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CWB harvests storm with cowgirl pin-up

Ad sexist for some, no big deal for others

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Maybe it was headline envy, a need to be back in the news after years of gut-wrenching, polarized debate over its future. Maybe it was a case of outsourcing gone awry.

Some have even speculated the CWB's latest advertising campaign depicting a busty cowgirl in a short skirt and red boots stuck on a barn-board fence is a diversionary tactic -- designed to distract people from the fact that the former Canadian Wheat Board's downtown Winnipeg head office is now up for sale and it has hit the fast-forward mode on privatization.

Whatever the reason, the "Still on the fence?" ad featuring American pin-up artist Gil Elvgren's 1969 print Hi-Ho Silver sure has people talking.

Aside from the practical questions, such as how this poor child will get off that fence without slivers in her butt, or what an image of a cowgirl has to do with selling grain, there's the bigger question of whether the campaign is attracting the kind of attention CWB wants as it begins its new life as a government-backed grain broker.

Or, given its status as a government agency, whether this ad reflects the party in power's attitudes towards women.

One thing is for sure, it's got some people riled up enough to complain to the newspapers carrying the ads, CWB and its bosses -- all the way up to the federal minister's office and the federal minister responsible for the status of women.

The National Farmers Union issued a release calling the ad offensive and demeaning to farm women.

"What an image of a long-legged woman straddling a fence has to do with selling grain is beyond me," said Joan Brady, NFU women's president. "The new CWB doesn't seem to realize that women are farmers and make marketing decisions."

Fellow NFU board member Glenn Tait said men find the ad offensive too. "Mostly though, we're saddened by an amateurish and off-target campaign conducted by the ghost of what used to be a world-class entity," he said.

"As a woman, mother, and fourth-generation Canadian of agricultural heritage, I was deeply offended and shocked by the pin-up style image and the demeaning portrayal of women in this ad," writes Pam Hadden, a Winnipegger who works in agri-marketing, in a letter to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

"I am deeply, deeply offended on several levels," says Dawn Harris, a former farmer who has a degree in agriculture, and works in agricultural communications. "This imagery denigrates farm men by implying they are easily led into decisions by sexual images and in so doing disrespect their wives and daughters. It diminishes the integral role that women play in the agricultural community and have played throughout the agricultural history of the Canadian Prairies."

It's no secret that women played an important role in the development of agriculture on the Prairies. They were more apt to be building the fences -- not striking a ditzy, helpless pose on one.

Farm women were a driving force behind the co-operative grain marketing movement that ultimately helped form the original Canadian Wheat Board. They later led the charge to give women the right to vote, run for office and be considered "persons" under the law.

Their descendants have continued to break down barriers to women in the workplace. Many see using retro pinup posters exuding outdated social mores to sell grain marketing services as a clear setback, starting with who they target. The ad apparently presumes men are the main decision makers on the farm.

But if the online comments to CBC and Globe and Mail coverage of this are any indication, most viewers think the ad is cute and all the fuss unwarranted.

"I am a young woman and work in a grain elevator. I think this ad is genious (sic) ...These feminists need to stop having their pity party ...," said one.

"Who does the ad offend? As a feminist, an industrial construction worker, and a farmer's girlfriend, I don't see what's wrong with it. Beautiful women are often used for advertising, and as a woman I embrace that :)," says another.

Many of the comments target 'angry feminists.' A few wade into politics, suggesting only 'left-wingers' would find this offensive. None of them talk about selling more grain to the new CWB.

For its part, CWB isn't offering any apologies. It's not pulling the ads either.

"Our intent behind the ad was to start a conversation," said CWB chief strategy officer Dayna Spiring, noting reaction has been more positive than negative. There's been more traffic to its website too. She didn't say whether there would be more pin-up posters coming.

Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 792-4382 or by email: laura@fbcpublishing.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 B5

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