Have you seen the new Similac commercial cleverly called “The Mother ‘Hood”? It shows what life is supposedly like for new parents, a humorous take on those big, bad “Mommy Wars” firing off on “support” forums, in the media, even at the local playground. (Scroll down for the full video).
We’ve all been judged. We’ve all been judge-y. Thus all of us will probably laugh (then cry) watching this commercial. It starts out kind of hilarious and things suddenly plummet to the worst-case scenario at the climax. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but trust me, if you have a child you will cry. It’s a terrifically effective ad in that way, BUT…
Ultimately, I didn’t like the commercial. Upon second viewing, I noticed the bad taste in my mouth. And I recognized the flavor: manipulation.
I feel that the commercial further cements tired stereotypes instead of giving credence to each character’s story. The characters reflect Similac’s idea of real players in the Mommy Wars, after all.
New parents lash out at each other for understandable reasons sometimes: they feel inferior, threatened, insufficient, maybe they’re struggling with loneliness, isolation, postpartum mood disorders, increased stress, lack of sleep and lack of support and everything else that we can ALL relate to. “We are parents first” because of these things we can’t control that make us the SAME, not the choices that make us different. I wish the commercial had addressed the fact that we should all try to be more compassionate to each other’s situations, not simply accepting this sad misconception that we’re all just snarky bitches at heart. (Some very special individuals ARE simple bitches deep down, but let’s learn to give everyone we interact with benefit of the doubt for all the possible reasons I just mentioned).
Some new parents do attack each other like this, usually behind the anonymity of a screen name online, and most of the time it’s not so comical. But my mommy friends don’t bash each other like this, and I hope yours don’t either. The moms I know don’t boomerang these insults around. We are parents first… truly. After watching this ad, I’m even more grateful to have mommy friends who #1) totally get the humor in this ad, #2) don’t think this kind of behavior is the norm, and #3) don’t judge me too harshly for getting nitpicky myself.
After all, motherhood is the strongest bond (read Denise Stirk’s article “The Most Powerful Thing You Can Say to Another Mom” wherein she explains why that powerful thing is simply “You’re a mom. You know.”).
The Similac commercial emphasizes exclusivity of parenting sects in the “Sisterhood of Motherhood” because apparently we can’t possibly all get along until we realize our common denominator is that we all love our babies. Well, I disagree — I believe our common denominator, what bonds us and unites us, is that we are all parents. The difference is that it means we need each other, however we come; if all we can rely on is common diapering habits, etc. then we’d be seriously screwed. And probably behaving exactly like everyone in the lampooning commercial.
Now I’m going to be nitpicky about a few things.
First, some dads have expressed their disapproval of the depiction of fathers as sloppy, stupid, uncaring mommy-wannabes in most media coverage of parenting topics, and this ad certainly doesn’t help. All the dads I know are just as loving and amazing as the moms I know — especially my hubby The Designated Dad who would never in a million life cycles hang out with guys who treated child-rearing like babysitting duty. Real dads are better than this.
Next, the depiction of “Breastfeeding Police” is pretty spot-on — but only for the few true breastfeeding bullies that really exist. Is it just me, or did anyone else leave this commercial feeling as if breastfeeders are the primary offending enemies and almost everyone else are victims in defense mode? The breastfeeders are shown as angry and antagonistic bullies. The formula-feeders are annoyed and defensive victims (rightfully so after the ridiculous, threatening “breast air-bump” that would never happen either realistically or symbolically).
And this is supposed to be equal… how? Why is everyone separated in cliques? I kind of hate how the commercial normalizes natural division between parents along the lines of parenting choices. Real moms are better than this.
Also, I don’t get why the whole bunch is be-cloaked in nursing bibs. By hiding the nurslings in fabric, Similac perpetuates the cultural convention of keeping breastfeeding out of view. Was this choice simply one of filming practicality as opposed to purposeful? Similac has a history of duping the consumer with stealthy and admittedly intelligent marketing tactics so I’m going with the latter.
The Breastfeeding Police’s nursing status is made fun of multiple times but — though this ad is about “we’re all different but equal” — I heard only one joke directed specifically at formula feeding, an easily refutable one at that: “Looks like some moms are too lazy to breastfeed!” (since when was washing bottles and mixing formula ever a light workload? No one will, or has, ever argued that).
If the breastfeeding women weren’t wearing covers, then Similac would’ve needed to address the most hurtful bullying that breastfeeders face, too: “What’s so hard about covering up? We don’t want to see that gross act!” If we’re going for equality, it’s a more appropriate insult to include, right on par with the idiots who call formula-feeders lazy.
Similac lets the band of daddies remind us that “it’s not all about the breast” with a scene spent arguing over whether or not it’s all about the breast, and ending with “No, it’s not.” Got it, Similac. Breastfeeding isn’t important. (Though to a breastfed baby, it IS all about the breast, isn’t it?).
Speaking of choices… Breastfeeding is portrayed as a choice here, but in reality it shouldn’t — at least not in the majority of situations. Did I really say that? Yes, and several other writers have noted this glaring issue with the ad, including Mayim Bialik in her article “Don’t Fall For That Similac Commercial.” I don’t agree with everything the actress has ever said, but I do agree with the points she made here:
“1. The ad perpetuates stereotypes and then claims to knock them down. But mostly it reinforces a war against people Western culture deems it appropriate to knock down: people not doing what “everyone” is doing…
2. The ad shows breastfeeding as ‘just another choice,’ ignoring that it is the medically recommended way to feed human babies… This commercial undermines medical and scientific fact under the guise of ‘It’s all the same, don’t judge. And if you do, you are the bad mom.’
3. The ad reinforces negative stereotypes of breastfeeding moms, but doesn’t do the same for formula moms… I wonder what little girls–or boys–who see this ad would think about breastfeeding. I suppose the sponsor of this doesn’t care what people think of breastfeeding, because they are out to sell a product..
4. This ad exemplifies unethical marketing… This is not an altruistic company out to end the mommy wars, which would be a lovely thing to do. They are out there to sell formula and the very act of selling formula undermines breastfeeding.”
I’m not cool with the portrayal of normal infant feeding as just another parenting option — akin to actual lifestyle options like whether to stay at home or return to work, whether to babywear or stroller, how to give birth, cloth vs. disposable, whether to be a fit mom who makes it to Mommy & Me Yoga on time, etc.
“No matter our beliefs, we are parents first,” the ad shows. True! But breastfeeding is the standard for infant feeding (a fact, not a belief) and formula feeding is an alternative for babies who cannot receive sufficient human breast milk (a fact, also not a belief). The difference between formula feeding and “Nipple Policing” is not analogous to the difference between, say, granola mommying and helicopter parenting. Breastfeeding may not be best for some mothers, but all babies are meant to be breastfed. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but such a reality doesn’t itself demote facts to beliefs. Breastfeeding isn’t a parenting choice, as it’s the norm — formula feeding is a parenting choice, because it’s the alternative. (Yes, many mothers have to formula feed and did not get a choice. I’m not going there because I’m speaking of the broader audience).
I know, I know — you’re all like, “Come on, Nursaholic, lighten up! It’s funny. Relaaaax.”
It is funny… until we remember that this is a commercial. A product is being sold. Whose product? A formula company. And who is the biggest threat to formula sales? ….These aggressive-looking ladies:
Even more dangerous when the subtly-implied rebellion of breastfeeders’ “blazing nipples” are uncovered and normalized instead of sensationalized to their detriment in real-life public perception. So who is the real aggressor here? What am I, as a mother who will likely never need to buy formula, supposed to take away from this commercial?
I’m not as bent out of shape over the ad as it may seem (lordy, it’s a commercial after all!). I’m also not high-fiving Similac any time soon but hey, they made me laugh… then cry tears of gratitude that my baby isn’t rolling down a hill at top speed. I’ll also give Similac kudos for featuring stay-at-home dads, what appear to be same-sex parents, and dolphin-assisted birthers, even if they were all basically the butt-end of a larger joke.
The point is, all the drama and nitpicking is ridiculous, especially when we lose sight of who we’re fighting for in the first place in any situation — our children. Without further ado, here’s the commercial: