My 18-year-old nephew asked me on Monday if I could sue Always for using the expression "run like a girl," the title of my 2011 book. While I was touched by his protectiveness, I had to explain that the expression was free for anyone to use. It wasn't as if I'd made it up to begin with, since I'd originally used the expression as my book title because of its familiarity and the immediacy of the images it evoked -- girls flailing their arms, limp wrists, feet kicked out sideways like a faun learning to walk. All images that Always so evocatively captured in its Super Bowl ad this past Sunday, and in its earlier release of the longer, documentary style video from which its now-legendary advertisement was made.
Talk about the girl who kicked the hornet's nest, I would never have pegged that original Always documentary for Super Bowl advert material. But I love the boldness and the audacity of putting those images in front of Sunday's audience. I won't wade into the fray on whether or not there's an increase in domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday, as opposed to regular Sundays when men are watching sports, because regardless, I think we can agree that Sunday's audience included a giant swath of men who do not think about or want to think about mini pads, maxi pads or tampons (with or without applicators -- yes indeed, some of us just use our finger to get it up there).
True, the ad doesn't actually mention any of those bloody things, but I wanted to throw that in as a response to Elissa Stein, co-author of Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, who pointed out in a Huffington Post interview that she didn't think the ad went far enough, because it didn't mention actual periods and their real live messiness, but instead makes only an oblique reference to girls' self-esteem radically dropping as they hit puberty. As a sidebar, was Always implying that getting our periods has something to do with our drop in self-esteem? Does it? And are they then implying that if we use their products we will have more self-esteem?
Actually, I think the answer to that last question is "no." And that's what's so great about the advertisement. It's a noble ad. Because seriously, is there a big market for feminine products among Super Bowl watchers? I'm not saying women don't watch the Super Bowl, but it's not a predominantly female audience and the female audience who are watching are likely not viewing the ad in an environment where they watch it and then say things like, "Wow, do you girls use Always? I've always wanted to try that product" and so on, the way the men watching might discuss the sexed up car they've just watched glide across their screen.
So back to my nobility point -- will I start using Always products as a result of their Super Bowl ad? Unlikely, because I'm a bit of an organic girl, but I will think of them fondly. And therein lies the amazingness of what Always did. Because what that bottom-line focused corporation made, at great expense, was a PSA for women's empowerment. How cool is that? I am resisting the urge to rant off on a sidebar about corporate social responsibility in a time of increasing corporate power and so on and such like; suffice to say that Always has set a precedent worth taking note of.
Will the ad change men's (and women's!) views of what it means to run-throw-fight-skip-jump-run a company-or just be-like a girl? Maybe just a little. And that's enough.
While I love the Always image of the little girls showing how ferocious it is to run like a girl, I want to top up our temporarily overflowing cup of female empowerment images. I couldn't agree more that running like a girl means fast and furious, powerful and strong, that run like a girl means kick some butt. But I don't want us to lose those other, less go-get-em images that "like a girl" can contain. Of delighting like a girl. Of girlish exuberance. Of dreaminess. Of that unselfconscious plunging forward into life. These are also ways of being like a girl that we also lose when, as Always pointed out in its ad, we hit puberty and our self-esteem plummets. Like A Girl is all these things -- running hard and winning and also playing. Like A Girl contains all that is wonderful about being about a girl. In its fullness the expression captures the best of the qualities we carry forward from our girlhood into womanhood. So that as adult women we can slip the shackles of media, social and environmental programming, to be our own fully formed human beings, finding and giving joy. Soon everyone is going to want to be like a girl, even those boys watching the Super Bowl.