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All I Want For Christmas is Freedom from Social Stereotypes and Stigmas

Diana Martinez is a senior from Mount Holyoke College and a woman’s history major and Spanish minor.  Her journey as an activist began when she joined her college’s feminist a capella group called The Nice Shoes, who sing empowering songs to promote human rights.  With the Shoes, her Mount Holyoke sisters, and strong influences from her sister and mother, she has learned how to effectively dialogue and raise awareness about the issues most important to her.  Diana says, “The SPARK Summit champions my beliefs about the perceptions of women, and I cannot think of a more effective, or FUN way to join the struggle for equality!”

It’s that time of year again! As America’s need to hit the stores and spend money comes around the corner, the marketing campaigns from big corporations lay on the reinforcement of gender roles full throttle.  Totally excited for the epidemic of consumerism, advertisements take this special time of year to encourage unrestricted spending through the stabilization of social stereotypes.

So what happens when all you want for Christmas is not what the media tells you to want?  A friend of mine just recently underwent this dilemma when her son wanted a doll of his own.  One could imagine the types of things that would go through one’s mind when shopping for a toy that isn’t traditionally made for boys.  Can I find a doll representative of my son’s individual interests? Will he fit in with the other boys who play with train sets or G.I. Joes? What will his father think?  After searching for the perfect toy, she could not find any dolls that didn’t completely exemplify society’s idea of girly and feminine.  All dolls were girls, all of them pink and frilly–as if to say, if you like dolls, you like princesses, cupcakes, ponies, and jewels.  What if girls do not like these things? What if boys do? Gender stereotypes not only hurt young girls, but boys also, for it is restricting one’s true desires.

Although Barbie receives the most complaints for her impossible-to-achieve figure, at least she has recently been portrayed as more versatile than pretty and pink.  We now have Firefighter Barbie, Professor Barbie, or Pediatrician Barbie to name a few.  Now if only we could get a SPARK Blogger Barbie!  It seems, however, that Barbie’s exemplary new intellectual lifestyle is not the marketing campaign that attracts many advertisers. Surprise, surprise! It is society’s ideal, aerodynamic body that keeps business booming.  I was totally appalled to see many of my favorite childhood characters (Strawberry Shortcake, Polly Pocket, Nancy Drew) undergo what could be explained as none other than cartoon plastic surgery to transform themselves into the media’s exemplary coat-hanger body.

Marketers simplify these characters’ individualities into the same form.  It seems ridiculous to buy more than one doll for they now all look the same!  When Dora the Explorer grew into a tween, she left behind her backpack and exploration props for jewelry and make up.  What else did she leave behind? Just by looking at her, I can see her Latina roots falling away from her identity.  Her skin is lighter, her hair thinner and straighter, and her curves nonexistent.

Growing up with Mexican-American roots, I understood my appearance to be second-class to the tall beautiful blonde Barbie.  Naturally, I was excited to see Dora make her debut a few years back to provide a role model that Latina girls could better relate to.  But my dismay could not have hit me harder when I saw what had happened when she grew up, which sadly does happen to many Latina-American women when they grow up.  The media’s influence changes the way they see their identity and they change their appearance to fit in.

With their new makeovers, all the female cartoons appear not only unrealistic and over-sexualized, but also physically weak.  Notice how the new Minnie’s legs look as if you could break them in half?  I’d assume that this is no mistake.  It is scary to assume that society desires to see women as those who can by physically controlled.  But when there are magazine ads that have women tied up or overcome by the power of men, the assumption seems less crazy.

The holidays are not about shopping or incarcerating people within strict gender roles.  And they are certainly not about restricting boys, sexualizing young girls or forcing them to lose their brains, ethnicities, and strengths to fit in. So why are advertising industries beating us over the head with these ideals?  How about celebrating the season with fewer stereotypes and more messages of love and respect?

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