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Milk: It Does The Patriarchy Good?

Ads linking milk to alleviated PMS have feminists feeling irritable.

by
Jenn Taylor

Bio

July 23, 2011 - 12:00 am

Brave feminist warriors joined together last week to do battle with a villainous enemy of women: Big Milk.

Cue the sinister laughter and twirling of handlebar milk mustaches.

The California Milk Processor Board’s nefarious plot to spread misogyny throughout the land came in the form of a $1.2 million ad campaign to promote the calcium in milk as a treatment for premenstrual syndrome. Print ads feature sheepish beta males armed with large quantities of milk for the premenstrual ladies in their lives. “We can both blame myself,” says one man, carefully averting his eyes. “I’m sorry I listened to what you said and not what you meant,” says another, cringing under the off-camera gaze of a cranky PMS-er.

Before it was pulled Thursday, the male-targeted website for the ad campaign, everythingidoiswrong.org, asked visitors, “Are you a man living with PMS?” Men were offered a variety of PMS coping tools, including an emergency milk locator and a “Puppy Dog-Eye-Zer” to “give yourself a face that’s hard to stay mad at.” The site also provided pre-approved apologies and a video apology enhancer. Explaining the obvious to LA Weekly, the Milk Board’s press officer called the ad campaign a “fun and lighthearted way of letting consumers know the calcium in the milk helps reduce the symptoms of PMS.”

But the ads also served as calcium-rich, vitamin-fortified feminist bait, and the perpetually outraged lapped it up with all the grace and discernment of an emaciated alley cat. Behold, the impetuous wrath of the sisterhood:

Jessica Valenti, a feminist columnist at The Daily, called the Milk Board website a sexist “cornucopia of offensive stereotypes framed as humor.”

“Wow these are pretty offensive. Reducing us to hormonal female psychopaths is no way to get us to drink milk. In fact, that makes me want to rip the milk out of your hands and shove it up your hole,” raged another critic.

Referring to a 2005 Milk Board campaign to highlight the link between calcium and reduced PMS symptoms, a writer at Forbes complained, “Milk hasn’t cured the world of premenstrual syndrome and so we’re being dished a second helping of sexploitation? Really?

And Ms. Magazine quickly posted a petition (9,339 signatures at last count) demanding an immediate end to the “sexist” PMS-centered ads.

The entire campaign is overwhelmingly sexist, playing on the tired stereotype of menstruating women as volatile monsters. It also supports the condescending idea that any angry woman can be talked down with puppies and glossy compliments. We’re asking the California Milk Processer Board to end this insulting campaign.

If anything, the ads are actually tougher on men, portraying them as sniveling, clueless oafs paralyzed by the possibility of doing or saying something wrong. The editors of Ms. Magazine appear to have overlooked that aspect of the ads in crafting their petition.

The feminist reaction devolved into true absurdity with the milk boycott proposed by a Feministing blogger. She suggests five PMS-soothing calcium sources “that don’t involve milk.” Topping her list of ideas: “Eat other kinds of dairy products, like yogurt and cheese (mozzarella is particularly high in calcium).” Way to strike a blow against Big Milk by consuming products made from … milk.

This daft feminist strategy would be sad in a pathetic sort of way if it wasn’t so deliciously entertaining. What better way to expose portrayals of women as irrational whiners and hysterical bitches than by whining irrationally and bitching hysterically? Nicely done, and empowering as ever. Maybe next they can attain true legitimacy by railing against Summer’s Eve for degrading the trans* community with ads that dare to suggest only women have vaginas. Oops, those darn feminists are way ahead of me.

But I’m not complaining. I’m all for feminists busying themselves with the activist equivalent of pushing plastic gingerbread men around a Candyland board — it leaves them less time to scrawl their appalling, morally bankrupt defenses of gender-based abortion, female genital mutilation, Peace Corps rape cover-ups, and other genuine assaults on women and girls.

Prior to discontinuing the “Everything I Do is Wrong” campaign, Steve James, executive director of the Milk Board, blew off feminist criticism in an interview with the New York Times:

“If you do a microsite about how cute puppies are,” Mr. James says, “you’ll get feedback that says, ‘You’re exploiting puppies.’ ”

The reliable controversy generated by that type of feedback is exactly what the Milk Board sought to harness, and it worked. Hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and blogs are discussing the ads, and thousands of women are newly aware that chugging milk might alleviate PMS. And oddly enough, the Milk Board managed it with equal opportunity caricatures of men and women — no dairy offerings to the patriarchal gods necessary.

There’s plenty of sexism in advertising, but this ain’t it. Poking fun at gender stereotypes doesn’t thicken the glass ceiling or widen the mythically expansive wage gap any more than the average knock-knock joke. But try telling that to the anti-milk protesters whose every criticism validates another longstanding stereotype: the humorless feminist.

Follow Jenn Taylor on Twitter at @JennQPublic and catch That's What She Said Thursday nights at 9 p.m. EST on FTR Radio.
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