Pantene says you can wash that sexism right out of your hair

Don’t you hate it how people are labelled differently for engaging in the same behaviour? What’s “persuasive” in a man is labelled “pushy” in a woman. A father who stays up all night working is “dedicated,” but a woman who does that is “selfish.” That is, like,  so unfair. Luckily, that problem has a solution. And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that the solution to that problem, which uptight complainy feminists might call “sexism” but that this ad calls “labels,”  isn’t “collective political action and widespread cultural change.” The solution is shampoo. 

There’s nothing terribly new about people with something to sell using the language of social justice to do it, to convince you that you can become more equal by consuming more or different stuff. An individual solution predicated on buying things  seems so much easier, and so much more fun, than a collective, cultural solution that will require political involvement and feminist protest – and, conveniently, it’s also far less threatening to the status quo.

According to Pantene, sexism is real (but they won’t call it that), but you shouldn’t let it hold you back. You can end it with shampoo (and conditioner, styling serum, leave-in treatments, and a full line of Pantene products!), and you’re under no obligation to end it for other people – you’ve got yours, so fuck other people! With Pantene, you can “be strong” in the face of sexism (again, let’s please not call it that) and “shine” because the revolution can’t happen unless your hair is glossy. Pantene wants to empower women, and if they happen to turn a profit while doing so,  well, that’s because they don’t let the label of “multinational corporation minting women’s insecurities into gold while asking for credit for being so forward-thinking” hold them back. You go, girl!

Besides, you’re not one of those ugly feminists – I’m sorry, empowered women – are you? You’re a hot feminist with great hair. So be strong and shine.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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Join the Conversation

  • Sarah

    I was really pleased by this commercial. Putting this kind of message out there – in the midst of all the horrendous messages typically communicated through advertising – in the mainstream is great. To pish-posh it simply because it isn’t the exact message you’d send is ridiculous to me. Calling out sexist double standards in a top haircare brand commercial? Awesome.

  • Tiffany

    The ad didn’t make any mention of buying Pantene products in order to combat sexism. It wasn’t even implied. In terms of product placement, this reminds me of the Dove “love your body” campaign, where there’s a message and the product is an afterthought. Liking beauty products doesn’t make you a bad feminist. Wanting to shoot the messenger when the feminist message has resonance seems like it sort of does…

  • michelle

    The problem with the ad comes from the taglines at the end which imply that each individual woman, herself is responsible for and is able to somehow change the way other people are stereotyping her through sexism. The last bit implies, as was stated in the original post, that having shiny hair will somehow help.

    The major impact of the commercial is not to challenge these stereotypes, but sort of to remind women that they are being scrutinized and criticized more closely than men are and that they should ‘shine’ as a result: this from a shampoo company means not only that they should pay attention to their appearance, but to the shine of their hair, as most people know the claims of the shampoo is to give shiny hair. The commercial fell flat because if indeed women did not feel more closely scrutinized it might not matter if they were shiny or if their hair was shiny when they were giving a speech, leading a team of coworkers or staying up all night to work while the baby sleeps.

  • Carmen

    Yeah I agree with the other commenters. Pantene, at the end of the day, has to sell. It seems that the company is doing this in a rather respectful way – they’re not, like ad campaigns have historically, said that you need their product to be complete as a person. It’s more suggestive of something like, “Hey, you know, it kind of sucks that the world is sexist. Let’s help you be the best you can be so you can go out and dominate regardless of those stupid sexist labels.” It does in a way tie self-worth to appearance, which isn’t great either, but looking nice and put-together doesn’t sound so anti-feminist to me.

  • Franzia Kafka

    Yeah, advertisers have been co-opting real politics and social issues in order to sell shit for decades. If I recall, some of the earliest “feminist” advertisements in the 70s were for cigarettes. Recently, advertisers have been targeting the gay community big-time.

    I feel less annoyed by this ad than that other usual advertising strategy of making your viewer feel inadequate and insecure about something only your product can “fix.” … But this ad plays on that a bit, too – women are certainly insecure about all these sexist judgments.

Feministing Jamz: Listen to this awesome cover of Lorde’s “Royals”

If you remember, Vero’s post about the Grammy award-winning song “Royals” kinda blew up the Interwebs by pointing out the cognitive flaw in Lorde’s cultural critique of music, youth, and consumer culture.

Vero rightly pointed out something that didn’t sit well with me either. The concern I shared with Vero was that while the lyrics serve as a valid critique of the excessive consumerism in hip hop (and the entire music industry, really), for casual listeners, they run the danger of becoming just a racialized backhanded indictment. Lorde’s “Royals” definitely made me wince in places even though I kind of liked the song in a fairly meh music season of 2013 (before King Bey blew everything up and ...

If you remember, Vero’s post about the Grammy award-winning song “Royals” kinda blew up the Interwebs by pointing out the cognitive flaw in Lorde’s cultural critique of music, youth, and consumer culture.