Superbowl Sexism: Tenuous Masculinity Edition

Ah, Superbowl commercials – you can always count on them for feminist fodder.  Throughout the day, we’ll be bringing you the best (the worst?) of the Superbowl’s commercials – including, of course, the Focus on the Family ad that’s been the center of so much controversy.

Brace yourselves.

This first ad, “Man’s Last Stand,” is one of my favorites…

I will blame women for “making” me be a halfway decent human being. I will whine about having to do things like working, being considerate, and cleaning up after myself. And because I do all this, my unfortunate partner will be forced to listen to me insist that getting the kind of car I want is necessary for my penis’ very life.

Transcript after the jump


Narrator:

I will get up and walk the dog at 6:30AM, I will eat some fruit as part of my breakfast

I will shave, I will clean the sink after I shave

I will be at work by 8am, I will sit through two hour meetings

I will say yes when you want me to say yes, I will be quiet when you don’t want to hear me say no

I will take your call, I will listen to your opinion of my friends, I will listen to your friends’ opinions of my friends, I will be civil to your mother

I will put the seat down, I will separate the recycling, I will carry your lip balm, I will watch your vampire TV shows with you

I will take my socks off before getting into bed, I will put my underwear in the basket

And because I do this, I will drive the car I want to drive

Charger: Man’s Last Stand

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60 Comments

  1. Lance
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I particularly love this ad because of the car it’s selling. Now, I am by no means a car guy– I live in NYC and before that, I was happy with a toyota corolla– but I somehow doubt the average guy dreaming of rebelling against female ‘tyranny’ imagines himself behind the wheel of a DODGE CHARGER.

  2. PamelaVee
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I think this commercial could have had a really non-sexist twist, with the theme that the drive is a getaway from boring office life or something, rather than the dick on wheels, obviously-hating-his-life aspect. That really did seem to be personal. God forbid you throw out your whiskers after you muck up the sink. Oh wait, that’s my job, right?
    And since when have guys been forced to carry lip balm for their (implied) girlfriends/wives? With me it’s always “can you put this in your purse?” and I oblige because he asks nicely, but draw the line at 2 items.

  3. Gnatalby
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    The worst part of this ad, to me, is that it’s narrated by Michael C. Hall, aka, Dexter. It really contributed to my feeling that these men’s faces were just a superficial placid mask over a homocidal rage.
    The Dodge Charger: for when you need a spacious interior to accommodate several garbage bags of your wife’s remains after you watch her vampire show for the very last time.

  4. PamelaVee
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Dodge chargers may just attract d-bags. I dated a guy in high school who was totally in love with his “vintage charger” and would talk at length to strangers. The a/c didn’t work and you couldn’t run the radio AND the wipers at the same time, but damn it, it was vintage.
    Yeah, glad we aren’t together. That was so long ago.

  5. amkurtz
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Speaking of ads, could we get rid of the Old Spice “smell like a man” ads?

  6. strangedays
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    This is totally going to drive me nuts all day, as I don’t get to see the American commercials during the actual broadcast. If I did see the commercials, the fun would be totally sucked out of the Super Bowl.

  7. schismtracer
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Presumably, the target guys have been divorced a few times and can’t afford a Ferrari.

  8. supremepizza
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Marriage is compromise. Married people make all kinds of them, including over cars.
    My parents have been married 44 years & the compromise they’ve worked out is that Ma always gets the good car, lol. Ironically in light of this commercial, the one time Dad got the nice car, my brother totaled it 2 weeks later (back when auto insurance wasn’t mandatory, ouch!) That may have been what led to the Great Car Compact of 1975 to begin with, lol.

  9. Sloppy Sandwich
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I was watching this commerical while three children under five were all playing an electronic keyboard at full volume in the same room so I couldn’t hear any of it, I just saw all these staring man-eyes and I was thinking “somebody’s trying to be intense.”

