This is going to be a little departure from mommy blogging.  You see, outside of my family, writing, reading, and learning how to cook, my next biggest passion has got to be watching and analyzing commercials.  No joke.  They’re like short, intense signifiers of culture.  Just full of meaning.  Recently, I’ve seen several commercials, all for insurance companies, that all base their “cleverness” on blatant sexism and sexist assumptions.  And while I know that many viewers are currently in an uproar about Volkswagen’s latest commercial, depicting a dad teaching his son how to throw a baseball (and doing a terrible job, to say the least), I have to say that the sexism depicted in that commercial just doesn’t compare to the sexism depicted in the ones I am going to talk about today.  True, there are many things wrong with the “Idiot Dad” caricature that has gained so much popular currency in the last fifteen years or so, and I fully believe that reversing a sexist dichotomy does nothing to eliminate the dichotomy itself.  However, remember that even a blundering father is still an involved father, a loving father, a caring father, and very much a product of the twenty-first century’s relaxing gender stereotypes concerning father involvement in child-rearing.  These Idiot Dads are insulting to many capable, strong, competent, and talented fathers that I know, but they are the over-simplified, pop-culture result of what many see as the “sudden” transition from a woman-centered domestic sphere to a shared space of partnership.  The Idiot Dad is the guy who grew up never thinking he’d have to know where the forks are, or how to buckle a rear-facing car seat, but has unexpectedly found himself in a progressive home where such tasks are not exclusive to the wife-and-mother character.  The dad in the Volkswagen commercial is not comical because he’s failing as a father.  On the contrary.  He has obviously just come home from work (the assumption being that he financially supports his family).  He’s playing with his son.  He’s outside, talking and bonding.  Also, the insinuation is that he otherwise makes responsible, good decisions (like buying a Volkswagen). He’s just not athletic, and therefore “failing” only in terms of a patriarchal expectation for masculinity.  The same thing cannot be said for the depictions of femininity that I am going to address here.

 

Congratulations, State Farm and GEICO, you are Rachel’s Asshole(s) of the Day!

Both of these companies have recently released commercials depicting women who are idiots.  But not just “Oh, I didn’t know that” idiots, and not well-meaning idiots either, but persistent, unflappable, kind of bitchy idiots who don’t understand basic concepts of modern life, and who apparently have never heard of The Internets.  Both commercials are promoting these companies’ new insurance applications (that’s the full name for “apps,” for all you ladies out there) that can be downloaded onto a smart phone.  A large company developing mobile-friendly software as a way of responding to our increasingly multi-use device-driven modern world?  Ooooh, unique.  Honestly, State Farm and GEICO, both of which are multi-billion dollar companies (State Farm was ranked #37 in the 2011 Fortune 500, and GEICO—a much smaller company—makes about $9 billion annually), are a little behind the curve with the introduction of their mobile apps, in my estimation.  Numerous other banks, credit cards, and regular-payment-needed services developed quick online paying and banking services years earlier.  Way to respond to demands, State Farm and GEICO.  Maybe in three years you can Rickroll us all, too.

But I digress.

In the State Farm commercial, a man is seen, snapping pictures of an automobile accident with his cell phone.  A woman walks out of a nearby building, and asks him what he’s doing.  When he explains that he’s documenting the accident in order to send it to State Farm, the ditz flat-out refuses to believe him.

Woman: I thought State Farm didn’t have all those apps.

Man: Where’d you hear that?

Woman: The Internet.

Man: And you believed it?

Woman: Yeah.  They can’t put anything on the Internet that isn’t true.

While the man chuckles over the bimbo’s obliviousness, another man slouches up, wearing a forward facing fanny pack, large glasses, and a three-day scruff.  The woman smiles, saying that this man is her date she “met on the Internet,” and that he’s a “French model.”  When the ungainly man shrugs, “Uhh, bon jour,” the blonde woman smiles/smirks at the original man before going off with her date.

GEICO’s commercial takes a slightly nastier, meaner approach to the dumb-woman-as-humorous-shill/shrew sketch taken on by State Farm.  In this, the “little piggy” who appeared in an earlier GEICO advertisement is on an airplane.  Two flight attendants (both female) ask him to “power down his little word game” (an obvious reference to Alec Baldwin’s notorious Words with Friends incident).  When the pig (whose name, apparently, is Maxwell) points out that he’s not playing the game, but is rather paying his GEICO bill, the flight attendants (or should I stop being politically correct and just call them “Cabin Bitches,” as GEICO obviously wants me to?) act with downright cruel condescension and utter disbelief that such a mysterious, magical tool could possibly exist. (Paying your bill online?  With your cell phone??  But mine still runs off of my car battery and has a magnetic antenna I have to put on the roof when I want to call my Auntie!! Sidebar: Anybody remember those?  My Uncle John had one, and I thought it was the most amazing piece of technology ever.  My cousin, John, and I also used to pull the perforated edges off of Uncle John’s printer paper.  We would fold up the long strips to make accordion necklaces and bracelets.  Uncle John would get SO PISSED because we wasted miles and miles of printer paper!  Aunt Cyndi just liked her necklaces.)

Maxwell: [I can] pretty much access GEICO 24/7.

Cabin Bitch 1: (Smiling and wrinkling her nose) Sounds a little too good to be true, sir.

Cabin Bitch 2: Mmm-hmm.  I’ll believe that when pigs fly.

