Vintage Sexism: Laundry Edition

My mom, a wife and a mother of four, has her college diploma framed and mounted above the washing machine as a joke. Its place of honor is, in a way, apt: the time she has spent doing laundry, added up, would amount to years. I am forever grateful to her for this, and I admire her ability to find humor in the situation. But while I love the feeling of crisp, clean, wrinkle-free clothes, I absolutely despise doing laundry. Sure, it is tons easier to throw a pile of stuff into the washer or dryer in 2010 than in the bygone days of washboards and clotheslines, but I’ve witnessed the hours of her life my mom has devoted to the endless cycle of separating, sorting, folding, putting away, and, quite frankly, I am frightened!

Is my impending success as a wife and mother measured in loads of laundry? Will my love for my family one day be gauged by how immaculately white I can keep linens?

That seems to be the message conveyed by these vintage ads, in which women are always depicted as doing laundry for others (husbands, and children), and rarely for themselves.

See for yourself, after the jump!

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Clean shirts + tiny waist = best wife ever!

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This woman proves to her husband that she isn’t a scatterbrain, and even manages to secure his affection – by washing his clothing with Surf!

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This ad suggests that washing your daughter’s clothing in pure Chiffon detergent not only keeps her clothing “lovely longer,” it keeps your hands as pure and innocent as hers!

Okay, ModReaders, it’s your turn! 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? Do you think a woman’s personal success, or love for her family is measured exclusively in loads of laundry? Tell us what you think!


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  1. Avatar
    Natalie B. (ModCloth) 02/26/2010 at 4:53 pm #

    It is still always a woman doing the laundry in any and every modern laundry detergent ad that I can think of! And it’s always a nuclear family situation – her son’s grass-stained tees, her clumsy husband’s wine-spotted button-up, etc. (men are almost always relegated to bumbling idiots in those ads, too). Gross.

    I despise doing laundry. Well, no… I don’t mind throwing stuff in the machine, but I hate, hate, hate folding and putting away clothes. I would pay someone to do it for me. (Any takers?)

    These ads feel very similar to the cleaning product ones wherein women are always doled out the domestic duties. I’ll admit that my mom did (and does) the laundry, even though she’s always worked, too! However… that did noooot make me think I should be doing it for a man in the future. And I don’t. 🙂

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    EB Finds 02/26/2010 at 5:12 pm #

    I am constantly feeling guilty over laundrey because I never just DO IT and get it over with. There is always stuff sitting in the washer and dryer and it takes me days to put it away. I should just have one day a week that is “laundry day” and get it all over with at once. Luckily my family never complains

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    Sophie 02/26/2010 at 7:19 pm #

    These ads are just like the ones they show today, only in a different setting… but I think the thing is that moms still do laundry more often than dads. The ads are just advertising to the public as it exists (or in the case of the ones shown, existed).

    Your mom obviously chooses to take care of something that needs to be done (laundry) even though she is an educated woman, but I’m guessing it’s because she wants to take care of her family even in these little things.

    Plus, according to these same gender rules men are supposed to fix things and mow the lawn and such, so they have a job to do too!

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    czl 02/26/2010 at 8:25 pm #

    I love the passing of the buck…..who was it who GOT the blueberry stain all over the shirt?

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    Catherine 02/26/2010 at 9:06 pm #

    It seems my mom is always doing laundry. The funny thing though is that she loves to do laundry (as steryotypical as it seems). It’s her relaxing time. But it’s not like she does all of the “domestic duties”. My dad loves to clean (he’s a bit OCD) and has even invented his own spray cleaner. I think that it’s strange that these comercials both old and modern always have the mother with the laundry and the cleaning and the father making a mess. It isn’t the enviroment that exists anymore.

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    legatoblue 02/26/2010 at 11:28 pm #

    Wow, those commercials don’t reflect my family life at all. My parents tend to split the chores. Both have been known to mow the lawn and do the vacuuming, laundry, and dishes. They mostly go by what needs to be done. And by the time us kids were around ten, we had to do our own laundry!

  7. Avatar
    Victoria 02/27/2010 at 3:58 pm #

    This may or may not be funny at all to you, but I laughed a lot reading this.

