Super Bowl Commercials and Misogyny

Super Bowl ads! Analyzing the Tim Tebow ad, and the deluge of misogyny from other ads. Also, Tracy Van Slyke talks about the importance of the netroots for media activism.

Super Bowl ads! Analyzing the Tim Tebow ad, and the deluge of misogyny from other ads. Also, Tracy Van Slyke talks about the importance of the netroots for media activism.


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Links in this episode:

Tim Tebow ad

Beyond the Echo

Ad analysis at Feministe

Your point?


On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be interviewing Tracy
Van Slyke about the netroots and influencing the political system.  And then another two-parter, this time
regarding the Super Bowl ads.  The
first segment will be on the much-ballyhooed Tebow ad and the second segment
will be on the outrageous sexism overall in ads this year.


PBS NOW took a look at clinic escorts.  What was interesting is how loudly and
clearly it comes through that anti-choicers are largely motivated by both
hostility to women and a perverse obsession with breaking down a woman’s basic
right to respect and privacy.


  • escort


It’s like gossip, except meaner and more in your face and
blatantly misogynist.



In the run-up to the Super Bowl, there was a lot of fussing
about an ad sponsored by Focus on the Family that would be about the Florida
Gators quarterback Tim Tebow, and his mother’s claims that she was encouraged
to abort the pregnancy that resulted in him. The ad itself ended up being,
well, hard to really understand if you didn’t know much about it going in.


  • tebow
    1 *


At this  point,
he tackles his mother, which is supposed to prove how tough she really is. The
first thought I had while watching this is that someone who hadn’t heard about
the controversy would assume this is just an ad about how much Pam Tebow loves
her son, which is weird, because don’t pretty much all mothers of sons love
their sons?  The ad is shot on a
white background and resembles the eHarmony ads so much that you’d be forgiven
for thinking that this woman in the ad is Tim Tebow’s wife, not his mother.


But then I thought about the ad in terms of what I know
about the anti-choice strategy. 
Mainly, by having this woman tell the story of the choice she made,
they’re trying to impress us with how misogynist they’re not, even though they
are objectively campaigning for laws that would kill millions of women
worldwide.  And they’re even trying
to imply they love women making choices, when of course Focus on the Family and
the Tebows are fighting against a woman’s right to choose.  But they’re really tone deaf about how
to do this.  Having a man run over
his mother while she’s trying to talk isn’t really the best way to send home
the message that you’re pro-woman. 
In an ad that’s not about restricting women’s rights, that would just be
cute, but in this ad, it has weird overtones.


But what really bothered me was that Pam Tebow brags about
how tough she is.  Since she’s
advising women to ignore their doctors when their doctors tell them pregnancy
is dangerous, this is alarming.  It
implies that if you can’t survive a dangerous pregnancy, it’s because you’re a


On the Rachel Maddow show, Rachel made a good point about
what it means to encourage women to choose to go forward with dangerous


  • tebow
    2 *


The innocuous nature of the ad probably protects CBS itself
if someone takes this advice not to listen to your doctor seriously, but Focus
on the Family is treading on to some seriously unethical ground trying to
convince women to do things that risk their health, their fertility, and even
their lives. 


If you actually follow the ad’s instructions and go to Focus
on the Family’s website, you’ll find that things start to get really weird.
Basically, it’s hard to figure out what Pam Tebow’s trying to say here.


  • tebow
    3 *


But she doesn’t explain why the doctor thought this.  Instead, she skips right over talking
about that and starts to explain why she, presumably being a god-fearing woman,
decided she didn’t need to live or to receive decent prenatal care.


  • tebow
    4 *


So it’s worse than even Rachel Maddow thought. They’re not
just encouraging women to go forward with dangerous pregnancies, but they’re
casting a wide net so that women with very severe conditions might believe they
should.  And they’re encouraging
women to avoid prenatal care. 
Well, Pam Tebow believes god rewarded her serious self-abnegation by
giving her Tim Tebow, who went on to the win the Heisman.  This is where the argument gets


  • tebow
    5 *


She keeps going on in this vein about how she feels God
intervened to save Tim Tebow.  At
the end, they talk about how they discovered the placental abruption in the
delivery room.  Or at least that’s
the implication, which would mean that can’t be why Pam Tebow was told to
abort.  We’re left with an
incoherent story, where she was told to abort, but we don’t know why.  And she insists that God had a plan for
Tim Tebow, and he kept saving him. 
Well, if God controls everything, it seems it would also be part of
God’s plan for women to abort, if they feel that’s right, as well.  Women who have abortions often go on to
have  more children or to raise the
ones they want or have careers or education that the abortion made
possible.  If you think God was
working through Pam Tebow, then why not working through other women who do
other things besides give birth to football stars?



