Black and blue St. John’s guide has people seeing red

Daniel MacEachern
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The City of St. John’s will revise future versions of a campaign intended to boost recycling participation, as seen on this cover of its spring city guide.

Councillor apologizes for ‘trashy’ line, says connotations weren’t intended

The spring St. John’s city guide is drawing accusations of sexism and objectification of women.

The guide, released earlier this year, features a cover shot of a woman in high heels and a dress made from blue recycling bags, accompanied by the text “Blue is the new black: Don’t be trashy, recycling is always in fashion!”

Jenny Wright, executive director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council, said the cover is problematic for two main reasons.

First is the image, she said.

“It’s the classic example in advertisement is the objectification of women, or using women’s bodies to sell products,” Wright said. “You have this image of a woman wrapped in recycling bags and heels to sell a product. This is classic objectifying of women’s bodies, and it’s dangerous and it’s harmful, and it’s really sexist.”

Wright also criticized the text.

“You’re looking at words like, ‘Don’t be trashy,’ beside a woman,” she said. “This is one of the classic words used to undermine or demean women.”

St. John’s lawyer Lynn Moore likewise took issue with the cover, and said the colours of blue and black — corresponding to the colours of recycling and trash bags, respectively — are questionable when used in connection with women.

“I know it’s a play on (Netflix program) ‘Orange is the New Black’ and all those fashion comments where they’ll say, ‘Blue is the new black,’” Moore said. “But black and blue is also a phrasing we use to talk about physical violence, and I think in the context of our world that we live in, where violence against women is prevalent, that to suggest that women, by the way they dress, are trashy, is really inappropriate.”

The cover wouldn’t have featured a man the same way, said Moore.

“Men are never accused of being trashy,” she said. “There are certain words in the English language that are negative and pejorative that are generally only applied to women, and I think ‘trashy’ is one. I think ‘slut’ is another one. And I don’t know how the city could think this was appropriate or funny.”

Public relations expert Lynn Hammond said she was immediately taken aback by the cover.

“As a woman who tries to promote positive opportunities for women and speak out against things that are unfair, when I looked at it, I saw the imagery of a woman in a kitchen, referred to as ‘trashy,’ with ‘black’ and ‘blue,’” she said. “You use words like black and blue, which immediately brings thoughts of domestic violence, references to someone’s appearance as ‘trashy’ equates to ‘slutty’ — I’m quite confident that none of those things were intended, but when it comes to marketing, you have to understand how (people) perceive things. I’ve seen dozens of women, dozens of people I know, comment on this today, and were immediately offended. It’s not just one small group of people. It’s women — men, too — from different parts of society who read it as I did.”

According to an accompanying article inside the guide, the dress was the winning design in a contest for second-year students of the College of the North Atlantic’s craft and apparel design program, in which students were challenged to create a dress from recycling bags.

The winner, Junlu Zhao, won a $500 prize from the City of St. John’s, presented by Coun. Danny Breen.

Breen told The Telegram the city is apologizing for the negative connotations of the cover, and said the campaign was intended to boost recycling numbers.

“Our recycling numbers are down,” he said. “Our communications staff researched it, and research clearly points to the fact that predominantly recycling initiatives in a home are usually led by a female in a household.”

The city will remove the “trashy” line from future versions of the campaign, which was done entirely in-house and approved by the city’s public works committee in October, Breen said.

“We’ve heard the comments and received them, and staff have taken the ‘trashy’ line out of future advertisements,” he said. “It really was a play on words of trash and recycling, that was the intent, but people did find it offensive and we certainly apologize for that, and it was certainly not our intention.”, Twitter: @DanMacEachern

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Women Council

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Recent comments

  • Gentle Reader
    March 25, 2016 - 11:45

    Suggestion - I'm sure the city has some sort of PR firm on retainer. Have a consultant take 5 minutes to look at stuff like this before it goes out the door and save yourself some embarrassment. The intentions were good but there are ways to do things like this without coming across so poorly.

