Mums are amazing, dads are amazing, but advertising execs need to cop themselves on
Published 16/01/2016 | 02:30
This week, insurance company GloHealth launched its 'Mothers are Amazing' campaign. The TV ad features a busy working mum who is smilingly devoted to her children. A woman who, as the voiceover has it, is "up before dawn, to get the breakfast, to clear, to work and tend and play. A woman who works all day and returns home to put in another shift and then takes the time to read a story or to listen to yours".
GloHealth has really hit the nail on the head with this one. I'm a mother, and I'm definitely amazing. Also, while we're on the topic, do you know who else is amazing?
Dads. You know - the people who share 50pc of parenting duties in most modern households. The guys who change nappies, make puree, wash the dishes, chase toddlers around the playground, do the school run, make dinner, do the crèche pick-up and the 4am bottle feed - all while holding down a job and sustaining a relationship. I know - amazing, right?
The man on my morning commute who entertains his toddler son with endless chat and games, so that an hour-long train ride passes by in a happy blur - he's pretty amazing. My husband, who got up in the middle of the night last night when our son woke up crying, he's amazing too.
Do you know who I think are not so amazing? Advertising executives who still think it's 1979. Can you imagine, in 2016, a similar campaign directed at fathers? Nope, thought not. It would be beyond parody.
GloHealth has created the worst kind of patronising campaign: one that purports to be clapping us hard-working women on the back, but succeeds in underlining an altogether more unpalatable message.
When I watch the ad, this is what I hear: 'Mothers, all this kid stuff is still your job, and your job alone (get back in your box!). No one but you cares as much about that child as you do, and no one knows him like you do, no one can mind him as you do. You're a martyr, you're a saint (get back in your box!) and no one recognises just how amazing you are (except for us here at GloHealth, who will reward you with an appropriate insurance policy designed to take care of your needs)'.
In 2016, that message seems like something from another decade. Another century, even. In my house, our son is our shared responsibility. He has been since the day we took him home from the Coombe, through the early months of dead-of-night feeds, through the colds, the coughs, the playground trips, the bedtime stories, the bath-times. All of it is 50/50.
So when I look at the woman in the GloHealth ad, that woman - a working woman, as the ad makes explicit - who apparently is doing all those things on her own, I don't think she's amazing, I think she's heading for a largely self-inflicted nervous breakdown.
Equality begins at home. There's no point in women complaining about the macro-issues like gender quotas, affordable childcare or glass ceilings if they can't manage to negotiate a domestic arrangement that includes fairly-shared responsibilities at home.
Of course, it's not just the GloHealth ad. It's the endless, constant hum of marketing for laundry detergents featuring beatific women piling load after load into the machine, as if the men in their lives had no idea where the kitchen was. It's the ads for vacuum cleaners, toilet bleach, dishwasher tablets, kitchen roll - they rarely, if ever, feature men. It's the ever-present cultural wallpaper that tells us that domestic work is still women's work, no matter what her other responsibilities may be.
So why does it matter? It's just an ad, right? Well, here's why it matters. If you're a new dad, you might look at the GloHealth ad and mistakenly get the message that minding your new baby is actually your partner's job, and you can get back to watching Match of the Day in peace.
Or if you're a young woman, wondering should you start a family, you might look at this ad and think, sorry, but how on earth will I manage parenthood if I have to do all those things on top of going to work? Won't I crack up?
Or if you, like me, consider childrearing to be a 50/50 job, you might look at this ad and wonder if you should feel guilty that you're not doing more. And then you'll pull yourself together and remember that the only people who should feel guilty are the advertisers.