Sunday, February 3, 2013


Sandy Orgel, Linen Closet, Womanhouse, 1972. Photo courtesy Through the Flower Archives.

In 1972 a group of artists in the Feminist Art Program took over an abandoned house in Hollywood to create Womanhouse, a seminal work in the history of art. The women collaborated to transform the space through site-specific installations and performances drawn from their personal experiences as daughters, wives, and mothers. The living room served as the theater where Faith Wilding presented Waiting her solemn meditation on female isolation and longing. Other performances included Cunt and Cock Play, a power struggle between husband and wife over housework and Maintenance where women enacted household chores to reference the never-ending demands of domestic labor.

In her essay After the Revolution, Who’s Going to Clean up the Garbage?, Christine Wertheim discusses the complex system of relationships between the woman and the house:
Within this space, Womanhouse seems to say, woman-as- housewife is trapped home alone, infantilized, her body becoming at one with the house and furniture, turning into a nurturing carapace in which “she” as a subject with her own needs and desires disappears. In this strange space of the home, simultaneously a workplace (for her), a leisure place (for her husband), a space of nurturing (for the children, the sick, and the aged), and a sexual place (for the couple), the woman-as- housewife is far more than merely a sexual being (object or not). She is a worker, a caregiver, a nurturer, a cleaner, a teacher, a drudge, and a hostess. She is also idealized, fantasized, trivialized, and isolated.

The history of advertising portrays most idealized images of the housewife as a beautiful, beaming lady who is overjoyed by the prospect of sweeping floors and doing dishes. Womanhouse defied this image of perfection and revealed the realities of women’s lives, like menstruation, the demands of beauty rituals, and the exhausting and alienating pressures of homemaking. Thankfully, we have a come a long way since the 60s and 70s, we are no longer defined through the roles of wife and mother, we have been liberated…

So what's up with the new series of TV spots for Target’s The Everyday Collection? Laundry shows a glamorous blissed-out woman floating through space as silky ethereal fabric and a bottle of Tide circle around her. An off-camera sultry female voice says “we all long for something…” “…and that something is the other sock”. While the message is cheeky, it also diminishes female desire to the most vacuous and mundane level.

In Bake Sale, a Mom struts down a catwalk, whisk and egg in hand as boxes of cake mix erupt around her. She crushes an egg with her bare-hand in a show of sheer power. The aforementioned disembodied lady voice echoes “dominate that PTA bake sale”. This Mom is kick-ass (in the kitchen) as all of her potential power is channeled into the home. Like the mechanical brides of 1950s advertising, she must play the role of the good mother, she must consume, and her pretty red-lipped smile is evidence of her contentment.

Cowgirl, one of the more distressing ads, shows a high-heeled Mom in lily-white cowgirl gear straddling an infant as she changes a diaper. She slings wipes and diapers, but there is no sign of spittle or shit in the spotless space. She is flawless, she defies the signs of childbirth like stretch marks and weight gain as she poses like a coy pinup girl. There is a weird sexual current caused by the mix up between innocent little girls playing dress-up and sexy mommies role playing as fetish cowgirls.

The sexual content of Under Pressure is more overt, as a self-assured woman wields a hose with a gushing stream of water. She makes a stand and takes aim. Is she fighting crime? Extinguishing a five a alarm fire? No, she is making oatmeal!! The throbbing rock soundtrack with the exalting lyric “woman you got to be a woman…” adds to the illusion of her strength. In the end she is pleased with herself as boxes of Quaker Oats slowly turn atop pristine pedestals.

All the ads in this series, feature a beautiful “empowered” woman and the product she “needs.” According to the Target corporate blog, The Everyday Collection marketing campaign is “cutting-edge” “fusing high style with food and other essentials”. Selling women products through the allure of glamour is nothing new, it’s an old trick well used since the rise of the ad campaign in the 1960s. So why does this mode of advertising still exist? Is it necessary to continue to sell women the virtues and pleasures of housework? Do these ads create or reflect the status quo? 

The statistics bare out that housework still falls heavily into the hands of the lady of the house. A 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey reports " On an average day, 19 percent of men did housework-- such as cleaning or doing laundry-- compared with 48 percent of women. Forty percent of men did food preparation or cleanup, compared with 66 percent of women."

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