This “Onslaught” ad by Dove has garnered a lot of attention and positive press:

The idea, of course, is that we need to protect our daughters from the images that may harm their self-esteem or make them uncomfortable about their bodies. A great message, no doubt.

However, corporate activism usually has limits and contradictions (as do most things in life, really). Miguel sent us this ad spoof that points out that many of the images the Dove ad says we should be protecting our daughters from are actually used in Axe ads–and Axe is owned by Unilever, the same company that owns Dove.

So Unilever manages to target both markets–those who respond to sexualized images and those who find them harmful–through different brands. This is a common tactic–because large multinational companies own so many different brands, they can market to many different groups of consumers; when we reject one product because of its production process or advertising and buy another instead, there’s a very good chance we’re buying from the same corporate entity, just a different brand name.

As one blogger nicely put it:

It’s a parent’s responsibility to make sure the damaging messages they themselves produce don’t reach your kids.

That is, Dove is telling parents to protect their kids, as if Dove CARES, but Dove’s parent company is producing those very same messages. (It’s kind of like a single corporation owning a beer company and running Alcoholics Anonymous. How very convenient for both.)

A commenter pointed out that Greenpeace made an ad based on Dove’s “Onslaught” commercial that brings up the effects of palm oil production in the destruction of forests in Indonesia:

Thanks, Dangger!

NEW: There is a terrific post at Moment of Choice about one woman’s experience auditioning for a Dove Real Woman commercial. From the post:

Under the guise of looking for women who felt truly comfortable in their own skin, no matter what they looked like, they asked us to bare all or most of it, to prove just how comfortable we really were…A young peppy assistant demonstrated how they wanted us to shake our hands in the air like we just didn’t care and do a full 360 for the camera and male judging panel.

It’s a fascinating inside look at a process most of us never take part in, and reinforces the fact that corporate activism often covers an awful lot of business-as-usual behind the scenes.

A student pointed me to, a matchmaking website targeting the general Indian sub-continent:

You can choose to search a variety of more specific groups (Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, etc.). Among other search criteria, you can specify caste and sub-caste.

I did a quick search (I put in “any” for caste) and found that the profiles are publicly available (presumably you only have to pay if you actually want to contact them), and include such information as complexion (one profile said “wheatish”), blood type (??), eating habits (vegetarian or not), horoscope and whether or not the person requires a good horoscope match, the person’s caste and sub-caste, annual income, and their preferences in a partner (they can state a caste and first-language preference but not a complexion preference, from what I can tell).

The website might be useful for any number of discussions–about technology and the increasing global reach of the internet, of modern methods of dating, about what type of information we might think is important at first glance about a person (although in the U.S. I bet many people would say asking about someone’s complexion is inappropriate or racist, I presume we have things on our dating sites that would seem rude in India; also, I’d argue American users of dating website don’t openly ask about complexion but can get that information from photos and so may be judging potential partners on it anyway). This could also bring up an interesting discussion of language–I suspect many students would be horrified at the idea of a “matchmaker,” which implies arranged marriages to some degree, but a “dating service” seems different (even though eharmony and other sites call potential partners “matches”).

The same student also uncovered these anti-dowry posters:

They can be found here. I have tried to find a website for The Sisterhood Collective or the ad agency that supposedly made these posters but have not be able to, so I do not have definitive proof they are real (I have no reason to say they aren’t, only that I’m usually cautious of things that supposedly were displayed in other countries that seem a little too funny/horrific to be true, so I always try to do a little digging if I can. didn’t have anything on it.

One thing that I thought was interesting about the anti-dowry posters was that when I first saw them, the language (“you fucking prick”) made me assume they were directed at men, although when I looked at them again I realized there was no reason they couldn’t be directed at women. If they were meant to target a male audience, it could lead to an interesting discussion of the implication that only men are engaged in patriarchal oppression, ignoring the role that older women (particularly potential mothers-in-law) play in reinforcing dowry and the devaluation of women.

Finally, here’s the cover (found here) of the very first issue of Vogue India, from October, 2007:

Here we see that the image of beauty provided by the magazine to the millions of women in India includes a narrow set of features: light skin, straight hair, stereotypically “European” facial features–and, of course, very, very thin bodies. Compare to this Indian ad for skin-lightening cream for a discussion of standards of beauty and how a generalized “White” ideal of beauty has been increasingly globalized.

Thanks, Kellie G.!

Disclosure: My dissertation, called “Female Genital Mutilation” in the American Imagination, is about how different U.S. constituencies (mainly doctors, activists, journalists, and academics) have framed female genital cutting over the past 30 years.  I offer this context for the images below (submitted by Craig C. and Breck and found via boingboing and adsoftheworld):

There is great conflict among feminist activists over how to go about decreasing the prevalence of “female genital cutting,” better known to most as “female genital mutilation.” One of the reasons for this conflict is the tendency of “Western” feminists to impose their own worldview onto communities where we find cutting (mostly among some ethnic groups in Africa, but also found in the Middle East and Asia). For example, the importance of sexual pleasure derived from the clitoris, and the relationship between orgasm and women’s liberation, is a central tenent of post-second wave feminism in the West. From this perspective, reduction of the external clitoris (clitorectomy) appears particularly horrendous and an obvious sign of women’s oppression. However, many women who are part of communities where cutting occurs find this logic to be irrelevant to their lives. Sexual pleasure takes a backseat to the benefits that come with cutting for the women themselves (group membership, attainment of adult female status, marriageability, becoming fully feminine — it varies tremendously, but be sure that the practices are important and meaningful in their own contexts). In any case, if “Western” feminists are going to try to “help” women in other parts of the world, many women say they’d much rather have clean drinking water and freedom from penalizing economic policies imposed by the U.S., than sexual pleasure. (I should point out, by the way, that whether and which and how much genital cutting practices actually do eliminate sexual pleasure and orgasm is hotly debated.)

