About-Face BlogAdvertisingGender InequalityOn The Pulse

The Tides are changing — aren’t they?

By September 23, 2011 8 Comments
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9LTRbWsGOI&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]Cleaning product ads have an infamous rep in the feminist world for adhering to age-old gender stereotypes. Commercials featuring men doing laundry, the dishes, or cleaning house are few and far between. Commonly aimed at a middle-aged audience, these ads are disturbing – but when their sexist stereotypes directly reference young girls, their disturbing factor skyrockets.

This month’s culprit? Tide.

In this terrifyingly traditional commercial, a dainty mother expresses distaste at her daughter’s interest in “hoodies,” “cargo shorts,” and “car garages.” The mother bemoans the fact that, although her daughter’s clothes were washed with crayons, the stains were gone thanks to Tide.

Oh, the agony! God forbid a young girl expresses even the slightest interest in defying gender stereotypes.

I’m sure many of you have recognized the media attention this ad has been gaining in the past weeks – so why bring it up now? The truth is, the most horrifying aspect is not the ad itself, but how people are reacting to it.

Sure, there were a few comments on the site that were music to my ears. “Get back to me when it’s the dad doing the laundry” was one of my personal favorites. But of the varied opinions expressed in the “Comments” Section, 13 of 20 are in support of / defense of the video. Some of their reactions?

“This commercial is too cute!”
“This is a non-issue… pollution, crime, racism are REAL issues.
“KUDOS to Tide’s advertising for their creativity!

Um… what? What is cute about a mother publicly disparaging her daughter’s affinity for “boy” clothes? Why is sexism a non-issue? Is Tide really so desperate for “creative advertising” that they must resort to gender stereotypes to get the point across?

A commenter named Brandee Benoy brings up an interesting point: “This commercial is a satire!”

We could spend paragraphs arguing about whether or not this commercial is a satire (and trust me, we’re not taking this lightly–tell us in the comments what you think!), but let me ask you this: would a five-year-old girl watching this commercial understand its “satirical” connotations?

Most five-year-olds have never even heard of the world “satire,” much less understand the concept. To an average five-year-old, this video expresses two very distinct messages: one, a “mother” wears pink, does laundry, and takes care of children, and two, girls who wear “hoodies,” and “cargo shorts” are disappointments to their mothers.

Whether or not these sentiments are expressed in a satirical way is not the issue; they are being consumed by children too young to fully grasp the irony therein.

When 13 out of 20 viewers see these commercials as positive forces, we know something’s out of balance. Even worse, many of the pro-commercial commenters were mothers and parents. If these are behaviors parents mimic in their own homes, more children will grow up within strict gendered boundaries – and that’s not okay.

–Hailey is a first-year undergrad at Brandeis University. She loves writing music, eating chocolate, and combatting gender inequity on a daily basis