*This post is the first in a series on the new ad campaign from Summer’s Eve.
Recently I was made aware of the newest ad campaign for the Summer’s Eve feminine products line, entitled “Hail to the V.” I learned about this campaign after a female family member called me to tell me about the “offensive” ad she had just seen with her husband; she asked if I, the “resident feminist” of the family, also found the campaign offensive. (I do.)
The commercial shows us a series of supposedly powerful women through time–a Cro-Magnon woman holding a baby, a Cleopatra figure standing before a cheering crowd, an Asian woman watching two men fighting for her, and a Medeival-era princess character overseeing a joust. The Carmina Burana-esque music tells the viewer this is an epic–a tale of events that have occurred throughout history. The following is the full text:
“It’s the cradle of life. It’s the center of civilization. Over the ages, and throughout the world, men have fought for it, battled for it, even died for it. One might say it’s the most powerful thing on Earth. So come ladies, show it a little love! Cleansing washing cloths from Summer’s Eve: Hail to the V.”
What is this thing that men are willing to kill for? Vagina.
According to a statement by Angela Bryant, the director of feminine care for Summer’s Eve, the campaign is about “empowerment, changing the way women may think of the brand, and removing longstanding stigmas: Summer’s Eve is not a means to confidence, rather it’s a celebration of confidence, of being a woman, and taking care of their bodies.” Bryant is speaking here of the full campaign, which includes print ads, this television spot, and a website accessible here. (I should note that some of the problems discussed regarding the television ad are handled more satisfyingly by the website; I will discuss this in my next blog post.) Bryant is right to identify the stigmas associated with female genitalia–in many cultures it is considered taboo to talk about female genitalia, sexual pleasure, and menstruation. The silence surrounding the vagina leads to its mystification–it is foreign, unknown, unthinkable.
In theory, speaking about the pleasure and power of the vagina can mitigate its taboo-ness. Simply speaking about the taboo is not helpful, however, when the words spoken are not chosen carefully. Though you could argue that the obvious confidence of the women depicted represents a rejection of “longstanding stigmas,” the message of “empowerment” is depleted by the commercials obvious reinforcement of the mystification of the woman and female genitalia. The tagline “Hail to the V” asks the viewer to essentially worship the vagina, an idea that is certainly prevalent in popular culture (I’m reminded of a scene in The 40 Year Old Virgin when the title character is told he is “putting the pussy on a pedestal.”) While I’m certainly not offended by the idea of appreciating a woman, I do take offense to the ideas that 1) she should be appreciated for her genitalia, specifically, and 2) her genitalia should be worshiped as this unknowable “it”. By centering on the vagina itself, the sense of the whole woman is lost; it is not the woman who is “the most powerful thing on Earth,” but merely her sexual organ. The women depicted are devoid of strength, personality–indeed, personhood–and are represented merely as bearers of powerful sex organs.
There’s something inherently, well, icky about the whole thing. The women in this commercial are celebrating the fact that their vaginas are apparently so incredible that men will kill each other for…what exactly? The beauty of the vagina? Its ability to create life? Or, more likely, the chance to have sex with it? After all, the commercial isn’t really selling the power of “it,” but of what “it” can do. What Summer’s Eve is really saying is that men have been fighting over the chance to have sex with pretty women’s vaginas for centuries. The vagina–and therefore the woman it represents–derives its power from the woman’s refusal or acceptance of a male sexual partner. Not a particularly empowering sentiment, is it?
And can we talk about the fact that all of the men in this commercial are trying to prove their right to access our vaginas by attacking each other with giant phalluses? Or the implication that women will grant access to their vaginas to men who successfully kill the other men vying for access rights? Is this, as Summer’s Eve wants us to believe, woman power?
No thanks, Summer’s Eve–I prefer using my vagina for good.