Online dating service eHarmony is not exactly known for pushing the envelope in its ad campaigns. The testimonial style commercials – featuring happy couples who met through the service – carefully avoid showing interracial couples or any individual with any accent Americans would regard as “foreign”. One happy male member of a couple tells the story of how his beloved planted a big, sloppy kiss on him immediately upon meeting him – she acts horrifically embarrassed, like a nice girl would, and he corrects himself and calls the kiss a peck on the cheek.
Okay, so no question they’re going for a heartland, middle American, “nice girls don’t” sort of vibe. It’s exclusionary toward those who don’t fit that mold, or don’t care to, but on the other hand it doesn’t directly make fun of them. And at least they do feature some couples who aren’t white.
The new campaign comes a little closer to crossing that line, though. It shows discouraged men out on dates with women we’re supposed to interpret as crazy or obnoxious, because the text following our introduction to them asks if you’re “tired of bad dates”? Sure, who isn’t? Unfortunately, there is no commercial that shows a weary woman out on a date with Mr. “But Enough About Me, Let’s Talk About Me”, Mr. “Insurance Sales Is An Exciting Field”, Mr. “Have You Found the Love of Jesus Yet?”, or Mr. “I Hated Mama Because After Working 60 Hours a Week to Supplement Daddy’s Gambling Losses She Didn’t Always Have My Dinner On Time”. Either they don’t want my money, or they assume I’ll just set myself aside and relate to the man. After all, as a woman I’ve been conditioned to set myself aside for hundreds of years.
And what about these obnoxious crazy women? Unfortunately, I can’t find these ads online and I can’t recall every second by heart. I do remember that one of the women wanted to discuss a fun topic: magic! I guess being a Wiccan or pagan would be enough to qualify you as a “bad date” on such a red state kind of service. I can’t help but think it could just as easily have been, “But let’s talk about a fun topic: Jesus!” Except Wiccans are a safer group to make fun of: they don’t have armies of lawyers and press agents ready to fight their every perceived oppression at every turn.
Another ad features a chatterbox woman who farts at the dinner table, only to be ordered by her date to “get out of my house!”. Nice girls don’t fart: their inner purity somehow enables them to control that involuntary bodily function for your convenience. Naughty girls who do fart may be considered hostile invaders and ejected from your home. (To be clear, the woman is obnoxious – but somehow I think the Nice Girl rules eHarmony subscribes to would prevent them from showing a commercial in which a woman threw a man out of her house for farting. Nice girls don’t throw people out on the street.)
It’s far from the most unfair portrayal of women I’ve ever seen, but I find these commercials a good example of the male gaze. Of how marketing often relies on a woman’s willingness to see the world through male eyes and translate it to the female, rather than expecting the ad to speak directly to her needs. Of how “girls don’t”, or when they do we’re all supposed to lie about it (kissing a man on the first date) or feel entitled to get enraged (throwing out a woman who dares pass gas).