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'We celebrate her prettiness instead of celebrating her potential' – a call for change on International Women's Day

By Lucy Moody | planner

March 8, 2017 | 5 min read

They say never work with animals or children – animals, I’ll leave that to Dr. Dolittle, but in my experience you couldn’t be more wrong on the latter.

International Women's Day

Because at JWT we took a leap of faith, and launched our Young Tribes initiative, which saw us open our doors to 38 kids from 10 schools at the end of last year for a day of learning, inspiration and fun and I can honestly say the energy, enthusiasm and intelligence that they brought into the agency was exceptional.

And it’s on this day, International Women’s Day, that I want to share with you what I learnt from these girls, and what we as an industry can learn from all young women around the world. Because as advertisers and agencies, whose content is beamed into millions of people’s homes every single day, it’s our responsibility to be the change they want to see. Yet we are still guilty of curtailing their aspiration through lazy stereotyping and gendered expectations.

Because we’re all to blame, we stereotype from an early age. Through our Female Tribes research we uncovered that our language of praise for boys and girls is highly gendered. Boys grow up with a cultural surround sound that tells them they can do anything in life, they are powerful and will be successful – the world is their oyster. The same is not true for girls, they’re told what they can’t do, to play nice, to be polite, not to be bossy – frankly we nurture alpha characteristics out of our daughters. We celebrate her prettiness instead of celebrating potential.

These different gender expectations are reinforced through the films they watch and toys they play with – the heroes are always male and the girls, more often than not, are passive parts of the scenery, princesses who need rescuing or Barbie dolls with physically unattainable bodies.

Given this limiting impact of nurture, it really comes as no surprise that we found 82% of women felt the sexualisation of women and young girls created the idea that if you’re not pretty you don’t matter, and even more worryingly, 70% girls from the age of 11 say that sexism is so widespread that it affects most areas of their lives.

So please, let’s end this inherent ‘praise bias’. As an industry that shapes culture, we have the opportunity, nay the responsibility, to enact this change, one image or piece of content at a time.

So on International Women’s Day, I’m calling on all of you who work with, or market products and services to young women. Let’s stop telling her that being ‘pretty’ ‘beautiful’ and ‘cute’ are all that matters, and instead extend our vocabulary of praise; she’s ‘smart’, ‘brave’ and ‘strong’ and in turn we can expand her universe of aspiration and help her fulfil her potential, giving her the tools and opportunity to do that – whatever that may be.

Here at JWT, we’re doing our bit by opening up our social channels to the winners of our Young Tribes Day. Four girls from Streatham and Clapham High School have been given control of our Facebook and Twitter page to run for two weeks from 8 March in the JWTeen Two Week Take Over (#JWTeenTakeOver). Go to Twitter or Facebook to see how they are doing. And maybe drop them some positive praise about the content they are creating…

Lucy Moody is a planner at J. Walter Thompson London

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