Which Automotive Ad Is More Sexist?

“Panties all in a bunch”, no, that won’t do. How about, “they got their teats caught in a wringer?” Nope, that’ll get the sisterhood (and those trying to curry favor with it) all hysterical too. Let’s just say that Jalopnik and Autoblog, two leading car blogs, are exercised over the “sexism” of a 40+ year old Goodyear tire commercial, below. Autoblog asks, “Is this the most sexist ad of all time?“, while Jalopnik, part of Nick Denton’s Gawker network, exclaims in certitude, “This is the most sexist TV commercial of all time“. Putting aside the utter lack of journalistic originality, apparently Reddit or Twitter got a hold of the Goodyear video, and the editors of AB and Jalop felt the need to trot out their feminist bone fides. What I find interesting, though, is that Autoblog and Jalopnik don’t seem to have a problem when the sexist shoe is on the other foot, even if the sexist ad is fairly recent, not more than four decades old.

The “misogynistic” Goodyear ad (that’s what one version on YouTube calls it) had the audacity to try to sell men tires based on their concerns for their wives’ safety. The ad shows a woman driving alone, seemingly frightened, with a soundtrack and editing reminiscent of hundreds of horror films. Now nothing in the ad seems to denigrate women, unless you think that Jamie Leigh Curtis is a self-hating misogynist for appearing in Freaky Friday. The mere fact that driver’s husband is concerned about her safety, and the fact that the commercial implies that he makes the decisions about what kind of tires to buy, is sufficient to brand this advertisement as offensive to the distaff side and to the men eager to suck up to them. Or maybe it’s the fact that when she picks him up at the airport, she slides over and lets her hubby take the wheel. Either way you have to look hard to find anything at all in the ad that “hates” women or shows them in a negative light – again unless you think that portraying women as vulnerable is sexist.

I’m confused. On one hand if we show women as vulnerable we are sexists. On the other hand, we send our children to colleges where feminists start teaching our daughters from the time they have freshman orientation that their brothers and fathers are all incipient rapists . So when is it appropriate to acknowledge that females can be more vulnerable to physical attacks than males? Only when men are being demonized?

I’m even more confused. I’m pretty sure that one of the things that annoys the complainers is that the ad assumes men make certain purchasing decisions, thereby infantilizing women. The thing is, though, that most marketers know that in America today over 80% of consumer purchase decisions are made by women, including buying the family car. If you don’t believe me, if you’re a woman, just tell me what your reaction would be to “Honey, I just bought a Corvette”. Feminists tell us that major purchases by a couple have to be “joint” decisions, unless, of course, it’s something that she wants. Then his role is to accommodate her and pay the bills.

That 80% explains how SUVs replaced minivans and now crossovers are replacing SUVs. Car guys of the male variety may love station wagons, but anything that she thinks looks like a mommymobile is likely to be rejected. The chances of seeing something like that last sentence in Jalopnik is about the same as me getting lucky after this post is published, nil. You’re far more likely to see a “joke” about men “compensating” for a small penis on Jalopnik than something about what really drove the SUV craze. Of course if I were to say something about women liking SUVs because it lets them act like macho chicks, that would be considered sexist by the bien pensants at Gawker and AOL.

That 80% figure is why you don’t see ads like this Goodyear Polyglas commercial any more. It’s also why so many commercials deliberate treat men as stupid oafs, incapable of performing even the simplest tasks without the guidance of a wise woman. Make fun of men and they’ll still buy your beer. Make fun of women and they’ll hold a grudge forever. Since so many decisions are made by women, advertisers are loathe to go anywhere near poking anything but the most harmless gentlest fun at the ladies. Furthermore, since women hold the pursestrings, and have already been socialized for the last 40 years to hold men in low regard, it’s a safe way of appealing to and confirming female prejudices in order to sell stuff.

That 80% figure is how we get SUV ads like the one above. It follows the usual plot of doofus guy put right by his long suffering wife. In this case, it’s an 2005 ad for the Dodge Durango SUV. It plays on the stereotype of men being pigheaded and refusing to ask directions, with the husband behind the wheel getting lost in the desert towing a boat rather than checking the navigation system. I’ve known some brilliant female engineers, but the simple truth is that the majority of the people who developed that navigation system and the Global Positioning Satellite system on which it is based indeed have testicles. Yet, according to this commercial, men are so damned dumb that we invent things that we then refuse to use. Unlike the Goodyear commercial, the Durango ad indeed denigrates its male protagonist, making him out to be stupid and a liar (“I’m not lost”). Also, unlike the Goodyear commercial, where the husband greets his wife with an embrace, the wife in the Durango ad looks at her husband with scorn.

I don’t recall Jalopnik or Autoblog ever once complaining about this ad, or about any of the many others like it that revolve around a stupid man put in his place by a woman. By any rational standard, the Durango ad is far more sexist than the Goodyear ad ever was. The woman in the tire ad may be portrayed as vulnerable and dependent on her husband, but it doesn’t stereotype her negatively or denigrate her. She safely completes her task. The SUV ad, though, portrays the man as a fool who endangers his family, getting them lost in the desert. Just which is a more negative characterization?

Just which commercial is more sexist?

When he’s not busy doing custom machine embroidery, Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth and contributes to The Truth About Cars and Left Lane News