The Best and Worst Gender Representations in Super Bowl Commercials

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About Sarah Hope

Sarah Hope is a pop culture enthusiast and gender activist whose interests include social movements, sexuality and feminist theory. She currently works in development and special events at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and spends her free time blogging and hiking in beautiful Central New York. You can see more of her work at sopopculture.com and follow her on Twitter @sarahmusing.

Comments


  1. In fact, it seems to me to be a statement on feminism itself. Though my original impression was that maybe we could interpret those robotic women as tech-savvy women with power over the situation, the violence flips this powerful woman into the “Feminazi” category. Violence against anyone (man OR woman) is not the answer, Kia.

    Hold up.

    I’ll be the first to agree that the portrayal of violence is wrong but I’m not sure how this was any sort of statement on feminism or how those robots where some metaphor for feminazis.

    Are you saying that the robotic portrayal was fine until they got violent and once they got violent then once they got violence it became a statement about feminism?

    • Ah, let me clarify. I’m saying that initially I thought there might be some way to interpret female robots in a woman positive way. Women are not often portrayed as tech savvy (read: GoDaddy “beauty vs. the brains”), so to have women as the gatekeepers “in charge” of showing and protecting the Kia could have been a feminist statement… if it had been left at that. But then, if you follow that logic through the rest of the commercial, the “strong woman” turns into a violent woman. Feminists are often portrayed as gruff, buzz-killing, and man-hating – so again, following the logic that the women were portrayed as “strong”, this woman’s strength was used against men, which is not a favorable portrayal of strong, powerful women. So, in the end, I turned to the same conclusion that most people reached: that the commercial portrays women as robotic objects, and that’s unacceptable enough in itself.

      • Thanks for the clarity. For a moment it seemed like you were trying to say that the decision to have the robots get violent was meant to be a nod to feminism.

  2. I agreed with most of the reviews above, and as someone who works in the industry, I think you can tell which ads worked harder and smarter, and which ones felt lazy and clearly gave in to the mean-regressing powers of the corporate approval process.

    The spots that told a specific story and were clear about how they wanted the viewer to feel and react did great work. It’s not to say you can’t play with convention and expectation. The Rav4′s Princess turn was brilliant specifically because it had built us up to expect what would happen, and then it surprised. I think it was also interesting to note that the best ads of the night had the confidence to tell a clear, well-crafted story and get us involved before hitting us too hard with the overt brand message or call to action.

    With so much media available to everyone, everyday, the hope for the industry is that we all have to work harder, be more thoughtful, and deliver an experience that’s as entertaining and engaging as “content” or else be left behind.

    As for your back and forth with Joanna via Twitter… I actually saw the GoDaddy.com kiss spot a few days before the SB and wrote something about your “gender reversal” question that just went up today.

    Self-serving link: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-good-life-handsome-men-with-unattractive-women-a-combination-the-media-will-never-show-you/

    The sad thing is, this year’s GoDaddy spots actually represent “progress” for them, since we weren’t promised any uncut shower scenes or body painting.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Shawn, thanks so much for that link, we definitely want you to share it!

      Great piece. And great work here, Sarah. You both totally rock and I’m so glad you’re both on board.

  3. I would choke down a Budweiser for that Clydesdale trainer. Seriously. The perfect man. And those dimples!

    *Passing out – again*

    :)

  4. LOL@focusing on the misogyny of the ad and ignoring the misandry in the Bar Rafaelli ad. The misandry of the man not being seen as sexy along with the nerd stereotype which nearly always is against men, so probably relates to misandry, along with the issue of sexual power where he has zilch compared to her whom has a huge amount. They’re portraying her as the epitomy of sexy and him as the epitomy of brains, misandry and misogyny all in one.

    “Though my original impression was that maybe we could interpret those robotic women as tech-savvy women with power over the situation, the violence flips this powerful woman into the “Feminazi” category.”
    Starting to really reach now, where the hell is feminism implied in the ad? Do you see swastika? Clearly the ad is about fembots protecting the car from being damaged by a nitwit tyre kicker.

    Mercedes, buy a car, be stalked by women. Fuck that. Gimme an ad that just shows the performance, luxury, features. Quit the silly bullshit about getting the girl with the car, if my car gets me a woman, I DON’T WANT HER. I want a girl to like me for me.

    Sarah, say it with me, MISANDRY, hatred n bigotry towards males. You dropped misogyny quite a bit but there are displays of misandry too, why didn’t you use that word? Please tell me you aren’t schooled in the style of feminism that is utterly blind to misandry and doesn’t believe it exists?

    There are plenty of things wrong with the ads but I can’t help but feel you are seeing what you want to see in them, like the KIA ad has enough wrong with it portraying the women’s sex appeal in a robot but the feminism vibe is simply not there.

