12 December 2013


By Proctor & Gamble and GoldieBlox. Guh.

Both advertising campaigns have featured prominently in my Facebook news feed, which is how I became aware of them. A number of my friends have, with the best of intentions, cited both as positive examples of how marketing campaigns are helping to bring about social change for gender equality.

If only I could be so sanguine about it. For one thing, GoldieBlox became a real class act when it pre-emptively sued the Beastie Boys for being sexist, after the Beastie Boys (who have made a principled stand against using any of their music in advertising) sent GoldieBlox a C&D letter. GoldieBlox appears to have dropped the lawsuit, though their claim to be fans and the passive-aggressive posture they take rather belie their earlier nastily litigious behaviour. Overall, I have to respect the Beastie Boys in their position on this: no matter how ‘empowering’ it might be, it is still meant to manufacture demand for a specific product. And, make no mistake, Pantene is doing the same thing. Whatever genuine concern the ad may reflect gets dried up and distilled into marketing slogans: ‘Whip It’ and ‘Be Strong and Shine’; carrying the implication, naturally, that the solution to double standards at the workplace is the kind of shinier and sleeker hair an executive woman would only get from using Pantene.

Oh dear.

Thankfully, several sensible feminists (for example, here and here and here) cottoned on quite early to the fact that their cause was being used and cheapened for gain. But then the bourgeois-femme webmag machine kicked in and aggressively asserted their individual rights to sell out: Slate asserted that patronising companies with feminist ad campaigns was merely ‘voting with your wallet’, and Elle rejoices at the corporate branding of feminism as proof that ‘feminism is mainstream and popular again’.

It does really get to the point where one has to stand back and admire the sheer profundity and wisdom of Nancy Fraser’s critique in the Guardian of modern feminism as ‘handmaiden to capitalism and neoliberalism’, in which ‘the feminist turn to identity politics dovetailed all too neatly with a rising neoliberalism that wanted nothing more than to repress all memory of social equality’. In the Pantene ad in particular (though really in the GoldieBlox ad too), conspicuous by their absence are women who belong to any social matrix outside the urban professional, intellectual or consumerist middle-to-upper classes. Is there to be found here any basis for concern for any dimension of social engagement outside the narrow confines of an identity politics expressed in purely atomistic and consumerist terms? If there is, I’m not seeing it.

No comments:

Post a Comment