I can’t go to school with him. I can’t do his work for him, or show his teachers how curious he is. That’s his job. But I can provide him with all the tools he needs to show them himself…

I can’t go to school with her. I can’t introduce her to new friends or tell them how great she is. But I can provide her with the things she needs to feel good about herself…

What’s wrong with this picture? Let’s draw in a few more details…

The mother in both ads is the same actress. The boy in the first ad is in a classroom, carrying a laptop – presumably the tool that his mother bought him to show the teachers how curious he is. The girl in the first ad is on the school bus and in the cafeteria. She is wearing a cute top that is presumably what her mother bought her to help her feel good about herself. As the mother goes on talking about the great prices at Walmart, the boy walks up to the front of the room with his laptop and a bright smile, and presumably delivers his report to an approving teacher and classroom. The girl walks up to a table in the cafeteria and asks if she can sit with the two girls seated there. They smile and make room for her, apparently because she’s wearing a great shirt from Walmart.

The girl version of the Walmart ad would annoy me even without the contrast – it’s wrong on so many levels – but when it’s contrasted with the boy version, those wrongs just blow up to mega-proportions. What are the hidden messages – or not so hidden – messages in the ad?

1. The important part of school for girls is making friends.
2. Girls should be ‘great’, whatever that is.
3. The right clothes are important to a girl’s self esteem.
4. The right clothes help a girl make friends.
5. Girls are impressed by the right clothes.

When you contrast that with the message given by the boy’s commercial, it gets even more insidious.
1. The important part of school for boys is impressing teachers.
2. Boys should be curious – a mark of high achieving learners.
3. Being smart is important to a boy’s self esteem.
4. Tech tools help a boy learn and impress teachers.


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