OPINION: Bic Women’s Day post: Why I actually just can’t
When I was sent a link to Bic's Women's Day Facebook post (incidentally by a male colleague), I was instantly riled. I didn't even have to think about why - I just was. And the more I do think about it, the more irritated I get. If you're not entirely sure why, dear reader, then this post is for you.
First, let's start with the basics. The main point of Women's Day is to honour the oft-overlooked and enormous contribution made by people of the female persuasion to where we find ourselves today, both as a nation and as a society. It's also a chance to take stock of where we are in terms of inequality, gender violence, pay gaps and a host of other issues that affect women in South Africa every day. The day is meant to celebrate how far we have come and remind us that there is still more to be done.
So when I saw Bic's post, I was dumbfounded. Surely not, I thought. This is some kind of joke, a magnificent troll, a fake sent out into the ether by a malevolent competitor… anything but an actual post.
But there it was, bold and shameless and seemingly oblivious, sprawling like a smug toad on Bic's Facebook page, with hundreds of livid comments trailing below it in a comet-tail of indignation. It was taken down a full 48 hours later, to be replaced by what some saw as an equally offensive apology that my colleague Mandy Wiener perhaps summed up best:
#Bic apology: We stole the line from a random blog. It's their fault not ours. We'll ignore the fact the blog is sexist. Sort of sorry.
- Mandy Wiener (@MandyWiener) August 11, 2015(That apology by Bic is also gone now, substituted with a more obsequious version. So too is the original blog post that Bic referenced.)
For now though, let's put aside the inept apology and the tacit admission of plagiarism; let's disregard the strange justification for the text and its equally strange source.
Just for a moment, let's look at what the post is actually telling us.
1. Look like a girl
Basically this is telling half of the world's population that we should want to look not just younger, but young - as in, underage young. Essentially it's telling me that I should aspire to look like a child because (I can only assume) my looking like a developed, mature thirty-something woman makes me somehow less worthy and less attractive.
If you're still in doubt of the sheer preposterousness of it, just try to imagine the inverse: men being encouraged to look like boys.
Look like a boy.
Act like a gentleman.
Think like a woman.
Work like a boss.
Doesn't work as well, does it? pic.twitter.com/cLYmg3xHEg
- Camilla Bath (@CamillaBath) August 11, 2015
2. Act like a lady
So, I'm told that I need to look like a child. But I can't act like one, oh no. I went to an all-girls high school where pupils were consistently referred to by staff members as 'ladies' - presumably to encourage us to act in a certain way, conditioned like Pavlov's dogs to cross our legs when we sit and never to walk and eat at the same time. Why? Because, apparently, that's what ladies do.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for people of all genders acting like decent, considerate human beings... but can't we encourage people to do so in gender-neutral terms instead of using archaic words that have no real place or relevance in our modern society?
What on earth does acting like a lady actually look like? What does it even really mean in the 21st century? I consulted my old friend the _Oxford English Dictionary _for some guidance. Here's the OED definition of 'ladylike': Appropriate for or typical of a well-bred, decorous woman or girl.
Appropriate for or typical of a well-bred, decorous woman or girl.
Hmmm. I've got to be honest, my bestie let me down on this one. I still can't work out what type of behaviour I should try to exhibit in order to fall into this illustrious class. I'm also quite happy to remain ignorant of how I was bred and whether it was done well.
But it turns out that I'm in luck - in fact there's an entire, ridiculous WikiHow page dedicated to the very topic of being a lady for those of us who may be unsure. It posits some real gems like 'maintain your personal hygiene' and 'leave your elbows off the table'. It talks about posture, warns against excessive drinking and suggests we cut our food into ladylike bite-sized pieces when eating. It even instructs us to steer clear of clothing that is too revealing. This, then, is the mindset that surrounds the idea of being a lady.
So, at best, telling me to "act like a lady" boils down to Bic unwittingly using an outdated and potentially offensive word - while actually just trying to tell me to be a nice, respectful person. At worst, though, it is tacitly encouraging me to conform to an obsolete idea of what a woman should be and how she should act.
3. Think like a man
This is where I actually just can't. By implication, Bic is telling me that my womanly way of thinking is inferior; that I should somehow aim to think more like my male counterparts; that I need to become more like a man in order to succeed in what remains a traditionally male-dominated world.
Thanks all the same, but I quite enjoy just thinking like a responsible, rational, mature human being. In fact, I think I'm quite good at it.
As an aside, it really irks me that according to Bic I'm supposed to think like a man, but heaven help me if I start acting like one because that would be unladylike. I also shouldn't look like one because that would mean I wouldn't look like a girl, with her adolescent hips and her big eyes and her innocent expression.
What utter rubbish.
4. Work like a boss
As far as I'm concerned this is just nonsensical and misplaced. I happen to be a boss. My boss is a woman. Her boss is also a woman. I work as (not like) a boss every day because I am a boss. And being a boss has nothing to do with being a woman.
So why tell women to work like bosses? Is the thinking that underlies this that, as women, we just couldn't possibly be bosses?
The very fact that I've had to explain to some people why I took offense to this post is to me a part of the problem - suggesting that many people are still blind to what I consider to be deeply ingrained and accepted sexism.
I've come up with my own internal response to the Bic post. It may not be as snappy but I think it's infinitely more applicable:
- Look how you like.
- Act decently.
- Think responsibly.
See? Shorter. More widely applicable. Possibly smarter. Definitely better thought-through.
Camilla Bath is Eyewitness News digital development editor and deputy news editor. Follow her on Twitter: @camillabath