Over the past 5 years due to my work with teen girls I have become more and more aware of the sexual and sexist imagery we are surrounded by on a daily basis. Now, it all too easy to disregard this as harmless and of no consequence as we know most of it is fake or simply trying to sell us something but I have to disagree.
Most of the time I am not even convinced we notice it. It simply enters our sub-conscious without permission or reason and gradually infects our self esteem and chips away at how we feel about ourselves, in particular the way we look and our place in society.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the confused identities of our teen girls, in fact, younger than teen, the feeling of not being enough starts to take root at around age 8.
It is tragic and heart breaking to watch girls melt in the summer heat because they are too self-conscious to take off their school blazer and/or jumper; to listen to 14 year olds as they describe in minute detail what they hate about their bodies from their ear lobes (I kid you not) to their toes; to sit by and watch bright girls opt out of science/maths/business because they want children and believe it is not possible to have both so why bother or to listen to girls rave about how beautiful Kim Kardashian is and what an amazing career she has – arrrgh!!
As adults we can view reality TV as a set up, we know celebs are airbrushed and hopefully, we know that if we want a career and a family we can make it work, but the media does not concur or support us on our journey. Let’s put the obvious, in your face sexism to one side for the moment and consider some everyday stuff that is unlikely to even register with us at a conscious level but is doing untold damage.
The first example is the back of a box of cereal I saw on shelves this week. An image of a boy and a girl, I did not read the whole campaign and have since seen the TV ad which is much better but the ad on the box shows a boy as a Pilot, this is clearly written on a plaque he is holding up. The girl is a little harder to decipher. At first glance it looks like she is simply holding a bowl of cereal. A closer inspection reveals she is wearing ballet pumps and a tutu so one can only assume she is a ballerina? This feeds the stereotype that girls are sweet, fluffy dolls dressed in pink with little intelligence and even less ambition. Now before I get hate mail from Darcey Bussell fans I absolutely get that to make it as a ballerina demands all of the fore mentioned attributes but really, is this a mainstream profession? Could the little girl not have been a doctor, scientist, business manager, teacher or in line with Pilot theme a Hotel Manager, Lifeguard or Pilot too? Get the message? Millions of girls do. The wrong one!
My second example is a billboard I drive past several times a week and one that never fails to make me rant! A glamorous, red haired model, looking side on to camera in a sultry pose. You could be forgiven for assuming this is an ad for shampoo or cosmetics but NO. It is an advert for fake grass, yes I promise you FAKE GRASS!! I ask you what has this image got to do with fake grass? Why not depict a family having fun in the garden on their fake grass without a care in the world as it is maintenance free?
Add to this category the TV ad for mouthwash to prevent gum disease that follows a nude woman walking through long grass, or the latest CIF ad about the Princess waiting for her Prince but panicking that her floors are not sparkly clean enough!
All of this stuff is blatantly sexist but we seem to pay little attention to it.
Now, if you are OK with this, fine, you are entitled to your opinion, but please do not be alarmed when your daughters behave in a way that confirms their place in society is driven by their appearance and their obedience to not rock the boat.
We get what we are prepared to give in this life and this is also true of the messages we project and instil.