Nov 22, 2005

Women in Ad(s)vertising

This article in today's Times proved particularly thought-provoking, not primarily because it pointed out that women have made progress in the advertising world but still have far to go, but more because it reminded me of a related topic: women in ads. It mentioned:

The Advertising Women of New York points out what it regards as offenders with a yearly presentation of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Awards, identifying ads that the group contends depict women in a negative or stereotypical manner. In 2003, Miller Lite won the Grand Ugly Award for its "Catfight" ad that featured two scantily clad women wrestling each other.

I remember that ad; it was spectacularly stupid, but I didn't find it particularly offensive, as it was so obviously one of the "overblown male fantasy" genre. What I find much more upsetting are the ads I see numerous times a day, every time I turn on the television, in which a wife/mother is horribly grateful for some fabulous new product because it makes her happy-but-harried life with the hubby and kids just a little bit easier. Or, conversely, the hapless husband is grateful for the existence of such a product that miraculously prevents even his ineptitude from allowing the household to go to hell in his wife's absence. Over and over again, the husband/boyfriend/father figure is portrayed as good-natured but completely and totally inept; without such modern marvels as tightly-sealing Tupperware, microwavable meals, and disposable toilet brushes, the carpet would be eternally stained, the kids would starve, and the toilet bowl would be coated in grime. The wife/girlfriend/mother, on the other hand, is always frazzled but good-natured, and thoroughly competent at navigating the domestic sphere.

I suppose what I find so bothersome about these commercials is that they're so regressive and I'm not sure why. Are we as consumers and viewers supposed to relate to the family dynamic portrayed in such ads? I don't. I don't know many people who do. In my family and among my friends, relationships tend not to be structured along these barely-modernized 1950s ideals. My grandfather cooks, my grandmother cleans. My dad cooks and cleans, my mom (who's disabled) helps when she can. When we're together, my boyfriend cooks, I clean and do laundry. (But he carries the laundry. Well, it's heavy.) One of my coworkers has the opposite arrangement with his wife; she cooks, he cleans and does the laundry. Pretty much everyone I know has some such arrangement to keep things fair. Sure, there may be squabbles, but it's not this unending battle of the sexes in which women are forever harping about their husbands' infidelity and tendencies to leave the toilet seat up while men dream of beer, boobs, and football while sitting in their easy chairs.

So do I just live in a rare mecca of civilized couples who treat each other with consideration? (Well, this is New York.) Does the rest of the country actually identify with these backward, stereotypical ads? I don't know. I hope not. I doubt it. Personally, I think that advertisers need to give viewers, especially husbands/boyfriends/fathers, more credit.

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