I wrote this post in November, 2011. I chose to re-post it because of a question from a reader in 2017 about an article he read that criticizes Disney who, in their efforts to create “strong” female characters have turned male movie characters into “losers.” The article he based his question on is here.
“…baby girls are better at collaborating, communicating, and empathizing and thus will be the leaders of tomorrow”
“…a baby boy is 76% more likely to set something his parents own ablaze”
As cited in on Jezebel, these comments come from ads designed as part of “an experiment” by Fast Company magazine to gauge whether an advertising campaign could be effective in touting the benefits of female babies. The goal? Helping societies around the world overcome their preference for sons.
There is no doubt that female infanticide and sex-selective abortions are serious problems, not only from a moral and ethical point of view, but also a demographic one. Societies with high levels of female infanticide are only now beginning to grapple with the problems of the resulting imbalance this practice has created—men now outnumber women by a significant margin in some areas.
But does anyone seriously believe that centuries’ worth of entrenched sexism can be eradicated with an advertising campaign—especially one that trades on negative stereotypes of males? Boys set things on fire. Boys can’t talk, share, or care in the same way that girls can. Seriously?
The post quotes Anya Kamenetz, author of the Fast Company piece as saying:
“[Women’s] socialization is geared toward the right stuff for the changing requirements of success in the 21st century: women are more likely to have a balanced, empathetic leadership style, better communication skills, a knack for fostering innovation through collaboration.”
What exactly is being said here? If socialization imbues women with certain traits, why can’t it do the same for boys? Or is the implication that it is not even worth trying for boys, since they are hard-wired to be aggressive, domineering, and less sensitive than females? Nurture over nature for females, but nature over nurture for boys? Isn’t that selling boys short?
So this campaign, it seems, is trying to raise up one gender by denigrating the other. How does that move us forward?
Why not propose a campaign that shows how all children, regardless of their sex, have potential to make a positive impact in the world? Why not start with teaching parents about what girls can achieve when given the same level of education and opportunities granted to boys and, in the process, busting the myths perpetuated by gender stereotypes?
The author of the Jezebel post posits that the preference for males may stem, in part, from fear over how a daughter will be treated in a world where sexism, misogyny, and gender-based violence are all too common.
She itemizes her fears about the future of baby girls today—all legitimate—but ignores those facing baby boys. She even goes so far as to say that she is “okay with a boy who doesn’t want to talk…about feelings from the ages of 12 to 16,” showing a complete disregard for the impact of this kind of behaviour on boys’ mental and emotional health; behaviour that stems from an entrenched stereotype about males.
I am not disputing the fact that girls suffer much higher levels of gender-based violence and discrimination, but boys face problems of their own, some specific to their gender. They are not immune to crimes like human trafficking or sexual abuse. Stereotypes teach them to suppress their feelings, value their ability to make money and climb corporate ladders over their ability to parent or show compassion, and react with aggression instead of understanding when challenged. Body image is increasingly becoming a problem for boys too. While the numbers are not near the levels of eating disorders seen in females, studies have shown that 41% of boys aged 13-19 are dissatisfied with their bodies. (Source: The Adonis Complex.)
The Jezebel post is about girls, but the complete oversight of boys’ issues perpetuates the “us vs. them” mentality that permeates many gender discussions. Why do we have to frame the argument in terms of what works for one gender? Why not look at solutions that benefit children of both sexes and lead to greater equity and understanding for everyone?