Allstate’s “Mayhem”: A Clever Play on Gender or Offensive Joke at Women’s Expense?

I just saw this post from the Daily Femme arguing that the Allstate ads featuring “Mayhem” as a woman jogger are offensive to women. That post cited an earlier post arguing that the Allstate ad about “Mayhem” as a teenage girl driver was also offensive. This caught my attention because I have seen those ads, and to be honest, I enjoyed them. It seems that when we’re talking about humor and comedy, the line between funny and offensive is pretty fuzzy. I was curious to see why I had a positive reaction to the ads while other feminists did not.

Annamarya wrote about the color pink and how it was used to portray the female “mayhems” in both the teen driver –

…the “typical” teenage female driver recklessly pulls a hit and run—in a massive medicinal pink SUV, with huge pink glasses on her head, while reading a text on a blinged out cell phone about her BFF Becky kissing a boy she likes. Her “emotional distress” and subsequent “mayhem” is summed up with this little ditty: “Whoopsies. I’m all ‘OMG, Becky’s not even hot.’”

– and woman jogger ads:

And why the hell is she in pink anyways? Is it some play on the asinine color associations, where blue equals boy and pink equals girl, that have been engrained in our psyche? And what are you going to tell us next, Allstate? That we shouldn’t leave the house dressed in miniskirts if we don’t want to be sexually assaulted?

While Annamarya sees the use of Pepto-Bismol pink as an “offensive and asinine” color association, I see it as a wink and a nod – a message from Allstate that they realize they are playing with gender in a completely over-the-top, satirical way. If the ad featured women actors dolled up with pink accessories acting like “bimbos” and men crashing their cars to gawk at them (like plenty of ads do), I would find the concept offensive. But since the part is played by a very obviously male actor wearing a suit, the pink accessories call attention to the stereotype rather than perpetuate it. I think I enjoyed the Allstate commercials because I interpreted them as making fun of these stereotypes about men and women (that women are bimbos and men crash cars because they are distracted by women) and not making fun of women themselves.

Annamarya and I do agree on one thing, though:

I won’t lie. When I saw the first commercial in the Allstate’s “Mayhem is Coming” campaign, which involves a puppy ripping up the backseat of a car, I thought it was funny. I have cats that can be destructive to my possessions, so I understood in my own way. I even found the tree branch falling on a car commercial relatable. Admittedly, those two things fall under the “mayhem” category because they are unpredictable and can destroy your property when you least expect it. But to blame a female jogger for a driver’s stupidity? That’s just offensive. It’s the driver’s fault the car accident happened in the first place,he took his eyes off the road. He is mayhem, not the female jogger.

I agree that women out jogging should not be considered “mayhem.” Women should be able to exercise outdoors, wearing sportswear or whatever clothing like want, without eliciting sexual advances or gazes. And though Annamarya’s “What’s next, endorsing sexual assault?” is a bit reactionary, I see why she is making that comparison. Wearing sportswear and exercising outdoors is not an invitation for men to watch, just as wearing a mini skirt is not an invitation for rape. Just like rape is ALWAYS the fault of the rapist, accidents that occur because a driver is distracted are ALWAYS the fault of the distracted driver, not the object of his distraction. (I recently got rear-ended by a guy who was reaching down to get an antacid when he plowed into me. It wasn’t the antacid’s fault.)

But then again, I’m not sure I think it’s inappropriate to classify a teenage driver as “mayhem.” Let’s be real – teenagers on the road with cell phones are pretty terrifying. (I know, I used to be one.) Of course, the study that Allstate used to gender the issue of teenage driving — which found that just over half of the girls said they are likely to drive while talking on a phone or texting, compared to 38% of the boys — is behind their decision to make the ad about a teenage girl rather than a teenage boy. I would argue from a common sense standpoint that ALL teenage drivers are capable of causing “mayhem” on the road, regardless of gender. However, I don’t find the premise as offensive as Annamarya and Cherie did.

