I’ve been playing around with the slick mobile voting application Wishbone on my iPhone ever since my 11yo turned me on to it. It’s incredibly simple: users are presented with A/B choices and tap to vote on which they prefer. Every 7-8 votes, you’re forced to watch a banal streaming video advertisement, almost always a mobile app aimed at teen girls and related to fashion, hairstyles or virtual high school experiences.
Still, advertising aside, it’s fascinating to get this glimpse into a fragile segment of the population because the Wishbone user base is substantially composed of tween and teen girls. As VentureBeat describes it: “Wishbone is an application that’s targeted towards teenage girls that provides them pop culture content on a scheduled basis — none of this on-demand stuff. The user is shown a card with two choices, and she votes for which is her preference.”
In some ways this is where the cultural revolution rubber hits the proverbial road: all the years and all the protests about how girls are enculturated, all the complaints about sexism, all the effort by feminists, leads us to this doorstep, where we can really see if it’s working or whether girls prefer pink to blue, feminine to masculine traits, prefer good boys or bad boys, or even wish for a pony or a pickup truck.
And the picture isn’t very pretty after all, as it turns out. It’s not that they’re shallow, because at 13 or 14 children don’t really have the mental capacity to be “deep”, but the girls on the service are still interested in the same things their mothers were interested in, and grandma before them, all those years ago. Glamour. Makeup. Cute boys. Sexy outfits. Hairstyles.
That’s all good enough, since if there were an equivalent service for tween and teen boys, it’s easy to predict that guns, fast cars, and buxom, bikini-clad women whose photos have been suitably airbrushed to remove any trace of unique identity would be quite popular. Heck, there are plenty of grown men who would upvote the same things, aren’t there?
Which is why I thought it was so fascinating when I saw one of the Wishbone users had posted a query about what is perhaps the central identity question for any young woman in our culture:
Would you rather be smart or pretty?
Yes, there are plenty of women who embody both, and that it’s superficial and crass for us as a culture to focus on appearance, but we’re not lecturing, we’re not evangelizing, we’re just letting tween and teen girls, over 80,000 of them, answer the question.
Here’s how they voted:
So, out of 80,973 votes, 39% said they’d rather be smart than beautiful while a whopping 61%, almost 2/3 of the people who answered the question, said they’d rather be beautiful than smart.
Which causes at least this dad of two smart girls more than a bit of dismay. You have to ask what’s wrong with a society where young women seem to be saying that they’ll be happier and more fulfilled by working at being physically attractive rather than leveraging their innate smarts and finding a community where they are celebrated for being smart.
Meanwhile, I can only hope that all the girls who responded to this particular Wishbone survey find themselves in families and communities where they’re encouraged to reach for both goals and find happiness from within, not from without.
Because it’s time we all moved past the tired gender stereotype of the pretty girl being the happiest.