The Super Bowl War Between the Sexes

Posted on February 14th, by Elizabeth Debold in Blog, Culture, Masculinity, Uncategorized, women. 7 comments

The Super Bowl isn’t just the annual playoff of pro football’s league champions–a day of beer, betting, whistling, cheers, and potato chips. Every year, the commercials that run during football’s most frenzied fan space provide a glimpse into the current status of the war between the sexes. Years ago, in fact, rumors that Super Bowl Sunday caused the highest incidences of domestic violence of any day in the year led to commericals for women’s shelters and hotlines to be advertised during game time. The truth is that there is no such correlation. But the myth persisted for years because it simply fit neatly into our ideas of men who watch football and the women who serve them their beer and snacks. Super Bowl Sunday, we seem to say as a culture, doesn’t belong to God but to King Testosterone. While advertisers seem to forget that women watch the Super Bowl–and in increasing numbers–game time is widely seen as the perfect opportunity to capture the attention of that remarkable species, the reb-blooded American male. What’s so interesting and revealing is the way they go about getting men’s attention…and what that says about the relationship between the sexes 2010.

Mary Elizabeth Williams did a great overview of the ads–and the male anxiety that they seem to reveal–on Noting that it costs $3 million to air the ads, she commented that they reached “an all-time high of emasculated rage” this year. There’s the one with the guy whose girlfriend has removed his spine and, instead of watching sports, he goes shopping for bras with her. Or the soft looking men singing that they wear no pants–then comes the Docker’s tagline about men wearing the pants again.

And then there’s the Dodge Charger ad. The war cry of the male who is emasculated because he has to put the toilet seat down. I’m not kidding! Or eat berries on his cereal. Or take calls from his girlfriend/wife when he’s at the office. Could these small wounds to a man’s right to loutishness, ten thousand paper cuts, be destroying men’s manliness? Check it out:

Dodge Charger: Man’s Last Stand

Funny, it reminds me of something that the great Simone de Beauvoir said about the fears that femininity was being lost in mid-twentieth century culture. She said that if femininity–which is supposed to be something essential to women–is so easily lost, then it couldn’t be real to begin with.

But back to the Super Bowl Slap Down (or is it “Seat Down”?) So, producer MacKenzie Fegan counters the Dodge charges of emasculation with the other side of the story. She did a spoof on the Super Bowl ad, replacing men’s complaints about women with complaints that you might hear from women about men.

Women’s Last Stand

Wow. Do your own comparison…and sure, the women’s video was not meant to be a Super Bowl commercial. But just think about the different worlds that are portrayed here. I thought that it was very revealing of where we are in our privileged postmodern culture in terms of gender relations and in our efforts to level the playing field between women and men.  

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

7 responses to “The Super Bowl War Between the Sexes”

  1. Nancy says:

    Hi Elizabeth!,

    I just wanted to say that it was great to see you in New York last month and speak with you a bit. You and the women at EnlightenNext are quite an inspiration to me and I want to thank you for the work that you are doing and continue to do for me and all of us women. Your work is allowing us to de-construct ourselves as women, make subject object and really take a look at what and why we are the way we are and then reconstruct the new woman. And you help us do this in such interesting ways! I wish I had had teachers like you in my youth.
    This blog above is a case in point. It shows the apathy of our gender situation and it is really pathetic isn’t it? We as the sexes seem to hate each other and no wonder! There is no higher context in which we live our lives together and everything around us in culture encourages materialism and narcissism.
    I know that we can change this together and create a different culture where men and women truly are living for higher motives and thus a new world emerges. One where we can look back on super bowl commercials as some macabre way we use to be.
    Thanks for starting this site and hopefully more women interested in these matters will share and be together with us.

    • Elizabeth Debold says:

      Thanks, Nancy–great to see you in NYC, too. You are so right about how much a new motivation is needed to create a new culture.

