Tide Detergent Thinks Moms Want to Sabotage Their Daughters’ Tomboy Style

Hello! welcome to the wonderful world of “what the fuck is this fuckery,” in which a Tide Commercial indulges in parental gender panic in order to sell their detergent.

There are so many stereotypes packed into one neat commercial package, it’s hard to know where to begin complaining, so I’ll turn it over to you:

Well, at least they’re consistent.

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1758 articles for us.

134 Comments

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    i am gonna use my “oppositional gaze” here & decide that this commercial is condemning the mom a little bit. doesn’t the mom seem kind of crazy, & the girl totally chill & fine? we can talk all about how feminine=crazy is a big problem, but i do enjoy the little girl’s nonchalance.

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      I thought that, too. It made the mom seem crazier than the little girl who was going to do whatever she felt like doing.

      Also, the mom wasn’t actively trying to change her. She wasn’t ruining the girl’s clothes on purpose. She even seemed pretty kind and sincere when telling the girl it was a very nice car garage.

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      i was thinking the same thing. the one with the problem is the mom, who is fitting into the stereotypes of overprotective uber conservative gender role, and the daughter doesn’t give a care. she’s too busy playing with blocks and dirt and life. i’m a simple person, so maybe i’m not smart enough to see how this is a shame on tide. in fact, i see it as tide saying, hey people of america, we can keep your gender nutural clothing clean while your uncool parents try to sabatoge you.

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      Yeah, I agree with this. Mom is in a Barbie’s Dream House living room and looking like a housewife from the 70’s, while the little girl is rockin’ it. I think Tide is more on the girl’s side than the mom’s, especially with the: “Tide – we get rid of the stains even when you don’t want them to be clean.”

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        the thing is though that this commercial isn’t for little girls. it’s for moms. moms buy detergent. this commercial is created to appeal to moms and therefore the mom should be a sympathetic character for the audience and THEREFORE the creators of this commercial must believe that the audience will relate to the mom.

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          *strokes chin thoughtfully*

          Good point. Honestly, since I’ve always been on the little girl’s side, I can’t say what the normal mom would take away from this commercial, but hopefully they’ll catch onto the uptightness of the mom and realize that it’s a mockery.

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          Yeah, I think moms watching this commercial would notice how ridiculous the mom seemed. I mean, if you ask me, the commercial purposely presents her as having an over-the-top, exaggerated, outdated view of traditional gender roles.

          What would viewer-moms get out of this commercial? The ridiculousness of the on-screen mom and the effectiveness of Tide – because if Tide is good enough for THIS crazy mom then it’s good enough for the sane moms out there.

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          Spot on Maddie. I’m a mom, I buy the detergent, and I’ve got a tomboyish daughter who, like her tomboyish mom, is hard on clothes. I live in upper middle class heterosuburbia, but I’ve yet to meet a mom as uptight as the one portrayed in this Tide commercial. She and her outdated notions of genderare the joke here, and moms watching this ad get the joke…and buy Tide.

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          exactly! mom’s can have a sense of humor too and see just how crazy this mom looks and laugh at it while seeing that tide is a great product. i personally think it does very well with stains as well as humor.

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          But lots of folk do relate to the mom. She represents a lot of the nervousness people have about gender flexibility. But in the end, she’s presented as being supportive to her daughter. At least to me, since I read it as supportive.

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          I agree with you
          The mom is coming around, she may have preferred that the daughter liked what she likes but is being supportive of the choices that her kid is making.

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          @riese, yes the commercial is for moms, but Tide thwarts the mom. Tide takes the side of the little girl. I mean, I think the whole commercial is not to be taken seriously as both the mother and the daughter are exaggerated stereotypes on opposite ends of the spectrum, but in the end, Tide helps the kid, not the mom. It’s part of a joke. And the message is: Tide removes stains. I fail to see how making fun of the mom and undermining her is an endorsement of her views. And quite frankly, the mom could just force her daughter to wear pink, but instead compliments the girl’s car garage. I think this is an ad you would’ve never seen 10 years ago because focus groups would have thought the mother was condoning something horrible and depraved by letting her daughter dress that way and by complimenting her car garage. This ad shows tolerance in action.

