By Michele Yulo – I came across this photo on Facebook taken by a person at a local county library that shows REAL covers of both the Girls’ Life and Boys’ Life magazines.* (Warning: if you have high blood pressure, look away!) My head spun, my blood boiled and my jaw just about hit the floor. Here I am thinking that we had changed, that the inane stereotypes that inundate kids was beginning to dissipate and boys and girls were genuinely starting to see each other as equals because companies were starting to recognize that gender stereotypes really don’t work. And then…this. You can read the copy and pretty much figure out that according to this magazine—a girl’s top priority is to “Wake Up Pretty”, and a boy’s is to “Explore Your Future.” For lack of a better way to put it: WTF!
I immediately thought about a blog post I had written years ago about baby rattles and the beginning of gender stereotyping. Some thought I was exaggerating—how could a rattle have ANY effect on a teeny tiny infant? Because it’s NOT just about the rattle. The physical thing isn’t it. Get it?
It’s not only about what it (whatever “it” is) represents, but what comes next. And guess what? It gets worse. There will be a litany of media, images and messages that reinforce the idea that girls’ lives are less serious than boys’ who, unlike their female counterparts, are constantly being encouraged to explore and learn.
“Only 2 percent of the world’s population has naturally blond hair. If you narrow your sample to white people in the United States, that percentage goes up, but only to 5 percent. But look at women in leadership positions and you’ll see a lot of golden tresses. More than a third of female senators–35 percent–are blonde. And though the sample size for female CEOs of S&P 500 companies is admittedly small, 48 percent–nearly half–are blonde.”
The worst part? In the final analysis, the author goes on to suggest that you “make that appointment with your hairdresser” summing it up this way: “We may want to change the world. But first we have to reach the positions that will let us do it.” You know because there’s no better way to succeed than to simply give in to the sexism that holds us back in the first place. (I would hope Sheryl Sandberg would not agree to this kind of “leaning in.”).
Here I am thinking that we had changed, that the inane stereotypes that inundate kids was beginning to dissipate…
So I ask you—is it any surprise? We have pink diamond ring rattles, magazines for girls that focus only on superficial things like hair and jeans, and then scientific proof that looks matter more than anything for girls and women.
There is simply no good way to wind this up. To neatly summarize the conglomeration of everything in our society that makes this okay. I just don’t know how any group of people could publish such garbage and feel good about themselves. I can only implore the publishers of the magazine to rethink their mission and think about how their magazine could actually be a positive force for girls. But I will say that in the eight years I have been an activist in this space trying my best to upend these stereotypes by blogging while trying to create more options for girls, I sometimes find myself completely at a loss. Today is one of those days.
*Boys’ Life and Girls’ Life Magazines are published by different publishers and are NOT connected. They are however positioned next to each other and therefore highlight the very stark contrast between the two.
Photo credit: Matt Frye
About The Author
Michele Yulo is the founder of Princess Free Zone, Inc., a brand and blog that offers an alternative to all things princess for little girls by addressing issues of gender and gender stereotyping. She is also the author of the children’s book Super TooLula: The Kind Warrior. In continuing her mission to create more options for girls, Michele just launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise funds for SUIT HER, a clothing line she’s developing with the aim of offering hip, unique, ready-to-wear suits for girls age five to twelve that are full of fun detail and made to fit a girl’s body.