  10. Sex Toy James
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I loved that commercial. They just branded the Charger as “The car for men who are compensating for not having any balls.” The narrative is “I feel powerless over my life so I am compensating with this car.” That is so so great. Big sports cars always implied “compensating for something”, but they just came right out and said it.
    Sadly, I don’t know anyone who owns a Charger, as I would be forced to make whippy noises at them.
    Realistically it’s disturbing that Dodge thinks that enough men will identify with this commercial and view compromising everything and making up for it with a sports car as a positive thing. I’m torn between “Really, it is a sacrifice to put your underwear in a laundry basket?” and “The answer to a relationship that you are not happy in is not to spend $30k or so on a monument to how unhappy you are with your life, and then drive it around for everyone to see.” I’m worried about the guys in this country now.

  11. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    First of all, it’s a damned DODGE CHARGER – a pathetic car from a pathetic make manufactured by a bankrupt company!
    If my masculinity has to be proved by owning that car….then I’m beyond help.
    But wait, let’s analyze that – why is it that a man has to “prove his manhood” based on the automobile he drives?
    By that standard, I’m very “unmanly” – I’m a New Yorker, I take subways and buses and I have never owned a car in my life!
    And this business that a man somehow compromises himself and his “masculinity” if he is a responsible adult and does responsible adult stuff like attending work-related meetings, taking care of his pet dog, cleaning up after himself when he uses the bathroom, not dumping his dirty clothes around the house and actually listening to his wife’s opinion as if she was an intelligent human being who might just have some insight on how he lives his wife.
    There’s also an underlying assumption that all “real men” are 1) straight and 2) married [with the implicit assumption that all other men are so terminally "unmanly" that even a Dodge Charger wouldn't save us!]
    But, honestly, I don’t particularly care for this ad’s definition of “manly” – which, apparently, involves being a straight married guy who never cleans up after himself or cares what his wife thinks.
    So, no thanks, Chrysler – your bankrupt company can keep your rigid Dodge Charger masculinity …I’ll take the subway instead!

  12. TeenMommy
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    But if it was womanly leg hair in the bath tub (as opposed to manly man burly facial hair in the sink), that would just be gross.
    :/

  13. uberhausfrau
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    remember the hummer ads from about 3 years ago? they ran for a very short period of time because they just came out and said people bought/drove hummers to make up for their own “insecurities.”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lL4ZkYPLN38
    i cant find the “woman’s” ad but essentially a mom and daughter are at the playground, another child cuts infront of daughter. cutter child’s mom gives first mom a passive-aggressive smile. first mom goes and buys a hummer.

  14. paperispatient
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Haha, you took the words out of my mouth.
    Dodge Charger: the car that’ll get you back your balls.

  15. Us
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    What is sad about these commercials is that they only offer very small means of what it means to be a man. It usually implies heterosexuality while trying to gain some sort of independence from their female counterpart. Now, I am actually a male that graduated from a large university with a degree in Women’s Studies, but these commercials usually annoy me and ruin the enjoyment I have watching a football game.
    Not to mention, ALL OF THOSE BUDWEISER commercials! They spent so much money to sell sexism. I mean, there are plenty of articles and essays written on how women are portrayed in beer ads (and how men are portrayed). It is quite discouraging that these commercials do not celebrate gender but instead force even stronger polarities.

  16. David
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    A thought: Rather than view this as a simple output of sexism and misogyny (which it undoubtedly is), perhaps this ad in particular also worth examining as an opportunity.
    Perhaps this can be read of a cry of fear from men who haven’t been able to synthesize a new identity in a feminist world. We can certainly decry it for its crudeness, but it also underscores the need to create (in the mass media) positive definitions of masculinity so that men start to understand feminism is not about being henpecked.
    Anyways, I don’t have any particular insight into this problem but thought it was worth reading as worthy of pity more than anger.

  17. femme.
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I. Love. That. Effing. Car. The commercial, on the other hand, is problematic. I’m like, so sorry you have to clean up after yourself and actually participate in a serious relationship, so here’s your big sexy muscle car, you big strong brass balls ten gallon stroll son of a bitch!
    I mean seriously. You’d think one of those anti-feminist MRA (men’s rights activists) orgs produced that commercial. It’s ridiculous.
    P.S. When did all women start loving “vampire tv shows”? Did I not get that memo?

