by Sherry Stanczyk
The year is 2012, and it’s fair to believe that there has been social progress in regards to the equality of women since the past. Women have made strides in participating in the working world that was once dominated by men. In In this day and age it is not uncommon for the wife of the family to bring in just as much money as her husband, or in some cases even more. But behind all this progress, the fact remains that little has changed in regards to the gendered nature of ‘unpaid’ labour, such as childcare and house cleaning. Even though it is normal to now consider women family breadwinners, this gender inclusion does not extend to inside the home, where housekeeping and childcare are still primarily considered the jobs of women. The idea that women are still the primary home caretakers creates inequality; firstly as Erhenreich and Hochschild have illustrated in their article “Global Woman”, in the majority of middle and upper class Western households where the wife is unable to do the housework, instead of a division of labour between husband and wife, the house and child care duties are passed onto other women, typically paid maids from poorer countries. This creates situations where these migrant women, hidden away in households, are vulnerable and lack worker’s rights. Gendered housework also feeds into and sustains the existence of the glass ceiling; women are still not paid as highly as men because society still believes a women’s priorities are family, thus higher salaries, promotions, and job positions are usually given out to men. The gender divide of housework also creates an unfair situation for women who end up having to sacrifice either their career or family ambitions.
However, although not the majority, many men do participate in household and child care tasks. But the fact remains that society in many ways stigmatizes men who participate in cleaning and caretaking roles, as well as discourages men from taking part in the house and family. And nothing is upholding these norms more than the advertisements for cleaning and other household products. Advertising- as much as one would like to believe they are able to filter out- remains a powerful and strongly influential factor in dictating how we as a society believe and view what is both normal and desirable. And advertising for cleaning and household products almost never show men in their ads. These ads create the illusion and normalize the idea that cleaning and childcare are only and should only be done by women, while ‘real’ men take no part in housework. When ads for household products do feature men in their ads they typically showcase them as the housework-clueless and useless husband who need his wife to come to the rescue, or as the emasculated house-husband. (And although there is nothing wrong with a man who wants to play the traditional homemaker role while his wife wears the pants, showing it advertising still feeds into the idea that housework is ‘feminine’ and a woman’s job.)
There has been some change in advertiser’s thinking. For example, this year when Huggies created a series of diapers tv advertisements which featured incompetent fathers ignoring their baby’s dirty diapers in favor of ‘guy things’, such as a sports game on television, many real life fathers protested on Facebook, resulting in an official apology from Huggies and a new set of ads showing far more competent fathers. However, more companies need to step up to plate, and bring in some freshness and creativity to their advertising. I think we need to see more cleaning ads featuring normal, everyday fathers and men using their products. Although having more house care ads feature men isn’t going to magically fix the problem of gendered housework, it would be a step in the right direction. If we’ve come so far in social progress and ideas regarding gender roles, why are we still afraid to show that men can participate in household tasks too?