A few days ago I was flipping through the channels trying to find Dora for my daughter, and was struck in the face with yet another commercial geared for little girls between the ages of 5-11. As usual, I sat there and shook my head in dismay, trying to switch the station before my daughter could see it.
It was a commercial introducing a pair of girly, glitzy, and glamorous shoes for little girls, resembling the glistening red ones designed for Dorothy in “The Wizard of OZ.” It may seem innocuous and silly to you, but I cannot stomach these commercials. It reinforces the notion that to be female, one has to appreciate beauty and the incandescence of shiny and sparkly things, specifically shoes…because all women love their shoes…thanks to shallow and excessively feminine TV icons like Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City,” who collected shoes instead of PhD’s.
What made this advertisement worse for me was that with the sale of a pair of bright pink, purple, and shimmering shoes, each girl receives free makeup…followed by the startling image of three bubbly prepubescent girls glamorously whispering and giggling, bedazzled by their made-up faces, the pink and scarlet hues of paint that buried the perfect purity of their youthful features.
The truth is that there is a huge industry geared for girls of this age group. The biggest consumers in today’s commerce are kids and women, and businesses/commercials target them with avaricious zeal. Of course, where boys spend their money in technology and video games, which advance their hand/eye coordination skills, girls spend their money on clothes, shoes, and makeup. Between the ages of five and eleven, they need to be mindful of the competition that exists in gaining the approval of members of the opposite sex and the other glamorous princesses with which they contend for masculine favor. And if competing over boys and popularity contests is the only thing we teach our girls, how are they ever going to be ready to compete against men in society for financial success and independence? Why is no one looking at the big picture?
Instead of training our daughters to be pretty and fashionable, why don’t we emphasize more important values in their development, such as self-reliance, intelligence, autonomy, and competing with the big boys in business and commerce? Instead of enabling the media and iconic hollywood’s representations of the feminine that revolve around chic fashion and hairdo’s, why not define femininity with different images for our daughters? It’s such an easy thing to do, to rival the voices and ideologies of society so that our girls can only hear our dominant strains of “Be more – Be better!”
I know that my voice is competing with what my children see on TV and in the young and glossy girls that occupy the spaces of their lives, but my voice is more empowering, more dominant. I want my children to be better, to achieve beyond the notions and norms with which society labels them and limits them. There are no limitations, no gender barriers, and both my son and daughter understand this because I stress it – because I believe it. My son believes that girls can do anything boys can do because he has me as his mother. I am more than what I was told I could be. My daughter will also believe it when she is older because I am her role model, as a woman and as a mother. And when she receives girly, ditzy, and superficial toys for her birthdays that tell her she needs to train for motherhood and glamour girlyhood at the age of two, I collect these toys, return them, and trade them in for medical kits, microscopes, telescopes, and creativity. Because there is more to her, more to every girl out there, than fashion, babies, and makeup.
Being a girl does not mean her life, her identity, is confined to her external attributes. A girl’s strength and success should not be wrapped around her physical traits or her sexuality; there’s more to her than her beauty or the attainability of beauty and materialism. These things will not make her strong and empowered, or give her self-confidence and agency. These things are superficial and will confine our girls to secondary places in society…a society in which men achieve in the public and financial arenas and women look pretty and youthful way past their forties, spending the money their husbands earn on procedures that slice open their flesh to remove or add fat for slimmer waists, larger breasts, and abnormally stretched skin that is remiss of facial expression: women reduced to plastic eye candy. Virginia Woolf fought against this same issue for the women of her time, and I cannot believe that much has not changed despite the fact that we have some (still very few compared to number of men) women in politics, law, and medicine.
This is what runs through my mind when I see these commercials geared for little girls, for my girl, and I cannot imagine mothers and fathers not reacting in the same light.
How do you counter the sexist images your girls encounter?
Copyright© 2016 by Marina Delvecchio. All Rights Reserved.