The Ephemeral Joy Of Fem-ertainment

When last we left Mad Blog, we were analyzing the duality of Entrepreneur Barbie. Given her problematic look -- a freshly crowned beauty queen/pole dancer dressed for her first corporate job interview -- I would have voted to make her more of a Sleepless-Startup-Barbie-in-a-hoodie type.

But Barbie is, after all, a 12-inch hunk of plastic. And pink dress notwithstanding, this new doll does embody Mattel’s acknowledgement of the current marketing trend toward grrlpowerment. If nothing else, the toy company sees the move as a solid investment.

And while the oldish gray men of the Supreme Court delivered a decision in favor of Hobby Lobby this week that rattled, enraged and felt stifling to millions of independent grown-up women, by contrast, the current marketing zeitgeist for tween and teen girls is full of you-go-girl messages about building confidence and power.

GoldieBlox is a toy that encourages girls to think like scientists, engineers, and coders. A series of online ads for Mercy Academy inspires young women to lose the princess narrative, and be prepared to rescue themselves.  Verizon has also weighed in with a brains over beauty message with #InspireHerMind. 

That sort of foundation is what allows young women to go the next step, and to think like, um, actual entrepreneurs. That’s what the founder of HelloFlo has done, in coming up with an online business that offers a 21st century solution to an age-old problem: the desperate, last-minute dash for period supplies.  Once customers sign up for the service, they receive a steady monthly package of their chosen pads and tampons, complete with surprise gifts. There’s also a special “starter kit” to prepare tweens and teens.

Two videos for the company, “Camp Gyno” and “First Moon Party,”  have been huge viral hits on You Tube. They’re a bit shocking to watch at first, even at a cultural moment when the use of the term  “vajajay” is now so ho-hum commonplace that even grandmas joke about vajazzling.

But HelloFlo is not alone in creating this new form of menses-tainment. Indeed, advertisers in that category have gone from showing romanticized images of women riding horses on the beach (which apparently sent some sort of underground dog whistle announcing the rider’s time of the month) to satirizing just those kinds of ethereal females-in-white-pants commercials, to achieving a more plain-spoken normalizing of a universal biological process.

And let me establish here that it was Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” (Unilever) now 10 years old, that kicked off most of this kickass, celebratory, attempt at a more modern and natural tone for women in ads. The initial entry, showing women of all sizes and colors posing, unretouched, in their white underwear, was inspiring. The fact that it was still an ad for cellulite cream was only one of the small ironies necessarily built into every “feminist” ad message for a global brand from a huge packaged goods corporation. (The fact that Dove is a sister brand to Axe, famous for the aggressively sexist ads, is another.)

Procter & Gamble is obviously part of this new fem-ertainment  movement, too. (Last week’s column covered its new campaign for Pantene Shampoo.)  P&G’s latest entry into the hear-me-roar hashtag wars is #LikeAGirl for its Always brand of feminine pads and tampons. The 3-minute video is brilliantly shot by Lauren Greenfield, the documentary director of “The Queen of Versailles,” who rose to fame as a raw and dazzling chronicler of “Girl Culture,” and all of its dizzying contradictions, with her 2002 book of that name.

What I love about the #LikeAGirl video, which has already racked up over 20 million views on You Tube, is that there is no attempt to integrate  Always products or even the idea of menstruation. Rather, it focuses on that time between the ages of 10-12, when studies have shown that girls lose their confidence.

And in hiring Greenfield to work her magic without any overt selling message, P&G is acting like the Medici of girl empowerment, allowing for a very satisfying mini-documentary. Here's how it works: First, Greenfield recruited a group of women, men, and boys, put them on camera, and asked them to act out scenarios  such as “run/fight/throw like a girl.” They acted out slow, flailing, uncoordinated movements. Then Greenfield brought in a group of young girls and asked them the same questions. Their responses, (not knowing that the culture considered “like a girl” an insult) was to run, fight, and throw like the wind.

I choke up even thinking about it. It ends with  one young woman asking “Why can’t run like a girl also mean win the race?”

The only mention of the advertiser comes at the very end, with a link to Always.com. And I went there, because I wanted to know more about Lauren and her subjects. If that info is there, I couldn’t find it; I saw only a Web site devoted to Always products.

That’s a disappointment, because a film like this is actually a wonderful piece of branded content. (The first wonderful one I’ve seen.)

P&G, why not stop hedging your bets, and go all out with films like this? The whole category of femtainment is riddled with dual-edged swords and half-truths. For women, the need to conform but not conform is a killer. Though I hate to say it, by doing so, P&G could prove that in this case at least, corporations are people -- people who even value and encourage the health and happiness of one half of the world’s population.

