By: Michiel Scheeren
Girls have long hair and boys are cut short
They wear skirts and dresses, while boys wear trousers
Men let ladies lead when they go somewhere
On the train you stand up for older people, and you don’t contradict them
And so I could go on and on. I grew up with these principles. And although these social norms no longer apply, many people will still recognize them. Some will be homesick for the good old days, others will laugh about them. However, there are also people who forcefully distance themselves from the standards of the past. They find them stigmatising. Hypocritical too. Because you can let a woman lead the way, but you still expect her to take care of the household. And that really is out of date.
Or is it?
I recently read a message that recruiters engage in “sex discrimination” by approaching men more often than women for the same position. Today, women are still paid less for the same job (15% less as reported in a newspaper recently) than men. The glass ceiling appears to exist for women.
Whether it is a woman, an immigrant or a non-heterosexual, it appears that society is not nearly as emancipated as we would like. And that has been demonstrated factually and inescapably. Not opinion, but truth. Whether we like it or not. Of course you can have your own opinion about it. We all have that right and also the ability to handle it at our discretion.
That is what is happening now. People rise up. The me-too movement has occurred just like the anti (and pro) “Zwarte Piet” debate. A black face is out of order. Even if a person has dressed up like Alibaba in the distant past without ulterior motives, he is now being confronted and accused. The question that arises for me is; aren’t we going a bit too far? Are we going in the direction that when you keep the door open as a courtesy to women you are almost accused of a me-too action? Admittedly, a little exaggerated example, but you understand what I mean.
This phenomenon also has far-reaching consequences for advertising. Because it is precisely in advertising that situations are often magnified and sharply triggered. This is because the message must be written clearly and sharply in a short time. Sometimes from an existing role pattern (a woman who recommends a detergent) and sometimes against a role pattern (Dove shows everyday women and not the role models).
Sometimes it is clearly over the top humour (the silly Jumbo man) and sometimes a social situation in an over the top humorous setting. The new Albert Heijn campaign falls into the latter category. A female supermarket manager (against the role pattern), who has her hands full, is trying to reconcile the home situation with her work. And to make it explicit and to make it humorous, the situations in which she finds herself are drawn into the ridiculous (overflowing washing machine that she has to fix, a lazy man who does nothing and cannot cook, and children who have to manage it).
Quite apart from the fact that as a viewer you are interested in the private life of the supermarket manager, the question arises whether the woman in question is not portrayed as a stupid stereotype. She has to do everything alone and the man does not lift a finger. Horrible. Had to be banned. This screams everything that emancipation is not about.
Or does the commercial show a situation that many young families face? Working parents who are short of time having to combine family and work. How do you make that point without it becoming a boring, serious message? How do you make it clear with a wink? AH has chosen to throw the stereotype image upside down. No traditional division of roles, but a “superwoman” who does everything and also manages it.
Is this a real situation? No, of course not, you don’t need to have a degree to see that.
Is it humour? Yes, even though you may not like the form it takes.
Is it role-confirming? No, of course not. It actually turns the existing role pattern upside down.
Is it heavy handed? Yes, of course, that requires no explanation.
Let’s stop pushing everything that happens into the taboo corner and speak of shame right away. No-one is saying you should approve AH’s approach. But do not dismiss it as misogynistic, role-confirming false advertising. That really goes to far in my opinion (and we haven’t even discussed our the tolerant society).