          Your argument that “this commercial is created to appeal to moms and therefore the mom should be a sympathetic character for the audience and THEREFORE the creators of this commercial must believe that the audience will relate to the mom” is a serious stretch, in my opinion. Commercials have unrelateable people in comedic situations all the time. I mean, the commercials are usually funny because someone is doing something (pardon the term) retarded that no one would ever really do. I think we’re suppose to laugh at the mom’s predicament. It’s similar enough to things all parents go through (they picked a different sport than I wanted them to, they aren’t as good an artist as I hoped they’d be, etc) but absurd enough (she really hoped all her clothes were ruined?) to be funny.

          I just don’t see the big deal. But YMMV.

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      THIS. omg. we should always look at things differently and from all perspectives when it comes to things like this… i think the ad played up the character juxtaposition very well (neurotic/uncomfortable mom vs. her super chill kid just moseyin’ which just resulted in mom looking all the more crazy).

      anyway. at least the detergent doesn’t discriminate against different types of clothing. it cleans ALL the clothes in the washing machine. heheheh.

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    The Tide Company should be ashamed for showcasing such a homophobic and insulting commerical on behalf of all women. “Hoodies & Cargo Shorts” perpetuates the already homophobic under tones within our nation.

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    I agree with kristopolis… the mom seemed a little too type A and neurotic for the audience to relate to her as much. Also, even though she is uncomfortable with her daughter’s choices she still allows her to make them and clearly loves her. I don’t know- I’m just not at all outraged.

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    Fuckers, it’s not that bad. The bitch just likes pink. A lot. Apparently, Tide Mom never heard of PINK camouflage.
    So, being a rainbow warrior myself, may I ask what the fuck is so prejudice about the color pink?

    When you assholes become mom’s, and want your daughter to wear cute -usually pink- outfits you get her, you’ll understand Tide Mom. Then your little mucus factory is going to grow up one day and make choices of her own. And when they do, I’ll be the one encouraging your daughters to dye their hair purple and wear Dr. Marten boots. :)

    The point is, at least in this commercial she let’s her daughter wear whatever the fuck she wants. At age 4, you don’t really have a choice. Shit I know I didn’t. Do you know how fucking hard it was for Mom to let me wear Tripp pants and black shirts with your favorite band on it that you bought with your own money? Enter the adolescent rebellious stage.

    How many of you fuckers got to wear what you wanted even though you weren’t the one buying the clothes? Spoiled fucks.

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        I feel like we are having a moment. This moment at looking at this comment and being reminded of Crystal’s team pick about angry and the internet.

        But we are not angry, but this is the internet.

        Ditto on the fuck.

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          Me? Angry? Nah, meng.
          I’m just vulgar. ;)

          Mind you, you’re in a cesspool of real angry lesbians.

          And Tide Mom might be stuck in the 1950’s but she’s still cool for letting the kid wear whatever and supporting her architect interests. But like I said, one day when you become mom’s you’ll understand where Tide Mom is coming from.

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          lol I wasn’t even offended by AK’s comment. I just thought it was a little melodramatic in using so many swears to get an otherwise legitimate view across.

          +1 on the pink camouflage notion lol MOM! THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX DURRR

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    I googled this to search for a fuck to give about this tide commercial but no dice.

    I did however roll my eyes at the overly nuerotic feminine stereotype that I have seen in one too many katherine heigel movies/cleaning the house and all the things commercials…I must be projecting lol.

    Ps the little girl’s outfit is just too cute.

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    I JUST read an article on the lack of female architects (I think that it said that about 10% of registered architects are female). And now we know why. Childhood dreams, demolished one at a time by gender policing. If the girl wants to be an architect and wear awesome clothing then she should be able to be the awesome butterfly that she is.

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    I bet I am going to be in the minority on this one, but as a trans person…I thought it was really cute.

