It’s not without controversy, but a video by filmmaker Lauren Greenfield for Procter & Gamble’s Always brand of “feminine” products is stirring up conversations around the subject of what “like a girl” tells us about ourselves — as individuals and as a society playing by usually unexamined rules.
“If you get an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach after watching it, then that’s the point,” writes Lorraine Chow on NationSwell. “Society has ingrained ‘like a girl’ to mean the same as weak, cutesy or clumsy.”
The video kicks off with Greenfield asking subjects to show her “what it means” to do various action “like a girl.” The adults who respond “perform a clichéd pantomime of a fumbling gait and flailing arms,” writes Robin Givhan in the Washington Post. “Then, like rays of sunlight, into the dour video come a series of fresh-faced prepubescent girls who, when asked to run or fight or throw ‘like a girl,’ give their best and most earnest effort to sprint, jab and pitch."
The idea is that it isn’t until puberty that girls internalize any “inferiority complex” they may feel. Givhan has a phrase for the trend of adverting such as this and Unilever’s Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty”: “Fuzzy feminism.” It “preaches that a woman is perfect just as she is. It soothes the soul. And it’s good for business.”
There’s scant mention of the brand in the 3:19 Always video. “Let’s make #likeagirl mean amazing things” is superimposed near the end, followed by “Join us to champion girls’ confidence at always.com.” It fades out an injunction to “Rewrite the Rules” next to the Always logo.
“There's no denying this video's power,” writes Nikki Novo on Huffington Post. “It brought tears to my eyes even though I knew, underneath it all, Procter & Gamble is selling me menstrual pads via a really well-funded YouTube video. I consider myself a feminist (someone who stands for the equal rights of everyone), and you know what? I'm totally okay with Always peddling me pads by exploiting my emotions.”
P&G didn’t just throw money at any old commercial director and tell her what to do. It picked Greenfield, the award-winning director of “Queen of Versailles,” who has been “examining the effects of body image and beauty standards on girls’ and women’s identities” for some time, as Rose Lichter-Marck reported in the run-up to an illuminating Q&A with her in Rookie last year.
Among those projects are Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood (1997), Thin (2006) and Girl Culture (2002) with photographs that “provide a window into the secret worlds of girls’ social lives and private rituals,” as the Amazon blurb tells us.
“I think that by isolating these very specific and sometimes extreme moments that reveal something about the culture, people seeing those together makes them think about things in a different way,” Greenfield said in a video promoting Girl Culture on her website, which currently features the Always video on it homepage.
And that’s precisely the impact “Like a Girl” looks to make.
The Daily Beast’s Emily Shire admits the video is “gorgeous and empowering” but questions whether “the self-described maker of ‘feminine’ products,” should be at the forefront of the battle for women’s self-worth.
“The campaign is shamelessly emotionally exploitative,” Shire writes. “It demonstrates real problems — femaleness as a derogatory statement, decrease in self-confidence as women mature — in a beautiful and clear way, but then pretends a corporate manufacturer of panty liners meant to ‘help you feel fresh ever day’ can solve them.”
After comparing the video to the Virginia Slims “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” campaign, saying it is “false and disingenuous,” Shire is literally not buying it in the end.
“Snaps to Always for claiming it wants to improve young girls’ self-esteem. But until the company shows me how it is actually helping to do that, I am sticking to off-brand tampons.”
We suspect that Always would respond with an argument similar to one made by an emphatic young woman in the video.
“If somebody else says that running like a girl, or kicking like a girl or shooting like a girl is something that you shouldn’t be doing, that’s their problem because if you’re still scoring, and you’re still getting to the ball on time and you’re still being first, you’re doing it right. It doesn’t matter what they say,” she says, concluding. “… Because I am a girl. And that’s not something I should be ashamed of.”
And P&G is a marketer that usually does a pretty good job of understanding what the majority of its consumers will buy.