What? You don't wet wipe?

by Guest Blogger // 23 February 2012, 09:19

Tags: advertising, body fascism, vaginas

Ciara O'Connor takes on Washlets. Ciara is a 21 year old recent graduate who's teaching English to kids in London whilst wondering what to do next.photo of a tray of fairy cakes decorated to look like vulvas, in both pink and brown icing

"Nowadays it is not enough to neutralise perspiration and breath odours; women are warned in every women's magazine of the horror of vaginal odour, which is assumed to be utterly repellent" - Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch

Andrex's latest master stroke has been to remarket its humble babywipe as the answer to every woman's prayers - the ladywipe! Finally we are liberated from our natural filthy state, our waxed, cosmetic-surgeried, vajazzled vaginas can now be cleaned PROPERLY. Several times a day! And they biodegrade! For the hygienic woman with a social conscience.

I could deal with it for as long as it wasn't shoved in my face. Offensive though they certainly are, thankfully "feminine hygiene" wipes still hadn't managed to hit the mainstream; a mixture of embarrassment and their implicit hatred of women kept them on the bottom shelf and off our Twitter feeds. That was until "the nation's favourite" purveyor of loo roll got in on the act, leaving us unable to ignore the unpalatable truth that has plagued us for centuries: girls are icky.

And Andrex have been quite clever. The genius of Washlets is that, unlike Femfresh and friends, they are not readily identifiable as feminine hygiene. The packaging is blue and white. There is no mention of vaginas or ladies anywhere on it. Nothing embarrassing in buying these, girls. In fact, the wipes have little to distinguish themselves from the babywipes that Andrex do so well. So what's the problem, then? Well, a little look at their rather aggressive advertising campaign gives away what they are actually selling, that intangible thing that babywipes lack: fear. Vagina fear.

Dawn Porter has been recruited as Andrex's evangelical Washlette, and has created a series of online advertisements featuring her trying to convert the general public. In every advert she invites her victims into a toilet as she waits outside, sometimes shouting encouragement at them. Women come out talking about how "fresh" and "hygienic" they feel. I don't think we are to presume that all these women are defecating on demand. With a camera crew outside.

Because although Porter does specify that it's "bottoms" she's dealing with here, and although there are some men featured, Andrex doesn't really walk the walk. The emphasis is squarely on women: Dawn asks all the women in an office to meet her in the ladies bathroom where she can convert them to the Washlet cause; pretty young women in Westfields pass them out to female passers-by; she targets "yummy mummies" in the street and gate-crashes a hen party. It is clear that Andrex are hoping to make money out of cleaning up vaginas.

Dawn asks her new lady friends whether they "dry wipe", and you can see the confusion and embarrassment as they start to wonder for the first time whether "dry-wiping" is, in fact, disgusting. The realisation that we have lived in filth for our whole lives dawns (sorry) on us all. Thank god for Andrex's "Clean Campaign".

And no, I didn't make that up. They really are running with that - the Facebook page is called "Clean Campaign". A Campaign. A noble crusade against filth. Logically, if you do not use their "moist toilet tissue", you must be dirty. The packets are adorned with the slogan "Change what you mean by clean". Certainly, if you don't use the Washlets now that they exist you are dirty. We all thought we were clean before but we must now reconceptualise the word in order to accommodate Andrex's new breakthrough. The brave new world Washlets have created is one in which women and vaginas have to work even harder than before to be socially acceptable.

The genius of it is, of course, that women are only too willing to succumb to any new suggestion for vagina insecurity that is thrown at us; we'll buy up all the vagina-fear they have. We have shown ourselves only too willing to embrace any new ideas to pornify and Barbiefy them. Vaginas, in their natural state, are disgusting. We must obliterate all signs of vaginaness in order for our genitals to be acceptable and attractive, not only to the opposite sex, but to ourselves.

So say no, girls. Say no to vagina-shaming, woman-hating rhetoric . Washlets promise to be "Cotton Fresh". Even if you're not convinced by the unpleasantness above, doesn't a cotton vagina just sound like the worst thing in the world?

Photo of vulva cakes by Philippa!

Comments From You

Stevie // Posted 23 February 2012 at 10:24

Thank you so much for this article, I've been seeing the adverts for this new product on the TV and facebook for the last couple of weeks and it's been driving me crazy. Exploiting women's insecurities and tricking them into believing that in order to be 'clean' they need to spend money on these useless, unhealthy products is beyond ridiculous, I'm so glad someone took the time to write this article it needed to be said!

Jules // Posted 23 February 2012 at 10:35

I have to disagree here. I discovered feminine wipes eight years ago - until I did a bout of cystitis and a course of antibiotics was an inevitable consequence of PIV sex for me, but since using them I've only had cystitis twice. Obviously not everyone has this issue, but I object to the assumption that I must be ashamed of my body because I use a very useful hygiene product which I'm glad Andrex is making more widely available. This article smacks of the attitude that "you're not doing feminism right if you shave your legs, wear heels, etc..." or basically behave in any way that the author doesn't.

