Touchdown or Let Down?

By Grace Wydeven

Though it seems like forever ago due to our busy schedules, the events of Super Bowl XLIX remain fresh in my mind for reasons other than the last minute Seahawks upset and subsequent Pats victory. In that same week GUWIL invited our members, non-members, and freshman looking to score more than just housing points to our “BYOB: Bring Your Own Boy” meeting. In light of the Super Bowl it was only natural that we (males and females) discuss more than the final score in terms more nuanced than simply touchdowns and field goals.

The NFL has recently received a plethora of complaints relating to its players’ treatment of women and the lack of action taken against these offenders. Though it may seem that issues may need to be dealt with at the individual level, the football players ultimately represent the National Football League on and off the field, and as we have seen, their actions seem to speak pretty loudly.

The most obvious and abhorrent example of this issue is the video that surfaced of the Baltimore Ravens running back hitting and shoving his fiancée in an elevator. The video created a huge media controversy and flung the question of domestic violence in the NFL into the arena. After the loud and unforgiving backlash (to be expected, no doubt) the Super Bowl tensions were heightened indeed not only between the Patriots and the Seahawks, but also between frustrated feminists and one of the most stereotypically male institutions in our society today.

So with all eyes on the NFL, it seemed the League itself had as much to prove to the viewers as the two opposing teams did to their fans that day. Needless to say, more than one battle was hard fought that Sunday. As we discussed in our meeting, the criticism of the NFL’s treatment and respect for women resulted in some very pointed, not-so-subtle advertisements (one of the biggest attractions the Super Bowl holds for non-football fans, besides Katy Perry’s dancing sharks). Dove for Men played ads touting the humble fatherly-type of man as a dad embraced his children lovingly with little trace of the macho man persona typically associated with male-targeted products. And on the other, the #LikeAGirl campaign quickly became a Twitter trend for it’s depictions of children acting out what they felt it meant to perform various actions “like a girl.”

Both ads draw attention to ideas that desperately need our society’s attention, though both also present gaping holes in the practical argument that modern day feminism needs to address in order to maintain relevance and credibility. On the one hand, the Dove commercial presents a positive image for males: a father who is no less masculine for having genuine, heartfelt emotions. In contrast, the commercial also comes off as a somewhat desperate attempt by the NFL to overcompensate and prove a certain point, rather than to sell body wash. Nonetheless, a positive male image of a father, certainly beats one of male chauvinism, or worse the sexual objectification of females as is typically common in many Super Bowl ads. This year however, the tone of the commercials was different. How many half-naked supermodels were featured in this year’s ads? Certainly not as many as in prior Super Bowls. Instead commercials such as Like A Girl flaunted a need for feminism in a practical grassroots manner.

Nevertheless, the feminists certainly don’t have it all right either. The Like A Girl movement, while refreshing initially, seems to condemn males as if the stereotype is entirely due to them. As Emma Watson so eloquently espoused just a few months ago in her launch of the He For She movement, condemnation of either gender gets us nowhere. Two wrongs certainly don’t make a right: in order to achieve true reform in our society, we must not punish or blame each other for the inequalities that plague females, but instead work together to promote equality for both males and females. The use of “and” here is non-negotiable: without male support feminists are overly dramatic, senselessly angry 30 and 30-somethings, and without female support men are all muscular protein-shake chugging chauvinists. Neither stereotype helps us arrive at the larger truth, that both genders have suffer from prejudice, but one without the other simply and inherently with not succeed in rectifying such blatant injustices.

But why now? Is the NFL attempting make hasty amends for a controversial scandal or are we really witnessing the start of true reform in the industry and ultimately in our society? I believe that there are quite a few observations to be made about this years’ marked change in advertising, none of which, unfortunately, are concrete conclusions or solutions.

Although it is my desperate hope for things to be otherwise, the NFL as an institution has not necessarily had a true and lasting change of heart. The Ray Rice scandal left an inevitable black mark on the league and has overshadowed many of its decisions and actions since. A change in marketing during the Super Bowl certainly is not enough to conclude that the National Football League or all of the players who represent it have necessarily changed for real, or for the better. While I appreciated the notable lack of overly sexualized advertising, I will be eager to see the nature of next year’s ads and whether or not this trend is really here to stay.

In all, the general advertising trends in this years’ Super Bowl absolutely shed a spotlight on the treatment of women in our society, especially through the lense of the NFL. However, to conclude that such a deeply seeded issue can be fixed with a few heartfelt and carefully placed advertisements would be false. The NFL must continue to crack down on cases of violence against women involving its players and project a more positive, active image for the league as a whole. And as for the feminists, we need to refrain from blaming and attacking, and instead call for a unified front against stereotypes, inequalities and prejudices that plague women in our society. Men and women working against each other only leads to unproductive negativity.

So, in all the only definite conclusion one can reach in regard to Super Bowl XLIX is this: the Patriots beat the Seahawks by 4 points. The nuances regarding the NFL’s attitude towards women in advertising are much less black and white.