    • Archy, I am schooled in a feminism that recognizes everyone’s right to gender equity, and I have studied masculinity quite a bit. I definitely agree with you that most people aren’t willing to use the word “misandry” as easily as “misogyny” rolls off the tongue…but there’s a reason for that. Historically, women have been objectified in media much more than men. Objectification involves reducing a person to the status of an object, to be owned or used. Generally, someone is considered objectified if the status they are reduced to masks other characteristics of their humanity, thereby demeaning them. In the GoDaddy ad, Bar Refaeli is reduced to nothing but her beauty and sexuality, characteristics that are superficial. This is demeaning because this singular quality is elevated above her other qualities and thus above her as a whole person. Who knows, maybe she can code websites as well as Walter! But GoDaddy would never recognize that, because in their world women are nothing but sex objects.

      The difference between that and how Walter is portrayed is this: true, Walter is reduced to a singular quality, “the nerd.” But with that representation comes positive connotations and qualities that are valued in our culture – hard work, intelligence, discipline. This hardly represents hate and bigotry. The real hate and bigotry here is the fat shaming, a bigotry that does not discriminate based on gender.

      Re: Kia – please read my clarification to Danny’s similar question above. Because people are so quick to call out the objectification in that ad, I tried to look a little deeper and initially thought that maybe there was a way to interpret it as a feminist statement – strong, powerful women, etc. In the end, that line of logic would have been flipped on its head by turning those strong, feminist women into misandrist, violent Feminazis. So no, I don’t think there is actual feminism implied there. I was simply explaining my thought process in interpreting the ad; I reached the same conclusion you did!

      In this article, I only the word used “misogyny” twice. I am in fact generally hesitant to use “misogyny” and “misandry” because of the hatred implied. I’m not convinced that the objectification behind these ads comes from a place of pure hatred, but rather from a misunderstanding of the ways in which objectification hurts women and men by perpetuating stereotypes and standards of beauty and manliness that make it difficult for individuals to express their own unique brand of femininity and/or masculinity. That’s the whole point in calling out the gender stereotypes in these ads – to hopefully help people understand that objectification and gender stereotyping diminish our collective well-being and ability to be our true selves. Everyone has the right to be herself/himself without facing hurtful discrimination at the hands of those who buy into the stereotypes and hold us to standards that don’t reflect our unique identities.

      • “Generally, someone is considered objectified if the status they are reduced to masks other characteristics of their humanity, thereby demeaning them.”
        You mean like being reduced to a nerd? You’re doign an awful lot of explaining away the significance of his character whilst focusing on how bad the woman got it, why? Is it that hard to see how objectified he is for being valued only for his mental ability? Maybe as a woman this comes as a surprise but many men do not feel attractive, it’s very dehumanizing to feel like all you’re worth is tied up in what you can make with your hands n brain, We’d love to feel sexy once n a while just as I’m sure women feel limited in their worth being only their looks. It’s 2 sides to a coin that we each want to be both but you’re ignoring the male side and acting as if he isn’t objectified. There’s also a very bad difference here, her worth only being her beauty is bad but as a supermodel she’s also the TOP echelon of her gender, HE is portrayed as a nerd who’d never ever get the chance with someone at the top because HE IS AT THE BOTTOM ECHELON of attractiveness. In popular media his only chance with her would be to become very rich. She is leaps n bounds above him in overall status.

        “But GoDaddy would never recognize that, because in their world women are nothing but sex objects.”
        “Which is limiting yes, but this nerd is also extremely limiting as his value is his ability to code because they portray him only as brains with zero sexual attraction. Like it or not being seen as sexy is also a good trait along with a bad one. For many men being sexy is pretty much impossible, so many people don’t portray men as sexy, their attractiveness is SOLELY based on their success which requires being basically rich or smart. Change that nerd into a McDonalds uniform and he’d be portrayed far differently. There is a huge amount of stigma n bigotry towards nerds.

        “The difference between that and how Walter is portrayed is this: true, Walter is reduced to a singular quality, “the nerd.” But with that representation comes positive connotations and qualities that are valued in our culture – hard work, intelligence, discipline. This hardly represents hate and bigotry. The real hate and bigotry here is the fat shaming, a bigotry that does not discriminate based on gender.”

        Are you serious or pulling my leg? Nerds are one of the most bullied groups in existance, so many have hated nerds. I experienced bullying for daring to answer questions in math class too often. Beauty is one of the most valued traits EVER, beauty is proven to increase a person’s success and holds an epic amount of power in getting the top echelon of partners, more money in their career and generally liked more.

