Is My Body Butter Offending You? (It Might Be)

Body ButterDear Reader,

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.


Jumbled Writer

*Photo Courtesy of The photo is not the product described in the article.


18 Responses to Is My Body Butter Offending You? (It Might Be)

  1. I’m not offended by any of this (your blog post, the word “catcalling,” or those are offended by the packaging), but I am bewildered. First, I’m surprised a company like Burt’s Bees couldn’t find a better way to advertise their product. “Let the catcalling begin” seems a bit lame. Offensive? I’m not so sure. If I’d seen the packaging prior to reading your post, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. On one hand, we seem to be a culture who is easily offended by everything. On the other hand, I certainly don’t condone sexism or verbal violence toward women. The word “catcalling” conjures up an image of men whistling at a woman who is walking by. I’ve always considered catcalling to be tacky, but I’ve never seen it as violent or threatening. Maybe that’s just my perception. It’s possible some woman have been verbally assaulted or have had disgusting sexual comments directed their way as part of “catcalling.” Maybe this is all just a matter of perception and our own personal experiences determine whether or not we’re offended by the statement on Burt’s Bees packaging.

    • It definitely seems to be going that way. I think the anger from the two sides does come down to a lack of understanding of how something like catcalling can be seen in different lights under alternative perspectives. There’s a disconnect in communication. This could be a good opportunity for those on either of these two sides to define and explain what the definition means to them and how it has impacted their life.

  2. I definitely think it was the wrong word to use. You’re right, ‘confidence’ or ‘fearlessness’ would have been an infinitely better choice. For my part, I have experience catcalling both from cars and people in the street probably from the age of about 12 and even though luckily nothing further aside from a few innopropriate touches from strangers has ever happened to me, it did (and still does) inspire fear and unease. This is something which has actually happened less since I’ve moved from a university town where I grew up to a big city. I’m not sure I would call catcalling violence, but I would say it’s the start of that slippery slope. Certainly it comes from the same attitudes that trivialises such violence.

    However, as you say, it’s obvious that Burt’s Bees would not be encouraging that. So while I think the word should be replaced and hopefully it might spark a decision, I do think it’s a bit far to say that they were encouraging it.

    As Tricia says, reactions are highly likely to be based on personal experience which wildly varies.

    • I can see how the word catcalling would trigger a series of uncomfortable feelings and/or memories. As you say, it may have been the start to something much darker than just a whistle or a bout of name-calling. In some cases, the catcalling may have immediately been followed by an act of violence. In that case, it would certainly bring up a lot of memories for someone who just wants to buy a body butter. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  3. Cat calling can sometimes build confidence – just like paying a compliment I would imagine. The silliness is more in someone actually picking that out of a blurb – comment on the product and pursuing it as an insult. I often wonder if these people who do something like this have a life and work. Regardless I suppose it’s harmless – and proof we are individuals again – but beware – if these people get their way – freedom of speech will be no longer. If you can stop a word like ‘cat-calling’ – you’ll be able to stop any word you want from being said in public. What chaos as I imagine just about every word going can insult something/someone if you search. It is your choice – not to buy the product or turn the ad off (don’t watch it). And by all means avert your eyes – if you see it in a store.

    • I think that Burt’s Bees issued an apology, but apparently that wasn’t enough. They have now decided to stop creating the product and will only sell what is left in their stock. Interesting.

  4. I had never thought of catcalling as synonymous with wolf-whistling. So I would not have picked up on the meaning inferred by some people. My memory said it was an old-fashioned word for the noises made by an audience who didn’t like a play or concert. And that is what many dictionaries still say. However, at some point, catcalling is starting to show up with this later meaning.

    In any case, I agree with marymforbes — it seems over-sensitive to pick up on this and turn it into a huge issue.

    • And it’s becoming a pretty big issue. Burt’s Bees is going to stop making the product and only sell what is left in the stock. Luckily, there have not been any mass riots/violence towards the company. I hope that stays the same.
      It is interesting how a definition changes over time. Even if the official definition remains the same, when enough people change their personal definition of the word, then the word itself has a new meaning. Thanks for commenting!

  5. I don’t really understand why the term ‘catcalls’ would be used. I also don’t understand why it’s such a big deal. But then again I never receive catcalls and all I buy is the chap stick.

    • It is questionable why, out of all the words they could have used, they went with catcalling. It doesn’t really seem to fit the image they have created.

  6. Much ado about nothing. Tacky, yes, but hardly offensive, and certainly not worth a public dressing down. There are other, more subtle and diplomatic instruments Hollaback! could have used to voice their concerns. This is a dog in the sheep pen, not a wolf.

  7. I think it’s more tasteless and offensive to ask for a donation after bullying a company. That’s playing with extortion, which is unquestionably illegal. We have our First Amendment rights for advertising and cat calls alike. That doesn’t mean anyone has to like what we’re saying, but we certainly have a right to speak.

    It’s no longer sufficient to stop using the product and send a notice to the company? This country now has to go to extremes like petitions and rabid organizations that do their work by force, not discussion? Burt’s Bees could have absolutely told these people to take a hike, but they didn’t and they were kicked some more because of it? This is getting out of hand.

    • Indeed, Burt’s Bees did not any obligation to respond to this outcry. That already shows a type of dedication to their customers and making sure that all customers feel heard. The days of more silence forms of protest, like sending a letter, seem to be far gone.

  8. Your post was a balanced reporting of the issue. Catcalling is verbal abuse. Having received more than my fair share of it, I can tell you that it ruins the simple enjoyment of walking around a city. Men who presume to imply that you would have anything to do with them, making lewd remarks about my person, insinuating that they could…..

    Burt’s Bees. The slogan was probably written by a man mistakenly thinking that women should be flattered to be verbally assaulted on the street. That aside; I don’t think the product should be discontinued, simple deletion of the offensive phrase on future packaging of the product should suffice. Mistake is made, apology issued, change assured would be the most sensible course.

    • I can’t imagine the packaging being written by someone who had suffered serious side effects due to catcalling. You would think there would be more people that would have approved or rejected the slogan, but who knows. Maybe the product will come back some day with a different packaging. Thank you for sharing your view on this!

  9. I’m sure that had it been that offensive, they would have gotten tons of letters/emails from offended women about the words on the packaging, which would have caused them to eliminate the phrase long before Hollabeck got involved. It seems to me that Hollabeck is the bully here. I am sorry that the producers of Burt’s Bees succumbed to their harassment, bullying and intimidation. Burt’s Bees was trying to help eliminate harassments in a tangible edifying way. I fail to see how stopping production of this product through harassments helps Hollabeck stop harassment, unless they were only trying to get financial support from Burt’s Bees. Puzzling…

    • At one point, Hollaback was asking for donations from Burt’s Bees, but they have since removed that last part. Corvidae in the Fields had a good point in asking if people are even sending letters anymore, or if starting online petitions/movements is the way of the future. I haven’t been a part of either, so I can’t really say. Thanks for commenting in.

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