I may just be a blissfully unaware member of society, but I have never associated the company Burt’s Bees with controversy and anger. In fact, I’ve always viewed their natural, self-proclaimed “Earth friendly” products as something that is nice to smell and good for the environment. Though I am not a regular customer, the products I have tried in the past have had a refreshing scent and seemed to have been made with care. This is why I was surprised to learn that someone was really offended at a product that they made. Not only was this customer offended, but she decided to start an entire petition against the Vanilla Body Butter packaging. The reason for this anger came from the final line of the package, which, after describing the product and main ingredients, proclaims, “Let the catcalling begin.”
Hollaback!, a group that is both a “non-profit and [a] movement to end street harassment”, stated that catcalling was “the most common form of gender-based violence globally.” The customer agreed, calling catcalling “violence against women.”
Of course, now that this story has been published, there is anger. On both sides. Those who are for the petition are angered over the product, saying that this wording should not be tolerated. Then there are those who are angry about the people who are angry over the product. These are the ones who say that there is no reason to be offended, and that catcalling is not a violence against women on any front.
I do think that this is a very interesting examination of how particular wording effects the situation. Though I know little about Burt’s Bees, I really do not think that the company was trying to suggest that it is okay for women to be violated, especially after using their product. After all, Burt’s Bees is a business, and most businesses know that intentionally offending their customers is not a smart way to make sales. Suppose that the company was trying to suggest that the body butter was meant to make the customer feel gorgeous or even sexy inside. Using the phrase “Le the confidence begin” or “Let the fearlessness begin” would have had a completely different effect on customers, because words like “confidence” have a much different, more positive connotation than “catcalling.” What seemed to anger the other side the most was the specific word “violence.” I read about some who even said that equaling catcalling to violence is a diminishment to the actual power of violence, and that made the whole idea of violence against women into a type of joke instead of the serious threat that it is.
UPDATE: Burt’s Bees has issued a more extensive apology, and has decided to stop creating the product. Only the remaining stock will be sold. At one point, Hollaback! asked Burt’s Bees to make an official donation to their organization, but they have since removed that request from their official webpage.
Since I am not someone who gets catcalls (for multiple reasons), I cannot really give too much of a personal opinion. However, I am very interested to hear your thoughts about the issue. Is this even an issue? Are you offended over the product? Are you offended over the fact that people are offended over it? Are you offended that you read this blog post? Let me know in the comments below.
*Photo Courtesy of painted-ladies.com. The photo is not the product described in the article.