Oh dear.

Screen shot of trysteamboost.com, the product’s website.

A new ad from Swiffer uses the iconic feminist image Rosie the Riveter to promote — mopping. Who knew that when the poster said “We can do it!”, the “it” in that sentence was “steam clean the whole kitchen!!”?

Who thought this was a good idea? What ideas did they reject? Feminine Mystique: The Perfume from Calvin Klein? Using Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony as Before and After images on a weight-loss poster? Using Lady Macbeth to sell hand sanitizer? Using The Lorax to sell cars? (Oh wait.) Using Cookie Monster to promote vegetables — dang it, reality! Rushing miles ahead of all the most extreme examples.

I’m not saying that swiffer’ing is the opposite of Rosie’s original message. Not exactly.

But deeply embedded in a lot of advertising still is the throwback idea that mopping, Swiffer’ing, convincing animated Scrubbing Bubbles to dance whimsically around your toilet bowl and Making Your Shower Sparkle Like A Disney Princess are the special province of women. Even if the women in the ads for Keeping All This Stuff Violently, Aggressively Clean are dressed as Active Professionals, they are still where the buck stops when it comes to Picking Up Those Messes With Just One Sheet Of Quilted Bounty! Extreme as it is, an ad like this is really just an extreme example of the larger, unquestioned assumption that maybe she goes to the office, too, but still, A Woman’s Place Is In The Home, Keeping It Clean — exactly what Rosie the Riveter implied was not the case. Ouch.

UPDATE, 12:52 PM 06/04/2013: I received an e-mail from Elizabeth Ming, Communications, Swiffer, at 10:55 p.m. yesterday saying they’d seen the article and noting:

“We are were made aware of the concerns regarding the image in a Swiffer ad this afternoon. Our core purpose is to make cleaning easier for all consumers, regardless of who is behind the handle of our products. It was not our intention to offend any group with the image, and we are working to remove it from where it’s being used as soon as possible.”

Well done, team! We CAN do it, it turns out!

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".