These images are part of a campaign to raise awareness about and opposition to female genital cutting in Spain (I editorialize below):

I try not to get too emotional on this blog, but this hits me right where it hurts, and I find these images utterly appalling. The idea, of course, is that when women’s sexual pleasure has been excised (and remember, this is a controversial assumption) they feel nothing, but the implication is that they ARE nothing. These ads suggest that women who have experienced genital cutting are equivalent to fuck toys. Everything else about them disappears in these ads.  They are completely defined by the status of their genitals, and the status of their genitals is the status of their souls.  Even if it is true that these women no longer experience clitoral orgasm, or even experience pain during intercourse, they are still multidimensional human beings who love others and are loved by those around them for their uniqueness and individuality… yes, even the men they sleep with. 

What a horribly offensive ad campaign. The fact that it is likely made for people in Spain and may never be seen by women who are genitally cut makes it no less offensive.  Instead, it is an excellent example of the kind of ethnocentric, arrogant transnational activism that makes people in the West look like total assholes. 

I should clarify: I am making these observations as a sociologist, not as an activist.  I do have opinions about various sorts of male and female genital cuttings, but that’s not my point here.  My point is not whether or not FGCs are oppressive to women or whether individuals in the West should be involved in eradication efforts.  My point is to interrogate how we go about expressing opposition and intervention.  There are many ways in which to go about this.  As you can tell, I do not particularly like this one.

UPDATE: Racialicious made my day when they asked to repost this post on their own blog. It is well worth taking a look at how different the comments are here versus there and thinking about what that means.

From the website of The Maid Brigade, a housecleaning service offering “green” cleaning services.

Who hires house cleaners (or as they put it, “who needs a maid?”)?



Who cleans houses?




When I went through the whole site I was able to find one picture of a white, non-Hispanic-appearing woman cleaning and one picture of a somewhat dark-skinned homeowner, but the overwhelming pattern is what you see here.

And no, there were no male maids. Do you really even have to ask?

Anyway, it’s an interesting example of class, the commodification of housework, and the ways that class and race separate women, such that upper-middle-class white women often free themselves from the second shift of housework by hiring other poorer, often non-white women to do it.

NEW! (Jan. ’10): Sara L. sent us another example:

Here at Sociological Images, we’re interested in how our standards of beauty are based on a European (that is, light-skinned and straight-haired) ideal. See here and here for examples. A reader pointed out that Syesha Mercado, a contestant on American Idol, has been progressively de-ethnicized.

Here is a photo of Syesha from early in the competition:


Here is a photo of her from this week (end of April):

Am I the only one who thinks she looked prettier before?


However, the stylists have thus far let the white kid keep his dreads:


Thanks for pointing this out, pj!

Kate N. pointed us towards this article in the New York Times today discussing 25 years of Marines recruitment aimed at women. Below is the content of their slide show.



The article says that the Marines have only recently began a concerted attempt to recruit women. Does anyone have any information about the shift in the racial targeting? Or is that just an artifact of the slide show?

Thanks so much for the tip, Kate!

Also in military recruitment: which military would you join?, the homefront, and war as entertainment.


This clip, from the newly televised This American Life, shows what happens when (mostly) black women and (mostly) white men living in racially-segregated Chicago are brought together and the social rules of decorum are suspended. It is highly, highly disturbing. I’d love it if some social psychologists could comment on what we see happening here!


Here is an image for the website from Just for Men’s Touch of Gray line:

This product covers most, but not all, of a man’s gray hair. From the website:

Why use Touch of Gray? A little gray to show your experience, but not so much
that it hides your vitality.

There are a range of shades available and you can control how much gray is hidden.

The website has a total of four images of men with women. As Vanessa V., who sent this one in, pointed out, none of the women have a “touch of gray.” Nor could she imagine a product like this marketed to women.

Here is another example of an ad that gives men permission to age in a way women never are.

Other men’s hair dye posts: here, here, and here.

Thanks, Vanessa!

NEW: Corey O. found a Just for Men commercial that references Woodstock (sadly, I can’t find a video of it). Corey says,

It has everything you could want in an advertisement: classic rock soundtrack, co-opted counterculture, mixed messages about aging, demonstrations of male virility, minorities on the margins, gender disparity, and attempts to sell a “natural” look. The total package. What really got to me, though, was the gender aspect. Can you imagine a line of hair dye marketed toward women which is meant to leave some grey intact? I don’t think that Just for Men can either — in contrast to the silver-streaked men, none of the women in the ad are sporting a natural look and some look like they’ve had rather recent visits from the botox fairy. This ad is a nice way of illustrating the double-standard that women face in regards to aging: while men can benefit from grey hair as an illustration of their maturity without sacrificing their virility, women must always strive to look as young as possible. Because this is an ad for men’s hair dye, however, it also illustrates that while men may benefit from less scrutiny of their appearance than women, their appearance is also satisfactory only with the use of beauty aids.

I also like the appropriation of Woodstock and the counter-culture movement of the ’60s.

Thanks, Corey!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.