The Super Bowl and Madison Avenue Misogyny

A guest post by Kate. Kate is a freelance writer and full-time law student. Follow her @itscompliKATEd on Twitter.

Superbowl ads are sexist. This is well trod ground: Marketers objectify women and play up stereotypes in order to sell things to (heterosexual) men. But we knew this year was going to be special. This year there was going to be some extra anti-feminist flavor. This year, there was going to be Tim Tebow.

We’ll come back to Tim and his anti-choice ad in a second. But for now, let’s take a look at the companies that decided that it would be a great idea to isolate half the population from their consumer base.
There were fewer half-naked women and dick jokes this year. Instead, the 2010 Superbowl Ad Mantra seemed to have one common theme: “Feeling castrated? . . . by women? Man up.”

Dodge Charger: Man’s Last Stand

A male voice-over starts with a first person monologue of the mundane life of the American male (“I will walk the dog, I will have fruit for breakfast”), as the ad cuts to shots of men staring blankly, blinking at the camera.

“Yeah, life is boring,” you think, “a car could fix that.” But then there’s an eerie crescendo, and it becomes clear that this voice isn’t just listing his gripes with the world, he’s listing his gripes with a person — and not just any person, a woman: “I will say yes, when you want me to say yes . . .I will take your call, I will listen to your opinion of my friends. . . I will be civil to your mother.” Simultaneously the voice-over seems to be getting angrier as the shots get tighter, finally focusing on the twitching eyes of a man in a suit. “Because I do these things, I will drive the car I want to drive.”

The ad is actually frightening. Not only because the voice-over gets more incensed as the tasks get more mundane (putting your underwear in a hamper? you mean being an adult? you think you deserve a car for that?), but because it’s maybe the most explicit misogyny I’ve ever seen in a Superbowl ad. “Feeling emasculated by your wife?” the ad seems to be saying. “Reaching your boiling point? We know you probably want to hit her, but buy a car instead.”

Oh, and did I mention that a television serial-killer (Michael Hall who plays Dexter) does the voice-over? That’s not creepy or violence promoting at all.

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Dockers: Men Without Pants

The first-wave feminist symbolism is almost too much. Literally pants-less men parade across a field singing, “I wear no pants,” seemingly happy until a baritone voice-over interrupts: “Calling all men. It’s time to wear the pants.” Man-up moment #2.

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Flo-TV: Spine Removal

A man stands in a lingerie store draped in bras (explain to me why that’s so bad for a presumably heterosexual male?) while the voice-over begins with an “injury report” on Jason whose “girlfriend has removed his spine.” Nice.

Oddly, Jason seems perfectly happy to be shopping with his girlfriend. But he shouldn’t be, the pitch man suggests and closes with the admonishment : “Change out of that skirt, Jason.” Apparently, if you’re not actively feeling emasculated by women, you should be.

Man-up moment #3.

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Dove: Men’s Lotion

Of all the man-up ads, this one is perhaps the least offensive, but it still carries the theme. A male voice lists the life of a man from birth to adulthood all to the tune of the William Tell overture — in what seems to be a gentler version of the Dodge Charger ad. It starts with climbing ropes in gym class and ends with changing flat tires in the rain while your family waits in the car.

As one Tweeter put it: “Have you seen this Dove for men ad? It’s pretty horrible. Basically life for man = work, meet woman, have kids, DOVE FOR MEN!”

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Focus on the Family : Tim Tebow

I’m going to be honest: it didn’t seem that bad and maybe that’s what was so terrifying about it. I mean if I didn’t know the story behind the ad in the first place, or what Focus on the Family was, I’d be a little confused: “What the hell is she talking about? What’s she talking about ‘I can remember so many times when I almost lost it’ and ‘I still worry about his health’ on a Superbowl ad for?”

And maybe that’s the idea — because then a web address for “the full Tebow story” pops up at the end.

Oh, and “Timmy” tackles his mom in the middle. Funny, that’s just what *I* wanted to do.

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But there’s a silver lining to this year’s ads: Watching these spots you’d think women never buy pants, cars or beer. You’d also think having ads with men complaining about being under the thumb of women made men want to buy your stuff. But you’d be wrong — at least according to the live voting at Hulu’s Adzone.

Throughout today’s game, Hulu has been posting the ads to its page. There, viewers can watch the ads and vote whether they like or dislike the ads. But here’s what makes this awesome: Hulu lets you see how other people voted, and break down the voting by demographic (gender, age, location).

And here’s what men and women are saying: they don’t like the sexist ads. Among men of all age groups and locations, the Tim Tebow mom-tackle; the Dockers’ men-should-wear-the-pants ad and the Dodge Charger misogyny rant were in the top five least liked ads. That’s right, apparently men don’t like being told how to be men.

