Too Pretty to Do Homework?

September 06, 2011

Last week, almost 10 years after Barbie told girls that “math class is tough,” a J.C. Penney girls’ shirt proclaimed, “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me.”

This shirt goes hand in hand with a slew of other campaigns and products that are an assault on girls — telling them to focus on their looks as opposed to their accomplishments. Along with the “Who needs brains when you have these?” Abercrombie and Fitch shirts, Wal-Mart’s line of makeup for 8–12 year olds, and the new line of French lingerie for children, J.C. Penney’s shirt begs the question: How are girls marketed to and what types of messages are these products sending?

It’s already difficult to get girls not to focus on their looks and bodies. They are bombarded every day with messages from the media and society that make them feel like they’re not pretty enough, skinny enough, or don’t have the most cutting-edge (insert toy, piece of clothing, or phone here).

Girls’ self-esteem and view of the world is shaped by princesses and role models like Hannah Montana. Instead of inundating girls with the demand to be superficially perfect (as in the skinniest, prettiest, and most well-dressed), how about using team competition, academic accomplishments, and smart role models as their guides? Encouraging girls in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can provide a healthy contrast to products and characters that encourage them to think about their looks and how important it is to be “sassy” (the girl-culture word for sexy). STEM can offer role models who are intelligent, competent, and important because of their accomplishments, not how many music videos or TV shows they’ve been in.

As AAUW’s research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics discusses, when men and women were told that men were better at a fictitious skill, women assessed their abilities at that skill lower than men did. In other words, the more we tell girls that they are bad at something, the more they believe it. That is why products like these shirts are so dangerous for girls’ self-esteem and well-being.

Maybe at the beginning of this school year, we should be focusing less on whether a girl is pretty enough to get out of doing homework and more on whether her science project will win a national championship.

By:   |   September 06, 2011


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  4. AARP Medicare Part D says:

    In my opinion the statement on the shirt promotes a not so nice value for our teens. It promotes vanity and a wrong assessment of self value.

  5. Dr Carol says:

    As a promoter of teen girls and self-esteem, I was so happy to see the AAUW say something about this issue. I couldn’t agree more with the statement that it’s hard enough to be a teen girl in today’s society with all of the media outlets bombarding girls with how they should look, dress, and feel. Unless something significant is done, we will continue to see these messages find their way into our lives via TV, Internet, magazines and stores. How do we make a positive contribution and stop the messaging?

  6. Charlotte Pfefer says:

    That kind of shirt is bad enough but the ones that promote young girls’ sexuality are even worse! My daughter who far excelled her brother’s skills in Math would have laughed at the very idea of that shirt when she was younger. If I a “stay-at-home” could raise a daughter with the ambition of being President some day it’s beyond me why anyone would buy this kind of shirt for their daughters. My question is not JUST what’s wrong with the manufacturers but what’s WRONG with the parents who actually purchase such attrocities for their young daughters? I BLAME THEM too!

  7. Kristi says:

    I thank God for my dad who always told me girls can be anything they want to be and then proceeded to tutor me in math and science when I showed an interest. Both moms and dads can make a difference in a child’s self-esteem even when teachers and academic advisors told me I shouldn’t expect to do well in certain courses.

  8. Anne-Marie says:

    This is the POSITIVE alternative to that nonsense!

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