Cleaning Commercials: Grease, Grime of Occluded Gender/Sex Hegemony

Article excerpt

If an average television viewer was asked to investigate the source of masculine hegemony and problematic displays of women, they might not think to check their daily dose of cleaning commercials as a potential offender. Popular culture has many ways of reaching the average individual in this age of new media domination, but television and commercial messages remain dominant with a vast audience. Television programs, and increasingly, advertisements, are uploaded to streaming video sites such as YouTube, creating an echo-chamber effect of influence. Commercials represent a significant portion of television airtime, and carry both obvious and hidden messages concerning gender/sex roles. Gender prescriptive messages are found to be especially prevalent in cleaning and household product commercials (Sharrer, Kim, Lin, & Liu, 2006).

Among popular theories concerning media are Cultivation Theory (Gerbner & Gross, 1976) and Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1977). By using a critical feminist lens, this paper will analyze occluded rhetoric embedded in these television commercials and the potential ability to perpetuate a patriarchal voice.

Rationale

It is well documented that women are targeted as the key demographic in household and cleaning advertisements. Mastín, Coe, Hamilton, and Tarr (2004) conducted a content analysis of two women's magazines (Essence and Ladies' Home Journal) from 1990-1999, and found that women are most frequently presented in ads related to beauty, fashion, cleaning, and children. This conflation of magazine reality with actual femininity creates a problem for the average reader of the magazine. Through conducting visual rhetorical analyses of iconic images, Hariman and Lucaites point out that "images in the public media display the public to itself (Hariman & Lucaites, p. 12, 2007). The average woman begins to compare herself to the ideal female portrayed in the magazine or cleaning commercial - a perfect mother, lover, woman, or wife (Storey, 2009). This, coupled with women's actual increase in the workforce, leads to a conundrum for women, spinning them in all directions only to find no solution in sight (United States Department of Labor, 2010).

Certainly women are not the only group to be portrayed in a stereotypical or less than desirable way. For the purposes of this paper, underrepresentations of differing ethnicities, sexualities, or abilities will be acknowledged but the focus will remain on gender/sex inequalities. Because of their intersecting social construction, gender and sex will be linked to demonstrate how societal impressions of these constructs are consistently related to the male and female body, reflecting the problematic binaries of gender and biological sex (Butler, 1990; DeFrancisco & Palczewski, 2007).

Media representation communicates more than just who consumers see on television as agents and protagonists. These crucial elements of visibility in mass media indicate overall group power (Harwood & Roy, 2008). It must also be acknowledged that while women are present in terms of numerical representations in advertisements, the quality of screen time differs from that of men (Ferrante, Haynes, & Kingsley, 1988). Women are displayed on television as less important to plot lines, they hold lower-prestige jobs, and they are overly sexualized and disproportionately depicted as young (Brannon, 2008).

According to Cultivation Theory, moderate to heavy users of television are sensitive to these media messages and may perceive them as reflecting reality (Gerbner & Gross, 1976). Individuals who watch more television have a reinforced, overly traditional opinion in regards to gender/sex roles (Kim & Lowry, 2005). Viewers continually see the modern woman as being a housewife and the "star" of cleaning commercials but women occupy the background of the plots of television shows and movies. These representations are certain to retain hegemonic messages that limit femininity and masculinity. …