insert interview



The Tim Tebow ad wasn’t the only ad to air during the Super
Bowl, as you can imagine.  In fact,
it was surprising to many of us that an ad that was, at the end of the day,
trying to encourage women to go forward with dangerous pregnancies, still
managed to come across as a less misogynist ad than many that played during the
Super Bowl.  The big theme in a lot
of ads this year was that women are all-powerful castrators who need to be
resisted by buying products.  There
was an exhaustive amount of pro-feminist response to many of the ads on blogs
and on Twitter.  Guest poster Kate
at Feministe rounded up some of the ads and had an interesting thesis, which is
that these ads are ineffective because they’re unpopular  She noted that some of the most
misogynist ads were ranked the lowest on Hulu by both men and women. 


I was happy to see that the public at large was as hostile
to the sexist ads as I was, but I’m pretty sure Madison Avenue is going to keep
plunging down this road.  And the
reason is that you don’t have to like an ad for it to work on you.  In fact, products that are sold on insecurity
sometimes work better if you hate the ad. 
Let me play an example from a universally reviled, misogynist ad, for
the Dodge Charger.


  • commercial
    1 *


The ad alarmed a lot of people, because the sheer anger and
hatred from the male narrator aimed at the presumed harpy wife who makes the
target audience put his clothes in the hamper.  More than a few feminist bloggers pointed out that the ad
plays footsie with domestic violence before charging off into the "work it out
by driving fast" territory.  One
thing is certain.  The ad linked
the sort of low level boredom we all feel at having to be grown-ups to fears of
emasculation and blamed it all on women, who are treated like we just love
having to do household chores or something. 


Even if you hate this ad, the implicit argument, which is
that having to do your boring work like everyone else is an assault on your
manhood, may be something men reject consciously, but will creep back up when
they’re feeling low.  And the
advertisers hope that low feeling results in a car sale, but unfortunately, in
many cases men take the argument that women are to blame for all their problems
seriously, and end up lashing out at women.


Another ad for Flo TV took a more playful tone, but it was
still sexist as could be.  In it,
you see a guy shopping happily with his female partner, and this is presented
as inexcusable behavior.


  • commercial
    2 *


This ad makes the underlying idea more explicit, which is
that the advertisers don’t care if you like shopping or like being with your
wife.  They’re going to insist that
you feel insecure about these things, and feel emasculated.  And that the only way to get over the
feeling of insecurity is to buy the product.


Ads like this work in the same way that hyper-skinny models
in magazines work on women, by preying on insecurities.  We can intellectually denounce the use
of models who encourage eating disorders, but at the end of the day, the body
anxiety it produces stays with us, and the marketers have products designed to
alleviate that anxiety, but only for a little bit, so we will need more


These ads I covered are misogynist but they’re also
anti-male; they’re there to exploit men’s anxieties.  There were ads that were just openly misogynist,
though.  Like this ad for Bridgestone
tires.  A car is stopped by a bunch
of super villains.


  • commercial
    3 *


Basically, when asked to choose between his tires and his
life, the guy misunderstands and gleefully hands over his wife.  This is less anxious masculinity and
more about reaching out to male consumers on the assumption that everyone here
can agree that women are awful and suck. 
This ad is more narrowly aimed at men who find pleasure in hating on
women.  The other ads prey on men
who may not like the ads, but who nonetheless are made to feel insecure and



And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, wow, you’re kind of dim
edition.  James O’Keefe, who is
trying to make a career for himself creating highly edited videos supposedly
exposing mostly innocent people, and who got himself arrested allegedly trying
to sabotage Senator Landrieau’s office, also released a video where a male
friend of his and he tried to get married, claiming they were straight with no
external evidence to prove it. 


  • maroons


I think what’s telling about this supposed expose is the
silly belief that only same sex marriages could work this way.  Why doesn’t O’Keefe think that a gay
man and a lesbian could get married for benefits?  Or a straight man and woman?  Or a straight person with someone gay of the opposite
sex?  Does he simply think it’s
impossible for men and women to be close enough to arrange that sort of thing
without having sex?  What a sad,
narrow view of the world.