You’ve probably seen the video that the above image is pulled from– the Facebook-viral “Slap Her.” If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. I don’t really want to take the time to dissect all the reasons why this video was actually kind of horrible, but if you’re interested, these two articles covered it rather well:
Dr. Rebecca Hains’ ‘Slap Her’: Fanpage.it video objectifies girls, exploits boys, and trivializes domestic violence
R.L. Stollar’s ‘Slap Her’: The So-Called Heartwarming Video that’s Actually Disturbing
Here’s the tl;dr: these boys may not have wanted to hit Martina, but they sure had no problem with touching her even though no one asked her if she wanted to be touched– ignoring that she’s visibly uncomfortable and flinching away from them. This is nothing more than three minutes and nineteen seconds of misogyny and rape culture.
What I do want to spend some time talking about is the interesting series of events that brought us here.
It’s curious to me that even though publicly identifying as a feminist can still get you death and rape threats out your nose and there’s whole movements built around “Why I don’t need feminism” and Kaylee Cuoco saying things like “I like cooking for my husband so I can’t possibly be a feminist”– even though all of that still happens, there’s things like Pantene and Dove and CoverGirl and Swiffer and Snickers using a supposedly feminist messages to advertise their products to women. This is nothing new, as Elizabeth Plank points out— this has been happening since the 60s.
The problem is that what is in these vidoes and commercials is rarely ever feminism. It might be vaguely encouraging in some way, and we might feel slightly empowered after seeing them, but most of these things don’t do anything more than recycle the same kyriarchal ideas in what seems like a “feminist” package. It’s like Meghan Trainor singing about “boys like a little more booty to hold at night” while existing in a perfectly average size-12 hourglass-shaped body.
So I’m interested in why this is happening– why are all these companies advertising to only women using what could superficially appear to be “empowering” messages but are, in fact, usually white supremacist and sexist?
The important thing about patriarchal and kyriarchal systems is that no one person wakes up in the morning and thinks to himself “y’know what, I’m going to make an advertising campaign that implies using our soap can turn black women into white women!” or “let’s make a commercial that completely ignores the reality of systemic sexism in the workplace!” … it’s just what happens. There’s no mustache-twirling Machiavellian sexist villain, laughing maniacally about how we’ve all fallen for his “girl power” commercial.
But something that advertisers do know is that people like to feel in control of their life, and we do enjoy buying things that make us feel better about ourselves. Alcohol commercials try to convince us that we’ll be “the most interesting man in the world.” Car commercials want to make us feel that we’ll be the masters of our own destiny. Perfume and cologne commercials tell us that we’ll be desirable and sexy. And … shampoo commercials tell us that women can take on the world if only our hair were shiny.
The real problem is that none of these companies are actually interested in attacking the systems that keep us all trapped. What in the seven hells would a cosmetics company do without sexism, for crying out loud? If women weren’t being screamed at from every angle that we have to torture ourselves in order to be boner-inducing, CoverGirl would go out of business.
This is why I don’t trust “feminist” advertising, or “feminist” campaigns. These companies are invested in making sure sexist norms continue unchecked and uncriticized. They will continue to use white supremacist standards in choosing the actresses and models for their campaigns. They will continue to sell us on the idea that if only we “leaned in” more we could became successful in the way that men have been successful. They need to perpetuate femmephobia and transphobia in order to keep their “demographics” alive.
So, the next time you see something like a man telling boys to touch girls without their consent and they’re also trying to tell you how heartwarming this is– don’t buy it.