Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sexually Harassed? Well, I Did Stay at a Holiday Inn Express Last Night

So imagine this. You are a woman travelling alone, staying at a hotel. Maybe while you're waiting to check in, a man who is also waiting casually asks you about your trip. If you do what I unthinkingly did recently, maybe you tell a bit about your business and then, as you insert the key into the door of your room, you realize too late that you have a big mouth and that now some dude in the hotel knows that you are here, all alone. Your heart starts to pound. Your breath quickens. You can't get the door open and then shut again quickly enough. You call home to be sure someone knows where to start looking, room number and all, just in case you are never heard from again. You check that weird metal arm thing on the door and wonder exactly what that does to keep an intruder out. You turn over the electronic key pass in your hands and hope it's true that the same pass is only good for a single stay.

So imagine my shock when the other day, I saw this new commercial (click "Bacon") for Holiday Inn Express. Showcasing the hotel chain's breakfast bar by playing it up as an actual bar, the ad involves several men standing in the dining area, ogling a woman alone, and discussing what breakfast item they should "send" her.

As BrandWeek describes it:

New work from Fallon, Minneapolis, cheekily calls attention to new hot entrees by positioning the breakfast bar as a nightclub. In one ad, co-workers mingle near the buffet while one guy tosses pick-up lines at his boss. Another 30-second ad shows men discussing whether it’s good form to send a cheese omelet, bacon or a cinnamon roll to a hottie they spot at in the buffet line. The effort also borrows nightlife elements like ladies night the designated driver and play up the free meal and breakfast to go service. Voice over mentions, “Check out the new hot bar in town.”

So, I went to Holiday Inn's web page and found the other ads, including this one (click "pick up") in which a male business traveller at the breakfast "bar" mindlessly attempts to pick up every woman in the place, including one who has to remind him that she is, in fact, his boss! Oh, ha-ha-ha. Sexual harassment is just so "cheeky," as Brandweek describes the ad campaign.

There is another article about the ad campaign at Hotel Resource:

The Express Start(R) Breakfast Bar relaunch coincides with the brand's newest series of TV commercials that began airing the week of Feb. 11. The new spots play off the idea of Holiday Inn Express offering the 'hot' new bar in town. The breakfast bar takes on a life of its own as the social scene for groups of business travelers who dine, flirt and socialize with colleagues in potentially awkward, yet humorous situations. The ads from Fallon Minneapolis have the unexpected, witty humor that is characteristic of the award winning Holiday Inn Express Stay Smart advertising campaign. The new spots can be viewed at http://www.hiexpress.com/, and will air on popular national cable networks like ESPN, The History Channel, Comedy Central, CNN and TNT. The ads also will air on CBS during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

During basketball. Really? What, no "Lifetime?" As usual, we know to whom the pitch is really being made. And note the article's references to the ads' "potentially awkward, yet humorous situations," which leaves out the fact that the situations depicted are also potentially dangerous - at least for a woman who eats breakfast in the hotel lobby and then must return alone to her room before making several trips to load luggage into her vehicle.

Did no one at the ad agency or the hotel chain or in the t.v. production process ever think about the fact that being a woman staying in a hotel alone is somewhat frightening? Don't get me wrong - I loved my hotel room a few weeks ago. It was the first time in my entire life that I had ever had my own room and I loved it so much I threatened to never return home. Still, there were those moments, always that awareness inherent to living while female under the patriarchy. There was the guy at the desk to whom I accidentally implied that I was alone. Later, there was a man coming into the hotel some moments after me and I was terrified as I got my luggage to the internal staircase, brick, thick-walled, meant to be used in case of fire but also probably soundproof and a problem if I were attacked and needed to scream. My arms were full and as I waited for the stairwell door to click shut on its own, my heart was pounding even as I strained to listen carefully for footsteps. Then the door didn't quite click all the way, which meant the man in the hallway behind me could possibly follow me into the stair area. Scary stuff. A day in the life.

And Holiday Inn thinks it's oh-so innocent, safe, "cheeky" even to show men gawking at women and practicing their sophomoric sexual pitches right there at the hotel's breakfast bar.


Every space and every scenario in this country is seen as a potential venue in which men can objectify women - both in real life and in advertising.

Just to see if I was possibly overreacting (I have been accused from time to time, it's true), I did a quick google search of "hotel room rape." Of course, it's not overreacting when we women know we feel nervous about being assaulted a lot of the time, and that alone makes the Holiday Inn ads inexcusable, but I wanted to know if there is indeed a chance of a woman being raped at a hotel. And here is a sample:

"A Guest at the Plaza Hotel is Raped in Her Suite"

California Lodging Industry Association: "Hotel Not Liable for Guest's Rape, 7th District Rules"

"Safety of Hotel Employees: Rape at W Hotel New York"

"Hotel Guest Reports Rape by Security"

"Businesswoman Raped in Hotel Room, Jury Told" (the Hilton, Sussex, England)

tort case against Omni Hotels over rape of a woman attending a "Women in Steel" union conference in D.C.

more hotel torts, "Travel Abroad, Sue at Home"

It turns out there are even books on "Hotel, Restaurant, and Travel Law: a Preventive Approach."

Here is a summary of hotel and related liability lawsuits ("premises security liability suits"). Who wins these cases?

defendants: 52% of cases
plaintiffs: 21% of cases
remanded: 19% of cases

I will be contacting Holiday Inn Express customer service about these ads.


Don't Be Silent DC said...

I saw the one with the guy hitting on the women on TV the other day---had me rolling my eyes. Who knew that breakfast and a nice stay at the Holiday Inn would be degraded in an ad like that? Gross.

Also, have you seen those Twix ads? The men do the most sexist things and come across a woman seeing them act sexist, then they take a time-out, take a bite out of the Twix, and come up with some lame excuse which makes the women fall for them. Nasty! I used to love the Twix commercials, but they've taken a turn for the worse.

NOLA radfem said...

Oh, yeah, I forgot about the Twix ads.

God, they just never stop. I'm so fed up.