This morning I settled in to watch a few Superbowl commercials, not being one to tune in to the big game (#teamDownton). The Doritos commercial was cute, I was grossed out by GoDaddy, and I found the following Audi commercial to be cute, fun and kind of sexy.
I specifically thought that the kiss was kind of hot, and felt what was surely the commercial's intent as the kid drove away gleefully with a black eye: that he was a bad ass. The tagline reads: "Bravery. It's what defines us." We're meant to be rooting for the underdog. The single, less popular kid (who nonetheless is still conventionally attractive) got to kiss the beautiful prom queen, who appears to be dating who we presume to be the Alpha male prom king.
Then I happened to see a local columnist's column on sexist Superbowl commercials and how conservatives rush to defend them. I was curious which commercials he would call out, and was pretty surprised that the Audi commercial was the centerpiece of his commentary, in which he defined it as 'rapey.'
Uh oh. I'm of the brand of feminist (and human) that likes to tout "enthusiastic consent," which is the idea that a person should obtain explicit permission before making a sexual advance. How did I miss all the red flags in this commercial? It's pretty much the type of situation enthusiastic consent was created for — not a scary rape by an attacker in a dark alley, but a nice guy the girl knows taking liberties she may or may not be comfortable with, without finding out first.
"Here’s what we know about the kiss in this commercial, based entirely on the information given us onscreen:
• The young woman who receives the kiss chose to be at prom with someone else.
• Our “hero” forcibly turns her around and jams his mouth to hers almost before she can identify him, and certainly without any permission being sought or given. What’s more, this is a demonstration of his new, Audi-fueled power.
• He leaves prom without her—suggesting that she still chooses to be at prom with somebody else."
It may be an exaggeration to term the commercial "rapey." Mathis defends that word choice in the comments section of the piece linked above. But the situation does speak to the point of a lot of rape culture prevention. If we address these small instances of impropriety and boys feeling "entitled" to acts of aggressive sexuality then perhaps we as a society would be less permissive of rape in general and there would be less victim shaming, as there has been in the Steubenville case.
How does a woman resolve that with the fact that a lot of aggressive sexuality is attractive? Not all women would find a kiss like that in the commercial attractive, but I also think a lot would. This is part of the confusion that makes it so easy to coerce girls into situations they're not comfortable with, that they only later identify as violating. How can we advise on avoiding those situations if adult women are still confused by some of the same internal and external signals? Does that mean it's just part of life?
So, do I fail feminism? Or as critics have said, is the idea that this commercial is rapey a humorless overreaction?