Ah, Gillette. The best a man can get – and, these days, a woman too, if we’re to believe their marketing department.
Gillette have been rolling out a nicely gendered line in product marketing for years now: the different names for what is essentially just a device for removing hair are absolutely hilarious, if by “hilarious” you mean “make you want to plunge a razor into your eyeball”. On the one hand, you’ve got the Gillette Fusion Power Phantom, which has five blades and probably roars. On the other, the Gillette Venus Spa Breeze, which is coloured a dainty lilac and apparently “infused with a white tea scent”. Hey, Gillette? Screw you. If I want a cup of tea, I’ll have a cup of tea.
Yesterday’s object of ridicule amongst the more feminist valleys of the twittersphere was Gillette’s Get Closer to Your Man campaign, which gives “advice” on how to please your man via the medium of body hair removal. Yes, forget all those things you thought might be important in a functioning relationship: a shared sense of humour, perhaps, some sexual or emotional chemistry, or the ability to hold a conversation for more than five minutes. All those things go out the window the minute your man feels the lightest graze of stubble besmirching your lady-pins. “Disgustubble!” he will cry, leaping from the bed in alarm, “Get thou to the bathroom, to remove your hair and infuse thy follicles with white tea!”
The promotion takes the form of an interactive flash animation of a bathroom. But not just any bathroom: this is your inner goddess’ bathroom, and so obviously it’s gleamingly clean, decorated purely in pastels (eugh), and has lingerie cast wantonly around the room. This bathroom certainly isn’t for doing your business in; it’s for eating a bar of Galaxy chocolate in whilst you “soak” in the “tub”, surrounded by your favourite scented candles and listening to a CD of sensual whale music.
You’re then invited to discover – via a series of quizzes, obviously – “how close you are to your man” and “what type of goddess you are”, by picking a picture according to your “intuition”. We’ve all heard of that famous ‘women’s intuition’, right? Because women can never have opinions based on rationality or empirical evidence; it’s always a vague sort of “I feel it in my water”. Whatever water that even is. Bathwater, perhaps.
The quiz then asks you to pick how your smooth legs make you feel. The choices of picture: a woman boxing in a feisty manner, a tranquil-looking woman praying, a woman leaping up into the air in just her bra and knick-knacks, a woman getting it on with a big hunk o’ man-slab, and a woman – I’m not quite sure – hoovering? Or possibly it’s a shower nozzle. I can’t quite see; either way, you get the idea.
Now, there are many things that can inspire me to leap around in just my underwear – Slutwalk protests, trying to freak out my housemates when they arrive home from work, pretty much all of Robyn’s discography - but the silkiness of my legs has never been one of them. Personally, I don’t feel like I associate any of these photographs with my experience of shaving my legs. I don’t even feel like I associate any of them with my experience of womanhood, which, to me, is much more complex than a spot of yoga, a spot of housework, and the occasional shag.
Of course, once the twitterati started pointing out how sexist, offensive, and (perhaps worst of all) absolutely mind-numbingly lazy the promotion was, Gillette were quick to pull the ad and give their apologies, issuing the slightly eye-brow raising statement that they were “investigating how this was made live in the first place”. Presumably some reckless misogyny-bandit snuck into the office whilst their backs were turned? Whilst I’m not one to cast aspersions on anyone’s credibility, it doesn’t seem enormously plausible to me that all the necessary technical development time would be poured into that animation if the content – or the concept, at least – hadn’t been signed off on.
Rubbish excuses aside, the surprising thing here is perhaps that they did listen, and did react by pulling the advert. After all, the promotion isn’t in-your-face offensive; rather, it’s one of those tiring, common-or-garden examples of pervasive sexism which we’re inundated by on a daily basis. I’d go so far as to say that its stance is so unremarkable that Gillette didn’t really have any particular responsibility to even respond to people’s complaints, so the fact that they did so is worth some (grudging) respect. I SAID GRUDGING. The bottom line is, the more we point out these examples of sexism in advertising and the media - no matter how major or minor the issue - the more companies will start to think twice before resorting to lazy gender tropes and clichés. And the more companies admit that what they’re doing is offensive, the more others will follow their lead. And that can only be a good thing.
So, Gillette: let’s see how much better a company can get.