Volkswagon walked right into this one!

by Kelly Clark

Have you seen this Passat commercial?

Many people are asking, “What’s the point?”  It’s posted all over the web under headings like “worst commercial ever.”  Unlike most car commercials that actually try to entice you with the performance of the car, zooming down a track or around a hair-pin-turn, this car is stationary. Other commercials show you the luxurious and roomy interior as child after child pile in. Still others use the latest Top 40 hit and some cool 20-somethings to prove to you how much fun their car is to drive.  In fact, in this commercial the car is not even the central subject. It is cleverly positioned in the background of a scene where a father is teaching his son how to throw a ball. The car is positioned so strangely that every time I see this commercial I get worried about the little boy throwing the ball through the window of the car!

I don’t like this commercial either, but perhaps for some very different reasons.  The whole point of the commercial seems to be to suggest that the father, who is visibly  awkward in his ball throwing technique (clearly meant to evoke thoughts of “throwing like a girl” – he’s clearly doing a ballet move known as the plie!), will at least have the long lasting Passat to pass on to his son. For this his son will be grateful because clearly he will not be grateful for dad teaching him to throw.

Most likely without meaning to, this commercial has joined the ranks of misogynistic advertising that demeans women and girls and also smacks of subliminal homophobia.  First, there are many, many girls who do not throw in the ridiculous fashion that this dad does. Second, those girls who do throw using a clearly untrained technique are just that, untrained. There is nothing innate to boys and men to cause them to throw with perfect technique and precision. What gives many boys an advantage over girls in this area is the gendered way in which many of us play with our children and the expectations we have of them as they grow up.  Like this dad, many fathers are out on the lawn playing catch with their sons while moms are in the house playing dolls or baking cookies with their girls.  To be fair, there are many moms out on the lawn making sure their boys can throw and catch because they are trying to make up for the absence of dads in the home. This is still a gendered decision.  In the absence of dad, are there many women rushing out to make sure their daughters can catch?

And yet we continue to make light of what is clearly an issue of behavior and not innate ability.  When boys are untrained or not performing to expectation why is the fallback position always something to do with acting like a girl?

“You throw like a girl!”

“Come on ‘ladies’ I know you can do better than that!”

“Get your panties out of that bunch ladies and get on the ball!”

Referring to boy as ladies. You’ve heard this in real life as well as movies and TV.  My question always is, “So what so bad about ladies?”

But there’s more to unpack in this commercial. From the looks of it, dad just got home from work. He still has on his shirt and tie. He is spending time with his son. They are clearly enjoying their time together and the dad is immensely supportive in his teaching.  Isn’t this what we say we want from dads? He seems to work and support his family with a nice house and a nice car. Regardless of his technique, he is spending time with his son – the number one thing our kids say they want from us. He is gentle and kind in his interaction and encouragement.  Wow! What more could we want?  Yet the narrater makes the assumption that this little boy will not be grateful about this precious time spent with his dad. Why?

The obvious implication is that the son will soon learn that throwing like a girl is bad.  The kids at school will eventually make fun of him.  Sadly, both the boys and girls will make fun of him because the girls like the boys have already internalized this stigma. He may also face homophobic remarks and bullying because boys who appear “soft” in any way are quickly labeled gay, which is funny because the kids are clearly acting out with regard to gender stereotypes not romantic attraction.  Too young to even know the difference, they have already internalized that there is something deeply wrong with a boy acting like a girl.

What’s the result? After a lifetime of being the one not to be; the one that’s wrong, weak, dumb, and incapable, girls and women chase one fix after another trying to feel good about themselves, trying to prove their worth to boys and men.  Gay boys and men have even more difficulty. Many of them stay in the closet due to fear of violence, and face staggering levels of rejection from friends, teachers, teammates, church, and even family when they choose to come out. Children and adults who identify as transgender or are gender nonconforming in any way perhaps have it worst of all. They clearly confound society by insisting on embracing their psychological sense of themselves regardless of what their physical bodies would suggest. By acting in ways that so clearly break open the myth of gender and gender stereotypes, they face the highest murder rates among people who identify as LGBT.  This is particularly true of male to female transgender people.  Again, what is so wrong with being a girl that your life would actually be taken from you in a fit of rage and violence because you are perceived by someone as a “man in a dress”?

The cumulative effects of these seemingly innocent advertisings, TV shows and movies can range from unhappiness and low self esteem, to loss of life.  While we should be upset with Volkswagon for producing this commercial, for most people the implications go right over their heads.  It is my hope that by reading my blog and others like it more people will begin to see what’s all around them for we are like fish in water and until we begin noticing the water, nothing will change!

Thanks for visiting!

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