A few months ago, I found myself in the middle of a conversation about gender stereotypes and whether or not assigning a preconceived notion of masculinity or femininity to a particular sport or activity was detrimental to all who were involved. I argued that it was. After the rebranding of femininity as something positive as opposed to something shameful, my conversation partners agreed. Unfortunately, banking company Wells Fargo does not appear to.
In their latest ad campaign, Wells Fargo measures the value of ballet and theatre against that of engineering and science. While the ads are offensive on the simple basis that they pay homage to an outdated idea that some careers are more valuable than others, they also indicate that there is something wrong about pursuing a future in fields that are still branded as feminine, girly or emasculating. That, because theatre and dance are areas that are dominated by a female presence, their value as a career path is somehow diminished while male-dominated areas such STEM (fields in which girls lose interest in at a young age due to a lack of access and exposure) are inherently more worthwhile. What was likely an advertisement meant to inspire parents to invest in their children’s futures is just another example of advertising that is riddled with casual sexism, misogyny and stereotypes.
While Wells Fargo had a duty to be aware of the damaging content of these ads, the issue of sexism in education and activity is not a new one. For decades, men (particularly men in Western culture) have faced severe stigmatization for partaking in activities— like ballet and theatre— that are viewed as feminine. Not to mention, much of the social anxiety that surrounds men partaking in “girly” activities is centered around homophobia and the assumption that the only logical explanation for a male interest in dance or theatre is one’s sexuality. Unfortunately, much of society still fails to see that those things are not mutually exclusive. In addition, women in science and engineering fields are often met with sexist comments and questioning of their credentials. It’s a prime example of the ways in which gender roles and stereotypes still maintain deep, detrimental roots in our society.
Thankfully, Wells Fargo ended the campaign after severe public shaming called attention to the disdainful content.
However, that doesn’t mean that the sexism, exclusivity and bigotry surrounding educational fields and activities has ended, too. The only way that we can work towards erasing those stereotypes is by being proactive.
Encourage and empower young women to pursue their interests in STEM subjects by creating environments that are welcoming and inclusive. Encourage young men to pursue their love of the visual and performing arts by battling archaic ideals of masculinity and homophobia. It’s essential that we inspire the next generation of leaders, educators and role models to believe that their gender should not hinder their ability to become dancers, actors, engineers or botanists. After all, it’s not about a lack of interest; it’s about a lack of opportunity.
Featured image credit here.