Friday, January 27, 2012

Sexism and Stereotype in Children's Toy Commercials.

Perhaps one of the most gender stereotyping advertisements occur as children’s toy commercials. On the one hand, you have commercials for boys that promote control, power , and strength, capitalizing on the mythos of what it means to be “a man”’.  In contrast, little girls are constantly being sold the ideal image of “the woman”, which is both depressing and sickening. In these practices the advertising and toy companies are selling certain ideals to these children, conditioning them to believe what the “acceptable” characteristics of each specific gender are. This alienates both sexes, albeit in different ways. Furthermore, there is the variable of those with a confused gender or who are gender-neutral that need to be considered. The stereotypes of the “man” and the “woman” could potentially effect negatively on the lives of these individuals who don’t identify with these genders in the traditional sense, providing further confusion and alienation concerning their social identity.
So, what does Rose Petal Cottage, a toy created by the minds of Hasbro, have to say about a woman’s role in society, specifically? What message is being projected on to little girls (and even little boys, for the effects are two-fold)? Let us first consider what is attempting to be sold: Rose Petal Cottage is an imitation home where young girls can “have fun” doing laundry, baking, cleaning and taking care of babies. The house has its own mock washer and dryer, crib with a baby doll, changing table, oven and other implements conducive to this type of conditioning. In the advert, the company is associating the mythos of the submissive wife, mother and homemaker with a child’s sense of fun. The jingle itself, states: “I love when my laundry gets so clean, taking care of my home is a dream, dream, dream.”
Really? That is the “dream”; the most important goal in a woman’s life— to clean and cook and raise children? I have never seen a commercial in my entire life depicting a play office where little girls can pretend to be the CEO of a corporation. Yet there are more woman today who do this than who are stay-at-home moms. There are woman in rock ‘n’ roll who are powerful and damned good at what they do, tougher than any man they may come in contact with. Why then, is the myth of the homemaker still so prevalent? The answer is in the question, itself. It is a myth. What once was reality is no longer so. The fact that society cannot break itself from this long deceased truth is what creates the stereotype.
The sickest and most saddening aspect of the Rose Petal Cottage advert is that it was first released in 2007. That was a short five years ago. Certainly, now that humankind has reached the 21st century, that we are in the height of the information age, the stone age ideals of the 1950s would have dissipated? Yet we see commercials like these glorifying a woman’s submissiveness. A woman cannot have power, she is not in control of her own destiny like men are. Games of strategy like Battleship and Risk are no place for little girls, those are the boys’ games.
When a girl breaks away from this stereotype and chooses to immerse herself in the games of the opposite gender she is in danger of being labelled a “tomboy” and if this labelling continues on until at least middle school she may be further categorized as a “lesbian” regardless of what her actual sexual preference may happen to be. Women are not helpless. Women are strong. Women are powerful and capable. Concerning the game of battleship, it is considered taboo for a girl to play this game, yet there are a vast number of women who work in the navy. Similarly, there is a growing number of stay-at-home dads. As young boys, were these fathers to play with Rose Petal Cottage they would also be labelled as homosexual, once again regardless of actual sexual preference.
Boys, providing that they view this advert in combination with one specifically catered to the stereotype of their own gender, will gain a false sense of dominance and entitlement, while the girls will soon develop a sense of inferiority in accordance with this. The boys will connect the associations of male/alpha/dominance with female/omega/submissiveness. A simple stereotyping in a commercial can influence the perceptions of these individuals in adult life and may, in extreme, cases be a cause for domestic violence or worse, which is a growing problem within the modern world. In the case of gender queer children, the stereotype that the Rose Petal Cottage commercial implies gives them no place to identify with. Perhaps in this they are lucky, for they will not condition themselves to the stereotype. It could occur, however, that the stereotype may resonate with them and they will feel outcast and alone.
In its essence, Rose Petal Cottage is telling the children who may see the ad while watching cartoons that firstly, an outdated cultural truth is still prevalent and should be adhered to; secondly, that girls should grow up to be women that fit into this cookie-cutter gender “norm”—that is, that they are destined to be slaves to a home and a husband; thirdly, that this should be “fun”. Hasbro is not selling a toy. It is selling a weapon of mass brainwashing and romanticizing an old form of slavery. It is telling gender queer children that since they cannot fit into this stereotype (or its opposite) and that they have no place in society. It is telling boys that women are their maids and not human beings capable of great change and influence in the world. If commercials such as these continue to air, I fear for the future generations that will be brought up into this world. It’s time to get out of the dark ages and move forward, not regress. 

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