Among the great plays, polar bears and Clint Eastwood tear-jerkers, last night’s Super Bowl had another recurring theme. Nearly naked women. Now, obviously, this is a huge sporting event that attracts millions of viewers, a large percentage of which are men. And hello, this isn’t a new phenomenon. I’m not ignorant, nor a prude, but I do, like many women, buy cars, register domains and drink beer. Apparently, not in large enough number to merit being the target audience for these advertisers.
Buying behavior aside, it can’t be disputed that women are portrayed in the media in a hypersexualized way. Young women and girls are subjected to an endless stream of messages that, by design or not, make them feel inadequate. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. Not sexy enough. Not enough.
Last night, the makers/supporters of the film Miss Representation were tweeting under the hashtag #NotBuyingIt to call out some of these advertisers and their tactics.
While some of the commentary drifted into man-hating territory, which can be just as counterproductive as the ads themselves, I start to worry when women perpetuate and advance these stereotypes by trading on their looks and manipulating with their sexuality. Bombarding us with images of hypersexualized women, after all, requires women that allowed themselves to be hypersexualized, right? Danica Patrick knew what Go Daddy expected of her when she signed that endorsement deal.
Having been in corporate America for a long (very long) time, I have seen both ends of that spectrum on numerous occasions.
“I know exactly what I’m wearing to the presentation with the CEO. My red dress will ensure he approves my proposal.”
“I’m appalled that women would use their femininity as a weapon! I am smart enough that my work should speak for itself.”
The truth is that both are likely true. The problem really starts when young women and girls, under the constant pressure to be pretty, focus solely on their looks and how they are perceived by men. The problem continues when women become conditioned to get what they want by being flirtatious or sexual to get it.
Men are free to be nerdy, smart, quirky, powerful and funny. (Exhibit A: giant nerd on the Fiat commercial.) Women need to be skinny and pretty, with big boobs. (Again, the Fiat commercial, among many others.)
Just look at TV shows like King of Queens, According to Jim or Still Standing. They all feature married couples where the overweight, marginally successful, yet lovable men (Kevin James, James Belushi, and Mark Addy, respectively) are married to thin, attractive, and independent women (Leah Remini, Courtney Thorne-Smith and Jami Gertz, respectively.)
So, young men of the world, here is what you can expect: let yourself go physically, don’t bother working very hard and you will land a thin, beautiful woman who will be more than happy to rub your ever-expanding belly before she bounces her perky breasts over to the gym.
Oh, and while you’re at it, any woman other than your version of a “10″ is open to your ridicule, jokes and judgment.
You can easily see how women, young girls especially, feel tremendous pressure to look and dress a certain way. That pressure results in things like push-up bras for 10 year olds and breast augmentation as a high school graduation present.
Then one day, the girls on a steady diet of push-up bras and boob jobs grow up, and how do they value themselves? Say they go into business, as I did. What tools will they use to navigate the male-dominated political landscape?
For women, like me and many of my readers, who have struggled with obesity, where do we fit in? How do we begin to compete?
It’s a complicated, messy and super-charged topic, and I don’t think it can be solved by one film or blog post, but keeping the conversation active and cultivating positive and nurturing environments for the women and girls around us is a good first step.