The Fight Against Commercials

Toadywinner2A friend sent me a link to a new interest group, The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. They have problems with a new Burger King ad and marketing to kids in schools.

Their worst toy of the year award went to Dallas Cheerleader Barbie.

“When you combine two classic symbols of gendered stereotypes – the
Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader and Barbie – you get one terrible toy… Do we really want to teach our young daughters that they belong on the
sidelines, not in the game, and the way to get noticed is show a lot of



13 thoughts on “The Fight Against Commercials

  1. Barbie is not all that bad, and I say that as a mother of daughters. The girls outgrow them pretty fast, and there’s good modeled with the bad in barbie. Other forces are much more important.
    Can’t defend the Dallas cheerleaders, though. On the other hand, check out the Pittsburgh Steeler’s cheerleaders (no, you thought they didn’t have any?). Apparently they did in the 60’s.

    (note the socks, nearly knee length skirts, and the black turtlenecks).


  2. We are, at present, and likely for the foreseeable future, a family without cable or indeed any television access at all, so keeping our kids (all daughters, ages from 12 to 3) away from commercials isn’t that difficult. Of course, they get exposed to plenty of ads via movie trailers or on the internet when they’re playing Webkins or some such thing, but we’re not too bothered by that. Keeping most of your kids’ entertainment limited to the sort of programming and media which can be contained on a dvd or a website gives the parent a lot more ability to check the corporate and marketing influences which see your children as just one more consumer.
    My wife and I gave up on our anti-Barbie crusade some years ago; they’re just unavoidable as toys when your 4 to 8-year-olds are going to birthday parties. We gave them as gifts, occasionally, and received some in return. Separate from the expensive (and, I think, often frankly somewhat misogynistic) plastic environments that are advertised along with them, they’re not the best toy for girls, but not a terrible one either.
    The books to read on the issue of commercialization and children (particularly young girls) are Juliet Schor’s Born to Buy and Jean Kilbourne, Deadly Persuasion. Both are excellent.


  3. Geeky Girl packed up all of her Barbies not too long ago and we gave them all away. I insisted that we leave them in a box in the attic for a few weeks just to make sure she didn’t want them. And she was fine with giving them away. She has Polly Pockets, although as she gets older, almost in 5th grade, she’s less inclined to play with them.
    I actually recognize that I am probably the most important female role model she has and so I try to talk about the way I present myself as a woman. I also recognize that she may choose differently, but I feel pretty confident that she wants to be more than someone who stands on the sidelines.


  4. “The Barbie Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Doll teaches girls to focus on their appearance, to aspire to an eating-disordered body, and to play at being sexy before they’re even capable of understanding what sexy means.”
    So what distinguishes this from the messages girls get from the rest of our culture? This is like blaming one raindrop for a monsoon. However, attacking Barbie usually garners headlines, very useful when you’re a group whose sole purpose is to gain the attention of the media.
    “Childhood obesity, eating disorders, youth violence, sexualization, family stress, underage alcohol and tobacco use, rampant materialism, and the erosion of children’s creative play, are all exacerbated by advertising and marketing. ”
    So Turn Off The Idiot Box. Give your children books, and send them outside to play.
    There. Problem solved.


  5. I think there’s a big difference between playing with a toy, and identifying with the toy. The Raggirls play with their Webkinz all the time, and I don’t expect them to start modeling themselves after Pink Unicorns or Green Lizards.
    It seems that my girls are not alone, and I’m guessing that most of the opponents don’t actually HAVE daughters that play with Barbies. If they did, they’d see what we see. Lots of girls play with Barbie, but mostly it is not love-play or emulation.


  6. stranger — the point is that this Barbie brilliantly epitomizes the messages the culture is sending. Of course, any such award is easy to be derisory about.
    I have two girls, both of whom went through a brief period of being interested in Barbie, and my experience was as Ragtime suggests. You don’t pull the head off a toy and play soccer with it if you identify with the toy.
    But the fact that Russell’s and my girls aren’t at much risk of being harmed by Barbie or the Dallas cheerleaders hardly make me optimistic about the general effect of Barbie on girls.
    bj — great picture!


