Are Women and Girls Groomed to Choose Oppression? (VIDEO)


At the Women’s Worlds congress in Ottawa, Canada, one of the July 4 sessions focused on marketing to the female demographic, looking at examples of marketing aimed at girls and women. While the presentations covered a broad spectrum, from Bratz dolls to “female friendly” businesses to Barbie and the pornification of society, they all came back to the idea that the marketers are grooming women and girls to choose oppression.  The advertising industry in particular, and society in general, sends continuous messages to the female demographic, from infancy through to adulthood, about who they are, what they should desire, and who they should try to become.

Lauren Levesque from Ottawa, Canada spoke about her paper, Media Culture, Artifact, and Gender Identity: An Analysis of Bratz Dolls. Through interviews with mothers and daughters, she found that the mothers were concerned about the influence of the dolls on their daughters. They described the dolls as materialistic, trashy and hyper-sexualized. The girls, on the other hand, saw the dolls as nice, fashionable, and beautiful. They didn’t see the negative aspects of the dolls that their mothers saw. In her research, Ms. Levesque found that girls took pleasure in being objectified. She concluded that children should not be put in a position of making that type of choice and should instead just be able to enjoy being young without being pushed to identify with much older and damaging images of what a girl or a woman should be.

Nathalie Elaine Meza Garcia, a political scientist from Colombia, talked about Barbie. Her presentation, Imperceptible Fundamentalisms: The Perfect Woman and the Multiple Roles of Barbie, examined the ways in which Barbie tries to break away from the patriarchy while still leaving her oppressed. The Barbie slogan, “We Girls Can Do Anything” is intended to be a feminist slogan. However, there is a hidden inconsistency in this. Women are able to enter into new spaces and break glass ceilings, but they still have to be beautiful, nurturing mothers, good homemakers, and doting wives. Essentially, women have demanded the right to do anything that men can do, but they have not shed any of their old roles, duties or subjugation in doing so.

Joanne Baker from Flinders University examined the way that the color pink is being used to restate and refresh gender stereotypes of oppression in her presentation called Resisting Pink – Again. She gave examples of the way that pink is used to market to women, such as a “female friendly” accreditation that is given to brands in Australia that merit a “pink tick” for catering to women (e.g. a garage that doesn’t have nude photos of women and has client toilets). She also showed images from numerous other campaigns aimed at women, from products designed to support breast cancer to make-up to financial services. Ms. Baker characterizes this type of marketing as post-feminist pink because it appeals to women who not only reject and oppose feminism, but who also hold an attitude that feminism is no longer relevant (even though it did have a use in the past). Essentially, these marketers are using the convenient parts of feminism (e.g. empowerment, choice) to appeal to a progressive female audience and convince them to buy products and buy into concepts that further their oppression.

Some women are speaking out against this pink oppression. Ms. Baker told the audience about the sisters Abi Moore and Emma Moore who founded the Pink Stinks campaign in the United Kingdom.

What do you think? Is society putting too much pressure on girls and women to opt into choices (toys, products, services and lifestyles) that require them to be sexy, materialistic, and perfect, without really being feminists. Are girls and women being “empowered” to choose to further their oppression?

Image credit: MeL + on flickr


Emily J.
Emily J.18 days ago

I think it wouldn't be surprising if some anti-women's equality, anti-girl's empowerment, gender-role-enforcing messages are deliberately being placed in kid's toys and media. There has always been a movement that wanted women to be kept in our place as second-class citizens, who are threatened by women who have careers and are independent, and those who are obsessed with enforcing traditional gender roles and going back to outdated beliefs. These people are maladjusted weirdos but they exist, it would be reasonable to assume they have some influence!

I have come across a few examples whether deliberate or otherwise, of TV shows that have some quite sexist, confidence-sapping, ambition-undermining messages or show negative stereotypes of both girls and boys, the writers probably didn't realise that at the time but it is unfair to expose kids to things like that when they are still learning and forming their identities.

Thomas Morrison
Thomas Morrison1 years ago

I love your post because I like the way you collaborate and share your opinions, great blog, carry on.

