Women-Hating Ads and Shock Value at the Super Bowl

I watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. And I’m kind of upset at the trend with more and more companies releasing their spots early. It’s like opening Christmas presents early. One is fun. More than that sounds like a good idea, too. But future-Sharon never thanks past-Sharon for the Christmas morning letdown.

An Understandable Need for Attention
I get it. For one day a year, people pay attention to commercials instead of trying to ignore them. These commercials are expensive to produce and air. If a company can get extra mileage out of the spot and create more buzz, they need to do that.

Are Super Bowl ads actually better than other ads? Sure, they’re more creative and do a better job of jumping up and down, yelling, “PAY ATTENTION TO ME!!!” But that need to be different in a space full of other spots competing for the title of boldest/funniest ad, well, some of them are bound to be offensive.

The Difference Between Good Attention and Bad Attention
Every time an organization apologizes for a tweet or commercial, I imagine the conversation that approved the content. “Of course it’s insulting, that’s why it’s good!” “People have a sense of humor about that now.” “We need to be edgy to get attention.” “If we’re subtle in the way we turn women into sex objects, it’s hard for people to call us on it.” I have no idea how some of these ads get made. This is straight-up speculation (and kind of fun, actually).

But many ads cross a line. In graduate school I studied human trafficking, so this example of tasteless advertising has always stuck with me. India is widely known for sexual violence, although this is an enormous problem in the U.S. as well.

App Creates Conversation About Gender in the Media
As Yahoo points out, viewers can now use this app to call out misogynistic ads during the Super Bowl. A side note on vocabulary: I’m not a fan of the word “sexist,” because I think most people have negative ideas attached to it. I also don’t like “misogynistic” because it’s too long for this writer to really get behind it. I’ll settle with “women-hating” for the most extreme ads. I haven’t found a word or phrase that covers ads that don’t hate women per se, but fall short of respect.

This is a tough conversation because it’s hard to pin down what respecting women in ads looks like. With a fine art background, I believe that images of nudity can be beautiful and affirming. So when is a woman showing skin and when is she a sex object?

And while I’m talking about labels, I find many people have negative ideas about the words “feminist” as well. A feminist can be anyone who wants to thoughtfully consider the role of women in society. Or ask how their experience is different than men’s. By that logic I’m a feminist. So is my husband. Women may have approved that Ford ad. We can’t just assume men are the bad guys. Starting a conversation about these issues is incredibly important.

What does an ad have to do to be called “women-hating?”  What makes an ad disrespectful to women?

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