Summary: If you haven't stopped to familiarize yourself with retro sexism, take the opportunity to do it now because it is confusing your students. It will come as no surprise to readers of this site that sexism is alive and well in advertising, even if the specific form it took a few decades ago has changed significantly. Exhibit A: this new My Tide commercial features a comically anxious mother delivering her testimony directly to the consumer. The mother is visibly uncomfortable that her daughter wears hoodies, cargo shorts, has dispensed with "the whole pink thing," and keeps building car garages for her dinosaurs. This commercial is an excellent example of sexism, but not the sexism of your parent's generation. Think of it is a sexism seen through a glass darkly—retro sexism. Retro sexist media can be defined as media that mimics or glorifies sexist aspects of the past, often in an ironic way. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency notes that there is characteristically "a wink and a nod" approach in this sort of advertising, where the advertiser attempts to bring the viewer in on the silliness of it all. Thus the viewer watches the My Tide mother stifle her discomfort and effectively mimic those mothers of yesteryear who had trouble coloring outside the prescribed gender lines. Some will undoubtedly fail to see the hint of self-mockery in this ad and seize on it as an example of run-of-the-mill sexism. Others will note the irony and proclaim that the commercial is actually quite progressive. My own view is that this ad is not straightforward sexism and neither does it amount to the kind of satire that offers a fundamental critique of sexism (unlike this commercial). Its primary ambition is to sell soap, and like a joke with no punchline, it is merely impersonating satire in order to build a rapport with the consumer. Somewhere along the way it succeeds in smuggling in an old-fashioned sexism. Make no mistake, policing the boundaries of femininity and masculinity is not nearly as old-fashioned as this ad pretends. For example, The Sociological Cinema has posted a clip about the controversy surrounding photos of a mother painting her sons nails with pink nail polish (here), and we have posted on the use of the phrase "no homo," as a means of policing masculinity (here and here). Here at last is an example of how femininity gets policed as well.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist