The Enjoli Factor

After creating the article, Can Women Have it All?   I have had some conversations with several people about my use of the retro Enjoli advertisement in the piece.

Here is an example of the dialogue:

Len:     Whether you are a feminist or chauvinist,  ads like these work when they tap into inner feelings that the ad plays to.  It would be interesting to see the market research around that ad, did it play well to men (who might buy Enjoli for their spouses) or to women who secretly wanted to be the things suggested in the ad)?

Sure, they are trying to sell perfume. But this commercial evokes much deeper sensations about the challenges facing working women and their evolving relationships with their spouses.

Either way, ads like this shaped opinions in society that helped form the environment (both at home and at work) within which women had to compete.

 Respondent: Women want to be everything to everybody—their work, their kids, their family. That’s as “inner feeling” as you get. So you’re right Enjoli was on to something.  I’d love to see the market research, too. Though something tells me Enjoli’s changing “The 24 hour women” to “YOUR 24 hour women” taps into who they found their market to really be (the man buying the perfume for their woman). Hence, Enjoli tapped into the male’s audience desire for their women to also be everything as well. “You can bring home the bacon—as long as you’re cooking it, sweetheart, and smell good, too. Wink. Wink.” I have no doubt it was successful, but to say it’s “feminist” doesn’t quite cut it.

Len:     It may be generational.  I brought up this commercial at a dinner the other night (all Boomers).   What surprised me was that the women present – not only recalled the commercial but could RECITE THE LYRICS without needing to see the clip.    When I asked how they remember first reacting to this ad, the consensus view was that it was positive, and empowering to see women portrayed as being more powerful than men.  When I remember that add coming out, I don’t recall it being condemned by feminists at the time. (And, I tried to investigate this point with my on-line searches – to no avail.)  Check out this post by flickfilosopher.

Respondent: It’s interesting that flickfilospher called the commercial “aggressively feminist.” I almost laughed. I mean she can’t really think that this is what feminists wanted/fought for? Or that women were the ones who created this ad?  Feminists wanted choice. The ability for a woman to choose to work. Feminists wanted equal pay and rights. I don’t think they wanted Enjoli’s idea of what it means to be a “modern woman.” Yes, the idea what of what it is to be feminist has evolved over the years,  and  has taken on a more negative connotation. “Oh you’re a feminist….eye roll….So you’re the one who got us into this mess….of having to choose between work and home. Thanks a lot.” But, I think that’s reductive and I don’t think many people really buy into that wholesale.

Here’s the thing though, I’ll admit we women bought into it this “having it all” story. Somehow, somewhere along the way—we started to believe that in order to be fulfilled—we didn’t have to choose—we had to do it all–work, family–and on top it, be sexy and beautiful while doing so (as Enjoli’s commercial suggests). We have to be an impossible size 4 and gorgeous. In fact to this day, every commercial we see, magazine we read, or show we watch tells us—wrinkles are the enemy and being gorgeous equals being happy, fulfilled, successful. (I think of the flak that Hilary Clinton recently took because she showed up to a summit in Asia with glasses on and no make-up. People were horrified she didn’t “put the time in” to take care of herself? REALLY? Really?)

Len: It is also interesting to note that while the initial piece ran in the 1970s, this advertisement was reincarnated in the 1980s.

In the former case, it seems like the commercial is aimed at women.  It starts by telling the story of all the chores she does BEFORE going off to be at work “by 5 to 9”.   But in the 1980s version, the announcer track is modified – and the focus us much more about the afterhours mom, and is speaking more to male viewers who are implored to “[give her] the 8 hr perfume for your 24 hour woman.”

It seems like feminists came to be scornful of the insensitivity of this piece.  Here is one particularly thoughtful (I think) critique NPR’s Jennifer Ludden.   Jennifer suggest that while the ad spoke profoundly to her middle school self when she first heard it, but what impacted her even more was her own mom.  Her working class mom who toiled for $3.35 per hour had a life that was not near as glamorous as the actor depicted in the commercial.   But, says Jennifer, “my housewife mom reinforced that era’s ethos that I could “have it all,” which must have been the ultimate act of faith, considering her own life.”

 Respondent:  I did look for a feminist outcry over the commercial—and you’re right, I didn’t find any—until later years. My hypothesis: because on the surface—at the time—it seemed like a positive message—women working. Yah! And cooking! Yah! And reading to their kids! Yah! Small miracles! But, I think over time these types of stereotypes and meta messages revealed themselves in insidious ways, and feminists/women grew weary.

There was a well-known marketing book published a few years ago (the name of which escapes me), and it introduced the idea that good ads told “the lie they want to believe.”  When P&G says “choosy mothers chose Jif” (peanut butter) the idea is the viewer will always think of herself as a discriminating buyer, wanting only the best for her kids (regardless of whether this is actually true).  And, since I am a “choosy mother” I should select JIF brand.

The Enjoli commercial, it seems to me, did tap into a view (some would say a myth – if not a lie) that moms could have it all.  We want to believe this and at the time when it made the airwaves, perhaps it even created positive images in the likes of Jennifer Ludden–and her mother.

I think we all know that the issue is a very complex one.

I encourage you to read my next article, “Can Anyone Have It All?” which tries to offer some suggestions for both women, and men.

Other Resources:


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