My husband and I are having an ordinary dinner on an ordinary night. Then, something ordinary happens, and my husband spills food on his shirt. I become uneasy and vocalize my discomfort with him spilling his food. He doesn’t comprehend why I am so unhappy; he stresses out and tells me that he doesn’t understand me. He implies that I am nagging.
I agree with him until I am standing in front of the ironing board holding the newly washed, hung, and dried shirt he spilled food on. He is an adult; he is entitled to spill his own food on his own shirt. Then, I grasp why I was mad at him. Because I am always the ONE who is removing the stain from the shirt and unfortunately I am not alone. All around the world, women spend more time than men on household chores. According to 2014 OECD1 data, the situation in Turkey is worse compared to most other countries. Women spend 261 minutes doing household chores on a day- to-day basis, while men spend only 21.
The photos that you see in this book turn those 261 minutes from a statistic to a reality. Wash the dishes; load the washer; hang the clothes; fold; sweep; iron; serve tea to your husband; take care of your mom; raise your kid. All of these are as real as life, stands right in front of our eyes.
While we watch the lives of these women, they watch the TV screen. The shows on screen whisper to them the same things; wash the dishes; load the washer; hang the clothes; fold; sweep; iron; serve tea to your husband; take care of your mom; raise your kid. The only difference is when it is on a TV screen everything is much more fun, colorful and interesting. Considering all the mass media tools, television is the most efficient and attractive medium that combines image, sound and motion all at the same time.
The entertaining content such as soap operas, game shows, and morning shows that television provides are not only visually interesting but also easy to access. Furthermore, compared to art and cultural activities, they are much cheaper. This makes TV indispensible component of the lives of housewives who can hardly make ends meet.
According to research done by SBT Research Company and published by Marketing Türkiye in 2014, women spend 300 minutes a day watching television. Housewives spend even more time in front of the screen; an average of 412 minutes per day.
Advertisements help media corporations ensure the financial viability of television programming, making commercials part of the entertainment that television programs provide. One important reason why advertisement is crucial to this is because it is able to transmit its messages to the masses, visually and audibly. On the other hand, advertisers have full control over the message delivered to the masses. That is why advertising has become the most popular form of marketing communication that the big bucks are spent on.
Since advertising is a tool that marketers spend the most on, it is prepared meticulously. This shouldn’t be perceived as the confessions of an ad woman, but in order to prepare a 30 second commercial, ad people spend months from creating the strategy, choosing the director, deciding on the broadcast frequency, to choosing the jingle. Contrary to common wisdom, those who are isolated from society don’t make commercials. The copywriter who writes it, the art director who visualizes it, the director who shoots it, and the client who approves it, carry the codes of society, in which they all live, into the process of ad-making and advertisements themselves. They even do it without realizing it. Thus, if we cannot talk about gender equality in a society, we cannot talk about gender equality in its commercials. If women spend 261 minutes on house chores, then the same society will portray women as the one solely responsible for house chores in commercials.
According to a content analysis of the Crystal Apple Ad Award winning commercials aired between 1990-2009 on national television channels, it was found that women are usually portrayed as housewife, mother and wife5. The same research indicates that commercials adhere to established gender roles in a society, showing women usually doing house chores. This appearance of women in the commercials is not a coincidence, as the five major product/service groups (food, household items, finance, cosmetics and cleaning products) that are geared towards women, make up 58,2 % of all commercials being aired.
The major aim of ad people and advertisers is to attract the right target audience. This way, they will be able to create positive feelings towards the brand and eventually generate sales. For this purpose, ad people will keep housewives responsible for childcare, bathroom cleanliness, white sheets, and tasty butters. Since keeping them interested in these matters is related to more than half of the total ad budget, ad people and advertisers would never try to transform the society for a different (and more progressive) message for women.
For instance, the “Cillit Bang Suffering”/"Cillit Bang Çile Bülbülüm" 7 commercial does not hesitate to show women as the sole responsible for cleaning the toilet. In the commercial, the housewife cleans the toilet immediately after her two children use it. When her husband enters the bathroom, the song “suffering” starts to play; we see her lip- synching. There must be a product to end this suffering. In a closed door advertising meetings, it was decided that the woman has to be saved before she cleans the dirty bathroom that her husband left. This way ad people would have a good night sleep thinking that they saved her dignity.
Another commercial focuses on working mothers. The working mother in “Pınar Ready Made Meatball”/ "Pınar Hazır Köfte"8 commercial exits the service bus and starts singing; “I am a working mom, my life is hard. I have three kids at home. Don’t ask how difficult it is. They play, they get hungry, and they wait for me. My only savior is Pınar meatballs.” It doesn’t matter if a woman has a career; she still has the responsibility to do house chores. The society puts pressure on her by expecting her to be a perfect mom, wife and employee all at the same time.
Childcare has always been portrayed as a job of mothers in advertising. In Mothers Day commercials women are described as devoted mothers who would do anything for their children. “Mothers Day” commercials are probably the best examples of advertising that demonstrate gender-based discrimination.
The “Mothers Day”9 commercial made for Hotpoint shows a woman standing in front of an ironing board, trying to iron clothes with potted flowers. The narrator disrupts the commercial with the sentence; “Flowers again!” and concludes, “You’d better get a Hotpoint iron for your mom for this Mothers Day”.
“Although the emerging technologies provide practical advantages to people, cleaning, cooking and childcare are still identified with women through these technologies, reproducing the gender roles attached to women and mothers.“
The only way that advertising content transforms itself would be possible through societal responses. The Internet film prepared for Doğadan brand called “What Women Want” is a collection of animations that match this voice over; “What women want? A pantyhose that can’t be torn, a love like in the movies, a stilettos with a durable heels. They always want to be size zero but want to eat a cake with no calories. They wish they started on a diet but they never do, asking cellulite to be in fashion. They want no one would ask their age after 30 but want everyone to congratulate that it is their birthday. They want shoes, bags, wants more, wants a perfect man who reads poems, a man who would buy a bag. Then she would love him from the bottom of her heart. She would love him no matter what. Wants you to call her all the time... She wants green tea, wishes she would drink it...”
The broadcast of “What women want?” elicited a huge reaction on social media leading to a change.org petition signed by 21.69311 people against the airing of it. The commercial was immediately removed from social media accounts and the brand “Doğadan” apologized from her customers. This debacle was noted by all ad people and advertisers as a warning to not make a similar mistake and piss women off.
The reason why the reaction towards “What women want?”12 commercial has achieved success is because the target of the commercial was Internet literate, AB SES, urbanite working women. For the demise of sexist commercials targeting housewives who spend 412 minutes in front of TV, people from all parts of the society need to act.Those who are annoyed by “Size zero, cellulite, high heels” messages need to pay attention to “snow white, secrets of delicious recipes, as good as a mom makes” messages too. Otherwise, change won’t come from the ad world that is inherently in the service of business/commerce/capitalism.