    I WILL TELL YOU WHY HANG ON

    The mom is this big gender stereotype too and then at the end she goes, is that a car garage honey? …it’s beautiful.

    and to me it sounds actually kind of genuine, and is more about the nervous and stereotypical mom getting over her expectations than it is about reinforcing them. and the Tide gets the stains out so the little girl can keep wearing her tomboy clothes.

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    Tide is still relying on gender panic to move product. Notice that it was crayons, not dirt, that caused the stains in question – tools for creative expression. The kid’s self-expression seems to be what’s put at risk here. Sure, Mom encourages the kid by saying the car garage is “beautiful” – but when has a car garage ever been praised for it’s beauty? Did the kid want the garage to be pretty, or to be an awesome place to store tons of Snap-On gear and monster trucks? Mom is clearly obsessed with external appearances, and is concerned over her daughter’s lack of conformity to gender norms.

    In addition, Mom already admits to having previously attempted to coerce the little one into wearing pink, like acceptably feminine Mom. At the end of the day, the commercial is still reinforcing gender stereotypes and implying that gender non-conformity should inspire panic, and attempting to stifle this non-conformity is normal.

    Fuck. That.

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      The mom is the one who looks crazy and the commercial reinforces the exact idea that gender expression is not something that can be forced. The child is a tomboy, no matter what mom tries, because that’s just who the kid is. The commercial mocks gender panic.

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        @magiclovemuffin i understand what you’re saying from our point of view. we see it as making fun of the mom and that’s funny and etc. if this was just for us, it would be funny/cool. but you have to think about how the people it IS targeted towards digest this kind of information or relying on gender panic to move product, as bronwyn said. women who relate to the mom in this commercial won’t see the twist/humor that many of the queers on this thread pick up.

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          I find it difficult to believe there are that many moms who outright relate to this lady. Sure lots of Moms may relate to the general confusion and worry, but to really relate to the character herself? I remain skeptical on that point.

          I mean to me, when it comes to the mom’s gender stereotyping, it’s out of the box for both characters. The girl is outside of her gender expectations (hoodies, car garages, rough and tumble) but so is mom. despite her overwrought stereotypical feminine surroundings/persona, she goes beyond those borders by encouraging her equally out of bounds daughter. So either way you slice it to me, whether you claim it is offensive to women because of mom or offensive to whomever because of girl, I am still coming down on the positive side of this one thus far.

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          Actually, I used to babysit for a kid whose mom was *exactly* like this. The girl wouldn’t wear skirts, so Mom just made sure she only had pink sweatpants and leggings. -_-

          So at least this kiddo has the option of camo, right? ;)

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          Oh yeah, I believe people like this exist non-ironically. I just have a hard time thinking that most of America is really like this to the point where they would just be like, OH THAT POOR WOMAN AND HER GENDER PANIC I WANT TO GET ME SOME OF THAT. And yeah, totes on the camo. :) I think that’s what makes it sympathetic to me. The real world experiences I’ve been hearing on this subject feature unsmiling heavily heteronormative caregivers not even giving their children the option of gender expression, as opposed to Tide mom who makes the effort and says, despite my worries that car garage is beautiful.

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          @riese Maybe. Maybe I *am* viewing this through the prism of my gay queermo ways, but I still think it’s obvious this lady needs to get over herself and take a chill pill. I think real moms (not me!) might empathize with the situation, but still think the lady is overreacting, thus Tide foiling her plans is the punchline. Your mileage may vary though!

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          When I read the title of the article I was expecting the mother’s use of Tide to turn the little girl’s cargos and hoodies into pretty floral dresses or something ridiculus, but instead, as other people have said, it seems like Tide is on the daughter’s side by protecting her clothes. If they were really playing to gender panic or whatever I’d have expected it to be more like TIDE WILL FIX YOUR PROBLEMATIC TOMBOY DAUGHTER AND MAKE HER LIKE FRILLS AND FLOWERS!!, not this. I thought the ad was funny and inoffensive and it made me go Fuck yeah small children getting to express themselves!

