Bil Browning

Women: Your beavers are smelly and itchy

Filed By Bil Browning | January 07, 2009 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: beaver, feminism, Kotex, offensive commercials, vagina

Since my "I don't know nuthin'" post (where I admitted my ignorance to some trans and feminist issues), I've tried to keep my eyes open and be a little more observant of everyday slights that I'd normally overlook. I must admit that I got a small thrill out of seeing my A1 steak sauce: Sexism is that important mentioned on Bitch magazine today with this small validation of what I've been attempting to accomplish. Thanks, Lisa.

But my delight in this post was more than just someone taking a phone picture of what he saw as sexist and writing about it. It's small things like this - taking initiative when you see something as offensive - and DOING something about it. One post on the internet isn't going to change the world or even shake the boots of a popular steak sauce company, but it does rattle chains. And it inspires us to do some form of daily resistance, however small, when we perceive something as sexist, or racist, or classist, or just plain wrong.

I scratched my head at two recent posts on Feministing though. (I told you I was trying to educate myself!) I read the comments section to try and get a better view of the matter, but didn't feel comfortable asking my questions there. Anyone willing to help me on this one?

First I saw "Vagisil commercials make me batty" which excoriates the following Vagisil commercial. Author Jessica writes, "Yes, Vagisil, I get it: you think vaginas are gross and smelly and that women spend all day trying not to scratch desperately at their shame-caves."

I tend to compare commercials like this to those disgusting Preparation H or Valtrex ads. It's a medical condition. They use euphemisms to describe sometimes gross, uh, discharges. (See? Even I tried to use a euphemisms. Geez.) At the same time, I can see the validity of this Feministing commenter:

This ad is really heaping on the shame, though. That's the problem with it. Not only are you suffering from a legitimate and real medical condition, but you're miserable because society dictates you can't scratch the irritation. Why can't you scratch it? Because, unlike when other parts of your body are irritated, you absolutely cannot be seen scratching your disgusting vagina. So you have a dirty secret. This in turn makes you an ugly, horrible person. Even if you're lovely on the outside, this commercial reinforces the idea that your malady makes you gross. Shame, shame, shame!

I move on, nodding my head and thinking we're on the same page. A few posts later though, I click through to "Take care of your beaver!" Jessica points out the ad with a short commentary, "I actually think this tampon commercial is kind of cute. I know that "beaver" isn't exactly a positive term for women's genitalia, but the beaver in the commercial is cute and having fun."

One commenter there echoes the upbeat tone:

I loved it! I thought it was cute and vag-positive. She looks so happy.

Really? Really? I can acknowledge and see that the first commercial is negative even though it's for a medical condition that causes unpleasant problems. After all, there's no reason why the men in hardon pill commercials are all so darned happy while the vagina cream product women are usually sneaking around like one of the three fates looking for the eyeball.

But, at the same time, calling a woman's vagina a "beaver" isn't exactly cool, is it? If a commercial came out for a gay product that had a "queer" reference, I wouldn't be satisfied with "Well, it was funny and didn't say faggot..."

I mean, the slang term is there for two reasons. A beaver is covered in hair and it eats wood. A woman with a beaver has an unkempt, nasty dirty p---y that would eat any man that comes near it. At least where I grew up, it was a commonly used term for lesbians - you know, that whole granola-eating, armpit-haired, one-bath-a-week-to-preserve-Mother-Nature stereotype of a lesbian.

Maybe it's just a matter of what a word means as we've discussed surrounding "queer" and "that's so gay." But the beaver commercial seems to be worse - even with the heavy dose of cutesy - if we're looking for derogatory messages about vaginas. If someone did a commercial about a faggot (the bundle of wood) and a gay man, but made it upbeat, would that make it okay? I'd say not.

What am I missing?

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I didn't know "beaver" was a derogatory expression.

Regarding the second ad, I'm with something I think I remember some of the commenters saying: it's a nice change to see a woman happy to be taking care of her vag. To be enjoying her vag, instead of being ashamed of it. Yes, it's kind of strange pseudo-anthropomorphism, but the bottom line is, to my eyes, still positive. Especially when facing other "feminine hygiene" products where the angle they take on advertising pads & tampons relies so heavily on shame and embarrassment around vaginas & menstruation.

I mean, the majority of advertising is weird to me, and that ad is no exception. But I don't find it offensive-weird, you know? There are smiles, and sunshine, and as much as I hate the use of men ogling women, I give them props for not going the vaginas-are-gross-and-scare-men route.

*shrugs* That's my two cents, anyway.

Really? "Beaver" is a derogatory expression for woman's Va-JJ? So, when people say "leave it to the beaver" -- it's a derogatory reference?

I must confess, I'm also largely ignorant of trans- and women's issues. Admittedly, I haven't noticed the objectionable ads -- I suppose, as a gay man, I tend to shy away from issues dealing with women's reproductive organs.

Also *shrugs*

I don't think of beaver as an offensive term, just as a slang term for a woman's vagina. Maybe this is a regional/generational difference? Of course, similarly, if I saw an ad directed at the gay community that used queer in an upbeat manner, I wouldn't see it as offensive.

The other reason the Vagisil ads (and Massengill, and ...) is offensive is because they imply ALL women need their services, because ALL vaginas stink (Oh, I'm sorry, "have that not-so-fresh feeling") so badly you can smell them three desks away, so you MUST douse them with perfumes and ointments in order to make them minimally socially-acceptable.

