Geraldine Finster has a “secret weapon to fight the dull mediocrity in her life,” and that weapon is Mr. Clean. He has come to “put some excitement” in her cleaning regimen. As this commercial strives to show us, cleaning the kitchen can be an empowering task, and women like Geraldine will have a blast doing it, too. Right?
As many of you pointed out in the last Vintage Sexism blog post, there is certainly nothing wrong with choosing to be a stay-at-home mother/wife/professional. Indeed, there are a lot of women who would love to have the financial means to do so. But what these ads show us is that, no matter what a woman chooses to do — whether she stays at home or works outside of it, whether she gets married and has children or does not –she is still portrayed as the partner almost solely responsible for domestic chores. At least, that seems to be the consensus of the media, as well as advertising and marketing industries. What I would like to know is why cleaning/cooking/taking care of the kitchen is portrayed exclusively as a woman’s work?
Keep reading for more Vintage Sexism: Kitchen Appliance Edition!
[Images Above: discourses.org and storyrhyme.com]
I must admit, I am a sucker for kitchen gadgets. It is my hope to one day own a refrigerator with a top-notch, built-in ice maker, and I’ve wanted a Magic Bullet ever since I first saw the infomercial. I don’t know what a “Bottling Outfit” is, exactly, but it looks like it might be fun. The issue I take with these ads is not what is being sold, but how it is being sold, and to whom. In these three vintage print ads, the woman is always portrayed as the one who is receiving the gadget. While there’s nothing wrong with getting a gift, the repetition of the pattern is striking. We don’t see a woman buying her husband a nice electric mixer or top-of-the-line garbage disposal. Turn your attention to the ad at the right. The man is reclining in a relaxed (semi-seductive?) pose, with his wife in pearls gazing adoringly into his eyes. She’ll want to thank you three times a day” when you give her a garbage disposal? Shouldn’t it read, “you’ll want to thank her three times a day when she disposes your crap?”
[Image Above: alarmingnews.com]
I find this next ad especially mind-boggling. The electric mixer is qualified to hold the glamorous, professional title of “chef,” while the woman, who is doing most of the grunt work (which includes operating the “chef”) is only important because she is needed to perform the less glorified job of “cooking.” The fact that a kitchen appliance is held in higher esteem than a person is, in my estimation, rather unsettling. This is from the 1980’s, by the way.
The exchange of labor illustrated in these ads is formulaic and rather simple: a man gives his wife an appliance (or money with which to purchase that appliance), and his wife adores him, and her new kitchen appliances (that will be used to produce food/ create a pleasant dining environment for him).
[Image Above: frocktalk.com]
But what about the Mr. Clean commercial? Instead of targeting a man (“buy your wife this”), the commercial is geared to a woman consumer. And to be fair, at first glance, I think it does a pretty good job of making cleaning look exciting and even empowering. Geraldine gets to whip off her glasses and look sexy as she makes her way around the kitchen, blasting dirt away with her gun full of Mr. Clean ammunition. She appears to be an independent, intelligent, and educated individual who is cleaning her home so she can enjoy her book in a pleasant atmosphere. Unlike the advertisements above, there is no man present. Or is there? Mr. Clean might not be a real live human, but with his masculine voice, and the cleaning solution and the “gun” we associate him with, he takes on a distinctly male persona. His presence takes the place of the husband in the above ads. This commercial is simply another (more nuanced and clever) version than the ads above.
What do you have to say about these advertisements, ModReaders? Do the ads or the commercial featured in this post remind you of any commercials or ads on television or in magazines right now (or ones that have been, recently)? Do the “separate spheres” portrayed by the media and advertising industries represent or reflect your personal experience or your own upbringing?