Last fall, the toy company Mattel, released a new commercial for ‘Barbie’, which quickly become a viral sensation. The new ad captures adults’ reactions on hidden cameras when young girls appear as their professor, business executive, vet, or coach .
This new marketing campaign marks an impressive turn around for Mattel, who in the past has been deeply criticized for perpetuating unrealistic ideals of female beauty. By exploring the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Mattel tapped into that childlike enthusiasm and their seemingly larger-than-life aspirations. Any girl can grow up to become anything.
Compare that picture of optimism and hope with some more sobering statistics:
From 2001 to 2012, 11, 766 American women were killed by either current or ex male partners, almost double the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan or Iraq during the same period. That equals three women murdered every day .
In the United States, one in four women will be victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, compared to one in seven men . Worldwide, 70 percent of women will experience physical and/or sexual abuse by an intimate partner during their lifetimes .
In the United States, black women experience intimate partner violence at rates up to 35 percent higher than white women .
According to the US Department of Justice, the low estimate of women raped every year is 300,000. The high estimate is 1.3 million. A woman has a one in five change of being raped in the United States .
Women lose over 8 million days of paid work every year because of abuse by a current or former male partner. This loss is roughly equivalent to over 32,000 full-time jobs .
Imagine asking young girls, very much like the ones shown in the Barbie commercial, what they wanted to be when they grew up. Would they say rape victim? Wife or girlfriend to an abusive partner? Of course not, that would unthinkable. But looking at the numbers, that very well may be the tragic future for many young girls in the United States.
Around 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year . Women who experience physical abuse as children are at a much greater risk to experience abuse as adults and men have a more than double likelihood of becoming perpetrators . According to the World Health Organization, worldwide, men who were exposed to domestic violence as children are three to four times more likely to perpetrate intimate partner violence as adults than men who did not experience domestic abuse as children .
Are we giving girls the fantasy of being becoming anything they want to be without allowing them to see any evidence of the reality of that possibility? Which is the more powerful image, a two-minute commercial of hope and optimism or the brutal reality of watching your mother threatened and beaten? Are positive images being drowned out by far more potent and dominant images of violence?
Domestic abuse and violence is a deadly and corrosive pandemic. One that should no longer be tolerated anywhere, let alone in the world’s largest economy and superpower. So why has the prevalence of domestic violence changed so little over past decades? Why is prevalence rising among certain subpopulations?
Perhaps the far more urgent need in our society is not new marketing campaigns for toys, but an extensive examination of fundamental family relations. Why is this happening in families? What does this say about society as a whole? Why are we so willing to put up such a fuss about offensive comments from presidential candidates or degrading photo-shoots and movies, but remain silent on the violence happening in our own homes and neighborhoods? Perhaps our priorities as a society are more concerned with our commercial and consumer wants than with fundamental human rights and decency.