Ads & Expectation: A General Musing on Social Pressure and Narrative Advertisement

I used to feel the weight of it when I was younger: the expectation.  I was expected to become a mother.  I was expected to wear makeup.  I was expected to get married, change my name, be small and inoffensive.

I’m not the only one.  I can see there were other expectations, weights of different measure hung from other people’s hearts, about being powerful, small, strong, masculine, feminine… they’re never spoken directly.  But you can feel them.

And they used to weigh a lot on me, because they didn’t fit.  They didn’t match what I wanted out of things.  I fumbled my way toward something different.

By way of reflection, I took this complicated weight to my mother, to talk over it and coffee.  My mother is an odd creature, subject to her own weights and expectations, the prickly things she did and wishes she hadn’t, the litany of injuries she has to keep in mind as she moves through life for fear of a flare up.  I realize more and more as I get older that we are nothing like each other in the best of ways, and we are not so different as I had once thought.

“I never pushed you toward girliness,” she tells me.  And that is simultaneously true and not true.  She did not foist dolls on me, and there were mountains of blocks for me to play with as a child.  I had no foam swords so I made mine out of sticks.  But then there was make-up, all message-mixed, and she told me I didn’t need any, and that my not wearing it was why as a teen I never had a boyfriend.  She was always “putting on her face.”

“I never pressured you to have kids.”  And again, this is true and not.  She never contradicted me as an adult when I voiced I didn’t want any, but as a child, she corrected my “if I ever have kids” to “when.”

It was with this multifaceted perspective in hand that I started seeing baby ads on my Facebook feed.  Pregnancy test ads.  Baby college fund banking ads.  Because X months after you get married, that’s when kids happen.  Because even though I’ve listed myself as male, and currently my profile says I’m “other,” they mark me as female.  Even though, if they had smarter ways to sift through the data I’d provided them, or my friends have provided them, they’d have a more accurate representation of me, and they would tailor their ads to sterile tomboy women when marketing to me: yarn, crafts, camping gear, and power tools.  Green power tools.  Because pink is hideous (your mileage on pink may vary).

I realized that this expectation, this pressure, is mostly indirect.  It’s mostly a part of the cultural capital dropped in the laps of people in certain economic classes, wired into their offices through the magic of the InterTubez, flashed in front of their eyes through product placement during the entertainment they pay to see.  We are spun narratives about these things, and we take these narratives to be indicative of the majority of real lives, because they were designed to be taken that way.

I realized that despite the tools our digital age has provided various companies, they prefer to do business the usual way, and slice things into broad demographics.  They they don’t want to look into other ways of marketing.  The old way works well enough, doesn’t it?  But I can see the argument of circularity creep in: the feedback loop of target group optimization.

My mother?  She is in dialogue with this cultural inheritance as well.  She is struggling with her own contradictions to these narratives.

I guess I still feel these weights of expectation.  But now I better understand where they come from.  And I’ve developed better frameworks to shift them off to the side when I simply want something else.

A younger, more touchy me would have raged at the baby ads.  Now I have to laugh.  They’re a year and a bit too late.