We’ve come a long way, baby…or have we?!

I was decluttering the other day, and found a folder full of pages I’d clipped from women’s magazines years ago. Among the articles promising ‘Buns of Steel in 21 Days’ and ‘The Perfect Chocolate Souffle’ I found the ad for Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Bars pictured below. As far as I can remember, it’s torn from a Good Housekeeping circa 1999 or 2000.

Click on the thumbnail to view the full-sized ad:

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Some ads are successful because they strike just the right chord. This ad was one I saved because it managed to strike just the wrong one.

I see this ad as playing to, and idealizing, the ‘Perfect Mother’ stereotype described so well in the books Perfect Madness and The Mommy Myth, except those books hadn’t come out at the time I harvested this ad. The message is subtle, but it’s unmistakably there (and I say this having shown the ad, sans comment, to some other moms I know).

My thoughts upon seeing this ad – and I remember reacting quite viscerally to it – went something like this:

1. The woman pictured is a conscientious SAHM (stay-at-home mom) to her 3 little ones. Daddy is nowhere to be seen; presumably he’s already left by this hour to his full-time professional job, the one which allows Mom to stay home with the kiddos. You can see she really cares; note the cloth prefold diaper (complete with pins; no chance we’ll mistake it for a nasty disposable!) on the little boy to the right. The eco-PC theme is repeated in Mom’s natural-fiber, clean and light-colored clothes…organic unbleached cotton, perhaps?

2. Mom is taking the offspring to a 9AM playgroup – not (heaven forfend!) daycare. Awwww, how sweet – augmenting all the laughs and tickles at home with some Mommy-supervised peer-group play!

3. The children, of course, have eaten a proper breakfast earlier – no “breakfast on the go” for them! Even though this is a Kellogg’s ad, they probably weren’t having Frosted Flakes…only the best for the kiddos, and no sugar, of course. Maybe EnviroKidz Organic Gorilla Munch Mom picked up at Whole Foods (it only has “organic raw cane juice” in its ingredients)?

4. Mom is the very epitome of patience when, having stolen a minute to get dressed, brush her hair and go to the bathroom, she finds the kidlets have dressed themselves in the most garish (yet oddly artistic) ensembles in their closets. Not only doesn’t she cuss under her breath at the prospect of both having to undress and re-dress 3 children and put away all the clothes they’d pulled out of their closets while choosing said ensembles (because you just know that the shirt they wanted was at the very bottom of neatly-folded pile of shirts on the shelf, the pants at the very back of the neatly-arranged drawer). She calls it “my time to just sit back and laugh”.

I dunno, maybe I’m humor-challenged. But when I’m in a hurry to get somewhere in the morning, having to clean up messes like that doesn’t strike me as awfully funny.

5. And of course, getting through “the tickles and squeals that go along with matching six socks and six shoes” takes precedence over Mom sitting down and having a proper meal for breakfast. Lots of time for tickling and squealing and the like, but Mommy eating? Not so important. Not when the kiddos have a 9AM playgroup to make!

Seriously, it’s a playgroup, fer cryin’ out loud. Would the Parent Police swoop down on Mommy if she had a decent breakfast and arrived there with the kids at 9:15?!

Back in 1999, I thought I was the only one feeling this kind of pressure to be a Certain Kind of Mommy. Having read the books listed above and finally hearing other women talk about their feelings (in real life and online) regarding these messages the media and other parents have been sending us, I now know I wasn’t just feeling paranoid.

Thank God for that!

P.S.: I thought up the title for this post while thinking about how very Stepford/1950s the scene depicted in the ad was. I was thinking I’d find plenty of old ads with similar scenes, but having searched Google Images high and low for old ads, I can’t. Even June Cleaver would have been ashamed at being quite this child-centered, ‘twould seem.

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10 Responses

  1. Note: The cowboy is wearing cloth diapers with a safety pin, no less…

  2. The hat on the middle girl looks homemade, too.

  3. The old ads tend to be more along the lines of “Helps you put your child to bed” or “keeps your kid occupied for hours” so you can devote more time to cleaning, cooking, or your husband.

    It’s an interesting shift in our culture. We went from “perfect wife” as ideal, to “high powered career woman” then swung back– not to perfect wife again, but perfect mommy. I think a lot of it is reactionary.

  4. I hate women’s magazines.

  5. I think the cereal bar is the breakfast. That’s what allows them to get to their playgroup on time. I love deconstructing ads.

  6. The cereal bar is the breakfast, but it’s only Mom who has it (“I”, not “we”, grab breakfast…you don’t think such a Good Mommy is letting her kids leave the house without having had breakfast?). Good enough in a pinch, but only Mom is short on brekkie time (thanks, in part, to kiddos’ antics), because OMG IT’s SOOOO IMPORTANT TO BE ON TIME FOR PLAYGROUP!!! Let’s face it, breakfast bars are nice, but not exactly the equivalent of easy-over eggs, toast and butter, or even a bowl of Kashi & milk…

    I know it feels a little silly to analyze one stupid ad this way. But the media does have its effect, and the drip-drip-drip of such ads does make for women’s attitudes.

    Do you think this ad would ‘fly’ in 2008, or would female society reject its message today?

  7. Reaction today?

    Oh please. If this woman were a half decent mother she’d be baking those beakfast bars herself with organic wild oats harvested from the meadow outside her home. The meadow she and her partner are reclaiming using native seeds harvested from virgin grass lands.

    And what’s with the 0cabbage leaves on the wall? Where is the bamboo? No home can be truly virtuous without bamboo and faux mid-century modern elements in its decor. All I can say is Those POOR children!

  8. Actually, if you’re interested in a blow-by-blow account of the rise of this stuff, Susan Douglas’s “The Mommy Myth” is very useful.

  9. IN FACT it’s that very SAME Mommy Myth you mention in your post. And this is just testament to the truth of the folly of multitasking.

  10. S’ok Nancy. I do that a lot too 🙂 . And cut the poor Mom a bit of slack – I know that if she were really with it, she’d have anticipated the need for bamboo even in 1999, but even Supermommies are only human…

    Basiorana – “The old ads tend to be more along the lines of “Helps you put your child to bed” or “keeps your kid occupied for hours” so you can devote more time to cleaning, cooking, or your husband.”

    I think it was mostly devotion to the latter. In the 50s escpcially, the ads were all about time-saving devices so you could get through the housework ASAP and have more time to hang out with the other gals on the block…or get yourself pretty for hubby.

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