Ok, Tide. Stop sending me conflicting signals.
We all know that the vast majority of advertisements for cleaning products like detergents and mops feature women doing all the acts of cleaning and housekeeping. And it’s important to note that it isn’t just women; it’s usually moms. This isn’t just reinforcing the stereotype of women, but it also sends the message that the fathers are helpless fools who don’t know how to operate a washing machine or iron.
Tide has been called out by About-Face before, appropriately, for joining the ranks and being super gender-normative — like the commercial in which the mom seems pretty disturbed that her daughter prefers cargo shorts and hoodies to frilly dresses — which is totally unacceptable. And admittedly, after seeing those commercials, I did what I usually do in these situations, which is to vow to not buy the products of the companies that I see promoting sexist advertising.
But then Tide came out with a rash of new commercials, and I started to wonder if they were — dare I say — evolving. There’s the one showing a couple doing the laundry — both parents know how to fold clothes! And they can work together as partners!
There’s also the one that shows a father as the primary laundry-doer in his family (he actually says, “Since I’m the one who has to do the laundry”), responsible for cleaning his daughter’s favorite princess dress. It actually comes off as genuine and earnest, and the dad is just naturally involved with his household’s chores and his daughter’s interests — as many dads actually are!
I also liked that while the girl loves her princess dress, she is also shown wearing a sheriff’s costume halfway through the commercial, showing that — shocker — girls don’t solely like those purple frilly dresses, they do, in fact, have a range of interests.
Going hand in hand with this last one is the commercial in which the dad is folding laundry — calling the chore “classic problem solving” — and his daughter comes in and asks him to braid her hair — guys, dads know how to braid hair!
This shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is.
Of course, not all is well in the land of laundry detergent. I discovered the “long version” of this last commercial, which doesn’t quite hit the mark. In this version, right at the beginning, the dad says he’s a “dad-mom.” What is that, exactly? He says it means that while his wife works, he’s at home being awesome.
So, wait — why isn’t that just… being a dad? When a dad stays home, he can be doing an awesome job as a parent, but he’s still… part mom? I’m confused.
While throughout he seems supposedly at ease with his role, at the end of the commercial, he says, “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go do some pull-ups and crunches in the next room.” I guess to, you know, reassert his masculine strength.
So, for the most part, I actually think Tide is moving in the right direction. It takes consistent messaging to drive home the point that moms are not and should not be responsible for all the housework, that dads are not inept at housework, and that balance exists. The more we see of their better commercials, the more normalized it will be, and no longer revolutionary.
Larkin Callaghan is an epidemiology and health communication fellow at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, where she also received her doctorate in Health Behavior and Education. She blogs regularly at her own site, I’m Not Tired Yet, about women’s and adolescent health issues.