Last week there was a small Twitter storm in the Netherlands because of this toy advertisement. Quite interesting, as this was the topic of my first blog post in 2011. The pink letters translate to ‘you want to be just as good as mommy’.
Eventually the story also ended up in regular media, and then on tv. In the Dutch show Pauw and Witteman, two guests were invited: journalist Asha ten Broeke (who wrote a book on gender differences) and neurobiologist Dick Swaab:
I watched the fragment this morning and I was absolutely baffled by the crazy arguments that Dick and others at the table used. I was literally shouting at my screen about how ridiculous they were, but I figured I could use my energy better in a blog post. So here are a few responses of a renowned biologist on the statement: toy companies should stop advertising like this.
Flaw 1: But, kids like this.
You know what else kids like? Not going to school and eating french fries for breakfast. You are not seriously proposing we let kids decide what policy should be?
Flaw 2: But, they just want to making money
So are Marlboro and Heineken. Yet, we do not allow the first one to show commercials at all and the second one only after a 9PM (Dutch). This does not make us communistic China. As a society we are simply taking responsibility, because we think that exposing kids to the message ‘smoking is cool’ is bad for them. So it exposing them to ‘girls should do the dishes’ (see next point for the hazardous results)
Flaw 3: But, it is not hurting anyone
This is really a mistake, it is hurting us all. Women do not participate in employment at the same rate as men, and if they do, they have lower paid jobs. This hurts the economy = everyone. One of the reasons why girls do not have technical jobs is stereotype threat. This is the effect that exposing minorities to stereotypes right before a test or job interview diminishes their performance. So by continuously exposing kids to stereotypes, minorities will continue to perform less on things they ‘typically’ suck at, like math or engineering for girls. This again leads to more stereotypes. If we want to break this circle, we have to start early.
Encore: You must be so very happy that you worry about this.
Srsly? Was Rosa Parks happy? Was Martin Luther King happy? We should always, always respect people who stand up and say something.
Second encore: We have seen better days
Note: With this I am not saying Asha didn’t do a good job, being a female computer scientist, I fully support her. Debating at live television is hard, and if you get to think about it for a few hours, it is easier to figure out what is wrong. So with this post, I just want to show how deeply rooted the idea is that women should be doing the household and what you have to put up with if you challenge it.