  18. Liz777
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    That was the worst part for me as well, but for a totally different reason. I really like Michael C. Hall as an actor, so it was such a disappointment to realize where I knew that voice from. Maybe I just thought of him as a progressive person because he played a gay guy for five seasons on Six Feet Under.
    All in all, I found the commercial pretty lame in general.

  19. schismtracer
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I assume that’s a conflation of True Blood and Twilight. The latter is especially popular with tween girls and the former must be the same thing because…it has vampires and a female lead. Or something.

  20. kelseyfro7
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    The last line of your first paragraph just made my day. :-)
    Also, I didn’t get the vampire-loving memo either.

  21. GREGORYABUTLER10031
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I meant “how he lives his life“!
    Proofreading FAIL

  22. onlynow
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I did like that “I will watch your vampire TV shows with you” bit. It’s true for me.
    I do have an issue with the OP’s presumption of what constitutes a “halfway decent human being” when it comes to acceptable male behavior. This hints of the know-it-all judgmental female, and the male resentment of her, that powers this sort of ad.

  23. Jessica
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Liz, here’s a link on ‘lame’ and why its an ableist word – something to consider for next time you comment!

  24. Lilith Luffles
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    lol…. during some of this I felt like it was me complaining instead of the man… If we get a dog I will not want to walk it or get up at 6:30 and mixing the two is awful, I get scolded for not cleaning the sink when I trim my bangs, I am civil to his father (even when the racist slurs come out.) The rest of it either we both do or neither of us do… and I bite my tongue as often as I can about his friends (the only two that I don’t like,) but when I do open my mouth he tends to agree. He has full opportunity to talk about my friends, it’s not my fault if he doesn’t.
    What is wrong with fruit, anyway? If you’re gonna complain about eating fruit, you’d better also be satisfied with dying earlier. And he couldn’t afford that charger if he didn’t have a job : / This commercial is altogether whiney… I thought whining was something that women did.

  25. Jessica
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t trying to dictate acceptable male behavior, but acceptable human behavior. The implication of this ad is that fairly basic relationship considerations like sharing household responsibilities, cleaning up, or even just LISTENING to someone are somehow emasculating and big pains in the ass. Which to me is just a sexist way of getting out of being a decent person, yes.

  26. Wren
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I was watching the Superbowl with a couple former Fraternity guys who kept rolling their eyes at my obviously outraged faces at some of the ads. When this one came on there was a moment of stunned silence before one of them said,
    “Wow. That was kind of sexist.”
    Sexism: When fratboys notice it, you’re doing it wrong!

  27. bzzxz
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I wasn’t going to watch the commercial until I saw this comment.
    And with his voice, it kind of sounds like Dexter naming all the things he’ll do so people will think he’s “normal.”
    I like it a lot better that way.

  28. Sex Toy James
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Dude, you ride the subway. It’s a huger and longer vehicle than a car, and races through tunnels all day and night. If we’re spinning modes of transportation into metaphorical penises how do you not win by riding the subway?
    I didn’t get the take-away that he was proving his masculinity. I thought that the Charger was his consolation prize for not having his masculinity/control over his life. His stories of compromise went beyond irresponsibility to submitting to his job, and being afraid of his wife.

  29. stabbygail
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I especially liked the tone of deep annoyance at carrying lip balm. Oh heaven forbid that someone see you, a manly, manly dude carrying something so feminine as LIP BALM. Then they might think you’re GAY (because of course that’s the worst thing that could ever happen to a manly, manly dude) and your Charger will fail to convince everyone of your incredible virility and the superior horsepower of your penis.
    I would not really want the acquaintance, let along a relationship with, of a man who could have his entire self concept undermined by lip balm and/or shored up by a car.

