Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Those Sneaky Marketers

Recently, I finished Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes by Sharon Lamb, Lyn Mikel Brown.

This book takes a look at how girls are taught to view the world and themselves, not explicitly by parents/teachers but rather via TV, Internet, friends, etc. The idea is that marketers' (and hence eventually other people) want to see girls as being cute and frilly and pink and loving to shop. The problem being that they don't see them any other way and girls are forced into choosing between Girly Girl and Tomboy. As they age, they also encounter the classic virgin/slut dichotomy (or Madonna/whore, if you like), which people may not consciously still believe in.

The authors' basic goals, as I understood it, were to help parents see what their daughters are experiencing and to give them advice about how to discuss these situations with their kids in order to produce well-adjusted daughters. They both discuss topics in general and give more specific advice (e.g., specific books that they think are good or specific TV shows that they think have poor messages).

Overall, I thought it was a good book. There wasn't actually a lot that I hadn't heard (then again, I subscribe to Bitch) but it was nicely collected and the tone was engaging. Some of my concerns are probably due to the fact that it's geared towards parents of girls specifically -- and I think that some changes would be best embraced by everyone. That said, there were a few things that bothered me. Some of them are really not a big deal, but I might as well mention them.

1. What about Buffy the Vampire Slayer? They don't mention it in the TV section -- and they seem to have trouble finding shows that they like. I think that it fulfills many of their goals: a girl who is sometimes stereotypically girly, but isn't afraid to kick ass when she needs to; a girl who is both nice and smart & technically able; friendships between people of different genders that don't end up being about dating.

2. They sort of reverse this with one sentence towards the end, but I resent the implication that girls shouldn't be playing the flute, but rather the drums. I understand that certain instruments (and the flute is certainly exhibit A) are seen as "for girls." I think we should be trying just as hard to get boys to play the smaller woodwinds as we might to get girls to play guitar (this, however, doesn't fall into the stated goals of the book). At the lower levels the flute/clarinet parts tend to be harder than some of the brass instruments' -- just look at the difference between the piccolo and trombone parts to the Stars and Stripes Forever.

And the comments about being loud/using a lot of air are just ignorant. First of all, the flute takes more lung capacity than most brass instruments. Second, the piccolo is damn loud (I know that it's not a flute, but it is used by lots of flutists in marching band and is a common move from the flute). Can you tell I used to play the piccolo?

3. "Home ick" -- are you serious? I dislike the practice of devaluing certain tasks that were traditionally done by women. Perhaps that's not their goal, but they certainly make Shop class sound way better than Home Economics (Family and Consumer Science these days). To make things worse, they using an extremely outdated idea of what Home Ec involves.

Maybe we no longer darn socks, as they point out, but does that mean that it isn't a good idea to know how to sew on a button or understand characteristics of textiles? It's important for everyone to be able to cook healthy, balanced meals. I certainly support the idea of girls being able to take a shop class, but I don't see why we need to denigrate the alternative. I think everyone should be taking Family and Consumer Science -- everyone ends up in a family and being a consumer, after all.

4. Their suggestions for talking to daughters about this stuff? I don't know how I will do it when I have kids, but it seemed very stilted. I was rolling my eyes at some of it, and I don't think I would have had a different response when I was 12.

Again, I did think it was a good book. I've read Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel and I think that I would recommend that more. Packaging Girlhood is more detailed about good things, though -- books that don't contain stereotypes, for instance.

1 comment:

marilyn said...

Hey Alison. . .I certainly appreciate the comments about family and consumer sciences. It's nice to know that you appreciate the diverse curriculum
since I have fought the stereotype of its simplicity all my professional life. Dad loves the scrubber reference!