So here’s the thing, sometimes girls just want to do girlie things, as some studies on newborn monkeys are starting to illustrate. I was a child of the 70s, and went to elementary school in 80s, when feminism transitioned from theory to practice.
Choice has been neglected because “women’s work” was simply downgraded. It became and remains disdainful to “stay at home.” Similarly, boys were ignored. They bore, and still bear, the brunt of fault, as though they are born thinking girls are inferior and we have to cajole them into believing otherwise.
Feminism should have been about de-gendering activities and spaces. Ironically, feminism has instead cemented machismo as the foundation of a well-spent life and femininity as the curse of a pedantic, domestic, life – for women and men alike.
I can still picture the poster on the wall of Mr Diesenhouse’s portable that depicted a girl around 11 years old, holding tools, sitting amidst bike parts, and the caption: “My mom is an engineer.” It is tempting to suggest that poster opened my eyes to possibilities, except to me that girl looked like little more than a bike mechanic. So how did I end up pursuing an engineering career? Peer pressure. My sister went into engineering, and I was a girl who did well in math and science, so pursuing a “man’s job” felt like a moral duty to my feminist “liberators.”
Hanging in my Gr 5 French class, that poster failed to inspire me, but the mores of the time permeated. The ad attempted to portray girls in the image of the feminist ideal using the same tricks of manipulation as the promoters of the feminine ideal. However, the happy pride of this young role model bore no influence over me. These new roles for girls were part of a social shift that was already underway.
To make a long story short, de Certeau is right, we are not passively grazing on advertising fodder. That poster meant nothing to me without the clout of the overarching feminist meme. It’s easy to blame corporations for hijacking psychology research into human behaviour and cognition, but individuals need to wake up. If individuals take responsibility for their own decisions about the impacts of materialism, corporations won’t be nearly so successful at amassing loyal patrons. Advertising is an offer I do not have to accept.
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