A new ad campaign for Mark’s Work Warehouse that is being featured in GTA subways and buses provides a good example of this very issue. I spotted it on my way to work one morning, grabbed a few photos of it with my phone, and have been struggling ever since to articulate the exact extent of my disappointment with Mark’s careless gender politics. As featured above, the ad claims that Mark’s is “now welcoming women.” I suppose this is a gesture towards some kind of expanded women’s clothing line (although Mark’s has had women’s clothing for quite some time), but it really hits an inclusion and equality nerve for me. Well, gosh, if women are now welcome in Mark’s Work Warehouse, I’d say that’s mission accomplished for feminism. Am I right? …Ladies? …Right?
I hope that it is safe to assume that this was intended to be tongue-in-cheek. Nevertheless, there is always something a little bit cringe-worthy about ads that attempt to incorporate the rhetoric of political movements, but end up getting it horribly, horribly wrong. I feel that the Mark’s campaign’s parroting of gender equality discourses offers a shining example of this. To begin with, although there are many institutions that still exclude women in practice, the chest pumping pride with which Mark’s announces that women are now welcome is absurdly outdated.
These problematic connotations are taken to an additionally troubling level when combined with the “male” version of the ad, which features a generic group of attractive, young, masculine men doing man things with the caption, “Less work. More you.”
Now, I might be taking my reading of this ad to its semiotic extreme here, but it seems to me that Mark’s Work Warehouse is inadvertently stumbling upon one of the enduring failures of second-wave feminism. That is, the reason that these men presumably have the leisure time and disposable income to spend at the pub relates to their experience of heteronormativity and gender inequality in which their spouses are working the double shift – adding household income while also continuing to take on the lion’s share of domestic work. After all, the women in the ad are not out playing pool and drinking pints, they are buying “work” clothes. The ad is an unintentional parody of shifts in the workplace, which are now also “welcoming women,” with many growing pains still being experienced along the way.
My interpretation of the Mark’s ad can very much be accused of reading too much into it, but I stand by my initial disgust at the tagline: “now welcoming women.” Joking or not, I don’t care to have a clothing store remind me of historic exclusions of women from the workplace, or attempt to capitalize on their supposed corporate progressiveness through misplaced political rhetoric. Now welcoming women? Thanks, Mark’s.