My housemate has got a massive pink box of cosmetic soap stuff. It makes me see red every time I go into the bathroom. First, there’s the environmental aspect: the packaging (all that plastic), and the synthetic, petro-chemical-based nastiness that goes into this stuff. (What’s wrong with soap? If you didn’t wash yourself with all of that crap, you wouldn’t need to re-condition your skin and hair.) But then there’s the depressing underlying sexism.
Let’s unpack the box. It’s got a real 1950s retro feel to it. Remember, girls, that in the 1950s, women didn’t have equal pay, couldn’t get mortgages, were not equal in property rights in marriage, abortion was illegal, and so on. Women were supposed to be in the kitchen. The 1950s ain’t all bubbles.
Then there’s the pink. Oh yes, that colour which all women are genetically programmed to love.
Then there’s the slogan: “You’re irresistible, Glamazing and Incredibubble!”. Leaving aside the naff puns (couldn’t they have done better?), these words are all to do with looks. Obvious, you say – this is a cosmetic package. But the first word ‘irresistible’ shows that women’s chief function still is to attract men. Nothing has changed since Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her Vindication in the 1790s. ‘Glamazing’: you can only be a proper woman if you look good.
This pack is for a ‘top to toe body treat’. Women can only feel whole if they wallow in a bath with lots of foam and look at their skin the whole time. In the 1950s, women didn’t work – they were housewives (an easy lot) with time on their hands to wallow luxuriantly in a bath paid for by their menfolk. As Wollstonecraft said,
“I once knew a weak woman of fashion, who was more than commonly proud of her delicacy and sensibility. She thought a distinguishing taste and puny appetite the height of all human perfection, and acted accordingly. I have seen this weak sophisticated being neglect all the duties of life, yet recline with self-complacency on a sofa, and boast of her want of appetite as a proof of delicacy that extended to, or, perhaps, arose from, her exquisite sensibility: for it is difficult to render intelligible such ridiculous jargon. Yet, at the moment, I have seen her insult a worthy old gentlewoman, whom unexpected misfortunes had made dependent on her ostentatious bounty, and who, in better days, had claims on her gratitude. Is it possible that a human creature should have become such a weak and depraved being, if, like the Sybarites, dissolved in luxury, every thing like virtue had not been worn away, or never impressed by precept, a poor substitute it is true, for cultivation of mind, though it serves as a fence against vice?
Such a woman is not a more irrational monster than some of the Roman emperors, who were depraved by lawless power.”
The final item on the list of contents is ‘Sexy Mother Pucker’. Again, a woeful pun, on a truly horrific phrase. ‘Motherfucker’, more common in the States, where sexism is more pronounced, is a disgracefully sexist form of abuse. Do NOT refer to it in a product aimed at women. This is part of that new strain of ‘feminism’ that says you can embrace your sexy, made-up side and be a feminist. No, you really can’t. Feminism is about challenging society’s ideas of what a woman is (and what a man is, come to that). Not embracing the chains that have shackled women for so many centuries, and painting them pink.
Let’s return to Mary Wollstonecraft. She lambasted the appalling Rousseau for his comment that “Boys love sports of noise and activity; to beat the drum, to whip the top, and to drag about their little carts: girls, on the other hand, are fonder of things of show and ornament; such as mirrors, trinkets, and dolls; the doll is the peculiar amusement of the females; from whence we see their taste plainly adapted to their destination.”
Wollstonecraft pointed out that girls are
“forced to sit still, play with dolls, and listen to foolish conversations; the effect of habit is insisted upon as an undoubted indication of nature.
In France, boys and girls, particularly the latter, are only educated to please, to manage their persons, and regulate their exterior behaviour; and their minds are corrupted at a very early age, by the worldly and pious cautions they receive, to guard them against immodesty. The very confessions which mere children are obliged to make, and the questions asked by the holy men I assert these facts on good authority, were sufficient to impress a sexual character; and the education of society was a school of coquetry and art. At the age of ten or eleven; nay, often much sooner, girls began to coquet, and talked, unreproved, of establishing themselves in the world by marriage.”
By producing pink, bubbly gifts for girls, we are still educating them only to please, to coquet and to think only of their bodies.