1 minute read



Soap was first sold under a brand name in Great Britain in 1884, placing it indelibly within the history of British imperialism and Victorian notions of gender and race. Soap advertisements portrayed soap as a fetish, imbued with the power to cleanse and bring civilization. As Reverend Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887) argued in an 1885 testimonial for Pears soap, "If Cleanliness is next to Godliness, then surely SOAP is a means of GRACE." Soap advertisements consistently used magical imagery to hide the intense labor performed by working-class maids employed in middle-class homes. Middle-class women were never shown as laborers, creating a gendered ideology where middle-class women were "angels of the household" whose major role was that of consumer.

Soap advertisements also offered a racial ideology, described as "commodity racism" by Anne McClintock. A Pears soap advertisement of 1899 argued that "The first step toward lightening THE WHITE MAN'S BURDEN is through teaching the virtues of cleanliness. PEARS' SOAP is a potent fact in brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilization advances." The scientific racism that posited evolutionary notions of biology and history came to be projected onto commodities, which would do the work of empire. Soap became the symbolic carrier of whiteness, imperialism, and Victorian gender roles.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to CoshConsumerism - Consumerism And Mass Production, Consumerism And Post-fordism, Soap, The Politics Of Consumerism