Sexism Sells Shampoo

This is a guest post I begged a friend of mine to write, when she unleashed her brilliance on facebook. Not only did she write it, but she wove in Princess Bride references! It’s like a blogging Christmas present!

Rodents of Unusual Size

by Kate Bluett

 A friend of mine posted the following link with the hashtag #sexismfreakingexistsstoppretendingitdoesnt

This Powerful 1-Minute Ad Will Never Be Shown In The United States

Surprisingly, it’s an ad by Pantene, but it’s not like any other ad I’ve seen from a company like this.

It is being shown in the Philippines, but can you imagine if the networks here in the United States ever tried to put it on during prime time? Parts of our culture would totally blow a gasket.

Problem solved! I was never pretending sexism doesn’t exist. Just this week, I got into a discussion on Facebook in which I was told that women should stop trying to compete intellectually with men. Men’s brains are 11% (11%!!!) bigger than women’s, therefore equality between the sexes is impossible. Money quote: “Men have brains, women have wombs.”

Oh, yeah. Sexism exists. I know.

Now, take a look at the one-minute ad in the link.

YouTube Preview Image

(I just sucked one minute of your life away!)

It’s a series of shots of men and women doing the exact same things, but being labeled differently: the men are praised; the women are shamed. Sexism, right? How dare they. Women can do the same jobs as men, and do them just as well, and it’s sexist to try and keep them from doing those jobs. Right? Sexist?

The Pantene ad starts with a man giving instructions, with the word “boss” in the background, and then switches to the woman giving instructions, and the word changes to “bossy.” It’s cleverly done. Man giving speech: “persuasive.” Woman giving speech: “pushy.” (Those sexist jerks are really sexist.) And then the man works late, with baby bottles on his desk, but the crib mobile spells out “dedicated.” When the woman works late with the baby bottles, she’s “selfish.” Man and woman getting ready in the morning: man is “neat” but woman is “vain.” And then there the finale, the big finish. Man walking across the street and straightening his jacket is “smooth,” but the woman walking across the street and taking her jacket off is a “show-off.” But who the hell cares? She’s so amazingly beautiful, with such shiny hair, that these sexist labels can’t hold her back. Who cares if she’s showing off? She’s got plenty to show off, and if you got it, flaunt it! That’s what my best friend’s mom always said. About boobs. So go on, sister, flaunt your shiny hair that Pantene gave you. It’s okay to show off!

Oh, wait. No, no, it isn’t okay to show-off. It’s conceited and ill-mannered. Just like when the guy does it. And seriously, guys, does that ever work? I’ve seen a number of you do it, and it always looks terrible. Do you have any success with moves like that? Obvious, overt, self-satisfied moves? No?

Let’s be honest, there’s only one Columbo

Then why the hell are we suggesting women should do them, too? Oh, right, sexism. Women should show off because sexism. Because men are allowed to, and women have even more to show off, so it should be okay for us, too.

Wait, wait: I missed the part where it’s okay for men to act like that. I missed the part where it’s okay for a father to work long hours to get ahead, while neglecting his family. (The word in the ad wasn’t “desperate” or “providing”; this guy is working for a promotion, not to make ends meet.) I missed the part where pushy speeches are nice, and I don’t believe for a moment that the guy wasn’t as pushy as the girl. My husband says I’m allergic to sales-pitches: I’m breaking out in hives for one I can’t even hear. But in my defense, I’ve never heard one that wasn’t pushy and manipulative. I haven’t heard “persuasive” since a grad-school course in rhetoric. The guy in the ad? Pushy. Just like the girl. Sexism! She should be praised for persuasion, too! And dedication. Just like he is. She should get to be a jerk, too!

Yeah. Okay, here’s the thing: I don’t want to be a jerk. I mean, I am, but I don’t want to be. I don’t want to give speeches that make me break out in hives. I don’t want that, and I don’t think I should want it. But Pantene thinks I should want it. Pantene: a shampoo company. A hair-care product company. A company that suggests I take eight steps (and three of their products) to get my look.

Pantene wants me to be liberated, so that labels won’t hold me back. Except labels like “The Free Wave,” which I refer to as “Sleeping On Wet Hair.” But that label will somehow liberate me, right? After I’ve bought my products? Right? Sexism?

Pantene, in this ad, says that I should want to be a jerk, because men are allowed to be jerks. And look at that last jerk: he’s sexy! We all know jerks are sexy! And if we women become jerks, we can be sexy, too! At last! Freedom!

