Watch now and see what you think:
Or skip it and… spoiler alert… read on.
Must aid workers be "unreasonable, uncompromising, unstoppable"?
Intended as a flagship public service announcement for a UN campaign called “What It Takes”, which also profiles other aid workers, the new glossy 90-second ad projects character traits needed in the job. The spot has caused a flurry of debate in aid worker circles on social media since its 12 February release across the Web and on social media.
Haitian aid worker Claudine Joseph's teenage son describes her in the ad as “nitpicky” and “overbearing”, “impatient” and “pushy”.
Still, he says he misses her – he doesn’t get to see her much because her job takes her around the world – and he’s proud of her work.
But not everyone across the aid Twittersphere is proud of the ad. Objections centred largely on gender: would Joseph’s absence from home for extended periods be a matter for comment if she were a man?
Some viewers were pleased it tackled head-on issues of balancing family and professional life, and welcomed its unapologetic salute to some of the sacrifices people make when they undertake international aid work.
Others, however, were vocally dismayed – alleging it perpetuated gender stereotyping and/or showed an unrealistic and romanticised view of aid work. A commentary on the Yallafeminists blog slammed the ad, saying it was “an insult to the intersectional feminist message”.
In a totally unscientific TNH poll on Twitter, 48 percent of 464 respondents selected the eye-roll emoji option. Another 22 percent liked it (clapping hands), 16 percent were unsure (shrug), and other reactions stood at 14 percent.
Joseph, the aid worker in the ad, had not responded to TNH’s request for comment before publication.
OCHA spokesperson Zoe Paxton said the #WhatItTakes campaign aimed to “recognise the generosity, hard work, sacrifice, heart and hope that go into the humanitarian response... We welcome all the feedback.”
As is often the case, social media comments criticising the video outweighed those praising it. Here’s a range of reactions, mainly critical.
Seriously, who wrote this garbage? This is not #WhatItTakes nor is this how it should be done. Where are the gender experts paid to get rid of this unreflective bs? Unbelievable to me that this got signed off and people thought this is a good spot.
— M (@polscim) February 15, 2020
Some aid worker mothers were more positive:
I laughed out loud and appreciated it, perhaps because I know so many kids ( including my own) who would say exactly the same about their moms in the UN, NGOs, etc
— Pamela DeLargy (@umasalam) February 16, 2020
Were the comments about her character veering towards some stereotypical misogynistic character traits?
Why on earth would we use adjectives like these to describe women when we are challenging such adjectives everyday. Humanitarian work is much more nuanced than this.
— Ruth Mukwana (@ruth_mukwana) February 15, 2020
Would those characteristics really be in fact desirable in an aid worker?
Can't wait to list: overbearing, know it all, nitpicking, always up in everyone's business, impatient, pushy, stubborn and unreasonable in the competencies section of my next UN application.
— MT (@TilleyMarc) February 15, 2020
Others mocked the portrayal of Joseph’s work as she visits warehouses, a sickly child, meets with local people and loads a vehicle with boxes. (According to the UN, Joseph is based in Chad).
Ah, pushy, unreasonable, impatient and stubborn - those classic attributes of a successful aid worker. I’m sure she is appreciated by everyone she works with, stomping around in her blue vest like an outdated cliché of female ‘leadership’.
— Natalie Roberts (@docnat) February 16, 2020
Critics said she was filmed doing a mythical range of functions – the aid worker professional would not in reality be doing all those tasks. And where was the boring stuff?
Yes - where is the footage of all the meetings? And waiting in airports?
— Linda Poteat (@LindaPoteat) February 15, 2020
One poster admitted the UN wasn’t the only aid group operator to provide some dubious promotional narratives about their staff, offering a profile of a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staffer by way of comparison: “Why I left my family to go help mothers in South Sudan”.
This take was dripping with sarcasm:
CRRRRRINGE at this video. Although I suppose at least she’s managed to create a family that hates her for her negligence rather than just being single like the rest of us? Good for you girl #workingfortheUN #mobility https://t.co/OawKkfV6Pr
— Sonya D (@HunterSony) February 16, 2020
Another aid worker said all the debate was over-analysing a well-produced promo:
It is very well done as a commercial. As always, people tend to interpret these type of products way beyond their intended meaning, and find all kinds of contentious interpretations. I think UN has bigger issues than this tbh.
— PJ van Eggermont (@PJvanEgg) February 17, 2020
Most brutal of all, perhaps, was the criticism of another female aid worker, posting on Facebook, who questioned the the wisdom of spending public money on the advert:
“... the woman seems to do a variety of roles, has no RnR [rest and recuperation] or home leave, loads a vehicle very badly with supplies and likes a clipboard.
And they keep the bread in the fridge.”