This June, Verizon Wireless released a new commercial in which parents discipline their daughter by saying, “Don’t get your dress dirty!” and “Why don’t you hand that to your brother?” After the young girl, now depicted as a teenager, glances at a Science Fair poster, looks away, and fixes her makeup, a voiceover says, “Isn’t it time we told her she’s pretty brilliant, too?”
It is beyond clear that the way we talk to young girls is more impactful than we think. According to Girls Who Code, an organization involved with the production of this Verizon ad, only 0.3% of high school girls intend to major in computer science. Although the commercial champions a powerful and exigent message, this isn’t an issue that can be solved by merely thinking twice about our diction. This is an issue fostered by a culture that teaches women to harbor shame, from airbrushed magazine covers to idly misogynistic idioms such as “throwing like a girl.”
The last thing we need is to take the “pretty” out of “pretty brilliant.” Pretty is not bad. About 91% percent of women are dissatisfied with their body image, and that percentage can shrink if we teach our daughters that they are pretty, not that they need to work towards becoming pretty. These fundamental forms of self-acceptance are what let young girls (like the one in the Verizon ad) feel confident enough to pursue their passions and try new things—even computer science.
Unfortunately, the conflict doesn’t begin and end with feeling pretty and having intrinsic self-esteem. Even when women have the empowerment to attain success, the validity of their accomplishments is often doubted or accredited to superficial factors, further alienating them from the academic sphere.
“Growing up, people assumed that my academic achievements were all based on my ethnicity,” says Grace Pak, a rising freshman at the University of Pennsylvania. “My grades are not a result of being Asian.”
Of course, this internalized prejudice doesn’t begin and end in STEM fields—it’s also present in the arts. Amanda Prager, an award-winning filmmaker and U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, says, “I’m used to people asking me who the director is… Even when I’m sitting in a director’s chair with a clipboard and a camera.” Of the top 250 films in 2012, only 9% of directors were female.
The best way to overcome stereotyping, misogyny, and arrogance is to be resilient. The good news is that if a girl wants to work in a STEM field, make films, or join the school robotics club, she can, so long as she is determined enough to shrug off criticism. But soon, workforce issues emerge into the spotlight. If the Verizon ad girl and her brother both apply for computer science jobs, why is the brother more likely to be hired? Why will the brother make more money simply because of his gender identity?
Maybe in addition to telling our daughters that they are “pretty” and “pretty brilliant,” we should tell them that they are “pretty likely to be shot down,” and need to be “pretty persistent.” But when the wage gap prevents a woman from making the salary she deserves, resilience isn’t going to pay the electric bill (or her Verizon data charges).
Encouraging our daughters to pursue academia is certainly a step in the right direction, but don’t applaud Verizon just yet. There is far more to this issue than what we say to our daughters when they pick up starfish at the beach. As it seems, the best thing we can do right now is fight back.
“Girls Who Code.” Girls Who Code. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 July 2014.
Lauzen, Martha M. The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind – the – Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2012. Rep. N.p., 2013. Web. 1 July 2014.
Palmer, Mario. “5 Facts About Body Image.” Amplify. Accessed February 24, 2014, http://amplifyyourvoice.org/u/marioapalmer/2013/05/21/byob-be-your-own-beautiful.
“Verizon Commercial 2014 | Inspire Her Mind – Extended | Verizon Wireless.” YouTube. YouTube, 2 June 2014. Web. 30 June 2014.