I’ve been seeing this particular mindset repeated over and over in new commercials, ads, initiatives that are targeting kids, repeating the same mistakes, but I think people genuinely have no idea about the impact those mistakes have on the generations growing up. What are those mistakes? The repetitive conventional gender stereotypes; the boy can be anything and talk his mind and for that be portrayed as smart, the girl being the princess who cares about her beauty and looks, and how silence is golden with girls.
Those stereotypes have been there as early as I can tell from history. But with the conversation globally, and especially in the UAE, heading towards empowering women and ensuring they get equal opportunities and chances in the job market and in political spheres, I can’t help but to wonder when will people know that to reach this equilibrium, we don’t merely have to work on adults, but we have to work with kids, ensuring the right foundation is built, in both, girls and boys.
Let me explain the two most recent examples of reinforcing conventional gender stereotypes.
The first is a TV campaign to encourage reading. It started with the teacher telling the students to start reading their books in silence. One of the kids (a boy), refuses to read cause he doesn’t like reading, then all the kids start telling him how they love reading and enjoy it, then each kid tells him what they can be thanks to reading, (Wait for it), the first boy says “I can be a ship captain”, the other boy says “I can enter the history and be a scientist”, then the girl says “I can be a princess”, and the last boy says “I can go to space”. Do you see where the problem is? Only 1 girl as opposed to 3 boys, and the dreams given to boys were things they can achieve if they work hard on, while the girl, her dream was status? Being a princess and looking pretty and glamorous? Isn’t it an international fact that you can only be a princess either if you were born from a royal family or married a royal member? So how is reading exactly going to take her there? And how is that something to aspire for!?
The second example is of a new kids entertainment center with a motto: “A magical place where every little girl is a princess and every little boy is a hero.” I snapped and screamed into the walls saying “You have got to be kidding me, again!?” Why can’t girls be heroes as well? Why can’t they achieve something and be entertained with something that requires more than just their looks?
I’ve done my share of reading different books & articles across time that confirmed how such gender based games and conventional gender stereotypes portrayed in TV shows and ads can stifle the way girls see themselves as they grow up, and what capabilities they think they can master. It unconsciously creates a glass ceiling on their dreams and aspirations that they can’t break, no matter how much they achieve in their lives. This glass ceiling is still felt by women, and still unconsciously reinforced by men in the job market as they sometimes look at women as incapable of doing certain jobs or achieving certain level of productivity just cause they are females. It’s the exact same glass ceiling the country’s leadership and government are trying to break to empower women to leadership roles across all industries and markets.
There are however some campaigns that were so positively tackling this issue in a way that made me applaud for how well they crafted these messages. One of the companies that did a great job in this was Always, and the did a campaign in English and in Arabic that both shed light on how being a girl should mean weaker and shouldn’t mean having less dreams. Here is the link of their #LikeAGirl campaign in English: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIgA1mu5t_8, and the arabic #GirlsCan campaign: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIgA1mu5t_8
I still remember when I was a kid, and only had one brother elder to me at the time (my younger brother was born when I was 8 years old), so all most of my toys were the toys conventionally known for boys like cars, Legos, coloring books, and so on. My mother was concerned about my feminine side, and would get me Barbie dolls to play with, but I just didn’t understand the point of them and avoided them. So she would dress me in princess dresses on each birthday and Eid holiday, in the hope to bring out that side of me, but I always managed to still play what I wanted to. Thankfully, she never enforced gender based gaming on us as we grew up, she would allow us to pick our own toys to play with, and our books that we wanted to read. Perhaps, the reason I am who I am today from an intellect that runs her own business in publishing is because she let me be who I am as a kid and didn’t force on me the society’s perception of what a girl should dress and play.
What do you guys think? Do you think certain games you played with as kids or shows you watched back then affected the way you think today?
Reading material on conventional gender stereotypes:
- Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg http://www.amazon.com/Lean-In-Women-Work-Will/dp/0385349947
- We all should be feminists by Chimimanda Ngozi http://www.amazon.com/We-Should-All-Be-Feminists/dp/110191176X
- Papers & articles:
- Disney’s Influence on Females Perception o f Gender and Love by Theresa Tonn http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/lib/thesis/2008/2008tonnt.pdf
- Girls can be anything when they grow up – until they start playing with Barbie by Aurora Sherman and Eileen Zurbriggen http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/31/girls-can-be-anything-when-they-grow-up-until-they-start-playing-with-barbie