Words may not have physical power, but they certainly influence what is acceptable in our culture. Burt’s Bees may not have meant to start a fire with the copy on their packaging of moisturizer, but they did. The ignorantly written message reads, “Soak in the moisturizing seductiveness of shea butter and indulge in the scent of vanilla and rice milk. And let the catcalling commence.” Street harassment is a real issue that women and girls have to deal with, but just because it is so prevalent doesn’t mean we should sit back and take it as part of our society.
Colleen Kiphart brought the matter of this offensive marketing label to Hollaback! Despite a lackluster apology from Burt’s and Güd together they have started a petition for Burts to stop production and apologize for their bad choice of words. You can sign the petition at Change.org.
Colleen Kiphart says, “I deal with catcalling regularly in my neighborhood. It is uninvited, unwanted, and demeaning. I stand up for myself, but many women can’t or don’t know they can. I am frustrated to see a socially-conscious company like Burt’s Bees perpetuate the myth that women want to be objectified by strangers on the street…”
Personally, street harassment has been a part of my life since I was a teenager and caused me to live fearful for many years. Being told to “Smile” seems to be a favorite line along with “You’d be so much prettier in my car”. Slimier versions such as asking me to perform oral sex or trying to physically grope me have also been obstacles in the gauntlet of walking on a public street. Usually I simply get called a ho or a bitch if I talk back or refuse to respond culminating in a lifetime of feeling unsafe to walk down the street, whether alone or in company of other women or children.
As mad as I am about street harassment, when a company as popular as Burts Bees makes such an awful mistake it can be used as a gift. The issue gets more media attention than if it had been a lesser known brand. Now we have another chance to talk about catcalling and why it isn’t appreciated. Talking about an issue leads to taking action which leads to change.
“Burt’s Bees and Güd are perpetuating the myth that street harassment is a ‘compliment.’ We’ve received over 5,000 stories from people around the globe telling us that street harassment is scary, demeaning, and traumatizing. Last time I checked, that’s not what a ‘compliment’ feels like,” said Emily May, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Hollaback!. Hollaback! breaks the silence that has perpetuated sexual violence internationally, asserts that any and all gender-based violence is unacceptable, and creates a world where we have an option—and, more importantly—a response. Find out more at ihollaback.org.
Having some strange and usually much larger man approach me or call after me on the street is not comforting. Even though I am a self defense teacher I shouldn’t have to walk down the street with my head hung low in hopes of avoiding harassment. Our culture needs to shift away from the attitude that women are targets and toys. More men need to step up and say this is not appropriate behavior. It’s time for this to end. Catcalling is not a compliment.
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