Why This Gender Scholar Loves the Super Bowl

February 10, 2017

Stacy Blake-Beard

I watch the Super Bowl for the commercials … there, I admit it. As a scholar who studies gender, I find the commercials to be rich ground for discussion. And this year’s commercials were no exception. The Audi commercial with the father watching his daughter in the box cart race was hopeful – he looked forward to a time when we would not face gender inequities, especially in wages. I couldn’t stop laughing at the commercial with Melissa McCarthy as the superheroine coming to the rescue for different causes – Melissa saving the whales, trees, icecaps and even rhinos. I didn’t even remember the product that the ads were representing (which was the Kia Niro – an efficient car) but I did appreciate seeing McCarthy as this woman who could leap high buildings and bound large crevices…maybe? J And then there was the 84 Lumber commercial showing the Latin woman traveling and travailing with her daughter to reach the “land of freedom.” Given the tumult that we are facing right now here in the United States, it was actually painful for me to watch this video. As I bore witness to her strength and resilience and determination … to have her arrive to a wall -- well, all kind of feelings were stirred up for me.

While it was heartening to see gender so overtly represented in each of these ads, my favorite was the “Avocados from Mexico” commercial. The only way I can describe it is sublime – gender was embedded in this commercial in so many little, unspoken and loudly yelling (at the same time) actions and representations. I could teach my whole gender class just using this video. Of course, as the members of the secret society marched in, there was already a man perched on the throne, designating him as the leader. As we’d expect, we only see two women represented in the 9 member group. Surely, we don’t expect to hear from these women – and we don’t except when one asked a couple of questions and the other defended herself when she thought she was being accused. The issue of voice was woven throughout the commercial – who spoke and who didn’t. Now, the sublimity is raised because I am fairly certain that the creators of this commercial were aware of these subtle gender dynamics and … they put them there on purpose … and they wondered if anyone would notice. Did you see them? Did you notice? Hmmmm….

These commercials are a reminder to me. A reminder to pay attention to the implicit and explicit messages about gender that we see every day.  I believe that we need both sets of messages, what we see in the overt displays of gender as well as what we see (or almost miss) in the more covert messaging. It is important to have the hopes of seeing the young girl win, beating out the odds through her skillful maneuvering, and to enjoy the bigger than life heroism of Melissa McCarthy. It is as important that we don't forget that we still face a world in which women are less represented at the top levels in organizations, where men's voices are given more space, and where the leader is assumed to be male. The Super Bowl commercials are a reminder to pay attention to both.