VW’s Super Bowl Ad Is Pretty Damn Sexist

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VW’s “Wings” commercial seriously annoys me. See if you can spot why: YouTube Preview Image Did you see what I saw? Almost no female engineers! Here’s why that’s BS, and why everyone (but especially men) should care.

Gender Bias is a Serious Issue in Engineering

First, let’s talk about why almost all the engineers in this ad are male. The VW ad spoke to a bit of a truism in the automotive industry and the engineering world – most engineers are male. This isn’t just “one of those things,” however – this is a symptom of our failing educational system. Engineering is a good field of study; jobs are available, the pay is good, and a decent engineer has a job for life. Yet men vastly outnumber women in this field. Why?

Engineering degrees - male vs female graduation rates

Engineering degrees – male vs female graduation rates. Click image for more details.

There are a number of explanations tossed out about the gender disparity in engineering.

  • Since our society says that math is for “nerds,” and that girls aren’t supposed to be nerdy, girls aren’t supposed to study math.
  • Young women aren’t encouraged enough by educators and parents to become math and science wizards, instead being pushed into “traditional” fields like teaching or healthcare.
  • Young boys tend to turn math problems into a classroom competition, a behavior that discourages young girls from participating. Etc.

While there’s room to argue about the causes of this gender discrepancy, it really doesn’t matter. The fact is, our daughters and our sisters have their work cut out for them if they want to become engineers. VW’s ad only reinforces what is actually a serious problem – there’s a significant gender bias in the engineering world.

VW’s Ad Used A Woman As A Prop

Second, let’s talk about why the most visible female engineer was really just a prop. I counted two women in VW’s ad. One in the very beginning:

Female engineer in VW commercial

Can you spot the female engineer? I’ve circled her in blue for you.

Followed by a second woman who got a good amount of screen time. Unfortunately, it seems she was merely placed in the commercial so she could be a prop in a cute little joke about touching a female co-worker in a small enclosed space.

Female engineer number 2

This female engineer was used as a prop in a joke about inappropriate touching. Well done, VW!

Hilarious, right? [sarcasm] Imagine your wife, girlfriend, or daughter in an elevator with some male coworker, and then imagine that coworker accidentally touching her rear. Does that make you want to laugh out loud? Me neither. This women wasn’t being portrayed as a smart engineer – she was the object of a joke that really isn’t that funny when you think about it.

Why Men Should Care About VW’s Ad Failure – Especially Car Guys

I don’t know a car guy who thinks that ignorance of vehicle maintenance is a positive. The world would be a better place if everyone who owned a car understood basic maintenance. It would be better still if everyone with a driver’s license knew the fundamentals of their engine, transmission, and various systems. Car guys will often go out of their way to teach people about cars, because we know how beneficial this information can be. Yet here’s VW, portraying a teenage girl as completely and totally uninterested in the family car, as if that’s OK.

VW girl texting

Girls’ aren’t supposed to care about the family car. Texting is more important.

Perhaps this is meant to be a commentary on the disconnect between fathers and daughters, rather than a subtle attempt to leverage a popular stereotype (girls don’t care about cars) for financial gain. If that’s the case, VW went the wrong way here. There are dozens of ways to portray parent-child disconnects that don’t resort to blatant sexism.


Finally, let me pre-empt some criticisms:

  • You’re taking this too seriously.” – What if the shoe was on the other foot? What if all the VW engineers were women, a man was used merely as a prop in a bad joke, and it was a teenage boy who was portrayed as intentionally ignorant of cars? Would you say this ad was funny, or would you complain about “political correctness?” Or lament the fact that men are treated poorly by popular media?

    What’s more, my daughter watched this ad. This is yet another not-so-subtle message to her that she shouldn’t be interested in cars, shouldn’t try to be an auto engineer, etc.

  • You’re over-reacting” or “You’re being too literal” – Perhaps. If I just ignore the fact that women were portrayed pretty poorly in this ad, I might not find anything wrong.
  • It’s just a joke – relax.” – See “you’re taking this too seriously.” If a joke isn’t funny when it’s flipped upside down, it’s not a good joke.
  • It’s just a Super Bowl ad – it’s not the cause of society’s problems.” – True enough. This is just an ad that reflects a lot of pre-existing issues. Yet there’s a global conglomerate behind this ad, one that sells cars on every continent to millions of people. Shouldn’t we expect more from VW?

