protopinions

Tide Commercial exploits Gender Norms

Posted in Uncategorized by Protopop on August 2, 2011

It’s clever, and it had the potential to deliver a much more positive message. But in the end this commercial for Tide detergent dissapoints with its exploitation of gender norms for comedy.

It’s these subtle messages that shape our society into something damaging to anyone who falls even slightly outside the status quo. In this commercial, the little girl is obviously at peace with her decision to play with blocks ‘like a boy’ instead of wear pink as per her mothers wishes. The fact that the young girl is exhibiting stereotypically masculine instead of feminine behavior is the crux of the joke.

It’s 2011. Isn’t it time we let people live their lives the way they do naturally without making fun at their expense? Why not show the mother much more positive about her daughter’s behavior? Oh, because then it wouldn’t be funny? If that’s the truth, sit back and think about what that means.

Procter & Gamble, the makers of Tide, is a Fortune 500 American multinational corporation. This is the message they throw their considerable weight behind? If this is the message Tide detergent wants to put out into the world, so be it. In the meantime, I’ll be spending my hard earned money on products from ecologically friendly, progressive and open minded companies.

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17 Responses

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  1. Allison Saunders Cicchetti said, on August 2, 2011 at 2:21 am

    it’s not even funny. If I could put my disgust away for just a moment and try to see the funny…
    Nope. Not funny.

    eco, local, and progressive. Totally the way to go.

  2. Tiffany Bookless Wagner said, on August 4, 2011 at 4:59 am

    I think its awesome!! Every Mom wants their girl to by girly. This is a fresh change!

  3. protopop said, on August 4, 2011 at 5:35 am

    Thanks Tiffany. Right off the bat, I want to say I really appreciate your comment because I know a lot of people feel exactly the way you do, and it’s important to know that.

    You sound like you have a great spirit. Next to it, my reply will sound like a downer, but it needs to be said.

    What happens if your daughter isn’t a ‘girly girl’? Or what happen if your son is?

    Do you respect who they are and treat them with understanding and love? Or try to shoehorn them into your idea of what you want them to be? Do you encourage humor like this that teaches them (trust me, it does send a message) that they are a disappointment? (And by ‘you’ I mean the world in general and not you in particular).

    I can see how the commercial is funny. I grew up in the same society that values femininity in women. The actress who plays the mother has great comedic timing and the premise is clever. And if you’re a girl in today’s world who is ‘girly girly’ you will be accepted and have little to worry about.

    But I also have understanding for people who don’t fit into their gender stereotypes. Conversely to being a ‘fresh change’, I think this is actually a tired message that is fed to us ad nauseum, and it really damages and negatively affects some people’s live in a very big way.

    I don’t want people to stop wishing for a ‘girly girl’ daughter. But I do want people to respect them even if they are not. I think using the fact that many people don’t respect people who do not fit into gender norms as the basis for humor to sell detergent is less than we are capable of.

    There is nothing wrong with being a masculine girl. There is nothing wrong with being a feminine boy. There is nothing wrong with being a feminine girl. There is nothing wrong with being a masculine boy.

    There is nothing wrong with being who you are.

  4. Erika said, on August 7, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    My roommate yelled for me to come watch this commercial and said “Was this you as a kid?” Then she proceeded to laugh. I know it is only a commercial and it is just meant as a joke. But this is exactly how I was treated as a kid. Watching this commercial was like looking in the mirror at myself when I was 6. My mother never liked me or my interests. I wanted to play basketball, skateboard and play with cars and I never did like pink dresses or frilly things. I don’t know why it’s just the way I am.

    Thanks Tide for giving my friend a good laugh at my expense. I never thought a Tide commercial would make me feel like I was just punched in the stomach. I know it may be overreacting but freaking nailed it all the way down to the mother’s obviously insincere compliments at the end.

    What’s next? A commercial about my horrible Christmas and birthdays with a little girl standing there in green and brown t-shirts and shorts and they give her pink sweaters, makeup and porcelain dolls and then laugh because she doesn’t look right with any of it?

    I know it is only supposed to be a joke but I struggled with this sort of thing my whole life. They are making a joke about it. They really don’t see how this could be hurtful?

  5. protopop said, on August 8, 2011 at 1:45 am

    Thanks for sharing your story Erika. Your interests sound really cool.

