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Hey Toyota: Why Are You Still Talking To Little Girls (and Boys) This Way?

February 05, 2014

If I saw one of these Toyota ads on its own, I might not think twice about it. Cute kid. Reliable car. Off to soccer practice we go. But when I read them side by side, there’s something irksome about the comparative message.

Okay, yes—these kids are both going places. But when you compare his perceived trajectory with hers, there’s still a not-so-subtle message about expectations and what “going places” means for a girl versus a boy. Thirty years from now, in order to be deemed successful, she needs to be an athlete-academic-mom-professional renaissance woman who’s always smiling (because girls who get sad are total downers). As for him: as long as he keeps doing that adorable hiccup thing, the sky’s the limit.

He gets to be the ever-rumpled rapscallion with the future sprawling out before him. There’s no mention of family in his forecast. Meanwhile, we’re already quietly agonizing over this little girl’s inevitable struggle with “work-life balance” (don’t worry—she prefers her kids over her job in the end!). Because now that she’s eight, we’re already worried about how it’s all going to shake out with the career and the husband and the kids and all that. (Apparently she doesn’t get to have five boyfriends—she’s just going to find “the one” and be done with it).

Honestly, her life does sound more fulfilling than his, but it also sounds fraught with that infuriating question—“How does she do it all?”—that has plagued women of a certain generation (and apparently, the next generation too, if Toyota has anything to say about it).

Here’s a question: Would these ads make sense if you switched the descriptions? In that world, the little girl would outgrow her allergies and go through five boyfriends and two internships. Does that make you think, “Wow, she’s going places?”

And what about him? If his claim to fame is having a career he loves and two girls he loves way, way more—does that make him seem unambitious? Unadventurous? Is he less likely to win our hearts if he hasn’t left a trail of discarded girlfriends in his wake? Or if he’s “tied down” with a family and a complicated matrix of obligations?

It seems unfair that these ads are sending one message to girls (do everything, and do everything right), and a far more open-ended one to boys (revel in your freedom and don’t worry too much about the details). In order for us to be impressed by their projected futures, she has to achieve the balance that no modern woman has heretofore actually achieved. He just has to keep on hiccupin’.

And here’s a final question: Why can’t Toyota just sell a car without implying that your kid’s entire future happiness hangs in the balance?

That’s it. I’m getting a Trans Am:

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Tory Hoen is the author of the novel The Arc. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at M.M.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Vogue Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler. Read more of Tory's posts.

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