Laurie Toby Edison

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I Want to Be a Real Girl

Laurie and Debbie say:

Technology in general, but game technology in particular, is viewed as a masculine domain. Girls use computers to word process, send instant messages, make a MySpace profile–but they don’t use them to slay dragons. They just don’t. And it’s a lot harder to see what’s wrong with that argument than a straightforward claim that slaying dragons is not ladylike.

Cabell Gathman is on to something.. The general thrust of her article is that as our society lays more claim to gender equality, the discourse has changed from “Nice girls don’t …” [cross their legs like that/play tackle football/fart in public] to “Why don’t girls … [study math/play video games/become firefighters].

And, as more and more girls study math, play video games, and become firefighters, the question in the air seems to get louder, rather than starting to diminish in intensity. If the social message is “Girls don’t …” and you’re a girl who does, that makes you weird, by definition. If you’re the only girl in your school who does, you’re weirder. Maybe you’re not “a real girl.” (Back in the days of “nice girls don’t,” if you were the only girl in your school who was known to “put out,” that made you weird, and it bought you a kind of slimy transient popularity. However, being the only girl in your school who wants to be an astronomer is not likely to bring the crowds to your doorstep.)

Of course, this phenomenon is not limited to girls. In the days of “nice girls don’t,” it was “a gentleman doesn’t,” or “what kind of girl would marry a boy who …?” These were much wimpier arguments then, and they have almost no cultural force now. On the other hand, “boys don’t like stories about people; they like stories about adventure and fighting” has enormous force, as does “boys don’t play quietly.” Especially now, when “gay” is the insult of choice in our schools and colleges, being the boy that does something real boys don’t do is risky business.

Let’s turn the whole thing around, and start a movement.

“Real scientists don’t make generalization about boys and girls.”
“Real marketing plans assume that everyone will be equally interested in the product.”
“Real teachers and parents find out what kids are interested in, instead of telling them what they’re going to be interested in.”

Wouldn’t that be something?

Thanks to Kestrell for the pointer.

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5 Responses to “I Want to Be a Real Girl”

  1. Mary Kay Says:

    If the social message is “Girls don’t …” and you’re a girl who does, that makes you weird, by definition.

    No it doesn’t. It means the person speaking either doesn’t have a wide enough experience of the world or they’re wrong. This has always been my reaction to statements of this sort, probably out of necessity rather than any sort of inherent virtue/strength/whatever on my part. If I had let the people around me define me I’d never have made it to adulthood. I have always found it very very strange that people let other people define them.

    MKK

  2. Lynne Murray Says:

    What exactly is the prize one gets for being a “real girl?” It’s always seemed like a pretty unrewarding occupation, even if you don’t consider the whole shelf-life aspect. Oddly enough, the group I’ve found that most “enjoys being a girl” appears to be transvestite and transgendered Male-To-Female folks–just judging from those I’ve spoken to. Maybe because it’s aspirational for this group?

    To paraphrase Shakespeare’s 12th Night–”Some are born girlish, some achieve girlishness, some have girlishness thrust upon them.” Why do people laugh when Arnold S calls some guy a “girly man”? Why is it insulting when people call an older woman an “old girl”–or is it? Is it because we con’t have a club like the “old boys”? I don’t know what it all means. Perhaps it means I need another cup of coffee.

  3. Dan'l Says:

    Real marketing plans assume that everyone will be equally interested in the product

    A real marketing plan that made that assumption would probably guarantee the failure of the product.

    No, of course I’m not arguing that action games are for boys and IMing is for girls. That’s ludicrous. Such breakdowns are at best grotesque, black-and-white oversimplifications of a complex and shaded reality.

    But a marketing plan is all about focussing finite resources to put the product in front of people most likely to buy, and that means knowing that some people are more likely than others to buy, and figuring out who those people are.

    Marketers are not [[thank Higher Power Of Your Choice]] very good at this yet, but they are getting better. They’d be a lot better if sales departments weren’t so impatient.

  4. Laurie Says:

    Dan’l,

    I read that “Real marketing plans assume that everyone will be equally interested in the product” as the reasonable place marketing plans should start from rather than where they should end. Excluding an audience without realistic consideration it is not a good way to figure out who they are.

    I think the “girls don’t” or for that matter “girls always love that” frequently equal markteting failures. Looking at what actually sells in women’s fashion, versus what is “hot now,” is a good example.

  5. Amananta Says:

    Huh? I’m a “real girl” who slays dragons in computer games. I’m sort of obsessed with it, actually. And I do believe I recently saw some research that indicates there are a very large number of women who play these kind of games.
    If it’s just outright incorrect, it is bad science, plain and simple.

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