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Pop Culture: HOPE for the Onelys — Plan B January 16, 2010

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Pop Culture: HOPE for the Onelys, single and happy, Your Responses Requested!.
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So I was lazily watching TV a few evenings ago and saw a commercial that I have seen many times before – this Plan B commercial:

I’m not sure how long this commercial has been out, but it’s been out long enough for me to have had several competing reactions to it (for those of you outside of the U.S. who don’t know what Plan B is, just watch the video). Here is a brief trajectory of my thinking (which prompted this post):

  • The first few times I watched the video, I always noticed that the women all wake up alone and are all visibly upset when they wake up.
  • I initially found this irritating and politically conservative, because it seemed to be portraying the issue as though the only women who might want or need morning-after birth control are those who are desperate in some way because they are single and having one-night stands.
  • But then, the more I saw the commercial, the more my thinking changed. The five women all wake up alone, but they are also all portrayed (after picking up Plan B from their pharmacies) as leading fulfilling lives — which include their appreciation of friendship (see the women having lunch, see the women smiling and chatting on their cell phones), romantic partners (the commercial focuses on two women who are coupled, showing at least one couple more than once), and even being alone (see the women shopping, buying food to go, painting her toenails).
  • Also, although they all wake up alone, each of these women is portrayed as being personally empowered — as independent women — by having access to Plan B.
  • And thinking through all of the above, I began to think that this commercial seems to support a pro-Onely message, at least in some important ways: It disrupts stereotypes of single women being dissatisfied with or disappointed by their lives, and it portrays single women as being independent, empowered, and happy.

The commercial is not perfect, of course — I detect a strongly heteronormative and potentially classist message underneath the ad’s narrative — but I’m impressed, at least, by the way the ad supports a positive and alternative portrayal of single women in what is usually a singlist popular culture.

Copious Readers, what do you think of this commercial and my reading of it? Should we hold out hope for future pro-Onely ad campaigns?

— Lisa


1. samantha - January 16, 2010

I think you’re spot on!

2. Onely - January 17, 2010

Lisa why did you email me all sad that you haven’t written a post for a while? You just wrote this post! = ) And it’s a great topic.

Interesting that the women all wake up alone, but some are shown in obvious “relationships” later in the day. Why didn’t they show any of the couples waking up TOGETHER and being all, “Oh dear what have we wrought?” Instead, the onus is totally on the women. Also the collection of women were all thin, of the same body type, with similar hair types, and mostly all the same race (white–and there was maybe one black woman). What is this, the Bachelor? Do women with large thighs or short hair never wake up and need emergency contraception?

That said, I do think the commercial broke some molds by showing the women having happy, full lives after using the Plan B.


3. singleandalmost30 - January 17, 2010

You know, I’ve seen that commercial a ton of times and never thought anything of it. For once, I was glad they only had one black woman and not a whole group of them. But you’ve raised some really great points!!

Onely - January 19, 2010

thanks, S&A! it’s interesting to think of what would happen to the commercial’s message if all the characters were raced — yowzers, talk about a new way to go about stereotyping black women!

— L

Onely - January 22, 2010

Yes I would like a nice *mix* of races, and ALSO of body types. Also, a mix of people who are stereotypically and nonstereotypically attractive. What, do “ugly” women never need emergency contraception because no one can be bothered to impregnate them?

Come to think of it, this is what I would like to see in TV and movies in GENERAL.


4. April - January 18, 2010

I’ve always thought of it as them feeling upset that their birth control failed, other than being unhappy that they’re alone. This is one of the few pharmaceutical commercials I don’t hate 🙂

Onely - January 19, 2010

yes, me too. especially after seeing it several times over the course of many months 🙂 which is weird….


5. Singlutionary - January 19, 2010

I think that afterwards they’re all happy cause they don’t have to birth a watermelon!

But seriously. Yes, it is a rather positive message for women . . . about women having satisfying lives which don’t need to be disrupted by an unwanted pregnancy.

There is a rather affluent air to it that bothers me though. But commercials are commercials and obviously this one is directed towards a more yuppie crowd.

Onely - January 19, 2010

yup, singlutionary — that’s what I meant by the underlying “classist” message.

— L

6. severine - January 21, 2010

Interesting.. Because commercials about medication and contraception are prohibited in France. But we have -thanksfully- those medications. The information goes more through women’s magazines..

Christina - January 21, 2010

Wow, severine, you would be horrified by the commercials we have over here — I imagine this has something to do with the fact that healthcare is privatized here and publicly available in France. Lucky you!

— L

Onely - January 22, 2010

Oh gosh this is wierd. I messed with WordPress and now Lisa’s comments are coming somehow from my email account. I will fix this so that Onely seems less, um, hybrid. = )

7. Lauri - January 21, 2010

I’ve had many strong but competing reactions to this commercial as well. At first it seemed like a positive feminist message- for once a mass media commercial portrayed young women, presumably single or not married, as having sex and being in control of their sex lives. Until this commercial, it seemed like even adds for birth control showed only married women! (I remember one with a woman who’s just gotten married saying how she wanted kids, just not yet…my thought was wow, they are really trying hard to portray birth control as being “ok”). I’ve also had the same positive reactions as you: each of the women seems to have a different story as to why they needed Plan B or what their situation is in life.

My problem with it though is, as you said, the women *all* wake up alone. It suggests to me that hey, if you have a serious relationship, you’re obviously going to be ok with getting pregnant. Similarly, I have a problem with the women all being very young. They all seem to be college age or early-mid 20s. Those things taken together to me suggest a stereotype- these are young single women who haven’t “settled down” yet, and these are the people who will obviously need Plan B. As a woman in her 30s, I feel that the product is not marketed to me, maybe because I should be married by now, which would obviously make me ok with getting pregnant, or I should just be more responsible and not be sleeping around with failing birth control at my age. It reminds me of the fact that the HPV vaccine is only approved (and therefore covered by insurance) for women under 27, based only on assumptions of sexual activity at different ages.

In reality, I’m over 30, I’m not married, but even if I were, if my birth control failed, I’d be running to the nearest pharmacy for Plan B. I’d be happier with the add if it showed some older women, some married women, maybe some women who already have kids!!! I just feel like the stereotypes of “who” needs birth control and even abortions really need to be broken down.

Christina - January 21, 2010

Lauri — excellent points! I agree, I am definitely NOT the target age group for Plan B — according to the commercial, at least — but would jump for Plan B if I needed it. In fact, I imagine that I am much more personally prepared to use Plan B now than I would have ever been in my 20s…. But then again, maybe that’s part of the point — maybe they are assuming that younger women are going to be less aware/educated about unprotected sex and its consequences, and therefore more scared to take advantage of their options.

And don’t get me started on the HPV issue — not only is the age limit problematic, but so is the fact that the vaccine is *only* approved for women, when it’s an STD that both genders carry!

— L

8. Sixty and Single in Seattle - January 25, 2010

Whaddaya mean, your birth control “failed”? in a way that you know right away? the condom dripped? you didn’t use anything? What was Plan A?

Onely - January 25, 2010

Oh yes — without revealing too much about my personal experience, I will tell you that all kinds of condom problems can occur during sex! It’s scary.


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