Verizon recently released a new commercial that depicts what can happen to a girl’s self-esteem if she’s only valued for her appearance. It’s a compelling ad that is made more so by the inclusion of one troubling statistic: according to the National Science Foundation, 66 percent of 4th grade girls say they like science and math, but only 18 percent of all college engineering majors are female.
In the Verizon Ad, viewers watch a girl transition from an inquisitive young child to a teenager who has all but given up on her love of engineering and science. In the background, her parents say things such as, “Who’s my pretty girl?” to the youngest version of the girl, and “Don’t get your dress dirty,” while she’s a bit older and on a nature walk. They tell her to put down the starfish she’s examining at the beach; they tell her to let her brother take over the science project because they don’t think she knows how to handle the tools. Despite the likely well-intentioned nature of these statements, they are a subtle reminder that in our culture, women are more valued for their appearance than their brain.
This powerful visualization of what can happen when parents tell their daughters that they are “pretty” instead of “smart,” is the result of a partnership between Verizon and Makers, the largest video collection of women’s stories. It is also narrated by Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani, a woman who is dedicated to closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. This Verizon ad demonstrates the power of subtle social cues and how reinforcing gender norms in young children can discourage girls from pursuing traditionally male-dominated STEM subjects in grade school, and later as a career.
There is no doubt that parents genuinely believe that their children are pretty, or beautiful, or cute. But only praising young girls for their appearances, without enough attention paid towards their inquisitive minds and desire to explore or create, can ultimately dissuade them from reaching their fullest potential.
As the Verizon Ad muses, “Isn’t it time we told her she’s ‘pretty brilliant’ too?”