The Super Bowl's Biggest Winner? Healthy Masculinity

A dad dressed as a cockroach adjusting the spider costume of a child in their home

In the midst of an event that literally celebrates men hitting each other repeatedly, millions of viewers finally got a look at healthy masculinity.

During Super Bowl Sunday night, Unilever brand Dove Men+Care debuted an ad titled "Real Strength," piggybacking off their existing "Calls for Dad" ad series, which depict adorable interactions between dads and their kids. "Real Strength" is ultimately an attempt to sell more soap, but its timing is arguably symbolic of a broader cultural shift toward a healthier, more progressive masculinity.

Michael Kimmel, a leading masculinity researcher at Stony Brook University, partnered with Dove Men+Care on a study looking at men's perception of masculinity and the concept of care. He spoke with Mic about the evolving definition of masculinity and how men can reconcile popular depictions of masculinity with their own personal values, as well as the significance of a progressive masculinity ad during such a high-profile televised event.

"For men of my father's generation, Don Draper-style masculinity was the norm," Kimmel said. "For my generation, we thought life would be like Don Draper's, but found that it wasn't."

In the last few years in particular, values like caring and taking responsibility have become more prominent in defining masculinity. Dove's ad, which features fathers interacting with their children, emphasizes this shift. Young men today aren't replacing the old defintion of masculinity so much as we're acknowledging the fact that men are multidimensional and can incorporate multiple definitions of masculinity, without compromising. We can be strong and competitive while also being sensitive and compassionate.

If the traditional definition is represented by the rugged, independent Marlboro Man on his horse, explains Kimmel, "the modern definition is represented by the Marlboro Man riding back from the store, with Huggies."

But don't just take his word for it. According to the Dove Men+Care Study, for men in the United States:

Ninety-one percent of men feel it is more important to possess emotional strength versus wealth or physical strength.

Eighty-six percent of men agree that the concept of masculinity has changed since their father's generation.

Seventy-fivempercent of men agree that how masculinity has changed has had a positive impact on society.

Only 7% of men around the world can relate to depictions of masculinity they see in society today.

The Dove Men+Care messaging shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with the company's "Real Beauty" campaign, a series of ads that has attempted to create a similar shift in the way brands talk to and about women, especially women's bodies. While that campaign has been successful from a business and social media standpoint, the brand has also endured criticism, especially from feminists, who argue Dove is promoting a faux empowerment that disguises the same limiting beauty standards.

Still, this latest offering by Dove is one of the highest-profile examples of progressive masculinity in media to date. So how should men reconcile watching a hyper-masculine, violent sport, with a tender, progressive message in the middle? Easily, according to Kimmel. "It's a wonderful opportunity to have a little timeout where you get to express other parts of yourself, to celebrate those parts of ourselves outside of those limiting stereotype we often see in media," he said.

Men already know that they are more than the grunting, stoic, violent stereotypes depicted in media and entertainment. But it's nonetheless good news that a major company has aired an ad that showcases a more progressive definition of male strength during an event that has long been dominated by scantily clad women and homogenously handsome, heterosexual men. It's about time we celebrated a real look at men.