One fine summer evening a few months ago, I was sitting at home watching television. Commercials came on and I stopped consciously listening to the audio until I noticed something. A commercial for Pledge furniture polish started to run and I observed something interesting.
This commercial depicted a woman in a glass box filled with furniture being ordered to clean everything in it with the Pledge product. I thought to myself, “of course, an ad displaying a woman using a cleaning product, nothing atypical of sexism there”. Then she says “I’ve got to go pick up my kids”; another typical mom line. Then instead of being allowed to leave, the voice-over for the ad commands her to clean. The entire commercial is one that we see very often that has implications we may not be fully aware of. There are other Pledge commercials similar to this one, all depicting women being told to clean things and look happy about it. Sarah Haskins of Current TV does a fine job of poking fun at these types of advertisements.
Though it is not blatantly sexist to an extreme degree, this ad perpetuates gender roles to an extent that is perhaps even more problematic than the extreme degree. By making it subtle, it is seen as a docile and harmless idea rather than a smaller part of a very large problem. It’s simply part of consumerism and part of our daily lives and it’s something that we should just accept and not bother questioning.
Personally, I am not of that mindset.
Dear Dr. Herbert Fisk Johnson III, (CEO of SC Johnson)
I am writing to you out of concern for the method of advertising your company has chosen to sell a product. Your Pledge “Multisurface cleaner” commercials all seem to follow a similar trend in which women are consistently placed in the role of busy mommies who don’t have time to clean because they need to pick up their kids or do other traditionally “mom” things. Though this might not have been your intention, these ads create far deeper implications than the surface sales pitch. Understand that I am not labeling you as a male chauvinist bigot; I am merely pointing out that which your advertisements imply.
By depicting only women in these commercials, there is a certain degree of gender role perpetuation. Why not use a male actor for any of these ads? Surely there are men out there who care about the state of their furniture, just as there are women who could care less. Perhaps a more egalitarian approach would help to alleviate the gendered feel of this advertisement.
Another way to counter the perpetuation of female gender roles is to not have the setting be a glass box. Besides the literal image of keeping women in one place and not allowing them to leave, there are also the mental associations of women traditionally taking care of housework, cleaning, cooking, taking care of the kids, etc. Perhaps have a woman using the product while at work? Rather than her “mom” duties being showcased, advertise her responsibilities as a working woman.
These changes are not drastic. This is not asking too much. This is a request to reflect the variation of women’s roles in society.
This is a request to give women in your advertisements more respect and dimension. I hope you do not find it too difficult to give, because it isn’t.
Allison Brickell (a concerned female)
Then again, maybe I’m just overreacting. Maybe cleaning constantly isn’t such a bad idea. Maybe I should try to find whatever it is these women have so that I can also be absurdly happy about cleaning too.