Barneys of New York has spiced up the Christmas egg nog this year, just in time to help me make a point to my graduate-level marketing class. During the lecture on self-concept and gender socialization, I showed images that will be part of the chic department store's Holiday 2012 window displays.
"It's undeniable that we encounter gender socialization almost from birth," I say.
The night before class I saw an interesting quote in my Facebook news feed. The late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm said, "The emotional, sexual and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, 'It's a girl.'" Interesting, I thought. And if that statement holds true for girls, then it probably does for boys when '"It's a boy," is declared.
You'll find few to argue against the belief that the marketing industrial complex is a key driver of gender socialization. Some would say that Disney, with its Princess franchise, leads the way. Little girls fall in love with the idea of finding a Prince Charming while wearing a wedding costume with sparkle slippers. Big girls walk down the aisle in a Disney Bridal gown and satin stilettos from the Glass Slipper Collections at DSW.
"Look at what Barneys has done -- with Disney's approval -- to Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck," I said to my class. I sat back and waited for a response to the pictures on my PowerPoint slide.
Disney's venerable, happy and realistically-figured (for a cartoon mouse and duck) Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck have been stretched, seemingly starved and served up as high fashion models. Minnie is almost unrecognizable in a pink, non-polka dot dress. Her bow has morphed into a fascinator and almost obscures her ears. Her little white gloves are now full-on opera length and blue. She teeters on five-inch, gladiator-style pink sandals.
Daisy is decidedly more chic, in my book, with a simple animal print dress and bow. But wait -- animal print on an animal? Doesn't seem right. Next stop, Goofy goes glam? Yes, Goofy has been altered for the Barneys holiday display, too. He sports a combination preppy/motorcycle/urban-bohemian look.
From the back of the classroom a hand goes up, "I don't see the issue, they just look like Barbie dolls and they've been around forever," says a young woman. The men in the classroom stay silent. In fact, the reaction is a non-reaction. Do I need to light a fire under these 20 and 30-something women? Don't they see the damage this is doing to their sisters, cousins, nieces and maybe even to themselves?
"I see your point," I reply. But when I was growing up you didn't get a Barbie until maybe 8 or 9 or even 10 years old. And you got one Barbie. Today, 5-year-old girls think all of their Barbie dolls are passé." As soon as I say, "when I was growing up," I see 32 pairs of eyes glaze over and I am reminded of another friend's Facebook post. Seems that referencing the olden days is one of the worst things a baby boomer can do in a multi-generational work setting.
I might as well have said, "stop listening to me" when I said, "when I was younger." It's obvious I have had a younger self. Highlighting the age difference doesn't help negotiate any differences in viewpoints stemming from said age gap. However, in my defense, I was citing Facebook as my news source ,so I can't be hopelessly stuck in my olden days.
"Change.org has floated a petition to get Barneys to stop using these images," I tell the class. No one responds. Not surprising. I saw the petition (yes, on Facebook) and I didn't sign it. I thought it was a bit ridiculous. Change.org. Shouldn't its petitions worry about the upcoming election and related women's issues?
It's Barneys of New York, after all. How many cities have actual Barneys windows? How many little girls go to those few Barneys with their mothers? How many little girls, who are already playing with Barbie and dressing like princesses, are going to be negatively affected by seeing an anorexic Minnie who looks unhappy because she's so pinched and misshapen? How many girl-princesses are even going to recognize Daisy in her elongated, pencil thin version? Not many, I suppose.
Why am I getting so prickly and defensive? Because as a good feminist and self-named protector of the self-esteem of young women behind me, I think I should be outraged. But after the non-reaction in class I'm backing off.
I do think Barneys made a misstep, though. Not so much because they gave Minnie and Daisy a runway makeover but because they created unattractive models to market their styles. Barbie would have been a much better choice. No tailor needed to alter her curves for high fashion.