I’ve been reading Packaging Girlhood by Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown. The book shows the impact of female-targeted marketing on society and women’s self-perception as a result.
One of the common stereotypes portrayed in the media is the “cool” girl. This girl is into “boy” things, like video games, sports, or comic books. In a sitcom, this girl always has a snappy come back or a witty one-liner, and acts tough but remains cute. This stereotype shuns “traditional” things deemed feminine, such as the color pink, flowers and stuffed animals in favor of something more sporty. This girl has an independent attitude and, to borrow Ja Rule’s parlance, is a “down ass chick.” Girls not into Princess Barbie use this person as a role model.
But with this identity comes a certain preconception. The “cool” girl gives up her feminine side by trying to distance herself from common girl activities, such as shopping or putting on makeup. The pre-packaged cool girl isn’t the free spirit we think she is. By shunning all things feminine she states that women must give up their softer side to achieve “cool.” The media doesn’t show a balance between punk rock chick and sorority sister, the independent thinker and the stereotype. It’s one or the other.
The book describes several instances where this rings true. In the interest of me getting to bed at a decent hour, I will refer you to page 61 of the book (it’s a good read. A used copy only runs $5 before shipping).
What I find interesting is how this sexism has affected me. Years of admiring the spunky television starlet has convinced me to seek out the “down ass chick.” I tend to like people that go against the norm, ones that fight against roles established by society. I always thought that my interest in these girls was a result of my hipster sympathies and a bit of admiration for strong-willed individuals. In actuality, it’s probably because Lady Jaye on G.I. Joe impressed me as she beat on Cobra Vipers only to turn around and make out with Flint and Punky Brewster was the perfect balance of cute and free spirit.
My response to this branding is almost Pavlovian. By falling for a certain look and being into interests associated with the “cool” girl stereotype, I can be categorized and targeted by marketers. Some suit in a room must be really proud of him or herself right now. The anti-corporation belief system I’ve been fed is actually a cash swindle on behalf of consumerism. I’m part of an audience that beliefs itself immune to the influence of marketing departments. I buy the products that suggest I’m different, read the magazines that tell me how to do things differently, and my Apple iPod suggests that I “think different.” I always thought I was pretty market savvy and didn’t buy into the hype, but I’ve come to find that commercialism’s influence runs very deep. Scary, huh?