Using Our Consumer Power

This is a guest post from Rachel Scott, Social Media Maven at Girls for a Change

Back in August outrage against sexist and anti-girl clothing came to a head when JC Penney sold a shirt with the wording “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me.” After a young New York activist by the name of Lauren Todd started a petition chastising the clothing retailer for marketing a shirt with such a devaluing message to young girls, the issue garnered national media attention and landed her as a guest on the CBS’s Early Show. JC Penney responded to consumer outrage by rightfully removing the shirt from it’s website and stores, however this isn’t an isolated event.

The JC Penney shirt was just one example of how clothing (especially children’s clothing) often displays slogans that characterize a girl’s worth by her looks, exacerbates gender stereotypes, and devalues females. And these messages are not just limited to girls’ clothing; a couple of men’s shirts sold by Topman recently were targeted for (1) likening females to a breed of animal and (2) seemingly making light of domestic violence. Some have argued that those who were outraged by these shirts are uptight and humorless and that these shirts were just “in good fun,” and “not meant to be taken seriously.” The reality is that gender inequality around the world – and in America – are serious issues, and culture (music, clothing, television, etc.) both influences and reflects this inequality. Advertisements and commercials are also guilty of misrepresenting and degrading women, and now that we’re in the midst of the holiday shopping season, sexist images and products seem to be everywhere.

So, why does this matter?

Research has found that “frequent exposure to media images that sexualize girls and women may affect how girls conceptualize femininity and sexuality, leading them to accept more constrained and stereotypical notions about gender roles and sexual roles (i.e. that women are sexual objects).”

The same report included findings from a study that explored adolescents’ experiences with sexual harassment. Even 10- to 12-year-olds, most of whom had not yet completed the fifth grade, reported significant and frequent experiences of sexual harassment in school…Girls’ pubertal development predicted more peer sexual harassment. That is, girls experience more sexually harassing comments as their bodies mature. These experiences, in turn, lead girls to experience greater feelings of shame about their bodies.

Moreover, “approximately 1 in 3 adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a rate that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth” and gender-based violence and discrimination is disturbingly pervasive in societies all over the world. These, and many more, are all reasons why we don’t think that clothing with degrading slogans, sexist advertisements, and products that diminish a girl’s worth should be taken lightly.

Valuing looks over knowledge and hard work, and stereotyping female images is a dangerous message to send to young girls. Girls for A Change and believe that girl empowerment is essential in helping girls to realize their full potential and helps them speak up and out about issues they care about. Products and advertisements that blatantly diminish the value of girls are harmful to a girl’s perception of her worth.

As part of the Social Action movement, we’ve helped create a campaign to get consumers – especially the young men and women these products are targeted to – to speak out about why they won’t support companies who create and market in sexist and degrading ways.

If you see a product or ad during the shopping season that misrepresents or degrades women, use Twitter to post a description or upload a picture of the offensive item. Use the hashtag #notbuyingit so that we can all follow along!

We’ve been tracking your submissions over the past few weeks and are thrilled that so many people are getting involved in the conversation. Here are some highlights from the Twitter campaign so far:

if your product was any good, you wouldn’t need #sexism to sell it. #NotBuyingIt

Mary Lu S.l:
The Real Housewives of (fill in the blank). We are #NotBuyingIt @RepresentPledge

Jess M:
Join @RepresentPledge to show marketers that #sex isn’t the only thing selling this Xmas. Shop responsibly and say you’re #notbuyingit

Melody R.:
@VictoriasSecret Your TV ads are ridiculous! #NotBuyingIt

Kate D.:
@RepresentPledge Victoria’s Secret distorted ad campagain – Candice Swanepoel’s severed limb due to ridiculous Photoshopping! #notbuyingit

Liane W.:
#notbuyingit Kim Kardashians image on Mademoiselle… is that even her with those tiny distorted arms? Mademoiselle Magazine #notbuyingit

Jennifer T.:
I usually love TLC programming but the show Toddlers and Tiaras has GOT TO GO – it is truly disturbing. #notbuyingit

See more tweets and called-out products here.

Don’t have a Twitter account? No problem. Send an email telling us what you’ve seen and why it bothers you, and we will post it for you! All of us together can make real change happen.

Get involved even further by signing up to become a Social Action Representative for Miss Representation by clicking here.

This holiday season stand with us in telling retailers – and the world – that we’re “Not Buying It!”

Follow Rachel and Girls For a Change on Twitter: @girlsforachange

{Girls For A Change, a non-profit headquartered in California that focuses on empowering girls to create social change.}