How 2016 Super Bowl Commercials' Treatment Of Women Took 1 Step Forward & 2 Steps Back
The Super Bowl may technically be about football, but everyone knows the commercials shown between plays can receive just as much attention as what's happening on the field. With millions of people watching, companies have a unique opportunity to present themselves to an incomparably huge audience. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, so how did the 2016 Super Bowl commercials treat women? Just as with the game itself, there were definitely winners and losers when it came to the portrayal of women in the year's biggest ads, and sometimes, both were found within the same company — or even within a single ad.
While it was great to see some commercials make progress by putting women at their center, and exciting to see companies directly marketing to a female audience, others chose to rely on sexist stereotypes to push their products. For every awesome commercial that let Helen Mirren intimidate viewers everywhere, there was an ad that mined overused tropes for laughs.
Hopefully, next year's advertisers will learn from Super Bowl 50's mistakes so that we can look forward to a slate of commercials that isn't marred by offensive ad spots. Here's a breakdown of how the commercials featured during the 2016 Super Bowl treated women. For every step forward, there were a couple steps back.
1 Step Forward: Hyundai Appeals To A Female Audience With Ryan Reynolds
Any woman who loves football likely knows that often, people don't take female fans seriously. That's why it was so refreshing to see this Hyundai ad during the Super Bowl, because with its many Ryan Reynolds clones and two women at the center, it is clearly directed towards a female audience. It's about time companies caught on to this, because in 2014, AdWeek found that 46 percent of Super Bowl viewers were women, and women tweeted about ads more than men.
...2 Steps Back: Kevin Hart Has No Respect For His On-Screen Daughter
As great as Hyundai's female-focused ad was, it unforunately underminded its own progress with this Kevin Hart-starring commercial. It took the trope of an overprotective father of a daughter to a new low, with Hart stalking his daughter and her date in an attempt to make sure nothing happens between the two. The worst part is, his daughter is totally oblivious to this, so the commercial essentially is a competition between Hart and her date, and we all lose.
1 Step Forward & 2 Steps Back: She Odell'd It... For A Bouquet
Yes, this commercial is simultaneously sexist and progressive. Showing a woman making a catch on par with New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is great, and seeing everyone around her — including Beckham himself — acknowledge her catch is awesome... until you remember she's making that awesome catch because she's determined to catch the bouquet at a wedding. This plays into the sexist stereotype that women are obsessed with getting married, and brings to mind the trope of women fighting over a wedding bouquet that is all too common in media.
1 Step Forward: Helen Mirren Threatens Drunk Drivers
This Budweiser commercial is less flashy than some of the other commercials, but still has a solid impact, as Mirren sits in a restaurant booth and calmly threatens anyone who drinks and drives. The representation of women over 40 in media is severely lacking, so Mirren's central role in the ad is progressive in itself. Then add in the fact that she's a total badass, scaring anyone out of driving drunk, and this becomes one of 2016's single best ads when it comes to female representation.
...2 Steps Back: Objectification Of A Female Doctor
Obviously, men physically cannot stop themselves from looking at an attractive woman, even if that means missing their own father's last words. Or at least, that's what CURE Auto Insurance is saying with this commercial, when a man is so distracted by a female doctor, he loses out on the last seconds of his dad's life to gawk at her and creepily whisper "what's up?" The tagline "Avoid distractions" literally calls this woman a distraction, when all she was doing was her job, speaking to another hospital employee in the hallway. This feeds into the notion that men simply cannot help ogling or harassing women, which promotes harmful behavior such as cat-calling and is demeaning to women everywhere.
1 Step Forward & 2 Steps Back: The NFL's Domestic Violence PSA
By airing this PSA that urges people to look out for the warning signs and get help for anyone who may be in an abusive relationship, the NFL is taking an important step forward in the fight against domestic violence. It's important to raise awareness about domestic violence, and the PSA is shining a very bright light on this issue by showing it during the Super Bowl. However, as Bustle's Emily Shire pointed out, by focusing on abuse in general and looking out for signs among those in your own life, the ad ignores the domestic violence issues that have plagued the NFL itself. It would have been more powerful and effective if the PSA at least acknowledged this connection, before showing the overall message of ending domestic violence in all its forms. Still, this ad is a start.
That's the best way to describe the treatment of women in 2016 Super Bowl commercials overall: It's a start. Some commercials totally nailed it, putting a respected older woman at the center of a very important commercial and acknowledhing the consumer power of female viewers, but others relied on played out stereotypes for laughs — that I hope they didn't receive. Next year, when companies start coming up with the ads that will fill their multi-million dollar TV spots, they should keep these successes and misteps in mind, so that Super Bowl 51 only moves forward in its representation of women.