On the off chance I ever invent or stumble upon a time machine, I will probably travel back in time and lurk about the 60s. On the whole, I’m pretty into that decade. The music, the fashion, the world events–I love it. However, my favorite part about the 60s is the advertising. I mean, who doesn’t love an advertisement that depicts a husband spanking his wife for using the wrong brand of coffee? I know I love it; that’s for darn sure…
While the modern consumer would be horrified to find an ad like this gracing their magazines and newspapers (except, perhaps, for the high function fandom following 50 Shades of Grey), overtly sexist advertising still circulates and not simply in dingy advertising backwaters but right in plain site and on a daily basis. In fact, this sexist advertising is used to sell the same products that sexist advertising in previous decades was used to sell: cleaning supplies and frozen food. The ads of yesteryear all sell household items by showing a June Cleaver lookalike looking prim and proper in her kitchen baking and cleaning to her heart’s delight. The ads of today sell household items by showing a modern matriarch (who, in addition to running the perfect household, is 100 percent committed to working a sweater set into every outfit), Swiffering and Stouffering her way to a perfect marriage.
Now, I have no problem with the fact that the majority of American households are probably cooked for and cleaned, in large part, by women. What I do have a problem with is the idea, as perpetuated in advertising, that women are the only people doing these jobs. To advertise household items strictly to women ignores the idea of single fathers raising families, gay men raising families, single men keeping their living spaces livable, or households that just divide chores up differently. But, as Chuck Klosterman discusses in “It will shock you how much it never happened,” we are conditioned to accept this sort of advertising because advertising isn’t just selling a product, it’s selling an idea.
Thus, Swiffer isn’t just selling a sleek new mop, it’s selling a tool that will polish up your life as well as your floors. How can you command a family with scuffed up tile? I mean, no amount of power cardigans can make up for dirty floors. The real shame of this advertising strategy is the fact that it works like a charm. I know in my heart of hearts that it’s impractical for people to stop Swiffering and cooking and doing laundry until advertisers start advertising these products to more than just women, but it would be a nice gesture. Alas I will have to settle for this, a message to advertisers: I will continue to buy your products not because I am a woman but because I do enjoy clean floors and easy meals.
p.s. All this talk of sexist advertising, not to mention the Klosterman article that talks about it specifically, reminds me of Mad Men which in turns reminds me of the lukewarm job January Jones did hosting SNL a couple seasons ago. While her performance overall was a little stiff, this instructional party planning video is a real gem.