University of Wisconsin–Madison

Microsoft Is Redefining Girlhood

In the keywords essay on “Girlhood”, Jacqueline Reid-Walsh discusses the social issues involved in defining what the term “girlhood” means and how it has change to reflect society over time. Through the historical lens, Reid-Walsh discusses how the position of certain materials items such as dolls and toys has shaped the idea of what being a girl means. She argues that these items were intended to teach young girls in the eighteenth and nineteenth century the customary roles that they are expected to hold in their adult years. The essay continues to point out the importance of girl’s toys and the role they play in teaching young girls “how to become conventionally feminine in appearance and behavior”. The question then arises, if girls do NOT play with dolls or specific “girl marketed” toys, how does that change their definition of “girlhood”?

While “girlhood” is represented as the conventional appearance and behavior of “typical” girls, in the book Kirsten Learns a Lesson, her definition of girlhood is paralleled with the playing of toys and other socially acceptable material belongings. Kirsten grows up believing in the magic of dolls and assumes a stereotype perpetuated from years previously that playing with dolls will inevitably put her in the assumed household woman role. While Kirsten appears in long dresses and plays with dolls similar to other girls her age, she is representing the eighteenth-century definition of “girlhood”. The “Girlhood” essay asserts this notion that the definition is ever-changing over time, and Kirsten is just one example of how she embodies the definition specifically for her time period.

Microsoft has taken the definition of “girlhood” and shaped it to reflect the twenty-first century. Recently, they aired a 2019 super bowl commercial that depicted a young girl and her love of playing video games. While the commercial was aimed at fostering an inclusive environment for people who may not be the traditional video game candidates, it pushed the boundaries to reflect the ever-changing social scene of video games. The idea that a young girl would love to play video games and aspire to be in the technology industry in her adult years, leaves the definition of girlhood frayed from the traditional “doll and dress” sense. Microsoft does not perpetuate the idea that girls will grow up to stay in the house or take care of the children, instead, they reflect the society’s invitation for girls to enjoy technology and other less feminine materials. Microsoft is changing the idea that there are strict boundaries between “boy toys” and “girl toys”, and they are inspiring the change for the definition of “girlhood”. Just like the essay suggests, “girlhood” is defined to reflect the current time period it is in, and thanks to technology giants such as Microsoft, that definition is changing to encompass a larger sector of pre-domanitly male focused toys.

4 thoughts on “Microsoft Is Redefining Girlhood”

  1. Jenna,
    You mention a valuable example of how the term “girlhood” has altered in regards to it’s definition to reflect a more current time period. As you mentioned, the term “girlhood” encompasses an entirely different meaning in the book, Kirsten Learns a Lesson, than what Microsoft was aiming to portray. This just goes to show that a time difference of just a single century has brought about multiple connotations for a word that many people perceive to be “straightforward.”

  2. I saw that commercial at the Super Bowl and thought of the same thing! I sometimes wonder how and when video games because categorized as “boy toys”. Obviously in Kirsten’s time, and decades after that, video games did not exist. You mention Walsh explaining that dolls were intended to teach girls gender roles and gender roles still exist today. Although, where do you think video games fit into teaching boys their gender roles? Why has this been categorized as a “boy toy”?

  3. I think this is a really interesting analysis, Jenna! I think it’s interesting to consider the links between video games, violence, masculinity, and boyhood. Further how in recent years, video games have been created with an intended female audience based on certain aspects of the game (fashion, domesticity, childbearing, exc.). As a girl who games from time to time I think it’s really cool that Microsoft is redefining how it markets its games and who its games are intended for. Further, I wonder what will come from this in terms of future advertising by other video game-oriented companies, and whether aspects of video games themselves may change (for example the portrayal of women as objects, sexualized or put in the damsel in distress role). Thanks for sharing these ideas!

  4. When I saw the commercial, I immediately thought of the similar scene in the catalog. I guess some could say it is redefining girlhood and eliminating the boundaries in regard of video games, but I think it could also be seen as how girls are still adapting boy’s preference and expectation by playing xbox with the boys. So when can we see the other way around.

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