          Also love that the mother is trying to encourage and support her daughter by complimenting her construction, even if it’s not what she herself likes, she’s not letting her prejudices and ideas about gender stereotyping get in the way of being a good mom that lets her child be who she wants to be.

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          but in this regard, if a woman really related to this mom, the commercial would have the opposite effect. the mom watching would see how effective tide is and want to buy a different brand that would either ruin/not clean the little girls clothes so she could then force the pink onto her. if i was the commercial mom type and watched this commercial at home, i would be outraged at the fact that the little girl is still able to wear this gender queer outfit and make car garages instead of baking pies. @brownwyn: crayons in the kids pocket instead of dirt is not something that is a gender stereotype. all kids, no matter what gender, have crayons in their pocket and rarely dirt. plus the commercial is trying to show the effectiveness of tide. have you ever had a crayon melt onto clothing? that is way harder to clean up then some rocks and pebbles. hence the use of something a mom can understand as being hard to fight. and the use of the word beautiful to describe the car garage is valid since it would definitly be the way this type of mom would describe things she thinks are neat. i would say that car garage is cool or badass, she would say beautiful.

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          Maybe it’s just me, but as a kid, my parents attempted to treat me and my brothers with gender neutrality. shit does just not work out like that. But I still remember the look on my Mom’s face when I said I never wanted to wear a dress again (age 4). And I took that in and spent a lot of time in what felt like drag. Gender policing is subtle and insidious – but has deep and long lasting effects. Things are changing – my mom doesn’t care that I don’t wear dresses anymore – but my most recent still haircut caused my grandmother to smack me with a newspaper.

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    I used to be one of those cargo-shorts, hoodies wearing kids. My mom is similar to the Tide Mom, she tried to make me wear pink and I hated it.
    I can understand her side. Parents usually want their kids to be like them. I know I would have the same reaction if I had a daughter that would prefer princess-dresses to hoodies. I’ll support her choice and buy her Barbie dolls but, given a choice, I would have preferred her to build car garages like I did…

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    haha this just brings back memories of my mom flabbergasted when i sheared off my long hair right after the dress rehearsal for my ballet recital hahaahhaha
    she was furious but afterwards gave my head an awkward little pat…
    20 years later she’s still giving me other versions of that awkward little ‘i accept you i..think..’ pat

    but i love my mom <3

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      This whole thing brings me back to my days in a women’s studies class and we were talking about gender. Sigh, the memories, the feminist rage and the cute girl who sat in front of me….

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    Uh, this isn’t offensive. If anything, it’s showing that the little girl is just who she is and the mother has no control over it. The mom is uptight and the little girl is just playing and being herself. This commercial seems to embrace the idea that people are born who they are, while making the joke on the mom where the selling proposition (our detergent removes stains) is inserted.

    I think this is another example of overreacting here on AS. I didn’t think that car commercial where that girl seduces the other girl and steals her shirt was offensive either. *shrug*

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        My bad. I don’t actually visit any other gay blogs or websites, so it’s not fair of me to even say it’s AS. Sorry. Maybe the gay community? I know that minorities can overreact sometimes, and that includes the gay community. I don’t see gender stereotypes as an attack on gay people the way some gay people do. But I didn’t mean to call you out Riese. I love your posts, and this generated interesting discussion. :)

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    oh man, i actually watched the other one you linked first and could not understand what the fuss was about. but this one is really….*lost for words*…i’m flabbergasted at how the writers would assume that the majority of people would find it wrong/weird that girls play physically….during their childhoods?! it’s insulting, at least. this is 2011! i mean, i grew up in the 80s and always played with legos, with soccer balls etc. and my parents gave those things to me! and honestly they’re not even particularly open-minded people, they’re just ordinary close-minded folks. so, …..wow

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    I agree that this commercial is helping to reinforce gender norms, but I think it is also slightly ambivalent. Tide was the thing that allowed the girl to continue wearing her cargo shorts. So possibly it could be interpreted as Tide supporting the girl’s choice in clothing. She was only able to keep wearing her crayon smeared cargo shorts because Tide saved them.

