When Consumption Reaches the Scale of a National Disaster: Consuming Kids and Its Underlying Ideas
One of the most disturbing things about consumerism, however, is that it affects people’s perception of gender and, therefore, contributes to the creation of stereotypes that make the relationship between men and women even more complicated (Cherlin, 2009). There is no way to escape these commercials: “Kids are inundated with this. They are buried in this – buried in this media blitz” (Barbaro & Earp, 2010). Mass media coins new gender roles and new images of men and women, which children readily accept:
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If you set up five different accounts […] you will see five different ads. You will see five different worlds. Now, as a child, you don’t know that. As a child, you’re competing with MBAs. You’re competing with some of the smartest people out there. (Barbaro & Earp, 2010)
Therefore, it is obvious that mass media creates false ideas of what a man or a woman should be like, what they should do, and what they should care about (Cherlin, 2013). It is obvious that mass media exploits girls’ maternity instincts by offering them a variety of dolls and the related gimmicks, therefore, using their instinct of nurturing others to come up with a perfect selling point for their new product.
For boys, the idea of winning, being the very first at something, leading the pack is reinforced to the nth degree (Cherlin, 2013a). However, there is an even greater problem. While promoting motherly behavior can be considered a social norm, the idea of sexualizing young girls, which is also the infamously remarkable characteristics of modern media, is downright wrong: “You see now dolls with highly sexualized outfits and themes marketed to six-year-olds” (Barbaro & Earp, 2010). There is nothing wrong with educating children about sex; however, modern media does not educate – it exploits popular stereotypes by offering an overly sexualized image of a woman to young children West & Zimmerman, 1987).
The ethical problem concerning the use of gender stereotypes in marketing is not new. Reinforcement of statements that lead to gender profiling or complexities in the personal lives of the people who have accepted the concept of gender offered in commercials as a social norm has been discussed a number of times in a number of contexts (Cabrera, Shannon, & Tamis-LeMonda, 2007). However, when it comes to relating the problems mentioned in the film to the recent researches on the related issues, one will see distinctly the similarity between the discussion patterns of the movie and the article Betwixt and between by Risman and Seale.
In their work, the authors commented on the ways in which concepts adopted in early childhood affect the relationships between adults and young adults. One of the examples that the authors suggest considering is the function of stereotypical behavior in the mini-society of schoolchildren: “The conflation of gender and sexuality works to regulate boys’ gender behavior, leaving them afraid to cross gender boundaries for fear of the ‘gay’ stigma” (Risman & Seale, 2013).
Much like Barbaro and Earp’s film, the given work shows what happens when gender stereotypes are being pushed to the breaking point. On the one hand, children need a clear understanding of what defines being a man or a woman; on the other hand, children need to realize that the ideas of gender offered by the mass media do not necessarily have to coincide with the personal choices of other people. Therefore, it is necessary to explain to children that what media offers is only an option, and not necessarily a very clever one at that.
Barbaro, A. & Earp, J. (2010). Consuming kids. Web.
Cabrera, N. J., Shannon, J. D. & Tamis-LeMonda, C. (2007). Fathers’ influence on their children’s cognitive and emotional development: From toddlers to pre-K. Applied Development Science, 11(4): 208-213.
Cherlin, A. (2009). Blue-collar blues, white-collar weddings. Marriage go-round: The state of marriage and the family in America today. New York City, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 159–181.
Cherlin, A. J. (2013). Public and private families: An introduction (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Cherlin, A. J. (2013a). Public and private families: A reader (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Risman, B. J. & Seale, E. (2013). Betwixt and between: Gender contradictions in middle school. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois at Chicago.
West, C. & Zimmerman, D. H. (1987). Doing gender. Gender and Society, 1(2), 125–151.