In one minute, the Pantene #WhipIt commercial took negative stereotypes of women leaders and flipped those ideas on their head. Our readers know that negative labels aimed at women leaders are nothing new. What is new is a commercial that directly addresses and challenges these labels. We have to praise this Pantene ad for bringing feminist issues to a wider audience and rejecting the old, lazy, sexist advertising tropes many companies still use.
The Pantene ad shows high-powered women and men in parallel situations with the women receiving deprecating labels, while the men receive praise. The man giving a passionate speech is marked as “persuasive,” while the woman speaker is “pushy.” The man in the office addressing a colleague is the “boss.” The woman in the same office, same position, is “bossy.” In copy accompanying the ad, Pantene urges everyone to “whip away the double standards that hold women back.”
That’s a message women worldwide need to hear, and we were excited when this morning Pantene announced plans to bring the ad campaign to the United States under a new name — #ShineStrong. Originally, the ad aired only in the Philippines but went viral online and even garnered praise from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
While this is a commercial for shampoo (and none of the models bend any beauty norms), we do think ads addressing and challenging stereotypes are empowering. To recognize and fight off stereotype threat, the risk of being viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype, a woman leader needs confidence and assurance. She shouldn’t have to worry about being labeled “bossy” and a “show-off.”
And even when a woman leader has confidence, she still needs her colleagues and bosses to recognize that they too need to reject sexist labeling and stereotypes. Women will continue breaking through the glass ceiling, but sexism isn’t over, and real barriers to equality in leadership for women in the workplace and politics still exist.
We see thousands of ads per day, and whether we like it or not, they shape our perceptions of society and each other. Many ads perpetuate societal norms, so when a commercial directly confronts stereotypes, we stand up and take notice. Some of the more than seven million people who saw Pantene’s ad understand stereotype threat, and many learned something about sexism along the way. That is why we’re excited that Pantene will bring this positive ad to the United States. We hope other companies take notice.