CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 24 . . . . February 24, 2012
The 8 to 14-year-old child demographic generates $800 billion worldwide in product purchases. No one should be surprised that those children are targeted as a lucrative market. Perpetuating stereotypes of young boys and girls makes good marketing sense. Girls like pretty things and are hyper-sexualized at an early age. Boys are strong and like action and adventure. What function did Hannah Montana serve but to present a line of Disney products for girls to want and to buy?
In Staying Real, filmmaker Sophie Bissonnette looks at the stereotypes of boys and girls through the eyes of the target market. Made in collaboration with the Montreal YWCA, the film is meant as a teaching tool and a warning to children of this age that they are being stalked and manipulated. The participants, a mix of boys and girls, openly share how they feel about themselves and how they fit in their peer group. The girls admit to liking a particular song but realize that the video features many girls draped over one man. The lyrics are hardly appropriate they agree, but the song is catchy. One girl admits, “I like the song, but not the content or images”. The girls are said to be “drowning in a sea of sexy images.” The boys talk about the popular video games whereby you have to kill your best friend, and this is not only acceptable, but expected. Emotions have no place here.
One girl states that, when she was in grade 7, she tried for a new look and “dressed a little sexy.” She liked the attention, but when a boy undid her pants, she was shocked. Shocked that he did that, but also because “no one saw it as a big deal.” Her new look earned her the label of “slut”. She says, “Boys are never judged, just girls.”.
The film is divided into chapters: Toys and Gender Stereotypes; Sexualization in the Media and in Fashion; Impact on Young Girls; Impact on Young Boys; What Can be Done? Each segment could be discussed individually as it provides information and coping skills, but each would also be a good launch pad for further discussion.
Staying Real is a disturbing film in that it states the obvious about marketing to boys and girls. What is most disturbing is the fact that most viewers are guilty to some degree of perpetuating this assault, either by encouraging stereotypical behaviour and/or purchasing the items which try to legitimize that behaviour.
Staying Real assures the young viewers that they do not have to fall for the lies told by the products and their marketers. The film is in French with subtitles, but this just adds to the fact that kids are kids. The products do not care about language.
This film is aimed at the 8 to 14 age level, but it should be seen by older students and especially parents. Going against this wall of marketing is difficult as peer pressure among children and parents is almost overwhelming. However, after listening to the voices in this film, one should have difficulty supporting this assault on children.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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