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.