    Probably because I’ve been doing my husband’s laundry for him since I was 16. . .he hasn’t touched a laundry machine ever because his mom always did all his stuff until I started to do it for him because his mom neglected to do his laundry to the point that he would rewear really dirty clothes out of his dirty laundry. . which is why I took over. He married me maybe because I took care of him hahaha. Totally joking on why he married me, but still this is why I laughed reading this. . .because I have now been doing his laundry for almost 10 years, but I don’t mind it at all. . .better than having it sit there to smell up the place! :: shrugs :: I guess I really am a typical housewife?

    that commercial by the way is awful!!! haha.

    And for my parents. . my dad mainly does the laundry. . .but I’ve been doing my own laundry since I was 7 and I used to even do my brothers’ laundry for them as long as I got a dollar out of them for it. . .. I guess nothing says “I love you” like doing laundry for people (again kidding. . sarcasm truly).

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    Bri 02/28/2010 at 2:41 pm #

    I think *everyone* is reading to much into this. These ads are from so long ago, and at the time women did the laundry and men went to work. So of course they want the ads to be appealing to women. I don’t see anything wrong with this….Today a lot of women are still stay at home moms, so they take care of the laundry too, so again, the ads are going to target them. However, if both the man AND the woman have jobs, then the chores at home need to be split up evenly. And usually they are. My mom (the busiest woman i know) does the laundry and cleans, (while running a shelter for women in crisis pregnancy situations and rasing 10 kids!) and my dad works all day, comes home, and does big chores like mowing the lawn, shoveling etc on the weekend. He also goes grocery shopping a lot.

    Anyway, i digress. my point is that a lot of women do the laundry, so ads will be targeted towards them. I dont think the ads are suggesting only women should do these, or that you will only gain your husbands affection if his shirt is white (I mean, I guess these ads are suggesting that, but I think its supposed to be silly).

    But dont get me wrong, I still think there is sexism and prejudices against women, but I don’t see them in these ads.

  9. Avatar
    Alexander Lee 02/28/2010 at 2:53 pm #

    Wives Still Do Laundry, Husbands Do Yard Work ( If I was a detergent company trying to reach the people who do laundry, I would design my ads for women, too. On the other hand, if I was a progressive, socially-responsible company, I would design my ads to buck the trend. More men should learn of the joy that Catherine’s mom has found in doing laundry.

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    Isabelle 03/01/2010 at 2:07 am #

    I will never be the typical house wife. I refuse to be the only one that cooks and cleans, he can help too. Hes got two hands!

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    Jayme 03/01/2010 at 9:58 am #

    Bri, I’m unsure what ISN’T sexist about these ads. Prove to your husband that you’re not a scatterbrain? Keep your hands soft and lovely? Pictures of women doting over their husbands and regarding doing their husbands’ laundry as a privilege? That all screams sexism to me. Yes, it makes sense to target an ad at the demographic who is more likely to use the product – but can’t that be done in a way that doesn’t reinscribe traditional gender roles and play upon gender stereotypes?

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    Katie 03/01/2010 at 8:00 pm #

    Bri – I think the point is not about splitting up chores, but that if these ads want to APPEAL to women, they should be more empowering. They should use tactics like “If you really want your husband to love you… then you’d better do some darn good laundry!” Advertisers should be a little more creative nowadays! Why do we do laundry, anyways? So that we’re not dirty and smelly. Not in order to make men love us more!

  13. Avatar
    Bri 03/02/2010 at 10:17 pm #

    thanks ladies, I tend to open my mouth and just babble without thinking. you are right, the ideas they are sending across those messages.

  14. Avatar
    Bri 03/02/2010 at 10:19 pm #

    *in those messages is suggesting that men will love women/ their wives more if they do the laundry with those items.

  15. Avatar
    Ashley 03/30/2010 at 11:28 am #

    Pfft! My hubby does the laundry. (Though he often does a poor job, and I find myself going behind him to fix it. Ah, well. He tries.)

    And Bri, you think that;s messed up, in the pioneer days and Victorian Era, women were often considered good wives based on how well they could sew. Women didn’t embroider samplers for pleasure or practice. A visiting suitor would often examine the sampler for quality. A poorly made sampler was an indicator of a bad choice in a wife.

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