Double Standards in Today’s Society


Andres Sanchez

The piece of contemporary media I will analyze is a Pantene commercial from 2013 in which touches on society’s double standards and encourages women to leave labels set by society behind and break from the chains of society’s views. The commercial relates to Adrienne Rich’s ideas in her work Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence where she identifies the meanings of male identification and lesbian continuum. The Pantene commercial intends to explore how current society has not changed much from the time Rich wrote her work in 1980 as although more women gain higher positions in jobs, the labels that were created decades ago must still follow them everywhere they go. Through these labels, the audience is able to see the ways in which standards hold the men and women of today. With these intentions and use of rhetoric, however, the commercial challenges the male audience to react to the commercial in a different way than the female audience.

The commercial by Pantene begins with comparing a man and a woman, both whom are bosses of a company. As the man addresses his partners, he is labeled as “boss”, but as the woman addresses her partners, she is labeled as “bossy”. The label with which the woman is set contains a negative connotation as bossy can be perceived as someone who is imperious. As the commercial progresses, women and men continue to be labeled differently in contrasting situations with men being labeled as “persuasive”, “dedicated”, and “smooth” while women are labeled as “pushy”, “selfish”, and “show-off”. The polarity of labels in the commercial intend to persuade the audience, in this case men and women, that even though women are allowed to pursue higher positions in today society, double standards are working against them for doing so. For example, one of the scenes in the commercial demonstrates the distinction between a man and a woman who are working late at home. In the man’s situation he is labeled as “dedicated” while the woman in the same situation is labeled as “selfish”. In Rich’s work, she defines male identification as “the act whereby women place men above women, including themselves, in credibility, status, and importance in most situations regardless of the comparative quality the women may bring to the situation”. By using this to interpret the scene in the commercial, the woman in the scene is labeled as selfish because she is seen as someone who has to be the caretaker of the house and doing anything other is selfish while the man is seen as the one responsible for the income of the home. In every scene of the commercial, each woman is labeled because she is going against the male identification.

Apart from the idea of male identification, the Pantene commercial also touches on Rich’s idea of lesbian continuum which she describes as “forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support”.  The women in the commercial can be seen as those who are part of this lesbian continuum by challenging male identification and pursuing higher positions in jobs. It is because of this opposition against society standards that they are then labeled with negative connotations. The commercial does not shame on the women for doing so, but shames the double standards of society for judging women who want to pursue jobs and take actions that are believed to be those belonging to men. A possible fallacy within the commercial is the way in which only women are seen as the victim, but this is reasonable because the commercial focuses on a product is meant for women. This fallacy, however, can cause some of the male audience to feel uncomfortable at the fact the commercial can be viewed as an opposition to male privilege in today’s society while other part of the male audience may feel unrepresented by the fact commercial only targets the way in which society’s labels affect women and not men.

The rhetorical devices used in the commercial include connotations, contradictions, and tone. The contradictions and connotations are clearly seen in the commercial through the polar labels set on men and women having men being labeled with words that associate with positive connotations and women with words of negative connotations. The song used in the commercial, “Mad World by Gary Rules”, is a very interesting choice as it emphasizes one’s disgust of the regular chores of daily life and the way in which one does not look forward to the next day through the lens of a person who is viewing the world as an outsider. The way this song connects to the purpose of the commercial is that is gives off a tone of angst towards how society has set guidelines which women and men must live by, and once they step out of these boundaries set by society, they are judged and labeled. All these rhetoric devices work together to make the audience feel disdain towards the stereotypes established by society towards one’s gender.

Although women in today’s society aim to obtain better positions in their professional life and move away from domestic stereotypes, there are always labels awaiting them if they do so. According to Rich, these labels are a byproduct of the ideas of male identification and lesbian continuum set in the 1980s. The Pantene commercial analyzed is a great representation of what double standards in today look like. Even though the product advertised and commercial focus on women, the depiction of men is also a product of today’s society. By only including the effects of labels on women, the Pantene advertisement leaves out the male audience and can bring about different reactions by men. In the end, the commercial calls for a great reflection over what standards we hold for each gender and for a break from these standards. The double standards of today should not be a guideline for how one should live their life. These standards exist worldwide, unconsciously or not, and they will continue to exists as long as labels are prevalent based on one’s gender.