By Ellen Williams
I am not going to lie. When I saw the GoldieBlox ad for the first time, I felt all tingly from the sheer "Girl Power!" of it all. In it, a girl in overalls, armed with a hammer, breaks rank from the pink clad girls picking up Barbie dolls from a conveyor belt and smashes a machine showcasing a robotic Orwellian-esque figure repeating, "You are beauty and beauty is perfection." I may have even pumped my fist in the air and shouted, "You cannot shove me in a pink box just because I have a uterus!" But, you'll never know for sure because my only witness was my cat and I have thanked my lucky stars on more than this occasion that she can't talk.
What can be proven is that I was so fired up I gave CNN.com this quote:
Ellen Williams, co-founder of the blog Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms, had an equally positive reaction. "It was about girls being more than their exteriors," she said. "My 16-year-old daughter curls her hair and does her nails every week, but she also is in the robotics club and takes AP calculus."
Here, watch for yourself. It is so captivating.
I could not wait to show my teen daughters when they got home from school. They are accustomed to being part of my think tank, so they didn't even complain (too much) when I interrupted their streaming of Teen Wolf.
I looked eagerly back and forth between the two of them as the video ended. I could not wait to share this moment of womanly solidarity.
My 13-year-old, J, said, "That was creepy."
My 16-year-old, G, said, "Why do they want me to be like a boy?"
I explained a little more, "They're saying that you don't have to conform to the standards of beauty set by Barbie dolls."
G said, "What does it matter what toys I played with as a kid? Barbie is a woman, she can be whatever she wants to be. Why is it OK to hate her because she is skinny?"
So, all this time spent worrying about Barbie's bust to waist ratio and what it was doing to my girls' body image was wasted time? They just saw her as a woman doing her thing. They were seeing the backlash against her as reverse discrimination.
There is nothing like your kids to make you take a good long look in the mirror. What did it say about my prejudices when I snickered because Barbie as an astronaut was ridiculous to me? My reflection said I might be the worst propagator of stereotypes ever. Why can't Barbie have blonde hair, a nice rack, and a propensity for aerospace engineering?
Ohhhhhh, I was starting to see their point, but they continued.
My 13-year-old elaborated on her doll critique: "What's wrong with pink? Why do I have to wear overalls to be tough?"
My 16-year-old added: "You know, I'm like a unicorn when I go to my robotics competitions. Just because I curl my hair and wear makeup doesn't mean I can't program or do equations."
And there it was. Their point was crystal-clear. One stereotype was being traded for another. In essence, the GoldieBlox dolls were projecting this message to them: You have to be like a boy to be smart.
It made me think, are people really asking girls what they think about the ads, or just their moms? It was obvious my girls and I were looking at the video through two different lenses.
My perspective was forged during the 1970s Women's Liberation Movement, when girls were encouraged, or maybe even ordered, to be as successful as they could be.
I dutifully marched along to the beat set by those liberated drummers. Fueled by the mantra "I CAN be anything I want to be," and a desire to live a more comfortable life than my upbringing, I became a doctor. Only... being an OB/GYN was funneling me down a pathway that led me away from how I wanted my home life to be. I was not really fulfilled by my career choice, and I quit. To be a stay-at-home mom. Gasp.
Believe me, it made it very uncomfortable to run into acquaintances when I visited my small hometown, because in their eyes I went from shining star to a waste of brains.
But, one hometown encounter squelched the shame of "letting all of womankind down" once and for all. I ran into a friend's mom, whom I had not seen much since I quit my residency. She was my earliest positive memory of a feminist. One thing led to another during the conversation and we landed on my career change. And then, these magically freeing words were uttered (and I paraphrase): "We pushed you girls too hard to just focus on career and achievement. We should have taught you to seek balance."
Balance. That is what the GoldieBlox ad lacks. It jarringly launches from the "be pretty and shut up" end of the teeter totter to smash the "be like a boy to be successful" end into the ground.
My 16-year-old pointed out that she liked the Always "Like A Girl" campaign so much better because she felt it projected that she could be the kind of girl she wanted to be and do whatever she wanted to do.
It's time to stop teeter-tottering from "beauty is a trap that leaves you with little choice," and "you have to reject femininity to be smart, tough and successful."
I want to live in a world where wearing lip gloss and understanding quantum physics is not mutually exclusive. I want it to be normal for baking and welding to coexist on a hobby list. I want women to feel like they can leave the house without makeup, but if they choose to wear stilettos, they aren't lowering their IQs.
I just want women to be what makes them feel fulfilled and content. I just want them, me, to be happy human beings contributing positively to society. I just want balance.
In fact, I want to borrow GoldieBlox's hammer and smash the teeter-totter to bits. Stop the seesawing and let girls plant their feet firmly on the ground and just be.
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