A Tale of Two Brands

moBjvXMChances are you’ve seen the “Like a Girl” Always ad somewhere.

I think it’s magically appeared maybe 10 times on my Facebook wall recently.

In case you haven’t seen it, the ad is an attempt by the company Always to help us think about what we mean when we say someone does something “like a girl.” It starts with adults offering sad and cliched impressions of throwing, running, etc. “like a girl,” before young girls come on the screen and do the same things…normally. Naturally. Like a girl.

What’s the point?

That somewhere along the way, culture convinces us that being “like a girl” is a bad thing. And that’s tragic.

As you might expect, it’s a convicting piece. To see the ad, and a brief article describing it, go here.

Among other things, for me the ad raises an interesting question. When does male privilege really kick in? Because one of the messages of the ad is that early on girls are not negatively impacted by the phrase “like a girl.” Indeed, for the first part of a girl’s life, it’s an empowering thing to be that way.

So when does that change? Junior high? High school? Different for everyone? It would be an interesting study. Perhaps for a post-doc…

The other thing that intrigues me is the giant corporation behind the proverbial curtain. Who would it be producing this ad? Always, sure. But who’s behind that brand?

Proctor & Gamble.

That’s right, Always is a member of the Proctor & Gamble stable of brands. Challenging Tertullian readers might remember Proctor & Gamble because they’ve been featured on these pages before, and not in a good way.

P&G is the company behind last Winter’s Old Spice “momsong” commercial, an ad campaign that essentially distilled manhood down to “having fun with women and misbehaving.” Commenting about this ad back in January, I wrote:

Reducing “manhood” down to merely the carnal instinct to chase women, especially with the connotation of inappropriateness, doesn’t serve anyone, male or female. Not only does it neglect every other aspect of what it means to be a man, it also perpetuates the man as hunter/woman as quarry narrative, one that too easily and often becomes toxic.

So, two ads from the same conglomerate. And yet two radically different, indeed diametrically opposite messages: one empowers women and the other perpetuates the problem of privilege.

What to make of that?

On one hand, we have to acknowledge the profit motive. To be sure, Always and Old Spice are trying to make money, and the different ads reflect each company’s target demographics. I think the “Like a Girl” campaign is excellent, but I know that at the end of the day it’s still about the bottom line.

But on the other hand, maybe there’s a bit of a parable or metaphor here. After all, aren’t we all simultaneously broken and redeemed? Don’t we all get it right one minute and blow it the next? Speaking personally, when it comes to dealing with male privilege, I know I do (examples here and here).

It would be much easier if people (or companies) were good or bad, one or the other. Instead, we live in shades of gray. Sometimes we’re Always and sometimes we’re Old Spice.

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Rome, in Romans 7:18-20:

“I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”

Ever feel like that?

So what do we do with this? For one thing, we acknowledge reality. We’ll get it right sometimes and other times our brokenness will get in the way. On this journey toward a male privilege-free  and gender-equal church we must give ourselves and others some grace.

At the same time, we must continue working. We have to challenge ourselves to continue to grow, to mature, to develop.

To become more like Always and less like Old Spice.

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2 responses to “A Tale of Two Brands”

  1. jeremiahgibbs says :

    Rob, I wrote a very similar article last week about the Verizon campaign…though I intentionally left that one non-theological. I think in the end that you are right: we probably shouldn’t expect these companies to be any more consistent than we ourselves are.

    Here is what I wrote:
    http://jeremiahgibbs.com/2014/06/24/is-verizon-feminist-sexist-or-just-using-us/

  2. jloraye says :

    I noticed that doing things “like a girl” was bad in kindergarten. I like the ad, but I’m afraid, at least for me, that the message “being a girl is despicable” sunk in around age 5.

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