in which I take a break from my usual inane ramblings to contemplate a different sort of inanity. Namely, pop cultural characterizations of gender.
You might remember this ad campaign from a few years back. It’s kind of gone down in history as the “women as dirt” Swiffer ad campaign, but I’ll refresh your memory if you (unlike me) have forgotten it in favor of more useful information. Like, ya know, where you left your keys last night.
The scene starts with a tiny elderly and bespectacled woman, wearing a grungy caftan. She’s fuming about all the cleaning supplies that have left her behind, in particular a careless mop (it makes sense in context). Basically, the theme of the commercial is that she’s that stubborn bit of grime no conventional cleaning appliance can ever get at up, wrapped in the metaphor of being unlucky in love. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the Swiffer wetjet appears, literally sweeping the woman off her feet to the strains of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing.” She smirks, purring about what a “whipper snapper” the wetjet.
Again, it makes sense in context.
There’s a whole series of these commercials. One features two ‘”nerd girls named Mud and Dirt, who one by one are swept away (this time to Heart’s “What about Love”). Another features a lonely cowgirl, still another a coquettish Valley Girl type. One actually features a guy, a dweeby nerd/speck of dust in a computer keyboard. Get it? Because he’s a dweeb? And dweebs use computers?
I’ve heard some people condemn this ad campaign, claiming that the portrayal of “women as dirt” lying around on the floor passively waiting for some guy/mop to “pick them up” is sexist and misogynist. Others point to the existence of the token “dirtman” as a rebuttal to this argument. I . . . don’t know what I think, although I certainly file the “women as dirt” campaign under the rubric of unfortunate implications. What seems to me to be indisputable is that this campaign relies on tropes that are, to put it bluntly, rather tired. I would have thought we’d outgrown them by then, but my optimism seems to have been misplaced.
Just look at the examples Swiffer offers us; the tired old woman who has outlived her usefulness as an erotic object. The nerd girls willing to abandon their close friendship for a “romantic” relationship (as the Swiffer approach-eth, Dirt gleefully yells “see-ya!” to Mud just as Mud is about to say “at least we have each other.”) As for Dust the dweeb, remember that he dwells in a computer keyboard. This commercial was made in 2011. Any ad exec who thinks that computer use is still the domain of the hopelessly nerdy rather than a skill set we all need hasn’t been paying attention since, oh, the turn of the millennium.
Anyways, perhaps I’m overthinking this. Perhaps not. What is the most egregious thing about this commercial to me, however, is that the woman featured using the Swiffer — and it is a woman, because this is a commercial for a cleaning appliance and men can never appear in them unless they’re borderline helpless doing housework because otherwise ew gay — is cleaning while dressed in khakis and a sweater. I resent that because
when if I do clean I’m usually wearing the shorts I “go” to the “gym” in (an even rarer occurrence than me cleaning, if possible) and a crummy old tee shirt literally rotting out in the armpits.
Now that I have that image indelibly burned into your mind what do you think? Problematic? Not? Do any of you clean dressed in business casual?