Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Swiffer's "Man Up, Clean Up" Campaign Turns a Mainstream Eye on Gender Equality

I have no doubts that Swiffer's new "Man Up, Clean Up" campaign is profit-driven (that is, after all, what advertising campaigns are for). Men do more housework than they used to (though the gender imbalance still exists, even when both the man and the woman in the household work), so they are a potential growth market for household cleaning supplies. But this new campaign also tackles some questions of the division of labor and the social construction of "work." 

The campaign features spokesman Rick Harrison from the popular show Pawn Stars. He opens this video by saying that some men are doing more housework, and that's true. As this article on the campaign reports, nearly a third (31%) of men now report doing most of the housework in their homes. This is up from just 17% in 2006. That alone would be enough to justify an ad campaign aimed at this market, but in the same breath Harrison also tells us that some men need to be doing more housework, which moves this campaign from reactive to proactive. It's not just reacting to men who are already moving into the role of house cleaning, but also proactively suggesting that this is a more equitable arrangement that more men should be taking up. 

When I first heard about the campaign, I was a little worried that it would fall into the stereotypes used in the Huggies "Nominate a Dad" campaign, an ill-fated campaign that drew ire for displaying men as bumbling idiots who were wholly incapable of providing competent care for their children. I feared that the Swiffer campaign would display how their products help anyone, even a man, clean the house, further promoting the idea that men are incapable, which--in turn--further entrenches traditional gender divisions. 

But that doesn't seem to be the way they're approaching it. 

This video does have some suggestions of sexist tropes. The idea that men need to clean up to keep their women happy could pit women as nags and--more problematic--suggests that the management, if not all of the actual work, still falls on women shoulders. However, these lines feel more like vestiges of the traditional system than an endorsement of them. At its heart, the campaign seems to be fully suggesting that housework is everyone's responsibility. 

This path toward equity is also in their campaign's Facebook page, which explains:
We’re dudes who clean up.
If we & our ladyfriends come home from work and we’re both tired, but the dog has unleashed a dust bunny the size of a dust wolf, we don't wait for her to clean it up. Seriously. We’ll go to town on it. We’ll do our fair share. And we’ll do it right.
Join us.
Man up and clean up.
Look at that language: "and we're both tired," "we'll do our fair share." This is not a matter of men doing work because they don't want to get nagged; this is a recognition that no one really wants to spend their evenings after they get home from work cleaning the house, but that it has to be done, so it should be done fairly.

They also have an e-card campaign.

Again, some of these cards gently use some gendered stereotypes (men like video games; women take a long time to get ready), but they seem to be using these tropes in a way that is tongue-in-cheek so that they do more to normalize the idea of men cleaning house. It's as if they're saying, "Look, we're not trying to radically change the world. Sweeping the floor is only fair, and it's not that hard." 

To further drive home the "it's not that hard" message, there are how-to videos like this one for how to dust a table:

And, the truth is, sweeping the floor could radically change the world. The division of household labor is a sore subject for a lot of people. It can be a thing--and sometimes the thing--that drives couples apart. Household chores are a point of contention. Also, a Cambridge study found that men are happier when they do more housework. And studies have also found a link between doing housework and having more sex

I'll also use this as a moment to plug my favorite Swiffer product--completely unsolicited and uncompensated. I love my Swiffer Sweeper. I have two cats, a dog, a toddler, hardwood floors, and no time. This vacuum/dry cloth combo is amazing, especially in tight spaces and on stairs. 

So, what do you think? Is this campaign gently challenging some age-old assumptions about gender and work? Is casually normalizing an equitable division of labor effective?


  1. Apart from the tiny twinge of sexism I feel with the phrase "Man up" (kind of like "grow a pair"), it's not a bad attempt to demonstrate what is already being done in many homes--equitable distribution of household maintenance because we're all busy. I appreciate the humor. The marketing team could have easily gone a step too far and showed the men getting a promise of a "reward" for their cleaning. They didn't go there. I'm good.

  2. I think this is overall a good campaign, and a way to appeal to a single sex without isolating either of them.

    What I really like though, is the way they didn't change the product to do this. In a post you made about glitter pens you talked about products that are marketed specifically to women like pink power tools. I noticed that the Swiffers in these commercials have the same purple heads and yellow boxes they have always had. They didn't make them blue or cammo or try to make them more "manly." They are just saying "look, dudes, we make a good product, try it out for yourself." It's not a perfect campaign, but it's pretty darn good.

  3. Oh sweet chocolatey Jesus, FINALLY. I think this is a HUGE step in the right direction. Maybe some day soon my husband and I will be able to watch TV with our two little boys and not have to add a verbal asterisk after every cleaning commercial with, "You know, the mommy there is cleaning up, but daddies clean up, too. Do you know who does the laundry/dishes/putting toys away in our family? That's right, Daddy does!" It's exhausting.

    This also bring up a personal issue for me. About a year and a half ago I posted on facebook that my husband and I finally broke down and hired a housekeeper once a month. She was part of a collective and so kept every dime of the money she earned for herself; she spent 7 hours deep-cleaning our tiny 2-bedroom Brooklyn apartment; and we both hated doing housework. Someone responded to me, "Aren't you a stay at home mom?" To which my husband went off on a rant about how SAHM does NOT = "maid." I then also ranted about all the little things I do all day long for my family that include errands, appointments, playdates, cooking, shopping, and then still attempt to squeeze in writing time to make a little extra money and to get my writing career off the ground and said, "After all that, I'm supposed to get down on my knees and scrub the toilet just because I don't go to an office every day?"

    I guess my point is that it's not just work-outside the home women who don't want to clean. My husband and I have an easy rule to decide the division of labor in our house: while he's at work, the running of the house and caring for the children is my "job." When we're both home, those things are both our responsibilities, 50/50.