My daughter just turned 2. She is an extremely bright child who is constantly surprising me with her ability to grasp advanced concepts. One of the concepts that she’s getting pretty good at is knowing her colors. When an adult finds out that a child knows their colors usually, the first question they ask the child is “What’s your favorite color?” Although she is grasping the concept of colors (well before the curve of between 3 and 5) I don’t think she yet fully grasps the concept “favorite”.
Now, her brothers didn’t learn to name different colors until they were 3, by this time they also had a firm grasp of the meaning of the word favorite. At the time one’s favorite color was green and the others favorite color was orange. Now that they are older, both of them have conformed with their peers (much to my chagrin) and their favorite color is blue.
A few days ago, my daughter walked up to a flower and correctly declared it to be orange. The person next to me was impressed “she knows her colors?” they asked me. “Yeah, she’s getting pretty good at them.” I answered. “What’s your favorite color?” they asked her. This is not the first time she has been asked this question, usually she just replies by repeating back “favorite color”. But for the first time she gave a color as an answer, she said “PURPLE”.
I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had said blue parroting her brothers, but purple, where did this come from? Maybe she did understand the concept of favorite and actually had a preference for purple, or maybe she just arbitrarily named a color. Later I asked her again to test if she would give the same answer. “What’s your favorite color?” I asked her. “Purple favorite color” she answered. She was sticking to it.
The next morning she woke up and I turned on Curious George for her to watch, while I got her brothers ready for camp. Before the show started, a commercial for Stride Rite shoes ran.
As a little girl is twirling, in front of a mirror, in a Tu-Tu the narrator voices over and starts talking about the shoes: “She doesn’t know that her new shoes are designed for kids to be as active as their imaginations. All she knows is that today purple is her favorite color, and that’s good enough for us.” Right after the commercial ends my daughter says “purple favorite color”. From in the kitchen I whirled around “that’s where she got it!” I realized.
To an adult, their favorite color usually is not all that important. To a child their favorite color is a large part of their personal identity. If you ever doubt this try to tell a child “No, (fill in the blank) is not your favorite color” and watch the dramatics that unfold. I already knew that ads marketed to children can hold a huge influence over them but I thought my daughter, being so young, wouldn’t be affected. What other influences have these 15 seconds of television had over my daughter? If I really pick it apart and psychoanalyze it, the message could read as “she doesn’t need to know that she can be active in these shoes, all she needs to know is that they are purple.”
I stopped and tried to take a step out of my own head for a second, “maybe I’m reading too much into this” I thought. So I looked on-line for other Stride Rite ads and found this:
The commercial features a little boy and this time the narrator says: “He doesn’t know that his new shoes have over 90 years of first steps behind them. What he does know is that today he started walking and life got a whole lot more exciting!” by comparing and contrasting these two ads, the message has become incredibly clear “Boys should be concerned with the action of their shoes, while girls should be focused on the appearance.
I know that there are way worse messages that our children receive but this one is sponsoring a very gender neutral show, that my daughter happens to love. Which makes me wonder why are they putting an ad marketing to “girly” girls before a show like Curious George? PBS list 15 Curious George characters on it’s website, 5 of them are female; Professor Wiseman, Gnocchi (cat), Charkie (dog), Allie (littlest girl) and Betsy.
None of these charters would be described as “girly”. Most of the other females who occasionally appear on the show don’t come off as “girly” either, and are often cast in traditionally masculine roles.
So why does Stride rite think that showing a super “girly” girl in their ad, before a show featuring a curious monkey and non “girly” female characters, is appealing to their target audience? I’m not sure, but regardless, I’m writing them a letter voicing my concerns. I am not overly optimistic for a positive response, as I know I am not the first person to voice gender representation concerns to them.
A study has shown that children who watch Curious George and read the books, scored significantly better on science and math concepts. There has been another study showing that trying to make S.T.E.M. seem girly actually turned girls off from wanting to peruse careers in those fields. Another research group has found that girls who play with “girly” toys see fewer career options for themselves than for boys. So if I want my daughter to watch a show that can help her to excel in math and science, why must she first be exposed to an ad that may have the opposite effect? I find this unacceptable!
I will follow up if and when I receive a response from Stride Rite.