Whitening intimate wash hits Southeast Asia

Lactacyd, the world’s best selling intimate wash brand, recently decided to launch two new products in the Singapore market: White Intimate and Revitalize.

Free samples of the new washes are available through its website and are also being provided elsewhere - I was given them in my Great Eastern Run race pack earlier this month, alongside some slimming products.

Revitalize claims to be “youth reviving” by improving skin elasticity through the ingredients Vitamin E and collagen. Its slogan is “Feel Young. Stay Freshly Supple.”

White Intimate, as its name suggests, is a whitening product for what the brand calls the “V-zone area.” The product is touted as “The natural way to intimate fairness and confidence.” It marketed, unsurprisingly, through the use of a very pale model and images of white orchids.

Now, Singapore is a market where both youth-boosting and whitening products are widely used, so it’s no wonder Lactacyd is trying to increase market share by including these products in its range. (Lactacyd simultaneously introduced its new products in other Asian markets, including Thailand and Hong Kong).

But it raises important questions about how advertising continues to encourage women to feel uncomfortable about their bodies. We are not supposed to be self-confident unless we are fair and youthful. And none of us are ever as fair and youthful-looking as the images projected in advertising.

Whitening intimate wash hit India earlier this year, causing online furor and ridicule. But Lactacyd’s move into Asia has gone largely unnoticed so far.

I, for one, am not buying it.

Watch the Hong Kong TVC here.

Singapore’s most influential creative directors. There are 13 of them - and twelve of them are men.

Singapore’s most influential creative directors. There are 13 of them - and twelve of them are men.

Lady goggles, brought to you by Speedo

Sporting equipment manufacturers have been making woman-targeted merchandise for awhile. While some of it is needed (think swimsuits for women and sports bras), some sports items are inexplicably gendered.

A case in point is Speedo’s Vanquisher, Resilience and Futura Biofuse swim goggles, which all come in a women’s model. In Singapore, their packaging helpfully features a prominent fuschia-colored female bathroom sign, so that women can easily identify the suitable model for their gender.

The question is, of course, what makes these goggles for women. Speedo’s website says the Women’s Futura Biofuse goggle has an “ergonomic female fit for a smaller face shape”. The goggles do seem to be smaller than the “unisex” model, but this in itself is questionable, since women’s faces aren’t necessarily smaller or narrower than men’s.

Amazon.com provides a more plausible explanation to the existence of the gendered goggles:

"Make a fashion statement as you cut through the water […] Beautiful sherbert colors especially for women."

Indeed, all the women’s models are pink, or lavender, or white, or pale blue. The suggestion is, of course, that women should be worried about looking good, even when they’re doing freestyle.

Speedo’s website also has a function that allows users to narrow down their search results by gender. The genders are:

So there are goggles designed specially for women, but no goggles designed specially for men. Men’s are “unisex”, which we all know is really just a code word for “men’s”. (We’ll let the fact that “junior” is listed as a gender pass for now).

Marketing and advertising love to create needs. But - as the Bic for Her pen recently demonstrated - there’s a limit to how gullible consumers are. And there’s a limit to how much women want to be perceived as the “other” gender.

As in, not the unisex one.

Another great example of the Smurfette principle, with just one female character shown alongside four male characters.

The female character is also neatly performing her gender role by looking suitably terrified. The male characters, meanwhile, mostly just seem adventurous.

And plot-wise, the female character is basically positioned as just the strong guy’s girlfriend.

I’d wager this one fails the Bechdel test.

The two mascots that welcomed the arrival of two Chinese pandas in Singapore. The female mascot (left) is marked for gender, with blush on her cheeks and long eyelashes. The male mascot, meanwhile, takes on the role of the default, ‘normal’, unmarked panda.

The two mascots that welcomed the arrival of two Chinese pandas in Singapore. The female mascot (left) is marked for gender, with blush on her cheeks and long eyelashes. The male mascot, meanwhile, takes on the role of the default, ‘normal’, unmarked panda.

