Thursday, January 9, 2014

Olympic Advertising, Gender Norms, and Politics

Proctor and Gamble has some new ads out in their "Thank you Mom" campaign, to coincide with the Sochi Olympics.

Here's the most popular one. Here's another.

The purpose is pretty obvious: P&G makes mostly household goods, and since women still do a disproportionate share of housework, it makes total sense for P&G to appeal to "moms" who make the purchasing decisions when it comes to toothpaste (Crest), batteries (Duracell), detergent (Tide) and diapers (Pampers), etc.

While quite popular and seemingly innocuous, These ads have the insidious and toxic effect of reinforcing gender norms- with "Mom" being portrayed as being the most concerned with the children, with Dad nowhere to be found. (There isn't a single "Dad" in any of the ads).

That said, these ads also perhaps have the effect of increasing the perceived value of "women's work"- the raising of children has been traditionally denigrated in comparison to traditionally male jobs. Perhaps that's why I haven't been able to see any outcry anywhere about this ad or P&G's ad campaign in general. There has been some discussion, but nothing out of any mainstream groups. P&G ran the same ads in 2012 and no major response developed.

But the more likely reason is this: the mommy wars. Mainstream feminist groups do not want to kick off another round in the never ending cycle of stay-at-home moms and working moms bashing each others' choices. Not that it doesn't come up periodically.

Thus we have a classic case study in gender politics- these ads are given a pass even though they are actually doing a disservice to many people- like Apollo Ohno who was raised by a single dad. Or like my mom, who wasn't there for every sport or whatever I did when I was six: because she was too busy killing herself by spending every other night on call saving other people's lives as a doctor.  My sister and I went to college and now go to med school debt-free because of her (and my Dad's) hard work.  Was she at every soccer game?  No.  But she was always there when it counted, and her example of insane endurance and hard work did more to inspire my sister and I than any amount of random incomprehensible yelling from the sideline.

Meanwhile, ads and messages like these are condemned as offensive to women everywhere- despite the reach only extending to ~500,000 in one city, in comparison to the millions worldwide reached by P&G (I'm not even going to get into the "Is the DC Metro ad campaign actually sexist?" debate).  Why is this? Because few women will get truly offended if the DC metro is targeted as sexist.  Meanwhile, most every mom wouldn't like an ad praising them being attacked.  (I suspect that many young women are turned off when feminist groups blast away at relatively less important targets like the DC metro ad, but that recent Pantene commercial and the response to it suggests otherwise.)

To summarize, ads that are more annoying than anything else get slammed, while actually toxic ads aren't criticized by the groups with the power to draw attention like NOW and Ultraviolet- in the name of not turning off women from feminism. Would it really kill P&G to make it "Thank you Mom and Dad", or at least include a sequence of a single, professional, working mom coming home exhausted but still mustering up the strength to put on a smile for the kids and drive them to an ice-skating rink?  And would it kill Ultraviolet or NOW to issue a statement pointing out that this ad shames working women and ignores fathers?  Or better yet, produce a 30 second ad in response showcasing some Olympians raised by working moms and/or dads?

But that will never happen- not in today's toxic political environment.

Conservatives love this type of back-to-the-50s stuff anyway, so they won't say anything.

Meanwhile, largely liberal groups pushing the War on Women narrative don't want to offend mothers everywhere who might otherwise (quite justifiably) vote Democratic thanks to recent Republican idiocy and missteps.  They won't say anything, and will encourage/muzzle their friends running the media operations of Ultraviolet, NOW, and other feminist groups.  Those groups will be ordered to focus on access to contraception, on abortion to a lesser extent, pay discrimination, and generally calling out stupid statements by Republicans.

Thus are working moms/women abandoned by the groups that supposedly represent them, and thus are dads ignored with nary a word of protest.