Friday, February 8, 2013
Super Bowl Demonstrates Need for Culture Change
Another Super Bowl, another evening of commercials and on-air content presenting women in an overly sexualized and ultimately demeaning manner.
This year's commercials ranged from a close-up shot of an extended kiss between a nerd and a supermodel to a modern riff on the classic 'lady washing a soapy car,' to two female actors sensually dancing on poles to plug their sitcom.
And then there was the halftime show. While I admire Beyoncé's message of female empowerment through her lyrics and savvy business decisions, her ultra-sizzling performance prompted one of my colleagues to turn the channel after fielding comments and questions from her young son, including "Why are all the ladies showing their butts?"
The Super Bowl -- America's most-watched broadcast with well over 100 million viewers -- is only the most recent example of how our culture has passively (or perhaps not so passively) accepted an overly sexualized view of women. Advertisers' continued embrace of the "sex sells" philosophy permeates our culture and inevitably impacts the treatment of women and girls in our society.
Sadly, I am convinced that this overriding cultural message that objectifies women plays a role in influencing much of the poor behavior we've seen in recent headlines. A world-renowned university recently announced that 27 members of its men's lacrosse team were suspended for two games after an investigation found that they subjected female volleyball players "to sexist and racist heckling..." while watching their match from the stands. The men's hockey team at another leading university was investigated last year after two players were charged with sexual assault. The report identified a "culture of sexual entitlement" on the team that had gone unchecked for years.
My point is this: No matter how many girl-serving organizations we create, leadership forums we attend or skills we acquire, women continue to face these sexualized attitudes in their communities and at work. And in some cases, these attitudes may impact their career success and advancement into positions of leadership. It's time to change the culture.
Women are taking a stand. For the second year in a row, the #NotBuyingIt Campaign, led by the same organization that brought you the Miss Representation documentary, which explores inaccurate portrayals of women in the media, encouraged Super Bowl viewers to share their thoughts on Twitter about sexist advertisements.
This campaign is wonderful, but in order to enact a culture change, we need more than women involved. We need men -- a lot of them. I believe that men need to get off the sidelines and take part in the effort to demand a transformation of societal thinking about how we treat women. If we continue to allow women to be portrayed in a sexualized and demeaning manner, women will never be treated equally in the workplace or anywhere else. So here is my appeal: men, we need your help.
For many years, the issue of fighting the sexualization of women has been discussed as a "woman's issue," or "feminist campaign," etc. -- all focused on what women and girls can do. We've done a lot, for sure, but I believe it's time we involved our entire society -- men and women. Men and boys need to be fully engaged partners in this effort so that together we can create a better future for the next generation. Creating a society that is just for all is in the best interest of all of us.
I hope that someday soon we can all enjoy a Super Bowl that includes an exciting game, fun and witty advertisements and a halftime show that we can watch with our children and grandchildren without averting their eyes