    I think people want to pass these commercials off as jokes that do no harm so that they can feel better about the world they believe in. To paraphrase Jack – “They can’t handle the truth!”. And in a more advanced society we could definitely laugh at these kinds of human foibles guilt free. But we’re still in a society that deeply and negatively affects people who are different – which to be honest is just about everybody to one degree or another.

    I think a good starting point is for people to at least acknowledge different points of view. Yes, some people will find this funny because of its wit and effort, but in ADDITION to that, some people WILL be hurt by the message it carries (and some lifeforms will be hurt by the product itself…) . Let’s enjoy this ad if you want, but do not deny the multitude of truths that surround it.

    I’m just as guilty as anyone of this. Sometimes I try to ignore a fact because it shakes up my world view too much – like how capitalists do have a great sense of organization – a positive – even though I loathe most of that ideal. When we talk about everyone living TOGETHER on this planet, part of that will involve each of us actually listening to what the other has to say, and trying to not immediately dismiss it through humor, insult or ignorance. Sharing your experience is a moment that moves us towards these kinds of change. Thanks for taking the time to write about it here.

  6. Erika said, on August 9, 2011 at 12:56 am

    Protopop,
    Thanks for being able to see the commercial from a different perspective. I am still working on that. It seems to be on tv pretty often so I see it flash on the screen a fair amount. It gives me ample opportunity to try and get over being so sensitive about it.

    I think it effected me so much because, I swear, it is like they had a short video recording of a part of my life. It was eerie. I kind of thought I was imagining things or something so I looked up the commercial online to re-watch it and that is when I came across your blog.

    I am glad I wasn’t the only one who felt that something wasn’t quite right with this ad. I am not going to go protest about it or anything. I know they are just trying to sell their product and they thought it was funny and it is funny to a lot of people who can’t see it from my perspective. Twenty years ago almost every person I encountered would have laughed about this commercial like they laughed at me. Today not everyone is laughing. This is very comforting to me. Not everyone is mean and intolerant of other peoples differences.

  7. Manuel Lizarraga Jr said, on August 9, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    I think the joke is on the mom with her pink sweater and furnishings. The child is the happy one in this commercial. The mom’s house is all pink and blue with flowers. It’s that girlie stereotype that is being made fun of. In the end, the mom says “…that’s beautiful”. I take that as the mother showing love and support as she let’s her daughter dress and play like she wants. It’s in the middle, during her dialog, that the mother seems the neurotic one.

  8. Michael said, on August 10, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    I don’t think this commercial is funny and the message is it’s not OK to be different. The mother in this commercial reflects 1950s gender norms in 2011. No child (female or male) should be “forced” into a gender role that is unsuitable for their own unique personality and talents.. So the little girl likes to build things and wear hoodies and cargo shorts…so what? Maybe her avid interest in building things will develop into her becoming a successful archeitect or building contractor. She seems happy with herself, even if Mom is “disappointed” that her daughter isn’t a “girly-girl”. Why limit a child’s natural talents or criticize her for not wanting to wear pink or play with dolls? In this day and age women are more independent and better educated. Many women are in non-traditional jobs and are succeeding at them. Mom needs to get with the times, and stop imposing the gender norms of her own childhood on this child. She should be encouraging her, not forcing her into a “mold” of what a girl is “supposed to be”. With the right support and encouragement, this child will grow up healthy and be her own person. This is the message this commercial should have communicated, instead.

  9. Manuel Lizarraga Jr said, on August 11, 2011 at 6:38 am

    Michael,
    I read your rant and then ask you to watch it again with the joke is the mother. The child is happy and the mother in the end say’s to her, “…it’s beautiful”. The mother displays the stereotype and neurosis. Tide in this ad made gender norm or it’s opposite a topic and for that I applaud them.

  10. protopop said, on August 15, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    It’s touchy because the Mother is a character many people would not like to deal with. Although she tries to be sympathetic to her daughter (and in the end succeeds), this is a character who in real life would be exhibiting behavior that’s damaging to her daughter. I agree that the spirit of the commercial is positive – it’s done with tongue in cheek and with an effort to be relevant, caring and clever. That won’t stop it from generating negative feelings in many people who watch it because the Mother herself is unpalatable in 2011, just as someone who exhibits racist, classist, homophobic or other similar behavior would be. I am glad to hear you see the positive in it and that it tries – and in your eyes largely succeeds – in getting it right.