Cabin Bitch 1: (Rolls eyes at Cabin Bitch 2 in acknowledgement)

Maxwell: (To the [Male] passenger sitting next to him) Okay, did she seriously just say that?

Unlike the involved-but-perhaps-a-little-less-than-ideally-masculine-according-to-patriarchal-standards-that-are-impossible-for-any-individual-to-live-up-to-regardless dad from the Volkswagen commercial, these Idiot Women have zero redeeming qualities.  They aren’t smart, they aren’t attractive, they aren’t good citizens, or even good neighbors (of course not, because State Farm is our “good neighbor,” right?).  They are merely shells of humanity, embodying all that is wrong with “womenfolk” as it has been defined by patriarchy for generations.  They talk too much, give their opinions too freely, don’t know or understand technology (on any level), don’t listen enough, are so self-centered that they have become comically oblivious to any aspect of their situational surroundings: the blonde ditz was so narcissistically enamored of her ability to nab a “French model” that she couldn’t see her date’s hideousness; while the flight attendant was so convinced that she was right, she couldn’t make the connection between her closing adage and the fact that, literally, a pig was flying.

These women are dumb, and what’s more, they’re dangerous to themselves and others.  They are the stereotypical women who need to be “saved” by the much smarter, more mature, more knowledgeable and worldly men around them.  But the men don’t even want to save them, because, frankly, there’s not a whole lot of good in any of them.  They are examples of all that is wrong with a modern, more progressive world.  These commercials insinuate that these women need to be confined to their home-spaces, to their tiny domestic lives, so that they can be taken care of, treated as the mentally deficit drains on society they are.  They need to have husbands who can deal with harsh, overly opinionated harpies, and who will get knowing, empathetic looks from the “real” men who pass by (and they will pass by.  Because a “real” man will know that he doesn’t want a woman like that).  But instead, these women are out and about in the world, in charge of airplanes and allowed to venture out with strangers.  Outside.  Without an adult present or anything.  These women are idiots who are choosing their own destinies, and that pisses us all off.

Of course, we can all be happy that these women are only living up to the very low expectations of a masculinist culture, and pursuing a life in the public sphere that fits in nicely with sexist expectations of women.  The blonde ditz from the State Farm commercial is going on a date.  She’s actively looking for a man to take care of her. Whew!  Thank goodness, sweetie.  We don’t want you to get hurt out there.  The two flight attendants in the GEICO commercial?  Well, they’re stewardesses.  They aren’t pilots, or fellow passengers.  In fact, look at that commercial closely.  Go ahead.  There is one woman on the plane, far in the background behind the man who looks sympathetically over at Maxwell (not even sitting next to him!  Nobody’s sitting next to either that man or Maxwell.  Because men need, nay deserve space.).  Right in the beginning, the flight attendant is standing in front of a person with long hair, which I suppose we can assume may be a woman (and since everything else about this commercial is so stereotypical, then, yes, I’m going to say that they won’t have any long-haired hippie type of men on this flight), but, outside of the flight attendants, and the one woman out of focus, way in the back, the plane is solely peopled by men.  Because men are important.  Only men fly.  Women just serve them drinks and give safety presentations that nobody pays attention to anyway.  Because nothing women say is ever important anyway.

State Farm and GEICO, perhaps you need to know that the “they” putting “things” on the Internet are, actually, women.  According to an article published in The Atlantic in June of 2012 (that’s over eight months ago, again for any girls out there whose heads start hurting a little whenever math’s introduced), women—not men—are the leaders in adopting new technologies, outstripping their male counterparts:

Let me break out the categories where women are leading tech adoption:

  • Internet usage
  • Mobile phone voice usage
  • Mobile phone location-based services
  • Text messaging
  • Skype
  • Every social networking site aside from LinkedIn
  • All Internet-enabled devices
  • E-readers
  • Health-care devices
  • GPS

Also, because women still are the primary caretakers of children in many places, guess who controls which gadgets the young male and female members of the family get to purchase or even use?

Women aren’t idiots who don’t know how to use technology.  We’re the ones using it, and at a faster and more adaptable pace than men.  Yet, these commercials would have the entire world believe that women don’t grasp the basics of a technologically-driven world.  Worse, these women are fighting technology, putting up a resistance to it that seems to suggest they want to remain in the past, when things were simpler, and a woman didn’t have to do all of this independent stuff on her own.

These are the attitudes that are keeping young girls out of the hard sciences, and scaring them away from technology fields.  These commercials are a symptom of a larger cultural disease that insinuates that women are only “good” when they are attractive, silent, family-driven, unambitious, and know where their place is (the home, with their heterosexual, bread-winning husband and their 2.3 children).  Even the trope of the Idiot Dad plays into this disease, for, while he is lost in the domestic sphere, that is where the woman reigns supreme.  One day, Idiot Dad will learn where the forks are, and how to change a dirty diaper (because at the end of the sitcom, he always learns a lesson, doesn’t he?), but Idiot Woman will always be useless outside of her home, because she’s incapable of listening long enough for the lesson to sink in.  She needs to be in her home, shut away, isolated from the scary, big world of technology and interconnectedness.  And, what’s more, that’s exactly where we want her.

So, congratulation again, State Farm and GEICO! You are Rachel’s Asshole(s) of the Day!

 

Now, suck my ovaries, you sexist asshats.

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