31 July, 2014

Teaching girls not to run like a girl

Melbourne Herald Sun, July 31, 2014

In a plain audition set, a beautiful blonde girl faces the camera, the director's voice calls out, "Show me what it looks like to run like a girl."

Our aspiring actress starts running on the spot, hands flapping, in an uncoordinated smiley jig. Two other young women follow with a similar routine, then a young boy, then a young man.

The director asks him, "Show me what it looks like to fight like a girl." He waves his hands in a cat-scratch motion, eyes closed. Two other young women follow, reacting much the same way. "Throw like a girl" isn't much better.

Then a ten year old girl is put through the routine. But her run is fast, coordinated; her "fight like a girl" looks like the punch could do some damage.

The participants are then quizzed about what they were thinking. As they talk it through, they understand that they had seen "like a girl" to be a put-down, humiliation. The boys could also see the demeaning way they spoke.

Now the girls went through routine again, but this time took it seriously - and ran, fought, threw, perfectly well.

This is a commercial for Always sanitary products and has been number one viral video in the UK for four weeks. It demonstrates that rather than falling blossoms or beakers of blue ink, intimate products can use their advertising media to achieve progressive social aims.

It stemmed from surveys that identified how "a girl's confidence plummets during puberty", between 10 and 12. Always is a product of the huge Proctor & Gamble empire.

Marketers have been slow to catch up with social trends. After all we have had women's liberation waves pass over us constantly for half a century, yet when Dove came out with their "Real Beauty" campaign in 2004 it drew reactions as if something revolutionary had happened.

Developed in Brazil and launched in Britain, this Unilever campaign really demonstrates how we are all one people, with the same hang-ups. Like research which has showed repeatedly that only 4 per cent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful, and they start to get anxious about their looks from an early age.

Last year Dove drove home their point with a campaign called "Real Beauty Sketches" where forensic illustrators drew women's faces and bodies to their description, and then to a stranger's description. The women could see all their warts and flaws; the strangers could see the beauty.

Advertising is at its best when, rather than exaggeration and puffery, it is used for the benefit of society. It can be a powerful force to modify behaviour.

Smoking rates have been brought down not just by cutting out the advertising - but by strong campaigns offering alternatives and ways to quit. These have saved thousands of lives and countless pain.

Our driving fatalities are at a level that would have been thought impossible thirty or more years ago. Of course we needed laws like seat belts and breath testing - but much of it has been brought about by constantly high quality advertising.

Drugs and gambling are still works in progress, but a lot of work is being put into their control. It's not the forces of law and order that are going to make the difference, it's getting the messages into their heads.

Because so long as you think you can't run, or you're not pretty, or you have to be stoned to face life, no amount of coercion is going to change you. But perhaps some clever marketing can.

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