Feminist Consumerism is Goddamn Confusing

Have you seen this commercial? WATCH IT.

Ok, let’s discuss. This is from UK-based Bodyform, a company selling period pads and liners. It’s part of Bodyform’s Red.fit campaign, which is about encouraging women to be active even when menstruating. The commercial is getting a lot of media attention for one overtly expressed reason, and another that’s less clearly articulated but still significant.

#1: it’s a period commercial that shows blood.
Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 2.17.24 PM.pngUsually period commercials represent periods with blue liquid or ice tea or whatever else might be excellent stand-ins for expelled uterine lining. In this commercial, we’re not seeing expelled uterine lining (we know that periods are mainly not blood but expelled uterine lining, right?) but we are seeing bodies expelling a substance similar in color and viscosity (kind of) to periods.

#2: it’s a period commercial where women are doing real active shit rather than just chilling in a white room, or maybe swimming in a white bathing suit, or maybe getting ready for a romantic dinner date with hubby because everyone with periods is a cisgender heterosexual woman. Actually, it’s pretty cool that this commercial positively represents active female bodies and also positively represents the byproducts of that activity: dirt, blood, broken skin.

So these are two things to think about. And here are some other things to think about too.

#3: this is feminist consumerism. What is feminist consumerism you ask, because it sounds amazing!?! Actually, it’s capitalistic manipulation. It’s when a company gets you to buy their product by selling it via feminist or otherwise liberal and progressive messages and images about women. To be clear: the product does not have to align with feminism. The product might actually reinforce sexist ideas, or racist ideas, or limited ideas about gender. But we’re supposed to buy it anyway because of how its marketed. Here’s perpetrator numero uno:
doveDove sells beauty products. Women are supposed to buy beauty products to feminize themselves, make themselves pleasing to others, alter their bodies to better conform to hegemonic beauty standards. Here’s how Dove sells its beauty products:imagesYou’re perfect inside and out, don’t change. Except change how you smell and your natural oils and your wrinkles. Do it with Dove.

Ok, you get the picture. Feminist consumerism is the selling of something that might be entirely unrelated to feminist ideals or goals via words and images that our society associates with feminist ideals and goals.

#4: feminist ideals and goals are popularly depicted with that ol’ post-feminist chestnut “Girl Power.” Girl power women are strong, fit, ass-kickers, and desirably hegemonic too. This might be represented by, say, good looking, thin ciswomen trail-running or surfing or rock climbing. When these women get hurt, what do they do? They get up and continue on without crying or stopping to bandage that nasty head wound.

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 2.29.20 PM.png

…except the blood from a gaping head wound.

It is awesome that these women can be physically strong and really good at sports (and apparently medieval knightery as well). But that’s not the only vision of feminism, and it’s actually a pretty privileged version of feminist ideals too.

#5: last but not at all least: that cool-as-fuck background music is “Native Puppy Love” by the cool-as-fuck A Tribe Called Red: three Indigenous individuals who mix native music, often PowWow singing, chanting, and drumming, with dubstep. A Tribe Called Red is cool-as-fuck and you should learn more about them.

A Tribe Called Red is getting some commercial visibility here and I hope some dollars too. Their music is all about Indigenous people using their own local or culture-specific music and performance practices to create new art. Their work is also a means for native people to expose non-native people to native culture, instead of what usually happens, which is White people appropriating, reducing, and commodifying native culture. But also, A Tribe Called Red is not credited in the commercial. And whereas A Tribe Called Red use images in its videos and during shows that highlight native bodies or deconstruct White-created images of native bodies, this song is laid under images of what appear to be non-native women, many of whom are engaging in activities associated with colonization (ballet obv, but also the knight thing is a bit crusadey for me).


Welp, off to colonize brown people.

Conclusion: is this commercial super cool or super problematic? I dunno. It’s using feminist tropes to get me to consume pads. But pads are used for a physical rather than a beatification process, and they’re not really a trendy or super expensive product either. The commercial is associating women’s bodies with blood and dirt and injury, but we aren’t supposed to see this as vile or even unfeminine. The relationship between how we should feel about women doing bloody activities and women with periods is clear: it’s not gross, it’s awesome. But also, am I going to buy this product because I want to be one of those kick-ass, tough-as-nails, bloody, post-feminist ladies with expensive workout clothes and a soundtrack of cool PowWow dubstep as the background to my White cis life? I JUST DON’T FUCKING KNOW.

Every year I get bad evaluations from students who are pissed that I’ve told them “the social sciences doesn’t offer answers, only  questions.” Yes, they hate that. What it means is that value doesn’t always reside in the black or the white of a conclusion. There’s value in the ability to see and to name the gray, to understand what you’re consuming and why. Can I tell you to buy or not buy this product? To celebrate or revile it on social media? No. What I can offer you is all those critical thinking synapses we just built. And that’s cool too.

I can also offer you this:



About Meredith Heller

The Saucy Scholar is Faculty Lecturer of Queer Studies in Women's and Gender Studies at Northern Arizona University. She holds a Ph.D. in Theater Studies and a doctoral emphasis in Feminist Studies from UC Santa Barbara, and specializes in performance and entertainment, gender studies, and queer theory.
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