Coming into this gender studies course I wanted to develop a research question that addresses some observations I’ve made about popular culture. The entertainment and media that we consume are a big part of our socialization, they inform our understanding of what qualities our society expects from men and women. So we must privilege childhood and early experiences as being especially influential in shaping our beliefs about men and women.
In this video, which went viral last month, a little girl asks: what’s the deal with selling girls all this pink crap?
As a young boy I was a big comic book fan and superheroes and action figures were a big part of how I passed my free time. Video games were incredibly important too. My love of comics kind of petered off when I was a teenager, but then came back as an adult after I read Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.” Video games were a major pastime – especially the punching and blowing things up kind – through the time I was a young adult, up until I became a parent.
So its very interesting to me, now that I have daughters of my own, when girls and women profess a love for superheroes and video games. If you look at how these products are marketed today, invariably they are pitched to men and boys. And yet there is a devoted cohort of girls and women who love their comics and games despite being largely ignored by producers and marketers.
What is going on here? What are the relevant questions to ask in order to learn more about this? I’m calling this problem the Geek Girl because it involves girls and women finding pleasure in (admittedly nerdy) pursuits much more frequently pursued by boys and men.
Jezebel weighed in on the video basically just praising Riley, but over at Skepchick, the commentary was more insightful. Their argument was girls-liking-boy-things is more about rebelling against socially imposed constraints on what is considered acceptable gender expression in kids.
Like Riley, we find it easy to see that not every girl or woman is necessarily going to want to stay within the strict confines of her assigned gender role, but find it a tad trickier to remember that boys and men face similar issues. As if to ask “Who could actually want to play with ponies and princesses?”
I only partially agree with this line of reasoning. On the one hand, we need some way of learning from the other’s point of view what value they find in these activities. Look at Riley. She’s holding a doll of “Fred” from Scooby-Doo. Who is Fred to her? Why does she like him? What is it about Scooby-Doo that draws her into it? It may or may not be about rebellion for Riley as Skepchick suggests, we’ll have to do some research to find out.
On the other hand, what has been revealed is that basically I’m looking at the problem very narrowly. The flip side of this must be boys and men who like to play with girl toys, or at least engage in activities we ordinarily we associate with being typically effeminate.
Do you remember playing with toys of the “wrong” gender? Or wanting to but not being allowed? More to come on the Geek Girl this semester!