By Jaspreet Kaur
Most women can attest to the fact that buying a new shampoo can be a nightmare. As a creature of habit, I rarely ever switch up which brand of shampoo I use. However, in those rare moments when I have to find a new product, standing in front of the intimidating wall of various shampoos and conditioners can be overwhelming. It is in these moments of confusion, that the shampoo-driven media campaigns that have been lying dormant for years in the recesses of my brain, spring forward to advise me on which shampoo is best. Images of Sarah Jessica Parker whipping her sparkling hair flash across my mind while I try to remember which shampoo it was that she endorsed.
Recently, I have noticed a shift from this obvious method of “we are selling you shiny hair” advertising, to a more subtle “we are selling you a lifestyle” advertising. Recently, Pantene Pro-V released a commercial about feminist empowerment and trying to get women out of the habit of constantly apologizing. The “Sorry I’m Not Sorry” ad.
It wasn’t too long after it was released that it started going viral. Soon, it started popping up on my Facebook feed, being shared by women who were moved by the understanding that they had spent far too much of their lives apologising.
In a similar vein, Always, a feminine product company, put out their “like a girl” commercial, point out that being a girl should not be an insult but rather a marker of strength.
This got me wondering what shampoo and feminine hygiene products had to do with feminism. Don’t get me wrong. I think the messages of these commercials are amazing. I am not above getting lost in well-produced and emotionally evocative mass media. I myself swelled with joy when Harry ran to meet Sally at the New Year’s party at the end of their movie. I also cried when 33 gay and straight couples were married live during the Grammys. I fully understand the emotional appeal of a sentimental moment put to music showing beautiful people overcoming adversity.
However, I am neither uncritical nor unaware of the media I am consuming. Go beneath the surface of these commercials and there is no feminism to be found! The type of feminism that advocates for women’s rights and pushes for equality is absent. In fact, it is these very companies that are invested in reproducing capitalist-driven patriarchy that keeps women feeling inadequate and purchasing their products.
Notions of femininity do not appear out of thin air. Constructions of gender and how we come to understand how to perform girlhood are intertwined with history, law, culture, religion and media. In the media saturated world that we live in, companies like Proctor and Gamble (who produce both Always and Pantene) get to have a voice in how hegemonic femininity is produced. If they reproduce unattainable standards of beauty then women will keep buying their products. If they reproduce the discourse of a woman who is good enough and strong enough as she is, she will no longer need to buy her femininity from their company. Their basic ideology is contradicting their pseudo-feminist rhetoric. These companies are not only producing the very girlhood they are then pretending to take a stand against, but they are actually benefiting from that discourse staying robust.
As a Sikh, I find I don’t need to turn to the advertising campaigns of Proctor and Gamble products to find validation. I am blessed to have been given guidance and direction by a Guru who is not trying to sell me anything and who truly believes in equal rights. However, as more and more women started sharing these commercials and being moved by them I felt a shift in the source of inspiration and guidance of my peers. What we share, what we praise and how we direct our energy becomes a part of our daily meditation. As much as I love easily-consumable pop culture, at the end of the day my compass points towards my Guru. Besides, the Gurus were known for both their hair and their feminist politics and they did not use Pantene!