I admit that this is a heck of a rant, but I think it’s important for car guys like me to stand up and call out this crap when we see it. Car guys are often accused of being sexist, and it’s largely because we don’t take the time to announce our displeasure with bikini-clad car show models, male-centric advertising, repair shops that try to overcharge female customers, etc. I hope you agree with what I’ve said here, but even if you don’t agree I hope you respect it. Women deserve better.

Filed Under: Auto News


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  1. stevj says:

    Nope. I disagree.
    Watched it twice and laughed out loud both times.
    Well done. Thanks for sharing.

    There. I just took one for the team to perpetuate a stereotype. You’re welcome.


    • stevj – I guess if you and your family aren’t offended, there’s nothing to anything I’ve mentioned, is there?

      It’s not black and white – clearly VW signed off on this ad because it tested well – but I don’t see how anyone can just gloss over the issues I pointed out. Perhaps VW’s ad isn’t that big of a deal, but gender bias and subliminal messaging about gender roles is real.

  2. stevj says:

    OK. OK.
    Had my wife watch it a couple times. She thought it was funny, too.
    Then I asked her if she thought it was sexist. She said they could have left out the “wild goose in the elevator” part, even though the guy’s arms were clearly not touching the woman, but otherwise it was pretty entertaining.
    Then I called my daughter, age 35, in Illinois and had her do the same.
    “Awesome, Dad.”

    What else can i say….

  3. Randy says:


    I understand 100% where you are coming from; I get it.

    Television has not really improved since the 1950’s. In the 1950’s it was called an “idiot box”. Why? because only idiots watch it. We are all idiots.

    Personally, I just consider the ad silly and not worth my time. They attempted to be “funny”; to me it was just more boring poop on TV – so I automatically discarded it.

    I think the ad did a much better job portraying the failures of our education system – producing engineers that are unable to think and solve problems on their own – hence so many new vehicles that come off the line that are pure junk. The ad certainly did not improve my opinion of VW.

  4. Mike P says:

    I’m currently studying mechanical engineering. The ratio is terrible there are probably 4 guys to every girl in my classes. It’s gotten worse each semester too I hate it. I thought the commercial was alright though. I don’t think the interaction with the dad and daughter had much to do with caring about the workings of the car, but more to do with any teenager with their parents on pretty much any topic.

  5. GoBig says:

    I wasn’t really insulted by the ad, nor did I find it funny.

    What happened to creative advertising. This year’s super bowl ads were the worst I can recall.

    VW has put out some great commercials such as the one with the guys wearing ski mask in the convertible. That was funny.

    This one was just kind of inane in my humble opinion. Then again, my Toy is north of 200K so I’m not really impressed with the 100,000 thing.

  6. GoBig says:

    What about all the agnostics and atheists who may have been offended? Is VW implying there is some divine connection to their cars? Just saying….

  7. Brad says:

    I agree with you, but only mildly. My mother of 87 years of age graduated with a BSEE in 1945 and worked as an engineer until I was born in 1948. Then she taught Calculus, Analytic Geometry , Trig and algebra for 30 years in high schools in Texas. My oldest daughter, age 36, fits the stereotype in that she has no technical interest – but then so did my father in law, her grandfather. My youngest daughter, age 30, is a car nut and knows so much that I call her for advice. Her husband is a mechanical engineer from Ga. Tech with a BS and MS. I have a BS in math, minor in chemistry and almost minor in physics (need 3 more hours) and work as a physician educator in a fairly technical field in medicine, requiring a fairly good physics understanding. So I guess I fit the stereotype and my youngest daughter does not. But we both take after my mother. My dad was a fairly good shade tree mechanic and home builder, but mom was the math whiz.

    I could have done without the elevator scene and the rainbows remark. Otherwise, I don’t have a problem.

  8. Darrin says:

    Wow, have the PC (Political Correctness) Police taken over this forum ? People need to relax and quit focusing on perception and appeasing special interest groups. Should we have had some homosexuals, handicapped people and some colored and mixed race people in the commercial as well ? I thought the commercial was cute with the only message being that there are a lot of VW’s over 100 k miles.. I hope I don’t have to remove this forum from my favorites.

  9. Albert says:

    This is still not as sexist, in my opinion, as Sumer’s Eve’s most recent commercial. And that was hilarious! It’s the Super Bowl! Everything I know about professional football is sexist. Big strong men doing all the work while the women are only there to look at. Can you name 2 female professional football players? Just sayin.

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