I couldn’t help but be suprised when, after the newest Nike Women commercial aired on my television tonight, my first comment was “Wow, I really relate to that,” and my white, heterosexual, cisgender male roommate’s was, “Wow, that was sexist, right?”
Huh? How is it possible that he saw a sexist commercial when I saw a depiction of my own reality?!
After a bit of a chat with him, I think I figured it out. It’s not that the commercial itself is sexist — well yes, it technically is furthering sexism in our society, but… — it’s that the commercial presents an all-too-realistic picture of how the gender binary has impacted women. A picture that he clearly sees as sexist. A picture that I “relate to” before identifying the sexism.
The commercial shows a variety of (attractive) athletic women, all of whom are talking to themselves as they go through a typical workout. One who is running a street-race thinks, “there’s no shame in completing half of a half-marathon, right?” (I have LITERALLY thought this thought when running a half-marathon). Another: “why are there so many mirrors in this gym?” As the commercial progresses, the audience hears the self-conscious inner monologues of these women and realizes just how much they doubt themselves. But… the women keep at it — this is a Nike commercial after all — and they finish their goals, despite protesting, “I can’t.” The commercial then concludes with the tagline: Better For It.
I cannot express how much this commercial resonates with me. I am constantly talking to myself when I work out, chanting, “you can do this; you are strong; you may feel that you can’t do it, but you can.” Despite that I go for runs several times a week, despite that I have competed in four half-marathons, if someone calls me a runner, I am quick to tell them I am not. I’m quick to tell them how slow I am, or how I don’t measure up to my running buddies (a former roommate and my current partner, both cisgender men). I’m constantly going between cutting myself down and building myself back up. Nike Women — you get me.
But why? Why do I feel this way? Why do I beat myself up for not being better at the physical activities I do each week? Why do I have to remind myself that I am “better for it” even if it’s painful, even if I struggle throughout the process?
And… why don’t the men in my life feel this way? Why did my roommate not get it at all?
Perhaps, because men are not told that they can’t. At least, hetero-normative men, of course. They’re not told that the other gender is built better, faster, stronger. They’re not told that the other gender is more athletic, more competitive, more resilient. They have high athletic expectations set for them, and they damn well better meet or exceed those expectations.
These gender stereoptypes are doing everyone a disservice. They make it more difficult — more painful, literally — for women to enjoy their exercise. And they make men who are not as naturally athletic feel less than, simply for the way their bodies are built.
I’m sick of these stereotypes. I’m sick of having to chant to myself “I can” simply because I’ve so deeply internalized the message that I cannot. I’m sick of seeing gender presented as two seperate and unique entities. Nike Women is not the problem. Our culture’s assumption of gender is the disease… this commercial is just a symptom.
Better For It. Huh. I’m not so sure.