Forget Audi pitching pay equality: The most feminist ad of Superbowl this year was a Tide commercial in which not a single woman appears.
The commercial was woven into Fox’s broadcast. Announcer Terry Bradshaw finds a barbecue stain on his shirt, dips out of the game and races to actor Jeffrey Tambor’s house. The 72-year-old actor helpfully washes the ex-NFL players clothes while they both hang on the couch.
For years men have been largely ignored by the makers of laundry detergent, who aimed their marketing voodoo squarely at women. A more typical Tide commercial would involve a mother desperate to remove the grass stains on her son’s soccer shorts or perhaps a beautiful lady prancing through a backyard sniffing freshly-laundered sheets off the line.
Sunday night’s ad acknowledging laundry as a man’s chore is a small but welcome step for gender equality.
Yet, the commercial that caught everyone’s attention Sunday night was a more nakedly feminist spot for Audi. In the car company’s commercial a father muses on the opportunities that may one day be available to his young daughter. “What do I tell my daughter? Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she’ll automatically be valued as less than every man she meets?” Audi ends the ad by broadcasting its commitment to equal pay.
Equal pay for equal work is obviously important. But so is equality at home: If that little girl is going to make it out there in the world, she needs a partner at home who takes on his (or her) share of the housework. The burden of housework, however, still falls mostly on women.
Even though women represent 47 percent of the workforce and an overwhelming majority of women with kids at home are employed, they still do much more of the housework, according to data from the Labor Department.
The so-called extra-shift holds them back outside the home. It is partly the reason women are still so hard to find in the upper echelons of the business and political spheres.
Women “face two glass ceilings, one at work and one at home,” a news story in Bloomberg noted in 2015. “Until that changes, the number of women advancing to high-level positions isn’t likely to go anywhere.”
The Tide commercial is a strong signal that change is happening. Men are slowly taking on more household tasks. What’s happening with laundry marks an “epic change,” Ellen Byron of The Wall Street Journal reported last year ― after Tide put out a similarly male-focused commercial featuring Emmitt Smith.
Sixty-seven percent of men between ages 18 - 34 were responsible for cleaning their own clothes in 2014, up from 44 percent the previous year, according to data cited by the Wall Street Journal. Older men, age 55 and up, mainly leave the task to their wives. Just 35 percent do their own wash, according to the data.
Companies, including Procter & Gamble, which makes Tide, are slowly catching on. There’s an increasing number of laundry products aimed squarely at guys. In part because Americans are waiting longer to marry, men are often faced with a pile of dirty clothes and no one to help them with it.
Changes in expectations for men and women take a lot of time, however. The Super Bowl still featured ads, like this one from GM, where dudes get distracted by a super model.
There was also an ad for Mr. Clean Sunday night that some viewed as feminist. In it a man cleans the house and in the process totally turns on his wife. That’s progress of a sort, but if we lived in a world where chores were shared more equally the ad wouldn’t have been such a surprise.