Personal hygiene advertisements unfairly cater to men’s insecurities and fail to properly discuss vaginal health.
My vagina is itchy. I am going to pull on my black hooded sweatshirt and comb my hair in front of my face so no one will recognize me. Better yet, I should call off work and skip class because I really shouldn’t be in public in a condition. If my employers and professors ask questions, I will e-mail them a link to a Vagisil commercial.
Commercials for Vagisil, a popular vaginal cream, show a visibly upset woman wearing dark colors because she is experiencing vaginal distress. Both men and women experience genital irritation, however, there is a lack of advertisements regarding products to treat penis discomfort.
As I look around, – not intentionally looking at anyone’s crotch – I can’t help but see men always digging at their privates. I realize some may be adjusting their parts. I can sympathize because I do not have to adjust my vagina in order to walk comfortably in the same way a man would have to adjust his penis and testicles, but some men are clearly just scratching.
Television is littered with commercials for Viagra, Rogan and Axe, during which, most of the time, sexy men and women normalize the ailment. It is perfectly normal for a man to need a pill to get it up or not be bald or smelly, but the second a women’s vagina falls below par, she is not 100 percent, according to Vagisil.
“Those [men’s] commercials are the reaction to male insecurity,” said Amanda Czerniawski, an assistant sociology professor who teaches a course titled gender in America. “There is a shift in culture, where instead of being praised for good works, we are being praised for good looks.”
More intimate bodily problems experienced by men threaten their masculinity, hence why commercials like Axe show sexy blond women use not-so-subtle sports-themed sexual innuendos to talk about the washing of various types of “dirty balls.”
“Men object the objectification of men the same way that women do,” said Michael Maynard, the advertising department chair. “There has been a coursing in American culture where we’ve become used to seeing pretty much anything.”
I agree that it might make men uncomfortable to see advertisements about their bodies, but there is no Vagisil commercial equivalent for men. Needing to use Viagra might be an ego bruiser to a man, but at least the advertisement normalizes the problem and typically shows an attractive woman getting aroused.
“Women do most of the shopping, and advertisers know that,” Maynard said, adding that the ratio of ads that target women to men is about two-to-one.
Because most consumers are women, even products for men are made appealing for women. Women watching commercials for Viarga or Axe see that attractive men use these products and attractive women endorse them. As Czerniawski said, the goal is to reach the ideal body portrayed by the media.
“The body is increasingly sexified, therefore the ideal body is harder to achieve,” Czerniaswki said. “With all of these products, we get the idea that our bodies continuously need to be repaired. It’s no wonder that we hate ourselves.”
Recently, Kotex released a new brand of tampons and pads, U by Kotex, with sarcastic, humorous commercials that poke fun at how the industry usually handles the menstrual cycle: with flowers and women dancing to pop music. This is a nice step forward, but when is Vagisil going to get on the bandwagon?
If men escape the humiliation of jock itch, can Vagisil at least make a better attempt at advertising? Having a vagina doesn’t define who any woman is, and an advertisement shouldn’t make people feel guilty or ashamed about any part of their bodies.
As Maynard said, we as a nation are accustomed to seeing anything. However, “Break the Cycle: A Study on Vaginal Health,” a study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of U by Kotex, found out of the 1,600 North American women surveyed, three out of four agree society is more open to discussion of penises than vaginas. Also, the same number of women were more comfortable saying the word “penis” rather than “vagina.”
In the same study, 91 percent of women either agreed or strongly agreed it is time for society to change the way it talks about vaginal health.
If we agree that a change is necessary, more of us need to start saying the V-word and put an end to advertisements that would ever make us feel embarrassed about what’s between our legs, whether it is itchy or not.
Samantha Krotzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.