It’s been a big month for women empowerment beauty commercials. The recent Pantene and Always commercials are intended to help women silence our self-doubt at a time when the women I’m around don’t really need this reminder. Companies have shifted their message from period diapers and shiny hair to real working women, mothers and girls. The ads have the pathos appeal down, but the message is the opposite of timely, and women I know would roll their eyes.
In the Pantene ad, mournful music provides the backdrop to the women who “sorry” themselves to death at home and at work. They’re selling themselves short when they should be saying what they want to say without apologizing for interrupting meetings. In the Always ad, women demonstrate how to do sports like a girl. Pretty much everyone does a Monty Python impression of a pathetic girl running. They flail their arms around like they’re skipping to go answer the door for an axe murderer in a horror movie. Then something groundbreaking happens: the older, wiser female director asks the young black woman if she wants to try running like a girl again. With new music that sounds like ballet dancers leaping across the ocean, she does.
Wow, she runs good. They can finally see. It’s a miracle. It’s like Bambi has just been born. Wait, did they just advance women? Whoa. It’s almost like these companies are saying that we shouldn’t blame ourselves or our flashy nail art when someone violates us on the subway. At the end of the commercials, the weak women under the influences of ugly stereotypes revise history because they run really fast and then they do things like talk without saying sorry. Actually we really don’t need Always to issue groundbreaking reminders that being a girl is OK. We just need pads that work when we’re outlasting men at the gym.
Yes, the gender wage gap is real. There are women even in the confident among us, who worry about what men will think of them if they demand too much, or how they’ll be perceived if they’re not ladylike enough, but these regressive stereotypes aren’t widely accepted anymore. Admittedly, those little girls in the Always are so adorable that the ad could charm anyone. It’s also possible that these ads could inspire a woman or anyone who’s feeling self-doubt on that challenging ballfield of life.
It’s a positive message, but it feels tone deaf when the women I’m surrounded by don’t share this desperation for permission to speak up. No one is really saying, “thank goodness Always gave that misguided woman the chance to rethink our consumption of the silly little girl routine,” because hardly anyone buys that anyway. Both Always and Pantene frame women as apologetic and weak, an anathema to ambition and strength until they look at themselves differently. It’s not exactly a mark of an accomplishment to interrupt a meeting without saying you’re sorry. Women aren’t normally sitting around in the powder room writing our hopes and dreams in a scrapbook and waiting around for the next opportunity to hold ourselves back.
In bravely challenging women to embrace power and strength, the ideology is insulting: that we don’t have any to begin with. This dated stereotype just reinforces that we’re submissive, that we need Always to swoop in and whisk us away on the magical wings of a sanitary napkin that will deposit us in a new role. All they’re really saying is that we’re not empowered enough, and it’s late to the game.