I have been infected by this viral video and I think I feel a little sick.
I cannot deny that advertising giant Leo Burnett’s campaign for client Procter & Gamble isn’t darn clever and at times touching (for those who aren’t yet convinced that “Zack at 16″ is advertising, see the list of P&G wins at this year’s Cannes Lions ADVERTISING festival–or take a look at the insultingly transparent product plugs peppering the comments).
But unlike others who may find this particular sex switcheroo a fabulous vehicle for generating sensitivity to girls and women and their periods, I find it, well, the same- old -same -old —capitulating to gender stereotypes to move product.
And this time, there’s the added twist of the (albeit, likely unintentional) trivialization of very real people whose bodies don’t align with their gender identity. You know, some people really DO have to sneak into that “other” bathroom to do their business. Some people ARE forced to keep the realities of their genitalia private or risk unwelcome medical intervention, ridicule or worse.
As Zack settles into his body with the “girl thingie” (his words, surely not mine), he savors girl time with his sister (read: they bake brownies and watch a chickflick), distractedly eats yogurt for breakfast and “snaps” at his best friend, who is painted, of course, as a thoughtless oaf and bully (read: your average 16 year-old guy).
Life is hard for Zack, well, until he crosses the Rubicon (er, the hallway between the boys and girls restrooms) and extracts a (gasp! can it be?) a Tampax-brand tampon. As he settles back into his French class (don’t all girls just love to study French?), the expression on his face is contentment and then, we benefit from his thoughts on (periodically irritable & antisocial) women—who “seem to be doing alright” in spite of their messy, crampy bodies.
Gee, thanks Tampax.
In Zack’s world of cute tie-clad and plaid-skirted teens, his little secret of “girl parts” that bleed is little more than P&G’s newest attempt to hang onto their market share (after all, with all those teens who are dosing up to eliminate their periods altogether, they are wise to step it up). This is advertising–slick advertising– and it does not, contrary to the impressions I’ve heard lately, demonstrate an emerging sensitivity toward women and girls. In fact, Zack’s story simply relies on tired old gendered tropes.
Maybe I don’t feel sick, actually; maybe I just feel tired.