The #WomenNotObjects campaign seems to be well on its way to changing perceptions and making us see advertisements in a different light. But how effective will it be?
Recently, Neil P. Christy wrote a delightful piece, The Object of My Affection, that shows yet another way of looking at women's role in advertisements. In it he poses the question "Why blame the advertising industry?".
Yes, why blame indeed.
When my daughter was under 5 years old we sometimes watched cartoons on a foreign channel that had a lot of advertisements. And she loved them. She loved all the stuff they advertised. She would ask me for such stuff again and again. And I didn't understand why. I watched that same advertisement with her and all I saw was unappealing toys, one-use toys or useless toys. At one point I asked her "Why? Why do you want this toy? You have something just like it and you never even use it. Why do you want this one?". She replied with something along the lines of "Yes, but mommy, all the children in the ad are so happy. They are so happy because they have that toy.".
In Iceland it is forbidden by law to air advertisements right before and after children shows. I understand why. Had I not allowed my daughter to watch the channel that had all those advertisements it could have saved me a lot of frustration and endless debates. Advertisements are powerful. They influence our environment, our thoughts and our beliefs. But why assign blame? It was my choice to allow my child to watch it. Should I regret it? I don't know. Without those ads I might not have been able to have a discussion with her that early about peer pressure etc.
But why are we talking about blame anyway? What was it about the #WomenNotObjects campaign that made Neil think of blame? Is the campaign assigning blame? And if so, if the ads are so powerful that they influence the way we think about women and can therefore influence the way we think about everything, are ads so dangerous that they should be forbidden for adults too?
Or is the world just a dangerous place?
"It is not enough just to stop objectifying women. What if this trend spawns an era of ads with objectified men? Would that be any better?"
I wrote a book. I have written a couple, but I wrote this one about gender stereotyping for children because I was tired of society telling children that they have to be this way or that way. And I'm a little amazed at the reaction I've had from adults and at how deeply they feel about this subject. It made me happy to know that I am not alone. I also felt privileged, hearing about people's experiences. Like that boy who brought his older sister's teddy bear to kindergarten, perhaps finding comfort in having his sister's teddy with him, only to be told by a staff member "You can't have this teddy bear! You are a boy and this teddy bear is pink!".
Of course there is nothing wrong with dressing a girl in pink. Of course it is good for boys to learn to be strong. Stereotyping works both ways and it can be just as restricting to be against stereotyping. Like it was for that caring and hard working grandmother who had knitted a sweater for her grandchild, only to be told by the mother "No thank you, she is not allowed to wear pink because I object to girls having to wear pink.".
All this has made me wonder whether we are teaching our children to hate. For what is hating other than saying "You are not as I think you should be."?
But maybe we could do less of telling others how they should be. Society, everybody around us and me and you, we all say and do things instinctively. Because it is something we feel is right. That is natural. But WHY do we think that pink is girlie and blue is boyish? WHY are girls supposed to behave and boys supposed to be tough?
Because of the advertising industry?
Every one of us was once a small child and we did as we were told. And it sticks with you. Till the bitter end. It is perfectly fine for us to have differing opinions. But maybe we could do less of telling others how they should be.
Maybe that's why Badger started the #WomenNotObjects campaign. Maybe she felt like the industry was telling people how they should be. If that is the case, then maybe it is not enough just to stop objectifying women. What if this spawns an era of ads with objectified men? Would that be any better?
Is it perhaps time we took a long, hard look at how we are speaking to each other, both in advertisements and real life?
The writer is the author of "The Little Child" available online on www.eydis.co.uk.