I’ve always considered myself a feminist, from the day I celebrated Title IX’s passage in 1972 when I was a high school student, to my choice of Master’s thesis topic (pay equity), to being the first man ever to work in the Women’s Rights Division of AFSCME. Today? I’m not so sure. The “sexism” allegations against Peloton’s latestadvertisement – which caused the company to lose $1.5 billion in value over the course of one week – feel much more like gratuitously harsh judgment than feminism.
I don’t own a Peloton bike and likely never will. I watched the advertisement fully prepared to be outraged, and I was, but not by the advertisement… but by its critics. Some said actress Monica Ruiz appeared to be suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome.” She is, though I’m not sure how one judges that from a 30-second television advertisement. Stockholm Syndrome is what actors – particularly commercial actors and actresses – are supposed to suffer from. It’s called believing in the product. The unwanted attention has been good for her, resulting in another advertisement, this time for Aviator Gin gently mocking the Peloton criticism. Meanwhile, her TV husband – aspiring actor Sean Hunter, who teaches elementary school in Vancouver – hasn’t fared so well,as he suffers the slings and arrows of harsh barbs and insults, while he worries of career ruination. What did he do wrong? Read his lines well?
It seems civility has been the first casualty of our Internet Age, where providing megaphones to the masses via social media has resulted not in a million Shakespeares, but the endless sound of fingernails on a blackboard.
Title IX gave equal opportunity to generations of women to compete and perform in ways that have rewarded millions of participants and billions of fans, from the Women’s World Cup to Simone Biles (quick, name a top American male gymnast!). Would the blowback have existed if it was a wife giving the bike to her husband or a wife for her wife? How is that OK, but a husband apparently listening to his TV-wife about what she wants and getting it right is sexism? Here’s a rule, hard as it may be to look in the mirror: If you impugn motive and criticize one group (white male husbands) of motives that you wouldn’t of other groups (wives and LGBTQ spouses) then you suffer from as much unintended bias as those you accuse.
This is an advertisement, which, by definition, aims for its target audience, those wealthy enough to be able to afford nearly $3,000 stationary bicycles and $500 per year online subscriptions. That means by definition the product is targeting wealthier consumers. Elitism?
Fifty-four percent of Americans do not celebrate Christmas. This doesn’t make the critics antisemitic, Islamophobic, Hinduphobic or any of the other real and painful prejudices. It does mean that in their race to outrage they didn’t even consider that these advertisements were leaving a lot of people out. That doesn’t make Peloton wrong, either. It makes them smart advertisers, because you cannot target everyone, you target your most likely buyers.
Peloton has long hired and advertised women and minorities as online trainers and posted them prominently in their advertisements and online.Their brand is directly associated with strong, powerful women (often coaching and seemingly out-performing men).
We live in an age of increased Mercantile Activism, where we expect companies to be diverse and have sound and visionary corporate social, energy and environmental responsibility. It’s incredibly hard to get it right. Let us criticize companies when they get it wrong, by judging them on their body of work, not a single commercial. That kind of abrupt judgment is something we would wish on no one. Let us not make it the standard of our town square.
Twitter, apparently, is what happens before wisdom prevails.
Rodney King was right. Can’t we all just get along?