Kate // Posted 23 February 2012 at 11:40

I have to agree that these washlets are worrying. I couldn't believe it when I saw these adverts, mostly because as has been argued above, they imply our vaginas are dirty, when in fact they are (generally) self washing, with a delicate balance of bacteria that something like this could seriously wreck. To me it's like the wipe equivalent of douching. I do recognise the lady above's argument though, perhaps for some with medical problems these could be helpful, but for the majority of women, this is a needless product.

Lisa // Posted 23 February 2012 at 11:44

@Jules: How do you feel about women who don't want to use wet wipes being shamed and forced into using them? If you aren't doing that shaming and forcing yourself, then this article isn't about you. It's about the shamers: in this case, Andrex. The same is true about leg shaving, heels, etc.

At the same time, we can develop political critiques of the cultural meaning of unshaven/shaven legs, unwiped/wiped cunts, etc. Obviously there are social compulsions. What do they do, who do they benefit? If they do something for patriarchy, does that mean we can do something for women by fighting them?

Women who make the choice *not* to do a shamed act are less supported (sometimes attacked) by society than women who make the choice to *do* that act. That's one way of saying that the 'choice' is unequal. If a choice is unequal, that means that 1) Women at the margins, with few room to make choices, may not experience it as a 'choice' at all but as a compulsion. Trans* women are one example here. 2) Women who don't do the (shamed) act need our support, because they are making difficult choices.

Rose // Posted 23 February 2012 at 11:52

Those things are going to cause a lot of blocked drains! The toilets out where I live certainly couldn't deal with them. Or our we 'land-fill'ing more waste?

Is anyone putting them on an open compost heap?

Fair play if you have a medical need for them, but otherwise.... well, I'm not buying antiseptic to put on a healthy knee, and I'm not interfering with a system thats currently working well and in balance.

Plus, Natalie Angier makes a pretty good case against the use of 'femfresh' style products in her (excellent) book Woman; An Intimate Geography.

JJ // Posted 23 February 2012 at 12:00

Mmm. Might lead to more cases of chronic and recurrent menopausal thrush when the vulva has been blasted with the body cleaner equivalent of Mr Muscle for years on end, leaving it just a tad oversensitive. Just a thought.

Rana // Posted 23 February 2012 at 12:08

I suffer from IBS and these are a bit of a lifesaver.When you have severe IBS it's horrible and these do leave you 'feeling fresh'. I personally am not out to have an exquisitely fragranced vagina! So you shouldn't be tarnishing everyone who uses/buys them with the same brush. Just because we are not shouting it from the rooftops doesn't mean that there isn't a good reason for people to use them. Having severe diarrhoea isn't something I chose or want to explain to people. But yes, I use the infamous washlet, and I'm not going to lie - they are good! I'm sure that some do use them to have an oddly cotton scented vagina. But not me. Andrex are probably targeting the product at young women and yummy mummies because these women are stereotypically going to do the weekly shop and buy 'that kind of thing'. I'm not suggesting that it's a correct stereotype but that's that they are probably thinking!

RachelKenehan // Posted 23 February 2012 at 12:29

I agree that the odd wipe might be useful - for example during a period and when you're not able to get to a shower. Every now and then a bit of extra cleanliness is welcome. But I still hate this product because there are already wet wipes, we don't need adult ones, and for all other reasons in the article. On the plus side, I will never be converted by this marketing campaign because I find Dawn Porter's faux chumminess so excruciating.

Kathryn Hyde // Posted 23 February 2012 at 13:46

Those who are saying they use wet wipes for whatever reason - yes great, but these have been around for years now and nobody objects to moist tissues. It's the marketing, and the gendered marketing, that we are taking issue with.

Justine Ossum // Posted 23 February 2012 at 14:43

I'm sure I read somewhere that, aside from bacterial infection (Bacterial Vaginosis; see your GP if you can), a major cause of the vaginal odour so hated by... marketers? is the break down of semen in the vaginal tract. Make of that what you will.

sohcahtoa // Posted 23 February 2012 at 15:30

cf. the perfumed sanitary towels that started being sold a few years ago, which similarly imply that normal hygiene isn't enough and natural odours must be masked at all costs (and, oddly enough, come in similar packaging to the unscented kind which makes them annoyingly easy to buy by mistake!). It's worrying to see Andrex copying from the already controversial marketing tactics of Always, Tampax etc.

Lily // Posted 23 February 2012 at 20:04

I've just watched one of the adverts. Ms Porter very clearly states that the wipes are for "bums". Also, there is an advert where she attempts to market the product at males.

