February 3 2017
Carrie L. Lukas
Luxury car maker Audi wants consumers to associate its brand with high-minded concepts like equality, fairness, aspiration, and progress. The company’s marketing department must have determined that people able to afford their cars (which start at $34,900) want their purchase to signal not just wealth, but also that they believe in these virtues. That’s why they are investing about $10 million dollars on a commercial that barely features their actual product.
Audi’s 60-second commercial, which will air during the Super Bowl this weekend, features a handsome father watching his daughter participate in a downhill cart race. As the girl races past the boys, who fail in their attempts to knock her off course, viewers hear the dad’s tortured thoughts about his daughter’s prospects:
What do I tell my daughter? Do I tell her that her grandpa is worth more than her grandma? That her dad is worth more than her mom? Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?
The commercial ends hopefully, with the dad taking his victorious daughter back to their car—an Audi, naturally—thinking, “Or maybe, I’ll be able to tell her something different.” The commercial closes with the flash of a written statement: “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work. Progress is for everyone.” The uplifting music and message is sure to elicit smiles and nods from the audience who all agree that we want to live in a country that values girls just as much as boys.
The only hiccup is that we already do live in such a country. Audi wants to differentiate itself with the audience by expressing its commitment to equal pay for equal work, but this is already the law of the land and prevails in the overwhelming majority of American workplaces.
Undoubtedly, Audi wants viewers to think of the much-cited Department of Labor statistic showing women earn less than men on average, which is often pointed to as evidence that women routinely face discrimination. But that’s not what this statistic shows as at all. Study after study confirms that after factors like hours worked, industry, years of experience and other factors are taken into account, the wage gap shrinks to just a few lingering, unexplained percentage points. This is good news for this worried father and his daughter: When his little girl grows up, she has the potential to earn just as much as the boys racing against her.
Those vested in the idea that girls and women still get the short end of the stick in America will argue that women’s different choices aren’t freely made, but are the result of societal pressure that lead them to accept lower earnings, especially as they assume the bulk of parenting responsibilities.
Yet parents of boys could make just as compelling a case that societal pressures actually work just as heavily against boys. The higher earnings men receive on average come at a higher personal cost: Men log longer hours on the job, suffer nearly all workplace fatalities and major injuries, and perform the most physically grueling and unpleasant jobs, from working in sewers to guarding prisons. The monetary rewards they enjoy hardly outweigh the lower life expectancy and life-quality sacrifices that men are driven to make.
Earnings and job outcomes, of course, are just one measure of how society values people. Certainly there are some parts of the word where boys are clearly more valued than girls, but America isn’t one of them. Statistics on adoption show that U.S. parents are more likely to seek girls than boys. In many countries, abortion is used to eliminate girls, but that does not appear to be the case in America. In fact, according to the industry, most Americans seeking help to conceive a certain sex are hoping for a girl. American girls are consistently achieving more than boys in terms of education, which means we can expect them to make additional progress in the future.
Of course, American society ought to do better in offering positive messages for our daughters about their value. Pop culture, in particular, sexualizes girls and women, which can create unhealthy expectations. But we also need to do better for our sons, who are too often fed the message that it isn’t masculine to be smart or studious, and that masculinity itself is something to be ashamed of.
If the dad in the Audi commercial really wanted to send his daughter a positive message, he would tell her that she is lucky to live in a country where anything is possible. She shouldn’t waste her time looking for sexism around every corner or assume that she isn’t going to be given a fair shake; rather, she should recognize that her future will be determined by the choices she makes. She can build any life she wants, but she should plan wisely and work to use her talents to their fullest. That’s an empowering message, not merely a pandering one.