  2. Corinna :) says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    What I found to be very interesting in my reaction to both of these spots was first I saw how both shined a light of truth on how both men and women are lacking in fully taking responsibility for themselves and in doing so exert expectations on the other. More often they are expectations motivated by selfish concern. When we do not take responsibility for our every action, it causes a reaction in another that’s usually of a heated a nature. I have found in my own experience that this seems very directly related to feeling as if I do not have enough space, freedom or understanding from the other. We depend so strongly on the other for our needs, desires and fulfillment. In this shut ourselves off to our own true autonomy.

    I was very struck by a recent quote from Andrew Cohen: “Ease of being. Space. Freedom. Peace. Those are very unusual qualities to be looking for in a sexual relationship.” I agree wholeheartedly! Not just in our personal sexual relationships but with all of our relationships. We are so strongly in each others space and at the same time insist on separation that it makes for a very confusing brew. Another recent sharing by Andrew that really struck me very strongly, “Love is giving, not receiving”. This is so simply true. Most of our actions are taken because we want something in return. Where is the freedom in that way of thinking for our self or for our partner? Seems very claustrophobic to me.

    • Elizabeth Debold says:

      Dear Corinna,
      Great to hear your comment. It’s so true that we often blame our partners for our own lack of autonomy!
      Take care,

  3. Irene says:

    Dear Elizabeth,

    I just turned cold inside when I watched the womens version. The toughness, the negativity, the victimization. And… I recognized almost everything in myself as an active structure. What I start to recognize deeper and more real in myself and in culture is that as women we simply feel victimized for being women. There is this deep dividedness and ambivalence about being a woman, and deep down we blame the men for that. And the same thing seems to be true for men, they have become as ambivalent as we are, and the women seem to be the ones to blame. It is so good ánd challenging to become more objective and real about this in ourselves with only one goal: to transcend it and to find out what a higher, liberated expression of a woman can and will be, as ourselves.

    No (relation) therapy will help us get there (I’ve done it). Changing culture at the level of our soul and consciousnesss, can and will happen by a continuous spiritual interest in what is more true than what we assume to be true. And there are so much strongly held assumptions! Andrew Cohen awakened this interest in me, and since then all my effort, trust, conscious choice and commitment are needed to simply stay with it. But it is proving to be the only way out of our postmodern predicament. And although sometimes my own marriage is a real challenge, it is much more a real and great opportunity to bring light to the active structures between us and go beyond them, step by step, slowly but surely. Not for my or our own sake, but to make a statement that something else is possible. Something positive.

    Thank you so much for everything you are illumating with your writings.

    Warm regards,
    Irene (from the Netherlands, not familiar with the Super Bowl, but with soccer games the same sentiment is right there:-))

  4. Uli Nagel says:

    Dear Elizabeth – this is a great article – yes, those adds were quite the view on where things stand. I watched the super bowl just because of them! Recently there was an article inthe largest German news-magazine that described how in Germany, similar to the situation you described in Scandinavia in your article in EnlightenNext (Whatever happened to the Vikings?) several studies are revealing how disempowered boys and men are feeling these days, how girls are out-performing boys even in subjects traditionally considered boy’s forte, like maths and physics. How more girls than boys are finishing high school and going to college, that girls spend less time escaping into electronic, virtual worlds than their male peers and are far less likely to turn criminal. In short girls are turning out to be more competent and comfortable in the world than boys and young men. So the government is currently discussing ways to help boys in the same way they began to help girls 20 or 30 years ago. So the question about what gender means if we let go of the preconceived ideas and attachments about it and drop the ‘them versus us mentality’ is really relevant. In my thoroughly baby-boomer-conditioned relationship I can see that I wanted, desired, adored, idealized, hated and dismissed men, but did not respect them and how used I am to being in control. So this question is very alive and it’s been quite the discovery that trust and letting go of fixed ideas about what men and women are is leading us forward. I can’t really imagine this being possible in any other context than that of evolutionary enlightenment.


From pop culture to politics, sexuality to spirituality, whatever and what-have-you, I'm commenting on it, hashing out my own thinking on the upward trends and troubles of our times. Please join in with a comment!

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