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12 comments about "The Ephemeral Joy Of Fem-ertainment".
  1. Edward Shain from EMS Associates , July 3, 2014 at 4:51 p.m.
    All of this makes sense to me. Brand Managers, ad agencies, directors....all as a group have to find their way through the minefield. As with any media piece, it's a collaborative effort, even if some part of the collaboration is only a sign-off on the material. As your piece makes clear, though, things have moved a long, long way from the beginning. I'm with you on Greenfield's mini-doc. It's establishing a brand platform through its easy, broad acceptance that physical competence belongs to girls as well as boys, and it does it by neatly unhinging stereotyping clichés. Think of that mini-doc as the beginnning pylons of a bridge that will eventually span the chasm between last year's notions and tomorrow's truth's. The next wave will move things a lot further. Great take on this scene, Barbara Lippert.
  2. david marks from self , July 3, 2014 at 6:40 p.m.
    Always on target and right on, Barbara,and I like it, after all, change begins with all of us, and the more I hear about girl power, the more validated my own feelings. I know I will never again believe that anyone runs like a girl, nor will I allow myself to make such distinctions. The evolution of ideas begins conceptually, and running....or thinking or being like a person is what defines us. Fact is, few say it as well as you. As for Barbie, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s a doll made for a girl’s world.
  3. marnie delaney from doodlebug , July 3, 2014 at 6:47 p.m.
    I feel the same way about the Always piece. It so perfectly captures the way so many people allow subtle (and even not so subtle) visions of girls and women pervade our culture. It's wonderful to see this lovely demonstration of how harmful this can be and how much hope there is that today's girls won't accept it. As a pre-Title IX girl, I clearly remember when this was even worse. I'm glad I'm around to see it getting better. Great insight, as always, Barbara.
  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , July 3, 2014 at 7 p.m.
    Barbara, you always give the best descriptions and make people want to buy, er, read more. But it still is about money, selling more product/services and sometimes they ring a very loud bell. By the way, I and many others hear The View is opening some doors.
  5. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis , July 3, 2014 at 7:05 p.m.
    I thought when I was a teenager struggling to be recognized on a par with males for my mind and my abilities, that we were making progress as a gender. But over the years, it's as though society's focus drifted from completing the process and like an untended and unused highway, weeds and erosion took their toll. Now the road is barely useable and a new one has to be built, starting the process all over again. I hope this time we can all accept that there will be numerous opinions and beliefs, and simply unite in one swirling mass of individuals who respect each others similarities and differences. (IMHO)
  6. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners , July 4, 2014 at 6:50 a.m.
    So I'm sort of torn here. On the one hand, I really do love the honesty of the HelloFlo work. It's a truth that really hasn't been told. And while I enjoyed the GoldieBlox spot, it was somewhat ruined by the fact that they stole music for it and were so embarrassingly unprofessional. As for the rest, it's hard not to view the others somewhat cynically, isn't it, given their size and power? Though considerably more subtle and artful, it reminds me of the last big wave of this sort of thing. And I quote: "You've come a long way baby To get where you are to today You've got your own cigarette now baby You've come a long, long way."
  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , July 4, 2014 at 10:02 a.m.
    Yup, Claudia, the whole thing is about paradox and duality. I had already written about the GoldieBlox faux pas-- stealing music is acting just like the big boys in Silicon Valley. What's more, the girls in the spot did not build that. One of the characters from OK Go did. Plus, am I crazy, or did some of the Blox look pink? "Disrupt the pink aisle" is the motto the company was founded on. Advertisers have been coopting feminism since even before the Charlie girl wore a pants suit. And as you say, we've come a long way-- NOT.
  8. Hillary Shawaf from Shawaf Inc. , July 4, 2014 at 10:22 a.m.
    Great piece Barbara. I so enjoy your writing. Was going to ask you your take on the Summer's Eve commercial that refers to vaginas as V's (just like the old alien invasion TV show!). At first I was impressed that a company would be brave enough to even hint at the word vagina out-rightly. Then I came across this, and while I didn't write it, I kinda wish I had.
  9. Hillary Shawaf from Shawaf Inc. , July 4, 2014 at 10:23 a.m.
    Doh. Here's the piece. https://twitter.com/intent/tweet?original_referer=http%3A%2F%2Fm.huffpost.com%2Fus%2Fentry%2F4648040&text=Something+Stinks.+And+It%27s+Not+Your+Body.&url=http%3A%2F%2Fhuff.to%2F1eHbbVf&via=HuffPostWomen
  10. Adam Hartung from spark partners , July 5, 2014 at 11:09 a.m.
    Thoughtful column Barbara. You mentioned the Hobby Lobby decision - Forbes.com questions the business intelligence of Hobby Lobby pursuing this case given current trends in empowerment and competition in retail http://onforb.es/TRw7D7
  11. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , July 7, 2014 at 4:45 p.m.
    thanks, Adam. Great piece.
  12. Jim English from FJC , July 8, 2014 at 6:11 a.m.
    It would seem that Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" started a trend 10 years ago that's still picking up speed.