No Comment: Nothing Like an Ice-Cold Glass of Sexism

UPDATE: The milk ad website, formerly everythingidoiswrong.org, has been pulled down and traffic redirected to gotdiscussion.org. Read more here.

The California Milk Processor Board’s latest campaign is meant to raise awareness of milk’s health benefits in reducing the symptoms of PMS. The campaign is not targeted at women, though, but at dudes.

Called “Everything I Do is Wrong,” the Milk Board is promoting tired old stereotypes about pre-menstrual women being irrationally angry and scary nutcases. With miracle-cure milk and some pre-packaged apologies such as “I’m sorry, I listened to what you said and not what you meant,” the Board will thus equip dudes with the proper ammunition to deal with their “crazy bitch” lady friends who are on the rag. As Kelsey Wallace said at Bitch, “Finally! An ad campaign that stereotypes women AND promises to make straight men’s lives easier!”

Excuse me while I turn red with non-PMS-related rage.

Jeff Goodby, of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the creative agency behind the campaign, is sitting in that sweet spot where he gets to capitalize on anti-feminist humor about women being too sensitive and/or irrationally angry, and then write off any criticism as women being too sensitive and/or irrationally angry. Despite Goodby’s insistence that women with a sense of humor (i.e. not fuddy-duddy old feminists) will find this hilarious, such stereotypes are in fact anti-women. They’re the same stereotypes cited by those trying to keep women out of good jobs, and those who say we shouldn’t have a woman president because she’d start a war just because it was her time of the month. Additionally, jokes about women’s irrational anger or emotional instability reinforce the idea that men shouldn’t have to work hard in a relationship, a marriage, or at anything, really, because if a woman gets upset it’s because of her hormones and not for any rational, legitimate reason.

This isn’t the first time that the Milk Board has used sexist cliches to promote milk as a PMS-reducer or beauty booster. One commercial from 2005 shows men buying every carton of milk they can find in order to placate their pre-menstrual wives. There was also this gem, which infantilized women with sexist fairy tales (check out Sarah Haskins hilarious commentary on Current TV’s Target Women for more).

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a commercial marketing campaign would play on negative stereotypes about women–just look at ads for beer or cleaning supplies. But because this campaign focuses on a health benefit, it is consciously designed to feel a bit like a public service announcement. This is problematic because the science behind that claim is iffy. Connie Bohon, an ob-gyn in Washington, D.C., calls the link between milk and PMS “soft,” telling the Washington Post, “There are some beliefs that calcium can improve PMS symptoms [but] I don’t know that it’s universally accepted.” The belief is based on a 1998 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology–a study sponsored by SmithKline Beecham Consumer Healthcare, makers of calcium-supplying TUMS–which found that women who took 1,500 milligrams of calcium via supplements experienced nearly a 50-percent reduction in PMS symptoms. Still, there’s no clear evidence that this would work the same with calcium-rich foods like milk.

Because the campaign is being positioned partly as a public service announcement, it straddles the line between commercial marketing (the profit motive) and social marketing (the do-good motive). In this case, the Milk Board appears to want to improve women’s health, but ultimately, commercial profit is their bottom line. It’s frustrating enough when advertisements capitalize on anti-feminist messages, but it’s absolutely maddening to see commercial marketing masked as social marketing and using the same anti-women tactics.

Unfortunately, this type of stereotyping to market women’s health–and corporate products–isn’t unusual. A recent New York campaign to encourage breastfeeding played on women’s body image insecurities by framing weight loss as the primary reason to breastfeed. And breast cancer campaigns have adopted slogans such as “save the ta-tas,” implying the only reason to save a woman’s life is so she can keep being a sex object.

So how did the Milk Board come up with this idea–didn’t they think it would offend women? Goodby claims the concept tested well in his “small focus group,” but he doesn’t specify whether it was a group of men or women. He told The New York Times,“We’re trying to do something that’s tasteful.”

I’m not sure I share the same definition of “taste,” since I’m finding this campaign hard to stomach. I may be lactose intolerant, but that’s not why my insides are curdling.

Keep reading our weekly No Comment series every Wednesday on the Ms. Blog, and be sure and send in the sexist ads that piss you off.

Comments

  1. Ephie Lowinger says:

    Wrong!!

  2. I’m not surprised by this ad AT ALL. The entire dairy industry is sexist and speciesist. All feminists should take a good look at whether or not they want to support the exploitation of the female reproductive system. Cows live short lives and are artificially inseminated(aka raped) repeatedly because they have to be pregnant to lactate. Their calves are taken from them very shortly after birth — male calves are chained up and killed very young as veal and females, of course, are raised to be milk slaves like their mothers. When they’ve had about 4 calves they’re considered spent and killed for meat (less than half of their natural lifespan).

    Sure, milk is healthy – for BABIES! All of the ads and propaganda about the health benefits are bullshit. Let’s grow up and stop supporting these inherently cruel industries.

