By Guest Contributors Nicole Soojung Callahan and Shiuan Butler
About two months ago, my husband came home from a haircut and said, “Did you know that Hair Cuttery has a line of ‘Asian-inspired’ hair products by Cibu? They have something called ‘Geishalicious Shampoo.’” I went to Cibu International’s website to check out the rest of their products, and could hardly believe the awfulness of the names: Miso Knotty Detangler. Mousse Lee Volumizer. Spring Roll Hydrating Cleanser. Ancient Veil Oil Mist. Hi-Ya! Keratin Reconstructive Conditioner. Dry Kwon Do Dry Shampoo. Wok This Way Sculpting Sauce. Take Out Clarifying Shampoo (with a picture of a take-out box on the bottle). It was as if a bunch of people had all gotten in a room and brainstormed as many Asian stereotypes as they could, and then named beauty products after all of them.
(Pictured above: Cibu International’s (l-r) Wok This Way Styling Sauce, Sashini Thermal Shine Solution, Miso Knotty Detangler, Ancient Veil Oil Mist, and Ancient Serum Argan Oil Treatment. Provided by Nicole Soojung Callahan.)
Cibu is part of Ratner Companies, which also owns nearly 800 Hair Cuttery, Bubbles, Salon Cielo, Salon Plaza, and Colorworks salons in 19 states. Cibu’s product names are all based on reducing Asian cultures to a handful of food and martial-arts references, tasteless puns, and fetishizing Asian stereotypes. As if the names aren’t bad enough, Cibu’s Facebook page also includes a picture of a staff member dressed in an “Asian costume,” fans laughing at “me love you long time” jokes, and a horrible cartoon ad featuring a naked geisha on her knees, hands behind her back, with the ad copy “Seduced by Geishalicious.”
(Pictured above: deleted images from Cibu International’s Facebook page. Provided by Nicole Soojung Callahan.)
After participating in a comment thread on Cibu’s Facebook page in which many women of color, as well as white women, chimed in to express their concerns about Cibu’s offensive names, I began communicating with Cibu’s brand manager. Our discussions were cordial—though she called me a “radical”—she voiced some openness to changing the Geishalicious name at some point in the future, when existing stock had been sufficiently depleted. But there was no openness to changing other names. In the meantime, Cibu had deleted several critical comments from their Facebook page, including my friend Shiuan Butler’s. The brand manager told me it was because she did not want “[her] brand hijacked by negativity.”
At this point Shiuan suggested that I start a Change.org petition to encourage Cibu to change all of their names, not just Geishalicious. I didn’t think Cibu would listen, but I did think they should know we weren’t alone in finding their names offensive. With some advice from Shelby Knox at Change.org, we settled on the petition wording and uploaded it on January 28. Miss Representation, Katha Pollitt, Shelby Knox, Disgrasian, Angry Asian Man, Lela Lee, and many others signed and shared the petition. By February 6, the petition had garnered over 1,100 signatures—well beyond our wildest hopes.
On February 7, I received an email statement from Diane Daly, Director of Public and Community Relations at Ratner Companies, which she asked me to share with the petition signers: “Over the last several weeks, we have heard from numerous people expressing their objection to the names of some of our Cibu International hair styling products. Many have said they find some of the names to be offensive and racially insensitive, especially to Asians… [W]e deeply regret and apologize for any offense that we may have caused, both to our clients and to those who are concerned about the inappropriate depiction of peoples and cultures… Therefore, we have decided to embark on a process of transitioning out of the current product names and reintroducing them with new names.”
While we are glad for Cibu’s willingness to change, we know that this change would never have come about without public pressure. Just the day before Cibu’s announcement about the name changes, the company was still “liking” derailing statements made by some of their Facebook fans, such as, “I think racism takes on many forms. I also think that playing the race card as a knee-jerk reaction is dangerous and offensive.” Even after Cibu and Ratner Companies committed to renaming their products, several of their more enthusiastic fans just couldn’t let go—you can read their grumblings about “ultra-political-correctness” and how “some people need a life” in Cibu’s February 7 Facebook announcement about the change.
