“Women dress too slutty!” says charity trying to get people to wear red

When it comes to pointing out nonsense PR, I feel I’m on safe and steady ground when pointing out how this company or that commercial enterprise is pushing a specific narrative opaquely through the press in order to make money. That always feels neat and tidy. However, things get a bit more morally-ambiguous when there’s a legitimate and well-meaning charity involved. Take:

Men want miniskirts and low cut tops banned from the office for being ‘too distracting’ (and women agree too!)

Men want hotpants, miniskirts and low cut tops banned from the office because they are too distracting, new research shows.

A study found that at least a third of men want women stopped from wearing revealing outfits at work, with skimpy shorts the first to go.

Hotpants were named by 32 per cent as unacceptable, with 30 per cent adding that anything with a leopard print should be banned.

Source: Daily Mail, 14 January 2013

Pretty standard PR fodder, I’m sure you’ll agree – complete with the opportunity for eye-catching photographs of women in revealing outfits in the office, and a good-old-fashioned slut-shaming in the comments. 

However, the originator of this piece of research isn’t Superdrug, or Debenhams, or a dodgy dating website – all of which I’d feel are unquestionably valid targets for criticism when using this approach to grab headlines. Instead, the story was placed by the British Heart Foundation, who are promoting an initiative to get people to wear red to the office in order to spread awareness of heart disease:

Polly Shute, Fundraising Project Director at the BHF, added: ‘It seems the fail-safe weapon at work for 2013 is the colour red.

‘Whether it’s a dash of red lipstick, wearing that desirable Little Red Dress, or donning a red tie, organising a Rock Up In Red event is a great excuse to dress to impress with colleagues.

‘Not only will you have the perfect opportunity to wear a colour seldom seen in the workplace, you will also help the BHF beat the UK’s single biggest killer.’

This, I feel, is a worthwhile goal – heart disease is a real killer, and so making people aware of the issue and encouraging the population to support the BHF feels a good idea. Yet, it’s hard to see the methods the BHF have employed as being anything other than damaging and ill-thought-out, giving a needlessly negative and judgemental view of women’s role in the office. Are there no better ways to remind people of heart disease, than to call out women for being a distraction to the men of the office, who we have to assume are little more than libido-machines incapable of being professional in the presence of exposed skin? 

The article manages to be offensive both to women and men – which already puts the BHF on the back foot with those in the population who identify as either male or female. Which, at last count, is quite a high percentage…

What’s more, this isn’t an isolated case, with a similarly poorly-judged article back in August 2011 springing to mind:

End of romance: One in five married couples kiss just once in a week (and then it’s just for five seconds)

One in five married couples don’t kiss for an entire week, and when they do, it lasts no more than five seconds, a survey has found.

Younger lovebirds make more time for romance, with those aged between 18 and 24 saying they lock lips with a partner 11 times a week on average.

The survey found that only five per cent of over 45s manage more than 30 kisses a week.

Source: Daily Mail, 3 August 2011

At the time, the article was promoting the BHF’s ‘Kiss of life’ campaign, teaching children how to do CPR. Nobody in the world would disagree with the goals of teaching children how to save lives, but it’s bafflingly counter-productive of the BHF to promote this campaign by informing married people couples that the spark and romance of their relationship is dead. Who benefits from such a negative angle?

That the 2011 poll (and possibly this latest poll) were products of 72 Point’s prolific manure-spreading polling company OnePoll merely magnifies the concern – I took part in the kissing survey in 2011, and found the methodology painfully and irreparably flawed. One question asked users to choose from a list of options the duration of their last kiss – self-reported answers to a question nobody is like to be able to answer accurately, yet this became one of the key findings of the article.

As a rule of thumb, I tend to lean away from exposing the dodgy data put out by charities to form the basis of articles like these, because generally speaking charities are doing a tough and worthy job, in the face of a harsh economy and severe charity fatigue. But sometimes, the ends simply don’t justify the means, and even charities should consider the ramifications of the headlines they’re generating.