Secret deodorant has released a new video that is making waves on the Internet. Called “Ladies’ Room,” the ad is part of Secret’s on-going #StressTest campaign and centres on the experience of a feminine trans* woman negotiating a women’s washroom. Featuring Karis Wilde, a self-described androgynous queer artist, the video opens with a group of very beautiful (presumably cis) women walking into a posh public bathroom, chatting and giggling. We cut to “Dana,” standing in a stall, deciding whether she should exit. She paces and takes a few breaths while the women’s voiced fade and dramatic music begin to swell. With one final breathe, Dana leaves the bathroom stall. “Stress test #8260,” the screen reads. “Dana finds the courage to show there’s no wrong way to be a woman.” As the screen fades to black, we overhear one of the women compliment Dana on her outfit. We close with a shot of the product: Secret Clinical Strength deodorant, “stress tested for women.”
Wow. In an age where we are bombarded with the risks that cis-gender women face in washroom from phantom predators, this ad shows the sweaty, anxious reality that many trans* and genderqueer people face in public washrooms and wraps it in an affirming message that makes space for multiple experiences of womanhood.
Good advertising doesn’t sell us a product; it sells us a feeling. I can’t emphasize enough the emotional resonances of this ad: I’m a cis-gender woman and this ad was a gut-punch. The closest I’ve ever come to this experience was in high school, waiting for the cool girls to leave so they wouldn’t make fun of my bad outfit (or, let’s be real, so no one would find out who just dropped a deuce). How often do we get to see a representation of a trans* person, anywhere, that centres their experience and recognizes their full humanity? That is rare and we desperately need more of it.
But also, Secret? Fuck you.
I’m curious about how liberation aligns so neatly with a potential increase in market share. It’s as if women’s beauty producers—and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the “progressive” ads that are popping up these days come from the domain of women’s health and beauty companies—woke up one day and realized they could increase their market share if they started targeting their advertising to fat women, and women of colour, and trans* women, and queer women. Suddenly, there was a whole wide world of new potential customers, waiting to be embraced by the pall of insecurity wrapped in liberation. Dove famously markets to “real beauty” while selling firming creams for your unsightly bits. Secret encourages trans* women to come out of the (water)closet, but reminds us that #RealWomenDontHavePitStains.
Look, I’m a cis-gender woman who has never had to worry that my own internal sense of womanhood—however fractured, imperfect and queer—could be called into question, and I don’t want to take away from the importance of this ad. Would I rather have this kind of advertising over that which reaffirms a singular representation of womanhood? Absolutely. Is this ad a sign of progressive? Yes. I still can’t help but wonder, though, that signs of successful femininity (because ultimately this ad is about feminine gender presentations) are mediated upon our ability to buy stuff. No doubt Secret’s in the game to sell us that stuff, but perhaps a more radical ad would be one that sold genderless deodorant.
So yes, Secret, there is more than one way to be a woman. It would just be nice if all of them didn’t depend on buying something.