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In Hazelís defence

August 26, 2001
By Raffique Shah

PRINCIPLE counts for nothing in this country. Look at around you, examine the positions taken on matters of national importance by people who are considered men and women of substance, and you'll see what I mean. It is nauseating in the extreme to see sycophancy and expediency, not to add froth and flatulence, triumph over the kind of values we ought to promote.

Hazel Brown is a women's rights activist who often comes across as being aggressive, sometimes even offensive, as she seeks to uplift her sisters and daughters in a male-dominated society. Over the years, she has championed many a cause, from the price of basic foods and medical drugs to the level of representation in the national Parliament. During the run-up to the last general election, for example, she and her colleagues went to great lengths to prod the parties contesting the polls to include on their slates a greater proportion of women.

In keeping with her ideals, she recently spoke out against a "human auction" staged by an advertising agency in collaboration with a corporate sponsor and the Cancer Society. It was intended to raise funds for cancer victims. Well, as they say, who asked Hazel to open her mouth! Before she could liken the so-called "fun auction" to the regular "cattle shows" that have become a permanent feature in today's world that is steeped in contradictions, she ran into a barrage of insulting attacks that will have made someone of lesser mettle run for cover.

Short of dubbing her "ugly" and a victim of "sour grapes", the promoters and participants pounced on her like a school of piranhas. It was "clean fun", the agency head said, and given its success-both the large number of patrons and the sum of money raised-they had already decided to make it an annual event. The corporate sponsor also took pot shots at Hazel, which was probably what prompted one nubile participant to verbally tear the activist apart. "Why doesn't she put her money where her mouth is?" she screamed. She stated that she'd had people close to her die of cancer, hence her decision to offer herself "for bidding" at the auction.

Of course she would later learn that Hazel is herself a surviving victim of the dreaded affliction. Better than that, she does something that few of those who condemned her would do: she personally takes several cancer patients for treatment on a weekly basis. She has been doing that for years. Now, it's one thing to pretend to be caring, to stand in the spotlight for a few minutes, supposedly for "the cause". But it's quite another to show the kind of commitment that someone like Hazel has shown, week after week, year-in-year-out, and very quietly at that.

Of those who were responsible for staging the "human auction", none has done, or ever will do, what Hazel-and others like her-routinely do. They all benefit from it materially; if they did not, I don't think they will have involved their companies. The advertising agency, for example, will have made a considerable sum of money, maybe more than what was raised for cancer victims, by designing and promoting the event. The sponsor, too, will have realised sales of its products at the venue. And the owner of Pier One, who bid the highest for a participant, must have made money at the end of the night, since I'm sure that drinks were neither free nor cheap.

As for the president and executive members of the Cancer Society, I really feel sorry for them. A few months ago, Dr Laquis, the president, engaged cigarette manufacturers Witco in a war of words over the connection between smoking and cancer. He opened a fund to raise money to fight Witco, no doubt eyeing the huge awards made by courts in the USA against cigarette manufacturers in that country. Maybe his organisation needs the money. Because if the primitive level of medical attention available to cancer victims at the St James Radiotheraphy Centre is anything to judge the Society and the Government by, then they have failed cancer victims miserably.

More than that, Dr Laquis should explain why promoting cigarette smoking to young adults is any worse than promoting the prospect of sex with nubile girls and "young hunks". Because however much those involved in the show may insist that it was a "fun thing", they cannot escape the reality that many of the older "geezers" who attended it-and the young-were there to see flesh, and probably buy some. What's the difference between promoting sex (oh, it was the promoters, not Hazel, who billed it "Single, Sexy, Sold") to raise money for cancer victims and a cigarette company promoting sports and healthy lifestyles?

They are both contradictions. But they are also both expedient, in the sense that they sell, they raise money for various causes. We cannot, therefore, frown on one and hug the other. So Dr Laquis and his executive, having embraced "sexy dollars", have no moral authority to criticise Witco. If I were a Witco official, I would send the Cancer Society copies of studies that show the connection between promiscuity and cervical cancer among women. I would also forward to them all the information I have on HIV and AIDS and links between these deadly conditions and "sex markets".

I need add here that I am no prude, and those who know me well know that I am very much a "fun person". Too, I've had my share of promoting "flesh" for money when I worked with a newspaper that thrived on it. So I am not condemning those who promoted and participated in the auction per se. I am quite mad at them, though, for the verbal assaults they heaped on Hazel for her principled stand on the issue of demeaning women. She has been consistent in this regard-I should know, since I was at the receiving end of her tart tongue.

But there aren't many principled people in this society, and Hazel is one of that endangered species. It was most unfortunate that those involved in the "Single, Sexy, Sold" event came down hard on her, that someone who knows nothing about altruism but everything about self-promotion and aggrandisement would "wash her mouth" on Hazel. The young lady needs a lesson in manners, in learning to respect her elders who have struggled for decades so young women like her could attain what they have in this male-dominated society.

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