We should be teaching young girls that they can do anything, regardless of who came before them, and regardless of gender
Girls can do anything boys can do; some might even argue that girls can do it better.
In 2019, Mercedes-Benz collaborated with Mattel’s Matchbox and posted a documentary-styled short video. And while it should be harmless advertising, I couldn’t help but feel outrageously opinionated about it — so much so that I felt the need to break down my feelings into this post. It’s weird, since I don’t usually get worked up about matters that don’t affect me to this extent.
Over recent years, we’ve seen many companies use their power to profit off of the efforts of marginalized groups. Oftentimes, they jump on the closest bandwagon to stand in solidarity with a cause that’s relevant. Whether it’s Pride, Black Lives Matter, Indigenous rights, you name it, and companies have profited it — from countless advertisements backing the movement; to “supportive” clothing that supposedly gives back to that group, in some way or another, all of it so they can go on to claim they’ve done their part in giving back.
Female empowerment is not a new concept. Companies have been quick to promote body positivity, as they should. They’ve got models of different body types and they’re trying their best to be more inclusive. It’s not always perfect, but as we’ve heard time and time again, it’s a step in the right direction.
I guess the same can be said about the following ad from a couple years ago:
So, then, why did something so cute make me so unexpectedly angry?
Well, Mercedes has had ample time to elaborate on this concept, but instead, like many other major corporations, it put out a promotional video that garners some views and attracts attention, and that’s the end of that. It’s done its fair share of giving back to young girls, and can move on to the next trending issue.
The video is titled “No Limits,” but I don’t know — I’m seeing quite a few limits in this video.
For starters, it seems somewhat scripted. I don’t think they told the young girls what to say, but I do think the director knew what was wanted from the girls and knew how this bit was going to play out. They needed a very specific young group of girls with very predisposed thoughts of gender norms. That’s the main problem. How many girls did they ask before finding the answers they wanted? It’s quite possible it didn’t take too many, because so many girls are brought up surrounded by stereotypes.
Next: why do we need to show young girls a video of another girl succeeding?
The particular video shows Ewy Rosqvist-von Korff, a successful rally driver from Sweden, whose most notable achievement is her win in the 1962 Argentine Turismo Standard Grand Prix. To be extremely clear, this piece is in no way diminishing her astounding accomplishments; at the same time, I’m not about to hype her up just because she’s a woman. The description for the YouTube video calls her a “female racing champion,” as if we’d ever use the term “male racing champion.” She didn’t win because she’s an amazing female driver; she’s an amazing driver who achieved her dreams despite the barriers of female stereotypes. I can only assume that she wasn’t graced with the sight of countless female role models in racing, who could have motivated her to live out her dreams and passions — she made her mark on her own. And so should young girls (or anyone, for that matter).
Yes, it’s important to see people we can relate to, such as fellow women (I could also argue that I would love to see more women of colour, but that’s an entirely different argument) in various fields and industries. And of course it’s important to see women succeeding. But failure shouldn’t be a determinant. In fact, it should motivate us to be better and do better.
I think it’s somewhat degrading that Mercedes-Benz and Mattel thought that in order to make a young girl understand that she’s capable, she needs to first see another girl do it. That’s not what I want for my daughters (or son). I want them to know that they’re capable. They can do anything, regardless of who came before them, and regardless of gender. They should look up to someone like Ewy, but not because she’s an accomplished driver, but because she’s an amazing human who didn’t need to see another woman, or any other person, succeeding before realizing that she could do it.
The following video, released by Mercedes and featuring Ewy Rosqvist-von Korff, is sure to give you all the feels as she discusses her motivation to win, despite being told she couldn’t even finish the race. Her story is epic.
Ewy is an awesome role model, there’s no question about that. But wouldn’t it have also made sense to somehow connect the past to the present and show a few modern drivers in racing? There are just so many missed opportunities.
Furthermore, I’m aware that Mercedes doesn’t make monster trucks, and this video’s intent is to promote the brand. Still, it’s also difficult for me to get past seeing these girls with just one tiny car when there are numerous Mercedes-branded vehicles, big and little. I’m sure a multi-billion-dollar corporation could have put a little more effort into bringing this video to life, rather than giving the girls a couple of Matchbox cars to throw around and lose under a couch. Couldn’t it have taken them to an actual track to get excited about an actual race? This video is two years old now — the brand has had plenty of time to go bigger, if it was truly committed to this promotional campaign.
Moreover, what about the opposite? Why didn’t they bring in a group of young boys? Why didn’t they ask a group of little boys to choose a toy for a little girl to play with? Yes, they’ll probably also pick the unicorn or doll. Why? Because someone told them girls like dolls. Why wasn’t the video of Ewy shown to little boys?
Mercedes-Benz and Mattel thought that to make a young girl understand that she’s capable, she needs to first see another girl do it — but I want my daughters to know they’re capable of anything, regardless of who came before them, and regardless of gender
I understand the point that’s trying to be made: gender stereotypes start at a young age, but the “No Limits” video isn’t helping at all. Isn’t it just further enforcing those norms by showing the girls how they’re allowed to act, based on the acts of another female?
Shouldn’t we be encouraging little kids — however they choose to identify — to be who they want? All kids who love cars or racing should be inspired by Ewy because a racer isn’t a girl or a boy; a racer is a racer.
And a toy is a toy. The cute kids in this video have been predisposed to thinking there are toys specifically made for girls and boys; and that’s where the problem starts. If girls want to play with Barbies, then that’s cool. If boys want to play with cars, then that’s cool too. And vice-versa. It’s the divide that angers me.
I’m well aware that this could have easily been seen as a feel-good moment, and I’m sure to most people, that’s all it was. Maybe Merc was trying to share a cute little video and I went and blew this out of proportion.
Whether the goal was to sell toys, promote a brand, or just be cute, I really hope that it opened a door to at least one little girl’s love of cars — then it would have been worth something (as opposed to being just another opportunity for me to hate on society’s gender norms, or just all social norms, in general).
I’m more concerned with raising kids who understand kindness and inclusivity. The kids in the video are cute, but I’ve spent so much time telling my kids that there’s no such thing as “boys’ toys” or “girls’ toys” while society has played such a large role in telling them otherwise. Seriously, have you ever been to Toys ‘R’ Us? Or even the toy aisles in Walmart? It’s disgustingly and shamelessly divided. I truly hope that regardless of what my kids want to play with, they won’t judge what other kids choose.
One little girl in the video seems to have the right train of thought, cars aside: “I think she believes in herself, and she did it,” she says of Ewy. That is the message we should be sending to young girls.
But if this is all that Mercedes and Mattel can come up with collaboratively? Well, that just really sucks.
Finally, out of sheer curiosity, I made my seven-year-old sit down in front of some toys – a book, a stuffed animal, a teapot, a monster truck, a Hot Wheels car, and a couple other random things – and asked her to pick some out. First she picked the book because “I like reading,” she said. Fair. So, I took the book and told her to pick again. She picked the stuffed animal because “it’s fluffy,” she said. So I asked, “Why didn’t you pick any of the cars?” She said, “Well, I don’t really want to move. If I pick the car then I have to bend down and go on my knees and move around on the ground and drive the car. I don’t feel like doing that.“
And that, my friends — that’s my girl.
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