Sportsball players seem to be very fond of appearing in advertising. To be fair, I can’t blame them; their endorsements bring in sizable revenue, which can be critical for planning ahead when you have a career that’s limited by your body. Or when you just want to be able to buy sweet yachts and live in a mansion. Whatever.
The point is, I’m used to encountering advertising featuring athletes speaking in praise of some product or another. I’m also used to seeing controversy about advertising; athletes shilling products that aren’t necessarily healthy, for example, or promoting products they’d be unlikely to use themselves.
When I first saw the Campbells “Souperstitious” ad in short form, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes:
Here’s the basic gist. Two sportsball players are in the locker room, and one invites the other to visit the “mom cave” hidden inside his locker. When the door swings open, it reveals a cozy kitchen and a friendly woman who offers them bowls of soup; “My mom gives me chunky before every game,” the sportsball player says, causing me to snicker, and then the voiceover tells us all to buy Campbell’s soup.
Okay. Variations on the “something cave” theme have been going around in pop culture and advertising, so it makes sense to see it here. It’s usually positioned as a masculine pursuit: the “man cave” is supposed to be something that men can retreat to in order to escape all that free-floating estrogen in the world, waiting to entrap them. It’s also usually framed in incredibly sexist and gross ways.
As it was here. Seriously?! You’re telling me that a “mom cave,” as in, a space a woman creates for herself to satisfy her own needs and desires, is a place where a woman pads around in a kitchen making food for people? I’m not casting shade on people who love to cook and feed people (I do!) and moms who love doing that too, but there’s something really gross and unpleasant about the idea that in this framework, women seem to exist to serve men.
I’m reminded of another interpretation of the “woman cave,” Skinny Cow’s rendition, which features women sitting around eating diet food:
In both cases, these ads reflect very traditionalized values and ideas about women; they’re household staff, and they’re constantly fretting about their weight.
Contrast the mom cave short for Campbells with the full 30 second commercial, and you get a very different picture:
What's this now? It transpires that his mother was actually the one who negotiated his contract, and she built in a request for a mom cave? That utterly changes the dynamics of the ad; and it's striking to see where and how the different ads are being aired. I'd only seen the short ad, whereas when I discussed this with Lesley, she referenced the longer ad, which reads very differently.
One ad is very male-centered, positioning a mom cave from the point of view of the athlete, who invites his buddy in, in a gesture very reminiscent of boys flooding the kitchen demanding food after school, heedless as to whether their moms are able to accommodate guests. One ad is much more female-centered and puts the mom in power...but ultimately, it's still about positioning her as a caregiver. She's the one who manages his life, provides food, creates a space for him to decompress from the chaos of the locker room.
So how progressive is it, really?
I asked some real-world actualfax moms about what would be in their mom caves, and the responses I got included things like “lots of books and wine” and “a big bathtub.” Things that I would, in other words, more traditionally associate with a serene retreat from the world and an opportunity to relax and unwind.
Parenting is hard work, as Somer can attest. In line at the credit union the other day1, I overheard two women talking about their respective decisions to stay at home with the baby versus going back to work after maternity leave. The woman staying home with the baby said, wistfully, that sometimes she wished she was back at work, and the other said “I know, I don’t know how stay at home moms do it.”
I don’t think the working woman loves her children any less. I think that she, like many other moms, needs a break from caregiving sometimes, a time to just be herself, and that’s what I envision when I think of a mom cave -- a place free of familial responsibilities and a space without the burdens of the household.
All too often, women are tasked with running the house, raising the children, and managing all domestic tasks without comment, compensation, or respect. To suggest that even the mom cave is a place where women are essentially expected to do what they do all the time already is...rather odd.
What are your thoughts on this commercial? Moms, what would your mom caves look like?
1. Where I was depositing the check the County sent me after I (halfway) successfully fought a speeding ticket using THE POWER OF MY MIND. Remind me to talk to you about contesting by mail sometime, and how the judge totally knocked almost $200 in fees off my ticket although he did ultimately let it stand. Return