Friday 2 December 2011

Who needs sociopolitical equality when you have YOGHURT?

Posted by Goblin

So, the swimming pool was busy today and I retreated – uncharacteristically these days – to the gym. Because I am a skint student, my gym doesn’t boast its own continuous music channel, so I had to make do with my walkman and some unnamed terrestrial channel.

And, God help me, I started watching the adverts. Has anyone else ever noticed the sheer proportion of adverts that attempt to sell women products – usually food or domestic products – as emotional fulfilment? They’re all over the show. The two I’m going to talk about are very different – Mr Muscle bathroom and Rachel’s Organic Yoghurt.

In scenario A, Mr Muscle, a woman’s family mess up her bathroom, enjoying themselves, then she wanders in and says ‘Everyone enjoys the bathroom except me!’ Cue Mr Muscle jumping in and praising his new product, while the woman (apparently) tries it out and says ‘Thanks, Mr Muscle!’ in admiring tones. Here’s a list of things wrong with scenario A:

1)      The assumption cleaning is woman’s work
2)      The assumption a woman can’t (shdn’t) ask her family to clean up *their* mess
3)      The assumption a husband will go out, presumably to work, while the woman is at home
4)      The offer of a product rather than querying or challenging 1), 2) or 3)
5)      The assumption Mr Muscle – a bathroom cleaner – will look after or help the woman, that it is a product’s job, not her family’s, to provide emotional succour as well as physical help
6)      The assumption that (domesticised) unfulfilment is a woman’s lot
7)      The assumption that challenging this status quo is unusual
8)      The assumption that even if a woman works, the bathroom is still her problem

Let’s compare and contrast this to scenario B, Rachel’s Organic Yoghurt ( In this advert, a woman comes home from work, ‘slips off her heels’ (as the v/o coos), ‘slips’ into slippers, and heads straight to the kitchen to eat yoghurt and raspberries that the cooing voiceover assures us ‘slips down a treat’. ‘Find your Rachel’s moment’, we are invited. This woman isn’t seen in the context of family, but as (presumably, from the heels and that she’s arriving home at 6pm) a working woman. Her home is empty. So we are encouraged to see her encounter with this yoghurt as both her way of emotionally nourishing herself and her source of sensual, almost sexualised enjoyment. It’s an old, old story – cf the Flake ads, cf every advert that features a woman doing a Saint Theresa as soon as a particular foodstuff enters her mouth. It’s more pernicious than that, though. Whilst women are shown food as a source of emotional nourishment in a world where (as with Mr Muscle) they are expected to serve others’ needs rather than their own, they are *also* - and sometimes in the same ad break – held up to unrealistic body ideals that for the vast majority of people involve restricting their food intake. Women especially are encouraged to diet and exercise not just to ‘feel good’ but to ‘look good’. (*spits at ridiculous and unrealistic set of assumptions here*).  I haven’t tasted Rachel’s yoghurt, what with being dairy-intolerant and all, and have no idea whether it really is as pleasurable to consume as chocolate mousse (for example). But with these food ads, either women are being sold a low-calorie product whose value lies in its ability to simulate the body’s responses to a high-calorie product whilst serving the ‘thinner=better’ ideological system, or it’s a high-calorie product that women are invited to consume in service of short-term pleasure so that their guilt can later be used to induce them to buy diet and exercise-products. To use the technical term, it’s *fucked up*.

Yeah, yeah, I know – this is capitalism. But the fact that our entire financial and political and social system is apparently based on encouraging women to substitute product purchase for healthy relationships, equality in domestic and gender politics, an entitlement to bodily comfort or integrity, or a voice PISSES ME OFF.


  1. I think you're reading too much into these adverts. The aim, after all, is to sell products to the target group that actually buys them. If most of the people who bought bathroom cleaners were men who were guilty (or hen-pecked) about the mess they were causing, I'm sure you'd see a different kind of advert for Mr Muscle.

  2. That's a bit of a circular argument, though; and also rests on a premise I'm not sure I accept.

    Is the aim of advertising to make a fixed pool of "product-buyers" choose your product over a competitor's?

    Or is the aim of advertising to create or add to the pool of potential "product-buyers"?

    This advert adds to the socio-cultural baggage which causes so many women to eschew fair division of household tasks with an "oh, it's just easier if I fix this myself...".

  3. In the case of bathroom cleaners, I don't see how one could enlarge the market. They are a necessity for which the total demand is relatively stable. I doubt the advert persuaded many women to perform tasks they would have otherwise have avoided.

  4. Hmm, well arguably, making women's worth as wives and mothers appear contingent on how clean their bathroom is DOES increase the market for these products.. but obviously this ad is only an incremental part of that socio-cultural message.

    Maybe we're talking a bit at cross-purposes here? I'm certainly not saying (and I don't reckon Goblin is either) that this ad creates that socio-cultural context in order to sell product; but rather that it contributes to it, and that is sad.

  5. "I doubt the advert persuaded many women to perform tasks they would have otherwise have avoided."

    In that case, couldn't the advert just as well have featured a man/househusband/other?