How to Fix a Problem

The NFL is getting major kudos for an anti-domestic violence ad they aired on this year’s Super Bowl.  I don’t want to trash the ad. I hope that among the millions who see the ad, conversations about domestic violence will happen. But I believe (and I’m not alone in my belief) that the ad won’t do a whole heck of a lot either to influence how we as a society respond to men’s violence against their female intimate partners (aka “domestic violence” – a term I dislike because it suggests mutual responsibility); or to prevent men’s violence against women in the future.

On the same Super Bowl show, Always is running an ad that should do more to prevent such violence.  Much awarded and lauded, “Like a Girl” quickly and simply gets to one critical root of the problem: when we, as a society, view girls, women, females as ‘less than’ men – when we mock and devalue the feminine we tacitly condone treating women poorly. And that, along with our cultural glamorization of hyper-masculinity and what it means to be a ‘real man’, are what need to be fixed to reduce men’s violence against their intimate partners.

Mychal Denzel Smith, writing on, had a few important points about the NFL ad.

 But my bigger concern is that it focuses on the aftermath of the violence, rather than strategies for preventing it.…this ad also doesn’t really demand anything more from us than the status quo. At the end, it says “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.” But if the only thing we’re being asked to do is have compassion after someone has already experienced violence, we’re accepting that violence as a part of culture. We’re conceding something I’d rather not — that we can’t prevent men from beating women. We can only care for these women’s wounds.”

The NFL’s ad will be helpful: Smith and others point out that the ad reminds us how important it is to provide support and services for women who are beaten by their partners. But it’s not enough.

The NFL will be getting a lot of credit for doing something relatively easy and superficial. Necessary but not sufficient. The hard work, and the real insight, lies in confronting how we think about girls and women. And how we think about masculinity and the role violence plays in our view what of what it means to be a man.




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