EssaysSex & Gender

Sex and the Super Bowl

Super Bowl Gallery  at the Pro Football Hall of Fame © 2010 Matt McGee | Flickr

Every year the issue of gender and sexual stereotyping is highlighted at the Super Bowl and in the minutes of well-famed commercials surrounding the game. Be it macho-football players, sexy cheerleaders, slick, yet still, macho-men in fancy cars, sexy Danica Patrick, macho-beer drinkers, sexy female beer drinkers, static femininity and masculinity are displayed suggesting to us all what kind of men and women we should be.

Following this grand display of gender duality, there is an annual critique of femininity, generally in response to the halftime show, with camps divided between female sexuality as an autonomous choice of empowerment and female sexuality curtailed in consumerism, thus objectifying the participants.

If, as a nation, we are going to talk about female sexuality at this time of year, it is about time we open the discussion up to include men. Michael Kimmel stands out as someone who shows us time and time again how masculinity is taken for granted and overlooked. And in November on NPR’s Morning Edition, Frank Deford spoke of the damage football causes both physically and emotionally. A television series about football teams comprised of 8 year-olds called Friday Night Tykes on the new Esquire network is an extreme comment on football and masculinity, both in the show’s subject matter and also in how it is packaged. Just as we are so readily upset about the limited space women are allowed to inhabit in media, so too should we be appalled by the static and limited portrayal of masculinity, not only of men, but of very young boys.

Prince in 2009 © Nicolas Genin | Flickr

On the up side, there are at least moments of breakdown in the gender dynamic, which occasionally coincide with the halftime show. Prince’s amazing performance during Super Bowl XLI comes to mind. He embodies a masculine persona in stark contrast to the machismo football culture feeds off of. A moment like this interrupts the “real-man” narrative that surrounds football and touts that to be big, aggressive, and dominating is to be a real man. The reinforcement of the “realness” of a particular kind of man to the exclusion of all others helps us to see that a “real man” as such, is a fiction. Furthermore, this unrealistic ideal needs constant replication and reinforcement to perpetuate itself. Men, when they are not pressured to conform to an unattainable and harmful masculinity, can inhabit any masculinity (or femininity) they feel desirable.

Yet, for the most part, Prince is marginal, and macho men prevail. The gender caricatures presented to us every year at the Super Bowl are not changing. We have to work hard to change our relationship to them.

Watch (Purple Rain)Superbowl Halftime Performance – Prince in Music | View More Free Videos Online at

Monique Trauger

Monique Trauger

  • Monique Trauger

    Hi everyone! Let’s talk! After speaking with some friends I’m wondering about non-American perceptions of the Super Bowl and Super Bowl masculinity as compared to, for instance, World Cup masculinity. It seems the female sideline cheerleader is an American phenomenon and I’m curious what others think about the male performativity of masculinity in a space that is lined with women, and if that sets up parameters for gendered performance that is not quite as prevalent in sports without cheerleaders?

    • Eileen

      I feel like football players are sexualized in ways that other athletes are not (unless they are women, i.e. gymnasts). The uniforms show off rippling muscles and there is often full body contact. The commentary from the booth is often sexual even. The cheerleaders are there perhaps to stave off queer panic for male spectators. What do you think? And what about sports like soccer? Are they as sexualized by commentators?

  • Fellow MA in training

    Great piece, Monique! There needs to be more conversations about how the manly masculine image put forth by the patriarchy hurts men and keeps them from choosing their own gender expression. Well done!

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