Why did so few Super Bowl ads feature women?
On the bright side, at least most of the women who did make the cut had their clothes on
Did you notice a distinct lack of nude or nearly nude women prancing around in the background of your Super Bowl ads this year? Yeah, me too. Even The New York Times noted that the ads this year tended toward the "warm-fuzzies" route.
For example, GoDaddy, which tends to be among the Super Bowl advertisers most likely to exploit the female form, chose in one instance to feature a woman with a more commonplace body, and in another to feature a female body builder in a distinctly non-sexual light.
A Budweiser commercial with Arnold Schwazenegger, Minka Kelly, and Don Cheadle featured a clothed and named woman — an actor who gave her name as Kelly — who initiated the whole screwy situation in which hapless Budweiser customer "Ian" is introduced to Arnold, Don, a llama named Lilly, and Minka — who also speaks! And is wearing clothes! Two speaking, clothed, and named women, in one ad. Way to go Bud!
This is all a step in the right direction, but it doesn't mean we've found the the fabled unicorn of feminism known as gender parity. In fact, we still have a long way to go in improving how we represent women in the media today.
Fifty-six ads aired during the Super Bowl. Let's take a closer look at the gender breakdown in each, and you'll see that we're still not at a place where men and women are represented equally.
Ads featuring celebrity men
Bank of America: The gentlemen of U2
Chrysler: Bob Dylan
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, and Wayne Knight
Esurance: John Krasinski
Ford: Rob Riggle and James Franco
H&M: David Beckham and Naked David Beckham
Honda: Bruce Willis and Fred Armisen
Hyundai: Johnny Galecki, Richard Lewis
Jaguar: Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston, and Mark Strong
Kia: Morpheus, I mean, Laurence Fishburne
Oikos: John Stamos, Bob Saget, and Dave Coulier
Pistachios: Stephen Colbert
T Mobile: Tim Tebow
There were also five movie trailers that heavily featured men: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Need for Speed, Noah, and Transformers 4.
Ads featuring celebrity women
Audi: Sarah McLachlan
Beats Music: Ellen Degeneres
Maserati: Quvenzhané Wallis
(Honorable mention to Newcastle's Anna Kendrick ad, which didn't actually air.)
Ads featuring celebrity men and women
Budweiser: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Don Cheadle, Minka Kelly
Toyota: The Muppets (who are mostly male voiced, but let's pretend they're genderless).
It doesn't look much better when you find the ads that don't have well-known faces to attach to the product.
Non-celebrity ads featuring men
Budweiser: The puppy adoption ad features one woman and two men.
Butterfinger: Two speaking men, one speaking woman. Couple's counseling.
Carmax: Features one speaker, a man. Has some women, but mostly men, in the background.
Chevy: The first words of this ad are "A man." The second are "A man and his truck." The last words of the ad: "Helloooooo ladies." Ok then.
Coca Cola: An all-boy's pee wee football team.
Hyundai: A father, son, and a blonde girl who gets ogled by said son.
Doritos: Little Jimmy, Old Jimmy, and Mr. Smith.
M&M: One speaking Russian count. Two very pretty non-speaking handmaidens. A male-voiced M&M.
Radio Shack: Two male employees, lots of 80's icons.
Squarespace: One guy confronted by the entirety of the internet. Oh, plus a few bikini-wearing women.
TurboTax: A guy watches the girl he likes dance with another man.
Volkswagon: One daughter, one father, and a whole bunch of German engineers, one of whom is female and falsely accuses a man of patting her ass. Wimmin be complainin', amirite?
WeatherTech: Lots of male bureaucratic administrators, one woman admin.
Non-celebrity ads featuring women
Chobani: A woman who bravely hides from a yogurt-hungry bear.
Geico: A very disgruntled-looking government employee, and a pig.
GoDaddy: A woman named Gwen Deans quits her job to pursue her dream. You go, Gwen Deans!
GoDaddy 2: About 500 shirtless bodybuilders, one woman.
Inuit and GoldieBlox: All the little girls build a rocket out of their pink toys and shoot it into space.
Non-celebrity ads with relative gender parity
Alex and Ani: Man's speaking voice, but pretty equal representation on screen.
Axe: We go around the world and see various men declare love for their various women.
Cheerios: A family with two women, a man, and a little man ostensibly on the way.
Chevy + American Cancer society: One non-speaking woman and one non-speaking man.
Coca Cola: The whole of America comes together to sing.
Heinz: Everyone sings. There appear to be equal numbers of men and women in this universe.
Jeep: Some women, but still mostly men, doing distinctly manly, rugged things.
Microsoft: Mostly men speaking, but fairly equal on-screen representation.
Pepsi: Some genderless hands.
In his breakdown of the ads over at Slate, Seth Stevenson asked if the male celebrity nudity of David Beckham for H&M — the only nudity featured the whole night — represents progress.
No, it does not. Replacing scores of naked, nameless, often faceless women with one naked celebrity man does not mean we're automatically all good here. I appreciate naked David Beckham and shirtless bodybuilders as much as the next straight woman, and some of this may sound like nit-picking at "one woman here, two women here, mostly men here."
But the nit-picking will remain necessary until we see the same number of ads, celebrity and non-celebrity alike, that prominently feature men and women. It's good to see America's retailers trying a bit harder than in years past. Let's make sure they keep trying.