Sexist Super Bowl Commercials

Super Bowls are notorious for their commercials. It’s one of the main attractions, even for people who don’t care about football. I didn’t care for either this year, but since my family was into it, I decided to sit down and watch a few bits of the game. I was quickly reminded of how much I despise television.

For me, the disturbing thing about sexist and misogynist commercials is that they are designed to draw laughter from the audience. Seeing a man behave like a chauvinistic and inconsiderate jerk around a woman who is trying to simply make conversation is seen as funny because that’s the truth media and society has established about women and men. Men are this way, and women are that way and that’s all we need to know. It’s very simplified. And people like simple. It leaves no room for complexity and diversity.

I am not surprised by the sexist commercials. I wouldn’t expect anything else from the entertainment industry which uses sex and objectification of women to sell their products. I saw a commercial for an upcoming television war drama and it followed the usual formula: men, violence, and sex. We have all seen these images whenever watching a trailer for an action movie. There’s always the handsome and buff male protagonist, there’s always epic music playing in the background, there’s always the explosions, fist fights, and gun fights. Then there’s always that quick shot of two people having sex, a woman taking off her shirt or dancing in a club or striking a sexual pose while twirling a sword, kicking someone in the stomach, or firing a gun.

Two other commercials stood out to me. First, one of the Bud Light commercials showed women at a small book club meeting and drinking Bud Light. The man, who is about to leave the house to play baseball, tells the women, “have a nice book club.” Then he notices their Bud Light and decides to crash the meeting. As he listens to one of the women explain the plot of the book, he comically selects some of her words and transforms them into sexual innuendos. Then he flirts with another woman and says, “I’d like to hear you read some words.” At the end of the commercial, we see a woman talking with another man and asking, “So do you like ‘Little Women?'” He answers, “Yeah, I’m not too picky.”

This generates laughter because it’s how we’re supposed to think about women and men. It’s acceptable for a man to blow off a serious conversation that a woman is trying to have, even if that woman is his friend, relative, or partner. Men are just being the way they “naturally” are; they’re just having a good time, flirting with whoever they want, and not being “too picky.” And women just have to accept that.

The second commercial about Bridgestone tires really upset me. In its cinematic theme, it opens with a fancy car racing through the dark and rainy night as it’s been chased by a larger vehicle. The car finds itself at a dead end where a crowd of sci-fi looking villains block the road. Their leader says to the immobile vehicle, “Alright, here’s the deal: your Bridgestone tires or your life!” After laughing maniacally, we see a woman being forced out of the car. The car reverses and speeds off, away from the scene. The villain says, “Wait, I said ‘life,’ not… ‘wife’!”

It’s very hard not to see the misogyny in this commercial. It states very clearly that a man’s tires are valued more than his wife. Because women are disposable. The car is a very powerful masculine symbol and its tires represent toughness, mobility, and freedom. Tires are also about durability; a man can endure the loss of his wife and can easily survive on his own. Men are explorers and women are just there for the ride.

The commercial tells us that a man will choose his manhood over a marriage or romantic relationship. Even the other men (the villains) weren’t interested in the wife character at the end. All of the men wanted tires. They wanted that power. As men, we’re taught that we rule the world; that we”re the hot s@#$; and that we have the authority to dictate how others, especially women, should behave, speak, and dress.

This unearned privilege comes along with being a man. I remember a conversation I had once amongst a group of men and they were asking whether or not it’s “ok” for a man to cheat on his partner. I said, “No, because that’s just wrong. It’s disrespectful and hurtful to your partner’s feelings.” Others interjected and said, “It’s about a man’s word, and a man should never go back on his word. Don’t talk about feelings.”

Don’t talk about feelings. It’s more about our manhood — about us — than about another person. If it’s between women and our manhood, the latter comes first. Women are disposable and replaceable. As the commercial illustrated, if women are in our way, we’ll just tell them to hit the road. We don’t care if we leave them out in the cold rain with a whole group of strangers. She’s someone else’s problem. We can use you and when we’re done, we can drive off and find another.

Because that’s how “real men” roll.

5 thoughts on “Sexist Super Bowl Commercials

  1. Wow–some marketers/advertising executives obviously thought that this approach would sell to the Superbowl crowd, at least stereotypically a bunch of men and the wives who prepare the food for them. In that sense, the commercials are worrisome as not only projecting sexism and misogyny but tapping into that which exists. The humour makes it go down more easily, including for the women watching. However, ultimately these attitudes do a disservice to both men and women, since the men are portrayed poorly as well. Interestingly most men don’t treat women this badly, at least not the ones they love: mothers, sisters, daughters, and wife. However, some are callous about opposite sex relationships, as are so women (usually going for richer, stereotypically).

    Off topic: I just did a post on Israel Apartheid Week 2010, which is this week, and is a week to a month of events on campuses and in cities world wide to heighten awareness of the Palestinian situation and of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign. It is prominent on North American campuses though controversial.

    I hope you and your readers will read and comment. All perspectives respectfully stated are welcome.

    Israel Apartheid Week 2010: 1-4 weeks focused on Palestine

  2. This is a really well written review of Kurbaan. Your thoughts mirrored mine about the portrayal of Muslim men and women in this film. It was really upsetting to watch. I was especially looking forward to it because Saif Ali Khan, a Muslim himself, was marketing this film as being very true to life (well as close as Bollywood could ever think to get…)

    Sigh… maybe next time.

  3. Stumbled onto the website and read through the article and I think you’re missing the point, men are laughing at the commercials because they are ridiculous and over the top. Not because it is realistic and an accurate portrayal of what every man wants to be.

  4. Hi, I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your blog! And also it amped up my hopes a lot, this is the first male feminist muslim blog i’ve seen and it makes me happy to see that you exist (and if you do, than hundreds of others do too, at the least, i’m sure!). I’m not muslim, but very much atheist, but I’m a feminist and I agree with you in most of your posts. The whole burka/niqab-debate for example is just bizarre! Why try to force these women to NOT wear it? They will just end up being even more marginalized! OK, enough ranting.. Good blog! Keep it up! The world needs people like you!
    /Lovisa, from Malmoe, Sweden

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