Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beyaz Needs to Stop Telling Me What Being a Woman is About

If you are a TV watcher, you probably know more about erectile dysfunction, tampons and birth control options than you would ever have chosen to know left up to your own devices; those ads are everywhere and insist on being either weirdly coy or SRS BZNZ about it, which always throws me.  There was one ad a while back that I found particularly irritating.  It was for Yaz, and the premise of the commercial was that when women get dressed up and go out to a fabulous cocktail party on some kind of rooftop lounge, they immediately start talking about their birth control, not just in the kind of "I use X, it is good/bad" way that does occasionally happen, but in a detailed manner.  It was the least subtle thing in the history of ever and started with Generic Woman #1 saying something like "HEY GENERIC WOMAN #2, LIFE MUST BE BUSY WITH ALL YOUR DOCTORING!  WHAT CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE SIDE EFFECTS OF THAT NEW BIRTH CONTROL FROM BAYER?"  The first time I saw it, my eyes nearly rolled out of my face, out the door and down the driveway.  There's something about the way these women are portrayed that just set me on edge - I got the feeling that the ad people were kind of like "a lady doctor!  Heeeeelarious!  It's okay though, it's for lady medicine."

As it turns out, taking Yaz basically turns your blood to one giant clot or something (????), and also can cause something called hyperkalemia that leads to cardiac arrest and kidney failure, so it's been recalled.  [NB: In the process of this recalling, it turns out that even the FDA took issue with the commercials, though not for the annoyingness quotient.  They said that the ads "were overstating the benefits of Yaz while distracting viewers from the risks by playing fast-moving images and music while risks were read out loud or displayed on the screen."  See previous link.]

I recently found myself chasing my eyeballs down the driveway yet again, this time thanks to an ad for something called Beyaz.  I thought to myself "hmm, "60% of 'Beyaz' sounds like that stupid Yaz pill, and the other 40% sounds like its maker's name...mayhap this product verily be similar."

Oh hey, it's totally the same thing with a folate supplement

So Bayer is basically trying to get one over on women, which is like, totally great, because it's not like it isn't a pain in the ass for women to get hormonal birth control in the first place in this country, so why not ALSO lie about its risks?  Nice one, Bayer.

That's offensive, but luckily Bayer was also able to maintain its record of marketing this pill with revolting fuckery swaddled in tokenism and then baby-slinged to its stupid corporate chest with like, a million yards of gender roles.  They also did me a solid here because while the Yaz commercial was offensive in a hard-to-articulate way, the Beyaz model is pretty clear.

Ladies walk into a store, because women be shoppin', amirite?  Needless to say there are two white ladies in the foreground, followed in by a light skinned black woman and a Japanese lady.  The premise of these commercials is that Beyaz leaves you free to do what you want to do, instead of being crippled by PMS or PMDD.  I can get behind that, except Beyaz has a pretty clear and bullshit concept of what we womenfolk want. Let's take a look at what's on the racks at The Lady Store.
  • Grad school.  I am a grad student.  Hooray for grad school!  However, this is the only occupation oriented (and it's definitely oriented, grad school isn't a career) option in the store.  You could probably stretch it to a "women are nuturing educators" stereotype, but I am more inclined to take issue with the suggestion that women supposedly only want to go to grad school, and not for instance, run a company or work in a lab.
  • The Significant Other section.  All of them are male, and all fit Maxim/Cosmo-type tropes: there's a rocker, a prep, an athlete, a crunchy looking guy, etc.  I sometimes have difficulty explaining to men that gender roles are harmful to men as well, but this makes it abundantly clear, which I nice?  Not everyone fits in a box, and the more we try to define masculinity and femininity, the more limits we place upon ourselves.  It bears mentioning that all of the SOs are, again, male, because lesbians or bisexual women don't exist in Beyaz World.   BONUS GROSSNESS: the Japanese woman swipes one of the SOs (who is not Asian) from under the fingers of the white woman, which to me suggests a creepy racist angle centered on Asian women stealing away white men. 
  • A Picnic by a Waterfall/Trip to Paris.  Because women like romantic things, you see. 
  • A Stork.  You know this was coming.  I actually cut them slightly more slack here because it is a birth control ad and they need to demonstrate that taking their pill won't permanently disable your reproductive organs.  However, having a stork as a major part of the store suggests that all women have babies on their list, and that is not the case.
  • A House (with a White Figurine in Front).  Not everyone wants a house, and not everyone wants a picket fence.  This presumes a level of aspirational-Stepfordiana that I just find boring as hell.  Not all women are homebodies and not all homeowners are white.  Shocking, I know.
You might ask here, "what's the big deal? So what if they have girly things in the girly store?  It's a pill for women!"  To a certain extent you might be right - the objective of the ad is to market a pill to women, not to provide career counseling to them.  However, the "what's the big deal" card can cut both ways.  Why NOT include a woman in the significant other section?  Why NOT include a motorcycle?  Why NOT include a corner office?  Why NOT include a lab job?  What would the cost be to Beyaz of including these things?  Surely it would not be any more expensive than the ad already is.   The problem here is that the ad suggests that Beyaz allows women to do anything they want, and that everything a woman could possibly want is found right here in this store.  It reinforces the idea that women only want these things, and when an ad supporting this idea runs on national TV, it entrenches oversimplified ideas that box both men AND women into gender roles. 

It costs nothing to avoid reinforcing gender roles in media and carries a huge social cost to promote them. 

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