Make the play count

We bring you this post from Karin White, Deputy Director at the YWCA Pierce County.

I got my first Seahawks jersey in 1976 when the team was franchised. While I’ve never been the biggest football fan there is, I have always followed the Hawks, through the good and the bad. So of course it was a disappointing finish to this year’s Superbowl to see them come so close and miss the win.

However, the loss to the Patriots was not my biggest disappointment on Sunday. As a person who has worked on behalf of domestic violence survivors for the last 15 years, my real disappointment was with the NFL’s first ever Super Bowl domestic violence ad. The NFL doesn’t have any more or less of a domestic violence problem than the country as a whole, but they have a lot more visibility and their players are often cast as ultra-male role models.

The reason the NFL’s PSA disappointed me is that it was yet another depiction of the consequences of violence after it occurs. Sensationalized violence is a deeply entrenched mechanism of our culture, and I would’ve liked to see something more innovative out of this ad. Depicting violence is what our culture and our media outlets are very, very good at; it’s also a big part of the problem that leads to the current epidemic of domestic violence. Violence is normalized to the point of seeming inevitable. Wouldn’t it be great to see something about how to prevent violence?

Happily, there were two ads that ran during the game that did get it right, and whether their producers knew it or not, they were sending messages that help prevent domestic violence. The first ad was for Toyota, and featured a father who lovingly raises his daughter to be independent and empowered to make her own choices. The support he gives is coupled with a healthy display of emotions, and the overall scene depicts both healthy parenting and healthy masculinity. If these two things were more normalized in our culture, more visible and more valued, we would see a reduction in domestic violence.

The second ad comes from Procter & Gamble, and is actually part of a larger project, #LikeAGirl. This ad posed the question: Since when is doing something like a girl an insult? This question is important, because it sheds light on the other deeply entrenched part of our culture, which is that when boys and men are told that they are doing anything like a “girl,” it is synonymous with doing it in some lesser fashion; weaker, slower, sloppier. Really, less “manly” and therefore insulting. It also reinforces and normalizes girls and women as actually less-than, which makes for the right attitudes and conditions for violence against them to flourish.

Both these advertisers seem to get that (a) there are a lot of women watching football these days, and (b) positive examples are appealing. These companies paid a very large amount of money to put forward messages about healthy parenting, positive expressions of male emotion, and the importance of creating conditions in which being female is valued. I wish the ad that set out to address domestic violence had opted for this more positive and innovative approach. Instead it was intercepted by yet another focus on violence. Flag on the play. Repeat the down.