Last week, Kleenex announced that they’d be binning their Mansize branding from its boxes after sixty years, and instead replacing it with the term: “Extra-large”. This followed criticism from some customers on Twitter that the Mansize branding was exclusionary and ought to not be used in 2018. Kleenex thanked customers for the feedback, and duly pledged to change the branding. This decision prompted ridicule and backlash from others on Twitter and in other sections of the media, who alleged that this was PC gone too far and that people were far too quick to be offended by relatively minor things.
The original tweet which sparked the change was from a mother named Lisa Hancox who posted a picture of the Mansize branded tissues and wrote: ‘Hi @Kleenex_UK. My 4yo son asked me what was written here. Then he asked, why are they called mansize? Can girls, boys & mummies use them? I said: I don’t know & yes of course. He suggests you should call them “very large tissues”. It is 2018’.
Despite the move being apparently prompted by the musings of a four year-old child, many social media users assumed that feminists had been the driving force of the change. The view among many on Twitter was that this was another sign that feminism was past its sell-by date, with some Tweets branding feminism as “cancer”. When there’s so much going on in the world: wars, politics, poverty – perhaps those offended by a pack of tissues should simply dry their eyes?
While I have not personally shed a tear over Mansize tissues, I do find myself frustrated with unnecessarily gendered products that ought to be unquestionably used. For example, companies seem to think making razors pink and sticking a “feminine” word on the branding (think along the lines of “curve”, “goddess”, “silk”) warrants making shaving products targeted at women significantly more expensive than the “male” equivalents.
Aside from hiked up prices, gendered products can carry depressing messages about expectations for both men and women. Last year, Clarks faced a backlash after releasing their new range of school shoes; the boys’ shoe design was decorated with footballs in the insole and were branded Leader, whereas the girls’ shoe design had heart designs on the inside, and called Dolly Babe. Companies have a responsibility, especially when it comes to products aimed at children, to not portray potentially harmful messages about gender expectations and roles. Whether it’s the implication that boys are “leaders” and girls are “babes”, or opting to put a children’s’ science kit in the “Boys” section of a toyshop; companies ought to be aware that children are highly impressionable and will often internalise the norms around them. Branding may seem inconsequential but it can contribute to societal expectations of how women and men should act, which is restrictive and unfair to all genders.
When it comes to the Kleenex Mansize case: I don’t see it as being on the same level of perpetuating damaging gender norms as some of the examples I’ve given. It’s not branding I particularly care for, but to be truthful, I think that anyone getting seriously angry about this has a definite lack of perspective. But, what many of those angrily condemning “snowflake feminists” on Twitter don’t realise, is that no-one is really getting angry over tissues. As far as I’m aware, there were no marches demanding a change of the branding, no boycotts of Kleenex; what some on Twitter called a “feminist campaign” consisted of a few surprisingly effective tweets from some slightly pissed-off people.
Despite the claims of Twitter users, this does not indicate feminism’s invalidity and lack of focus. Global gender inequality is still a pressing problem, and it will take a long time to remedy. Feminism continues to try to tackle major is-sues like sexual harassment, FGM, and the gender pay gap. Just because a mi-nor issue like Mansize tissues has been addressed, it does not mean that feminism has lost its purpose. We cannot fix major global problems instantly, but why not try to do what we can.
After Kleenex’s announcement last week, the usual buzzwords of “snow-flakes”, and “libt***s” were bandied around. However, I’d like to suggest that it’s not feminists who are overly offended, but those taking issue with the change. Why is it that a company deciding to change their branding after some customer feedback is an issue? If you are really wasting your energy writing a vitriolic reply with the word “feminazi” to a mother who tweeted about her son’s remark, then I suggest you are the petty one. Don’t worry though, you can dry your eyes with Kleenex Extra Large tissues.