Have you ever noticed that women are the people selling us cleaning supplies? In a world where women are supposed to be equals with men, advertisers still choose only housewives as their spokespeople to sell us everything from dish detergent to super sponges. And this phenomenon is not limited to cleaning supplies. Every commercial that wants to sell cooking, cleaning or washing supplies features a motherly figure slaving away over delicious meals, fresh laundry, or sparkling toilets.
What is the deal with that? Why do retailers create commercials that reinforce gender roles? In our ‘modern’ society, why do marketers continue to portray women as housewives?
Look, I know that advertisers are trying to make money. And the truth is: women are still the primary purchasers of household goods such as food and cleaning supplies. So advertisers know that to sell products, they have to target the buyer: women! Seems logical. I can’t hold it against marketers for doing their jobs.
BUT I do have a couple of issues with the tactics they use. First, I would argue that portraying women in traditional cleaning roles reinforces those roles. I feel that as long as the media continues to establish and portray norms in which men go to work and come home to a meal on the table, or women are continually shown as being the tub scrubbers of society, that will continue to be considered normal.. Seeing women as the only people who cook and clean in advertising reinforces the idea that these are women’s tasks, an idea that supposedly died years ago when women fought for the right to equality. Our society can’t claim to have moved above and beyond sexism and traditional gender roles if marketers continue to portray women in those roles. The advertisers might argue that their commercials are a reflection of the way things currently are, but I think that their advertisements do more than reflect. I think they have the power to subconsciously influence our ideas about how things should be. After all, isn’t that the point of advertising? To sell us an ideal life, brought to us by their amazing products? If the marketer’s idea of an ideal life includes women slaving away to cook and clean, then count me out. Sell me your product in a world I want to live in. Which, by the way, is not a world where I have to do all the household chores (even if your product lets me get them done ten times faster).
Which brings me to my second issue: women may be the primary purchasers, but they don’t have to be portrayed as the primary cleaners/cooks/doers of laundry as well. The role of buying products does not necessitate using them. A clever advertiser might consider showing a woman walking into her house and handing her husband the leading brand of dish detergent, so that he can load the dishwasher. Or a woman could be shown commenting on how good the clothing her husband just washed smells, to which he responds: “It’s that new detergent you bought.” It’s a bit of a tricky thing: the woman has to be shown as the deliverer, not the fetcher. She’s the one with the buying power, not the errand runner for the man. But when done correctly, I think that an advertiser can (and should!) subvert traditional gender roles while still (successfully) marketing to the people with the purchasing power (women).
After all ladies, wouldn’t you buy food and detergent from a good looking man who cooks and then does the dishes afterwards?