Now that home-economics classes have been relegated to the dustbin of history and modern clothes dryers are equipped with an “ironing” setting, does anyone iron clothes anymore? Not from the looks of it, according to my highly subjective survey-by-looking-around. My findings were confirmed by a Writer’s Beat discussion forum, which tipped its hand by asking, “Why do people iron their clothes?” Representative response: “If god wanted us to iron, why make clothes with Dry Clean Only labels?” And a bit further off topic: “If you spray Pam on an iron you can make really great grilled cheese sandwiches with it.”
Well, I think ironing is important, and I enjoy doing it; in fact, it’s my favorite household chore. Also, as regular readers know, I like a good man-brand. (See my posts on ManQuarium, MANdle candles, and manscaping.) So it was with considerable interest that I read a recent Jezebel post about the Man Iron, aka the GC4490, from Philips, the Dutch electronics manufacturer.
The Man Iron: how Darth Vader maintains his wrinkle-free appearance?
The Jezebel post refers to a testosterone-drenched press release for the iron (“robust black casing …. exudes masculinity … practically unbreakable … crushes the opposition … intense 100g of steam … bulldozing [!] creases”). However, the post lacks a link to that press release, so I couldn’t verify its accuracy.* Nor could I find it on the Philips website. I did find a PDF of the product manual which calls the GC4490 an “anodilium soleplate man iron for an endless excellent gliding experience.” (I think Philips made up “anodilium”—I found a cancelled trademark filing for the term in the USPTO database.) The product manual also refers to the GC4490 as a “2400 W power tool for ironing” that “helps you blast all creases away easily.” I counted eight references to “power” or “powerful.”
The GC4490 was introduced in Europe last year; a May 2010 report in Springwise.com noted that the iron comes in a solid case “like a new hammer drill” and retails for about €80 ($96). Last week’s flurry of coverage by Jezebel and other outlets seems to portend a US debut, but I didn’t see the product in Philips’s online store.
I find this almost as ridiculous as “Safety Girl” tools, which make home improvement so much more fun because they’re pink! For the record, I learned to iron from a former boyfriend and my dad handles most of the wrinkle-releasing duties at my parents’ house, and they both managed just fine without the premium sports car of steaming.
Sex-role stereotyping aside, what to say about the Man Iron name? It’s certainly consistent with a naming trend that began in 1969 with Hunt-Wesson’s Manwich. (I wrote about Manwich and its namer, ad man Edward Gelsthorpe, for the Visual Thesaurus back in 2009.) Man-brands and coined man-words—from Seinfeld’s mansierre and man-fur to Borat’s mankini and the U.S. economy’s mancession—serve a couple of purposes. As language maven Mark Peters has observed, “most man words are coined to describe men behaving like women, or at least stereotypical women. Men aren't supposed to worry about cancer, receive alimony, or get Brazilian waxes, so manogram, manimony, and manzilian”—and Man Iron—“are created.” Man-words are also a jokey way to relieve tension—to say, in effect, “Dude, why so serious?”
I do think, though, that Philips missed an opportunity to revive the ultimate in high-performance de-wrinkling technology: the electric mangle.
Mangle photograph from here.
A mangle presses fabric between heated rollers; it’s a staple of commercial laundries but used to be made for household use, too. (In fact, Miele still makes a home mangle but calls it a “fold-down rotary iron”; at $1,999, it requires a major commitment to crispness.)
The pressing-type mangle is unrelated, etymologically, to the verb meaning “to mutilate or disfigure; to ruin.” The verb comes from Old French mangoner, “to cut to bits.” The noun comes from Dutch and Middle High German and ultimately from Late Latin manganum. Here’s the wonderfully relevant part: manganum means “catapult” and derives from Greek manganon, “war machine.” Besides “mangle,” manganon gave us “mangonel,” “a military engine used during the Middle Ages for hurling stones and other missles.”
Need I point out that the first syllable of all these words is man?
The mangle: an industrial-strength answer to a man-sized problem. Gentlemen, start your crease-bulldozing engines.
* UPDATE: I am now in possession of the original Philips press release and can confirm every word. Unfortunately, the release is in Word so I can’t link to it.
P.S. If you really want to get serious about it, buy Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson, which devotes an entire chapter to the science and craft of ironing. Ms. Mendelson, who lives in New York City with her husband and son, has a PhD in philosophy and a Harvard law degree and still found time to write—elegantly and persuasively—an 896-page guide to contemporary housekeeping. From the introduction to the chapter on ironing: “There is nothing like keeping the hands busy with some familiar work to free the mind. You can learn Italian while you iron, as a friend of mine did, or you can simply think.”