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    Uh. So this is just me, but… does it really matter whether Tide is ridiculing the mother or the daughter? Sure, I think that it’s plain cruel if the daughter’s style is the target here, if only for the fact that she’s just a child. But I personally don’t really feel like I’m winning anything if they’re in fact portraying the mom as some kind of a nervous psycho, either. It is attacking woman’s gender expression, regardless of whether it skews feminine, or masculine. It is prescribing that feminine women are judgmental, or reducing little tomboy girls to some sitcom lesbian stereotype (not to mention, implying that being a tomboy is wrong).

    I actually suspect that the intentions of this commercial weren’t even all that bad, but it just ended up being executed poorly/awkwardly enough to generate mixed reactions/be confusing, and therefore, ends up being offensive to some.

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    Is this supposed to be one of those Sarah Silverman “Look! I’m making fun of blatantly busted shit so I obviously must not buy into it because gender stereotyping is supposedly passe, but look how funny it is!” things?

    Because it’ still blatantly busted shit.

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    My girlfriend and I are both butch and were both tomboys as kids. We both laughed when we saw it on TV.

    And I did have one of those Mom’s that was obsessed with making me wear pink and trying to steer me away from building garages with Legos. This Tide Mom didn’t strike me that way. It seems to me she’s accepted her child’s tomboy ways, although begrudgingly, and compliments her garage anyway. I see no gender panic here, just a parent learning acceptance.

    My Mom would’ve thrown that hoody away, straight up. She wouldn’t have bothered trying to get a stain out of if.

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    I hear valid points from both sides: Tide is playing the gender panic card, and Tide is thwarting the mom’s stereotyping by saving the tomboy’s clothes. Mostly I agree with @riese at we need to think about who they’re trying to sell to.

    It seems like the target audience for this is Reluctant Moms of Tomboys – women who know that they’re supposed to support their child’s choices even if it’s not what they’d have wished for, but who still are conservative in their heart and kinda don’t really know how to do it. She’s trying to be supportive of her gender nonconforming daughter, because she knows that’s what’s expected of a good mom these days, but she’s not exactly a natural at it.

    I think Tide is playing her as a caricature of femininity to get some cover for the fact that they’re also saying that they understand the mom is uncomfortable raising a tomboy. Yeah, they’re ultimately defeating her stereotyping, but they’re also selling Tide as a way to cope with a world that’s changing too fast for her. Tide has helped her do the right thing in spite of herself. Tide helped her be a good parent when she wasn’t sure how to do that on her own. (If you think that sounds like marketing BS, you should spend some time around marketing people. They really say shit like that.)

    So, yeah, as a now grown-up tomboy who actually had a mom almost as uptight as that one, it’s unpleasant to have to listen to any mom wishing that cute little kid’s adorable outfits would be destroyed. But it’s also a kind of progress – she might be straining to do it, but at least the mom knows she’s supposed to try to support us genderqueers in spite of herself. Cultural expectations have changed, even if Tide is using ads like this to market to the last people to get on board.

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      True, but ex-tomboy moms aren’t exactly a huge demographic. Companies like P&G look for big groups of people to sell to. They find the majority attitudes and pitch there. If there were tons of ex-tomboy moms to sell Tide to, we probably wouldn’t need to discuss this at all, right?

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        I think there’s tons of tomboyish soccer Moms. All the girls on the softball teams and basketball teams in high school had to end up somewhere.

        I don’t see the kid as a stereotype, but as an archetype. She’s identifiable even by those who weren’t necessarily super butch, but gender nonconforming enough to get ragged on by their Mom and “get it”.

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          I don’t know for sure about how many tomboyish soccer moms there. Somebody somewhere’s got numbers on that, not me. I’ve noticed it, too, they’re more visible. But a majority? Even half? Probs not. Depends where you are, of course, in some places, maybe. But I really think that, because it’s relevant to us, the people who come to this site notice all the positive signs that things are getting better (which they are), like tomboy soccer moms, but maybe don’t see that we’re still a frickin’ tiny minority in the big sea of America.

