Best Feminist Super Bowl CommercialsJanuary 28, 2016
Editor’s note: This post was written by AAUW Educational Events Manager Bethany Imondi in 2016. It was updated by Digital Communications Manager Renee Davidson in 2018.
From Hollywood to K–12 education to professional sports, a powerful movement to address gender inequity is taking place across the country. But at this time of year our eyes are focused on another player that has long been notorious for gender bias: Super Bowl advertising. The pressure is on for advertisers to reject damaging gender stereotypes and adequately portray women, who not only made up 47 percent of Super Bowl viewers in 2017 but also represent 45 percent of the National Football League’s (NFL) total fan base.
For advertisers, appealing to women’s purchasing power has major financial gains. Today 42 percent of mothers hold the household purse strings as sole or primary breadwinners. Recent research shows that black women, who are increasingly watching NFL games while most other demographics are declining in viewership, hold tremendous consumer power and market influence. This Super Bowl Sunday we’ll be watching to see if advertisers hit the mark in reaching women. Here are some shining examples advertisers can follow from the past, along with reminders of the ongoing gender barriers that companies can help tackle today.
Here at AAUW we’re all about closing the gender pay gap. So we were elated to see Audi’s prereleased commercial for Super Bowl LII. Daughter shows a girl competing in a go-kart race while her father considers the hard truth that she will likely be paid less than a man, despite her talents. The ad challenges various gender stereotypes that hold girls and young women back, including how women are consistently undervalued compared with men. It also points to the fact that the path to pay inequity starts early for women and girls, which we know is especially true for women of color.
However, the Audi ad (which features a white girl) stops short of addressing the fact that the pay gap varies widely by racial groups. For example, in 2016, black women working full time, year-round in the United States typically were paid 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, whereas white women were paid 79 cents compared with white men. The gender pay gap cannot be closed until all of its effects are addressed. Recently, black actresses including Monique, Tracee Ellis Ross, Wanda Sykes, and Octavia Spencer have called attention to the effects of the gender and racial pay gaps. For Super Bowl LII, we wouldn’t mind seeing their faces in ads calling for equity.
In Pantene’s 2016 Super Bowl commercial, players from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, and New Orleans Saints give their daughters new hairstyles — and encouragement that their girls could grow up to become “strong women” who are “more self-confident, more self-reliant, and more successful.” The series of commercials on the theme of dads styling their daughters’ hair challenges gender stereotypes around fatherhood and masculinity, while also illustrating positive portrayals of male allies. Years later, Pantene’s series still sends a timely message on the powerful role that men can play in supporting women and girls.
The Always brand’s 2015 entry into the Super Bowl advertising market was a somewhat unexpected but undeniably successful move. Lauded as one of the best commercials of Super Bowl XLIX, the company’s Like a Girl campaign defied gender stereotypes about what it means to run, throw, or fight “like a girl.” Instead of being an insult, this inspiring ad turned #Likeagirl into the ultimate compliment. We’re proud that we were ahead of the curve: Our 2013 video, You Throw Like a Girl, similarly challenged gender bias by reclaiming the term “like a girl.” Our video focused on Title IX, the federal legislation that prohibits gender discrimination in athletics and education and plays a powerful role in preventing sexual harassment and assault.
The engineering toy company GoldieBlox became the first small business to air a televised ad during the Super Bowl with its 2014 spot, Rocketship. Founded in 2012 by Stanford-trained engineer Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox was inspired in part by AAUW’s 2010 report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. GoldieBlox used its 30 seconds in the Super Bowl spotlight to showcase its construction toys that encourage girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The commercial not only made history but also aimed to disrupt the pink aisle and inspire a future generation of women engineers. Today STEM fields continue to grow rapidly, yet women remain underrepresented. Through educational programming, research, and advocacy, we’re working toward achieving gender equity in STEM.
Apple’s allusion to the George Orwell novel 1984 is remembered as one of the greatest Super Bowls commercials of all time. In the ad a woman plays a pivotal role in announcing Apple’s newest personal computer. Representing Apple breaking the mold, the ad also encouraged a generation to enter technology fields, which offer women some of the highest-paying job opportunities. But more than 30 years later, there’s still work to be done: Women make up just 12 percent of the engineering workforce and 26 percent of the computing workforce. Fortunately AAUW has the tools and strategies that companies and advocates need to recruit and retain women.
Dove reminds us that feminism isn’t just for women and that nurturing, loving parenting doesn’t belong exclusively to one gender. In #RealStrength, Dove focuses on fathers’ tender moments with their children to show that emotion and caring are not and should not be considered “women’s” traits. With images of fathers tending to their crying infants, hugging their newly married daughters, and kissing their sons’ hurts away, Dove reminds men that “care makes a man stronger” — an important message in the fight for gender equity. Recognizing and rejecting gendered stereotypes is the first step toward correcting gender bias.
At the current rate of progress in closing the gap, women will not receive pay equity until the year 2119.
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