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What we can learn from that Nike advert with Serena Williams

ByBryony Smith

Mar 14, 2019

“Show them what crazy can do,” implores Serena Williams. The second instalment of Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ advertising campaigns focuses on the insults aimed towards sportswomen and the double standards within sport culture.

Several famous sportswomen are shown in the commercial which indirectly discusses latest controversies such as IAAF v Semenya. This particular case revolves around how people have been critiquing Olympic gold-winner Caster Semenya for having naturally high levels of testosterone, with sceptics claiming this gives her an unfair advantage in sport.

Serena Williams, who narrates the advert, has also faced criticism from sports associations and the media on multiple occasions. Most recent accounts include Williams’ choice of clothing which deviated from the orthodox white uniform. Williams argued that after the birth of her child, the black catsuit which was worn in the French Open Tournament last year, was designed with the specific function of preventing the formation of blood clots which she has been susceptible to.

In more recent events, Williams has been accused of taking direction from her coach on the sidelines during a match, something Williams contested and was subsequently criticised for. Women seem to face more questions in sport than their male counterparts, something that Nike addresses.

Today’s world seems to be redefining what it means to be a man or woman in modern society. Women are generally encouraged to pursue perfection, both in appearance and in their work life. Whilst it seems ingrained into society that boys should be taught to take risks, to fall down and recover, girls are taught to be careful in their actions because of the consequent shaming and critique from society.

This is an unrealistic and exhausting feat for women to strive for. No longer should women pursue perfection but rather personal strength, risks, achievement, milestones.

The imploration to ‘dream crazier’ is an ironic call for women to pursue whatever they want in spite of what society endorses or normalises. What is seen for women as ‘crazy’ or ‘impossible’ is shown to be in reality a challenge to the existing order of things, a movement for change. The use of the word ‘crazy’ is, in itself, ableist, having typically been used to describe those struggling with mental illnesses. Women themselves are often labelled ‘crazy’ for acting emotionally, which has historically been associated with hysteria. There are many aspects of the word which the advert overlooks.

And yet the advert also demonstrates levels of progress, recalling that historically women were condemned for things we now take for granted, such as wanting to run a marathon, to wear a hijab during a tournament, or to do stereotypically male sports. In an age where today’s generation is pushing for tolerance, equality and normalising difference, women in sport are grasping at the opportunity to challenge and summon change once and for all.

In a piece on the Nike News website, Vice President and general manager of Nike Women Rosemary St. Clair commented, “Today, we are at a turning point for women in sport. The definition of sport has broadened overall… we wanted to create momentum.” In an effort to make this happen, Nike’s sport science lab and design teams have been working to meet women’s needs, as well as creating a performance hijab in 2017 in order to encourage Middle Eastern women and girls to participate in sport.

Whilst the work of the company signifies a growing understanding for the need for such measures, there is controversy surrounding the company and to what extent that they are a forefront player in stimulating this change.

In August, Nike faced a lawsuit from former female employees arguing that they were discriminated against in terms of promotion, pay and employment conditions. So, what should we be taking away from this particular advertising campaign? Well, perhaps the first thing is to be brave. We have more control over our lives than perhaps we realise. We can do anything that we put our minds to and not to let fear prevent us from doing whatever it is that interests us.

You do not have to be Serena Williams to do sport by any means. You can take steps to be active without the apprehension of not knowing what you’re doing straight away or not looking like an Instagram fitness buff. Everyone starts somewhere, nothing is crazy.

Try a class, go for a jog, try a taster session for a sports society. Build up stamina and take steps to reaching your goals that at first seemed crazy to achieve – show them what crazy can do!


Image: Edwin Martinez via Wikimedia Commons

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