Swiffer’s Rosie The Riveter campaign caused a feminist backlash this week, and rightly so, but the appropriation of an icon of female liberation is quite sadly only a small bit of the horrible advertising subtext aimed at women on TV, in print, and on the web.
While Swiffer’s Rosie The Riveter ad was notable for its immense tone deafness, Swiffer is a good place to start with sexism in cleaning ads. Sure, many would argue feminists get their panties in a twist over the smallest things — after all, it’s just an ad, right? Turn off the TV and buy a regular mop if it bothers you so much!
But Swiffer and its fellows actually do women a massive disservice when it comes to this sort of thing. Ads are influential not only because of the products we buy due to their influence, but also due to the subtle social concepts they reinforce. It is a big deal, and it is creating years and years of unbalanced, overworked, overwrought misery for women who are coupled and parenting with men who have internalized these toxic concepts.
I had to think back a bit to consider Swiffer’s previous advertising bent, and it seemed to be centered upon “breaking up” with your old mop, depicting women in dramatic cleaning implement scorning scenarios and involving traditional romantic woo-ing on the part of Swiffer mops. Ew.
The message, of course, is one that plays out in American homes each day. When was the last time you saw a man on television shilling laundry detergent (Billy Mays aside), or wearing yellow rubber gloves at the sink, or cooking in the kitchen? Never, because any housework done by men is generally viewed as a bonus and not an obligation, and many are happy to continue on with this way of doing things. After all, does anyone really want to mop the kitchen or clean out the fridge? Yuck.
And the result, of course, as horribly yet casually depicted in Swiffer’s Rosie The Riveter campaign, is undeniable — women still do the lion’s share of unpaid labor in the home. In the past, this was part of a social contract in which men tended to work and women tended to do domestic duties — a contract that was notably subverted with the appearance of Rosie.
Now, the tide has turned and women are more often breadwinners — several studies this year have examined the trend of women doing the primary income earning for their households, and stay at home dads are no longer an anomaly. But when it comes to the laundry, the dishes, the kids? We do that too. We’re expected to earn (and often outearn) our husbands, partners and exes, and still have a spotless home with no assistance.
Our core value is to make cleaning easier, no matter who’s behind the handle. We apologize and are working hard to remove the image.
— Swiffer (@Swiffer) June 4, 2013
It’s still women toiling at this second job, unpaid, hindering our ability to “lean in,” as it were. Even if the woman is the house’s bacon bringer, she’s still more often than not also the oven-scrubber, dinner-cooker, laundry-folder and dog-walker.
Now we’ve learned that Swiffer’s Rosie The Riveter campaign is being quietly withdrawn — but if Swiffer, and Jif, and other brands that use consistently sexist advertising really want to make female decision makers take notice, perhaps they should just try (just once!) a campaign in which men are using their wares without the frame of it being unusual or the requirement of a female to, in exasperation, bail them out.
Are you a working woman who is tired of things like the Swiffer Rosie The Riveter ad reinforcing terribly sexist and exploitative gender roles?