Indian women were a little shocked to discover a so-called "feminine wash" for when they get that not so *fair* feeling this week.
But it turns out that the land of "Fair & Lovely," "Fair & Handsome," and, now, "Clean and Dry" intimate wash isn't the first to get a product that manages to be kinda racist and kinda misogynist at the same time – implicitly asking, "Is your vagina white enough?"
GlobalPost has already come under some criticism for writing too many penis and vagina stories – a category of reporting that, lamentably, earns all too few Pulitzers – so I'll keep this post both Deadly Serious and Totally PG-13. (Remember, folks, we don't make up the news. We just report it. If it's about penises and vaginas, well...)
Here's the dope: According to my favorite Wall Street Journal blogger, Rupa Subramanya, skin whitening products intended for places where the sun don't shine have been around for a long time in Brazil, and, yes, the US. As she deadpans, " Like Coca-Cola and many other consumer goods, they’ve arrived here a little later."
It's nobody's fault, she says – having recovered from her initial outrage. People with fairer skin are more successful in India, so companies like Hindustan Lever – the majority-owned unit of Unilever behind the market-leading Fair & Lovely brand in its many avatars – are just reflecting the societal bias. "The heavy advertising for skin-whitening products may reinforce the cultural stereotype it’s promoting, but it didn’t cause it," Subramanya writes.
But doesn't that beg a few more questions? Like, to start with, how a white vagina will help you get ahead? When you're applying for a job at your gynecologist's office?
I'm skirting my self-imposed PG-13 rule here, but I'm going to say this is an exception to the whole women-wear-makeup-and-high-heels-to-impress-other-women line of argument. Moreover, I'm pretty sure that where men are concerned this was the one area where there was no real standard of beauty (with the possible exception of the porn business).
So what does this say about the other fairness cream ads, which Subramanya lets off lightly for reinforcing a cultural stereotype? I'd say this manufactured preference for white vaginas hints that the line between inventing and reinforcing weird ideas gets pretty blurry when we're talking about advertising or a certain kind of magazine article.
That's why l liked what Mumbai Boss blogger Deepanjana Pal had to say a little better.
The ad shows a woman wearing trousers, looking mournful because her vagina is dark, like the cup of coffee she’s holding in her hands. The suggestion is that her depression is intensified by the fact that she has a disinterested partner who would rather drink coffee than, well, her. Cut to the depressed woman looking much happier as she goes for a shower. At this point we see an animation. It shows us a hairless, feminine crotch (with gravity-defying rose petals in the background, if you please). Those who have read or seen John Berger’s Ways of Seeing will remember in classical European painting, nudes usually had no pubic hair because hair is associated with maturity, sexual power and passion. “The woman’s sexual passion needs to be minimised so that the spectator feels like he has the monopoly over such passion,” said Berger.
And I have to give some props to FirstPost's Lakshmi Chaudhry, who writes, "... it was only a matter of time before we breached the final frontier: our long-neglected yonis. Begone nasty purples, reds, and dark (Eeks, there is that word again!) pinks, cried the douche fairy. Let there be white, instead!" for giving the business to advertising guru Alyque Padamsee, who recently claimed that fairness creams had nothing to do with race anxiety.
Mostly, though, I'm just a little weirded out by the whole thing.