Strong (smelling) women

Sure, I’m a feminist. I expect equal pay for equal work. I don’t respond well to gender-based limitations. And yet, I still enjoy fluttering around town in pretty printed skirts. It works.

So normally when I hear the term “strong women,” I’m right around the corner with a “You go, girl!” I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s all birth control, Susan B. Anthony, voting and mini-skirts — I just have a knee-jerk positive reaction to any concept of female empowerment. And like any ingrained social trend, advertisers have learned how to exploit this automatic support for the sistahs. We’ve come a long way, baby.

I came to the realization that my girl power was being manipulated while I was watching TV with my husband Matt the other day. One of the new “Share your Secret” commercials for Secret deodorant twirled on the screen with a feminine giggle, inviting watchers to share their secrets and celebrate 50 years of strong women. And Matt started laughing.

Without even thinking, I glared at him. Hands on hips, I asked if he had a problem with strong women.

“No, no,” said Matt (he’s a smart man). “I just didn’t think women wanted to be strong in terms of their odor.”

Well, I felt like I’d been hit with Carrie Nation’s ax. I know I want to keep my underarm aroma meek and mild-mannered, right out of a 1950s etiquette book! And I had been completely oblivious to this major advertising flub because “strong woman” is associated with good things in my mind.

So I started paying more attention to women’s advertising. The Venus razor will make me a goddess for shaving my legs. Sex and the City will ensure my Tuesdays and Wednesdays are glamorous and fun. Old Navy will help me get my “fash’ on.” And America’s Next Top Model will let me follow my dreams — provided I’m at least 5’10”.

Now, my generation never had to actually burn our bras or fight our way into college. We just kind of assumed those battles had been fought, and we opted for cosmos, heels and “chick flicks” as symbols of our autonomy. We buy Secret deodorant and use Venus razors as means of balancing femininity with modern feminism. But at the end of the day, after sweating for our paychecks alongside our male counterparts, we have to wonder: how can such strong women still smell like baby powder?

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