After the mid-1800s, oil and its byproducts became a virtual necessity for manufacturing and transportation. American and foreign oil industries have caused wars, economic depression, and environmental disaster. The top four richest companies on the planet are either oil or car companies. In fact, oil and gas alone (not including their various byproducts) comprise around two to three percent of the world economy. It’s involved in most of the manufacturing of other goods, such as plastics, metals, transportation, and other machinery. This is on a worldwide scale, with most oil and natural gas coming from undeveloped nations. But in the first world, our economies are about split between oil money and “babysitting money”.
American comedian Bill Hicks, once said, “I mean who buys this shit? Is there that much babysitting money being passed around now? When did we start listening to prepubescent white girls?”. He was referring to a marketing agent of his asking him to pander to “mall-goers”, and how he deeply detested it. But this isn’t just a half-hearted jab at the younger generation’s artistic taste. Young girls, specifically from the ages of nine to 25, have an extreme amount of economic power in the first world. Companies which are not involved in oil are aching for the lemonade stand, porch-sweeping, and babysitting money girls have to offer.
The Economy of Babysitting Money
Of course, the concept of babysitting money doesn’t refer to the literal capital made by teen girls. It instead refers to the money which teen girls have influence over. They, on their own, actually have very little buying power. However, their parents are a whole other story. The parents of these young girls are the ones making the money but they aren’t the ones spending it. Or, at least they’re not the ones whose tastes are primarily influencing the money. To major companies, what teen girls think matters, also matters to the company. What a company can convince young girls to think matters thus can be highly profitable.
This isn’t just the fashion industry; it is makeup, literature, food, housing, and event planning. College, even, is at the whim of 16 to 22-year-old women. They often want to make themselves appealing to the tastes of those girls.
Companies like H&M, Forever 21, and Aeropostale are not exclusively marketed to women, but their ad campaigns feature mostly women and are placed in areas where there are also mostly women. Female consumers also supply most of their money. Those three companies spend, in total, close to 200 million dollars on American advertising alone.
A Profitable Demographic
In fact, there exist very few clothing companies that are exclusive to men. Men’s Wearhouse and other specific suits and formal attire shops exist, but fast fashion thrives in the world of women. Charlotte Russe, Chanel, ModCloth, and Lulu Lemon are just a few of the many companies that sell exclusively women’s clothing. You would think that only serving 50% (in reality, much less than 50%) of the population would be a poor business choice, but evidently not. Charlotte Russe is a fast fashion retailer which, because they market heavily to young women, is worth (as a still small company) almost 400 million dollars.
This is because that small portion of the population buying these products spends disproportionally more than everyone else. It accounts for the instinctive assumption that it would be best to not have a niche, but to appeal to the widest demographic. This may work (marginally) for the very richest corporations like Amazon or Walmart, but for businesses outside that range, it’s far more profitable to wring as much money out of as specific and narrow of demographics as they can.
But along with all this profitability, the way companies are able to influence and be influenced by young girls does raise a number of ethical questions. Firstly, should young girls– or rather the parents of these young girls– be spending so much on objectively frivolous things? Of the issues with the babysitting economy, this is very small potatoes.
One, parents can allow their children to buy whatever they see as appropriate, provided it isn’t immoral. And, unless we rely on the morality of puritan colonial America, makeup and glittery clothes are hardly immoral. Two, the frivolity of things like makeup, non-utilitarian clothing, and jewelry does not also make it inherently shallow. It can serve the purpose of expression, cultural communication, or other various social utilities.
Separate from that though, there are two main questions of far more weight that this fact of the babysitting economy brings up. Is it right that multinational corporations play into the whims of hormonal and undeveloped teenagers? Further, is it right that these multinational corporations have significant control over the minds and money of young girls? Contrary to what some think, this interaction between company and consumer is not a one-way street. It’s not just teenagers running wild with culture and it’s not just CEOs corrupting the youth. They influence each other in almost equal ways. Most of the time, it’s difficult to tell who is influencing who.
Targeting Teenage Girls
However, distinguishing the innocent tastes of teenagers from money-hungry and calculated corporate actions is never impossible. Teen Vogue is quite a good example of both of these things in varying circumstances. The magazine, targeted at– quite obviously– teenage girls, knows its audience well. They know the music, movies, fashion, and politics their audience responds to well. What they also know is how to manipulate their audience of already impressionable and inexperienced young women. This can be as harmless as encouraging safe sex, and as aggressive as promoting Karl Marx as a fantastic political figure.