    • An ad campaign like this is yet another good reason not to drink milk. I mean, it’s so weird that “milk” – just generic milk, not a particular brand of milk, even – needs ads to get people to drink it. You don’t see the auto council making “Drive Cars” ads or cabbage growers making “Got Cabbage?” ads. ANYway. The dairy folks are far from the only ones using misogyny to sell stuff we don’t need. Klondike Bar commercials, for example, equate “listening to your wife” as one of the world’s worst/hardest things to do. Something a husband would only do under the direst of circumstances – like, for example, if rewarded with low-quality chocolate and heavily processed ice cream!

    • Milk isn’t healthy for babies. Cows milk is only healthy for baby cows.

    • Coki Garcia says:

      … couldn’t have said it better. I totally, completely agree.

  3. Hormel Chavez says:

    My argument is as irrelevant as I see this articles argument to be.

    This is because we’re single authors with an individual’s perspective, arguing about the Truth which is this massive kaleidoscope of all single truths combined.

    Of course there are countless instances where stereotypes disservice the real women who are blamed for the stereotypes’ machinations & results.

    On the other hand, there are (countless or not) sufficient instances of these same women reinforcing the stereotypes (they claim are injust) to have created the stereotypes in the first place.

    I’ve never heard of women freaking out and going insane vs their (or any other) man because some anonymous loser in Idaho died a twinkie purple. But I would bet money (and I’m not a gambler) that most men would agree that if they just decided to die a twinkie purple and show it to their female S.O., they’d get scorned for SOME reason (hence the Milk ad). PMS or not. Dying twinkies probably isn’t ranking on the chart of significant accomplishments, but neither is coming home with a new pair of heels ;)

    I’m actually surprised that feminists and masculinists (are there such people?) don’t acknowledge the fact that each breed has it’s strong and weak members, with the majority comprising the mediocre middle, and just live with it.

    But, perhaps such a position would be too rational for the former of the breed, whereas the latter just sit back and chuckle, regardless of their IQ or ability to articulate such perspectives.

    I’ve no idea if any human will ever read this, but if it happens, please understand my position is that all this comparative, competitive, single-perspective accumulation of arguments is an absolute waste of time. We should all be combining our energy and talents as humans.

  4. That is really sad that they have to advertise like that.

  5. Laura Dale says:

    *Sigh*…its tough being a feminist these days when MILK thinks it’s OK to have a go. Great article – Soy never looked so good…

  6. Funny, I don’t drink milk, I don’t have periods anymore, and yet I still want to punch the idiots who made this. Guess I’m just being “irrational”, fellas!

  7. I’m not crazy about this milk ad, but I looked at the breastfeeding weight loss ad and I think it’s kind of funny/clever. It’s making a play on diet ads. So what? Is it really sexist to think that there are lots of women for whom losing weight after giving birth would be a bonus? And I ask that as a woman who didn’t even really care about losing “baby weight”. As a feminist I’m almost embarrassed that Ms. would take issue with it.

  8. Darlene says:

    No one should be drinking milk. Dairy cows for the most part (the b-s California “Happy Cows” commercials to the contrary) lead horrific, drastically shortened lives. Soy, rice or almond milk are healthy, satisfying alternatives. And SG, I am 100% with you on this. No milk, no periods, but getting madder by the minute.

  9. What’s so dangerous about making light of PMS? PMS happens. And its kind of funny. Just because there are some wackjobs out there who use PMS as a tool to stereotype and derogate women doesn’t mean that it should be off-limits to well-intentioned jokesters who just want to make milk ads appeal to a wider audience.

    • The big problem is that one of the arguments for not letting women in positions of decision making is that they have PMS.

      PMS — for those who have it, and we’re not talking about being cranky because you don’t feel good — isn’t any funnier than prostate cancer or depression or anemia or explosive anger or ADHD.

  10. I’m a female and I think these ads are hilarious! They’re just poking fun while trying to advertise a scientific fact at the same time. When my sister is PMSing she can get truly irrational and emotional. I drink milk a lot, almost 2 glasses a day, and (as far as I know) I don’t have those crazy mood swings. My sister does though and she doesn’t drink as much milk as I do. Coincidence? I think not.

  11. Another backlash to deny the inroads we made to stop sexism – another smokescreen that too many younger people just don’t get the full dimensions of the impact – feeding mysoginist attitudes.

  12. dairygirl62 says:

    I am a dairy producer in Wisconsin balancing many roles which include wife, mother of two kids, nutritionist, and an asst.librarian. As a dairy producer we pride ourselves on the consistent care of our animals 24/7. My husband and I are passionate about the daily routines we follow in making sure the healthiest product is produced for our family and for consumers.

    I really enjoy the “Got Milk” ads and don’t find the most recent ads to be offensive. What happened to our sense of humor? I can’t imagine going through life and not being able to laugh and be sarcastic about any topic. I suppose it depends on the audience one is dealing with.

