What girls hear when they’re called pretty


GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING: ‘Isn’t it time we told her she’s pretty brilliant, too?’

A US advertisement has highlighted the impact of gender stereotyping on young women, citing statistics by the (American) National Science Foundation that reveal that 66 per cent of 4th grade girls say they enjoy science and math, but only 18 per cent of all university engineering majors are female.

The Verizon commercial (see below) follows one girl’s development from toddler to adolescence; as she plays outdoors, curiously explores nature, and works busily on science projects.

But at every step, she is met with words of caution. “Who’s my pretty girl?” her mother asks, then “don’t get your dress dirty.” “Be careful with that,” says her father with concern. “Why don’t you hand that to your brother?”

AdWeek reports that the advertisement is the result of a partnership between Verizon and Makers and is narrated by Girls Who Code founder, Reshma Saujani. And, while there may be other reasons for the discrepancy in statistics, it’s impossible to deny the effect our chosen language has on young girls.

These parents see their daughter as delicate and pretty, their words are intended to demonstrate care and love, yet they inadvertently send the message that she is incapable.

These simple statements are all-too-readily trotted out, so ingrained are they in our culture and relationships. Despite best intentions, so many of us continue to engage with girls on a superficial level.

By placing such importance on appearance we run the risk of dissuading young women from pursuing careers in fields traditionally dominated by men.

As Kasey Edwards wrote recently:

“If family, friends, shop assistants, complete strangers and even Santa, only remark on how girls look, rather than what they think and do, how can we expect girls to believe that they have anything more to offer the world than their beauty?

It also further serves to widen the gender divide. We train girls to be objects, valued for how they look, and boys to be agents, valued for what they do and think.”


Categories: Sex

4 Comments on “What girls hear when they’re called pretty”

  1. June 26, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    Yes – here’s an inspiring video on how Indian women are challenging stereotypes. Watch from around 6:30 for specific leadership development. And complementary to the emasculation [sic] of younger women is the ‘disappearing’ of older women in the cultural sphere, so aiming to joyfully challenge the invisibility of older women by our highly visible presence as players, dancers and producers of cultural artefacts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsIVaOtWnYU

  2. June 26, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    Great article. This is so true in my opinion.

  3. dirk_gently
    June 26, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

    Brilliant piece. I work in a particularly male environment as an Engineer, and until up until about 10 years ago, the only females working in my department were administration girls. That is thankfully changing and we have started to employ some very talented female Engineers. The Engineering world is slowly losing its sexism. Still a long, long way to go though.

    When my daughter was growing up, I used to discourage her from playing with Sindy Dolls and encourage her to play with Lego, but she rebelled and became a very ‘girly’ girl despite my efforts. Sometimes the language has the opposite effect to what you intend. It made her want to play with dolls more. That was my failing. However she now works for a tech company and knows more about computers and software than most people I know, so what goes around…

    One last point is that STEM (taken from the link to the Huffington Post article) as an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths should also include Art and Design as subjects equally important in my opinion. STEMAD. Or something.

  4. dirk_gently
    July 6, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    As always; having re-read my post above, I can see where my language fails. I stumbled across this peice:


    And now know that the term ‘girly’ girl was inappropriate. I apologise.

    My intent was to say that she followed societal gender stereotypes despite my feeble attempt at gender neutrality.

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