As I watched a cartoon with my kids on Saturday morning, I saw a commercial for Huffy bikes where two little girls on new “princess” bikes decide to go rescue a prince. They jet off on their shiny Disney machines and successfully retrieve a teddy bear that had apparently been held hostage by nefarious forces.
Now, I have no problem with girl power, and there’s nothing wrong with the ad itself, but it does make me think about just how totally society has not equalized, but rather reversed, gender roles, to the exclusion of what comes naturally to boys. Would anyone be willing to make an ad that showed two little boys riding to the rescue of a girl? Would anyone support a product that did? Such a simple show of chivalry may well be met with protests and discrimination lawsuits.
I think the first real wave of “girl power” media hit when I was growing up in the 80s, when more TV shows had girls being assertive and competing with boys (thank you, Punky Brewster and She-Ra). By the late 90’s it had actually become a cliché, when Lisa Simpson dared to try out for a boys’ football team, only to find a warm welcome and three other girls already playing. So, by today, the Huffy princess bike ad is literal, devoid of any irony and of any especially empowering message it may have once had. It’s par for the course.