Yet, however reluctant Cibu may be in making these changes, Ratner Companies still took a positive and important step in promising to transition to new product names after hearing from over 1,100 people from all over the world. Many others recognized this and commended Cibu for their decision. One stylist wrote that she was thrilled with the change:
[A]s a stylist who is Asian in ethnicity the Asian theme is tacky and offensive. It makes me uncomfortable to tell people the name of the Cibu products I use on their hair. I can not express how happy I am to hear you break out of the glamorizing and fetishizing of the Asian culture as a whole. From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much.
We hope that Cibu and Ratner Companies will seek out, listen to, and involve a diverse group of employees, consultants, and consumers as they choose their new names—and that Asians and Asian Americans are a part of that group, especially if Cibu plans to pursue another “Asian-inspired” theme for their products. In the meantime, we want to thank everyone who signed the petition or wrote to encourage Cibu to reconsider its offensive branding—this change would never have happened if so many people hadn’t taken a stand against racism and harmful stereotypes in marketing. Many of us will be watching with great interest to see how Cibu proceeds with its rebranding.
While this was not the first petition I have created (my previous one protested an article stereotyping Asian women’s vaginas by 8asians) this was a wonderful learning experience, and best of all I got to meet fellow activist Asian sister, Nicole! (Thank you to T.F. Charlton for connecting us!)
I first became motivated to act when Cibu deleted my comments on their Facebook fan page immediately after posting. I had already thought of creating a petition. But with that one act, I was truly inspired.
In one of Nicole’s emails to me, she wrote that she felt as though she had “zero power over these people or their company.” I quickly disagreed: I explained that I had previously created a petition and that petitions can be powerful statements and a catalyst in changing a company’s policy by leveraging the power of individuals. It’s a perfect strategy in this day and age of viral, social-media activism.
Nicole—even as a busy mom and student—quickly created the petition, which T.F. Charlton, Shelby Knox, and I all briefly edited before it was posted. Before we knew it, our petition had exploded to several hundred signatures within days! I agree with Nicole that Ratner Companies’ recently released statement is absolutely a direct consequence of all those who signed and shared our petition.
The statement from Cibu makes us feel hopeful. However, we won’t be content until we see that they have truly replaced all of Cibu’s horribly racist product names. We certainly hope that they hire diversity consultants in their new rebranding process.
You can sign the petition here if you haven’t already. If you’ve already signed, thank you! Feel free to share widely.
ETA: As of this post, Ratner has still not changed the Cibu product names — and hasn’t given a timeline for when they will. Please reblog this far and wide—and please sign the petition, if you haven’t done so—to let the company know this isn’t OK!
Shiuan Butler is a writer and relationship coach. She speaks and leads workshops empowering women’s relationships and sex lives. Find out more at www.shiuanbutler.com.
Nicole Soojung Callahan is a mother, Korean adoptee, writer, grad student, and publications director at a nonprofit. The story of her reunion with her sister was published in Somebody’s Child: Stories About Adoption (TouchWood Editions, 2011). Email her at nikki @ jhu.edu.
**TRIGGER WARNING: Gendered violence, sexual violence, colonialism/colonizaton, abuse**
Many of the strategies to address violence have further strengthened broad systems of colonial power, which are themselves inherently violent. We continue to appeal to the Canadian legal system to address physical violence, calling for more policing or better laws, while knowing this system is set up to oppress, rather than help, us. The same colonial mentality that created the Indian Act to privilege the rights of men over women, and instituted residential schools to break down our family systems, serves as the foundation for the Canadian legal system. Surely we must engage with this powerful system, but appealing to law alone will not stop the violence.
So how do we begin to change norms around gendered violence without reinforcing its roots in colonial power? As we strategize, we must be careful not to reproduce the systems and ideologies that colonialism has introduced. Sexist, racist and homophobic ideas have been internalized at many levels, but colonialism’s stealthy ways make them hard to recognize.
As an example, one consequence of developing broad public awareness about the prevalence of violence against Indigenous women has been the privileging of some women’s voices over others. Moving from Vancouver’s downtown east side to offices in Ottawa and other urban centers across Turtle Island, efforts to name gendered violence have shifted from grassroots discussions to slick poster campaigns. In these moves, certain voices have been left behind, enacting a form of silencing that I believe is in crucial need of reparation. Rather than calling on our sisters in the sex trade to speak for themselves, others are asked to speak on their behalf. We must ask ourselves how colonial values continue to shape whose voices are seen as legitimate, while working to center the voices of the most marginalized women in our communities rather than only those of us with a colonial education.
