There are a lot of ads on YouTube, most of which are annoying, but this one was one that jumped out at me. It is the new campaign that Pantene Philippines has put out and it is creating quite a stir. The video is called “Labels Against Women” and it shows how two people, a man and a woman, can be labeled with two distinct sets of words for doing basically the same thing, with the man having positive words and the woman, negative.
I am not an anthropologist nor have I seriously studied the sociological elements of modern human interaction so what I do have to say comes from personal observation. This is a multi-layered problem which has connections to a lot of different influences, which may include (but are not limited to) social circles, media and language.
My take on the subject is this: how we express ourselves and how we see things affects everything. Let me give you an example: try describing a person. Most often, people will start, especially in the States, with the ethnicity and then the sex. So, try to describe that person without ever using their ethnicity and I will assure you that people will struggle to describe a person because the basis of a description are normally dependent on those two factors.
There are phrases that have been said over and over and are ingrained quite solidly. Examine this case, for example: Katherine Bigalow was “the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director” and Barack Obama is “the first African-American president”. Notice that there is gender mentioned when it is a woman yet none when talking about a president. I feel that because you are pointing it out, that aspect of the person weighs heavier and people feel like that is the proper, accepted manner to describe a person. There is nothing bad about this, per se, but I do feel that this, at the end of the day, alienates a person even more. Which I believe is why many women who work in television and film call themselves “actors” and not “actresses”. This is not an attack; this is an observation.
Personally, I have never described myself as “Japanese”; I’ve always described myself as a “triathlete”. I am not ashamed of my roots and culture. I am not ashamed of being a woman. I just have never felt like being of Japanese blood or a woman ever had any bearing on what I am. They are elements that have formed me but I was always geared by the sheer desire of doing something, regardless. I supposed that would explain why I decided to become a seasonal firefighter one summer. Or joined the men’s lacrosse team during my university days. Or try my hand at bullfighting. Or like Formula 1 and DTM. Fast cars and motorcycles. Not because they are what men like but just simply because I like them. Granted, it is not often that women are known to like these things but if that idea of separation were taken away, would it be different? Would there be more girls studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects if people stopped making the distinction that boys should play with dump trucks and girls play with dolls?
Language is how we express ourselves and reveal how we think about the world and others. And this inevitably marks us. And never once have I ever thought that because I’m a “girl” I shouldn’t do something.
It has always been “because I want to” that I have.
What I ask is that you perform this experiment and describe someone. Try doing it just on physical characteristics without mentioning ethnicity nor sex. And so the next time you think someone is bossy, pushy, selfish, vain or a show-off, find the opposite sex equivalent and ask yourself if it is the same thing.
All I’m saying is think about what you are saying before you say it. It may reveal a lot more about what you feel than you realize.