Overall, one could argue that gender equality is doing better today than at any other time in human history. True, we are no longer viewed as property, and we can educate ourselves in other things than embroidery and harpsichord-playing, but actual equal opportunity is still in a galaxy far far away. Having a Y chromosome still means that you are part of the group which owns the bulk of the Earth’s resources and holds most of the influential positions in the world.
What I find very interesting, are the more inconspicuous ways in which women are defined and pigeon holed from birth all the way throughout life. These ways, I have found, are fairly numerous, and you will be pleased to know that I have decided to rant my way through all of them.
So without further ado, I’ll start with the first in this series of tirades.
A few days ago, Dove came out with a commercial called ‘real beauty sketches’ in which several women were sketched twice by a professional artist, first based on the woman’s own description of herself, and afterwards as the woman was described by someone else.
I admit the add does a very good job at tugging at even my cynical heart strings (damn you Dove’s marketing department), but after the initial ‘aaaawwww’ sounds died down in my head, the reality of what this add portrayed became apparent.
As as far as I understand, the point here is that women are often too harsh when judging themselves and we are supposed to realise that we are already the beautiful desirable snowflakes we always wanted to be.
Thank you Dove, for shamelessly perpetuating the notion that the most important thing for a woman is to feel pretty.
Although it’s true that Dove sells body care products, which for obvious reasons means that their focus is on physical appearance, their commercials take on much more than ‘oh, this soap makes my skin smoother than a kitten’s ass’. You see, Dove has decided to enlighten us women on issues such as self worth and ‘true’ beauty and manages to do this in the most patronising way possible, I might add.
I’m not even going to go into the whole topic of how all the features which were implicitly positive, all fit into the standard female beauty ideals of today (thin, young, rosy cheeks, fuller lips), as the issue I want to address is not whether the women were beautiful or not. What I want to know, is why we are even talking about the physical appearance of these women, rather than who they are. Not one word about what these women do or are capable of, but whether they can feel pretty while doing it.
In contrast we can take a look at the popular old spice commercial aimed at men, where the attractiveness of the main character is not solely based on looks but very much on how powerful he is and what he can do.
Imagine the same Dove commercial (or most other advertisements aimed at women, really), but with men instead; men sitting there talking about their appearance in the the same way the women were. This illustrates beautifully how condescending the whole concept really is. On the other hand if you imagine most male-targeted commercials with a female lead, she would most likely come across as strong and powerful.
If we take a look around, it becomes clear that a large amount of the narrative we encounter in society, maintains the general notion that women are attractive if they look great and men are attractive if they do great things. Even when we are presented with modern story lines where the female protagonist is strong and self reliant, she is rarely anything but pretty.
How are we supposed to ever reach a point where men and women have equal opportunities, when girls are spoon fed this kind of propaganda? Even the fairy tales we tell kids are rife with antiquated gender roles, where typically a demure beautiful princess is saved by a capable and competent prince. Via this mindless regurgitation of the stories told by past generations, we ensure that their gender biases survive decade after decade, and when we become too old for fairy tales, companies like Dove graciously step in to continue filling our heads with the same old horse shit.
It only takes a few moments of perusal through the world wide gender statistics to realise how dire the situation is. Some say women don’t hold a fair amount of influential positions because they don’t even apply for them. That is very likely true, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to speculate why this might be. If women are told all their life that their appearance is more important than their achievements, or that being gentle and sweet is more valued than strong and forceful, it’s no wonder men are running the world, while women are busy checking their lipstick.