Friday, March 27, 2009

Marketing strategies reinforcing the stereotypes and objectification of girls

 Bratz babyz Bratz dolls

I watched a rather interesting documentary on TV5 Monde tonight. I felt sorry that I didn’t watch the beginning part of the programme but it was about how marketing has “pornofied” every aspect of our lives today, including children and adolescents. The pictures above show two famous brands of dolls by MGA Entertainment which apparently are selling like hot cakes around the world.

On the left is a Bratz Babyz and the right, Bratz Dolls. What seemingly harmless toys are apparently shaping the minds and stereotypes of how girls should be perceived by our world today; thin, sexy, desirable, trendy and fashionable, by children as young as 2 years old. If you look closely at the Bratz Babyz, you wouldn’t even realize that it is supposed to be a baby. Do you spot a diaper anywhere? What about those pouty lips (without a pacifier, may I add), which is a marketing signature of Bratz.

What was interesting about the programme was how honest and open the discussions were. It was a Quebecois production, a French state in Canada and hence not the prudish sort you would have expected elsewhere. But it was precisely such honesty which made an impact on the topic in discussion.

According to several experts (child psychologists and social scientists) who were interviewed on the programme, marketing and commercialism have evolved to such a monstrous state where children are now being targeted as consumers. This includes music videos featuring scantily clad women, dancing in sexually provocative movements. Bands like the Pussy Cat Dolls are being idolized by millions of teenage girls all over the world.

Clothing lines like the American Apparel, targeting young adolescents prides itself for its sexy and trendy designs and is not ashamed to market its product through sexually provocative billboards, fashion magazines and catalogues featuring very young teenage girls in cleavage hugging but rather baring tops. When I first watched the American series Gossip Girl, I was shocked with how the entire main cast, portraying 16 to 17 years old New York elite socialites, were dressed. They should have named the series Glamour Girl instead. Whatever happens to jeans, T-shirts, baby-doll dresses and the classic shapeless but adorable dungarees (overalls)?

The programme also showed how young girls are being encouraged to shop. You get merchandise like small purses with the inscription such as I-heart-shopping (I love shopping). Then you have panties that have a picture of an ice cream cone at the crotch area with the inscription, Lick me! They have also created push-up teenage bras for those who are wearing bras for the first time.

A child psychologist based in a school revealed that she often counsels girls who want to talk to someone about sex, something which they do not want to discuss with their parents. She was horrified when a 13 year-old girl asked her whether she should have sex with a boy using 3 holes; her mouth, vagina and anus. She explained that due to the influence of  media, especially uncontrolled access to internet which exposes children to unlimited adult materials has forced teenagers to believe that they are expected to perform all the sexual acts seen on pornographic pictures and movies. At that age, they do not discuss about sex when they are in a relationship. Boys are pressurized to perform and the girls are expected to play her role in the performance.

Another expert qualifies pornography as a form of violence which comes in 3 different forms; physical violence where women are objectified as sex tools, economic violence where women are being exploited for commercial purposes and political violence when governments are unwilling to put a stop to such exploitations in defence of capitalism.

Some concerned members of the public have raised their outrage on marketing strategies adopted by entertainment and commercial entities. They have launched sensitization activities in schools and homes to educate children about self-dignity and how their bodies belong to them and no one else. In schools, a workshop facilitator put up two pictures taken from fashion magazines on the screen. They each showed two women (one presumably a teenager) posing in sexy garments with seductive poses. She then asked the students which one was adolescence (presumably teenage fashion) and which was pornography. Some students were interviewed later on and one admitted that she couldn’t tell the difference. Since she was so used to seeing these pictures on teen magazines, she thought it was normal and nothing pornographic about them.

Then the programme showed an activity carried out in a house with several children around the age of 4  to 6. The children were shown cut-put pictures from teen magazines with images of teenage girls posing half naked (the girl was wearing tights and one arm was flung across her chest, covering only her nipples). The children were asked what they thought about the pictures. One pointed out that the girl was naked and when asked whether nudity was necessary to sell clothing attire, he said no. And why not? The child said because those are our private parts and we shouldn’t show them. The children were then given crayons to create tops which would cover the model’s upper body. Their work of arts were then put in an envelope to be sent to children and teenage clothing companies as a sign of protest.

Finally, a woman expressed the irony of how the feminist movement in the 70s, is now perceived as anti-sex feminism when they were the ones who fought for women’s right to sexual expression and liberation. The whole concept of feminism has deviated to a point where women are moving backwards. Instead of spending time to discover their own personal identities and potential, they have become generic creatures who wear the same make-up, clothes and accessories, with an appetite for shopping.

To end this note, I thought that the programme was indeed enlightening but at the same time, I was disappointed that the panel of experts consisted of women only. It would have been more effective if we could hear the men’s perspectives on such an important matter. At the same time, I’m also curious how young boys are being sensitized on the way marketing strategies have changed the whole concept and idea of feminity and role of women in society today.

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