          Which is why I love coming here to AS, BTW. Here, we really are the majority.

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          I wasn’t implying they were a majority. Minority demographics do get marketed to. If they’re at least 10% of the population, you can bet advertisers are targeting them on a regular basis.

          Advertisers don’t just go for the majority, they go for broad demographics. If they can make something that appeals to femmes, butches, women who were tomboys all at once, they’ll do it.

          Marketing targeting queers in particular is rare because we’re 5% of the population. But marketing still does occur, just not as often. We’re talking about a single commercial, not a trend.

          Now, if a company can make a commercial that appeals to both straight and gay people, they’ll go for that.

          By the way, calling women who were tomboys “ex-tomboys” is like calling adults “ex-children.”

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          I hear what you’re saying and it makes sense. I didn’t mean to offend re: “ex-tomboys” (or about any of it). I just used it as shorthand for “women who were tomboys”.

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    I can’t watch this commercial, as my phone will not allow it, but I see a pattern amongst your comments.
    Now, I have a question for all of you:
    What if this commercial were remade and the roles were reversed? Like, what if the mom was a tomboy (lesbian, butch, masculine, whatevs), but her daughter was some super feminine princessy I-want-to-wear-pink-forever-until-the-end kid? Would the same arguments be brought to light?
    Because I am that mom. And while sometimes I feel like I have no idea how to raise my super girly 9 year old, I accept the fact that she probs won’t be just like me, and love and support her anyway.
    Even though I can’t fucking stand the color pink.

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    Is Tide using the experience of gender panic to sell their product? Yes. However, I think its important to look at the entire picture.

    I think many of the women/men the commercial is targeted to would in fact experience said gender panic if faced with a similar situation, thus making it relatable. But I think the message here is that while yes the mom was initially uncomfortable with her daughter’s choice of style, she accepts her at the end. The little girl is wearing what she wants to wear and it’s not a feminized version of what she wants to wear. The mom also encourages her block-playing.

    Also, the slogan at the end of “style is a choice, clean is not” reinforces the fact that its not a big deal what this kid is wearing.

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    Cute, somewhat unrelated story–my advisor complains that she has to wash her two year old girl’s Thomas the Tank Engine shirt almost every day because it’s her favorite. She also has Thomas the Tank Engine bedding.

    TODDLERS BUSTIN’ GENDER NORMS ERYWHERE

    (and moms who are cool with it are awesome)

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    I know I am, unfortunately, coming in late on this discussion, but I find an aspect of this thread more problematic than the ad in question and want to comment. wrt the ad suffice it to say that I agree with @riese that the ad is problematic because of the demographic of women being targeted and what the ad says/means to them even though there seems to be humor/irony in the delivery. And yes, there are aspects of the ad that could arguably be interpreted as promoting tolerance, though I don’t actually agree with that interpretation.

    What I find more problematic is the acceptance of the gender binary from some commenters. I understand the caricature that Tide is creating, but not how so many (or just some?) readers accept the kid in the ad as “gender non-conformist” and the label of “tomboy” (a term which I so despise, btb). To quote @vanessa: “i’m flabbergasted at how the writers would assume that the majority of people would find it wrong/weird that girls play physically… during their childhoods.” Ditto. But that does seem to be the response from readers. And maybe I can’t claim much surprise, either. @magiclovemuffin you wrote that you think the girl will grow up to be a lesbian… based on the information given in the ad. Frankly there is nothing even nongendernormative about the kid in the ad so let’s not buy what Tide is selling.

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    I’m hoping the pronounced, visceral reaction I had to this commercial goes away sometime soon. I was just browsing while I waited for my dinner to heat up…

    I don’t think I’ll be eating anything any time soon. Doubtful it’d stay down.

    Might be time to switch detergents. Normally I’m not quite so reactionary, but this commercial was painful on multiple levels, and I’m truly disturbed.

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