Pausing to write about this, because I’d rather question than let programming wash over me:
I’m not going to comment on Miss USA Kara McCullough’s statement that healthcare is a privilege or feminism a bad word. I’m just talking big picture here.
We were watching Top of the Lake right before a channel flip landed us on Miss USA. In Top of the Lake, sexual violence against women and girls is a main character in the story, and the next show we saw perpetuates sadly outdated female objectification, a big contributor to rape culture. Unfortunately, many people refuse to acknowledge the connection, but it’s well-documented in sociology and psychology. And it’s obvious. Entertainment and common narratives ranging from Disney princesses to fashion magazines to most advertising typically favor the male gaze. This (heterosexual, masculine) gaze is problematic for women becoming agentic, being respected as leaders, and being unencumbered by self consciousness.
I would certainly support a contest judged purely on how much contestants have made the world a better place, not on their physical appearance. Though doing good should be reward enough. Perhaps beauty should be its own reward too – why the need for comparison? Comparison is a thief.
If we must compare people, isn’t it time we moved past the superficial and looked to character and contribution alone? McCullough has a solid background: she is an educated scientist, she played basketball and now coaches it. Good. She also happens to be beautiful.
I’m not saying Miss USA is directly tied to rape culture. Let’s say they’re unrelated. Even then, a beauty contest puts the focus on the wrong thing – we’re capable of so much more.
I just felt sad when we went from a fictional show featuring a raped, pregnant twelve-year old girl to a live broadcast of fifty “modern” women teetering around a stage in stilettos and little clothing. These women choose to compete, but the competition is a problem.
Beauty contests send such a limiting, divisive message to girls and boys, to women and men. We teach kids, “it’s what’s inside that counts” then televise (very gendered) vanity. I have zero interest in watching something so old hat – frankly, it’s laughable to me in 2017. The only good thing about the three minutes I could stomach was Minnesota’s sporty swimsuit. But a hot body and a fashionable swimsuit does not a great representative of US women make.
Innovation is a word that gets thrown around too often. Things have changed since Girl Scouts walked door to door with clipboards and pencils taking down orders that took weeks to process.
Recognized by Fast Company as #10 of The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2015 in Not-For-Profit, the Girl Scouts of the USA are keeping up with the times pretty well. But they could do better. The ubiquitous cookies are an obvious opportunity.
Mission: Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.
Some local councils offer Digital Cookie. Ecommerce skills are important, but not innovative. The @girlscouts Twitter stream is socially conscious and feminist. That’s great too, but not innovative.
A growing crop of consumers are empowered to vote with their dollars, seeking products backed by social, political, and environmental responsibility. Millennials, the largest living generation at ~83 million, are what Scott Hess aptly calls conscientious consumers. Their annual spending is projected to reach $3.39tn by 2018, eclipsing Boomers. Millennials value health and brand transparency. Post Gen/Gen We (born since 2000) may prove to be even more invested in globalism, wellness, and pro-social companies.
There is a missed opportunity to set a meaningful example about both women in business and simply better business – modern, pro-social, pro-human business.
1) Role models: Thousands of women have created businesses from scratch, namely bakeries that use quality ingredients. Which of these company leaders would make a better role model?:
2) Ingredients: The Girl Scouts website advertises: “No hydrogenated oils” (false) and is full of misleading copy about how the cookies are wholesome.
Girl Scouts: Align your flagship activity with your mission to make the world a better place.
RFP the cookie business to socially responsible, natural bakeries. Why support Kellogg in stuffing us full of GMO bleached flour, addictive sugar, and cell-destroying oils? I’d rather buy a Trefoil baked by Karen Herrera’s Sugar & Flour Bakery (Etsy shop turned storefront) in Greendale, WI than worry what BHT and sodium acid pyrophosphate are doing to my body. I’d rather buy Samoas made with whole ingredients by Sara Fitzpatrick’s The Cupcake Shoppe Bakery in Raleigh, NC than a chemical cardboard biscuit shot out of a conveyor belt in the Keebler factory.
Meet consumers’ growing appetite for transparency and social good.
Now, those two small bakeries could not handle the national demand. So look at an innovative, more established company like Hampton Creek, upstart maker of foods that use plant proteins instead of eggs. CEO and social entrepreneur Josh Tetrick founded Hampton Creek because while working and teaching in Sub-Saharan Africa, he noticed serious issues with the global food system. Hampton Creek makes ready-to-bake JustCookies, which are sustainable and natural.
Consider two points:
1) JustCookies are sold at Walmart 2) Unilever (owner of Hellman’s Mayonnaise) was threatened enough to sue little Hampton Creek over their JustMayo product
People have begun to care more about what’s in their food, where it comes from, and how it affects the planet.
