Radio contest gets hung up on human rights hook
// JJ Brewis

International Women’s Day is an important day for not only women, but for all of us in the quest for human equality. In a case of terrible timing, a Halifax radio station contest has unfortunately lined up the closing date for an offensive contest with this past Mar. 8, which happened to be this year’s International Women’s Day. In terms of radio prizes, this is a far cry from Nickelback tickets – and somehow even more objectionable – with the winning contestant slated to “win a mail-order bride.” Yikes.

Halifax’s Q104 FM (or “the almighty Q,” as they call themselves) is the predominant hard rock station for the city, with mainstay artists ranging from Metallica to AC/DC. The contest, organized by the station, is cleverly dubbed “The Male is in the Czech”. The contest promised to reward the winning male contestant with a trip to the Czech Republic in which he is treated to a plethora of dates with the local Flying Hearts International Dating Service in Prague, potentially leaving with a mail-order bride of his choice.

QFM Program Director J.C. Douglas says, “There's obviously no sexual connection with the dating. If a date is not successful, it won't go any further. If a date is successful, it could lead to matrimony.”

Halifax activist Derrick Dixon got word of the contest and was immediately appalled: “I knew immediately that something wasn't right, I felt it in my gut,” he says. “I passed the link onto a few other friends and they were completely appalled. We decided to try to do something about it.”

Dixon went online and called for like-minded individuals to arrange a protest that asked for the station to end the contest, issue a public apology, and to donate the contest’s funding toward a local women’s group. The station refused to back down.

Dixon elaborates: “I felt even more strongly about it once I realized that the closing date of the contest was Thursday, Mar. 8, International Women's Day. This contest is in contrast to everything that International Women's Day stands for.”

The protest was arranged for Mar. 8, in which several dozen people raised awareness against the campaign outside the station.

Dixon certainly has a point, and the offensive content of the entire image surrounding such a contest is more than alarming. If humans are still being raffled off as prizes, perhaps our human equality progress isn’t nearly as progressive as we think it is.

The problem, he says, is embedded more in the idea of the contest than what is actually being won. Technicalities from the station’s side insist that they are not giving away an actual woman (even though their actual tagline promises “the Male is in the Czech, win a mail-order bride from the mighty Q!”), but an option for the man to pick a woman after his string of pre-organized dates. However, even the possibility of leaving with a woman and having that be part of the prize package is a pretty scary one at that.

Says Dixon, “It promotes the idea of a woman as something to be won, bought, and sold. Women are still fighting for equality in many ways in Canadian society and elsewhere in the world, and contests such as this reassert and normalize sexism rather than making an effort to combat it.”

It appears that a standoff based on technicalities is what kept the contest going, and kept Dixon’s protest in full force. Even with a major media backlash, QFM is marching on without looking back.

Perhaps it’s a state of stubborn branding identity, but ultimately, it is shocking that the contest ever saw the light of day in the first place. Surely there is at least one person in power at the station that would take the contest out of circulation for bad press alone, nevermind the whole human-rights-violation-thing.

Though the station did go through with the contest, the protest was effective in getting at least one major advertiser, the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission, to pull ads from the station based on the press. Douglas states, “It's somewhat disconcerting, because we really think it's been misunderstood … It seems like some of these people have taken a look at the icing and decided they don't like the cake."

The issue of gender is important here, as Dixon explains: “It is highly important that more men engage in this conversation, as the majority of media in North America is controlled by men, for men and is geared toward their desires.”

Really, nobody wins here, ironically despite the fact that this is all stemming from a ‘contest'. But that’s just it – it’s a contest that historically rewards a material prize to a winner, be it a good or service. What QFM is saying with this message is that a woman – a human being – is a fit prize to be exchanged for currency.

//JJ Brewis, art director
//Graphics by Chris Dedinsky

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