Several weeks before the New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams in this year’s Super Bowl, a Gillette advertisement for razors set the tone for the commercials that would accompany the football game.
The Gillette ad urged male viewers to move beyond “toxic masculinity,” and from that jumping-off point, a variety of companies promoted messages of gender inclusivity, tolerance, and empowerment during Sunday’s game.
While Gillette ultimately chose not to air its razor commercial during the championship game, citing controversy around its reception, several other companies aired ads that similarly challenged gender norms harmful to both men and women, reflecting the impact of broader movements for gender equality throughout the US, according to NBC News.
Tennis phenom Serena Williams appeared in an ad that emphasized female empowerment for Bumble, the dating app that allows women to control who they communicate with to reduce instances of sexual harassment.
“Don’t wait to be told your place,” Williams tells female viewers. “Take it. Don’t wait for people to find you. Find them. In work. In love. In life. And most of all don’t wait to be given power, because here’s what they won’t tell you, we already have it.”
In an ad for Michelob Ultra, the actress and musician Zoe Kravitz introduced mainstream America to the phenomenon of autonomous sensory meridian response, commonly known as ASMR, or whispering.
Another beer commercial by Stella Artois showed actress Sarah Jessica Parker disrupting a restaurant’s waitstaff by ordering a beer instead of wine, challenging the stereotype that women don’t drink beer, an ad for M&M's candy took a common problem of parenting to an absurd extreme, with actress Christina Applegate playing the frustrated mother of M&M’s, and Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth became the first woman to promote Avocados from Mexico in a Super Bowl ad.
But the commercial that most explicitly challenged gender stereotypes may have been Toyota's ad, in which college athlete Toni Harris talks about the barriers she has overcome in her quest to become the first woman to ever be drafted into the NFL.
Historically, Super Bowl commercials have catered to male viewers, and have been criticized for sexist and racist messages. The commercials this year featured women and people of color more prominently than in the past, showing the progress that has been made in recent years on issues of media representation over the past few years, AdWeek reports.
The effort to show women in a wider variety of roles is likely influenced by the fact that women now make up 45% of the NFL’s audience, but true acknowledgement of the systemic barriers that stand in the way of gender equality within the NFL would require a more comprehensive reckoning than 30-second commercials, according to NBC News.
The NFL has been criticized for failing to punish players convicted and accused of sexual and physical violence, and cheerleaders throughout the league have reported ongoing exploitation and harassment.
“Pink breast cancer socks were nice, I guess, but making sure domestic abusers don’t get to take the field would be nicer,” Britni de la Cretaz wrote for NBC News. “In the meantime, watching ads in which women are represented and not objectified will have to be enough.”