Bic pens. You know the ones. The biros at the bottom of your bag, leaking into the lining. The pens that come in packs of 20 in your stationery cupboard in either black, red or blue. You’ve probably got one in your hand/hair/mouth reading this.
And, until yesterday, that’s all I could have said about Bic pens. They are the stuff of offices and marks on your hand at the end of the day and phone numbers scribbled down.
That all changed around 10am yesterday. The internet caught wind of Bic’s #HappyWomensDay campaign and the maker of the world’s most inconsequential stationery became the internet’s Most Sexist Thing Ever in a couple of moments.
The advert shows a woman smiling, with the phrase “Look like a girl, Act like a lady, Think like a man, Work like a boss”.
I forwarded it on to two colleagues, who had an identical response: “Is this a joke?”
In so many ways, it’s not a joke. The phrase is derogatory, insulting, undermining and sexist. It might as well actually say, “If you want to get ahead, look pretty, behave and try and be as smart as a man.” It sounds like career advice from a Jeeves and Wooster-esque uncle who sits just a bit too close. At best, it explicitly associates being a women with appearances, and being a man with brains and power. At worst, it’s a reminder how marketing to women not only patronises, but attempts to keep women in a place of inferiority.
And yet I’m not *actually* angry about this. (A phrase those who know me will be surprised to read.) Because, in so many ways, it *is* a total joke. I was far more angry writing a story this morning about female athletes suffering professionally because they have periods, which sport has never taken into consideration because no one wants to talk about it. I was far more angry about the story we ran yesterday, in which women in India are being killed by mobs because they are believed to be witches. In fact, I was even more angry when a person last week told me the striking Tube drivers were “lazy”.
In recent years, we’ve built an army of writers and activists and comedians (I’m looking at you, Caitlin Moran, Laura Bates, Amy Schumer) who remind us day in, day out that this bullshit, we don’t need to fear it. We don’t need to be angered by it. The real empowerment comes from laughing at it.
While I do believe everything is connected (cat calls are on the same sliding scale as sexual assault, for example, albeit at the opposite end) and this particular ad isn’t *completely* harmless and we’ve still got such a long way to go for a world where this shit doesn’t show up, for the most part, this is just bloody stupid. Look how happy that woman looks to be told to think like a man!
A biro company, telling a woman to think like a man? I’m sorry, but I genuinely find that funny
And, let’s be honest, who is Bic actually talking to? It’s far more dangerous when Eminem raps about rape. Lord, it’s even more dangerous when Judy Finnegan defends Ched Evans. These things make me angry, my blood boil, spark my incessant ranting that forces everyone in the office to put headphones on. But a biro company, telling a woman to think like a man? I’m sorry, but I genuinely find that funny.
The internet did a little bit, too. Parodies have been made featuring pantomime dames – meaningful mantras made from replacing Lady, Girl, Man and Boss with the names of great female thinkers and writers. Angry “WTFs??” and numerous explanation marks have sat next to those who have helpfully pointed out that this is Bic’s biggest bit of publicity ever.
Others have pointed out that Bic have form. In 2012, their Bic for Her range (creamy pastel colours for women, of course) ignited a whirl of fury similar to this morning’s, with comedian Bridget Christie even calling her show A Bic For Her. (Perhaps I’d forced this out of my Stupid Sexism memory folder. It’s far too full to keep everything.)
And so, within an hour, Bic South Africa apologised on their Facebook page. The message, which has since been removed, said the campaign “was meant in the most empowering way possible” and “in no way derogatory towards women”. They then went on to reference/blame a “women in business” blog site, which they basically admitted to nicking the content from.
This statement was also deemed pretty bloody stupid and was replaced with the following: “Hi everyone. Let’s start out by saying we’re incredibly sorry for offending everybody – that was never our intention, but we completely understand where we’ve gone wrong. This post should never have gone out. The feedback you have given us will help us ensure that something like this will never happen again, and we appreciate that.”
And with that, Bic-Gate is over. Women’s equality 1, Bic -10,000. A storm in a biro and badly judged Facebook post. And the fact that it was over before it began almost proves how stupid the whole thing was. There are so many other urgent, oppressive, awful, outrageous things for me to be angry about. This time I’m just going to laugh – like a woman. #HappyWomensDay