These promotions can be deeply covered, or surface level, depending on the issue. The Marx article, for instance, was a very shallow glimpse into not communism (applied Marxism), but socialism. It also failed to cover Hegel, who formed the basis of Marxism. It was a light and fluffy dip into not Marx, but the history and (somewhat) influence of Marx, which speaks to a desire not to inform but to influence. The sex-ed articles, on the other hand, are far more in-depth and speak to genuine care about the public’s well-being. This is perhaps because there are things to know, best practices and worst practices, dos and do-nots regarding sex and sexual health.
This stands while subjects like economics and philosophy (and likewise, Marxism) mostly come down to personal taste. A person cannot comment on Marxism without some sort of bias in the same way they can describe the correct way to put on a condom or the correct way to get birth control without bias.
Results of corporations pandering and manipulating of young girls spans beyond sex-ed and political philosophy. It reaches into things as serious as medication, surgical procedures, and food choice. If a pharmaceutical company (selling vitamins, birth control, etc.) can appeal to the trends of the babysitting workforce, they are far more likely to sell their products to the most profitable demographic on the planet. This is regardless of whether or not their product is safe or effective.
The phenomena of young women being swindled into buying dangerous or useless products due to marketing is not a new one. It’s happened for decades with products like cigarettes and alcohol. (For these substances, marketing targets the general youth, not just teenage girls.
This type of practice is exploitative and cruel. It doesn’t matter that it helps the economy; it’s still a moral blight on the Western market. The economy does not just exist to serve the GDP of any one nation, but to serve the freedom of humanity.
Markets, however, do not only manipulate young girls, but they also pander to young girls as well. This sounds benign, as it is just marketing, but it has real-world effects that impact not just the girls, but the general public too. It has the result of letting girls nine to twenty-five years old have free reign of pop-culture. It follows that, by no fault of their own, that they think they should expect to be pandered to in every area of life. This is dangerous, both for the girls and for the people they expect to pander.
For the girls, the way companies pander to them sets them up with unrealistic expectations. Those that the corporations create differ in one key way from those the media creates. We are all aware that movies, music videos, and TV are fiction, but ads– especially ads that are not clearly ads, seem far more like real life. Of course, this isn’t in the literal sense, but the essence of the ad (the thing the company wants you to believe at its core) absolutely has to be believed in order for the company to make a profit. The company is selling a product than it is an idea, and not enough people– especially teenagers– know this about advertising.
Secondarily, it impacts the public in a wider, although markedly less tragic way. General people, people who are not teenage girls, people who don’t engage in marketing, are led to believe that they should also be pandering to the whims of these babysitters. From colleges to politicians, teenage girls have become not just a literal, capital cash cow, but a reputational cash cow. Institutions which shouldn’t be pandering in the first place are pandering to, of all people, teenagers. This is not only because of the buying power now inherent in the teenage girl, but because of their potential as the future providers of even more babysitting money.
It’s unfair and immoral to let any of this go on, to let our young women be manipulated by corporations that only want to use them. To let these companies distort the perceptions of millions of people is dangerous. It’s ethically appalling to let corporations with heavy political agendas impact kids as easily as they do. Teen girls are profitable, malleable, and influential. They are too valuable a resource for good to let corporations cheapen or gnarl.
How Can We Solve This?
The state is not a solution to this problem. It isn’t up to any governing body to oversee the amount sixteen-year-olds spend on clothes, nor is it for them to regulate the amount of money corporations can spend on youth-centered marketing. Rather, we must solve it from the ground up. These girls, babysitters, the women from ages nine to twenty-five, need someone to tell them that they have worth outside of the false democratic profit that is the companies that abuse them. Of course, these corporations aren’t teaching them that they are valuable regardless of their product. Without that potential hole in their hearts, to these companies, young girls are literally less monetarily valuable.
Big corporations are taking advantage of the babysitting money in our economy. It goes beyond corporate greed and selfishness and spreads to a society-wide distortion of reality, worth, and truth. Teenage girls hold a wild amount of capital and are our nation’s biggest proportional spenders. This doesn’t mean they deserve any more or less consideration in our social fabric than anyone else. Instead, it means we must realize and account for the reasons for their spending habits. Thus, making sure they are in the hands of people who genuinely care about them is a necessity for maintaining a society where all people hold their ethics and truths intact.
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