Scrub Mommy, your scrubbing tool of subtle oppression

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A photo of a scrub, boxed. The product label says Scrub Mommy and has a smiling emoji face.
Is it just me, or does that smile have the deadest eyes of all time? Maren Savarese Knopf

How products are marketed can perpetuate stereotypes 

The pink inconspicuously smiling Scrub Mommy sponge is the latest in mass pink-cutesy product marketed towards women for the purpose of domestic labour.  

Product descriptions for the Scrub Mommy sponge include anthropomorphic descriptors or, in other words, those that attribute human forms. Scrub Mommy is double-sided and can be soft or hard depending on the water temperature and, while she scrubs your plates, she features an always smiling pink face.  

Scrub Mommy is nothing new. Pink products have been studied at length by social scientists who describe normative assumptions about consumers (that is, that women and girls are targeted through deeply embedded ideas surrounding gender roles and ideals) and they, in turn, shape the consumer. Of particular interest are products developed for domestic labour, like Scrub Mommy, that idealised contentions about who is expected to perform this type of unpaid labour.  

More recently, researchers have taken an interest in the ‘cutesy’ aesthetic. Daniel Harris, author of Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism, suggests that cuteness has become widespread in consumer culture, from cherubic figures “patting their peepers on Charmin toilet paper to teddy bears frozen mid-embrace, the stubs of their pawless arms groping for hugs.” Moreover, researchers Clive Nancarrow, Pamela Nancarrow, and Julie Page have suggested in their paper “An analysis of the concept of cool and its marketing implications” that consumers exist within a ‘cuteocracy” where the cutest person, place, or product wins, and marketing draws on this reality.  

According to researchers studying the material culture of ‘cute,’ the aesthetic gives consumer goods warm and cheerful qualities. Further, cuteness might function to lend personality and presence to products otherwise often regarded as being used for the ‘invisible’ labour of domestic responsibilities. In this sense, cutesy consumer goods might make them more attractive to consumers who are involved in the performance of invisibilized domestic labour.  

Invisible labour is a term coined by Arlene Daniels in 1987 to describe the unpaid work that goes unnoticed, unacknowledged, and unregulated by sociology. If you find yourself to be the person picking up all the household chores, that’s essentially the performance of invisible labour. Invisible labour impacts a wide range of demographics sitting within the margins, and the fact that their labour is invisibilized required a form of marginalization.  

Most notably, invisible labour usually includes household maintenance and child-rearing, activities commonly attributed to women who are primarily cisgender and in heterosexual relationships. However, invisible labour extends beyond this definition and is not solely performed by cis-gendered heterosexual women. However, products like Scrub Mommy offer a critical entry point to interrogate the connections between pink marketed products for domestic labour and the way that labour is in turn made invisible.  

Others have described cute products to involve a degree of “cultural amnesia” where societies forget their problem by consumption of cuteness. From this perspective, cuteness might offer a kind of cultural distraction from deeply embedded boundaries and social problems.  

However, the aesthetic of cuteness must be seen through a frame of “yes, and” meaning that while it might offer a distraction from the often-exploitative nature of invisible labour, it might also offer a platform for empowerment through the reclamation of ‘cute.’ Like anything that offers empowerment, this is a deeply personal process and one often wrought with contradictions and nuance.  

However, whether or not you resist the lure of the cute aesthetic used to market domestic products or you find value within them, the interrogation into autocracy remains one of value. 

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