News: Sexism In The Soap Aisle

Did you know that soap has a gender?
Publish date:
October 16, 2014
body wash, open thread, target, soap, sexism

One of the many things I learned while visiting Target this past weekend while in Kansas for a wedding is that the store has a Women's Body Wash aisle. Other things I learned included the discovery of ice cream cone-flavored Jet-Puffed Marshmallows (adorable); Cookie Dough Oreos (terrifying); and red velvet pancake mix (I’d eat it).

But I was totally baffled by this signage. In that aisle were, to my mind, anyway, many body washes AND bar soaps that didn’t have any kind of gender identity at all. (Unscented bar soap! What are you doing here?) So I did what any good modern #feminist does: I tweeted a photo of the sign @Target:

They had the decency to tweet me back, although it’s obviously a boilerplate response:

And because this is all happening on the Internet, I had to have the last word:

Who knows whether Target will do anything about their signage. I'll check back with them and let you know. And I suppose that there are many people out there thinking, “GIRL. IT’S SOAP. HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE GENDER PAY GAP? THAT’S AN ACTUAL THING TO GET UPSET ABOUT.” And yeah, that’s legit problematic (it's still holding steady at 78%!). No argument there.

But my frustration isn’t about soap. Not really. It’s about the marketing of women. It's about creating unnecessary divisions. It’s about labeling things (body products, in this case, but cf. everything from girls' toys to greeting cards to sneakers) that are soft-focus, pastel, and flowery “women’s” things, while down a different aisle are bright colors, sleek designs, and non-foo-foo scents that somehow aren’t for us.

And on top of it, body products marketed toward women are often priced higher than their male counterparts. For example, at Target, Gillette Mach3 Sensitive Skin Disposable Razors for men (package of 3) costs $6.99. Gillette Venus Tropical Disposable Razors for women (package of 3) costs $8.59.

And here's one from the Target soap department: Dove Men + Care Deep Clean Purifying Grains bar soap (4 bars, 4 ounces) costs $4.49. Dove Gentle Exfoliating Bar (4 bars, 4 ounces) costs $5.39. Each soap, I assume, does the same job. Does the inclusion of the word "exfoliating" drive up the price?

When I think about it like that, while standing in the Women’s Body Wash aisle of a global big-box retailer, that I realize, holy shit, we have so much more work to do. It's a little like the broken-windows theory: If we don't work on fixing these small instances of everyday sexism, how can we expect the big things to change?

So, tell me and be honest: Am I crazy for having strong feelings about Women's Body Wash? What are some examples of gendered nonsense that you've noticed in the beauty world?