  • Political Watcher
    March 25, 2016 - 10:27

    Oh please get over yourselves! Just because you have an issue with something every other woman has to feel like they are being objectified. This was a design submitted by a young female design student. I am growing sicker each day of this minority, political correct group trying to dictate to the rest of us what we should like and dislike. If Council changes this, just like the recent flag flap, they prove even more they are a true lack of leaders which this City so needs right now.

  • grin
    March 25, 2016 - 10:26

    I didn't even read past the headline to know that the NL puritans will be objecting to the picture. They need their heads checked because there is absolutely nothing wrong with it in any sense. It,s is now at the point where they are so foolish they can only be mocked.

  • Dolf
    March 25, 2016 - 09:56

    Good thing there wasn't a flag flying from a pole on the cover. The city would go nuts.

  • Kev
    March 25, 2016 - 08:54

    Lighten up. And here comes the parade of the perpetually offended.

  • Tammy
    March 25, 2016 - 08:39

    What the hell is wrong with people. The first instinct is to look for something to complain about. Why can't people see the positive in this and learn how to recycle? It blows my mind how quickly the negativity of these people becomes the spotlight with stories like this.

  • Rob
    March 25, 2016 - 08:19

    By's c'mon! Jenny, Lynn have you both officially been "Swept" to a new lower level? On any given day, I have a lot of respect for both your professional opinions regarding the community. But you both totally lost me on this one.

  • Ted
    March 25, 2016 - 08:01

    More faux indignation from people who lie in wait just looking for something to pounce upon. This is about as sexist as Sesame Street.

  • DAve
    March 25, 2016 - 07:43

    welcome to the age of offensiveness where anyone will find something to complain about. Society is gone.

  • GeoffChaulk
    March 25, 2016 - 07:33

    Oh the horror, the horror that is 'leadership' at our "City 'Hell'"...antiquated, ethically-questionable and rudderless.

  • Holy Crap
    March 25, 2016 - 07:31

    What a complete pile of BS from supposedly intelligent people ( lawyer,public relations expert). If the designer of the brochure had put a man dressed in a black garbage suit alongside the woman, would it then have been considered sexist?

  • Ron
    March 24, 2016 - 20:33

    The groups who objected to this are so over board in their views that it is a little sickening. The only thing that is more sickening is that council actually apologized and agreed to change the wording just to appease the politically correctness of these people who have far too much free time and not near enough work to keep them busy. Please stop pandering to and patronizing every group who are offended by every single thing that does not show every woman with a halo over their heads. The level of political correctness is getting to the point where it is absolutely foolish and eventually no one will take these complainers serious even when they have something legitimate to complain about.

  • Marian Atkinson
    March 24, 2016 - 15:20

    City Hall is full of old white men for the most part. Obviously they need lessons and sensitivity training on what is acceptable in this 21st Century. Mr. Breen's surprise at the reaction is a prime example of the lack of awareness

  • BH
    March 24, 2016 - 14:39

    Calvin is blocked up solid so full of himself and his own wonderfulness it's surprising he can even tolerate the rest of the human race. Chalk up another useless rant, Calvin.

  • Telling it like it is
    March 24, 2016 - 14:23

    A classic example of - ''I am offended by that, therefore I am 100% right''. Grow up people. If this is the hill you choose to go to war on, you have too much time on your hands. You're the same people who demand parents who do not watch their kids when they're out playing at a playground, riding their bike alone should be charged with negligence. GROW UP. Marketing is a 20th century art form, and for a lot of you, you belong in the middle ages when over sensual, quick to judge, burn at the stake witch hunters. Or maybe Nazi Germany where certain arts and literature were banned.

  • 2-faced
    March 24, 2016 - 14:05

    One minute people are saying we shouldn't use females to sell an idea, but when you go to all the restaurants down town, 90% of the workers are women and what they wear is disgraceful. When it's to your benefit it's ok, but when it's not it's sexist?

  • Sean
    March 24, 2016 - 11:39

    The city clearly does not go far enough here! If we are going to rid our culture of mysogony we net to start at the root. I call for a complete ban on the colours blue and black; makes my skin crawl just typing them. We are teaching this to children in day cares, for gods sakes! Furthermore, Junlu Zhao should be jailed and CONA closed for blatantly perpetuating the myth that women want to or should look or feel any different than men. Don't get me started on targeted marketing; "research shows recycling being led by female of household"!? Just because you can prove that you need to appeal to women (or men for that matter) in your advertising doesn't mean you ever should, it's so wrong and should be stopped. From now on, adds for shaving products should only feature baby's and tampon adds can only feature trees! There, I think I solved it... Oh wait, one more thing... The Newfoundland I grew up in never had a problem with a little tongue in cheek humour or poking fun at ourselves; we need to stop being so righteous about every little thing and actually focus on the things that REALLY need to be changed.

  • Trashyboy
    March 24, 2016 - 11:19

    I am a male feminist, but I disagree with almost every point made in this article. The idea of wearing recycling bags as dresses was intended to raise awareness of recycling and was initiated by a FEMALE student, who also held a gala in which every WOMAN who attended was asked to design a dress out of a recycling bag. The woman on the cover is there to promote this campaign, NOT to sell a product. (What product is she selling exactly??) This has NOTHING to do with objectification or sexism and we have to stop blaming everything on that. Oh, and "trashy" is a non-gender specific adjective used to MANY things, not just people, and certainly NOT just women. I am acutely aware of how deeply male privilege and objectification of women permeate our society but I'm sorry, there is NO correlation here. And lastly, the use of the words black and blue was CLEARLY incidental. Black and blue happen to be the respective colours of garbage bags and recycling bags.

  • Steve
    March 24, 2016 - 10:39

    All this article proves is that North Americans are prudes. I remember being in Amsterdam (all present commenters would be wise to never go there. You'd have a heart attack). I saw a billboard, showing a naked woman holding a beer. There was a black bar over her chest. The caption said, "if this were France, this photo would not be censored". Oh yeah, Amsterdam Schipol International airport - also sells XXX movies - stop the madness!!!!!!!!!!

  • Steve
    March 24, 2016 - 10:37

    Have we really come to this point? That we have to be so "politically correct" in everything so that a few people who perceive something different aren't offended. The thought of the bags being black and blue relating to physical violence against women? Really, who in there right mind would look at that in that way unless they were only trying to promote there own ideals or get there face in the paper.

  • dale
    March 24, 2016 - 10:22

    Walk through the mall and you will see all the sexism you want. Victoria secrets, la senza and many others have lingerie displayed on posters and models for all to see. And I just love it.

  • Joe Q. Public
    March 24, 2016 - 10:15

    Great, more people trying to create controversy where there is none. This isn't sexist or an issue whatsoever. If it was a white man instead of a woman these geniuses would be complaining that it's sexist/racist. You can't win. These people are despicable, using victims of domestic violence or sexual assault as tools to advance their own cause/interest while at the same time minimizing and demeaning the experiences of REAL victims of sexual assault/domestic violence. Shame on them.

  • justin case
    March 24, 2016 - 09:52

    The feminists are out in full force this morning. Seems everything now days is sexist. Society has become overly sensitive. The ad was in no way intentionally placed to demean woman. However feminists groups see another opportunity to "grab onto" another headline. We have become too politically correct.

  • scott m
    March 24, 2016 - 09:42

    People should learn to relax , Way to sensitive now a days. You know what offends me? ..Kids that go to bed hungry. If only we directed as much effort into things like that.

  • Scotty
    March 24, 2016 - 09:33

    It is simply crazy how sensitive people have become. If we look closely enough we could find a problem with everything everytime. Yesterday it was a flag, today its a recycling ad. Do women not wear dresses and high heel shoes? Black and blue is the color of the bags, nothing else. Too much time for bad minds to work I think. Looks like a recycling ad to me, didn't see the sexual part nor did i think of domestic violence when I saw black and blue, I saw plastic bags. These people who see these things are bad minded as far as I see it, they will find something offensive in everything, OMF the world is gone mad!

