What Can Laundry Commercials Tell Us About Gender Roles?

For my gender and pop culture course, we’ve been looking at some Tide commercials and breaking them down to see what they say about feminity and masculinity. We have been discussing hegemony, ideology, and the performing of gender. We were asked to write a short essay on how we think certain ideas of gender play into some selected Tide commercials. You can read my take on those commercials below the cut.

In the media, we are given messages about how we should think, feel, and act. These messages tell us where our place is in society and tells us how we should interact with others and communicate within a specific context. In an analysis of three different Tide commercials, I will show that certain ideas about femininity and masculinity are conveyed through what the actors say, what their body language exhibits, and through the setting. Together, the four commercials paint a picture of the different “ideal types” of not just men and women, but also how they perform their femininity and masculinity respectively.

In the “Dad Mom” commercial, a plethora of stereotypes and ideas are reinforced. First. We have a male character who is both counter-hegemonic but also very much the “ideal type.” He is a father who stays at home, does laundry, and even knows how to fold his daughter’s small, dainty-looking dress. At the very same time, the character’s script reinforces his masculinity, though. He calls himself a “dad mom,” which reinforces the idea that a father who stays home and takes care of the traditional housework is the “mom” job. He is a “dad mom,” because in popular culture a “regular” dad would have been at work while his wife took care of the kids, cleaned up around the house, and cooked. Thus, we are given this flipped script of what a father can be while also reinforcing the idea that he is doing women’s work. We are also told through his script that we should find his ability to be both masculine and nurturing alluring and attractive, and thus we shouldn’t expect this from every man. This man is supposed to be seen as rare, an exception to the rule, something to be praised- while a woman who steps out of her bounds and does traditionally masculine things tends to be ridiculed for it. The commercial contained mostly inferential gender inequality in that the messages about gender flew under the radar as a means to keep us, the populous, from questioning this system that we are told is a given and a must in society.

In another commercial, we open to a mother who is dressed very traditionally feminine- a flowy skirt, a pink sweater, hair down in a headband, and a necklace. Her legs are crossed in front of her and she seems to be taking up as little space as possible. Around the room we see flowers in different shades of pink and red, we see a tea set, pink drapes, and a very clean, patterned couch with several throw pillows. Then, on the rug, there is a small, female child, playing with blocks. She is dressed in traditionally masculine clothing- cargo shorts, a striped gray t-shirt, and camouflage hoodie. She is building a car garage with the blocks, and has her knees bent, underneath her. She is her mother’s complete opposite- she is femininity’s complete opposite.

Her mother says they tried the “whole pink thing” but that her daughter loves “getting dirty,” which is something we saw in the “Like Father Like Son” commercial. Essentially, the daughter is proving to be a problem. She doesn’t fall within the traditional sense of “girl” or “feminine.” She takes up space, wears dark, neutral clothing, and likes to be messy. She is, on paper, what we would classify as the ideal type of a young boy. The mother seems almost exasperated with the child’s choice of gender expression in everything from her interests while she plays to her clothing. In this commercial, the child is counter-hegemonic and the mother fully embodies everything we are taught from hegemonic media about women and how they should perform their femininity. These are as follows: be as small as possible, be clean and neat, take care of the children, do the laundry, always look presentable, like the color pink, like flowers, be into fashion and decorating. Even something as small as drinking tea from a set can be seen as feminine because women generally are portrayed as liking warm, light beverages, and not something as “masculine” as hard liquor.

Lastly, in a Tide commercial with a gay couple, we see that even when a commercial includes two men in a relationship, one will become the “woman” one, playing a more feminine or traditional role. In the commercial, there is a man who is a bit more brawny, wearing a blue t-shirt and a button down over it, also blue. The sleeves on the button-down are rolled up. He is shown to be a bit more clueless about the laundry and getting it completely clean. His boyfriend is a thin, scrawny-looking man, wearing a cardigan over what appears to be the same light blue t-shirt the other man is wearing. He mentions that Tide gets stains out on the first wash, and mentions how his boyfriend made a mistake in buying other detergents, and also in dating his ex.

If we look deeper, we can see that the man in the cardigan is somewhat playing the role of the woman here. A woman in this situation would make fun of her lovably oblivious boyfriend, make a comment about his ex-girlfriend, and would be shown to know more about doing the laundry. Thus, he takes over that role. It’s important to note the comment made about the ex because women in media are shown to be typically snide, making rude comments about other women out of jealousy. We can say that showing two men in a relationship is counter-hegemonic, but we also are portraying their relationship as a traditional heterosexual one where one acts as the “woman” and the other is the “man.”

In conclusion, in these commercials, we are being sold not just products, but ideologies. We are being sold an entire framework for how we interact, communicate, socialize, identify, etc. These commercials give an insight into the ideas of what we “should” be, or what the “norm” is. The ideas conveyed about femininity and masculinity are ones that are ultimately traditional at their cores.

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