Hair today, gone tomorrow*

*sorry, I can’t miss the opportunity for a good pun!

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Recently I decided to make an effort to reduce my plastic consumption and waste. To this end, I decided to ditch the (relatively) expensive plastic razors and research re-useable safety razors. In doing so, I stumbled upon the obvious truth that there is absolutely no difference between men and women’s razors, and that it is the result of a very successful marketing campaign.

King of his domain

History states that King Camp Gillette (his real name!) developed the first disposable safety razor. Whilst it was not the first safety razor on the market, it was the first ever with blades that could be removed and changed. This change revolutionised the industry, as well as reducing the price of the razors.

 The other half

As these razors were no longer restricted to the elite, meaning that shaving was no longer a sign of class status amongst men, Gillette decided to target an untapped market, women.

The marketing campaigns coincided with a drastic change in women’s fashion, and it is discussed that it was likely a circular effect of fashion dictating women’s hair removal, and women’s hair removal dictating fashion.

 Fashion dictates fashion

During the Victorian era, women’s clothing had covered both arms and legs, thus body hair was neither a concern nor noticed. However, the evolution of more daring clothing revealed the arms, shoulders, and, (gasp) armpits. This is where the clever marketing campaigns began. Prior to the 1900s, advertisements involved describing a product rather than telling a person as to why they need to buy it.

Securing a market 101: target insecurities

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But the marketing campaigns surrounding women’s hair removal centred on promoting disgust and repulsion about body hair. These campaigns preyed on the desire of women to be ‘on trend’, as well as focusing on the loneliness of unmarried or single women. In 1915, Gillette launched its Milady Razor, and thus began the market of women-specific razors.

In the 1940s and 1950s, dresses became longer again due to a shortage of nylon. As a result, sales of razors slowed. Rather than promoting shaving as an ‘on trend’ fashion necessity, they started throwing words into the campaigns such as “unsightly”, “unwanted”, “embarrassing” and, “unhygienic”. Thereby cementing the idea that if you had body hair, you were unclean.

A change of focus

Later marketing ploys targeted the idea of femininity and women’s empowerment. The 1960s saw the Scaredy Kit, a shaving kit aimed at women who were reluctant to shave (possibly due to a fear of razors).

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Also around this time, campaigns used phrases such as “smooth like a child”, promoting the idea that being brought back to a pre-pubescent state was somehow the ultimate form of femininity.

The irony of these campaigns is the image of teenage girls shaving to show their maturity, while bringing themselves back to a pre-pubescent, childlike state.

Particularly distasteful when we look at the current marketing campaigns that focus on sexuality and desirability!

Final Thought

So what have we learnt from this? One, the fact that men’s and women’s razors exist is simply from a desire to corner every aspect of the market, and two, the marketing campaigns targeting women were morally questionable!

Full disclosure: I’m still buying a safety razor!

Honouring innovative women – the EU Prize for Women Innovators

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As we all know, yesterday, March 8th was International Women’s Day. But what exactly does this day mean? Does it mean writing a social media post thanking your mum, discussing gender inequality in the workplace, or attending rallys’ and protests? Yes, if it raises awareness. Me, I watched the live stream of the EU Prize for Women Innovators.

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Awarding female innovators

EU commissioner Carlos Moedas spoke that there were two reasons a prize like this is important: 1) to recognise the achievement of women, and 2) talk about female role models. As he said, in the history of the Nobel Prize, only 5% of the recipients have been women.

My interpretation of this is that we need a day to recognise and award the achievements of women outside of, and separate to, the achievements of men. Maybe some people are scoffing at this statement. However, as long as the majority of the awards in Innovation and Science go to men, separate recognition of women is needed.

During his speech, Commissioner Moeda commented that the irony of him ‘commanding women to inspire other women’, was not lost on him. He also said he hoped that women in innovation would “make their passion contagious to other women….and let it inspire another generation of women”.

I ask you, who are your role models? Are they male or female? I tried to think of who my role models were. And do you know what? None really came to mind. Does this mean that I never had a role model, or does it mean that there was no mentoring and fostering of passions and interests? I’m not sure, but after watching the live stream and hearing about the awardees, I hope that there is a new generation of women who are inspired by female role models.

I digress, I want to discuss the award ceremony.

