“The Female Reveal” © Paul Edgewater All Rights Reserved
In these commercials, very often we see several scenes showing a very skilled rider on a motorcycle, who’s putting the bike through its paces and beating another, obviously skilled rider in a competition, the viewer is then to be “shocked” when the winning rider removes her helmet to reveal that it was a beautiful and feminine woman the whole time at the helm of this otherwise manly machine. Not only is this as predictable as the rising sun, it is completely demeaning to women. Because the intended reaction these advertisers are trying to illicit is to shock the (male) viewer by smashing an assumed and antiquated assumption that only a man could know how to ride a motorcycle like that. Note: this assumption is held only by the agency or client—not you, the viewer. You can substitute the motorcycle in the commercial with any other activity that requires that a helmet be worn, which can conveniently conceal a beautiful head of female hair. What in the world is the message here? On the surface it is to challenge the spurious assumptions of the viewer. We, the viewer see this rider put their motorcycle through its paces and outperform other riders; I mean, what else could we possibly assume? It’s a male rider and a manly one at that, right? But wait, we weren’t even questioning that. We were engrossed in the action, interested in the motorcycle and seeing ourselves (us males, that is) doing the same thing with that magnificent machine. Wait—what’s this? Of for the love of God! That was a woman this whole time?! She just took off her helmet after winning the race and is showing this world full of Neanderthals that a woman can beat all these men—at their game. Can you say “adding insult to injury”? Is nothing sacred? Wait—that’s not enlightened thinking. What company is this commercial for, Honda? They must be telling us that today, women can do anything. Well, let’s all go out and buy Hondas and hopefully I can hold my own when some mysterious, leather-clad and androgynous looking figure appears on the motorcycle next to me at a red light. Maybe if I channel Alan Alda whilst dropping the clutch, this mystery challenger to my masculinity and virility will show me mercy. After all, did I not buy a product from the company that showed me the light?
I’ll remove my tongue from my cheek now. The sales message is lost because the assumption being made is that everyone watching this commercial is a chauvinist pig and has either forgotten the countless Gloria Steinem appearances on the Donahue show, or is too young to remember them (if you’re the latter, thank your lucky stars). This may have been cute and clever in the ‘70s when it first started happening, but the ‘70s are a long time ago. In closing, were Alan Alda and Loretta Swit cool in the ‘70s? No. Were Burt Reynolds and Sally Field? Yes.
Thank you for your time!
Check back soon for part VI!