So colonial violence can be understood as more than just interpersonal abuse – it is inherent in the systems that have shaped how we define ourselves and relate to one another as Indigenous people. It should go without saying that healing from violence requires rebuilding our individual and collective strength rather than reinforcing the power of the state. By centering local Indigenous knowledge in our understandings of leadership, honor, strength and love, we can redefine ‘power’ as well as ‘violence’. This requires relearning our stories and our cultural teaching in order to raise up the girls in our communities and respect them as leaders, mothers, warriors and knowledge keepers."
— Sarah Hunt, “More Than A Poster Campaign: Redefining Colonial Violence,” Decolonization 2/14/13
I own that ‘Supermodel’ CD and used to once upon a time like RuPaul, but excuse me if I and other transpeople aren’t jumping with joy over the coronation of Ru in that Tracey Ross article as some sort of 21st century gender warrior or trans expert.
It really pisses us Black trans women off that you give RuPaul Andre Charles (and Tyler Perry dressed as Madea) more love and respect than you do the average Black transwoman struggling to live their lives and interact with the Black cis and SGL communities without major drama.
RuPaul is a Black gay man, not a transperson, and the trans community is beyond sick and tired of being sick and tired of him being elevated by cis and gay people to some nebulous ‘trans expert’ level..
As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I became a trans activist in 1998 was because of a Transgender Tapestry magazine article in the 90’s that ignorantly considered RuPaul and Dennis Rodman as Black transwomen juxtaposed against other accomplished white trans people despite both Ru and Dennis Rodman emphatically saying they weren’t trans and didn’t want to transition.
It was the epiphany that made me realize just how invisible Black transwomen were in the trans human rights movement and gave me the impetus to get involved and change that dynamic."
— Monica Roberts, “Why I Can’t Stand RuPaul,” TransGriot 1/30/13
**TRIGGER WARNING: rape, sexual harassment**
It was a Monday afternoon at the theater in Lucknow, a small city not far from Delhi, somewhat old-fashioned by reputation. We–the women in the audience–were wearing the loose, concealing clothing that women usually wear in Lucknow. The three women on stage were dressed similarly, but in striking combinations of black and pink. The audience was excited, maybe a little tense. During the introductory remarks, the Delhi rape case had been brought up again. About ten minutes into the play, the atmosphere changed when she walked on stage. Black hair, black top, short black skirt, long brown legs. She looked good, but she wasn’t trying to titillate anyone. She spoke with a kind of serene authority “Meri short skirt ka aap se koi lena dena nahin hai.” My short skirt has nothing to do with you.
The play was Kissa Yoni Ka, or The Vagina Monologues translated into Hindi. (Starring Varshaa Agnihotri, Rasika Duggal, Dilnaz Irani, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, and Dolly Thakore and translated gorgeously by Ritu Bhatia and Jaydeep Sarka.) This staging was the first in Lucknow, part of a week-long drama festival called Repithvar. Two years ago, the same festival had tried to bring this play to Lucknow, but it was cancelled at the last minute when the cultural minister objected to the “adult” material Bhupesh Rai, the festival organizer told me. Dolly Thakore, one of the stars of the show, told me that she was happy to have an opportunity to perform in cities where The Vagina Monologues had previously been banned at a time when rape and child molestation were at the forefront of discussion in India. Dialogue about violence against women is opening up across India, and this play is a part of that.
After the play was over, I tried to figure out why the short skirt monologue was the one that made it hardest for me to hold it together. And I thought, seeing this woman onstage, seeing the way she took control of everyone in the room made a lot of lies go away, at least for five minutes. One of them–that women get raped because of what they wear. Another–that the fucked-up ways of thinking that make this monologue necessary are isolated to certain countries and people of certain skin colors. Originally, the same defense of short skirts was written in English for an American audience. There, too, women don’t get to wear short skirts without occasionally being told they’re asking for rape. (Even my high school “health” teacher also told a classroom full of teenaged boys and girls that women who wear short skirts are asking for rape.) Kissa Yoni Ka was translation at its most powerful."
— Though I don’t care for Eve Ensler’s White Lady Savior politics, I enjoy guest contributor Hannah Green’s post on how Hindi women have taken Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues to move conversations about sexual violence against women in India. Check it out on the R today!