by Librarian Karen. Librarian Karen is a librarian in Toronto, where she enjoys coffee, chocolate, photography, music, films, yelling at sexist television commercials and complaining about gender stereotypes in the media.
When I first noticed the new advertising campaign for clothing retailer Mark’s Work Wearhouse, now known as Mark’s, I remember being confused by the “Now Welcoming Women” slogan: welcoming women to what, the work force?
The ads reminded me of how much I dislike advertising targeted towards women, specifically TV commercials for household cleaning products. They cause me great stress because of how they insist on still portraying a woman as the only person in a household capable of doing anything. And although I’m a woman responsible for everything in my household (of one), I don’t relate to them at all.
TV commercials for cleaning products give the impression that a woman’s primary role, or even only responsibility, is for the management and care of a household, including catering to the emotional and physical needs of her partner and children, regardless of her own employment status and other responsibilities and needs. In this Arm & Hammer cat litter commercial, we see a woman going about her busy life, and yet we are led to believe that she will be the one cleaning the litter box:
Are the children not capable of helping out with such a simple task? I had chores when I was young, and as much as I probably disliked doing them, as an adult I can appreciate having learned responsibility.
By showing the mother as the person using the advertised products, the message seems to be that a woman’s leisure time is far less valuable than that of a male partner or their children. Often we see family members on the couch watching TV or partaking in other fun activities, while the mother is cleaning, such as in this commercial for Windex glass cleaner, in which the husband takes a nap in the chair while the woman cleans the windows:
A nap! What a luxury!
“More often than not, marketers choose to depict one stereotypical version of a woman while neglecting her versatility and multifaceted life.” How about that, women have a life outside of the home! The quote above is from a study, conducted by Womenkind LLC in July 2011, which presents a summary of what should be obvious conclusions on how women feel about how they are portrayed in advertising. So why hasn’t advertising changed to reflect this?
Traditionally, yes, women have been the major decision makers and purchasers for a household. And traditionally, yes, women are the ones using the products which they are purchasing. But surely there are households in which men do the laundry? Clean up after the family pet makes a mess on the floor? As part of a quick and informal survey, I asked some of my male friends and colleagues, some of which have families, live with roommates or alone, whether they participate in the purchase and use of household cleaning products. Apparently, they do!
While ignoring the reality that women have more than one role within and outside of the home, advertisers also ignore the possibility that their male partner may share, or be the one primarily responsible, in the care of the house. Research shows that although men’s participation in household chores and childcare has increased, women still continue to do more of the unpaid work.
Gender roles have changed, so why doesn’t advertising replace the traditional roles with those which are more gender-neutral? I’m not convinced that advertising accurately reflects these changes. It’s disappointing and frustrating to see that advertising has also failed to reflect the changing roles of men, whether as part of a household, or single. If men are the focus in a commercial, it’s often to make fun of them, portraying them as inept, such as this Clorox bleach commercial:
The fathers, although participating in childcare, are so occupied with their conversation about cars they ignore the need of another child, which results in a laundry accident. Because men aren’t capable enough to multi-task or prevent such a thing from happening, right?
Male consumers exist, but advertisers seem so focused on the “Superwoman” image that they are ignoring other demographics. There is no need to portray women as the happy housewife; not only is it unrealistic and inauthentic, I find it insulting. There are brands which I refuse to purchase based on their advertising, and I’ve gone so far as to start making my own environmentall- friendly cleaning products. Take that, Proctor & Gamble and S.C. Johnson!
While looking for examples, I came across this short video, A Different Perspective on Gender Roles within the Media, by Jana Dlhosh. It’s an appropriate visual companion to my complaint: