http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9HMhSvnbmk This ad for the Samsung Smart TV perpetuates outdated assumptions about a man’s assumed role in the household. In the ad, we see a woman fantasizing about “upgrading” her husband’s role in the household just as she would a Samsung TV. In her dream, we see the man cooking, taking care of the baby, cleaning, and preparing dinner for his wife only to have the fantasy abruptly end and return to reality where the man sits around on the couch grunting like a caveman and eating food like a slob. The stereotyped representation of what a typical man looks like is so exaggerated that the man is literally sitting in a mess in a crumbs and farting while the woman is neat and put together. The portrayal of men as such is merely a stereotype and the idea of an “evolution” of the household dynamic as a futuristic concept is clearly outdated. As Belkin wrote, when it comes to changing stereotypical household responsibilities, “the perception of flexibility is itself a matter of perception” (5). The dynamic of the home can easily change if the couple is willing to make changes. If men in Sweden willingly take paternal leave, clearly not all men need to be technologically “upgraded.” Belkin, Lisa. “When Mom and Dad Share It All.” NY Times. 15 June 2008. Web. 01 Dec 2013. Bennhold, Katrin. “In Sweden, Men Can Have It All.” NY Times. 9 June 2010. Web. 01 Dec 2013.
In this recent advertisement from Swiffer, via Procter & Gamble show a real-life old-age couple getting some help with their household cleaning with a lot of free Swiffer products. This ad seeks to charm viewers with a real-life couple that together keep up a household even though they are both 90, because hey, who doesn’t love old people? This seems like it will be in contrast to typical cleaning product ads where a young, beautiful women tries to do it all, keeping her kids happy, house spotless, and food on the table.
However, as we see in the video, the notion of keeping the household clean is still incredibly gendered here, which makes this commercial hard for me to watch. Even in their old age, the wife, Lee, takes full responsibility for cleaning the house. We watch her (and I cringe) as she tries to get up on a folding chair to clean hard-to-reach areas while the husband watches. In his words, “I don’t do anything.” Even though neither of these seniors works, it seems these two have decided the woman is responsible for everything in the household, which is their choice and should be respected but seems like this classical notion of suburban home life from the past, that the husband just sits around while the wife does it all.
When she sits in a circle with her female friends to rave about the cleaning products, I question whether this talk is just for the ad or if they always just sit around and talk about keeping up their household, because it is so much work for one person to do, regardless of gender.
The target audience for this ad is made up of adults who are running households themselves, but also those who have access to the Internet because this 3 minute-long video would never land on television.
What does an oppressed woman look like? Is she a woman in the sex work industry that is there not by choice, but because of coercion or force? Definitely. Is she a woman who chose to enter the sex work industry in order to feel empowered, only to be bombarded by the misogynistic and exploitative practices of club owners and patrons? Maybe. Or is she a housewife who feels unfulfilled and depressed staying at home, yet is told by her male doctor that she is suffering from hysteria, that the only cure is to stay at home and rest? Maybe.
There is certainly ambiguity in many cases as to what constitutes oppression. In the business of stripping, which could be feminist and empowering in theory, with women taking ownership of their sexuality by their own choice and making a profit from men, we consistently see horrendous and oppressive working conditions meant to keep women subordinate and in line. As seen in the film Live Nude Girls Unite!, even the most progressive of strip clubs made it nearly impossible for the workers to unionize for standardized and fairer business practices.
The same goes for women who choose to raise children at home rather than work; in an ideal world, this would be a choice free of gendered ideas, but it is still seen as more common for a woman to leave her job to rear her children than it is for men. Just look at the labels society has conjured up: we have the universally known word “housewife,” but we have no equivalent word for men.
Are the roles women end up fulfilling inherently oppressive? Maybe some women genuinely want to be sex workers and strippers, and maybe some want to stay home and raise children. That is supposed to be the core of feminism: allowing women to make informed choices about what they do. However, what scares me is that these choices may be misinformed, that men have convinced women that stripping and staying at home is fulfilling just so they will stop questioning authority. Take off your clothes, it’s empowering. Run this household, that’s enough for you, right? I only hope that one day, women are not made to believe that they are empowered when in reality they are still be oppressed by the overbearing male-dominated customs in society. Maybe one day choosing to strip really will be feminist in practice.
In our reading, “When Mom and Dad Share it All” by Lisa Belkin, we learn about families who try to divide parenting and housework equally and fairly, compromising around each parents’ job and home life/work preferences. But what determines true “fairness” in splitting chores? Does “fairness” mean that the chores are split 50/50 at all times, and are kept gender-neutral (cleaning and cooking does not always fall to the wife, for example)? I think that it depends on the individual family situation what constitutes as a fair divide of work. In the article, parents Amy and Marc work to create an equal split in home chores, but they allow their personal preferences to create possible inequality; Marc enjoys paying bills and mowing the lawn, while Amy loves to buy her children’s clothing. If both partners’ preferences and concerns are taken into account, then they could consider their splitting of chores “fair,” even if sometimes the work is split 60/40. What is not fair, however, is when chores are determined not by the parents’ preferences or availability, but by gender stereotypes. If the mother enjoys cooking, great! But if she prefers to share that responsibility with her partner, then that should be taken into consideration, and her partner should not refuse cooking based on gender (other situations, such as job times, etc. would be reasonable arguments against splitting that chore). Belkin writes how women often feel pressured by onlookers in their community to keep their households in order, because society says if there is anything awry, it is her fault, and not her partner’s. That too is unfair. Equal responsibility needs to be put on both partners in a relationship; what they choose to do with that responsibility is up to them, but “fairness” exists primarily when everyone in the relationship is putting in equal effort.
When Mom and Dad Share it All. Belkin, Lisa. NYTimes Magazine. 2008.
Kelly Rippa is the celebrity advertiser for Electrolux kitchen supplies, the most recent ad being for their new refrigerator (seen through the link above). She advertises its ability to regulate its storage temperature, a quality that is a perfect companion for someone who is serving as often as Kelly is in this commercial.
This commercial could be seen as sexist in that Kelly is the only one in the house who is doing the serving, hosting, or entertaining. There is only one shot with a man, and he is with a group of other females who are being served by Kelly. This ad insinuates an unequal division of labor, choosing the woman to be in charge of both the kitchen tasks and providing for her children and friends. Although there are women who honestly enjoy these tasks, there are others who feel they must perform them in order to have a good social standing (Belkin, p.6) It is hard to eject ourselves from these stereotypes, however we may try, because scenes like this are common, almost expected, in society (Belkin, p. 5).
Would Electrolux sell less appliances if they advertised the man as the primary user? Would they sell more? Although it is becoming more common to see men in the kitchen, the “make me a sandwitch” stereotype still lingers, so people may not respond as well to a man compared to a woman showing off this refrigerator.
When Mom and Dad Share it All. Belkin, Lisa. NYTimes Magazine. 2008.