Cathy C.
Cathy C.4 years ago

I always wanted to play with my brothers toys. I wasn't allowed to go in his room, so I would stand at his doorway and just stare at the train sets, erector sets and trucks and wish I could play with them. I was following a natural impulse. I was genderless, and still feel that way most of the time. I'm fine with femininity, as long as it's not forced on me. I am drawn to the masculine world, there is a lot of fun and exploration there. I guess I'm just bi-gendered in my head. My girls are that way too, so I guess it's genetic.

Carolyn B.
Carolyn R.4 years ago

My kid has natural toys, she gets to play with plastic crap at other kids houses & at school, people give her plastic crap thinking she's missing out, or that's what kids like, and she gives it to the thrift store. They never get her what she asks for - classes at the climbing gyms and such, they like to wrap stuff up in colored paper for some reason. The only plastic thing she has is a computer - which she uses to go online and play "video-games" - right now she's really into virtual dissection; much healthier for a 7 year old than pink princess hooker dress-up play.

Carolyn B.
Carolyn R.4 years ago

My kid's favorite "toys" = cardboard, rubber bands, scissors, glue, tape, paper, string, hole-puncher, wax, paint & brushes, sticks, she has a basket of leaves and acorns & rocks & other junk she picks up outside - basically forest detritus. Kids don't need plastic crap.

Carolyn B.
Carolyn R.4 years ago

Don't buy your kid any plastic crap from a big box bs store. All the plastic crap is demeaning to the human spirit, and the ecology of the planet, and the household budget too. Just stop buying plastic garbage, none of it is any good, none of it is worth a damn. It's ugly & stupid, it breaks WAY too easily, it's full of toxins and made by slaves out of petrochemicals. We can't afford that crap, and kids don't need it! I don't want to nit-pick about which plastic crap is the absolute worst, it all sucks! But your kids *like* barbie princess fighting robot Disney character garbage? They beg for it? Tough titty, cut them off, cold turkey; they'd like crack cocaine too, and a bowl of whipped cream for dinner if you gave it to them, so don't give it to them! Give them something wholesome, like your time & attention, like some outside time, like family play time, like crafts and corney old time games - kids LOVE that kind of stuff, if that's what they get. My girl was bored one day, so she made herself a cup & ball toy out of some cardboard from the recycling bin and played with it for like 2 months. She just made up a project for herself and crafted this cool thing, it cost nothing, was creative & fun for her. She makes tons of stuff out of cardboard from the recycle bin. Kids are smarter than you give them credit for, they don't need "playsets" they just need love & time and a safe space to express themselves. Here are the best "toy" purchases I have made in t

Bonnie m.
Bonnie mutchler4 years ago

I find this article interesting. Society also tells males what they are to be. A guy that doesn't watch porn, swill beer and treat women like crap is "gay"which as my son says doesn't mean homosexual, it mean demasculated. We have become a society that is so sexualized we demean ourselves and all of humanity. Frankly,I like Europe where the guys wear pink and no one cares :)

Ernest R.
Ernest R.5 years ago

@ David L…What ? “the stereotyping tyranny under which women live in our society” ?. In “our society” cross-dressing, women dressing like men, is the norm ! Haven’t you seen the stereotyping in other societies, in which Muslim women are forced to dress in black tents, Indian women with saris, while the men folk wear western dress ? In “our society", women have been permitted knee length skirts for a little more than a century. That was previously a man’s style for kilt or tunic. Women in “our society” suffer less from tyranny than in MOST cultures in the world and in every other century than ours. Get over it.

Marie W.
Marie W.5 years ago

Slaves are always subtly influenced to remain slaves..

colleen p.
colleen p.5 years ago

feminism, the social movement to bitch and moan about stupid issues and say even great men in science thought only with their penis

who cry afowl when they see a fictional character being traditionally girly rather than make a stink over genital mutilations

people are all that weak? if these little girlies are so easily groomed, I could have a legion of females that my media empire raised them on "being a cat".