  30. inthesedreams
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    This commercial is the sponsor of the lost episode I’m watching on Hulu. I don’t particularly appreciate its presence interrupting my show, and you’d think they’d know better since Lost has a pretty evenly split gender demographic. Hopefully if I push the dislike ad button enough it’ll go away. Because it makes me feel a little (very) ill.

  31. Athenia
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    The lip balm reference doesn’t make sense at all.
    One of the very few things my Dad carries with him is HIS lip balm. (And sometimes I borrow it!)
    A guy wouldn’t need to carry his SO’s lip balm. Umm, we usually have bags for that.

  32. Athenia
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Apparently, having sex with your SO just doesn’t make up for everything else!

  33. MzBitca
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I seriously felt like I was watching Faludi’s Backlash in action. I feel like this is what the rise of the Dudebro comedy has come to. This pitting men against women to a point that people can no longer recognize that being a man/woman doesn’t mean not being a good person t the opposite sex. It’s kinda the culmination of all the jokes about men being from mars and women from Venus and women having to tolerate men’s faults and men having to treat their wife nicely no matter what they expect. It’s gone from gentle joking to complete anger over any type of expectation of normal human interaction. We should allow men to do what they want to do and we should never expect women to have desires other than shopping and beating men into submission. It’s aboslutely disgusting.

  34. bzzxz
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Hey, I wonder if the Dodge Charger has enough room for a dark passenger!
    sorry for that…

  35. waitscratchthat
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I had a similar thought when I watched this commercial. The car is “man’s last stand” meaning “If I don’t get to have this one refuge away from my pitiful life I’m going to harm someone/myself.”

  36. ArtOfMe
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Great comment!
    I think ads trying to appeal to men’s “feminization” and “manliness” are getting more and more pathetic. They set the standard of masculinity as having the responsibility and cleanliness of a 12 year old boy (and fyi, my 14 year old brother is more responsible and respectful than this ad deems is permissible for adult men). It’s setting a terribly low standard, and I just don’t understand what the purpose is.
    Yeah, I think misogynists have worse opinions of men than most feminists do BY FAR. At least we expect men to be reasonable and capable adults, not persistently lazy and passive-aggressive man-boys.

  37. Liz777
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    …and I knew that, and I used it anyway…how embarrassing.
    Also, my post was supposed to be in response to Gnatalby’s post above.

  38. onlynow
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I think your reading of this ad is superficial and misses the real psychology that the advertisers are targeting. The key is in this sentence:
    “I will say yes when you want me to say yes, I will be quiet when you don’t want to hear me say no”
    The narrator is resentful not because he is listening, or cleaning up, but because he has been silenced & shut down. He feels the only acceptable answer is “yes dear”, that he has no power in his domestic situation or relationship. The activities he recites are not important in themselves, but they are signifiers of his submission. He is emasculated not because he cleans the sink, but because he thinks he has no choice not to do so. His sense of powerless and submission also pervades his work life.
    Men who feel themselves in a condition of powerless in their relations and domestic life often seek refuge elsewhere – the golf course, their workshop, video games, long hours at work. It is this male flight from powerlessness that the advertisers are seeking to exploit. What better way to temporarily escape one’s humiliation than a fast, powerful car? At least, while you drive, he can have a sense of control.
    I think this commercial was actually very psychologically effective for its intended purpose, which is getting a man who feels powerless to think about buying a car.
    If we want to talk about real relationships and domestic situations, well then, it’s all wrong of course. Men who feel silenced and shut down in a relationship need to learn how to stand up for themselves and speak out – to “say no when you want me to say yes” when the occasion calls for it, and to negotiate the domestic condition as an equally committed and empowered partner. Or find oneself a better relationship.

  39. Comrade Kevin
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I hate this kind of stuff because it complicates the roles of male allies like me and makes potential allies less likely to wish to contribute.

  40. Jessica
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Don’t be embarrassed; re-educating ourselves on language is really difficult – I slip up more than I’d like to as well.

  41. Aydan
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Even after reading through this post and the comments, I wasn’t prepared for the full creepiness of the ad. This aired on national TV? Wow…
    And did anyone else notice the vaguely James-Bond-theme-music soundtrack?

