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Tuesday April 24, 2001

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Gendered hair slaying

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By Lora J. Mackel

Recently there has been a "revolution" in the hygiene sciences. Women, who have long suffered the frequent injuries inflicted upon us by one- and two-bladed shaving implements, have been initiated into the 21st century with the thrice-bladed uber razor, the Venus 3.

However, my liberal arts education (a mere three summer school credits shy of completion) has forced me to critically analyze the message implicit in the packaging and marketing of this toiletry.

Venus 3 is one of the last vestiges of sexual stereotyping in advertising.

Men have been shaving their faces for eons, and women joined the shaving class around the turn of the 20th century when it was no longer considered scandalous to bare female legs in public. Ever since that auspicious day, the manufacturers of razors, shaving cream and other hair-removal paraphernalia have marketed essentially the same products to men and women in completely opposite ways.

Since the time women first took razor to hair, there have been incredible leaps in the rights and attitudes regarding women. So it would be logical to assume that the stereotypes that so pervaded the commercial arena would have gone the way of the dinosaur. But what the Venus 3 illustrates is that the marketing of sexism is alive and well in corporate America.

Venus is not the first three-bladed disposable razor marketed by the Gillette company. Indeed, Gilette is the company responsible for the very masculine and successful Mach 3 shaving system for men.

In the advertisements for the Mach 3, men were portrayed as being empowered by the speed of the razor. A very handsome alpha male with a beard was "flown" through the shaving process at the speed of sound. Computer graphics of an unlucky hair added to the overall martial experience of the revolutionary razor.

Men not only shave, but they slay the evil hairs that keep them from achieving their goals. And in typical fashion, the masterful shaving experience makes our "hero" popular with the ladies.

Now the Gillette company is marketing that very same product to women for this first time this month, saturating the print and television advertisement with a very different message. In what can only be described as Dali-esque torso shots, the Venus 3 advertisements depict a headless, bathing-suit clad body with smooth legs reclining on a beach. The woman, for we must assume she is a woman, has no face and therefore no personality. She is not moving or empowered, like her Mach 3 counterpart, but confined to a towel in a reclining position.

She is an object, a pretty and smooth object.

It does not take a genius to deconstruct the underlying meanings of these advertisements.

Contrasting these images brings up several important questions. First, as busy modern young women and men, isn't the image of shaving at the speed of sound more appealing to everyone? Second, why did it take so long to get a "women's" razor? I am not a math genius, but when you consider surface area, it seem like females have a lot more territory to cover.

Third, wasn't Venus the "slut" of the Greco-Roman pantheon? Why would I possibly want to associate my shaving with being the slutty goddess of lust?

Lastly, and most importantly, why do there even have to be separate razors for men and women?

It is no longer necessary for the corporations to hawk their products as though this was the '50s. Women need and demand the same type of service as men, for if our razor nicks us, do we not also bleed? We are people, and we deserve to be depicted as whole bodies and not torsos in ads directed at us.

The Venus 3 is a very convenient product, and its marketing should reflect that and not outdated conceptions of women's and men's roles.