Friday, September 17, 2010

Learning Gender Through Ads

Thank you to occasional Fannie's Room commenter and special lady friend "hammerpants" for passing along the following Target ad. (Are we still boycotting them, by the way? I haven't received this month's copy of the Gay Agenda Meeting Minutes).

Anyway, let's see what this ad tells us about the sexes:


On the left, we see a pregnant-looking woman who has gathered an assortment of pink stuff in her shopping cart. Presumably, she is shopping for both a girl child and for herself, as the caption above her says "girl power" and the items in her cart are baby items and adult items. Yet, rather than being comprised of powerful (or even fun) items like, say, chakrams, tennis rackets, or protein bars, inside this lady cart are a pink lamp, a doll wearing a pink outfit, a box of diapers, two boxes of infant gas relief medication, laundry detergent, and an unidentifiable bottle of cleaning spray.

Let's contrast that with the man cart.

On the right, we see a man who has put a bunch of blue stuff into his cart. Presumably, because the caption above him says "boyish charms" and contains both baby items and adult items, he has been shopping for a boy child and himself who, in contrast to the girl child and the woman, apparently get lots of fun stuff to play with and eat. Instead of diapers and anti-gas meds, the boy and man get a monkey, a blue lamp, bottles, potato chips, two gallons of ice cream, a guitar, and a toy golf set. How differently would we judge a mother who arrived at a checkout line with those items? Would we find her juvenile shopping habits as "charming"?

Whereas in the real world there is much overlap between the stuff women like and the stuff men like (hello, ice cream!), ads like these deliberately gender certain products and support the gender narrative that constructs male and female as opposites. In this case, we learn from the items in each cart that girls and women are responsible and practical, and that men are "charming"-ly irresponible and impractical. Look everyone, the man doesn't have to think about purchasing boring, pragmatic cleaning products, but that's okay, look at how adorable he is playing with that monkey!

As for the children, we learn that little girls like to play with passive toys that they cannot manipulate, like dolls. Little boys like to play with active toys that do stuff, like guitars and golf sets.

Yes, this is one small ad. But there are countless others like them, all of which add up in subtle and non-so-subtle ways that inform us how to be male and female and, consequently, what being male and female means.

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