A still from the new Veet advert.
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Veet’s “Don’t risk dudeness” ads are a sexist attempt to shame women for their bodies

In the new ad, a woman who hasn’t shaved for 24 hours is transformed into a hairy bloke who struggles to perform everyday tasks. When are advertisers going to stop trying to sell products by inventing ways for women to be ashamed of their bodies?

Hair removal cream is weird. Even its advocates should fully admit that. That there exists a chemical that is genuinely capable of dissolving hair, and that we sometimes consent to smear that chemical all over our bodies so that it can dissolve said hair, is undeniably strange. Moreover, if you leave it on, that chemical is capable of dissolving skin. Rhiannon once saw these amazing flesh-dissolving capabilities first hand, at a party, and to a male friend’s crotch, no less (there wasn’t much to do in Wales, growing up). It’s a good thing most lads steer well clear of the stuff. As Veet for Men users discovered, no one wants a scabby nob.

Veet is one of the bestselling hair removal creams in the UK and is a brand that has met with internet consternation this week following the launch of its idiotic US marketing campaign “Don’t Risk Dudeness”. In a series of ads, we see a woman who has failed to shave for 24 hours transformed into a strapping, hirsute bloke as she apologises to the alarmed people she encounters (mostly men) for her God-awful hairiness. For anyone who failed to grasp its clunking message, the advert is suggesting that body hair is something that only men should have, and that if you neglect your militaristic hair removal regime even for a matter of several hours, you risk becoming manly, or dude-like. The “dudeness” of the woman in the advert, furthermore, disadvantages her in her everyday life: lovers are turned off, beauticians overwhelmed, and taxi drivers high tail it after catching a glimpse of her armpits, which sport a mere fifteen hours of hair growth. “But I shaved yesterday,” she keeps saying, bewildered.

The advert’s attempt at humour may fall flat (since when was seeing two men in bed together the opening of a joke? Oh yeah: the Nineties) but that is by far the most alarming thing about it. Moderate homophobia aside, it pushes gender stereotypes that even by advertising standards are outdated: that women should shave their legs or risk losing their femininity; that all men are repulsed by women’s bodies in their natural state. It’s unkind to both men and women, but particularly women, who are essentially being marketed a new insecurity: that of “overnight hair growth”. Very few Caucasian women have hair that grows back noticeably overnight, so shaming them for an almost non-existent problem is a daring move. Women who do have thicker hair – often women of colour – are also shamed by the advert. Both groups will represent a significant customer group and it does not pay to alienate them.

We also wonder how a trans person would react to the advert. The suggestion that only “feminine” women are sexy is unlikely to make anyone who doesn’t fit this narrowly defined stereotype feel like shit, and as we know, there are more of us who don’t fit into these media-defined boxes than those of us that do. We have just finished writing a book about women’s negative portrayal in the media, and, while we never assumed our work was done, the fact that it is amounting to something of a never-ending story is incredibly dispiriting. As women, everywhere we go we are reminded that, in order for our bodies to be deemed acceptable, we must necessarily alter them. This advert takes this a step further by implying that our failure to make alterations will lead to our being deemed disgusting. Like many beauty brands, Veet place themselves in a position where they can guide women towards acceptability. Their website shows “case studies” of women whose “dudeness” embarrassed them – in work meetings and medical appointments or while having tapas (in the latter scenario, a man tells a woman she has something on her lip – it is a moustache). Women are then encouraged to ask Veet to “help me stay smooth” by clicking on a button marked “Un-dude me”. Nothing about it makes you feel good about yourself. Nothing about it feels positive.

It’s alarming that advertisers are so slow to cotton on to this. Women who are made to feel bad by advertisers can, and will, take their custom elsewhere, and via social media are becoming more and more vocal. Most men, especially those who live with women, are also aware that women don’t always resemble the hairless gazelles we see on television. Indeed, their partners might go months without shaving, or choose not to shave at all. Any alteration that any woman makes to her own body is her own choice, and it our hope that, as consumers become more cognisant of the issues at play here, advertising such as this will cease to be effective and may indeed become a thing of the past.

In the meantime, you could always send Veet a picture of your hairy legs. They’re at: facebook.com/veet, where the backlash has already begun.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.