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burt’s bees: let the product recall commence

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‘Let the catcalling commence’ is the latest ploy for sales by moisturiser manufacturer, Güd, a subsidiary of Burt’s Bees. The manufacturers are under scrutiny for the Vanilla Flame body butter’s label assuming that women want to be sexually harassed by strangers.

As the manufacturer proclaims: ‘Our products are designed to make women feel good on the inside and out.’ There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make somebody using your product feel good. But Güd’s moisturiser misconstrues a woman feeling good about herself as proportionate to the ferocity of the male gaze directed at her. It defines her happiness by how many sexually explicit comments she receives whilst out and about with her apparently sexily moisturised, vanilla and rice milk scented body.

According to  Hollaback, street harassment is public sexual harassment and objectification that ‘constantly reminds historically subordinated groups (women and LGBTQ folks, for example) of their vulnerability to assault in public spaces’. Nobody can be made to feel good from street harassment, bar the perpetrator for exercising a means to keep these groups objectified and socially subordinate.

As horrible as it is, the strategy behind the Vanilla Flame body butter is undoubtedly linked to the success of other campaigns selling sex and attraction. Compare the idea with that behind marketing for Lynx deodorant for men (you know, supermodels being drawn to Your Average Guy like a magnet after he’s sprayed himself with – what my nostrils perceive to be – a vile chemical concoction that shouldn’t be compared with pheromones). It is conceivable that Güd intended to portray a sexiness felt from moisturised skin as empowering, which isn’t new for women or men’s products. However, through a poor choice of words, Güd has implied the violence of street harassment is sexy.

Güd issued an apology on its Facebook, not quite getting to the root of the issue. The manufacturer says it was sorry for any offense caused by the label as opposed to actually printing the label. The post has attracted more than 200 comments, with much of them debating the phrase as even offensive.

As one educated commenter cried out above the mindless chorus of ‘if you don’t like it, don’t buy it’, the reason many weren’t picking up on the significance of the label is because the violence of street harassment has become normalised as a part of rape culture. It would be hoped that companies have an obligation not to normalise and perpetuate the occurrence of gender-based violence in their product design or advertising. But, as the majority of consumers don’t recognise this as important, it is apparent that management won’t change their attitude any time soon.

A now closed petition, headed by Hollaback, asks the company for a proper apology. It is imploring Burt’s Bees to get rid of all products perpetuating catcalling as acceptable behaviour, citing its victim-blaming message as detrimental to work being done to stomp on street harassment and other gender-based violence. Despite this, no recall is in the mix. Güd has said in a statement on its Facebook page that the company will cease production, but current stocks will remain on sale.

This is perplexing, when other manufacturers have removed sexist products from the market quite quickly. Take Kmart’s ‘I [heart] rich boys’ undies or American department store J.C. Penney’s shirts marketed for girls which implied beauty is more important than brains. But then, these companies were dealing with angry parents concerned about the objectification of their daughters, not fully-grown women who felt they themselves were being objectified.

Looking at the whole of the label, this product reeks of poor ideas of womanhood more than vanilla and rice milk. Take another portion of the label: ‘A sexy moisturiser that leaves you feeling sexy and moisturized [sic].’ They didn’t have a thesaurus on hand? I digress, but I just want to highlight the marketing and package design is insulting to women on multiple levels. To sum things up: it’s depressing that the media mantra that ‘sex sells’ has now seemingly turned into ‘sexual violence sells’.

One thought on “burt’s bees: let the product recall commence

  1. Pingback: Week In Our Shoes: Collaboration Edition | Hollaback! You have the power to end street harassment

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