The Positive Message
Last year, toy-maker GoldieBlox took the Internet by storm with a Beastie Boys song and a fun video of girls making the world's coolest Rube Goldberg machine. This year, they're at it again with a commercial called "This Is Your Brain on Engineering." Hey, girls, did you know science is cool? You should try it!
The Actual Message
Liking Barbies, princesses, or anything girly is bad. Bad girls.
All of these commercials boil down to young girls getting told what to think by people who want to sell them products. GoldieBlox packaged their science projects as feminism in a box, when those toys have been sold for years without girl-specific packaging. Do people think little girls strictly buy girl-marketed toys? That they're too dumb to ask for a box of LEGOs or Hot Wheels or toy chainsaws? Or that all the educational toys are marketed toward boys? They're not. Science-toy packaging is almost always in primary colors and gender-neutral. I know this because I taught kindergarten for two years and home-schooled my kids for five years -- toy companies would be clinically brain dead to target boys only.
What a sausagefest!
Just in case it's not clear, I do get the urgency and underlying message of these ads. Girls aren't sticking with math and science beyond middle school, and people want to fix that. I'm all for that, because what kind of idiot isn't? But there should never be a point where we say, "Your brain is flawed because you like princesses." Remember, these are the same girls that someone is going to slut-shame 10 years from now, the same girls who are heading into a world where 1 in 5 of them is going to be sexually assaulted in college. That's a terrible statistic that has nothing to do with toys, obviously, but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that the GoldieBlox message isn't a direct slap in the face to girls who like dolls. "This is your brain on princess" might as well be translated to "You're doing life wrong, stupidhead."
The Positive Message
I love HelloFlo for creating before-the-period care packages for girls. Getting your period is like having a slasher movie in your panties, month after month, for 35 years. They're traumatic nightmares, and if you don't know how disgusting they are, that's because you've been shielded from the horror. Thank the women in your life for wrapping it up every month. It's great that someone has taken on the challenge of demystifying a natural process that I've obviously never come to terms with. Kudos, HelloFlo!
A few weeks ago, this commercial hit my Facebook feed. A girl obsessed with getting her first period on a Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret level fakes getting it, so her mom throws her a period-themed party. The commercial is cute and off-putting and funny.
The Actual Message
Being a woman means being a bitch.
It's on second glance that you realize how weird this commercial is, and the grossness has nothing to do with menses. Listen to how the daughter talks to her mom when asked about her fingernail polish-soaked pad: "What do you think it is? I'm on my ladies' days." Yikes. I don't know about your house, but in my house that tone would get a grounding followed by a lecture followed by a "Who do you think you are?" followed by a whiny Facebook update that didn't mention the child by name but definitely called them out. Then that Facebook update would get promptly deleted because everybody hates passive-aggressive complaining on Facebook. Part of raising kids is making sure they don't grow up to talk to other humans like the other humans are trash, is the point I'm getting to.
The mom in this commercial is way cooler than me, however, so she decides to punish her daughter's lying and bratty tone ... with more lying. She stages an elaborate blood-soaked party and gets everyone this family has ever known in on it. Friends, family, local bakers, and pinata makers, everyone, all in the name of teaching a hormone-addled child one lesson: I'm older so I can out-bitch you. Oh, and I'll humiliate you in the process.
Look at the smug, self-satisfied look the mom gives the camera when the party's over. This is a mom who isn't interested in raising her daughter to be comfortable with her body or confident in the changes she's going through. This is a manipulative, power-hungry woman who is not only asserting herself as the dominant female in the relationship, but teaching her daughter that this is how womanhood works. Through lies, humiliation, and general douchiness. For a company that's trying to normalize talk about periods, they sure are playing up the association with women, periods, and bitchiness.
Looks like she learned her lesson!
In fact, I can't think of a more terrible message for girls hitting middle school: When someone wrongs you, go Mean Girls on them, first with humiliation, then by literally forcing physical contact when they don't want it. The actress who played the daughter in this commercial actually nailed all the feelings of defeat, self-doubt, and disgust that come with living in a world where everything is out of your control, including your own body.
Get used to getting bullied, young lady.
So in that sense, HelloFlo does a great job of capturing young womanhood. Awesome job, guys!