Whither the female athlete?

Yesterday, the IOC held this poll on Facebook asking Olympic fans what the best moment of the London 2012 Games was.

Ten thousand people responded in the first 30 minutes and the results were then posted in the form of photos of the top four ‘best moments’. Given the above choices, of course, the results were a somewhat predictable all-male spread of athletes and entertainers.

Now, these are wonderful moments, fun moments, historic moments of sport. But the London 2012 Games were historic for a completely different - and much more important - reason: they were the first to feature men and women from all 204 IOC-recognized countries & territories. The poster women symbolizing this major milestone were, of course, Sarah Attar and Wojdan Shaherkani of Saudi Arabia.

The London Games were also the first to feature men and women competing in all 26 Olympic sports. It was the edition that saw women’s boxing finally enter the Olympic programme (after, admittedly, much debate among boxing officials about whether female boxers should wear skirts). Katie Taylor, the much-celebrated Irish athlete, came to symbolize this second milestone when she won gold.

They were the most inclusive Games ever, and not just because they featured women from all National Olympic Committees and all Olympic summer sports. Gabby Douglas also made history by taking the all-round gymnastics gold medal, becoming the first African American to do so.

And beyond inclusiveness, the London Games produced some amazing sporting moments besides the usual Bolt/Phelps action. How about Nicola Spirig’s breathtaking photo finish in triathlon, just mere milliseconds in front of her Swedish competitor after almost 2 hours of racing?

So here are my best moments of the Games.

Women in public places

This ad for local media group Mediacorp’s Channel 5 has been at a bus stop in Singapore for some time now. Pretty non descript as far as advertisements go, it still hosts an interesting number of subtle gender biases. As usual, there is an overrepresentation of men (4) versus women (3), though we could say that this is negligeable and perhaps a coincidence. What’s more interesting is how these women and men are portrayed. 

To begin with, all the women are in indoor settings, whereas the men are majoritarily in outdoor settings. This is problematic in itself because of the historical equation between women and the domestic sphere, which obviously derives from the fact that women have traditionally been restricted to working only in the domestic sphere. But here, women are presumably relaxing after a day’s work outside of the home. And yet they are all spending that free time indoors. The men, on the otherhand, are relaxing in outdoor settings. The ad thus seems to suggest that women should enjoy free time indoors, and men should enjoy their free time outdoors.

In addition, in this indoor environment, the women are all basically in a state of inactivity: they are lying down on beds or sofas. One is listening to music, one is watching TV, and the last is playing with a pet (yes, all the while lying in bed). The men, on the other hand, are portrayed in active scenes: running with a kite, riding a bicycle and sitting down after what seems to have been a run. The only man portrayed in an indoor setting still looks like he’s being active - with his brain, at least - as he searches for something on his tablet. But the women are simply letting themselves be entertained by music, the TV, a pet. They are, in essence, passively relaxing, while the men are actively enjoying free time.

This is problematic because it sends signals not just about where women and men should be spending free time, but how they should be spending it. That women in Singapore are not seen exercising outdoors as much as men is a fact. But one has to wonder, if they were surrounded by images of women doing just that, wouldn’t they start to think that exercising outdoors is as appropriate as relaxing outdoors?

Wearing misogyny on your chest

Sexist T-shirts for men have existed since the advent of cheap, ready-to-wear clothing. Often masquerading as humorous, usually used as a means of reaffirming one’s manhood, it seems that they can be declined in thousands of offensive ways.

The “Your girlfriend, my girlfriend” one (who has the “my girlfriend” character variously depicted as a stripper, pole dancer or otherwise just an unrealistically thin and busty woman teetering on stiletto heels) is an interesting one, not least because I often see it worn by teenage boys. It plays directly into the notion that for a woman to be considered an ideal girlfriend, she must be sexually attractive to men. Even more precisely, it is her silhouette (her waist, her breasts, her legs) and her posture (suggestive) that count. The fact that these women have no facial or other humanizing features is no coincidence.

