Women’s day is celebrated in South Africa in August, to commemorate the 1956 March that led 20,000 women to protest against black women having to carry internal pass books. Now, the day advocates to move “a non-racial, non-sexist South Africa forward” (http://www.gov.za/womens-day).
This picture was posted to Bic’s South African Facebook page in 2015, in order to celebrate South Africa’s Women’s Day. Many responded to Bic’s post with justifiable outrage. The phrase “look like a girl” infantilizes women and their mental capacity, tying in with the third line of the advertisement “think like a man.” To “look like a girl” also in part sexualizes children when referring to an adult woman, and also implies that women only look attractive when they are young. This kind of statement also harms the transgender community by stating that one must look the way stereotypical gender roles prescribe in order to be successful. “Act like a lady” suggests to women that they are not acting like women if they are not following outdated and gender-rigid social protocols that demand women obey certain etiquette. The statement brings to mind the phrase “ladylike,” which the oxford dictionary defines as meaning “appropriate for or typical of a well-bred, decorous woman or girl,” again suggesting that any behavior outside of this description is somehow unwomanly. The push to “think like a man” suggests that any thoughts women have to offer are inconsequential, potentially frivolous (considering the “lady” comment to follow), and not worth acknowledging.
In my “jammed” version of the ad, I changed the quote from “Look like a girl, Act like a lady, Think like a man, Work like a boss” to “Look like a girl, Act like a lady, Don’t think, Know your place.” Without “think like a man, work like a boss,” the harm of this message is much easier to see. There is no room for misinterpretation to see this as an empowering quote, which is what Bic tried to claim in their apology. The message is still the same as the original quote, but re-worded. Bic, when issuing their apology, tried to explain that they pulled the original quote from a women’s business magazine, attempting to justify that it was not their fault because they were not their words. It was only after further social media uproar that Bic retracted their first apology and issued a second, less offensive one, where they took the blame for spreading harmful content against women, particularly on South Africa’s Women’s Day, a day meant to celebrate the advance women have made against the kind of patriarchal oppression put forward in their ad.
The overall message behind this advertisement is quite damaging. Many who could be buying Bic products are High School students or University students. This advertisement broadcasts to them the message that for women (or girls), your job is to look young and act proper; your appearance and manners are more important than your thoughts, which do not have enough value to be shared. These are the traits and practices that are desirable in a women: physically young and silent. Men are the leaders, the thinkers, not you.
“Bic Apologizes for Sexist Comment on Women’s Day.” NY Daily News. The Associated Press, 14 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 June 2016.
Bic Women’s Day ad. Digital image. The Guardian. N.p., 11 Aug. 2015. Web. 24 June 2016.
“Definition of Ladylike in English:.” Ladylike. Oxford Dictionary, n.d. Web. 24 June 2016.
“Women’s Day.” Welcome to the Official South African Government Online Site! South African Government, n.d. Web. 24 June 2016.