I guess we all interpret things differently. Even though I agree that a woman jogging shouldn’t be considered a cause of “mayhem,” I found the ad’s gender-play to be an interesting twist on stereotypes about women that, if anything, pointed out how ridiculous they really are. All it takes to be perceived as a woman is a pink sweatband? You could even argue that this ad is progressive for identifying and making fun of the performativity of gender. But clearly not everyone reacted to the ads the same way I did and even though they did not offend me, I am concerned about the fact that they offended others.

What do you think about the Allstate “Mayhem” ad campaign? Clever play on stereotypes about gender, or offensive jokes at women’s expense?

11 thoughts on “Allstate’s “Mayhem”: A Clever Play on Gender or Offensive Joke at Women’s Expense?

  1. Thanks so much for writing a post on my post. Well-written! And I am glad we can agree on some parts of my post.

    Just wanted to clarify that my issue with the Allstate commercials is NOT the color choice – that was a side note I threw in for my piece on the jogger ad and in my summary of Cherie’s piece. At The Daily Femme, we were primarily offended by the teenage driver ad because she (“Mayhem”) was portrayed as a reckless bimbo, and the color added insult to injury. Even if she wasn’t wearing pink or driving a pink car, we would still find offense.

    Also, while I see your point about making fun of gender associations (after all, I am a fan of the Old Spice commercials because of they poke fun at the absurdity of masculinity and scent), I cannot agree currently for the mere fact I have yet to see an Allstate commercial where Mayhem is wearing blue as a representation of a male. Once I see that, then yes, I will agree it’s a clever play on stereotypes.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Annamarya!

    You make an interesting point about the color blue. We see pink used to gender women at all ages – but blue seems to be used just for baby boys. We don’t actually see many men’s products being gendered with “blue” – you could argue that red, green, black, blue – all these are all acceptable “male” colors.

    Weird!

  3. Exactly! As grown adults with vaginas, there is this expectation for us to like pink (I’m not sure how many times I’ve heard in my adult years, from girls and guys alike, either: “I can’t believe you don’t like pink!” or “Of course, you like pink.”). Personally, my favorite color is green but I also gravitate towards really rustic Cuban/old-world colors…really vibrant combinations – colors that, as you point out, could be argued as acceptable “male” colors. Anyways 🙂 My whole point is, because of that expectation and association, even if it’s a kind of wink-and-nod, feels somewhat insulting.

    • Why is it that most commercials portray men as complete idiots and are seen by men to be funny? But if the ads gets flipped and makes any suggestion about a “joking” sterotype for women there is some feminist that gets upset. I think you should get over yourself and enjoy the humor in life, or atleast find something more important to be concerned about. And by the way…have you seen the new Allstate commercial with the teenage boy detroying the house because he is not paying attention to what he’s doing??? I think they made that just for you…and I think I should write my congressman and complain, or maybe I’ll just move on. Next time just change the channel.

  4. Why is it that most commercials portray men as complete idiots and are seen by men to be funny? But if the ads gets flipped and makes any suggestion about a “joking” sterotype for women there is some feminist that gets upset. I think you should get over yourself and enjoy the humor in life, or atleast find something more important to be concerned about. And by the way…have you seen the new Allstate commercial with the teenage boy detroying the house because he is not paying attention to what he’s doing??? I think they made that just for you…and I think I should write my congressman and complain, or maybe I’ll just move on. Next time just change the channel.

  5. Pingback: Why did you choose your avatar? - Page 4 - LotusTalk - The Lotus Cars Community

  6. Great post! I watched that commerical and was annoyed by the stereotypes of a female teen. I also saw the teen boy commercial and didn’t care for it either, though at least it didn’t have a boy all decked out light blue, with a glittery cell phone, etc.
    I just watched the jogger commercial and was disgusted. The fact that an ad agency and All State felt it was acceptable to portray women’s breasts as “mayhem” is sick. And it also makes me feel they were not doing the pink in the other ad to be ironic. These commercials are perpetuating harmful stereotypes to sell products – thanks for shedding light on this topic.

  7. Thank you for commenting on that! I laugh so hard when these commercials come on, so I don’t see why people are making a big deal about it.

  8. I’m a hyped up feminist totally irate about a humorous commercial I just saw on t.v. And if you had saved 15 minutes on car insurance you could be paying for this bitch who just rear ended you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s