Elliott, transman, who still has a vagina.

I either do not watch enough TV, or the right channels at the right time, for I never see commercials for feminine products beyond an occasional pad or tampon pitch.

The commercials I do see, and which offend me, are the ones for Cialis. To me it seems to put across the message that, all the woman has to do is lay there, so who cares what she needs or wants, it's the guy that we have to make sure is ready and able to screw whenever he wants, to hell with what the woman might want.

Misogynistic male sexual oppression of the female, that is what it says to me.

Yeah, I am going to run right out and ask my doctor all about Cialis, twits.

As far as beaver, it must be a regional thing, because here it is just another term for pussy, cunt, hole, or whatever you might want to call it besides vagina.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | January 8, 2009 12:32 AM

I'm with the others here: I think beaver is just slang, not derogatory.

And I'm with Elliott (in more ways than one!): the commercials stink because they play on the myth that ALL vaginas stink (not just those with a yeast infection or other health problem).

The commercials' subtext is one that females learn at a pre-verbal stage of life: they are inferior to males, and that inferiority has to do with their genitals, in particular, they're weird, dirty, smelly and "need fixing."

Which is simply false in every regard. But you'd be amazed at how many females have incorporated the myth.

Gee, Bil, where I went to school in Indiana 'beaver' wasn't so much a derogatory reference to the vagina as it was what every little school-boy wanted to see (well, almost every little school-boy). I don't think the object of so much interest is necessarily bad.

So, I guess you really stuck your... whatever, into it this time by unilaterally deciding it was a bad, nasty thing.

Melanie Davis | January 8, 2009 1:39 AM

Beavers are cute, industrious, ingenious, soft, and life-changing for their immediate environment. The animal's pretty spiffy, too. I'll add myself to those who haven't had a bad brush with the beaver word. It's mostly a giggle-inducing term of endearment, 'course most of my friends also proudly reference their "cunts." (which is from the Old Germanic word "kunton" simply meaning female genitalia, and not the Latin "cunnus" which means vulva, but comes from a root word that means to cover or conceal. Thank you And how is "pussy" so bad, either? But then, I am a cat person. My favourite term is "yum-yums," but that has nothing to do with animal names, it's just fun to say.

There are also names for penes (yes, correct plural form) that come from the animal kingdom that are not necessarily offensive, cock, one-eyed trouser snake, trouser mouse (love that one, and I saw a bar of that name in MO), iguana and lizard (needs moisturizer?), and on and so forth.

Taking the cake for most offensive, however, my boss' mom referred to her and her daughters' vags as their "stink," as in "Did you wash your stink?" Not the sex-positive household, that. I bet they had "dirty pillows," too.

Yum-yums. See, you're smiling now.

Penes! I love that. When you say it, it sounds like "peonies," my favorite flower.

(What do you want to bet you wouldn't learn the plural for penis on Joe.My.God or Towelrod?)

No one else has that connotation to "beaver?" Holy shit. Really?

Okay - I'll stand down. LOL

(But that helps to explain why the two ads were seen differently. I wondered if this wasn't a case where "queer" is much more offensive to some people than others. Apparently 'tis.)

Thanks gang!

I'm having a hard time seeing this stuff, like the Vagisil or FDS ads, as misogynistic. Ads for anything having to do with underarm odor, hemorrhoids, jock itch, incontinence, even toilet paper, have the same squeamish, embarrassed quality. I don't see how the women's ads are distinctly hateful. I think we're just obsessed with and terrified of our bodies.

Of course we say "beaver." What else do you think we put under a (dental) dam? :-)

It's funny. The ad is funny. Instead of being ashamed of her beev, she's palling around with it--in public. It's her date and best girlfriend. They share laughs. And there's no attempt to sanitize the fact that the hunks on the beach are really interested in her beev as much as--or more than--they are interested in her. This operates as a critique of heterosexuality, which may be why some of the feminists like the ad. But I'm with you that to like this ad is to overlook the ickyness of feminine deoderant products generally. Would men ever market or consume a product that implies that the sour-smelling gaminess of a man in jeans is a BAD thing "down there"? Now that is funny.

A word on the origin of the term beaver.

The use of the term beaver originated with the NYC Police in the 1st half of the last century. They used it whenever a deceased woman was found with clothes in disarray (or no clothes) to alert other officers to the gratuitous show. This may be in part where Bill picked up the negative connotations to the word, since for obvious reasons feminist women reacted to the term as a term of sexual objectification.

Since that time, much water has obviously passed under the bridge, but it is still important to recognize the origin of terms. Over time, it has come to be used colloquially as just another term for a womans vulva without thankfully the old connotation beyond the general objectification that hetero men hold for women at large. Still, Bill is right to be cautious in using the term because as a male he might never be sure how it might be received by various women in his audience.

All that being said, the funniest part of this whole discussion for me is that I learned this not in some feminist seminar, but rather while studying Art History and specifically the photographer Weegee, thus proving once again one of my old teachers mantra that all information is ultimately useful.

As for the first commercial, I think the woman is way hotter in a hoodie with the existential look on her face than in that other feminine crap. lol

I thought it was cute, as a non-vaginal American.

But "one-eyed trouser snake"? That's a new one for me. :)

I'm a young woman and the term offends me. So no Bil, you're not way off base.