I’m not a fan of viral feminist commercials. The latest two in my memory to get popular consisted of: a montage showing a young girl curious about science being gradually discouraged by her parents from exploring her environment and engaging in scientific activities, until she loses interest entirely, and a montage of adults versus young girls being asked to “[verb] like a girl”. One was for a cell phone company, the other, a soap company.
My biggest problem isn’t just the commercials themselves, although they don’t make me rush out to buy Dove soap or get a Verizon phone, but the reaction to them. On their own, the commercials are goofy and manipulative feel-good schlock, but they’re commercials, what do you expect? I won’t go into most of the problems I had with their message, except I will say that, as someone with numerous female friends who are interested in the sciences, I know that a passive cultural disinterest in science can’t stack up against an openly sexist attitude from bosses, professors, and colleagues in terms of discouraging a woman from pursuing a career in STEM fields.
The bigger problem is that these commercials are being treated as feminist revolutions for doing precisely what commercials have always done: Making the person consuming the media feel good. People act like it’s a big cultural shift for a commercial to make women and girls feel good about themselves, when nothing could be further from the truth. The only difference is a slight tweak to the formula. Instead of promising that you’ll feel good if you buy the product to make yourself beautiful, the promise lays in being a good feminist supporting a good cause by buying Dove Soap. You’ll feel good because you’ll feel like you accomplished something good.
Dove’s clever, but this isn’t some subversive feminist revolution. It’s just good marketing.