Life&Style’s Pauline Jottrand considers Kleenex changing the name of their “mansize” tissues and whether it’s a step towards us moving away from gendered products
The so called “mansize” Kleenex will be rebranded as “extra large” after consumers complained the name of the product was sexist. The decision was announced by Kleenex on Twitter on the 19th of October.
The product is only sold in the UK; it hit the stores in 1956 and has been the UK’s most popular tissue brand for the past 60 years. They were launched at a time when handkerchiefs were the norm and these Kleenex were set to stay “strong when wet”.
The backlash towards the term “mansize” is occurring within a context of a general challenge towards unnecessarily gendered products. Body hygiene products and razors have been divided into “for men” and “for women”. The ultimate pen brand BIC tried to market pens “for her” which supposedly fit comfortably in women’s hand and were, unsurprisingly, pink and purple. Even food has been associated to a certain sex; Waitrose’s Gentleman’s Smoked Chicken Caesar Roll, supposedly named this way because it contains anchovy mayonnaise, similar to a classic product called Gentleman’s Relish created in the nineteenth century. The grocery chain will be changing the name due to complaints.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is an organisation of the advertising industry in the UK. Its role is to take into account complaints made about advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing and decide whether they are in accord with its advertising standards. ASA has come out in support of sexist complaints saying it will ban advertisements encouraging gender stereotypes.
So, why is the gendering of products an issue worth writing about? You might think it is not that important, that picking up on these kinds of things is focusing on irrelevant details. Some have criticised the uproar, wondering whether the people offended by this represent a majority of Kleenex consumers, or rather an overly sensitive minority that are simply being catered to in the name of political correctness? In such a case, does the brand really need to change the name of a product that has been on the market for so long?
Despite the company rebranding the tissue, it did not recognise the name as being discriminatory towards a certain gender. A spokesman for Kimberly-Clark (which owns Kleenex) said: ”Kimberly-Clark in no way suggests that being both soft and strong is an exclusively masculine trait, nor do we believe that the Mansize branding suggests or endorses gender inequality. Our Mansize tissues remain one of our most popular products, with 3.4 million people buying these tissues every year.”
As expressed by the brand, the tissue is not for men and does not necessarily suggest men are strong. A 2009 advert actually showed men, including actor Tom Hardy, crying with the slogan “let it out”. Hence, they do, to a certain extent, ‘encourage’ men to be sensitive. So, maybe the aim of the brand was not to make this tissue a “tissue for men”, which is done with other hygiene products such as shampoos, deodorant etc. However, it is hard to then understand why it was not just called “extra-large” in the first place. Men certainly do not need bigger tissues. The naming of the tissue does hold some normative value that cannot be ignored. Indeed, it is not just called “mansize” but is also described as “confidently strong” and “comfortingly soft” which naturally associates men with strength and greater size.
This is, of course, part of a wider debate about how characteristics are associated to a specific gender. Men and women are of different sexes but the gender associated with each of them is a result of societal norms; products unnecessarily associated to men and women deepens the separation between men and women, and ultimately creates a gendered society in which we associate certain traits to men, and others to women. The construction of these traits is arguably the root cause of the ongoing discrimination towards women and men, which then perpetuates and develops into the more consequential issues we hear and are alarmed about.