Shadow // Posted 23 February 2012 at 20:39

Where's men's wet wipes??? Don't men have 'nasty dirty genitals which are in constant need of wiping and drying? After all men need to be concerned about their male hygiene because horror - men do experience penis odour and other 'nasty odours emanating from their genital areas. Not forgetting this is 'sexist' because men are being discriminated against by not having wet wipes targetted at them too.

anywavewilldo // Posted 23 February 2012 at 21:06

if you want to wash your bum or cool your cunt why not do, as many people in the world do, and use some water? as a botton washer & mooncup user I carry a plastic bottle in my bag and just have a rinse. Cunts don't react well to too many chemicals and plain water is all you should ever use if you wanna protect your bits.

Germain Greer famously reccomended [het] women to suck their menstrual blood off their lovers cocks to get over their ick conditioning - you should at least be able to lick it off your own fingers in my book: get a taste for yourself and ditch damaging capitalist products based on insecurity.

MsBrighton // Posted 24 February 2012 at 11:15

Suddenly the strange adverts make alot more sense to me! I wondered why there was a sharing a new useful tampon kinda vibe to the staged conversations! I couldn't work out why it was being made to seem "girly" as I genuinely thought they were for arses! If you have haemorrhoids wet wipes for the arse are a necessity if you want to avoid pain, that's what I thought this was a reference to! I disagreee with @Lily I think there was a subtext to what was being said and though the explicit use stated was "bums" (loving the infantile names, next she'll be calling her vagina a moo-moo!) there was clearly an aim to make the product seem "girly" and the whole make your vagina smell floral thing seems to fit! I wana know when we're gona have products marketed to us for cleaning all our other dirty mucus membranes?! I know it's ok for men to have dirty eyeballs but as a proud owner of a moo-moo making sure my eyeballs are clean is a mark of my femininity!

JessLeeds // Posted 24 February 2012 at 13:41

@MsBrighton

There is nothing more feminine, and therefore feminist than eye-snot. Mine comes out pink and covered in glitter. I use it to varnish my cupcakes that I then sell at vintage fairs to women who pay other women minimum wage to teach their three year olds. I am therefore THE MOST FEMINIST.

Petra Dish // Posted 24 February 2012 at 17:18

Hmm, I have to agree with Lily. I watched a few of these and they most definitely make clear they are for bumholes. Even the advert apparently aimed at "yummie mummies" (eurgh) has men in it trying them out. Admittedly more women do seem to be approached, but there may be a number of practical reasons for that, I'm not sure it is because there is an underlying conspiracy to make women fear for their vaginal hygiene.

rhiannon // Posted 27 February 2012 at 08:29

I've never seen any of these adverts. I think the answer is not to watch tv :)

Elaine Watkins // Posted 06 May 2012 at 00:53

I agree with Anywavewilldo. Over here in the US, the corporations are trying their best to start a similar trend. It's not quite in the ubiquitous-commercial stage yet (as far as I can tell because I watch very little TV). No, it's in the research stage. I know this because of my participation in online surveys. I've taken more than one that suggest i should be answering yes to questions such as "Y/N: I think toilet paper does an incomplete job in helping me feel truly clean." The followup to my "no" response is something like "Really? Are you sure that's what you want to say?" I have gone so far as to answer "Water and patience have always accomplished this for me." I'm also old enough to remember a product called Bidette Towelettes, which for all I know are still on the market. This came out in the early 1970s, along with FDS, Vespre and similar spray products. Every one of my friends and I (at age 12) used these. I gave it up eventually and have managed not to be consigned to social-paraiah status.

SomeCallMeLaz // Posted 27 January 2013 at 17:59

I'm sorry, but I think you're reading too much into these adverts. The marketing is biased towards women because we are (still) more likely to do *the big weekly shop* and buy toiletries and hygiene products, but the product is patently for use to clean the anal area.

Dry toilet paper can be very irritating even to people with *perfect* bowel movements and how many people is that, really? (I find all those probiotic yoghurt adverts opressive!) I've personally found moist toilet wipes an absolute godsend and I always carry a pocket-sized pack in my bag in case I need them while I'm out. I also use feminine wipes because, quite frankly, they are exceedingly convenient. I don't feel opressed when I wrinkle my nose at the smell of my own groin when I lean down to tie my shoes, I *am* unclean if that happens, but it's hardly convenient to jump into the shower every time it does. Sweat smells, especially in the underarms and groin because small amounts of fat are also excreted by pores in these areas, providing a veritable feast for bacteria.

The only downside to these wipes is that although biodegradable, they are still not great for the sewer system and the water companies would much prefer we don't use them, but I've yet to find in a shop the foam stuff for use with normal toilet paper that they say exists. But then, the water companies don't even want us to put normal tissues down the toilet so perhaps their views are a product of their chronic underinvestment in the system. People tipping oils/fats down the sink are the ones causing huge problems.

And please, let's stop using "vagina" improperly; that's the inside part. We're discussing the vulva here and I think it's important to be clear about that. If you're using *anything* to clean your vagina, you ARE doing Being-A-Woman wrong. (Medical exceptions aside, obviously.)

Have Your say

Latest Comments

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word Feeds
  • #
  • #