Advertising / TV / Women and Gender

V Does Not Mark the Spot: How Summer’s Eve’s Sexist & Racist Ads Get Female Empowerment Wrong

I am more than my vagina.  Yep, it’s true.  While my va-jay-jay is pretty fabulous, the power I feel in being a woman doesn’t come from what’s between my legs.  But if you’ve watched the latest Summer’s Eve feminine care products’ commercials, you’d never know that.

One of the reasons I have no qualms using the word “douche” or “douchebag” as a negative connotation is because douching is bad for your vagina.  But Summer’s Eve relegates it to an almost holy act, a reverie.  The latest commercial, rallying women to “Hail to the V,” depicts a multi-ethnic history of women, with their vaginas front and center.  Gee thanks, Summer’s Eve.  The ad states:

“It’s the cradle of life.  It’s the center of civilization.  Over the ages and throughout the world, men have fought for it, battled for it, died for it.  One might say, it’s the most powerful thing on earth.  So c’mon, Ladies, show it a little love.  Cleansing cloths and wash from Summer’s Eve.  Hail to the V.”

Oh that’s right, because women don’t possess brains, compassion or personalities.  They are nothing without their vaginas.  And vaginas are the cause of all the wars that have been waged.  And here I thought colonialism, power and greed were the culprits.  Silly me.  Equating women with their vaginas isn’t cute or funny, it’s annoying and sexist.  Yet reducing women to their sexuality, or in this case their genitalia, happens frequently in advertising.  Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D. in her seminal book Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, poses:

“…Advertising and the popular culture define human connection almost entirely in terms of sex, thus overemphasizing the relative importance of sex in our lives (and marriages) and underemphasizing other important things (friendship, loyalty, fun, the love of children, community) (Kilbourne, p. 265).”

Dodai Stewart at Jezebel asserts:

“Then there’s the whole equating-a-woman-with-her-genitalia thing. Nevermind that Cleopatra had a brain. What’s important is that she had a vagina! Sigh.”

At Clutch Magazine, Jamilah Lemieux writes:

“Can something really be the most powerful thing in the world when people who don’t have one have been able to wield control over it for centuries? When it is widely available and widely abused?… P*ssy matters; but it does not run the world.”

Oh, but the utter ridiculousness doesn’t stop there.  There are several more racist ads featuring various lady talking hands.  Yep, talking hands subbing in for talking va-jay-jays.  A white woman’s hand calls her vag “Vagina Land” as well as her BFF, and talks about vajazzling;” a black woman’s hand talks in a sassy voice (cause that’s how all black women talk of course) about her penchant for different hairstyles, clubbing and calls her vag the “Wunder Down Under” and “Lady Wowza;” and a Latina’s hand, channeling Rosie Perez and Charo, says “Ay-Yi-Yi,” codeswitches into Spanish and laments wearing a tacky leopard thong.  Oh my god, kill me now.  Dismembering female body parts is a common advertising tactic, reinforcing objectification.  But these offensive ads sink to a new low fusing sexism with blatant racist stereotypes.  UPDATE on 7/28: Summer’s Eve pulled the 3 racist “hand” ads due to outrage!  Sadly, the other ad remains.

Thankfully, the feminist blogosphere has been speaking out against the advertising campaign.  ESC Media started a petition on Change.org for Summer’s Eve to remove these offensive commercials.  People spoke out against the offensive PMS –milk campaign, causing it to be removed.  Hopefully, the same thing will happen with the Summer’s Eve commercials.

The “Hail to the V” campaign objectifies women, reducing them to their vaginas.  Providing a faux sense of female empowerment, the ads don’t truly empower consumers but rather elevate their genitalia.  The ad campaign overemphasizes sex, or rather men’s enjoyment of sex, all while negating female sexual pleasure, trivializing romantic relationships and reducing women to racist caricatures.  In the ads, women are nothing more than their vagina, which exists solely as a vessel for babies and dicks.  Advertising should recognize that women are greater than the sum of their body parts.

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7 thoughts on “V Does Not Mark the Spot: How Summer’s Eve’s Sexist & Racist Ads Get Female Empowerment Wrong

  1. This is a great blog… you hit all the issues. Thanks for the shout out to our petition, hopefully we can get enough signatures to show Summer’s Eve that reducing women to a single body part and a racial caricature ISN’T empowering!

  2. Ugh, so glad I don’t watch TV anymore!

    Not sure how they should promote their product, though. Maybe “Completely unnecessary, even harmful, promotes shame and embarrassment about healthy body parts and normal physiological functions”? It’s time for Summer’s Eve to ride into the sunset. Unsurprisingly, they’re not ready to go, so their marketing team flails around, throwing messages against the wall, hoping something will stick

    Which begs the question: is there some demographic (ethnic or otherwise) for whom their horrible message resonates? Sadly, there probably is.

  3. I just saw this commercial about ten minutes ago. Needless to say, I was completely appalled. I rushed to my computer to see if any others had seen this and felt as outraged as me, and came across your page.

    And I must say, EXCELLENT blog. You so aptly and rightfully criticized this disgusting “advertisement”. Thank you for being a voice of reason in a sexualized world that is becoming increasingly misogynistic and shamelessly apathetic to the issues women face. I hope others — especially more women — recognize this growing trend and respond to your call for action!

    In the wake of this, I can’t help but find stunning resonance. I am reminded of a quote referenced in a book I just read for college — I’m heading to Mount Holyoke College in two days! — called “Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, which I highly recommend. It’s in the very first chapter entitled “Emancipating Twenty-First-Century Slaves”, which focuses on women forced into sexual slavery. Although its impact is seemingly small compared to the amazing message of the book, it has stuck with me — and in a few powerful words I think it echoes the overall message you strive to convey:

    “Women might just have something to contribute to civilization other than their vaginas.”
    -Christopher Buckley, Florence of Arabia

  4. Excellent post. I hadn’t actually seen that ad before, but my god it is appalling. There is certainly the enormous problem of reducing women to being nothing more than vaginas (as if when men have fought over women it was only for their precious, precious poons and not any of their other qualities, much less wealth or family status). But beyond that, I’m extremely bothered by the “it’s the most powerful thing on earth” line. It smacks of that old canard that women aren’t really oppressed, they’re really super powerful and in control, because they have the power to withhold sex from men. And men want (consensual) sex so badly, they’ll do anything for it. Therefore women have all the power. This line of thinking dismisses the realities of patriarchy and women’s real actual oppression, and pretends that being desired sexually is actually a from of agency. Ugh, it’s really quite disgusting. Thanks for speaking out.

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