Commentary

Leaning In On The Load: A Great Leap For The Gender Cycle

Last week, I was sitting in the back of a cab, leaving Chicago and headed back to New York, when we hit a parking-lot-like traffic backup. Up front, the driver was obviously agitated, but was slumped and silent, trying to be patient. There was obviously nowhere to move in real space, so I started scouring the deep space in my phone for stuff that I might have otherwise overlooked.

In this category was an email that trumpeted "Sheryl Sandberg says this is one of the most powerful ads she's ever seen!" So I clicked on the link and started watching.

It turned out to be a new commercial from BBDO/Mumbai for Ariel Detergent (a P&G product) showing a true two-minute soap opera, complete with great casting and cinematic production values.

The concept: a father, visiting his grown daughter and her family, watches as she scurries around her modern, upscale apartment after coming home from work, cooking dinner and doing all the household chores including a quick load of laundry, as her hubby sits on his butt in front of the TV .

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It features the moving narration of her Dad, voicing what turns out to be a letter he left for her before he returned home. (And the grey-haired paterfamilias is shown sitting in the back of a cab, ruminating.) In his letter, he tells her he is “so proud” of how much she does, both at work and home. "I never told you that it's not your job alone, but your husband's too. But how could I say it, when I never helped your mother either," he says in the ad. "And what you saw, you learnt."

He tells her that he has made a conscious decision to change his own behavior in the future. He is then shown in his own home, unpacking, and helping his surprised wife with the laundry. The tag line: “Why is laundry only a mother’s job? #Sharetheload."

Though some of the premise was a bit stilted, I found it to be quite a tearjerker, probably because I didn’t have my dad long enough for him to see me operating in my own household with my son. But more than that, I admired its amazing directness, empathy, and depth in taking on the goal of selling social change. That’s a much loftier -- and tougher -- objective than showing laundry-basket-carrying housewives discussing stain removal.  

Anyway, the production was subtitled in English. And as I was watching with the sound up, the driver not only came alive, but almost jumped out of his seat, turned around to look at me, and with stars in his eyes, asked, " You speak Urdu?"

I do not. But the unexpected interaction certainly livened up the ride for both of us. He thought I had been watching a movie in my native language. I told him that it was actually a new laundry detergent commercial from India, all about having men help with the chores. “Oh, that’s so old-school,” he said. “Now men do everything.”

And that’s probably truer for his life here. I would imagine that stereotypical gender roles are more entrenched in India these days than they are in the U.S, but who knows?

Hey, we had our own Dad-doing-the-laundry kerfuffle for Tide back in  2011, when a long-form spot showed a “a dad-mom,” talking about his ability to fold his kid’s clothing with “complete accuracy.” He then felt the need to say, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I'm going to do pull-ups and crunches in the other room.”

There was backlash about his desire to prove his manliness, even if it was a joke. And to Tide’s credit, that spot was followed with a flat-out great series of ads showing unapologetically serious laundry-doer dads (unclear whether they were stay-at-home Poppas or not.)  Oh, the humanity!

In fact, here’s where the Sandberg bit fits in. The most memorable part of her bestselling 2013 book “Lean In” was her assertion that a woman’s choice in partner is the most important decision she can make for  her career — and that, especially after having kids, both spouses must be committed to doing everything 50/50 for the family, and the household, to succeed.

The idea that women work and then come home to a “second shift” of housework has been around for some 30 years. But thanks to Sandberg's rave about the spot’s acknowledgment that gender stereotypes are passed from “generation to generation” and her posting the spot to her Facebook page, it now has over 11 million views on that page, and some 300,000 FB shares.

One of the comments on her FB post came from Andrew Robertson, the CEO of BBDO Worldwide, who credits her with saying “Guys, if you want more sex, forget flowers. Do laundry.” His comment got 3,945 likes.

Still, some of the “Lean In” readership felt it was a bit disingenuous coming from Sandberg, who no doubt has all the household help she wants.

And I saw complaints about the spot from both sides of the gender divide. A few men on You Tube pointed out that women in most upper-middle-class households in India have maids. A therapist I know also expressed disappointment that the spot didn’t show the Dad get up and help while he was there, rather than having him discourse in letter form.

(I guess it made the scenario all the more dramatic to have the daughter’s Olympic-level multitasking shown. To me, it suggested that she was acting out a real-life Goddess Durga role. She’s the deity with all the arms, protecting mankind from pain and suffering caused by evil forces -- and presumably, sedentary husbands)

But I love the larger point: that almost no one is living out the script that their parents did. And that if both spouses are working outside the home, the tasks of cleaning the house, cooking and doing the laundry is not “feminized” work, it’s humanized, family-ized work.

And anyone who is acknowledging that there is a problem, that it’s a matter of fairness, and also consciously working on making a change, deserves kudos — in Urdu and every other language.

9 comments about "Leaning In On The Load: A Great Leap For The Gender Cycle".
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  1. Don Perman from self, March 3, 2016 at 5:20 p.m.

    Excellent. Thoughtful, insightful, moving.  Thanks.

  2. Ann O'daniel from Experience Branding, March 3, 2016 at 5:23 p.m.

    It's a tear jerker alright. The surprized look on mom's face at the end touched my heart.  Bravo

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 3, 2016 at 8:38 p.m.

    2 different realities. And that's just in India where this may be thought as a dream sequence, but the market there is humongous even for those who have access to a washing machine. The realities in the US make no sense there. And Sanberg lives in a cloud.

  4. Robert Rosenthal from Rosenthal Heavy Industries, March 3, 2016 at 8:55 p.m.


     

     


    میں آپ کے ساتھ،باربرااتفاق کرتا ہوں

  5. Ruth Thomas from Second helping replied, March 4, 2016 at 6:41 a.m.

    Lots of heart in this ..beautiful pieceکہانی محبت کرتا تھا!

  6. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 4, 2016 at 3:55 p.m.

    so Rob-- is that Urdu? what does it say?

  7. George Parker from Parker Consultants, March 5, 2016 at 4:03 p.m.

    It means... "Do not kill cows whilst doing laundry."

  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 5, 2016 at 5:24 p.m.

    Ha, George. Would that be sacred cows? The spot that preceded this one, showed two grandmotherly ladies gossiping on a terrace about their one female relative who worked-- she was a typist in the  1960s. Then one points inside, to her beautiful young daugher in law, sitting in front of her laptop, and says she makes more money than the son. THen we see the son come down the stairs and throw some laundry at his wife. All three look at the camera like, what an impossible dolt! 

  9. Jim English from The Met Museum, March 7, 2016 at 11:38 p.m.

    As you once said,  Barbara in reference to P&G's Gain detergent. "Marketers now need consumers to form a sort of bond with the brands."    I think now Ariel is tied into the inequality of the sexes,  at least in regard to clothes washing.

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