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

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

Published on March 23, 2016

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.

©Computer screen shot

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