I usually don’t get too wrapped up in righteous indignation. That’s a lie. I do, but I usually keep it to myself. Ok, that’s a lie also. I usually corner my husband talk his ear off about about what I am righteously indignant about. After his spirit is sufficiently broken, the fiery rage is usually quenched by the sacrifice of Mike’s spirit. And it abates.
But today was different. Today I got a little Wonder Woman on that Lex Luthor of the body products industry. I am speaking, of course, of Burt’s Bees.
What? You didn’t know they were anti-woman?
That is actually a massive exaggeration. They don’t hate women. They’re not an evil conglomerate out to destroy female equality. Nope, the tree-hugging company’s subsidiary, Güd, just happened to have some copy on their tub of Body Butter that encouraged street harassment.
That’s it. Plain and simple. And, after staring at the container for months while slapping the stuff on my shins and stewing, I finally snapped. and without Mike there (Yes, this whole kerfuffle is all Mike’s fault.) I tweeted. What I actually tweeted was this.
— Colleen Kiphart (@jschooljunkette) November 14, 2013
Then as far as I could tell, my Twitter broke. Hollaback!, a nonprofit devoted to stopping street harassment (Which is a MASSIVE problem worldwide. If you don’t think so, please take a moment. Read this. Read this. Read this. On the same page? Fantastic!) picked it up. A Change.org petition followed and a press release. Hundreds of tweets were sent.
Yes, I know that’s not a lot. It’s about the same number of Nevernudes that exist in the world. However, when you have about 120 followers and about 10 percent tweet about something you noticed it feels huge. I heard from people in Belfast and Mumbai. It resonated.
There are more than 1,500 signatures to the petition. Hollaback! is requesting that Burt’s Bees, Güd’s parent company, issue a real apology and agree to stop production of products that legitimize street harassment. And we did get a public acknowledgement that catcalling is bad. And look, I don’t want the product to be discontinued (But it is being discontinued anyway). I don’t want it entirely removed from shelves forever. I just want to spread some awareness. And ensure that it has a new label that doesn’t perpetuate the myth that women love to be catcalled.
See, I think the reason women online lost their collective minds was because we all thought Burt’s Bees knew better. They don’t test on animals. They present an environmentally-friendly corporate image. Their logos are bees and sometimes a wizened fisherman. They’re aware of Hive Collapse and the plight of the honeybee. They’re not Axe Body Spray!
And we got a response from Güd on their Facebook page. It’s one of those corporate non-apologies that drive me insane as a consumer, but that I would advise them to distribute if I worked for them (I do communications in my day job.). You can follow the link, but it basically says that they are sorry if we are offended. (I can stop you there. I hate those. Because now it is you saying that you did nothing wrong, but that I chose to be offended.) And they say that harassment is wrong. Of course the label still says that catcalls are something a woman should aspire to.
What do I wish they had said? I wish they had said, “You’re right. That is messed up. We didn’t think that through when we printed it. We will be more aware in the future.” Oh, and in the bonus round (Where, incidentally, I am a famous writer and my student loans are paid off) they say, “We’ll donate a massive sum to educate people about violence against women!”
But that won’t happen. It would be nice if it did. But it didn’t. And it won’t. And that’s because life.
I don’t want to throw around phrases like “internalized misogyny” and “patriarchy.” Once you start going there people stop listening. Not because your points stop being valid, but because people are often terrified of being labeled feminist. They think that being feminist means you can’t be feminine. They think that being aware of gender inequality means you hate men. They think that advocating for a woman’s sexual agency and independence means you are asexual or you run some deviant underground sex club (Side note: Rad for you if you are on either end of that spectrum. Most people settle somewhere in the middle, but rad for you for living on the edge!).
So I’ll put it to you like this. Women are people. People have a right to boundaries. Ergo, women have a right to boundaries. When you insinuate yourself into a person’s day in a way that is not neighborly (Neighborly examples include: “Good morning!;” “Where can I get a good cup of coffee?;” “Golly! It sure is cold!;” and “[Expletive deleted]! Can you believe someone doored my car again!?”), but rather sexualizes a nonsexual situation (Like walking while female), you are wrong. Asserting power over another person is bullying. I think we all agree bullying is not cool. Catcalling is bullying. A man is letting a woman know that he has placed a value on her and that he could have her.
So, if you’d like, sign the petition. We can make a difference. If just a few hundred people got a company to release a statement online, imagine what thousands can do. This is about more than a tub of body butter. This is about standing up on the street and letting people know that it is a fundamental human right to go from point A to point B without being propositioned. Or called a bitch because you opted to ignore the man in the van shouting, “Hello!” at you.
This is about confronting the casual misogyny (There! I said it!) that exists in our world head on. Because, like the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow, it cannot abide the light.
Catcalling is not just part of our culture. It is a negative part that can be excised if we support the radical idea that women deserve the same respect afforded men.
So, sign the petition. Share it with your friends. Be Wonder Woman or um…Mister Miracle!
Update: Burt’s Bees has released a statement that was pretty awesome. Honestly, it was pretty much perfect. Yeah, I’d post it, but all the websites that have it have not nice things about me written in the comments section. So you can look it up because that’s what Google is for. If you need me, I’ll be checking my student loan balance to see if it’s magically turned to $0.