll continue to shop at NamelessMall"

Wow. They actually called me. I have to admit I was pretty surprised someone bothered to follow up on the complaint. And that I got to talk to a real human instead of receiving some mindless form letter offering me a 2 percent discount on my next purchase over 100 dollars on a Tuesday with every can of baked beans I buy. So I figured I'd make the best of the situation.

"Well, I'd like to think I can take a joke as much as the next person, but there didn't seem to be much humour there."

"Oh it really was meant to be humourous! See, it's about emphasizing the differences between men and women and why that's funny, and was in no way meant to single out one sex at the expense of the other.

"Oh, I see. So where does the laugh at women's expense in this campaign come in? Given that you weren't meaning to single out one sex and all..."

Miss Perky paused for a moment. "Oh! Well... we're having a Women Just Don't Get It campaign when the current competition finishes!

Ha. You just thought of that, didn't you? Miss Perky wasn't too fast on her feet. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost. Still, I decided there was little point in continuing the conversation so I thanked her for the call and hung up. Miss Perky's job was to make sure "offended" people like myself weren't going to sue the company that owned the mall (though I doubt she realised that), so once she had decided that I was sufficiently placated that would have been her cue to hang up anyway.

The Point

I was going to make a point here and it kind of got lost in the storytelling. Let me just rummage around under my desk here for a minute... Ah! There it is!

The right to offend people goes hand-in-hand with the right to freedom of expression. It isn't popular speech that needs protecting, after all. If however, you stand around making Auschwitz jokes in front of a group a Jewish people, don't feign innocence when some of them get upset. You knew what was going to happen and you did it anyway. What NamelessMall did of course, was they calculated that although they would offend some proportion of their male customers, that negative reaction would be outweighed by the additional revenue and customer demographic information the competition would generate. Men just don't seem to matter in today's society. So what if a few holdouts make a bit of noise. As long as they don't sue, who cares, right?

I'm sorry, but I just don't feel like being irrelevant at the moment. It might have been only one complaint form, but I wasn't just going to slink away without making my feelings known this time.


"In America today, if your sensibilities are offended by something that has happened, you get an enormous amount of credibility and are taken very seriously." -- Brit Hume.

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