Ice Designs and Why We Still Need Feminism

 For the third day in a row in Melbourne, it’s been above 40 degrees. So, a little sheepishly, I joined the throngs to find that particular kind of respite in a nearby massive shopping mall. And glory be to the god of cold air, those giant air-conditioners (almost certainly responsible for the 40 degrees I was escaping)  really did the job.

I arrived early to enjoy the cool and lack of crowds, and wandered around browsing the clothing stores. The effect of my retreat from outside was an immediate awakening from the conscious coma of hotness and I started my browsing with a big sigh of relief and a gentle swing in my step. And then I went into a store called Ice, or as it’s called online, Ice Designs , described on its website as being ‘a leading force in womens fashions’  (http://www.icedesign.com.au/about-us.html) and it’s probably fair to say,  appealing mostly to the teenage/young woman age-group. The music, as in most stores, was fairly generous in volume, and although it  wouldn’t make it onto any of my mix tapes, I didn’t pay it much attention as I picked out a few things to try on. The young shop assistant came to put my things in the change room and as I continued browsing the lyrics came blasting at me, the lead guy rhyming (and this is as close to a direct quote as possible):

“… I can’t  remember her name, I just remember her by the smell of her pussy…”

Brace yourselves for a moment. I appreciate the deep offensiveness of this line but it’s necessary to put it in here because by the time the rest of the lyrics had rolled off, I was so stunned by it all, that I was having to convince myself that these actual words were ringing out loud and clear across the store. The star of this song kept on about the ‘pussy’, and the song the followed, talked about a girl bending over so he could give it to her; ‘it’ presumably being his dick,  the generous fella. Like tasting a rotten piece of fruit just before starting a meal, suddenly I was put off the whole experience of shopping there. I asked the assistant if she could skip the second song and was told she couldn’t do that as the management decided on the music. Umm…? When I suggested that the last two songs were pretty offensive to us both, the young assistant responded, resigned and powerless, with the old ‘ I agree but I’m not allowed/it’s not up to me’ answer. Incredulous, I asked for an avenue for complaint about the lyrics.  She asked for my name and contact details and told me she would email her management as soon as she got home, because she couldn’t access her emails from the store computer. She wrote down her personal email address so I could check up with her on the outcome.  Wait…. really? That’s the store policy on complaints? The assistant (job title: Store Manager) hands out her private email address to a customer and promises to email her boss when she gets home?? This bizarre conversation went on for quite a few minutes, ending finally with me looking up the contact details of the store on my phone and calling to complain. I swiftly got told by another young woman that I’d be called back. By the end of the day, I hadn’t heard anything so tried again. I got the same young woman on the phone, this time telling me – “They’ll decide when to contact you.” Two days later, and no response. That cd is almost certainly on high rotation across the close to 100 stores Ice Designs boast to have around Australia.  So, unsettled, I called Consumer Affairs, who forwarded me onto to ACMA (Australian Communication and Media Authority), who then referred me to APRA (Australian Performing Rights Association). With each call, shared disgust and empathy, but no recourse for action. The sympathetic guy from APRA shared in my frustration but finally told me that technically, stores can choose to play whatever they want and that if they choose to play music that alienates their customers, then it simply goes down as a bad business choice. He then suggested contacting local media as a possible action. And though there’s lots that perplexes me about this whole experience, three things in particular leave me struggling to understand it.
Firstly, if I walked into a music store that exclusively sold hip hop records, I should expect to hear some lyrical material that was demeaning to women. I could be offended but ultimately I would expect to hear some dickhead descriptions belittling and degrading anyone with a vagina (not that being played in a hip hop music store would be an excuse). But I didn’t deliberately start the day, with my cape on, seeking out proponents of sexism. I just wanted to browse the sales rack of a pretty ordinary looking girly clothes shop and hide from the heat outside. Why would a business, selling womens’ clothing, choose to play several songs that showcase the  artist’s unashamed contempt for women?  Should listening to a guy describe his domination of a nameless woman’s vagina be encouraging me to continue shopping in here? How about the young girls who will shop at Ice Designs these holidays? Secondly,  why would whoever made this compilation of songs choose to include lyrics like this? (I didn’t stay long enough to hear the rest of the cd – perhaps there were even more gems like these ones!) Was it deliberate? As a self-prolaimed ‘”leading force in women’s fashions in Australia” is this how the mysterious management at Ice Designs  decides to stay edgy? Is this is all it takes to be a supposed ‘leading force’ –  make your customers feel worthless by rapping over and over about “pussies”?
And finally, there’s the young store manager who, although admitting she can’t stand the lyrics either, spends all day listening to them, too worried about her boss to even press skip on a cd! How has this young woman gotten to a point where she believes she has no right to take any action or even have an opinion under the supposed rules of  – The Management ? What state of play are we in when this bullshit is normalised? If Ice Designs are right in their high opinion of themselves, then, cripes, there’s something really wrong here. And if there was ever any doubt in your minds, cast them aside my friends, because we most certainly still need feminism.

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