The Super Bowl is kicking off a slew of commercials featuring fathers doing domestic duties. And we're supposed to think they're special?
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Now that I have a car for the first time since I was 17, I’ve been scouring the thrift shops and used-records stores and flea markets of Los Angeles for CDs to play in it (those of you who are like, “Why don’t you just play music off your phone” are A) discounting the depth of my teenage nostalgia the minute I get behind the wheel and are B) assuming that I, a person who only got rid of my flip phone in February 2014, actually know how to do that). Among my recent haul from the National Council of Jewish Women Thrift Store on Fairfax Avenue a few weeks ago was the original recording of Free To Be You And Me.
I am too young to have grown up with Marlo Thomas and Ms. magazine’s musical concept album about the glory of doing away with proscribed gender roles and the essential humanity of all of us, but especially women. But I, like most people on the planet (or at least, adult Montessori-school graduates), was familiar with some of the more famous tracks: the infuriatingly catchy title song; “It’s Alright to Cry” sung by NFL star Rosey Grier, a man comfortable enough in his masculinity back in the ’70s to reveal his ability to shed a tear, and declare his love of needlepoint; and the seminal “William Wants A Doll,” in which Alan Alda teaches us that there is nothing wrong with a boy who wants to nurture, and it certainly doesn’t mean he’s not still good at baseball and basketball and riding a bike. Nestled among all that consciousness-raising, however, I found myself enthralled by a lesser-known but hypnotic track, a sort of dramatic monologue cum recitative entitled “Housework,” performed by Carol Channing.
In her constantly imitated yet strangely inimitable basso profundo, Carol informs us cheerily that anytime “we happen to be/just sitting there quietly watching TV” and happen among a commercial showing a woman “cleaning the fridge or the stove or the sink/with a light-hearted smile and a friendly wink” that the reason the woman is smiling is “because she’s an actress, and she’s earning money.” Seriously, who’s happier at any given moment than an actress who has just booked a Woolite commercial, am I right, ladies? Because the truth is, in the immortal verse of La Channing:
Your mommy hates housework
Your daddy hates housework
I hate housework
And when you grow up, so will you …
… Little boys, little girls, when you’re big husbands and wives,
If you want all the days of your lives
To seem sunny as summer weather,
Make sure, when there’s housework to do,
That you do it together!
It’s been 43 years since the Glorious Feminist Revolution started indoctrinating the children of America via the strangest speaking voice ever to be unleashed on popular culture, and only now do advertisers realize that hands, not the vagina, operate the washing machine, wash dishes, and change dirty diapers.
It started with the NyQuil ad, in which a cold-stricken man begs his unfeeling toddler to have the day off, only for the announcer to proclaim “Dads don’t take sick days.” A Tide ad features a beaming father, who explains how he uses the detergent to make sure his little daughter’s princess dresses stay bright and colorful. Several upcoming ads have noted wags (The Today Show among them) calling this year’s Super Bowl the “Daddy Bowl,” with commercials from Dove showing doting dads interacting with their children, and Toyota asking professional football players to speak about their relationships with their fathers.
I’m thrilled that corporate America has finally deemed it acceptable for menfolk to be seen caring for their children—William got his doll in the end, after all. I’m even more thrilled that these ads are in anyway indicative of a cultural shift in the way define masculinity in general and fatherhood in particular. But given the indisputable fact that American women—whether or not they work full-time—still perform the vast majority of all household chores (including childcare), I wonder how the so-called “Daddy Bowl” affects men who aren’t daddies. What if the “Mom” in the equation isn’t a mom at all? What if she’s simply a wife/girlfriend/partner/roommate who instead of using her down time to scrub out the bathtub would rather be working or watching TV or playing video games or masturbating or just sitting completely still, staring at the wall, because her male co-habitant is also a human being who eats and sleeps and washes and excretes and besides, she did it last time? And maybe, just he could do it without it being a big deal that requires a great deal of praise and/or martyrdom. Maybe, just maybe, he could even do it without being asked.
Look, it isn’t 1972 anymore, and unlike sweet Marlo Thomas and her seven-minute treatise on the Greek myth of Atalanta, I am fully cognizant of all the ways that feminism has failed us in the domestic sphere. If men are really ever going to kick up their fair share of household-ly duties (and I’m speaking generally here, because obviously there are wonderful men who do everything around the house and/or suffer from various semi-obsessive compulsions of which their partners are the unwitting beneficiaries), we may have achieve it through old-fashioned, non-feminist means: outright trickery.
Luckily, there’s a model in place already: cooking. More than a decade of Anthony Bourdain and Top Chef and heirloom meats have convinced many with-it guys that there is something incredibly manly about knowing how to butcher a pig or make pasta from scratch (cleaning up after these culinary master classes has been, in my humble experience at least, an entirely different story).
What we need is to figure out a way to do the same thing with cleaning. We need a Top Cleaner where burly tattooed male and lesbian hipsters have 30 minutes to concoct an incredible organic cleaning powder or to scrape dog puke out of the upholstery while they are judged by a panel of experts, who talk about soap and tile grout with words like “artisanal,” “classic,” and “technique.” Bring in elderly butlers to talk about silver polishing and macho custodians to teach proper mopping technique, and at the end, you win $100,000 and the title of “The Most Sexually Desirable Man in America.” Will it turn a generation of men into a bunch of insufferable know-it-alls who will go on and on about the best way to get your whites whiter like getting the proper sear on a breast of duck? Fine with me, as long as they’re actually doing it. I’ll be over here, staring at the wall.
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