    It is scientifically proven that milk contains a complete nutrient package of nine essential nutrients. In addition to being an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, it is a good source of potassium, protein and vitamin A.

    Consuming milk and milk products improves the overall nutrient density of the diet and is a marker of a high quality diet.

    With essential nutrients including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin, and niacin (niacin equivalents), milk, cheese, and yogurt together pack a powerful nutrient punch!

    I have two kids that enjoy chocolate milk as their power drink when they are done with a work out. It is critical that we have kids drinking milk as there is no other way to get the appropriate nutrients and vitamins.

    We should be spending our time trying to find a cure for obesity and help parents that don’t take care of their children to better understand the importance of participating in their kids lives. Frankly, I need a good laugh once in a while.

    I am a very strong, independent married woman that finds the humor in these ads.

  13. I’m a wife, mother of two sons and a third generation dairy producer from Ohio. As dairy producers, we make it a priority to care for our cows with the goal of producing a quality product families can feel good about consuming. We are proud to produce milk which contains 9 essential nutrients that are an important part of a balanced diet.

    I must admit I was a little surprised when I first saw this new campaign. The California Milk Processors Board aimed to accomplish the same thing all marketing campaigns strive for; first to draw attention and second to appeal to a target audience (in this case men). They definitely succeeded in creating a stir.

    Regardless if you agree with how they executed their campaign, the fact remains that milk is a proven nutrient-dense product. I want you to know there are many great dairy farmers in this nation who work 365 days each year caring for animals and producing a healthy product. I feel good about serving my family white milk, chocolate milk, cheese, yogurt, butter and ice cream. I hope you do to.

  14. One commercial that sticks out in my head more than any other is a Dr. Pepper commercial. In this short ad, a man goes into a convenience store to buy tampons for his girlfriend, as the song, “I Would Do Anything for Love,” plays in the background. Come to find out, the only thing he wouldn’t do for love is share his Dr. Pepper. It was a clever commercial! It was unique, funny, and it got a point across, much like this PMS campaign.

    Regardless of whether or not you were offended by the milk ads, there is truth in their advertising. Milk and other dairy products are packed with nutrients. In fact, milk contains 9 essential nutrients that we all, men or women, need in our diets. To learn more about the power of dairy products and how cows are raised, visit http://www.dairyfarmingtoday.org

    • dairygirl62 says:

      We have to remember that all commercials are geared to capture the attention of most 3rd graders. The “Everything I Do is Wrong,” program was designed to get the attention of consumers and was designed to entertain. Anyone who is married knows that there can be difficult and challenging times in a marriage and communication is key to keeping the channels of communication open. Men are always getting criticized because they don’t know how to properly take care of what women want, so the campaign really hits the nail on the head, as it helps men to understand that all they have to do is “bring home the milk”.

      On our dairy farm we communicate and provide comfort to our girls everyday, and they are better taken care of then some people take care of their children. The girls in our herd each have a different personality and characteristics that make them so unique from one another. My husband is known as the “cow whisperer” and he understands and handles each girl the special way that she needs in order to provide a wholesome, healthy product for our family and other people’s families.

      There are so many reasons to drink milk, enjoy yogurt, butter, ice cream, and cheese as dairy is the most economical products that there are on the market. As a nutritionist I enjoy finding new ways to add dairy to our healthy eating plan each day. Drinking chocolate milk is the best drink my two children can drink after a hard workout and it provides the essential protein they need to rebuild muscles and help to continue nourishment throughout the day.

      My daughter travels a lot for softball and we have found that freezing yogurt or chocolate milk is a great treat after a competitive day.

      A good website to visit is :http://www.mypyramid.gov as it provides helpful information about how important dairy is in a healthy eating plan. Not only does it provide information about eating healthy, but there is information about exercise.

  15. beatlescreek86 says:

    Umm, women are irrational and psycho before and during their time of the month. I don’t know what women you know… if they are not overly emotional during that time of month, I want to know what they’re on.

    I mean for God’s sake, I cry for no reason to my knowledge, feel like everything is hopeless, yell at my boyfriend about something stupid (last time it was about a sock being on the couch. I mean, really? Does that sound rational??)… all things that leave me mortified after I do them. Then a day or so later, BOOM, I have my period.

    And every women I know is like this. And we all admit it. It’s not men that are telling us we are behaving this way.

    • The thing I take exception to in your statement is that many women are not like that at all. I know many women have horrible PMS symptoms, both emotional and physical, but to just say “All women are like this, so what’s the big deal?” really reduces us to a heterogeneous group as much as other, more obvious stereotypes. This is your experience and that of those around you. It’s far from my experience, as I have never suffered more than minor, brief sadness and some bloating. My husband is amazed that women are so prominently portrayed as overly-emotional nut jobs because he’s never seen a hint of that. Don’t get me wrong, I am a little crazy, it’s just not hormonal.

  16. DorianW says:

    Wow… Am I the only one who noticed the so-obvious advertisement-like comments from the milk industry cows?

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