Why do we engage with ancient culture? Is it because we are amused at the strange world they inhabited? Or, perhaps it is something in our current culture that troubles us and we seek to escape the hold of it by examining far and wide?
I am going to discuss how our culture of consumption and the dominant idea of gendered stereotypes, is imposed on children and teenagers through social media. And, how we (especially parents) can break away by engaging with Stoicism.
With the fast pace of technological intrusion of our lives, our capability to escape dominant trends is diminishing. For example, children today are influenced more by following consumerist ideals through modern media as opposed to exercising rationality through critical thinking. Facebook, Instagram and the like provide fertile ground for instantaneous engagement with people throughout the world. However, these platforms are predominantly used for self-indulgence and entertainment through following influencers and (online) celebrities who portray women in highly sexualised ways or who recreate gendered stereotypes themselves. With millions of subscribers the power to shape what is appropriate to wear or how to act lies in social media. For example, in the 1920’s a silent film swept the world – ‘America’s Sweetheart’ starring Mary Pickford. It popularised the image of women smoking cigarettes and wearing makeup. Now, we are widely aware of the negative health effects of cigarette smoke but cultural studies lack the same publicity. So, in almost every corner of the world makeup has been established as the dominant form of how females should look (unless where it is a local practise passed down the generations).
Young children are affected by the dominant culture through consumerism. Russel and Tyler (2005) looked at how tweens’ (the age where children become teenagers) spend money on makeup accessories in a specialised store for ‘girls fun’. They found that young females are anxious to buy the ‘right stuff’ that their peers have. However, they did this through exercise of choice as opposed to being told by their parents what to buy. Also, they liked playing football and enjoyed watching ‘Buffy the vampire Slayer’ where a powerful female character is ‘kicking ass’. This suggests that young females engage in the same behaviour as young males do. Therefore, females are not passive consumers but actively engage with culture. However, when they interviewed the same participants 5 years later they found out that early engagement with stereotypically women’s interests continue to influence them in their teenage years. Despite being provided with a choice of what to buy, establishing a set of norms for females which dictates what sort of roles are appropriate is ultimately denying their rational moral status (Aikin et al, 2014).
Mass culture through the lense of Stoicism. According to the Stoics, the Logos is expressed through the rational abilities of every animal. So, we should exercise our reason to live the good live. Then, exercising virtues or areti (practical wisdom, justness, moderation and courage) becomes imperative for our rational moral status and the ability to choose independently from the dominant culture narratives. However, when we raise children to be sucked into a world of peer competition over a false idea we are effectively depriving them of opportunities to exercise those virtues, hence, living the good life.
Depriving children since ancient Rome. Seneca suggests that “children should not be subjected to degrading treatment or made to be excessively servile or submissive” (De Ira II.xxi.4). While this applied for practices towards children intended to discipline them through work, it can be applied to the above view of corporate pedophilia too. Namely, allowing children to embrace a perverse lifestyle through peer influence in social media. But, being digitally literate is important, and we should not keep our children away from the internet. On the contrary we should encourage them to use it while supervising their activity. This way we can teach them how to use it without deskilling them.
Dominant mass cultures are pervasive but being critical and using our rational abilities we can effectively tackle a seemingly invisible but popular trend that diminishes children’s abilities to act rationally.
some grammatical mistakes are intentional
S., Aikin & E., McGill-Rutherford. (2014). Stoicism, Feminism and Autonomy. Symposion. 1. 9-22. 10.5840/symposion2014112.
R., Russell, & M., Tyler. (2005). Branding and Bricolage. Gender, Consumption and Transition. Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research. 12. . 10.1177/0907568205051905.