Can a bus stop ad prevent domestic violence?

A new campaign in New York aims to encourage men to teach their sons to respect women.


Catherine Price
January 29, 2008 8:10PM (UTC)

New York State's Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence has just kicked off a new ad campaign designed by the Ad Council (the same people who brought you "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk" and "A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste"). This one is geared toward men -- fathers, in particular -- and aims to encourage them to teach their sons that domestic violence is wrong.

The billboard and bus stop ads (you can check out samples here) feature a teenage boy in a baggy orange sweatshirt that says "Awaiting Instructions" next to the tagline "He's waiting. He's watching. He'll listen" and the exhortation "Teach your son to respect women." As for the television and radio spots, they take a different approach:

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"As a dad, you'll probably spend years teaching your son how to hit a baseball," the radio spot says. "How to throw a tight spiral and hit a receiver. How to spring off the diving board and hit the water. How to hit a one-wood and a nine-iron. How to hit the bull's eye. How to hit the strike zone. Hit a jump shot. Hit the open man. Hit the hockey net. And maybe the most challenging of all, how to hit the books. But the question is this, how much time will you spend teaching him what not to hit? Teach your son often and early that all violence against women is wrong."

The people at Copyranter who tipped us off to the ads don't like them much -- they think the ads' target is unclear and that the approach is ineffective. I disagree on the first point -- it seems pretty obvious that the target is parents and, in particular, fathers. As for their effectiveness, I agree with a Copyranter commenter who said that "no kid on the street is going to stop and say, 'Wow, they're so right. They're not bitches. They're women.'" And it is a little odd to put the command "Respect women" in a to-do list that also includes "Eat your vegetables" and "Do your homework."

But at the same time, I think it's heartening that there's going to be a statewide ad campaign against domestic violence. Sure, it's questionable how much violence it's going to prevent, but at least the ads might, if only subliminally, make people think for a fraction of a second about what influence parents' -- and, in particular, fathers -- can have on their kids' perception of women. It also reminds me of Charles Maisel's "5 in 6 Men Project" in South Africa that aimed to reach out to the five out of six men who did not abuse their wives, and encourage them to act as positive role models in their communities. These ads are not a solution to domestic violence, of course, but I applaud the effort.

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Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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