If you can't view the video, it opens with the shot of a dairy cow from behind, then cuts to a close-up of the teats of its udder, which begin to "moo" and stretch, as if they're reaching out toward something. The moo-and-reach happens about half a dozen times, then the shot pulls back to reveal a little white boy on his knees in the grass next to the cow, taunting the udder with an Oreo cookie and giggling. Text: "Oreo. Milk's favorite cookie."
So what's bothering me? Well, there's the facelessness of the cow, which is turned away from the camera; and there's the udder being given separate agency from the whole animal, seemingly more agency, a life of its own; and there's the little boy taunting the udder, playing with and manipulating the talking, thinking teats—none of which, I'm certain, would have struck me quite the same way if "cows" didn't regularly serve as stand-ins for "women" in modern advertising.
Elle and I recently had a conversation via email about this very thing, which I'm reposting with her permission.
Elle: Liss, I'm begging you to step into the role of mind reader and tell me what the hell am I trying to say! Seriously, I wanted to see if you understand where I'm going with this: Something about the comparisons (wrong word) between cows and women, esp. since cow is a commonly used insult for women.
It begins with this [Real California Milk Happy Cow Audition], filtered through the lens of this and this, and a million stories about Madonna and other "divas."
There's also the fact that the cow competition is set up like "America's Next Top Model" or something and that here you can hear other female cows making snide comments and a male cow drooling over the "contestants." Also the female cows' bios are something.
Maybe I'm wrong, but that commercial pissed me off when I saw it yesterday. Does everything have to be sold through gendered stereotypes?
Liss: I totally understand where you're going with this. At least for me, part of the thing about assigning stereotypically (and almost universally negative) female behavior to dairy cows specifically is that dairy cows are: A. All female; B. Live a life of female-specific servitude (i.e. they exist to lactate); C. Virtually indistinguishable from one another.
The tacit message is that all women are the same, valued exclusively on their service to others, and, ha ha, are totes bitchez, amiright?!
There's also something just generally horrible about its being dairy cows—forcibly impregnated, enslaved as lactation machines—who are cast as demanding divas.
It sort of flaunts in the face of the reality that women are still chattel in large parts of the world, treated quite literally like livestock, that there are still loads of people in this country who would force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term and believe a woman's place is "in the home," making and raising babies.
Elle: You know what—I had thought about the forced lactation (and that being the queen of dairy cows is what they're supposed to aspire to, what makes them happy), but somewhere disconnected and didn't think about forcible impregnation!
Because now I'm thinking about how that does apply to perceptions of women—how many people comfort themselves by thinking that women are happiest "in the home," being queen of the domestic sphere.
Liss: It might actually take years to unpack all the whatthefuckery that goes along with this campaign, lol.
Which I now leave you to attempt in comments. And naturally it's not just cows that are stand-ins for "human woman," but other livestock, as in the White Castle advert that casts a pig in the role of female stripper. The problem is that the animals are not merely being anthropomorphized; they're being inserted into a preexisting stereotype of womanhood, turned into a literal substitution for a female human. When women and cows (or pigs) are treated as interchangeable entities, it casts the Oreo commercial in a very different light indeed. I don't imagine Oreo was unaware of that eventuality.
Have at it, Shakers.
[Assvertising: Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty, Twenty-One, Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine, Thirty, Thirty-One, Thirty-Two, Thirty-Three, Thirty-Four, Thirty-Five, Thirty-Six, Thirty-Seven, Thirty-Eight, Thirty-Nine, Forty, Forty-One, Forty-Two, Forty-Three, Forty-Four, Forty-Five, Forty-Six", Forty-Seven, Forty-Eight, Forty-Nine, Fifty, Fifty-One,Fifty-Two, Fifty-Three,Fifty-Four, Fifty-Five, Fifty-Six, Fifty-Seven, Fifty-Eight, Fifty-Nine, Sixty, Sixty-One, Sixty-Two, Sixty-Three, Sixty-Four, Sixty-Five, Sixty-Six, Sixty-Seven, Sixty-Eight.]