Friday, June 27, 2014

In Defense of Girls

Just in the past 48 hours, while perusing Facebook and Twitter, I've seen something really interesting happening.

Some big companies are hitting out against the way society raises our girls.

Verizon released their "Inspire Her Mind," ad, a powerful minute long video warning of what happens when we place the focus for young girls on being pretty rather than being smart. It includes some jarring statistics–– 66% of 4th grade girls say they like math and science, but only 18% of all engineering majors at universities are female. Clearly, there's a disconnect happening for young women as they get older.

But what's most powerful from the ad isn't the numbers–– it's everything else. It's the dejected look on the little girl's face when her dad tells her to hand over the power tools to her brother, or when her mom tells her that her solar system project has gotten out of hand. It all culminates when the voiceover tells us, "Our words can have a huge impact. Isn't it time we told her she's pretty brilliant, too?"

And then, less than a day after seeing the Verizon ad, I encountered an Always ad that some friends had been sharing on Facebook. In the three minute video, a filmmaker asks a group of men and women of all different ages to act out various tasks "like a girl." The results are as stereotypical as you'd expect–– running like a girl involves stopping to fix your hair.

But then the stereotype is turned around for us–– a group of girls around the age of ten are brought in, and when they're asked to do things "like a girl," the response is refreshing. When one little girl is asked what it means to her when she's asked to run like a girl, she says, "It means run as fast as you can."

These ads are as inspiring as they are eye opening–– anyone who claims representation isn't an issue for young girls can't ignore the switch that goes off during puberty that, as Verizon points out, has them largely abandoning STEM fields, or as Always points out, has them buying into the negative stereotypes about their own gender. As a young woman, I am much more often complimented on my outfit than I am on my intellect, and I know most of my friends and peers could say the same.

The cynical side of me questions the motives behind these ads. They are, after all, still ads at heart, and the teams at these companies created them in the hopes that they'd do exactly what they're doing, which is going viral. While that does call into question how genuine the intentions are, it doesn't change the truth behind the messages–– the truth that we need to change the way we raise our girls.

And that's exactly why these ads are going viral–– not just because the filmmaking is really aesthetically pleasing, or because Verizon and Always have big budgets that get them out there into our consciousness. Friends are sharing these ads on Facebook and Twitter because there's a need and a desire to talk about the misrepresentation of women and girls, and there are groups out there speaking up about it loudly enough that it's getting harder and harder to ignore.

So while these ads may just be one more attempt for advertising agencies to pick a popular topic and run with it to sell tampons, or cell phone plans, or whatever the case may be, there's a reason they picked this topic. There's a reason it's prime time we start talking about the way we talk to young girls, and the way we talk about women in general–– because we ask actors about their part in the film but we still ask actresses about their diet regimen.

We've got a long way to go beyond inspirational corporate advertising, but seeing these ads–– especially released one right after the other–– gives me hope that more people are beginning to be drawn into the conversation. There are a lot of people out there who seem blissfully unaware of the problem, so at the very least, these ads serve as an educative tool in the long road toward equality and appropriate representation for young women.

So even if it's an advertisement, I'm still down with anyone who wants to remind the world that "like a girl" shouldn't be an insult.


  1. This post is amazing.. I am so with you. We definitely have a long way to go, but this is a start!

  2. I saw these this morning at work-very inspiring commercials. I agree that it can be just a ploy to make money, but at the same time, advertising firms are looking to make a statement and make a change. At the end of the day, it's a good message and one that I definitely think needs to come to the center of attention!

    A Thing of Beauty

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  4. This is a fabulous post. I couldn't agree more!

    ♥Emma, of It's Emma Elise