Challenging #LikeABoy

158e4be1a95dbe95d31e7318e8c44459-huge-sportsfan-2.jpg...And other lessons learned from watching the 2015 Super Bowl

By Cliff Leek. Anyone who watched the 2015 Super Bowl matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots knows that the game was fraught with controversy. In the weeks leading up to the game there were allegations of cheating against the Patriots (#DeflateGate), a hubbub over a player who defied the NFL by refusing to participate in pre-game interviews (#BeastMode), and a commercial pulled from the lineup in response to animal rights activism (#GoDaddyPuppy). The controversy did not end at kick-off. In what seemed like the appropriate end to the NFL’s scandal-filled year, the game closed with a fist fight between the two teams on the field. And, even after the Patriot’s emerged victorious, the debate over the Super Bowl’s ads had only just begun.

To many people, who grew up watching the Super Bowl every year or who regularly watch NFL games, there was something obviously different about this year’s ads. As Mary Elizabeth Williams, a writer for Salon, put it, “the Super Bowl was a win for feminism.” She argues that the prevalence of healthy representations of women and the absence (for the most part) of overt sexism in the commercials stands in stark contrast to what we have come to expect from years past.

The most obviously pro-feminist ad, and the one that arguably resulted in the most controversy, was an ad by Always, producer of menstrual hygiene products. The ad challenges the all too common usage of the phrase “like a girl” to imply that something is being done poorly or wrongly. It calls for us to transform the implications of the phrase using the Twitter hashtag #LikeAGirl and instead “make #LikeAGirl mean amazing things.” The response to the ad was largely positive with over 300,000 mentions since the ad aired on Sunday.

But, the response wasn’t entirely positive. Some thought it was necessary to react to #LikeAGirl by instead promoting #LikeABoy, implying that boys are somehow being excluded and left behind. Many promoted #LikeABoy by posting tweets that stating things like “Can we get a #LikeABoy commercial too please?”, and “#LikeABoy because equality matters.”

I have three major reactions to this new campaign:  

First, #LikeABoy misses the message of #LikeAGirl. The Always commercial is in response to a massive cultural phenomenon in which girls, boys, women, and men are told that doing things like a girl is somehow wrong. This campaign challenges the harmful impact this learned perceptive has on the way girls see themselves and behave. Consider that we don’t use the phrase “like a boy” to imply inadequacy or to make others feel undervalued. On the flipside, “like a boy” is understood as a compliment. Young female athletes, for example, are taught to aspire to be “like a boy.” A solidarity movement challenging the implications of “like a boy” just doesn’t make sense.

Second, debunking the negative connotations of “like a girl” is good for boys and men too. Think, men, how many times growing up were you told that you do something “like a girl” as a way to correct your behavior? The phrase “like a girl” is used to define how boys and young men are allowed to behave at the same time that it demeans girls and women. It isn’t either/or. I wrote just a few days ago that the struggle for gender equality isn’t a zero-sum game and that applies here too. Just because the ad targeted negative stereotypes about women doesn’t mean it’s bad for men.

Finally, and this may seem contradictory after the argument I just made, everything doesn’t have to be about men. The #LikeAGirl ad wasn’t about or for men and that is ok. We need to challenge the idea that we, as men, should feel left out or excluded any time the world doesn’t cater specifically to us.


d8a11676c36532306c60e9bc9abf8387-huge-10625156_10202232035744827_7583229007405345016_n.jpgCliff Leek is the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) Research Fellow and Community Manager. He is also a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University (SUNY). He has worked as Prevention Specialist for the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force and as a consultant for a variety of gender-focused non-profits. Cliff is currently writing his dissertation on the growth patterns and effectiveness of organizations seeking to engage men and boys in gender justice work around the world.  He is also a founding editor of Masculinities101.com, a blog that connects activist and scholarly work on men and masculinities.
 

Posted by Cliff Leek on Feb 6, 2015 10:24 AM America/New_York

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