The tough conversation sparked by a Super Bowl ad I had with my 6-year-old
It is a tradition in our home, like many homes, to watch the Super Bowl. As the resident woman of the house, I get to watch my husband and sons bond at this outward show of masculinity. It never takes long before my sons start to jump and wrestle with each other in the excitement of the game. Chips all over the floor. I don't mind. It's a tradition.
Soon after it starts, the questions come, "when can we play football?" They want to be big and strong like the men on the screen. I want them to be big and strong one day too. Bigger and stronger than me.
Of course, you can't experience the Super Bowl (live at least) without the commercials. As my then 6 and 4-year-old sons watched the 2019 Super Bowl, we came to an ad that showed girls around their age playing football against grown men. The narrator said something like, "when girls face their challenges, they are stronger... when girls get to play, they learn to win." The commercial didn't stand out much to me; I understood the social undertone. The intention was to show girls/women empowerment... through little girls playing a man's sport.
It wasn't until my son asked, "Mommy, don't you want to play football so you can be strong?"
"Strong? You don't think I'm strong?" I asked.
He looked up at me with his big eyes. I could tell he was processing what he just watched and what he thought of me.
Then he responded "But the commercial said..." He stopped, he was confused.
My thoughts raced as to how to respond. Strength? I carried you in my body for nine months. I watched as my body changed from the inside out, shifting and adjusting as you grew. I withstood more pain then I thought possible when I delivered you without meds. My body created food for you and kept you alive for the first year of your life. Then I did it all over again when your brother was born 18 months later. Strength? I was expected back at work sooner than me or you were ready. I pried your little fingers from around my neck, and as you cried, I walked away to go to work and help provide for our family. Strength?
My response finally settled at: "I don't need to play football to be strong. I am a woman, the definition of strength and you one day will be a man, the other definition of strength." He might not have understood what I tried to explain to him then. But I hope that one day he understands that a woman's strength does not come from doing all the things men do. That equality of the sexes does not mean sameness of sexes but awareness of the differences. Women possess 20% of a man's upper body strength and 50% of their lower body strength. Our strength is not muscular. But it does not mean we do not have physical strength; it is just of a different kind.
I think of the woman, my Peruvian ancestors, who endured hardships I will never understand. I am proof they existed because I am here. Women who took care of children, their husbands, and homes by the strength of their bodies, minds and their faith. The courage to birth babies at home because hospitals were too far away. The power to endure harsh living conditions and terrains. Women who knew how to live in a community with other women because their life depended on it. That's all they knew and they were joyous and men were thankful for them because when humankind gets pushed to its limits, all strengths are needed and appreciated.
Our society is much different now. Women and men work side by side in the comfort of office buildings. Dressed in button-downs and pants. Men's great strength not as obvious, but it's there. It will always be. Woman's motherly instincts and fierce protectiveness not as obvious, but that will always be there too. I can understand people's confusion of the sexes; everyone looks similar from the outside. So what's the harm of creating a commercial of girls playing football? After all, men play football and we're the same as they are... or are we?
The harm is raising men and women who believe that a woman's strength is to be measured as a comparison to men's. The harm is growing a culture that thinks gender is interchangeable because we are and should be treated the same. My hope is for society to embrace women's strengths for what they are. Not for what they could never be. I am all for equality, but I am not O.K with sameness.
As the next Super Bowl approaches, I will be on the lookout for the depiction of my God-given strengths to be portrayed. Maybe then boys will look at their moms and say, Wow! You are strong not because you play a sport but because you are a woman, and that in itself means something.
Thank you for reading, share if you like it!
Until next time, Angie