The ads men did like? Google’s romantic “Search-On” ad was at the top, followed by Doritos “House Rules” spot, where a little boy tells his mom’s gentleman caller to respect his Doritos and his mom.

Maybe, just maybe, we’re making some progress after all.


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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
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43 Responses to The Super Bowl and Madison Avenue Misogyny

  1. norbizness says:

    I liked that Dodge commercial better the first time, when it was called Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

  2. Angie says:

    I’m surprised that one particular tire commercial didn’t make the list. In the commercial, a sleek car drives down a highway at night, only to encounter a roadblock full of thugs. The leader of the hooligans demands, “your tires or your life!”. The driver pushes a woman out of the car and drives off, leaving the disappointed brigands to lament, “I said LIFE, not WIFE!”

    Yeah, great message, guys. Women are expendable. Sacrifice your woman to save your possessions. Honestly, Superbowl commercials can’t get much more sexist!

    I agree that the “Dodge Charger: Man’s Last Stand” commercial is frightening, as it comes within a hair’s breadth of condoning domestic violence (“We know you probably want to hit her, but buy a car instead”).

    Isn’t there some constructive action we can take? Isn’t there some media advocacy group we can ally with to call out these sexist advertizers?

  3. jfm says:

    The polling feature is fascinating. Of course it’s not exactly a scientific one, but even without necessarily having a good representative sampling it absolutely does point out the fact that there’s often a significant gap between the messages these companies are trying to convey in their ads, and the messages people receive or are receptive to. In this case we can see that many advertising campaigns seem to be based on the assumption that men dislike the women in their lives and feel anxious about their masculinity–in other words, women are evil bitches and men are weak and incompetent. But many of the men voting on these ads don’t particularly like them and aren’t buying into that message. Misogyny + misandry is perhaps not a winning formula, at least not for everyone in the audience.

    It’s probably also worth noting that these ads essentially use the same basic tactic as is often used for ads targeted to women: there’s something horribly horribly wrong with you, and to fix yourself you need to buy our stuff.

  4. Steph says:

    Isn’t the Doriotos ad with the little kid offensive too though? I felt it put women in the same category as Doritos…property. *Shrugs*

  5. Renee says:

    Would it be possible to erase the hulu ad with a youtube version? Those of us that live outside of the US do not have access to hulu. Or for future reference the same thing applies to comedy central.

  6. Samantha says:

    Yes, I am with Renee, please use Youtube versions whenever possible. We can’t view the hulu videos outside the US.

  7. Seize says:

    Oh, and did I mention that a television serial-killer (Michael Hall who plays Dexter) does the voice-over? That’s not creepy or violence promoting at all.

    A minor criticism: I agree with you wholeheartedly with most of your observations, but I think pulling in Michael Hall’s role as Dexter is a bit of a stretch. As you discussed, the writing, shooting and acting of that commercial make it plenty scary without us having to phone in something about the voice actor.

    But on to other things. While misogyny was in force, either overtly or covertly, throughout most of the Superbowl commercials, I really enjoyed the elegantly simple ad by Google, which painted the picture of a happy, adventurous man who finds love, marries, and fathers a child. Implicit to the ad’s very concept is the assumption that this man has agency in his decisions to love, to marry, and to have a family life. It’s a captivating and effective ad that manages to target the desired demographic without resorting to another tired play on anxious, subtractive masculinity. I found it a breath of fresh air in an otherwise deeply misogynistic three hours. (There may have been other “good” commercials, but no other stand out in my memory.)

  8. Jadey says:

    Yeah, same comment on the Hulu links here. I mean, have the Hulu, by all means, but it would be awesome if a link to YouTube or other internationally-accessible places could be thrown in as a back-up.

  9. CBrachyrhynchos says:

    The urge to buy a TV tuner and do more than suck down the occasional show from Hulu strikes now and then. And then I read something like this and change my mind.

  10. PrettyAmiable says:

    PS, Thanks to Kate and Jill for pointing this out. A friend of mine and I are presenting on Dockers for one of our classes on Wednesday and we did some research briefly about where they are today which involved a trip to their website where they have a male intoning, “I WEAR THE PANTS.”

    O rly? Even the Dockers for women? What a shitty, inconsistent message.

    But, thank you, because while hulu’s methodology might be suspect (I for instance voted without identifying myself in anyway and don’t really know what happened to my vote), it’s definitely neat to know that more men thought the ad was lacking. Why, of course, remains to be seen. It wasn’t fleshed out in the comments.

  11. benvolio says:

    Now, I love me some Betty White, and I loved watching her so gamely playing football. But goddamn if the point of that is that without snickers, a manly man is an old woman.

  12. Kat says:

    I was pretty disappointed in the ads this year. Sigh.