Organic, natural, sustainable, locally sourced: these are not fringe values or niche buzzwords. Look at the fire drill the fast food and sparkling beverage industries have had in recent years over obesity. People are waking up.
So let’s make the world a better place.
More About Ingredients in Girl Scout Cookies
ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers, the two bakeries licensed to bake Girl Scout cookies, distribute varieties that contain nefarious ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oil (both) and high fructose corn syrup (ABC). While copywriters address this with the seeming transparency du jour, the deflection is pure marketing. It’s par for the course from Kellogg, the Little Brownie Bakers parent company, known for depicting happy healthy kids on its cereal boxes of sugary junk and currently struggling with declining sales. Fueling a long FAQ page claiming that palm oil is perfectly healthy is the assumption that the original 8-ingredient natural recipe is no longer feasible. Why not?
Fun Facts – Girl Scouts
Founder Juliette Gordon Low organized the first Girl Scout Troop on March 12, 1912, in Savannah, Georgia. (Happy 103rd birthday.)
Both varieties of Thin Mints are vegan (but contain partially hydrogenated oil)
Troop Beverly Hills, the fictional Wilderness Girls troop from the 1989 movie starring Shelley Long and a young Jenny Lewis, accepted American Express but preferred Visa.
Do you think Skyler White is a total buzzkill on Breaking Bad? Do you full out hate Skyler? “…Male characters don’t seem to inspire this kind of public venting and vitriol.” In an 8/23/13 op-ed for the New York Times, Anna Gunn, who portrays Walter White’s wife, discussed what’s behind the vocal public contempt for Skyler, which has blurred into “loathing” and even death threats against the actress. Skyler White – I Have a Character Issue – NYT
Anna Gunn’s op-ed explores why viewers are so quick to hate TV wives like Skyler, Carmela Soprano, and Betty Draper while their husbands, the protagonists, commit crimes against humanity, cheat, lie, manipulate, and endanger their families, but rarely inspire such “homicidal rage” toward the Don Draper/Walter White types or the actors who play them. Anna Gunn’s article made me rethink why I used to see her character as a killjoy, annoying, or a nag as she’s been pegged.
Gunn makes an excellent point by complimenting Vince Gilligan and the Breaking Bad writers for painting an ever-evolving Walter White as complex and likable “despite his moral failings.” And yes, there is “a natural tendency to empathize with and root for [a show’s protagonist].” Still, the fact that everyone so loves the “deeply flawed yet charismatic genius” that is Walter speaks to the highly skilled storytelling that has earned Breaking Bad titles like “best show ever.” Maybe the writers of these top dramas aren’t making the wives likable enough. Maybe it’s a learned, default cultural interpretation of wives as automatically antagonistic to our beloved, flawed male protagonists. Regardless, this is an important conversation because our society is consumed with and influenced by media now more than ever:
“American teenagers spend 31 hours a week watching TV, 17 hours a week listening to music, 3 hours a week watching movies, 4 hours a week reading magazines, 10 hours a week online. That’s 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption a day.
Women hold only 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media (telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising).
53% of 13 year old girls are unhappy with their bodies. That number increases to 78% by age 17.”
In the documentary Miss Representation (click to watch), filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom exposes disturbing realities about how women are portrayed by the media and “under-represented in positions of power and influence.” Newsom demonstrates the relationship between the lack of powerful women (characters or real ones) depicted by the media and entertainment industry and the lack of female leaders in politics, business, etc. In summary: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” -Marian Wright Edelman
There are TV shows with strong, likable female leads, but nowhere near as many as those with male leads whose adoration by viewers exemplifies an obvious double standard given the wider range of character traits, flaws, age, and physical appearance in male leads. This is one reason I love shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls on HBO and Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black on Netflix.
One aspect of Miss Representation that relates to television and marketing is the business of commercials. Essentially, brands want to advertise on content that mirrors their messaging. Marketing is about making consumers uncomfortable: if you instill in a consumer a sense of urgency that they need a product to make themselves better, happier, sexier, smarter, younger, prettier, richer, etc. then you’ve caught their attention. In general, TV shows are written to reflect their advertisers’ brand values and messaging so that they will keep advertising to an insecure consumer. Characters and storylines often perpetuate the beliefs that make viewers insecure, i.e., better consumers.
Media companies, networks, advertising conglomerates, and ad agencies are male-dominated financially, philosophically, and visually – pure numbers. While the Skyler White conversation has many variables, it’s important to keep the undeniable reality of our gendered media in mind when deciding whether you think Skyler hatred is a symptom of a larger cultural problem or is simply the result of storytelling in the modern age, where character-bashing is more public online.