  • BooHoo
    March 24, 2016 - 09:17

    More insufferable politically correct flapdoodle? Seems around every corner somewhere there's some social group or other that's constantly offended.

  • The real Calvin
    March 24, 2016 - 08:59

    Even the small print "recycling is always in fashion" is an issue. This is as sexist as every article ever published in Cosmo. Side note, unsure how feminists have not managed to ban that publication. While trash like Cosmo is still being forced down people's throats at every store lineup you ever enter, feminists may as well be whistling dixie from the mountain tops. Anyway, people who dismiss or simply don't understand the feminist stance are never going to be convinced. All you can do is try to educate the next generation on why division of the sexes in any format is wrong. I jump on every chance I get to inform my kids that saying jobs are male or female specific is wrong, or that a color is feminine or masculine. I think the feminist movement would benefit far more from education in school settings than protesting public ignorance. Lobby the school boards to allow a feminist group, which should include a male and female presenter, to enter schools and outline to kids what equality means. These presentations should not focus on the patriarchy stance, but should simply outline EQUALITY between the sexes. Alanis Morissette had an article in the NY Times recently (pretty sure it was the Times) outlining how empowering men as well as women would further the feminist cause. Definitely worth a google...

  • Joe Smith
    March 24, 2016 - 08:40

    For the love of heaven. Grow up. Complaining about something as foolish as this makes you look petty and silly. Oh my.

  • BM4
    March 24, 2016 - 08:33

    oh my god, get over it people

  • Offended
    March 24, 2016 - 07:49

    So all they are doing is removing that one word (trashy)? From my perspective, the entire thing is offensive - it should be pulled/re-vamped. And don't forget - a committee of council, which consists of both upper management and council representation, had to approve this before it was released to the public... Recycling is a family activity - maybe it is "led" by a female in many cases, but it is a family commitment. Why not showcase a family (in whatever form) taking part in recycling? I bet that would be much more successful, and much more appropriate for a publication being released from government. The image on this guide certainly did NOT encourage THIS female or my family to recycle more. By the way...I feel the need to point out that the student who designed that garbage bag dress did a spectacular job and clearly has so much creative potential. Unfortunately, the design was used in poor taste by the City. I'm delighted that they wanted to showcase this talent - but they missed the mark entirely by showcasing it in this manner.Try again City of St. John's.

    • Anon
      March 24, 2016 - 14:23

      It must be hard to go through life with a victim complex like that. Your narcissism should stay with yourself, don't subject everyone else to it. Oh but I'm sure you're so oppressed by the big bad patriarchy on your laptop/mobile phone or whatever. Glad to see feminists taking on the real important issues in society.

  • Roena Marshall
    March 24, 2016 - 07:42

    Nothing story. If you are going to complain complain about how people live and how to change it- such as sad person who has to gripe about little things

  • steve
    March 24, 2016 - 07:41

    A Councillor in Mickey Mouse ears would have been much more fitting and the guide is a waste anyway. Put it online and be done with it. Be interesting to see the cost to have it printed and by whom.

  • Geri
    March 24, 2016 - 07:25

    I completely agree that the cover of the guide is insulting and demeaning to women. I can't believe that in this day and age, that professionals at St. John's City Hall are producing THIS garbage!

  • Doug
    March 24, 2016 - 07:12

    Obviously, some people have way too much time on their hands. I'm sure people like Wright, Moore et. al. do great work but they need to keep some perspective. Going off the deep end over something like this does nothing for their credibility.

  • j2762
    March 24, 2016 - 07:07

    This came in the mail months ago, and nobody cared. Now all of a sudden after someone points it out on twitter, a few people get "offended" and the city instantly apologizes and discontinues its use. I liked the ad, and the vast majority of people didn't care.. Yet the city (and many others these days) bend to the pressure of a few. Where is my say? I'm offended that the ad has been cancelled!!

  • Me
    March 23, 2016 - 21:09

    I didn't think it was a problem til I see this story with the complaints. Sometimes it's not a problem but people make it one. Maybe they just want the attention. I don't know if Junlu is M or F but if F, I guess it was a good design. If M, I guess the design is sexist???