        “I tried to look a little deeper and initially thought that maybe there was a way to interpret it as a feminist statement”
        I will guarantee it wasn’t. I would bet half the world that it was simply meant to be women are normally nearby as the presenters/folks to ask about the car at car shows, but now they’re robots who’ll kick your ass if you damage the car. I severely doubt feminism was even on the creators mind.

        “That’s the whole point in calling out the gender stereotypes in these ads – to hopefully help people understand that objectification and gender stereotyping diminish our collective well-being and ability to be our true selves”
        I get the feeling you are noticing the negatives women face far more than the negatives men face. Doesn’t feminism teach how damaging the success role is? Or the effects of not being seen as sexy can do to men? One of the most common comments about attractiveness on this site alone from men is that of most women can be seen as physically sexy, but pretty much most men are not physically sexy. There are a lot of men that do not feel physically attractive and it has a huge impact on their self-esteem, they focus on their success-attraction (as in being a provider, being smart, etc). Comparing the supermodel with the nerd for instance is both limiting to her but also limiting to him, he’s there as an object of being a smart ugly kid getting a chance that he’ll never get with someone who is seen as pretty much the top echelon of female beauty, it’s extremely degrading to him.

        The success objectification leaves men that don’t make much money, who aren’t smart, who aren’t successfully feeling extremely ugly, just as the physical beauty objectification women face leaves women that aren’t conventionally attractive feeling extremely ugly. It shows in the car ads where having the status symbol of success (a nice car) gets him attention from women he wouldn’t normally have.

        Women want to be seen more for their success traits (brains, career, etc), men want to be seen more for their beauty traits (sexyness), thing is women have been saying how limiting the beauty aspect alone is but not too many men speak up about how limiting they feel with the success aspect. But it’s pretty evident how hard men strive for success with their love of pretty cars, wanting to earn lots of money, etc just as it’s evident for women that spend so much time n energy on their beauty. We’re now seeing a merge-over of those 2 issues, men spending far more time in the gym to look pretty and women spending far more time n energy on their careers, etc. I just can’t help but feel so many see the beauty limitation as negative for women but overlook the limitation of success for men because they see it as positive traits, sure, they are positive traits but so is being beautiful. The problem is that they’re pretty much always seen as that and not much more.

  5. Mark Sherman says:

    I just want to comment on the GoDaddy ad, which seems to be getting huge amounts of attention and angering many feminists. When I watch this ad I don’t see Bar Rafaeli as unintelligent. In my experience beauty and intelligence go together. Of course the character she plays may or may not be so brilliant, but there is not question she is beautiful.

    There is also no question that men love the attentions of beautiful women (though in my experience they quickly lose interest if the woman is not bright and interesting).

    As for Bar Rafaeli, I’d never heard of her before this ad, but I see that she is, among other things, a model and has been modeling since she was quite young. She appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and was Israeli “Model of the Year.” Clearly, bright as I am sure she is, she has capitalized on her physical beauty. One might say she doesn’t mind being objectified.
    She is also a businesswoman, whose company is called Under.me, and sells designer underwear.

    As for Walter the Nerd, I’m not young enough at this point, but were I anywhere near his age, I would be very envious. Fat shaming? This guy is doing just fine. If anything it might be “rosacea shaming” (what is that red all over his face?). But the implication that the way to the heart of a beautiful woman might be doing well in your work is a message that perhaps more of our nation’s young men should be hearing. They are not doing well. If you suggest that perhaps by doing well they might attract beautiful and intelligent women, they might work harder.

    I know I’m probably not being PC, but I care much more about how boys and young men are doing than all this other stuff. Check out a recent featured article in the New York Times on how they are not doing well. It’s titled “The Boys at the Back.”((http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/the-boys-at-the-back/). THAT is really a problem, a big one. And one day it may get the attention it deserves. Boys need studious role models; and maybe Walter the Nerd might not be such a bad one (although from a health point of view, he probably could lose a little weight; and take care of that rosacea or whatever it is).

    • Pale skin + high bloodflow around the cheeks I guess, its always made me surprised too to see just how red his cheeks are. He might be overly anxious too to trigger the Rosacea?

    • You’re right, Bar’s character may be intelligent. But she could also be a drooling idiot. More important, to me, is the intent. Why is she there? She is there to represent the “sexy” side of GoDaddy. It’s blatantly stated. She’s ONLY there to elicit sexual interest.

  6. “The saddest thing of all? GoDaddy isn’t exactly going out of business. If you have GoDaddy, do yourself and all the ladies and gents you know a favor, and switch to a different domain.”
    Thank you SO much for this line! Consumer advocacy is the best way to change companies’ policies and public opinion.

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