Arlie Hochschild, in her book The Second Shift, discusses a modern tension in American households resulting from a “stalled gender revolution,” i.e., the fact that women and the social construction of femininity have changed and men and masculinity have not caught up with these changes. These tensions erupt when assigning responsibilities in the second shift of household labor and childcare, which often fall upon wives’ shoulders. Traditionally, the dominant construction of masculinity does not allow men to participate in housework, such as laundry, since it is threatening to their sense of masculinity. In fact, as argued by Julie Brines, the economic model of dependency holds for women but not for men. Men can essentially trade in their salaries for the domestic labor performed by their wife; however, when women out-earn their husbands, they cannot seem to strike a similar bargain. In this case, since the man is not fulfilling his traditional role as provider, he essentially refuses to further damage his reputation by engaging in “woman’s work” in the home.
In this Tide commercial, we see this threatening element of housework, as the “Dad Mom” tries to justify his laundry proficiency by reasserting his masculinity. At the end, he confirms that he is still a man as he declares that he will “go do pull ups and crunches,” one would assume in order to build up his manly muscles. Beyond this direct statement of his attempts to embody masculinity, throughout the commercial, we see three themes — normative heterosexuality, competition among men, and the codification of laundry as feminine — used to excuse his role as homemaker.
He first makes the claim that he is at home “being awesome,” and proceeds to explain how. He stresses his unique (and alluring) mixture of masculinity and nurturing. By describing himself in this way for the sake of the “Mom Moms,” he alludes to his heterosexuality, a basic element of hegemonic masculinity, in an attempt to establish some sex appeal.
Second, there is a competitive element to his dialogue as he boasts to other dads about his ability to dress a four-year-old and skills at folding a “frilly dress with complete accuracy.” By making it a competition, he rationalizes his participation in housework. Boom!
Finally, this “dad mom” uses the “brute strength of dad” in combination with the “nurturing abilities of my laundry detergent” to complete this basis household task. The task of doing laundry and the detergent, itself, is codified as feminine. This combination is a “smart” one because this is exactly what women need: more men doing the laundry.
Amanda M. Czerniawski is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Temple University. She specializes in bodies and culture, gender and sexuality, and medical sociology. Her past research projects involved the development of height and weight tables and the role of plus-size models in constructions of beauty. Her current research focuses on the contested role of the body in contemporary feminist discourse.
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