March 24, 2017

I walked into the grocery store the other day to buy flavored creamer that foams up and makes your coffee into a homemade latte.

That was a big deal for me.

It’s one of the only times I can remember consciously seeking out an item I’d seen advertised in a TV commercial.

As a general rule, I can’t stand commercials. I mute them. I skip them. I tend to believe the people who create them, along with the creators of sympathy cards and cat toys, need a giant dose of new inspiration.

So when a commercial does come along that strikes a chord, I pay attention — when it tells me I can make my own latte, but also, more importantly, when it empowers women and girls.

That’s a growing niche of commercials that — rather than using sultry women to urge men to “take it off — take it all off” (shaving cream) or featuring mostly naked women eating in front of salivating men who say “whoa, great buns — so smooth and round, you know?” (hamburgers) — treat women like, y’know, humans.

These commercials, while advertising a product, also send the message that women are not less than men — a message that apparently still needs to be taught in 2017.

We’re surrounded by commercials directed toward women. The commercials that, beyond using bikinis to sell burgers, tell women — and teenagers, and little girls — that they should lose weight. That they should hide their skin under layers of makeup. That they should show more skin. That they should curl their hair, or straighten it, or color it, or cut it, or grow it out.

That they’re not good enough.

That’s why these commercials I’m so excited about are more important than ever.

I won’t be able to touch on all of the commercials out there that celebrate women as they are, that treat women as equals rather than objects (and acknowledge that men are smart enough to know that, too!), but I’ve tracked down a few that I wouldn’t skip or mute — ones I think have a great message, ones that were able to make me laugh or bring me to tears.

For commercials, that’s huge.

A few of these were featured during the Super Bowl this year. Some have popped up recently between episodes of the few TV shows I watch, or before cat videos online. Others, I’ve tracked down online. Since it’s Women’s History Month, now’s a good time to look at them as a whole, but these conversations shouldn’t stop happening in April.

Look some of these up and watch them, because seriously, they’re great.

There’s the Audi commercial advertising both cars and equal pay for women that shows a dad watching his young daughter trounce her male peers in a Soap Box Derby race and wondering aloud if he’ll ever be able to tell her that she’ll be seen as equal to the men she works with.

There’s the poignantly empathetic 84 Lumber ad featuring a mother-and-daughter pair from Central or South America, looking for something more in their lives, who are encountered with a wooden door offering a way through a wall that stretches for miles.

There’s the Secret deodorant commercial that features professional women preparing to pitch a big project to male coworkers (“Ash and Emma’s pitch adds two more girls to the boys club,” one commercial states), and another in which an older woman encourages a younger female coworker practicing a speech in the bathroom mirror about why she deserves a raise.

There’s the “Choose Beautiful” campaign from Dove, featuring women who are presented with doors labeled “Average” and “Beautiful” and asked to choose which one they’d walk through.

“Beautiful, to me — it’s too far out of reach,” one woman says. “I chose average.”

But as one woman chooses to step through the “Beautiful” door, and others drag their friends through it as well, the tone changes.

“Given another chance, I would choose beautiful,” a woman says.

“The beautiful door is completely open for me,” another adds.

Another commercial shows women eying a towering wave or a mountain and asks the viewers if they’ve ever felt that they weren’t enough — that they couldn’t do something.

“Have you ever thought you just didn’t have anything left in the tank?” the commercial asks. “Well, you do. You can break a stereotype and throw it into a whole another gear. Because the courage is already inside.”

That one’s for Dodge Ram pickup trucks, guys.

It’s maybe literally the only thing that could convince me to buy a pickup.

One that’s received a fair bit of attention is the “Like a girl” commercial from Always (yeah, the maxi pad company), during which an offscreen voice asks women — and a man and boy — what it means to do something “like a girl.”

Run. Fight. Throw.

Their reactions are stereotypically sexist, but when young girls are asked the same questions, their responses are different.

They run fast.

They punch hard.

They throw far.

The commercial asks, “Why can’t ‘run like a girl’ also mean, ‘win the race’?”

These are all awesome. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t still steps to take. A Super Bowl ad for Yellow Tail wine this year was proof enough of that, as a man parades a kangaroo wearing a “Kiss the roo” apron around a party before he brandishes an open bottle of wine and asks a bikini-clad woman, “Wanna pet my roo?”

As she complies, the man nods to the camera with a pervy smile.

Please excuse me while I vomit.

But the fact that the Super Bowl also featured commercials like the Audi and 84 Lumber ones in between football plays gives me hope.

This is a lot of talk about commercials, I know, but what’s so great about these is they aren’t buried under a Google search for “feminism,” or “girl power,” or “How do I treat women better?”

They’re on screens between episodes of reality shows, and comedies, and cartoons, and football games.

And that means they’re in front of lots of eyes.

They’re in front of little girls’ eyes. Girls who have the chance to learn early on that they’re worthwhile, and they’re equal, and they’re certainly not less.

They’re in front of the eyes of women who might have forgotten these lessons — indeed, these facts.

They’re in front of the eyes of men who might have never learned them, or who don’t acknowledge them.

And they’re in front of the eyes of little boys who have the chance to grow up differently, to treat girls and women differently.

Obviously, commercials alone aren’t going to solve the problem of sexism in today’s society. But when we’re bombarded right and left with messages from the screens that are so regularly in front of our eyes, it’s encouraging that these commercials empowering women are in the mix.

Now, about that pickup truck.