WARNING: This post contains highly offensive, hateful and sexually explicit material that Coles and Woolworths gleefully promote each week. It also contains swearing and multiple heinous breaches of the English language and grammar.
Adam takes a seat in the small, windowless room. The woman on the opposite side of the table smiles. Like her male companion, she’s wearing an immaculate business suit.
The man nods his head amiably. ‘I’m William,’ he says. ‘From Woolworths. And this is Cara from Coles.’ He gestures towards the woman.
‘Pleased to meet you,’ Cara says professionally.
William clasps his hands together seriously. ‘Now, Adam, it’s quite rare for our two supermarkets to meet a customer together, but this is such an important issue that we have decided to present a united front.’
‘Excellent,’ Adam says, still surprised that they’ve decided to meet him at all, but encouraged they’re taking allegations of sexism so seriously.
William produces two copies of Adam’s letter. He gives one to Cara. ‘We’ve both read your letter about Zoo Weekly magazine,’ he says. Then he glances down at a notepad on the table. ‘At Woolworths we understand that every customer has a different opinion.’
Adam narrows his eyes suspiciously.
Cara takes up the baton. ‘Likewise, Adam, at Coles, we aim to provide our customers with a wide range of products that appeal to a broad range of consumer tastes.’ Her eyes are also flicking back and forth from a notepad.
‘Yes, I understand that,’ Adam says. ‘But my point is that this magazine promotes the kind of misogyny and objectification that is totally inconsistent with your values. By selling Zoo in supermarkets alongside everyday products, you are normalising the sexploitation within its covers. You’re teaching people that disrespecting women is as acceptable as buying grapefruit.’
William responds first. ‘We do also understand that there are many different opinions held by our customers.’
Adam blinks uncomprehendingly. Didn’t he just say that?
Cara also stays on script. ‘To help ensure a comfortable shopping experience for all customers, we only place these particular men’s magazines in the reading centres within our stores and not on the stands next to the registers.’
Adam regains his voice. ‘What’s that got to do with anything? I’m not talking about the display of the magazines. I’m asking you to stop selling them altogether.’
William smiles magnanimously. ‘Yes, well said Cara. At Woolworths, Zoo is positioned in selected stores only in the magazine reading centre in the aisle. This is done to reduce the exposure to our customers of these magazines as we understand that every customer has a different opinion and we respect that it can be offensive to some.’
This is ridiculous. Adam has to get them off script. ‘You’ve seen the examples of content I sent in my letter.’ He points to the pages in front of William and Cara:
- A search for Australia’s hottest asylum seeker (subsequently withdrawn after public outrage)
- A Super-sized Celebration of Boobs containing no less than 75 pictures of semi-naked and naked women, some just close-ups of body parts
- Street strip search – “We hit the streets and somehow convince girls to get their kit off”
- Sex tips from animals
- 2012’s sickest jokes
- One and a half pages of phone sex advertisements in a single edition
‘Well that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.’ Adam opens his laptop. ‘Here are some examples of what Zoo has been running lately on its Facebook page.’
Cara draws back in shock. Or horror. Probably both. William maintains his corporate smile, but has the good grace to allow a hint of disgust to flash across his eyes.
‘Exactly,’ Adam says, relieved at last that the human beings have surfaced. ‘You see what I mean. How can you possibly be actively promoting and selling a magazine that facilitates this kind of sexism and degradation?’
Cara shakes her head. A short, swift maneuver. Her eyes flick to the notepad again. ‘Adam, magazines such as Zoo do not have a classification rating, as set by the Classification Board, and form part of our men’s interest range of magazines. Coles only sells unclassified magazines.’
‘These magazines are widely available across all supermarkets, variety stores, newsagents and many other outlets,’ William says.
Adam’s frustration turns to anger. ‘Are you actually listening to me? Can’t you see what you’re part of here? Can’t you see that by selling this hatred, you’re also endorsing it?’
Cara cracks first. ‘You can’t expect us to be responsible for the social media pages of the magazines we sell. That’s totally unreasonable!’
‘I’m not asking you to be! But I can expect you to make choices about your magazines that aren’t linked to outright misogyny.’
Cara stares silently at her notepad for a moment. When she looks back up at Adam, the glazed, corporate eyes have returned. ‘Like I said, Adam, Coles only sells unclassified magazines and magazines such as Zoo do not have a classification rating, as set by the Classification Board.’
William: ‘And at Woolworths, we do also understand that there are many different opinions held by our customers and we will take your comments on board when reviewing our magazine category.’
Adam stares dumbfounded. ‘Is this a joke?’ he asks.
‘Thank you for your time, Adam,’ Cara says in a small voice. ‘We are not looking to remove Zoo from Coles, however, we have taken note of your concerns to assist with future reviews of our magazine range. I hope you understand our position.’
This story is based on the responses I received from both Woolworths and Coles (through parent company Wesfarmers) when I wrote to them about removing Zoo from sale. Clearly, the message didn’t get through, so I don’t suggest you do the same.
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