Tide is InKristen Tsetsi, Thursday June 28th, 2007
…and sexless Moms are, at least partially, on the way out.
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You know the sexless Moms I'm talking about. They wear boxy V-necks over button-shirts with doily-collars, or pink-tan sweaters hanging hip-length over baggy pants. They have faces you'll forget the moment they turn their heads. Commercial moms aren't really women; they don't have sex, they rarely look feminine, and if they do, it's in a matronly way. It's also better if they aren't attractive – if they were, if their hair bounced and flowed and if they had breasts and identifiable waists (or any shape at all), they would have something much better to do than to fall on their hands and knees to scrub the toilet base screw-joints, or disinfect every possible infectible surface with a disinfecting spray.
Leave it to the Moms to do it. Moms will do everything! You got a stink-mess? Yo, Mom'll solve it. And what about that Clorox™ jingle? "Mama keeps whites fresh like the sunshine, mama uses the magic of Clorox Two™." Mama does it. No one but mama knows how to use Clorox™. Or how to do laundry, for that matter.
At least, that's what the ads would have us believe.
Moms aren't just doing it; they're loving it. Recall the woman gleefully dusting her friend's house during an afternoon tea before her friend catches her and accuses, "Are you dusting again?"
C'mon…everyone knows women jones for dusting if they go a day without! We'll ransack your house for a Swiffer™, we will! If we can't find one, you might find us scrubbing your shower grout between servings of diet cakelettes.
It's not just cleaning, though. After wiping up the cranberry spill with the hefty paper towels no one but Mom seems to know how to use, a new job presents itself: how to find a way to accommodate the unpredictable schedule of the family members come dinnertime? This, too, is done with unfathomable pleasure and selflessness. Dad works, and the kids are busy playing and socializing. Mom is, of course, eternally inside the house. The only time Mom leaves the house is to shop, or to watch the soccer game that will dirty her son's clothes, thereby giving her the (no doubt eagerly-awaited) opportunity to use her Clorox Two™. Sure, she shakes her head disapprovingly at the muddy patch on those once-white shorts, but just look at her face when she picks up the Clorox® bottle. Nothing short of sheer lust.
So, Mom's in the kitchen with dinnah. Dad is a big boy, and the kids are teens, but advertisers insist they can't make their own dinner. No, no, no. They're helpless. Even if they tried, they wouldn't do it right, and we know it. It's up to SuperMom to slide the pot roast on the table precisely as the children breeze through the door, breathless and windblown from a day of fun and excitement. And when Commercial Dad calls to say he'll be late, Mom's mission is to find a way to see to it that his dinner is equally warm and fresh when he walks in, sits down, and picks up his knife and fork.
This is Commercial Mom's life. She is a willing and grateful servant, the bearer of all things clean, the carrier of flowery-scents and tummy-filling meals. And nothing more.
Let us, for a moment, forget that Mom is presented as the only together creature in any household. Let us also step away from her disturbing asexuality.
Equally disturbing is Commercial Mom's obsessive passion for family. She lives and breathes it. Note the woman who gets lost in a nostalgic, borderline romantic daydream while smelling her son's football jersey before finally letting it go, or the wife who has her faux-vacuum sticky-cleaner at the ready every time her husband drops yet another popcorn kernel on the carpet. Or the WifeandMother who rushes into the bathroom to freshen the air after a yucky, dirty man—or, Commercial Dad—makes a stinky in the toilet.
Moms would never drop a stinky. They don't even use the bathroom. Moms – women – are never malodorous.
Unless, of course, advertisers want to sell a "feminine deodorant" product. At this point, women become suddenly and inexplicably rancid. The odor "down there" is like a mysterious woman-specific malady that, we're to believe, plagues all women. We don't feel "fresh" without having sprayed our Netherlands and fear we'll be tracked by the smelly-woman bloodhounds if we don't properly cleanse with the products (that, with excessive use, can disturb our own natural cleansing process).
We need the spray, for without it, we are walking green fogs. Spray, douche, either, both – just make the odor go away!
Worse is if we're on our period.
A company marketing a popular brand of feminine hygiene products, in an effort to sell its scented variety, has a woman – a woman! – standing in a product aisle say to another woman (while holding a box of thin, deodorized mini-pads), "Feminine odor. Nobody likes it!"
I, uh, hate to disagree with the skilled marketing minds coming up with these blatant – I mean, brilliant – woman-bashing concepts, but I know of several people who very much enjoy feminine (ahem) "odor."
If many commercial women are sexless, task-oriented potato sacks, the men – as mentioned above - don't fare much better. First, there's Smelly Man. Then there's Manboy. There's also Clueless Man hidden behind his newspaper while the kitchen around him erupts in rushed-morning chaos (which Mom deftly handles with her Mom magic and a quart of OJ). Remember that commercial selling the faux-vacuum sticky cleaner? In that one, while the woman rids the carpet of Husband's popcorn, lazy, uninvolved Husband sits on the couch with a bowl on his lap, oblivious to Child, who is racing through the house in his little plastic, foot-powered car and dropping sparkles of confetti like breadcrumbs.
