Feb
11
2013

Super Exploitation: The Degrading of the Genius of Women

The oldest Madison Avenue mantra is that “sex sells.”

Never was that short-sighted axiom more evident than in the broadcast of the 2013 Super Bowl. As a woman with a daughter and a granddaughter, I was both insulted and saddened to see the demeaning portrayal of women in the commercials and the halftime show.

I don’t know exactly what GoDaddy.com does, but their marketing department is clearly hostile to smart women. The first commercial had a supermodel lock lips in a graphic kiss with an archetypical nerdy guy to show how their company joined sexy and smart.

The underlying message of this ad was as repugnant as the close-up visual and auditory depiction of the kiss. GoDaddy.com made it clear that women are beautiful and sexy while men have the brains. This is reminiscent of the 1992 fiasco when Mattel manufactured a Barbie doll that said, “Math class is tough!” It was unacceptable then to insinuate that women are incapable of complex thinking and it is equally unacceptable now.

GoDaddy.com continued to belittle women in its next commercial. One by one we see a series of men who claim to have come up with “the next big thing.” In each case a woman, presumed to be his wife, berates him for not claiming the Internet domain for his idea. Only men are the brilliant innovators. Women are the nagging shrews.

Apparently, long legs and plenty of cleavage are necessary to sell beer and cars. Lovely ladies are objectified as nothing more than eye candy to adorn the arms of men who drive and quaff beer. I am sure this effectively catches the attention of the men who are the target audience of these ads. That does not, however, change how dehumanizing it is to women.

And then came the halftime show with Beyonce.

After all the controversy over her lip-syncing of the national anthem during the inauguration of President Obama, one would have thought she should highlight her tremendous vocal talent during her Super Bowl performance. Instead, she arrived wearing revealing leather and lace and proceeded to bump, grind, and gyrate in a manner that made it clear it was not her voice that was being showcased. How sad that her considerable musical talent was overshadowed by her provocative performance.

These celebrations of vice were the price viewers paid to watch a very entertaining game. I know of several parents who grew weary of having to constantly switch channels in order to shield the eyes of their children from inappropriate material. They gave up and switched to the Puppy Bowl.

Yet in spite of the inundation of prurient displays by marketing departments, the commercials that captured America’s collective heart were two that celebrated virtue. Dodge Ram Trucks offered a tribute to the work ethics and sacrifices of American farmers with a voice-over by Paul Harvey. Budweiser honored love and loyalty with their Clydesdale horse commercial entitled “Brotherhood.”

The purpose of advertising is to build positive associations with a product. The ads, that were but a hair’s breadth away from pornography, offered only selfish pleasure. Some may enjoy watching them, but when the commercial ends there is merely emptiness. On the other hand, images of love, self-sacrifice, honor, and patriotism stay with us. They give us joy. If I were trying to build a positive image of my product, I would want the lasting power of virtue instead of the transient thrill of vice.

This is not to say that every commercial must be a sermon. Poking fun at the differences between men and women or our various foibles makes for some very funny commercials. The key to good humor is finding a kernel of truth and wrapping it in exaggerations and slapstick. We laugh because we relate. Laughing at the dehumanization or objectification of someone else is not humor. It is bullying.

This year’s Super Bowl showed that in spite of the proclamation made several decades ago that “We’ve come a long way, Baby,” we women still have a long way to go. Women are still exploited as sex objects for the benefit of men, and what is worse, this is done increasingly in the name of “empowerment” of women.

The message that beauty and brains are mutually exclusive still resonates in our culture. Talent is not appreciated unless it is wrapped in sex.

But there is also a glimmer of hope.

When the game is over and we are cleaning up the chips and dip, the ads that are replaying in our heads are not the ones that degrade women and all of humanity. We remember the ones that elevate our soul. Clearly, such ads were the exception, not the rule this year.

We have a lot of work to do to build a culture that respects the dignity of all men and women. Like football teams around the country, we need to take the lessons from this season and seek to do better in the future.

Maybe next year…

Dr. Denise Jackson Hunnell is a Fellow of Human Life International. She graduated from Rice University with a BA in biochemistry and psychology. She earned her medical degree from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. She went on to complete a residency in family medicine at Marquette General Hospital, Marquette, Michigan. Upon completion of her training, Dr. Hunnell served as a family physician in the United States Air Force. She was honorably discharged. She continued to practice medicine all over the country as her husband’s Air Force career kept them on the move. In order to better care for her family, Dr. Hunnell retired from active clinical practice and focused her professional efforts on writing and teaching. She has contributed work to local and national Catholic publications as well as to secular newspapers including the Washington Post and the Washington Times. She also teaches anatomy and physiology at Northern Virginia Community College Woodbridge Campus. Her affiliations include the American Academy of Family Physicians, The Catholic Medical Association, The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and the National Catholic Bioethics Center. She received her certification in health care ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center in 2009. Dr. Hunnell has been married for nearly thirty years to Colonel (ret) John F. Hunnell, an Air Force test pilot. They have four children and are blessed with two grandchildren so far.
Articles by Denise:

  • rightactions

    I don’t know exactly what GoDaddy.com does, but their marketing department is clearly hostile to smart women. The first commercial had a supermodel lock lips in a graphic kiss with an archetypical nerdy guy to show how their company joined sexy and smart.
    –Denise Hunnell, M.D.

    “Smart women” realize that not everything is about her.

    The underlying message of this ad was as repugnant as the close-up visual and auditory depiction of the kiss. GoDaddy.com made it clear that women are beautiful and sexy while men have the brains.

    “Smart women” realize that not every woman is “a supermodel” nor is every man “an archetypical nerdy guy”.

    Apparently, long legs and plenty of cleavage are necessary to sell beer and cars.

    In case you haven’t noticed, long legs and plenty of cleavage also appear necessary to sell women’s magazines and a whole lot of other junk women buy.

    Physician, heal yourself (and then the rest of your sex).

  • Pingback: Holy Face of Jesus

  • Karen

    Thanks for writing this!

  • Julie Culshaw

    I saw an interview with the model who did that kiss commercial. She claimed to have had a dream prior to the offer of the ad, that she was kissing the nerdiest guy in a bar. She felt as if she was rising to the challenge. I’m sure she was, for the right price of course.

  • Pingback: Lifeissues Newsletter #617 | Deacon John's Space