  42. Sex Toy James
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I’d say that it shouldn’t. People shouldn’t live a life that they’re unhappy with in exchange for sex or a muscle car. Also, please, who wants to have sex with someone who whines about having to carry lip balm and put his dirty clothes in the laundry basket.

  43. Mandy
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    My dad’s comment: “I never minded carrying lip balm.” And my husband loves Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel even more than I do… of course, he’s also a generally responsible adult capable of actual communication. Go figure.

  44. Sex Toy James
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Jessica, first off, thank you for posting this ad. I have been inspired by it since last night. Clearly, I’m not pissed off or offended by it. That commercial just told me that I am more manly and masculine than millions of men who they believe will buy a car to compensate for their willingness to live lives of helpless surrender. I blame my testosterone and competitive spirit for that perverse feeling of victory.
    Following the smugness, I was struck with some compassion for those guys who identify with this commercial, and I beseech you to look for that compassion in yourself too. OnlyNow put it better than I ever could in his assessment of the submission that the ad implies. If I hear anything like that from anyone of any combination of gender and gender preferences, I am concerned. I want to know where that person’s self respect has gone. I want to know why they don’t expect to find happiness and equality in their relationships. I want to know why they think that buying an expensive car, placing them further in debt, and further tied to a job they resent sounds like a good idea. I want to know what they were thinking committing to a life that they are so obviously trying to escape, and whether it is a life that they can salvage.
    I think that mocking people like this is important, but maybe it needs to come with the recognition that they could really use some help.

  45. leeraloo
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, my aunt owns a Charger, and she uses it to tote around her three kids. Besides, the first person I think of when I think of someone who would want a fast, noisy car is my mother.
    Not to mention that the “extreme inconvenience” of NOT acting like an ape =/= the price of a brand new car.

  46. paperispatient
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    My partner has never owned a car or had a driver’s license (which is a bit more unusual for an Ohioan than a New Yorker, I guess). When we go places not within walking distance – gasp! – I drive us. How fortunate for both of us that his sense of self doesn’t come from a machine!

  47. Destra
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I burst out laughing upon seeing this run on Sunday. It boggles my mind how often male resentment for having to be an adult constitutes a giant cookie reward. I see it constantly on the internet as well. “6 things that we (men) put up with from our girlfriends: 1. picking up our stuff 2. listening to your prattle etc.” I never knew it was so difficult to be male and be an adult.
    It really reminds me of a few year old Klondike Bar commercial. A guy and a gal are sitting at a table at a restaurant, obviously a couple. A young, skinny woman in a short shirt walks by, and the man continues to be engaged in conversation with his tablemate. Apparently that man deserves a Klondike bar. Because not acting like a child deserves an ice cream reward.

  48. moodygirl
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Two observations:
    1. Choosing Michael C. Hall for this ad constitutes pure fail. He has a very distinctive voice and is best known for playing a gay guy and a serial killer. I’m totally confused as to why he was chosen if the narrator was supposed to come off as a frustrated (but not psychotic) red-blooded heterosexual American manly man.
    2. This is just begging for a parody. “I change the poopy diapers. I work as hard as you do and make seventy cents on the dollar. I clean your back hair out of the bathtub drain. I do all of the dishes. I get up at 6 AM to put on pantyhose and makeup. I put up with my male colleagues taking credit for all my accomplishments.”

  49. blucheezz
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    The sad implication in the ad is that there’s nothing the guy can do about this situation. Question for the target market of this ad: why are you married? If you want to leave you shavings in the sink, and not accommodate yourself to a woman in your life, then stay single. Matter of fact, don’t date at all. Women are obviously such a burden to have to deal with that you should just jump into your Dodge Charger and drive as far away as you can.

  50. blucheezz
    Posted February 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Just noticed this:
    “I will put the underwear in the basket”–
    Dodge ad
    “It puts the lotion on the basket”–
    Buffalo Bill, Silence of the Lambs
    From ad copywriters, this is not an accident.

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