This is a guest post by Molly Schoemann. Molly is a humorist from NYC who currently lives in North Carolina. She has written for Bitch magazine, Jezebel, and The Rumpus. You can find more of her work at www.MollySchoemann.com or follow her @iHeardTell.
Now that I have begun to take notice of this trend, it makes me tile-scrubbingly angry. Why is it that in television commercials for cleaning products, women are still doing all the work? We’re still the only ones trailing our fingers ruefully over dusty tabletops, fretting over grass stains on soccer uniforms, and grimacing through smudged windows. Just once, I’d like to turn on the TV and see a man drying his hands complacently on a dishtowel after washing a sink full of dishes. Am I dreaming too big here?
I can’t say for sure, but I’m fairly confident that the sight of a male running a wet-jet across a kitchen floor on television will not leave me clutching my couch’s armrest with staggering vertigo. After all, it’s a scene I occasionally come across in my own kitchen. Not to mention, it is a sight I find very pleasing to the eye. Growing up, my father was the one who taught me how to scrub a stovetop and which cleanser to use in the bathtub—and he came of age in the 1940s. Perhaps television hadn’t yet taught him his proper place in the household—as a domestically befuddled male who is hard-pressed to identify the business end of a broom?
Men, I know you know how to vacuum! I have watched you! I have seen you sweep and mop! Perhaps not in that order, but your hearts were in the right place! I know that you are capable of doing a certain amount of housework! But it’s still not happening on television. By now we are probably all familiar with commercials in which a hapless husband or child knocks over a glass of juice and then stands there, stricken, as though they’ve just pulled the pin on a live grenade. They are utterly at a loss! Nothing in their lives has prepared them for this moment! Fortunately, Wife/Mom always comes to the rescue just in the nick of time with some new super-absorbent paper-towel or antibacterial wipe. Thank God she was there and knew what to do!
You’ll also notice that women in these commercials are never grumpy or irritable at the interruption when the call to action comes (and they’re never away at work, either). Apparently there’s no reason Mom would have anything else going on that she couldn’t drop at an instant’s notice to take care of more pressing matters. Keeping the house clean, after all, is clearly one of her most important jobs.
What is particularly strange is that these commercials tend to be for products that are intended to make cleaning easy, which makes their message contradictory as well as patronizing. “Cleaning up is an easy job, thanks to our product,” is the implication, “but Mom here sure is an expert at it anyway!” And Mom should certainly be proud of her easy, easy accomplishments, right? First advertisers undermine the difficulty of a task, and then they give women a big phony pat on the back and ask them to take pride in accomplishing it. It’s a twisted, counterfeit empowerment that gets to me every time.
In this modern age, I know of many men who either live alone or with other men, and yet somehow they manage to keep their places reasonably neat without female intervention. Our household demographics have changed a lot over the last several decades, but not according to advertisers. It makes me wonder who the good people at Proctor and Gamble think are purchasing the cleaning products in gay households with nary a long-suffering wife or mother in sight. And in homes headed by lesbian couples, do they imagine that the women fight over the chance to scrub the toilet and to remove stains from each other’s clothes?
These strangely old-fashioned commercials are part of the last stubborn, vestigial reminders of the days when a woman’s main job was to find a man and get married so she could spend her time cooking, watching the kids, doing everyone’s laundry and cleaning the entire house by herself. Unfortunately, at this point many women still do all of those things AND hold down a job—but we will come back to that another day. In any event, living situations have obviously changed. Now many people live by themselves, or with others whose sinks they are not responsible for keeping shiny.
It’s a good time for commercials to lurch into modern times and reflect these current situations. A little boy may as well learn from television that it is within the realm of possibility for him to know how to clean his own bathroom someday. His sister should be made aware that the heavy burden of wiping up every household spill need not rest solely on her shoulders.
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.
TV, it is way past time for an image like this. Make it happen.