A Feminist Look at Super Bowls Past and Present

By Kirsten Meeder, Field Intern

In preparation for Super Bowl XLV this year, I took a moment to ponder games past. With previous Super Bowl Sundays foggy in my mind, I wondered what truly differentiated each game. While I could not remember the teams that played or won those many years, I did remember all the times I found myself, as a feminist, angrily munching on snack food in silent, indignant outrage at the images on my screen.

Amongst the slew of indistinguishable teams and commercials, I was able to remember certain moments with great clarity. Like Janet Jackson’s and Justin Timberlake’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the MTV-produced 2004 halftime show. A family gathering is scarcely complete without unexpected nudity on primetime television, and this halftime show served as another instance of women appearing as objects while men take action around and against them.

In addition to all the half-dressed, stereotyped women in beer commercials, I also recalled the infamous “pro-life” commercial that invaded the advertising lineup last year. Its patronizing and elusive content was actually a cynical attack on a woman’s right to choose abortion and went against CBS’s previous policy of refusing to air advocacy ads it considered “controversial” during the Super Bowl.

In retrospect, it’s clear that most of the commercials offended me and aspects of the halftime shows were overly sexualized. But isn’t it still great to watch talented athletes struggle for a win that can only be achieved through teamwork and sweat?

Not quite.

Thanks to Jezebel‘s recent blog post Sexual Assault and the Super Bowl, I will remember 2011 as the year that two teams with recent sexual assault allegations played each other. This includes the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, who has been accused of sexual assault twice. The most recent case involved an alleged sexual assault of a 20-year-old woman in a Georgia bar. While the district attorney declined to prosecute Roethlisberger, the event was significant enough to get him suspended for four games. Unfortunately, this story was all too familiar, as Roethlisberger was accused of raping another woman as recently as 2008.

On the Green Bay Packers’ side, Brandon Underwood has been named by two women who allege they were sexually assaulted last summer in a condominium where many Packers had been staying. This led to an investigation of more than seven Packers before the police focused on Underwood directly in an investigation that is still ongoing.

After learning of the allegations against members of both teams, I soon realized that even the players were offensive to me not only as a woman, but as a football fan. Must the game — typically a respite from the chauvinism and sexualization of the ads and halftime shows — now serve as an ugly reminder of the reality of violence against women?

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