  11. protopop said, on August 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    I like your point about the daughter becoming an architect or building contractor. There might have been a good way for Tide to use that as it’s humor instead of going down the route it did. I don’t think the commercial is pure evil – it just hammers home a message that’s tiring for many people to hear. Traditions change slowly and the more we examine the status quo through commentary like yours, the more we can work through what’s positive and negative for the advancement of our society. Thanks for taking the time to comment on this Michael.

  12. Chelsey said, on September 1, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Maybe it’s just me, but it’s pretty obvious the audience is not supposed to identify with the mom. I think the mom is supposed to be unlikable so you root for the kid. Tide saved the kid’s clothes so she can keep being who she wants to be despite her disappointed mom. Ergo, Tide supports individuality. If you want to let crayons ruin your kid’s clothes so you can make her into a little clone, then you’d better chose a different detergent. Just a different take, but I think it’s clear the mom (and her house) are supposed to make you uncomfortable because no mom that ‘perfect’ is a healthy influence and no mom in the viewing audience will be on her side.

  13. protopop said, on September 1, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    I don’t think it’s just you. I bet a lot of people see it that way. My instinct was that the motive was outdated and that we were supposed to identify with the mother because mothers are presumably the ones buying Tide. but maybe I’m not giving enough credit. Maybe there are many people , mothers, fathers whoever who find it humorous, harmless and think the mother is the outdated one, and that this gives the commercial a progressive touch that motivates them to buy Tide because they see themselves as progressive.

    It’s a tricky because I also know that many people DON’T see it that way, based on You Tube comments and my own perception.

    I wish we could hear from the people who created the commercial, at any level – the artists, actors, writers, P&G brass – about what their intentions were. As the philosopher Barthes says, artwork can be born of any intention, but once it’s out there, it’s open to interpretation. Be nice to hear what their intentions were.

    Thanks for posting your comment:)

  14. Kate said, on September 2, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    You said: “Isn’t it time we let people live their lives the way they do naturally without making fun at their expense?”

    Exactly. This fictional mother character obviously loves frilly, girly clothing and would love to see her daughter be interested in dressing that way, too. But she’s disappointed that her daughter is not interested in that style of dress, which is a very natural, human response.

  15. protopop said, on September 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    1. I’m really glad you wrote Kate and I’m glad you took me to task on that. Although I don’t think that I was making fun of the mother, I do agree that compassion needs to go in both directions. For example, I like the Daily Show, but don’t like it when they make fun of ‘rednecked’ southerners/prairie living. Coming from the left isn’t a license to insult.

    2. I disagree with a few things. I love the frilly mother as a character and she has the right to be as she is. But her attitude WILL damage her daughter and this is where i begin to draw lines. Could she be frilly herself and enjoy that, while not pushing her own way of being as an expectation on her daughter? Yes, she could. I do not have children admittedly, but it has always amazed me how so many people see their children as carbon copies of themselves rather than individuals with their own path to follow.

    If (the fictional remember before we go too far) mother character wants to be dissapointed in the way her daughter IS, so be it. But I’m not going to stand around and applaud her for it. I don’t think it’s a natural human response to be dissapointed in your tomboy daughter. I think it’s a naturalized societal response. Mainstream might ask this of you but strong wills know otherwise. Not everyone will be dissapointed if their daughter is a tomboy .

    What it seems to be coming down to for me is that everyone has the right to live their lives as they want as long as it does not encroach on others. Since that is unrealistic in many cases unfortunately, due to circumstance or attitude, I want people to at least ACKNOWLEDGE what they are doing, and whether it is helpful or harmful to others. That’s all. And that’s a start.

  16. RMD said, on September 7, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    What bothered me about this commercial is the tone that the mother has, and the way she is discussing her daughter right in front of her. It’s sad how her daughter just sits there and plays quietly while taking in all the disappointing things the mother is saying about her. Maybe it would have been funny if the mother was alone, and then they cut to the daughter playing outside and looking happy about who she is. What really would have been funny is if the daughter took one of those blocks and threw it in her mother’s uptight face!

  17. protopop said, on September 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    lol Violence is never the answer (but I get your point)

    Great point what you said about the daughter being in the same room, listening to what her mother is saying. If this were a real situation and the daughter was smart enough to pick up on her mother’s (plain to see) disappointment (and I think kids are VERY perceptive) then that’s much worse than if she was out of the room. It’s OK for the mom to be disappointed. that’s how she was raised. That’s how she feels inside. But it’s when she channels that disappointment into behaviour that hurts someone else – speaking ill in front of her daughter – that she engages in truly negative behaviour.

    Poor Mum:) She’s getting it from all sides in this post.


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