A new poster series will make a nice artefact in decades to come
Potential sex pests received a major setback this week with the unveiling of the latest round of posters in London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s #HaveAWord campaign, aimed at tackling “problematic behaviour” among men. The initiative has been running since March of last year, and in Khan’s own words is part of his determination to end an “epidemic of violence and misogyny that countless women face on a daily basis”.
Posters have already appeared in an effort to stamp out catcalling, inappropriate touching and staring. The campaign has now sought to harness the power of the “Mate, Mate” state, encouraging would-be friends of violent pyscho-sexual sociopaths to stop them in their path with a few choice words. “Say maate to a mate,” the poster (above) reads in block capitals. The “maaate” plea is also visually repurposed as a bulldozer, crushing sexist comments such as “She’s asking for it in that skirt,” and “Have you seen the new girl? I’d give her one.”
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The “mate, mate” man is the modern British jobsworth. A man who came of age during the pandemic and flourished amidst a kaleidoscope of meaningless diktats and rules regarding how to “stay safe”. He is the sort of person of whom mandarins huddled in Government communications offices dream, possessing a hyper-conscious civic awareness that makes him unquestionably attuned to any instruction — from “See it. Say it. Sorted” to “Hands. Face. Space” — with authoritarian flair.
His deployment against the very serious problem of violence against women is something of an insult to both parties. As the campaign page rightly asserts, women are killed on average once every three days. But as anyone who has lived in Britain over the last decade knows, there is very little the “mate, mate” man and his ilk can do about this.
Firstly, the campaign curiously foregoes any understanding of the context in which women face the most serious instances of violence. For instance, 52% of women killed in the UK in 2020 died at the hands of a current or former partner, predominantly when in the process of separating. Of these murders, about three-quarters took place in the home.
Then there is the institutional failure to make women feel safe on the streets of London. While an average of 25 rapes a day are reported in the capital, nationally 40% of women who are attacked don’t report rape to the police, in the belief that they won’t receive help. Following the murder of Sarah Everard, as well as the prosecution of rapist officer David Carrick, half of women in London do not trust the Metropolitan Police.
Beyond the mass public awareness campaign, most of the serious crime against women which Khan intends to tackle is committed by a small minority of reoffenders. The Met Police recently acknowledged this, pledging to use a database of tens of thousands of reoffenders to target the 100 most dangerous men in London who prey on women and children.
Ogilvy, the PR company behind the campaign, claimed it had sought to address an “epidemic of misogyny and male violence against women and girls”, using “behavioural science insights” to get men to think about “their own behaviour and how they’d challenge the behaviour of their friends”.
Really, the limits of public relations campaigns which aim to tackle the deep-seated social failings of our institutions are starting to be exposed. It began during the pandemic, and has accelerated in an age of institutional mistrust. These posters now belong to a curious era of British civic society, during which trust and confidence in public institutions became so low they blended with the equally farcical corporate messaging of contemporary advertising.
As with the renaissance of framed Soviet propaganda posters as works of art, it’s not hard to see these works being sold off in a trendy art gallery in a London borough in decades to come: another ironic throwback to an age in which declining public trust tested the gulf between reality and and the faux ideology of awareness. They never quite managed to tackle the elephant in the room, did they, mate?