What would cleaning-product commercials looks like if their gender roles WEREN’T creepily outdated? Here’s a couple ideas.
Molly Schoemann is absolutely right about the bizarrely retrograde gender attitudes in commercials for cleaning products. It’s always women doing the cleaning, and when men appear, they’re presented as hopelessly incompetent, the simplest cleaning tasks utterly beyond them. Let’s face it, that’s insulting up one side and down the other. (Though to be fair, commenters pointed out one recent Tide ad that fights this stereotype.)
In particular, Ms. Schoemann proposes one commercial she’d like to see:
I hope I live to see the following commercial: A man stands at the kitchen sink and cuts through greasy buildup on a pile of pots and pans with only one squirt of dishwasher liquid. He does not act as though doing the dishes is a confusing and foreign experience for him, one which he is sure to incompetently screw up, with hilarious results. He does not appear to feel demeaned by the task, nor is it implied that he is doing it grudgingly, in exchange for a reward of sexual favors. Rather, he gets an enormous satisfaction out of the dish-washing experience itself, as most women in commercials do. As he hangs up the dish towel, he smiles like he’s just been awarded the key to the city, and maybe even fist-bumps a floating apparition of Mr. Clean.
She’s right, that’d be a good one. It lacks a certain narrative oomph, though, so what happens if we put together a couple of those little thirty-second storylines TV ads tend to be good at?
A handsome young man, CHARLIE, is on the phone with a friend.
Sure, we can watch it on my TV. Yeah, bring them too, that’s cool. All right, quarter of eight. See you then.
As he hits disconnect on his phone and looks around his one-bedroom apartment, Charlie’s expression changes to one of panic. A SMASH CUT MONTAGE reveals dirty dishes piled in his sink, dirty laundry on the couch, beard hairs and toothpaste residue in his bathroom sink, and dust on his TV setup.
Leaping out of his chair energetically, Charlie grabs a box of ACME CLEANING PRODUCTS and goes to work with furious, comical haste.
The dishes are the first to fall before Charlie’s onslaught, as the Acme soap dissolves baked-on grease like nothing. In no time, he’s got a drying rack full of shiny-clean dishes, and leaps for the laundry.
As he crams laundry into the small stacked washer-dryer in his place, he wastes no time measuring detergent, instead grabbing one of Acme’s patented pre-measured packets out of the handy packaging, and tossing it in before swooping to the bathroom.
With a simple hand sponge and Acme’s famous clean-and-shine action, he cuts right through the buildup of crud on his sink in one stroke. Seconds later, the entire sink is gleaming white as though it had never been dirty.
The last step before his friends arrive is to make his TV shine like a showroom model, and so he uses the Acme One-Step dustcloths, which sweep away dust, lint and pet hair with no trouble. As he tosses the last one in the trash, his doorbell rings.
Opening the door reveals Charlie’s friends, MIKE, ANNA, RAMON, and LOIS. They’re all smiling and bearing snacks.
Hi, c’mon in!
Hey, the place looks great!
Well, y’know. I try.
FADE TO ACME LOGO ON BLACK
Acme. Because life is hard enough already.
Now, did that blow your mind? Did your sense of gender identity quiver in terror, afraid that at any moment it might be swept away by the chill new wind blowing through the badlands of television advertising? Or did you wonder where you can get those dustcloths?
So that’s one scenario a lot of people can relate to (and not just men; ladies and other folks, you know you’ve done that at least once), but there are others. For example, you know who has a great deal of need for cleaning products? Parents.
A plump, fatherly man of middle years, HARRY, stands in his kitchen. Before him is his ten-year-old son DEVON, whose expression conveys stubbornness bordering on intransigence. Devon’s younger brother CARL, seven, follows his big brother’s lead.
I don’t wanna clean the kitchen! It’s too hard!
Nah, it’s easy if you know what you’re doing. Here, I’ll show you.
Pulling out a box of GREENCLEAN PRODUCTS, he smiles at his very dubious offspring.
Cleaning up doesn’t have to be hard on you, or on the environment.
Harry shows Devon how to scrub the pots properly, both of them covered to the elbow in natural suds.
At GreenClean, we never skimp on quality… or on responsibility.
Carl pushes a mop taller than him across the floor, as Harry shows him how to spray down a little GreenClean Surface Magic ahead of the area he’s about to mop.
With no harsh chemicals or artificial toxins, our products are as safe as they are effective. Because we’re responsible for the next generation.
Devon wipes down the stovetop, marveling at how it comes clean in just one stroke. Harry pats him on the back proudly.
Finally, the three men stand back, looking over a kitchen so clean you could eat off of it.
There, was that so hard?
No, I guess that was pretty easy.
Good, ’cause from now on that’s how you’re earning your allowance.
FADE TO GREENCLEAN LOGO ON BLACK
GreenClean. We can’t legally say that other products will kill your children.
Again, are you confused and alienated by the dizzyingly unfamiliar world this ad presents? No, because a dad teaching a couple recalcitrant kids to clean up properly is not that strange an idea. Indeed, it’s a thing I think most fathers can relate to.
Sure, neither of these ads is exactly Clio award material, but then, I’m not exactly Don Draper. These are just a couple goofy ideas I tossed off without much effort, but apparently that’s more effort than the actual advertising industry is willing to put in.
If you’re a woman, would you see either of these ads and think “Oh, I can’t buy those products! They are clearly for men only!”? Would you think “Any cleaning product used by men must be suspect, I’ll stick to lye and borax, thank you very much!”?
If you’re a man, would you see these ads and be offended or confused by the idea that you might do your own cleaning? Or, like most men, do you already do at least some of your own cleaning, and can thus buy soap without being afraid your dick will drop off? (I do not recommend buying any brand of soap that causes your dick to drop off. However, I am not aware that anyone presently makes such a soap.)
It would not be that big a deal to change these outdated, stupid, embarrassing gender stereotypes in advertising. It would not cripple anyone’s bottom line. It would not hurt anybody. It would just make the world a slightly more civilized, and possibly even cleaner, place. So why are we still stuck watching ads June Cleaver would have called regressive?