Sexist Messages for Kids. “Charming.”

This one’s nearly a “perfect storm” of business ethics.

Marketing a product that plays on female body-image issues? “Ethically questionable!”
Marketing a product that promotes a sexist stereotype? “Ethically problematic!”
Marketing any product to children? “Ethically challenging!”

Add ’em all up: T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

Case in point: An on-line game called “Miss Bimbo,” aimed at pre-teen girls. See the story, here, from The Age: Outrage over girls’ bimbo game

Parents’ groups in Britain have condemned an internet game in which girls as young as nine are encouraged to “buy” virtual dolls breast operations and facelifts.

The aim of the Miss Bimbo game, which was launched in Britain last month, is to become the “hottest, coolest, most famous bimbo in the whole world”, and contestants who compete are told to “stop at nothing”, even “meds or plastic surgery”, to ensure their dolls win.

Children are given a naked virtual character to look after. They compete against other players to earn “bimbo” dollars so they can dress her in sexy outfits and take her clubbing.

Now, true, the designers of this game didn’t invent body image problems, and I doubt there’s any uncontrovertible evidence that a game like this is going to cause girls to end up with body image issues. But still: who wants to be responsible for promoting the idea that you “win” by using surgery & pills to turn yourself into the very best bimbo? OK, sure, certain reality TV execs do, but they hardly count as moral exemplars.

And every serious company that markets to kids knows it has to tread very carefully in deciding what to sell and how sell it. (Rough hypothesis: no big company would be dumb enough to market a product like this. Discuss.) (Footnote: a key mechanism at play here is that e-commerce has lowered ‘barriers to entry’ so much that anyone with some computer savvy can turn a bad idea into a product. Compare: if you wanted to produce this game as a board-game, it’d be expensive to do, and so you’d have to get investors, etc. Then there would at least be someone asking obvious questions, like, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”)

This is one of those cases where, even if you couldn’t work out an air-tight argument to the effect that promoting such a game is utterly unethical, you’d still want to tell this guy: “Dude, get a life! There are better ways too make a living.”

As usual, the Feministing blog has a funny, on-target assessment:

[The game’s creator] claims that the game is just aiming to be realistic: “The breast operations are just one part of the game and we are not encouraging young girls to have them, just reflecting real life.” You know, the kind of real life where nine year-olds get boob jobs. Charming.

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