  7. “So what distinguishes this from the messages girls get from the rest of our culture? This is like blaming one raindrop for a monsoon”
    Yeah, and the opposition to barbie touches one of my other buttons: it is not possible to truly raise strong daughters without respecting the things that they like. Yes, we can try to protect them from the forces that buffet them, but when we tell them that they need to act like boys in order to earn our respect, we don’t do them any good. As I say to the tomboy-advocates (not that it’s wrong to advocate for “tomboys” if that’s who your child is, but there’s a stream of thought that equates good girlhood with tomboys), there’s nothing intrinsically better about playing with balls as opposed to dolls. They teach different skills, but we need both kinds of skills in society.
    I like to quote Peggy Orenstein on this “to embrace whatever it might be that makes them girls in a way that will sustain rather than constrain them,” from her 2008 article.


  8. Harry b, I think girls are sturdier than some adults believe. I don’t think that Barbies warp young minds. They may summarize the over-the-top expectations our culture has for women, but that doesn’t mean that anyone feels they need to look like a Barbie doll.
    A few days ago, I had to wander the aisles of a local toy store, trying to find toys for my 6 year old boy. I don’t think anyone thinks boys will feel the pressure to look like the latest popular action figure, such as The Incredible Hulk, or World of Warcraft figures. With boys, we accept that they like to play with figures which allow them to act out fantasies they’ll grow out of, or channel into other interests.
    Why do we think that girls are so fragile and easily influenced that they are not also capable of separating reality from pretend play, or at least the substance of the game from the object used to act it out? Most girls don’t want to blow things up (gross overgeneralization, I know). They’re frequently more interested in pretending to be adult, or at least 16 years old. Which dolls will allow them to pretend to be adult? Other than Barbie, I can’t think of any. (Bratz are an abomination, and even more unnatural in body form.) Baby dolls are suited for pretending to be mommies, which has its place, but isn’t something we choose to focus our child rearing efforts upon. Polly Pocket’s too small. The pieces are too easily vacuumed up. I find the American Girl dolls saccharine, and really just mechanisms to force parents and aunts to spend too much money on a doll. In my opinion, if one needed to choose to fight commercialism, one should choose the American Girl dolls.


  9. The American Girl doll books are good — at least from a non-historian’s point of view. I recently read the Kit stories, and was surprised at how well it summarized the depression at a level appropriate for an 8 year old. My daughter has a much better understanding of the current crisis because of the Kit books. The Chrissie (the current American Girl doll of the year) movie is quite good, too.
    But, of course, all of that goodness is at the service of selling the enormously expensive dolls. My daughter’s never been invited to a party themed around, them, though, so I haven’t felt the pressure first hand.
    (are we introducing you to a new world Laura? Or are you already familiar through the friends/nieces/etc.)


  10. As bj notes, I think the Barbie stuff becomes less of an issue in environments where the girls are seeing a wide range of female role models.
    Sometimes I think we, the grown-ups, react strongly to Barbie because it was such a monoculture when *we* were small. I don’t remember ever having any other dress-up dolls besides Barbies as a girl. This was also an era when some girls were still being told they were not worth sending to college because they’d “just get married”. And if memory serves anorexia problems were at their peak when I was in high school, in the 80s. It was just a much different time.


  11. Why do we think that girls are so fragile and easily influenced that they are not also capable of separating reality from pretend play, or at least the substance of the game from the object used to act it out?
    Um, because there’s ample evidence that children have a great amount of difficulty in separating reality from pretense until they are 7 8 or 9 (including boys, nothing special about girls here). Marketers know this, and exploit it. Its very hard to know whether they are damaging the children, or if so how they are damaging them, because it is hard to do controlled experiments. But it is awfully convenient for adults just to assume that the culture they participate in does no harm to third parties. In Born to Buy Juliet Schor presents a pretty compelling study showing that watching large amounts of commercial TV causes anxiety, depression, and worse relationships with parents in late-pre-teens/early teens, but of course its just one study, and not about any particular aspect of the culture (eg Barbie).
    Of course, shielding them from the culture may harm them too, perhaps if you shield them in the wrong way, more. And what bj and jen say makes perfect sense. But I baulk at the “Oh, children are so robust, you guys are just infantilizing them” message. Children are children, robust in some ways, vulnerable and fragile in others, especially when, as is the case for many children, they do not have stable relationships with stable adults.


  12. My nearly three-year-old just demanded to be taken to McDonald’s. He’s never seen commercial TV (unless you count Disney, which only advertises Disney), been to McDonald’s, or heard it mentioned at home. Must have been another kid at pre-school, but it still seemed strange how strident he was about it. “I’m sick of eating at home….”


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