The “Game over” T-shirt, meanwhile, recreates another set of damaging stereotypes. These T-shirts usually depict some poor, unhappy man who looks like he has been coerced into marriage alongside a smiling, starry-eyed, bouquet-touting woman. The message here is clear: marriage for men means restrictions and lack of freedom to do what unmarried men do (which one assumes must be something along the lines of having lots of casual sex and drinking lots of beer). Meanwhile, marriage for women means happiness, fulfillment, and some kind of control over her husband (thus his unhappiness). Fear of the controlling woman and fear of losing one’s right to act in boyish, irresponsible ways both underlie this pretty bad attempt at humor.

It’s also pretty ironic given what we know about who benefits the most from marriage. We know, for example, that married men are promoted quicker at work, whereas married women (and worse, mothers) see their professional opportunities decrease. Married men still do not have the same level of parenting and household responsibilities as their wives do. One has to wonder, what is that stick figure guy so unhappy about?

Facebook’s Smurfette syndrome

Sheryl Sandberg’s appointment to the Facebook board this week was met by sighs of relief. Finally, Facebook was doing something about that embarrassing, 100% white male board.

We all know how misogynistic Facebook is, from its origins as a way to rate female college students on their appearance to its ongoing hypocrisy on images of women’s breasts (breasts shown to turn men on? More, please! Breasts used to feed babies? Pull those offensive images down!)

So it wasn’t really a surprise when Facebook named a board that had little, if anything, to do with its target user demographic. The uproar that followed, we can safely assume, was probably by far the biggest driver towards Sandberg’s nomination.

So now Facebook has gone from completely forgetting women to including one token woman as an afterthought. It’s not very clear which is more insulting. But it is clear that the Facebook board has joined the ranks of all the other boards that feature just one woman. In essence, it has elevated itself to Smurfland status.

The Smurfette principle was coined in the 1980’s to describe all the imaginary worlds that feature just one female character living among a plethora of male characters. Sesame Street, Star Wars, Tintin and the Transformers are all other examples.

This tendency in fiction - movies, cartoons, storybooks - is still going strong, and is problematic in itself. But the token woman problem extends way beyond fiction, and into realms of professional reality. Think the US government and Hillary Rodham Clinton. A lot of male decision-makers will place a woman in a strategic position (sometimes due to heavy pressure) and assume that they’ve done enough. They’ve shown that they are inclusive and care about diversity.

But it’s not enough. And it won’t be enough until boards, governments, and yes, fictional worlds, all represent reality as it is: half female, half male.

Supermarket sexism

Supermarkets are places where traditional gender roles are played out. In the daytime, customers are predominately female, and in Singapore these women are either foreign domestic workers or stay-at-home moms, both of whom may have children in tow.

In the evening, they fill with office workers, men and women in business attire carrying basket-only purchases.

Meanwhile, marketing arms of supermarkets create family-oriented publicity and promotions, recreating the idea of what an ‘ideal’ family is: more often than not, this is a married, heterosexual (preferably good-looking) couple with two children - one boy and one girl.

In Singapore, Carrefour takes the concept further. In the below “Family Reward” promotion, customers are encouraged to participate in a scratch card contest. A brilliantly biased checklist accompanies the contest ad, showing the family how they can win a teddy bear for their daughter once they’ve bought a TV for dad, a video game console for the son, and…. a frying pan for mom.

Clearly, the men of this imaginary Carrefour family are having fun kicking back while mommy’s in the kitchen cooking up a storm. The little daughter, in the meantime, is contentedly playing with her gender-appropriate plush toy, which I can only imagine must be pink.

But then, Carrefour’s marketing team clearly isn’t pursuing a gender-neutral agenda. This June, the below image of a sexualized, oddly oiled up female soccer player greets the client at the entrance of the store.