‘Dream Crazier’, the Nike ad launched at the Academy Awards 2019, is another feather in the crowning glory of Nike’s socially themed ads. It tackles gender stereotyping heads on, and shows that throughout history, women have had to break barriers, challenge norms and become ‘crazy’ in the pursuit of their dreams, just to prove to the world that nothing is impossible or out of reach for them… that ‘crazy’ can do everything.
Unfortunately for women, society has a tendency to box them into categories and roles that not only ignore their diversity, strengths and aspirations, but in fact, force them to believe that they somehow have to conform to these false standards of ‘right’ and ‘proper’. This Nike ad, and the ones that precede it, stand tall in their defiance of society’s outdated and unrealistic expectations of women. These ads celebrate strong women – women who shatter moulds, refuse to conform and make their own rules.
But are these ads impacting any change or are they just another case of preaching to the converted?
Serena Williams voices the new Nike ad, which shows that contrary to men, women are perceived as ‘dramatic’ when they show emotions, ‘delusional’ when they demand equality and deemed ‘hysterical’, ‘irrational’ and ‘crazy’ when they show anger. The ad is a montage of actual footage from sporting events where women are seen standing up for themselves, demanding their rights and expressing their feelings – in short, shown as being human. Billie Jean, Tennis legend and winner of the infamous ‘Battle of Sexes’ tennis match in 1973, summed up the catastrophe of perceptions very aptly in a tweet, “When a woman is emotional, she’s “hysterical” and she’s penalised for it. When a man does the same, he’s “outspoken” & and there are no repercussions…”. And this hypocrisy of perception plays out before us on a daily basis at home, in our workplaces, and on the media.
Women have become stoic in the face of these strange standards, and it’s a good they thing they did, because if they started second guessing and analysing their every move, thought and action/reaction against the warped expectations of society, they would never climb mountains, drive formula cars, or go into space. They would merely over think themselves into paralysis and passivity. And this is why it is more laudable that the Nike ads tell women that it is okay to be your own person – to be an individual with a spirit that no one should be able to break.
More women, and men, need to pay attention to this message.
Serena Williams is the ideal person to be the voice of Nike and women empowerment, because she has proven time and time again that there’s no ‘wrong way to be a woman’, a message that is emboldening and inspiring for women world over and captured beautifully in the Nike ad ‘Until We Win’. This is the ad mothers want to show their little girls to instil confidence and self-belief in them. This is the ad that boys should see so they too can know that women are not any less able or capable of achieving greatness.
Nike ads, especially the ones with Serena Williams and the women empowerment agenda, tend to get the same two, divided blocks of people ‘talking’. Either you are a liberal, feminist voice supporting the campaign and extolling Williams, or you are an antifeminism, traditionalist with very rigid views about gender roles in society, and you hate Williams and everything she stands for. One group presides over television and print media, and the other in the murky realms of the digital world, where there is no end to toxic comments that are extremely derogatory towards Williams, Nike and women’s empowerment.
With this reaction, one often wonders if anyone is listening to the other side, and if the conversation will ever change. But then one has to remember that for change to occur, people must talk, argue and debate over social issues – exchange of opinion is crucial for breaking down walls, and that is the first step to impacting any real change in society. And this exchange of thoughts and opinions is exactly what Nike is facilitating.
Nike has a very clever way of bringing social issues to the forefront and the brand doesn’t shy away from controversy and risk. It is unfortunate that so many other brands lack this kind of courage where they are willing to take on hard social issues and create conversations around them. Not only do they not challenge the status quo, but perpetuate the very stereotypes about women that hold them back.
Sheherzad Kaleem is a documentary filmmaker based in Dubai. email@example.com