When I was a little kid watching television, we only had a handful of channels to choose from, and the ads were the same for all of them. Except PBS, which had auctions and pledge drives instead.
But in every ad for household products on the big three networks, the roles were always the same: women doing the laundry, women doing the dishes, women cleaning the carpets, women cooking the meals, women raising the children. Women in advertisements were relegated to maids, moms, waitresses, the occasional nurse, maybe a teacher, and a manicurist or two. Advice for all things, from the toughness of a Brawny towel to the power of Mr. Clean, came from men. A man captained the Ti-D-Bowl boat, for Pete’s sake.
Even the Battleship box bore out the typical image: Dad and son playing fun games at the kitchen table while mom and daughter do the dishes at the sink, sending appreciative smiles through the doorway for the choice of “G4” and subsequent sinking of said battleship.
I’ve been watching a crapload of TV lately in a desperate attempt to not finish my master’s thesis or a variety of work reports. (I’m good at procrastinating. You’re watching me now.) And I’m very dismayed that things haven’t changed.
Even though women are now at least partially represented in nearly every field of endeavor, most ads still hearken back to those halcyon days when women knew their place, and it was in a small box, indeed.
Let’s take Progressive, as an example. I think everyone knows Flo. The bumpit and cherry lipstick are ubiquitous, if not iconic. And also impossible to take seriously. You know the two guys in blue suits in those ads? Those are AGENTS from a competing company. Flo is a CASHIER. She wears an APRON, not a suit. When Santa visits, she asks for cashmere socks – not a promotion or even an executive nametag. When a couple comes to shop, the man is pitied for carrying a bag, his wife ridiculed (through communal rolling of eyes) for emasculating him so. How dare she.
Move over to Geico. The lizard is a guy. So is his boss. The only female that figures in is one who mistakes the lizard for another a reptile who had his way with her and abandoned her.
The General is a dude. The Allstate dude is a dude. The Allstate mayhem dude is a dude.
State Farm at least has a female agent, but the male customer is so infantilized that she’s more of a mom than a professional. And the former E-surance spokescartoon was even more anatomically unlikely than Barbie.
In the advertising world, women in fluffy skirts dance with joy when their houses smell good. A serious-looking male scientist captures “the essence of the national parks” for a new Airwick home scent line that sends a woman into rapture when she takes a deep whiff. (National parks? Really? Does it smell like buffalo poo, diesel RVs and bong hits from three campsites over?)
In the advertising world, women still freak out over dirty carpets, leaving friends out in the rain, wigging out over visiting in-laws, or renting machines that practically destroy their homes. Thank heavens they can always call on the male professionals at ServPro and Stanley Steamer to repair the damage. The worth of a woman is clearly wrapped up tightly into each fiber of her hi-low pile.
In the advertising world, only women do laundry and scrub grout (though we’re shown how by shouting men in infomercials). Only women shop for groceries, pack lunches for their kids and cook dinner (the Hamburger Helper hand is a guy, but he doesn’t actually cook anything).
And have you ever noticed the spousal attractiveness ratio in ads? Slow your DVR down and take a look now and then. Even the dumpiest, most idiotic guy is going to have an impossibly hot wife. He may be sloppy , overweight and nondescript, but she is gorgeous, whether they’re shopping at Lowe’s, Volkswagen or WalMart.
All that worrying about carpet cleanliness must keep them thin. Or maybe all those home scent products really do transport them into a world of unutterable beauty and joy.
Damn. My thesis isn’t writing itself. Gotta go.