Saturday, October 12, 2013

Summer's Eve: The Perfect Blend of Sexism and Racism

Scenes of history's most powerful and alluring women from Cleopatra to Helen of Troy flashed on the screen while the narrator told a riddle about the one thing that men fight and die for. Was it money? Nope. Love? Um, no. The narrator was talking about vaginas and insisting that the only way women could wield maximum power over men is to keep our lady parts fresh and clean. Not to mention that it gives the impression that we should clean our V because of/for men ("men fight for it" "men have died for it") and not for ourselves and our health. Ladies, if you happen to think that the opposite sex values your brain, charm, or moral center, Summer's Eve is here clue you in. But just when you thought it couldn't get worse...

Watched individually, the ads are a little strange, and maybe a little condescending. If you watch the three ads back-to-back, that's where the racism becomes apparent. The white vag spoke with a fairly neutral accent, seemed fairly educated, and wanted to be "freshened up" after work. The black vag had a thick accent, was obsessed with hairstyles and couldn't spell. The Latina vag had a way over-the-top accent (ay-yi-yi, etc), complained of being constrained in a leopard-print thong, and wanted to be cleaned up between drunken hookups at a club. The ads are reducing minority women to two things: a.) ONE body part, and b.) a caricature of their race. This Huffington Post article polled readers about the racist undertones of the commercials above. Some 43 percent of respondents didn't see the commercials as a big deal. To be fair, when you're “exposed to over 1500 ads a day," it's sort of tough to think about them all critically. (Kilbourne, 121)

That's why this subtle form of racism is not as clearcut to many people. Can Latin American women relate to the 'white' commercial? If so, then why was a Latina version necessary? Does the Latina version simplify and distort the identity of an entire continent into an Adam Sandler character? Does the white version do this to white people? Is the black version representative of black women, or does it merely access the most common racial stereotypes about black women in the hopes that they'll maybe find it amusing to see a caricature of their race? Finally, what do commercials like this say about racial identity? Is the white commericial 'default' white, containing no racial references? Are Latina and Black women bound to such a narrow definition for their individual identity? In order to really understand it, you'd have to have a white version - one that roasts white female identity as vapid, Starbucks-obsessed yoga twits. Bell Hooks said that “representations of blackness [are] stereotypically degrading and dehumanizing," but in this case, it's representation of any minority. The only commercial out of the three to not capitalize on stereotypes is the one specifically geared towards white women, because whiteness is seen as a default. 

I am not personally threatened by racism on a daily basis, being white, but I am well aware of my privilege; furthermore, the sexism in these ads is an example of something I deal with daily, and that is just another reason I feel uncomfortable with these ads being on the air. Even if we as individuals aren't threatened by racism, being complacent with observing it on a far-reaching platform (like TV), regardless of whether it produces an emotional response in us, is not a helpful attitude. Unfortunately, passive racism is a common thing in American culture, and so to combat it, it becomes necessary to actively object to racist things - even if it means some people will say, "What's the big deal? It's just a commercial, you're so over-the-top."

Summer's Eve has a history of approaching the issue of feminine hygiene as not a practical need, but as a shameful problem for which they have the perfect, albeit expensive, product. The sexism comes in because they're playing on women's confidence and condescendingly saying "Buy our products for your vagina so that you can be a confident, feminine, perfect lady."My problem with these ads is that they're selling you extremely expensive, scented washes and wet wipes that are essentially a mild soap and baby wipes, and they are - yet again - doing so in a condescending way. This time, they go a step further to be racist. They're banking on women being self-conscious about a problem *they created* so they could sell something. Even still - you don't need a special soap for your vagina. I could see a use for wipes after working out or during a long lay-over, I'll give them that. I don't agree with spending a ton of money on their product when I can get what I need for way less, though.

FYI, Summer's Eve... This is how you do it right:

Wow! A commercial whose main premise isn't how ashamed you should be of your vagina... There's no blue liquid, no women holding flowing white cloths on the beach. No euphemisms (like "The V"), no dancing around it, just straight up talking about periods.


Hooks, Bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. South End Press: 1992. Print
Kilbourne, Jean. "Beauty and the Beast of Advertising." Media & Values. N.p.: Winter, 1989. 121-25. Print.

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