Jacqueline Gold, businesswoman of the year, founder of Ann Summers, claims “My philosophy has always been to encourage women to feel good about themselves and their sexuality.” Her autobiography recounts that she found the leery male atmosphere at the sex shop oppressive, and it was from this that her vision was born. And while Ann Summers has been criticised for selling cheap crap, the original premise (that women can and should enjoy sex without the seedy nature of the sex industry) was not a bad one.
So what the hell has happened? Ann Summers are currently bringing an I Scream Van (see what they did there?) worthy of Sid the Sexist round towns in the UK. This I Scream Tour offers free ice-cream, topped with flavoured lube, to anyone who approaches it. Plus, they want you (women, not men) to pull an “O face” with the promise that they will display your O Face on Facebook and give a prize for the best one. If you’re wondering what on earth an O Face is, it’s their coy way of saying the face you make when you orgasm. Plus, if you go up to the van in just your bikini, you can have an Ann Summers swim set. Said swimwear, by the way, is advertised by a picture of a woman who appears to be masturbating.
This is not something that is likely to encourage women to feel good about themselves and their sexuality, because it takes a hypersexualised standard against which women can measure themselves – and presumably fail, meaning that they will want to buy ever-spicier Ann Summers products to achieve this pinnacle of sexual allure.
This is objectification of women, and the pornification of sexuality, taking us right back to the seedy beginnings that Gold was so keen to get away from. Even better, as SGM points out, is that the use of the ice cream van “normalises the construct of women as fucktoys via the medium of a cultural signifier for innocence and childhood.” Well, quite.
Would you like an ice-cream, little girl?