In the past few weeks since Tide released this commercial, I'm certain I've seen it at least twenty times. Over the past few days I've been thinking about if and how this advertisement is actually progressive. Here is a window into the inner dialogue I've been having recently.
What is remarkable about the commercial, and thus why it is appearing in my blog, is that it features a dad doing the laundry. Despite the fact that we allegedly live in some sort of gender equality paradise where stereotyping roles are a vestige of the past, I have seen less than 5 commercials in my life where there is a man doing a household chore such as sweeping the floors, cleaning the shower, or doing the laundry. Obviously by virtue of showing a man doing "woman's" work, this ad really gets your attention. In fact there's a lot of buzz around the internet about how great this commercial is.
That said, I felt uneasy about after a couple times watching it, and it soon dawned on me that it has something to do with the character of the male in the ad. Obviously the dad is gender bending by doing laundry, but he is also cast as effeminate. His speech, his mannerisms, and his close relationship with his daughter all seem to point at the fact that this man is not a man, he's very much feminine.
But then I started thinking about how the commercial was obviously stereotyping male interests and skill. The idea of laundry as "classic problem solving", where efficiency is key, appeals to stereotyped male notions of logic. This is effectively evidenced by the more than 80 per cent of current engineering students in Canada being male despite the majority of university students being female in this country.
This dichotomy (on the one hand classic male intuition; on the other hand a very female domestic role) shows the complexity of gender. The fact that he can't really be characterised as male OR female stands out as a significant benefit of this commercial to me. Often androgyny is painted as very alien, but in this case it's quite accessible (and of course consumer friendly).
After coming to this realisation, I started checking out forums on the internet to see what other people were saying about this commercial. Naturally, there we super-socially-conservative people (both men and women) who characterised this man as homosexual and in derogatory terms. There were others who claimed he was a threat to our ideas of the household division of labour. Many praised the ad for taking on this issue and showing that it is okay for men to do the laundry and be close with their daughters. Google some of the following keywords to get a sense of what's being talked about: tide commercial, gender, braid, problem solving, laundry, dad.
Ultimately, as I'm sure you can tell, I haven't really figured out what I think about Tide's new ad. I think it has already sparked controversy, which is good. Moreover, even though it has generated backlash, it is still being aired. That is a good sign that Tide is not about to back of over a question of values. I hope to hear from some of you and get a sense of your impressions of both the commercial itself and the discourse around it.