Tide Knows Dad Better Than He Knows Himself | Partial Objects
In the beginning of the commercial, Dad is fixing a gate. The act is symbolic. He is protecting his household and family. And he believes he is doing the same thing when he yanks the skirt off the clothesline and wipes the filth off his hands with it. He (believes) he is protecting his daughter from unknowingly sexualizing and objectifying herself by wearing such a revealing skirt.
He is doing the same thing in both instances–protecting. This act of protecting codes this character as a certain kind of Dad-the kind who sees his role as father to be to protect her sexuality from herself. His reaction at the end of the commercial is not one of anger or outrage at his daughter for wearing the skirt or the mother for allowing it, he expresses surprise and shock that his efforts were thwarted. That the skirt bypassed his gate.
The commercial is supposed to be amusing because it accurately portrays something we are not comfortable discussing without humor: the desire of fathers to protect their daughters sexuality. Their need to control it and control access to it. This is common in advertising. Here’s T-Mobile, on the latter:
In America, many dads see themselves as gatekeepers of their daughter’s sexuality. They protect it. And that’s how they see this aspect of her identity and personality, as an “it”. To them, it is valuable, it is precious, and if they (Dad in this commercial) don’t intervene, the dumb girl will give it away or diminish its value. As we’ve seen before, a young girl’s sexuality is a valuable asset to be protected lest she throw it away.. Dad is enforcing what he believes are society’s sexual mores. How many times have you heard fathers attempt to defend this behavior by explaining that they “know how guys think.” So for the commercial to work on moms, it means there are Dads out there in the real world who think the exact same way. Maybe it is their husbands. Maybe it was their father when they were growing up. But it’s common. By and large, American dads think it’s their job to set the rules and enforce them.
This isn’t some retrograde image of fatherhood from the 1950′s that these advertisers are dredging up for cheap laughs. This idea of fatherhood is alive and well in in the Millennials. Comments on the Tide video range from the conservatively predictable to the certifiably insane. The most popular comment at the time of this writing applauds Dad’s attempts “to stop his daughter from becoming a neighborhood door-knob [but] is foiled by mom, who seems to approve of her daughter dressing like a slut.” The second most popular defends the Dad who just “wants to keep his daughter from being an STD rattled slut.” Are you spotting a trend? In fact, the word “slut” appears 30 times in the 326 comments to that video. But cheer up, feminists, the word “whore” only appears 10 times. Progress!
Now, you can say that YouTube comments are the sewer of the internet–and you’d be right–but at times like these I like to think of them as the voice of America’s collective superego.