It's obvious advertisers are comfortable with the familiar. The woman happily cleaning her oven in the forties worked then, so why not now? (Could it be marketing departments are conveniently ignoring the possibility Cleaning Woman was happy not because she was cleaning, but because she'd just popped a friendly valium?) Housewives (now SAHM's – Stay At Home Moms) prevailed sixty years ago…couldn't commercials pretend they're still the majority in the twenty-first century, when, in truth, half of the female population is working outside of the home, stays single into her early thirties, and has children roughly five years later than she used to?
For the most part, anyway.
There is a version of the modern woman who isn't the Mother. Instead, she's the Whore. The Paris-Hilton burger-eating, car-washing whore, or the ridiculously large-breasted GoDaddy.com™ whore. If women aren't sexless in commercials, they are often oversexed.
Thankfully, there have been a few breakthrough campaigns slowly working their way into the advertising pool, a new generation of commercials reflecting women as having interests outside of dusting and laundry-folding or eye-screwing the male audience.
Swiffer® placed an amusing and modern ad in which a man calls his wife—who is a businesswoman preparing for a teleconference—to tell her about all the things he's dusting at home. Because Wife is constantly moving around a long meeting table, she's put her husband on speakerphone. The camera follows Husband from room to room in their house (we don't need to know why he's home with no children any more than we need to know why women are home with no children), ending in what he calls the "beddy-weddy-woom." By this time, business associates have begun filing into the conference room and taking their places around the table. Wife hangs up on Husband, embarrassed in front of her coworkers.
This commercial not only gives us a modern woman, but also a less offensive and more realistic portrait of a man.
In other commercials, Husband is the one making quick family dinners (when Mom is late getting home), using toilet cleaning tools, and vacuuming. And each man is still, somehow, quite manly! And not in the I'm-going-to-stuff-this-full-one-pound-burger-down-my-throat-in-five-seconds way. For example, Clorox® - to advertise their ToiletWand™ System – uses a scruffy, twenty-something single male living in a small apartment with a slovenly roommate. He explains to the roommate how to use the wand, emphasizing that it enables them to keep the bowl clean without ever touching the toilet. The roommate is, of course, intrigued. He probably can't wait to clean the toilet, himself!
Dove®, too, joined modernity with its "Real Beauty" campaign. Women aren't tall and skinny or blemish-free, and the shampoo doesn't even give them orgasms. It just works very, very well.
In a commercial that hasn't aired in the past couple of years – but which is still one of my favorites - a young blond woman wearing a tight, black leather outfit responds to the sound of her doorbell with a swing of her hair. She's ready to leave, but first, she spots a dropping on the floor under a birdcage hanging in the center of the room. She can't leave the mess and she can't take much time cleaning it, so she uses a sweeper (brand forgotten) to wipe up (and undoubtedly disinfect) the spot before hurrying down the stairs. Waiting for her at the curb? Her hot date behind the wheel of a red sports car. Grrrrowl.
And now, finally, the detergents are coming around to adding substance to their laundry-loving Moms. A new Tide® commercial shows a curvy, womanly-woman with long, wavy brown hair sauntering predator-like across the screen toward her husband, the father of their child. Sexy she may be, but she's still a mom who's been spit-up on. Stinky.
What does she do?
She washes her clothes in Tide®, which makes all "…the difference between smelling like a Mom, and smelling like a woman." And clearly, both she and her husband appreciate it. You can tell by the way their faces disappear behind her hair.
Here are a few more commercials I'd like to see that cast both sexes – younger and older – in a more realistic and positive light:
A college girl – very much not a girl-gone-wild – cramming for a final at her dorm desk, distracted by the smell of days-old food tins piled high in her garbage can. Maybe her roommate is lying on her bed, also reading something, also distracted by the smell. The roommate, who can't take it anymore, jumps out of bed, sneaks into a neighboring dorm room, and steals a few sprays of the deodorizer before returning it.
A teenager not being catered to when he barges into the house after skateboarding all day, but coming home hungry to a sculpting or painting or paper-laden mother who says, "Make it yourself. You're a big boy." The teen grumbles all the way to the kitchen, then opens the freezer to healthy, tasty, easy-cook meals and smiles. "All right! Five-minute veggie pizza!" Or what have you.
A husband doing his own laundry. Maybe he finds a detergent that isn't flowery and sweet and that also leaves his suit shirts ring-around-the-collar free.
Teens doing their own laundry. Sissy has a date and her favorite blouse is wrinkled? Can't rely on Mom to fix it – Mom is in the back yard with a Margarita and a magazine and soaking up the late-afternoon summer rays. Sissy has to fix it herself, and what easier, faster way to do it than using scented dryer sheets and ten minutes on Permanent Press? Sissy leaves with pimple-faced Kip, her blouse wrinkle-free and smelling fine.
Advertisers are slow to recognize the modern demographic. Stereotypes still hold strong in a disconcerting number of commercials, but it is comforting to know that some of them, at least, are aware of the changes that have taken place since 1945.