I was reading a book last weekend and the kids were watching a movie they had chosen from the library. It was a Barbie movie which should have been my first red flag. I was fully engrossed in my book’s world but I was slowly pulled out by an angry, feminine voice on the tv screen. Barbie’s friend was trying to trick a man into marrying her who wanted nothing to do with her, even resorting to kidnapping. I shouldn’t be surprised. Media targeting young girls often tout marriage and having babies as the number one things girls should aspire to accomplish. The toy aisle clearly establishes this as well. A young girl’s choices are limited to baby dolls, spatulas, vacuum cleaners and princess props. A boy’s wonderland is full of action and limitless adventure set to expand his mind but no babies or hint of his impending nuptials. Both can be limiting in their own respect and can have a major impact on who these children grow up to become. We learn by play, after all.
As adult women, we are on the constant hunt for a husband. We may pursue careers and hobbies, but the ultimate goal is holy matrimony. For a man, on the other hand, finding a wife is far less of a priority as climbing his career ladder. He is more interested in achieving his life goals and dreams and will worry about settling down later. “Did you finally manage to tie that rascal down?” A woman will commonly hear once she is engaged. Visions of men being dragged to the altar are so common they even serve as wedding cake toppers occasionally.
We are telling young girls her priorities don’t matter. The only thing she needs to worry her pretty little head about is finding a good husband. We are beating them into submission by placing them in a stifling box and telling them what we think it means to be a girl. By the time they are toddlers, if they have access to television, the media is already working on them and they have some understanding of where their gender roles lie. My 2 year old daughter certainly does. She recognizes which toys are meant for girls and boys. It is up to us to guide them and monitor their media consumption. I’m not going to ban Barbie but I will ask critical questions so that my kids can think deeper about the things they absorb. I’m also a huge fan of media which involves representation of girls doing great things, like Doc McStuffins, who is a “toy doctor”, inspired by her mother who is a pediatrician. Legos has also released 3 new female scientist characters that are so wildly popular they sold out immediately. So much for that tired excuse that they are just giving girls what they want, right? Girls need to see more of these kinds of diverse options available and marketed to them. It’s difficult to be what you cannot see.