Damn right, sexism.

What are the dangers of the fire-swamp? Well, we can avoid the popping-noises of the flame wars. Sure, by all means, let’s have a knock-down drag-out Facebook fight over whether it’s right to hold women to a different standard. But we all know better than to do that, either the double standard or the Facebook fight. And we won’t go down the lightning-sand hole of trying to define women and men and their natures and differences and their respective mystiques. But what about the ROUSs, the Rodents of Unusual Size?

I believe sexism exists, but it isn’t in the labels of “boss” and “bossy.” The real rat here is Pantene. There you are, walking along the internet, and suddenly this giant marketing rat jumps out and knocks you down. “Sexism,” it growls, “sexism!” Meanwhile, it’s busy biting your shoulder. And what’s the poison in the wound? Men. “Look how sexy men are,” it whispers. “Everyone loves them. Everyone hates you. If only you were more like men. But pretty, like women. You can be both! You can be all the vain, selfish things you want to be, because they are. And if you were more like them, we’d love you more. And you’d love you more. And this shampoo will finally make you lovable.”

But according to this commercial, men are bossy. And pushy, selfish, vain, and show-offy. Sexism is Pantene saying that we mustn’t question vice, because men are jerks, and men are good. We mustn’t ask whether it is right for a man to ignore his family, or show off, because that would actually lead us somewhere. We mustn’t worry our pretty little heads over whether we really need to imitate bad behavior, jump off a bridge because everybody else is doing it, or use three hair-care products and eight steps to look like we slept on wet hair. And above all, we must not sleep on wet hair. That would be bad. We must be vain. We must. We must keep buying shampoo. Because then men will finally love us, and that’s what it’s all about.

I know sexism exists. Sexism is putting badly-behaving men on a pedestal, and telling women they should be there, too. Sexism is saying that women will finally be accepted (read: sexually desirable) when they act like jerks. Ah, then we’ll be loved! And shampoo will get us up to the top of the pedestal, as long as we keep buying it. But when we get there, we’ll only find another pedestal, and another bottle of shampoo. And we’ll keep wondering why we aren’t loved. And we’ll keep not asking if the men are loved, or if lame crosswalk moves work. We’ll keep not worrying our pretty, shiny, sexy heads. But as long as we keep buying the shampoo, it’s all good.

Somebody stab this freaking rat, already.

Advertisements aren’t out to change the status quo; they’re there to preserve it. And the status quo is insecure women looking for approval at the top of a pedestal. Nobody belongs up there. Men should not be loved for their jerky behaviors. In fact, they aren’t. And we won’t be loved for them, even if we end up with the same “nice” labels. We won’t be loved for our beachy hair. We won’t be loved for anything but ourselves. Step away from the pedestal; there’s nothing up there.

  • AMoniqueOcampo

    Love The Princess Bride references!

  • Cordelia

    Yay! Thanks for the Christmas present! Hate the movie myself, but all this SO needs to be said, and said again, and again. It’s like coming up for air.

  • David DeAtkine, Jr., MD

    Interesting. I am convinced that much of what is marketed to women is actually based on what other women’s expectations are, rather than male expectations….I believe that on the whole women do not understand what men are drawn to in women, and vice versa. I believe this is inherent in God’s plan for sexuality. I do appreciate in my wife things she also appreciates (her intelligence, for instance; she was first in our med school class); but in many ways I think I understand our cats better than I understand her…and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way…we really do speak different languages. But the attraction, the “drawing” is there, and it is inescapable — it is a fascination and admiration and infatuation with “the other”. And because I dearly love this person and trust her, I am in a sense drawn out of myself and am forced to admit the viability of points of view and opinions I would otherwise not entertain.

  • Tom

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around the ad. “People hold women to different standards than they hold men to. This is bad. Buy our shampoo. No labels.” Statement three doesn’t follow from the first two, and statement four certainly doesn’t follow from statement three.

  • George.a.da.Jungle
  • Caroline Moreschi

    Similarly, it drives me batty when people say that daughters should look to their fathers for approval instead of trying to get it from young men. How about daughters not getting their self worth from any man?

  • Ama

    “Sexism is putting badly-behaving men on a pedestal, and telling women they should be there, too.” Feminism, (as in Friedan and Steinam) is what tells women to be on that pedestal.


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