    After all the hype, the Tim Tebow ad I found to be really odd… he tackles his mother? What’s up with that? Very odd indeed.

  13. Andy says:

    I’m torn on both the Sneakers and Dove commercials. The snickers one because even though it featured Betty White, at the end it was more implied that you’re going to play like an old person if you’re hungry. Not necessarily a poor woman. However, I still cringe that its suddenly okay at the end because they included an older man to compliment the older woman (“See its not sexist!”).

    Dove can kind of be interpreted as rejecting the “This is how guy’s live” idea at the end.

    But Dodge and FloTV can expect me to never patronize them.

  14. Noble Savage says:

    I’m with Steph, I found the Doritos commercial inappropriate and sexist along with the others. What, a grown woman needs her 4-year-old son to ‘protect’ her and the child feels he is in charge of her love life because he’s the ‘man of the house’ (since she’s a single mom and incapable of good judgment, after all)? I didn’t find that cute at all, it was creepy.

  15. I dislike the messages on a pretty basic level. I don’t like it when Madison Avenue tries to lecture or chide me on not being whatever kind of masculinity it thinks I need to be. If I were a woman and was exposed to this sort of thinking in a strictly feminine construct, I’d be just as offended.

  16. thetroubleis says:

    @Seize

    What I liked best about the Google commercial is that the gender of the one searching never came up. It could have easily been a woman, so I found it a bit funny that you jumped to it being a man.

  17. Lauren O says:

    The best part of all this was that as soon as the Superbowl had ended, the Yahoo front page had a story about how the ads were all making fun of men with a headline that was something like, “Men Take a Beating In Superbowl Ads” (paraphrasing from memory).

  18. quartzpebble says:

    @thetroubleis “Mignon” is the masculine form of that adjective; “mignonne” is the feminine. So someone saying “tu es tres mignon” is addressing someone male.

  19. Henry says:

    I can see it in a way. The whole idea of “you will live a life oppressed by estrogenical tyranny without our products because you are pathetic” is insulting to everyone, men and women.

    Christ, if you don’t want to go shopping with your girlfriend or quietly submit to things you don’t like in your relationship, then just don’t do it. Don’t get all passive-aggressive about it like some weak punk.

  20. sophonisba says:

    What I liked best about the Google commercial is that the gender of the one searching never came up.

    No, it did; the english-speaking protagonist googled “tu es tres mignon,” not “mignonne.” It’s explicitly a man who meets and marries a woman.

    However, it is still a very cute non-sexist ad, and they wouldn’t have to change a thing besides the grammatical genders to make it about two women, two men, or a woman meeting a man, which is pretty noteworthy and nice.

  21. Tom Foolery says:

    It’s explicitly a man who meets and marries a woman.

    OR it’s a woman who meets and marries a woman with bad grammar.

  22. thetroubleis says:

    Sorry. I apologize for not speaking French.

  23. thetroubleis says:

    Err, that came out snarkier than I meant it to.

  24. Gillian says:

    I agree that I found the Doritos commercial with the little boy also rather disturbing and creepy, though at least it was a break from the misogyny.

    The one little tiny thing that made me love the Google ad even more is that when the searcher types “how to impress a French girl,” the search results came back as “how to impress a French woman.” Maybe that was random and I am reading into it too much, but when a 24 year old professional such as myself still gets referred to as a “girl,” I have to take time to appreciate the little things.

    Has anyone seen and loved the similar Google commercial using the story of Batman? It is nerdy and hilarious.

  25. harlemjd says:

    Serious, car dudes? Your wife is enforcing when you show up to work? and how long the work meetings are?

  26. Nicole says:

    I’ve seen the Google Batman ad! The whole “searches telling a story” thing is a very cute campaign, direct but inventive. And other than being heteronormative, the sweet romantic tone of the ad was a welcome break from the other ones.

    I’m also surprised the gross Bridgestone “tires or your life/wife” ad wasn’t mentioned here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzBxFkOnYJE That one really made me shudder. I do think the worst one was the Dodge ad, though.

  27. Bagelsan says:

    Dodge was by far the worst. The other ones I rolled by eyes and was like “this is fucking weak” but that one had me not wanting to break eye contact or make sudden movements. I forget where I saw it, but someone mentioned that Dodge was basically selling men the truck they will eventually drive to a gym to go on a woman-hating shooting spree and I couldn’t agree more. If your first thought in the morning is uncontrollable rage against your wife or girlfriend that is seriously disturbing.

  28. Meg says:

    “OR it’s a woman who meets and marries a woman with bad grammar.”

    But they got married in Paris. Isn’t gay marriage illegal in France atm?