From the 147 applicants, 12 finalists were selected. Of these 12, 4 awards were given. The first award was the ‘rising innovator award for women under 30′. The recipient was Kristina Tsvetanova. She is an engineer and the cofounder of a tactile tablet for people who are visually impaired.

Third place for the EU prize for Women Innovators was awarded to Claudia Gärtner. She has developed a ‘lab-on-a-chip’ that can be used to detect cancer or infectious diseases and other agents from a blood sample.

Second place went to Petra Wadström. She and her team have designed a solar device that heats and sterilises water!

And finally, first place was awarded to Michela Magas, who described herself as a member of the creative/tech industries, and has been involved in bringing together researchers with the designers, musicians and developers to bridge the gap between academia and industry and the arts and sciences.

Inspiration

In her speech, she stated (and I am paraphrasing) that ‘the role of the female perspective in innovation is driven by an attempt to understand human nature’. So in other terms, women bring a different perspective to innovation.

And if we are going to talk about role models, then her final statement of ‘what you have inside you can lift you over walls and across borders” was truly inspiring.

To hear about the achievements of these women was inspiring, for the lack of a better word, and it made me want to try harder at what I am doing so that I may be a role model for the next generation of women. Even if it is only my nieces that I inspire!

Final thought

And that, my friends, is what these awards, and International Women’s Day, is all about. Empowering women with the knowledge that we can aspire, achieve and receive recognition for what we do, and are trying to do.

The Communication Series: Using communication to dominate or empower

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Post-modernism theory

As a result of growth in areas such as education, scientific knowledge and the progress of industry, society has seen an enhancement of life and culture. However with these changes, a problem of domination has arisen. This is when one person uses or withholds information and knowledge from another person in order gain control.

The heart of the emerging theory (consisting of the post modernism and critical analyses) is that organisations need to be flexible and less structured in order to change with society. Scholars write that post modernism uses knowledge, information and language to create a culture where the language can be used to either empower or to dominate.

 The feminist critique of communication

In honour of International Women’s Day, I am going to discuss a sub-genre of the post modernism approach, the feminist critique. This field challenges and questions the ideological and cultural perceptions of female roles in society, and how communication shapes and influences women’s roles within organisations.

Historically, patriarchal dominance has been used in organisations to engender women to particular roles, (for example, secretaries or nurses) positions seen as “women’s work” and perhaps beneath that which a man should perform. Key to this dominance and perpetuation of gender bias is the language used.

Further to this is the structured hierarchy of an organisation, women in more subservient positions, men in positions of power or positions involving decision-making and the relay of information.

Communication to dominate

One study examined taking maternity leave in regards to changes of identity and how workplace interactions affected leave choices. This study highlighted the problem within organisations to attach meaning and identities to the pregnant woman, often to their detriment.

Central to this was the communication used, as there were differences between what was said and what was done. By this I mean that communication between the women and their supervisors and their co-workers, was used as a means of controlling the decisions made by the women regarding their decision to take maternity leave. It was also found that the language used by the supervisors affected the attitude of co-workers to the women taking or returning from maternity leave.

The communication processes were often used to make the women feel guilt, shame and inferiority about taking leave. It was also used to convince both the women and their co-workers that their work performance would be inferior or less productive based on the decision to take or return from maternity leave.

Communication to empower

Here I am going to focus on an example concerning female dairy farmers in rural India, where researchers studied how breaking down patriarchal dominance and empowering women influenced social change within the communities.

Traditionally in these communities men dictated the control of money, interpersonal relationships and the distribution of work. But some villages were part of a program that was designed to provide female dairy farmers with greater education about dairying, running a co-op, and encouraged social clubs to increase interpersonal interactions.

As you would expect, changing the communication processes and empowering women benefited everyone!

Not only was more information about dairying, health and finances exchanged between the women, men in these villages said that there was a positive effect on the collaborative approach to dairying as well as in their family life!

In short, it was evident that when the women were given a voice, the whole village not only benefited but also underwent social changes. In contrast, more isolated women who were not in the social clubs felt less empowered and still felt they were under patriarchal control.

Final Thought

Communication, how it used, delivered and what is said, has the ability to empower or dominate, affect attitudes, culture and identity, and to create social changes to the benefit of all.

What we do not say can be as powerful as what we actually say.