Advertising is not a bad thermometer of public opinion; the makers of adverts can't be actively repulsive in their products, or they would soon go out of business. When they think that their target audience will put up with - or even be amused by - something once considered shocking, they are probably right.
A raft of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority has focused on the issue of violence. It is surprising to see how far advertisers feel they can go in rendering violence which can truly be called gratuitous, since it has nothing to do with the product being sold. A jeans-maker called Diesel had an image of a man being whipped and flayed; the skin on his back was "amusingly" torn off in a noughts-and-crosses pattern. A mobile phone manufacturer sold its products with images of a cheek being cut by a razor.
These are ugly and foolish productions, but the ones that really startled people were, in a way, much milder. Made by M&C Saatchi, they depicted families in situations of, often, quite high domestic discord; the people were, at the end, revealed to be in an MFI store, and already feeling themselves at home.
The advert from this series that has attracted most attention is the one in which a woman shouts at her husband for leaving the toilet seat up. She slaps him twice. It isn't surprising that an advert depicting domestic violence caused shock and offence; what is very surprising is the fact that Saatchis thought the public revelation of a couple's violent and abusive relationship likely to be amusing. Reverse the roles - have a husband slapping a wife for leaving the toilet seat down - and it would never amuse anyone. But men are stupid in advertising; that is established. So why not slap them? I mean - it's not as if they're human or anything.
Serious attempts have been made over the last few decades to bring the question of male-on-female domestic violence into the open; or rather imbue what had always been somewhat open with a universal sense of shame and revulsion. That has been relatively successful.
Other forms of domestic abuse, however, rest in utter obscurity. There is certainly abuse to be found between gay or lesbian partners. What we really don't know about is the abuse of men by women in a relationship. Many studies have found cases of violence where both partners were battering each other. Some studies have ignored the question of women battering men or disparage its possibility even when their barrier for the definition of men's violence against women was set so low that you feel it can hardly flow all in one direction. My local council, with the best of intentions, includes among the …