Last week Pantene released an ad exposing a few big female stereotypes:
He’s persuasive making an argument, she’s pushy. He’s dedicated staying late to work for the kids, she’s selfish the ad says. It ends with a stud strutting across the street who’s smooth, while the same sexy woman is a showoff. “This is one of the most powerful videos I have seen illustrating how when men and women do the same things, they are seen in different ways, Sheryl Sandberg wrote on her Facebook page. Amen, sister. A roundup of the general sentiment in the feminist media (before I tear it to pieces):
“It’s marketing masquerading as feminism” –Jessica Roy, Time magazine
“This strikes me as mildly disingenuous, to say the least…Jane is “bossy”, but her mane is glossy! Buy Pantene! Make sure you look your best while they are judging your workplace performance by unreasonable standards!” –Alexandra Petri, Washington Post
“These kinds of ads have a way of working you into…rage. Phase two sets in when you realize that Pantene probably doesn’t care about gender inequity in the workplace. They care about pushing hair product. They are cynically exploiting your idealism—not to mention real social ills—to rake in lucre. You are not fighting injustice. You are buying shampoo.” –Katy Waldman, Slate
OK, I do agree with another point Slate makes that Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” — with images of real women big and small baring it in the buff — does a better job of its feminist packaging. But I do think Pantene deserves serious props, for real. Here’s why:
1) The tagline? Probably a pushy brand manager. Dove’s ”real bodies and real curves” really is much stronger than Pantene’s “be strong and shine” — but after working on the agency side with managers at big brands, I’ve seen that they can sometimes be like a toddler with a toy: they won’t give up their favorite idea, no matter how many people tell them it’s bad. Someone on the ad agency probably pitched this stunning concept and the brand got stuck on “be strong and shine” for the tagline. Maybe they couldn’t come up with anything better…though someone was creative to come up with the rest of the ad…so I doubt it has anything to do with creativity. Someone with the joystick wanted to get “shiny” somewhere in the ad and got it (probably his) way. Too bad.
2) It’s OK to take care of how you look. Pantene is debasing women by creating an ad that “exploits” your sense of justice, because it’s using feminism to encourage you to buy a product that helps to make you look a certain way (pretty, shiny) while you’re trying to get the job promotion. So the thinking goes. And? Who cares? I get really worked up when feminists get caught up in bra-burning, makeup-trashing feminism. Want to wear red lipstick or a pushup bra or use Pantene because it makes you feel sexy? Go for it! It doesn’t mean you’re any less proud to be a woman. You can care about your looks and want equality. That’s exactly the point of feminism: freedom to look and act strong, no judgments.
3) (Rubbing my eyes in disbelief) It’s actually NOT a sex ad! The reason I am 100% in agreement with Sheryl Sandberg? At least Pantene’s ad is not another pile of boobs and bones draped across a couch in her underwear eating Doritos while watching football and giving the camera a naughty CFM look. It’s about as far from that as possible, and while I can’t say I’ll be buying Pantene any time soon their ad did hit a chord. So I say to all the feminist writers who are flipping their s***: get a grip.
People love to hate on advertisers, and I don’t usually blame them. But we should all be happy that marketers are finally listening to how fed up women are with the usual media portrayal of the “finer sex” — and getting out a strong female point of view.