Women: I wonder if there’s a deo that doesn’t stain m–
Sure exec: A MAN SHOULD INSPECT AND MONITOR.
Women: No, really, it’s fine – I don’t nee–
Sure exec: ADULT WOMEN LOVE ZAYN MALIK. SUMMON ZAYN.
Women: *Raise arms in despair*
Sure exec: *Puffs cigar*
Or at least this is how I imagined the new ad for Sure deodorant came into existence.
But, really, it’s nothing new at all.
Nearly three years ago, I stood on a Tube platform, mouth agape at the feet-high letters demanding to know whether I was "beach body ready".
Yes, that’s right, eye-rollers – another woman writing another piece about an ad’s unwitting but deep-rooted sexism and body-negative messaging.
Emboldened by a gin or two, I proceeded to badger Protein World, posting and reposting to them whenever they deleted my comments. I (politely) contacted their chief executive, Arjun Seth, and was summarily blocked from all of Protein World's social channels. I wrote a Facebook note (yes, I am a thousand years old…) outlining why I believed it broke The CAP Code.
A tide of flabbergasted vitriol and demonstrations swelled against that campaign.
There was much pouting and foot-stamping from Protein World but, lo and behold, three years later its advertising has, more or less, transformed. Sadiq Khan has banned body-shaming ads from the London Underground. The birds are chirping and all is well with the world.
Or so we thought.
Drenched in sweat at my local PureGym last night, I – yet again – gawped at a piece of pointlessly unhelpful advertising: a Zayn Malik lookalike attempting to finger the armpit of some poor woman. Really? This is what I should care about when I work out? Whether the muscled men around me have noticed a smudge of white on my black top? Seriously, there are rivulets of sweat running down me and I’ve turned the shade of an alarmed beetroot. Gents, look away now if deo marks make you quiver – the ladies at your local gym have much worse in store.
But that’s just it. Gents, to my knowledge, do not care.
This kind of advertising not only encourages women to feel like they are being repeatedly examined and judged, but furious at our male chums for carrying out such an unwanted inspection. Blokes couldn’t give two hoots what your armpits look like! (The ones worth bothering with, mind.)
This kind of thoughtless advertising only serves to peck away at a woman’s self-esteem. Then, we round on "the men" for scrutinising us, and "the men" either lash back or hold their hands up in bewilderment: "But… this isn’t me?"
And it isn’t.
We feminists tend to go on about the patriarchy – newsflash: it’s still here! – but perhaps we could be clearer on this: there’s a big difference between the men we know as individuals and the oppressive structures both we and they live within.
Advertisers have a choice: continue to embed those structures or find a creative way to break them. Can’t be bothered with the latter? Well, that's just lazy.
The way we represent women has such a long way to go, but let’s not forget that such hapless misrepresentation of men is similarly damaging. Differently so, but still damaging. It drives us apart and pits us against each other.
It’s a misrepresentation on both sides. Do you recognise the guy in this picture? I sure don’t.
Unilever, please: aren’t we past this? Don’t make me write another Facebook note.
Pippa Hardingham is a former agency senior account director and currently a postgraduate gender studies student