I Can Bring Home the Bacon, but the Rest Is On You.

One of the most iconic TV commercials I remember seeing as a kid was that one in which the blonde lady sings about how she can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, ever, ever let you forget you’re a man. Seriously. Those are the actual lyrics. The year was 1980. And I still remember the commercial all these years later, not because it was such a great ad (truthfully, I needed a quick Google search to remind me it was for Enjoli perfume), but because even at seven years old, I think I knew the whole thing was a total crockpot of shit.

Obviously this ad wasn’t just selling perfume. It was selling the You-Can-Have-It-All lifestyle to a new generation of women who had previously been shut out of serious positions within corporate America and who were largely relegated to the domestic realm. But thanks to the Women’s Lib movement of the 1970s, now BOTH realms were open to women. At the same time. This commercial was more than just a commercial; it was a sign of the times.

The fine folks at the now defunct Charles of the Ritz company were trying to attach their product to the now defunct idea that it’s a breeze for any woman to be a successful professional, a doting wife, an attentive mother, a gourmet cook, a meticulous homemaker, and a satin gown wearing sex kitten – all at the same time.

Here is what the ad was really saying:

I can bring home the bacon.

(Nice double entendre, Enjoli.) The first meaning of the word bacon in this line is obviously money. But perhaps, this line would have been more accurate had it said, “I can bring home 73% of the same bacon you can bring home – even though I worked just as hard for my bacon as you did for yours.”

The second ‘entendre’ of the word bacon here is actual bacon. The message being, “Yes, dear, I’ll stop at the market on my way home from work and pick you up some bacon.”

Fry it Up in a Pan.

The point here is clear: That bacon ain’t going to cook itself.

And never, ever, ever let you forget you’re a man.

“After I’ve worked all day, shopped, cooked, cleaned up, and read the kids a bedtime story, there’s nothing I’d rather do than spray on some atomized pheromones (aka, Enjoli), slip into that Some Like It Hot white satin number I have lying around and rock your world.”

Enjoli. The 8 hour perfume for the 24 hour woman.  

This is the official tagline of the commercial. Maybe it’s just me, but the subtext here seems to be something more subversive. There seems to be an implied threat here: You wanted it all, sweetheart? Well, here it all is. Be careful what you wish for.

If this commercial were to be update for today’s world, I think it would go something more like this.

Same jazzy woman’s voice singing:

You can bring home the bacon (but don’t forget to grab a gallon of milk and some greek yogurt on your way home).

Fry it up in a pan (or microwave it, I don’t care –I’m not eating that shit. I’m ordering sushi.).

And I’ll never, ever, ever let you forget that you’re a man… with a pre-disposition for arterial sclerosis, so slow down on that bacon. And for the love of pete, would you do some crunches once in a while?

The tagline would also need to be changed because clearly this is now an ad for bacon. Or The American Heart Association. Or perhaps sushi. But in any case, it is no longer an ad promoting the idea that women can Have it All. And thank goodness for that. We all know that while women CAN have it all, we really don’t WANT it all. We want to split it. We’ll cook. You clean. We’ll fold. You put away. We won’t let you forget you’re a man, if you get up with the kids in the morning. Our trail-blazing, bacon-frying, Enjoli-wearing mothers taught us that while having it all is a nice idea, the reality is fraught with boobie traps. (Oh, yes. Pun intended.) And the load is lighter when shared.

Of course, TV ads today don’t really have the influence they once did anyway. Thanks to DVRs, most seven year old children, rather than ponder the sociological implications of a quasi-feminist-while-being-actually-misogynistic perfume ad, are more likely to ask the far more concrete question, “Mommy, what’s a commercial?”

For a more serious analysis of the Enjoli commercial, check out Jennifer Ludden’s piece on NPR.


11 Comments on “I Can Bring Home the Bacon, but the Rest Is On You.”

  1. Shauna Henson says:

    Hysterical….as always! This may be one of my favorites.

  2. karlapr says:

    I remember that ad! On a somewhat related note, had a realization recently that — in ten years of parenthood — I don’t believe my husband has ever scheduled a doctor’s (eye doctor, dentist, orthodontist, etc. etc.) appointment for the children. AND I am bringing home the bacon! sigh…

  3. Sharon says:

    Wow, I don’t remember things still being so Leave it to Beaver in the 80s! Thanks for this.

  4. kittyh23 says:

    The 80s did have choices. I got married and worked, plus I had 2 children during the 80s and worked full and part-time. I liked staying home with the kids but I also liked working. My job didn’t pay all that much, but I still had choices. True, I still have a great husband who helped me with the children, cleaned, and was willing to cook. Today we both work full time and visit our granddaughters

  5. Kay says:

    Jill, you certainly have a jaded view on the women of the ’80s. If it weren’t for us,kk you younger women wouldn’t be where you are today!

    • Jill Orr says:

      Hi Kay,
      This was certainly not meant as an insult to the women of the 1980s- but to the things that were considered socially acceptable like expecting a woman to be everything to everyone. My own mother was one of these women and I could not agree with you more that if it weren’t for her (and women like her), women today would not have the opportunities that we do! The post was meant more as a social commentary on the misogynistic advertisement- and absolutely not meant as an insult to women!!!! I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear!

  6. Suzy Carroll - Overcome Overwhelm says:

    I just tripped across your blog while searching for the lyrics to this commercial. LOL. I graduated HS in 1981. This commercial impacted how I showed up in the world for decades. My last course I taught, the sound quit working when I played this commercial – the entire room (age range 35-60) broke into song. They all new the lyrics. The impact that socializing of women via commercials etc… has had, can’t be ignored. Great blog!

  7. Fleur Geiger says:

    I was 24 and we needed that song to protest that we were women, not male impersonators stealing their jobs. That we could make it without them but look what they’d miss out on ~ a real woman, a partner. No one can have it all. That’s where women screwed up. There are men that can share the reins, the housework, child care. Can’t find one then live alone or make compromises on your expectations. Hopefully they’ll learn to compromise. Raise your son’s to be better men.

  8. Fran Tunno says:

    Dear Jill,
    It’s a testament to your writing that this story is still hitting a nerve after all this time. I graduated college in 1977 and I remember that Enjoli ad to this day. i bought it hook, line and sinker and have the divorce to prove it. It’s not healthy for a woman to run herself ragged doing chores that should be shared. Thank God we’ve come to our senses. Loved your article. I wholeheartedly agree!


  9. kittyh23 says:

    I graduated in 80, got married in 80s, worked in 80 s and had 3 children in the 80s. I thought the commercial was fun and encouraging. I wanted to do it all. My husband was and is supportive too and we are still happily married with 7 grandchildren. I think you can choose to take the commercial negatively if you want but I loved that commercial!

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