Nightmare Balls

Once again, I’m very grate­ful that American fem­in­ists have sci­en­tific­ally proven (by look­ing at dusty back issues of Rolling Stone magazine) that men aren’t ‘really’ objec­ti­fied, only women are.

Because it means that this eye-popping ad for toi­let cleaner fea­tur­ing a tarty boy band sus­pen­ded beneath the rim of a toi­let in cages, implor­ing ‘baby’ to pull the chain and flush them — slowly wash­ing away their clothes — doesn’t really exist, and none of us need have night­mares about it.

And I don’t need to ana­lyse it.

Tip: David S

Flora Men

After my dad had a health scare in the 1970s but­ter was ban­ished from the Simpson house­hold and replaced with Flora, prob­ably partly as a res­ult of this ad, which ran in heavy rota­tion for what seemed like most of my child­hood. I con­tin­ued eat­ing it myself for years after leav­ing hom.

Back then we – or, rather, our moth­ers – were told that but­ter with its sat­ur­ated fats was bad for you. Flora mar­gar­ine which was ‘high in poly­un­sat­ur­ated fats’ and made from sun­flower oil in an indus­trial pro­cess by the giant con­glom­er­ate Unilever, was massively mar­keted as Good For You. It was an extraordin­ar­ily suc­cess­ful cam­paign, encour­aging a real shift in social habits.

But that was the 20th Century. Turns out of course that like other mar­gar­ines Flora con­tained trans-fats and hydro­gen­ated oils (though Unilever claims that today’s Flora doesn’t) which are now offi­cially Bad For You. Badder in fact than sat­ur­ated fats. Butter is no longer so evil – but still tastes better.

Likewise, the think­ing behind the ‘Flora for men’ ad itself seems hil­ari­ously out­dated now, present­ing a van­ished world divided into ‘wives’ and ‘men’ – where ‘wives’ spend their time shop­ping (and cook­ing) for their ‘men’.

But even here the datedness/sexism is not as one-way as it might first appear: note how the men are sep­ar­ated from the world of con­sump­tion by the glass win­dow. They’re left out­side the super­mar­ket, like tied dogs – and about as artic­u­late. The ad, des­pite the ‘Flora for men’ tagline, is after all tar­geted at women.

The concept of ‘Flora for men’ seems to have been about giv­ing per­mis­sion to women wor­ried about their man drop­ping dead before his time to buy Flora – don’t worry, your hus­band will like it because it’s ‘for men’. Despite its new-fangledness, the flower on the packet and the sissy name (appar­ently ‘Flora’ was the name of the wife of the head of one of Unilever’s mar­ket­ing dir­ect­ors at the time).

And des­pite, above all, its ‘health­ful’ qual­it­ies. Men weren’t sup­posed to care about their health back then. The notion that hun­dreds of thou­sands of them would even­tu­ally buy a glossy monthly magazine full of (con­stantly chan­ging) hypo­chon­dri­acal advice with the word ‘men’ and ‘health’ in the title would have been laughed at.

I sup­pose though that a sec­ond­ary effect of the ‘Flora for men’ advert­ising was to ‘de-sissify’ Flora and to some extent health con­cerns for men, gen­er­ally. (Though today ‘Flora for men’ would prob­ably be tar­geted at men dir­ectly as a sep­ar­ate line, in khaki-coloured, chunky tubs shaped like hand-grenades — with exactly the same gloop inside.)

In the early 1980s Unilever ran another ad, voiced by house­wives favour­ite Terry Wogan, which seems to be dis­tan­cing itself slightly from the happy ser­vitude of the earlier ad by jokily nod­ding to fem­in­ism, with a more assert­ive woman: ‘Some time ago Sarah Drake decided to change her hus­band. More and more women are com­ing to the same decision. They’re chan­ging their hus­bands to Flora men’.

And, in a way, they did.