Since my "I don't know nuthin'" post (where I admitted my ignorance to some trans and feminist issues), I've tried to keep my eyes open and be a little more observant of everyday slights that I'd normally overlook. I must admit that I got a small thrill out of seeing my A1 steak sauce: Sexism is that important mentioned on Bitch magazine today with this small validation of what I've been attempting to accomplish. Thanks, Lisa.
But my delight in this post was more than just someone taking a phone picture of what he saw as sexist and writing about it. It's small things like this - taking initiative when you see something as offensive - and DOING something about it. One post on the internet isn't going to change the world or even shake the boots of a popular steak sauce company, but it does rattle chains. And it inspires us to do some form of daily resistance, however small, when we perceive something as sexist, or racist, or classist, or just plain wrong.
I scratched my head at two recent posts on Feministing though. (I told you I was trying to educate myself!) I read the comments section to try and get a better view of the matter, but didn't feel comfortable asking my questions there. Anyone willing to help me on this one?
First I saw "Vagisil commercials make me batty" which excoriates the following Vagisil commercial. Author Jessica writes, "Yes, Vagisil, I get it: you think vaginas are gross and smelly and that women spend all day trying not to scratch desperately at their shame-caves."
I tend to compare commercials like this to those disgusting Preparation H or Valtrex ads. It's a medical condition. They use euphemisms to describe sometimes gross, uh, discharges. (See? Even I tried to use a euphemisms. Geez.) At the same time, I can see the validity of this Feministing commenter:
This ad is really heaping on the shame, though. That's the problem with it. Not only are you suffering from a legitimate and real medical condition, but you're miserable because society dictates you can't scratch the irritation. Why can't you scratch it? Because, unlike when other parts of your body are irritated, you absolutely cannot be seen scratching your disgusting vagina. So you have a dirty secret. This in turn makes you an ugly, horrible person. Even if you're lovely on the outside, this commercial reinforces the idea that your malady makes you gross. Shame, shame, shame!
I move on, nodding my head and thinking we're on the same page. A few posts later though, I click through to "Take care of your beaver!" Jessica points out the ad with a short commentary, "I actually think this tampon commercial is kind of cute. I know that "beaver" isn't exactly a positive term for women's genitalia, but the beaver in the commercial is cute and having fun."
One commenter there echoes the upbeat tone:
I loved it! I thought it was cute and vag-positive. She looks so happy.
Really? Really? I can acknowledge and see that the first commercial is negative even though it's for a medical condition that causes unpleasant problems. After all, there's no reason why the men in hardon pill commercials are all so darned happy while the vagina cream product women are usually sneaking around like one of the three fates looking for the eyeball.
But, at the same time, calling a woman's vagina a "beaver" isn't exactly cool, is it? If a commercial came out for a gay product that had a "queer" reference, I wouldn't be satisfied with "Well, it was funny and didn't say faggot..."
I mean, the slang term is there for two reasons. A beaver is covered in hair and it eats wood. A woman with a beaver has an unkempt, nasty dirty p---y that would eat any man that comes near it. At least where I grew up, it was a commonly used term for lesbians - you know, that whole granola-eating, armpit-haired, one-bath-a-week-to-preserve-Mother-Nature stereotype of a lesbian.
Maybe it's just a matter of what a word means as we've discussed surrounding "queer" and "that's so gay." But the beaver commercial seems to be worse - even with the heavy dose of cutesy - if we're looking for derogatory messages about vaginas. If someone did a commercial about a faggot (the bundle of wood) and a gay man, but made it upbeat, would that make it okay? I'd say not.