  29. come on, now. that’s a bit much. are you going to tackle everyone who disagrees with you and says what they believe? you are free to disagree with whatever you choose, but be civil about it at least.

    and yes, on a whole the ads were terrible. in year’s past there’s been at least one or two that make me laugh… but not this year. and i really don’t understand this recent strong wave of telling men what it is that makes them men… and it’s always things that have absolutely nothing to do with being a man. burgers! steak! trucks! immaturity! yes! ugh.

  30. Well said, thanks! What’s interesting, too, is that women make 80% of all purchasing decisions — not men. Too bad these brainless, sexist advertisers don’t get this.

  31. snobographer says:

    etiquette bitch – women are also like 40-50 percent of the Superbowl viewing audience, so the assumption that all the commercials (except the anti-abortion propaganda piece and the heart health PSA) should be aimed at men is pretty stupid too. You think maybe some time this century advertisers can finally retire the assumption that men are the only people who buy cars and tires? Please?

    There was a blog post on Time magazine’s site written by a male media critic that snarked on the sexism in the commercials, which I found encouraging. Not to dole out cookies, but it was a refreshing change to see a male media critic in a mainstream publication call out misogynist advertising for what it is rather than go off on the usual old tirade about shrill, hysterical feminists.

  32. Sheelzebub says:

    silencewillnotprotectyou–How is the original post uncivil? How are the comments, saying they find the ads disturbing, uncivil? They are only stating their opinions. And seriously, please just drop the tone arguments. Considering how often women get this kind of misogyny thrown at us, it shouldn’t be surprising if we’re not offering these marketers tea and crumpets.

  33. R. Dave says:

    Honest question about the blowback/backlash against redefining traditional masculinity. Is it really such a big deal? Again, I mean that as an honest question, not as trolling. I don’t even come close to the masculine stereotype underlying those ads, but I do identify with certain aspects of it and thus enjoy playing up the exaggerated caricature. And I see that, rather than any kind of misogyny, as the appeal of these ads.

    It’s similar to my self-identification as a geek. I enjoy traditionally geeky activities – video games, D&D, comic books, internet memes, etc. – but I really don’t come close to the stereotype of a “true” geek. Still, I enjoy ads and jokes that appeal to that aspect of my personality and highlight my identity as part of that sub-culture.

    Same deal with the SB ads.

  34. PrettyAmiable says:

    Wait, why hasn’t this prick been banned yet? Can we get on this? He or she has actually been going post to post to berate those of us who have an opinion that is consistent with his or hers. We’re uncivil, we have nothing better to do with our time, etc. I’m done. Can we have a call (and a nomination for the Next Top Troll)?

  35. PrettyAmiable says:

    inconsistent*

  36. Ginjoint says:

    I agree with Angie and Nicole – that Bridgestone ad? I was sitting on my couch, but my jaw was on the floor. The implication of impending gang-rape was right there, no doubt about it. And hey! My car does need new tires. Guess which kind I won’t be buying.

  37. tinfoil hattie says:

    Implicit to the ad’s very concept is the assumption that this man has agency in his decisions to love, to marry, and to have a family life.

    Yes. Another story about a man. A man with agency, which women don’t have in patriarchy. A presumably heterosexual man, because he’s a “mignon” looking for a French “girl.”

    Assumes men want to get married; assumes men are the pursuers; assumes men are heterosexual.

    Boring, trivial, cliched.

  38. Red Stapler says:

    @tinfoil hattie: Yes, but it was charming and romantic, and told a story, which can’t be said about most of the ads this year.

    There was an elegance to the storytelling that is missing in a lot of media today, let alone our advertising.

    That it’s from a male POV and heteronormative shouldn’t be ignored, but why discount what it did well?

  39. PTS says:

    Is the Michael Hall/serial killer thing a joke? I certainly hope so.

  40. tinfoil hattie says:

    why discount what it did well?

    Because I disagree that it did something “well.” Hence the terms “boring, trivial, cliched.”

    As part of the other 51% of the population, I’m not all that influenced by some fictional dude finding some fictional “French girl” to marry.

  41. lauredhel says:

    Dexter relies heavily on first-person voiceover, and it sounds to me (having watched some interviews as well) that Hall is in-character as Dexter in that commercial. (I found a youtube version here.) Which, yes, adds to the creep factor.

  42. P.T. Smith says:

    “and it sounds to me (having watched some interviews as well) that Hall is in-character as Dexter in that commercial. ”

    Yeah, at first I was dismissive of the Dexter connection, but once I saw the ad, yeah, even if he isn’t “playing Dexter,” and the audience has no idea who or what Dexter is, he is using a very, very similiar tone, and there is a reason he uses that tone in Dexter. So, yeah, adding to the creep factor.

  43. http://feministlookingglass.com/2010/02/11/feminist-rebuttal-to-sexist-dodge-commercial/

    […] featured an onslaught of sexist commercials, apparently geared towards men who feel ‘emasculated’ […]

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