When Exploited Puppies Are More Outrageous Than Exploited Women

It is not that I do not care about the humane treatment of puppies and all animals, because certainly I do. It is just that as I sit here and type, as a human woman, my breath catches a bit over what our society deems acceptable and that there are things found to be more unacceptable than the exploitation of women.

This week we can use the example of GoDaddy and their predictable Super Bowl advertising shenanigans. The company has been spending many millions since 2005 when it aired its first ad on the big game day to promote their web hosting services. In the decade following we’ve seen one half-minute spot after another using provocatively-dressed women dancing, stripping, and writhing around on cars or old men. Year after year these commercials are the topic of conversation, usually among feminist activists, media literacy folks, and maybe a few angry parents who thought the Super Bowl was supposed to be a family show.

A GoDaddy advertising yearbook.

A GoDaddy advertising yearbook.


For 2015’s Super Bowl ad GoDaddy finally caught on to what the beer companies discovered a while ago: People love animals, especially puppies. GoDaddy has been hyping a commercial starring a Golden Retriever puppy for weeks and when it finally premiered January 27 the internet responded quickly and furiously. With 42,428 signatures at the time of publishing this piece the pro-puppy petition on change.org demanding GoDaddy pull their ad is impressive. Swift consumer outrage aggregated in under 24 hours sends the very clear message they are not buying what they are being sold.

Spokeswoman Danica Patrick plays along with GoDaddy's shenanigans.

Spokeswoman Danica Patrick plays along with GoDaddy’s shenanigans.


And the same day it was released GoDaddy announced it would pull the ad and not air it this Sunday. Of course, you probably guessed correctly that GoDaddy has another thirty second commercial submitted, approved, and ready to go, so it would seem they never intended to air this puppy ad to begin with and instead counted on the free publicity it successfully earned them. The change.org petition was not for nothing, but GoDaddy already had this offensive drive planned out well in advance.

So while we can all agree that puppy mills are terrible, and that GoDaddy would have been so much more clever to use the puppy commercial but instead rewrite the ending to show a couple of kids who run an internet business from their garage shipping pet supplies to families with newly-adopted pups from the Humane Society…….

Can we also agree that the sanctioned sexual exploitation of women that has been habitually approved by both the industry and general public be more outrageous to the public than a puppy being sold online and unsafely transported in a van driven by Danica Patrick?

Because while I love both of the rescue dogs my family owns, I love more the natural born right females hold to be seen as full human beings and something more than sex objects for men.  So it bothers me more than a bit that a fictitious sale of a puppy earns more public outrage than the real, actually-happened sexualization of women for profit.

We’re listening, message received alright.

Beyond the internal effects, sexually objectified women are dehumanized by others and seen as less competent and worthy of empathy by both men and women.  Furthermore, exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths… Theorists have also contributed to understanding the harm of objectification culture by pointing out the difference between sexy and sexual.  If one thinks of the subject/object dichotomy that dominates thinking in Western culture, subjects act and objects are acted upon.  -Source

When we consider that all Super Bowl ads must be submitted and approved by the NFL and the network broadcaster, and that half of the NFL fan base is female, one starts to wonder why it is acceptable to use women’s breasts and commodified sexuality to sell internet domain registrations. Or, anything really.

It has been found acceptable because our society’s majority finds it is acceptable to use sexually desirable women as objects to earn companies money. Sometimes the women are sexually objectified similar to the GoDaddy style and sometimes the woman are actually turned into an object like Fiat has shown us.

During this commercial we see part of a woman's body turned into a billboard.

During this commercial we see part of a woman’s body turned into a billboard.


The vast majority of ads use objectified, sexualized women to sell a product or service. As research has taught us, the first act of violence against a woman is to remove her humanity and turn her into an object. The Super Bowl commercial breaks are like Oscar night for advertisers and this year half-minute spots go for $4.5 million.  Think about that while you watch the NFL’s anti-domestic violence PSA that will air as it tries to clean up its image around how its players, fans, and advertisers respect and value the humanity of women. Let me know if you see any hypocrisy there.

Should the NFL address the very serious issue of domestic violence against women during the Super Bowl? Absolutely, given the press leading up to the event, the enormous national audience for Sunday’s game, and the celebrity power and influence star players hold in society.

Let’s just remember after the game ends, a woman’s dignity, worth, and safety still have value. When we see that compromised, we should muster the outrage we feel over mistreated puppies and demand respect and safety for women, too.


Learn more about the NFL campaign against domestic violence here: NoMore.org

1.800.799.SAFE (7233) is the National Domestic Violence hotline number.

Learn more about safe and responsible pet adoption from the American Humane Association here: Buying vs Adopting

Learn more about how the sexualization of women in media hurts all of us here: Miss Representation   and  Killing Us Softly


Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).




Happy Meals and Unhappy Kids

Last week while eating lunch with my first grade son Benny and his school friends the girl across the table from me was eating a McDonald’s Happy Meal her mom had brought in. She was discussing, at great length, the complexities of receiving “boy or girl toys” because she does not always care for the girl toy and would prefer the boy toy and she wasn’t sure what to do. Her mom said, “Just ask for the toy you want, it doesn’t matter boy or girl.” I gave her mom a wink. But then another adult standing nearby spent the next few minutes trying to convince the little girl that she did indeed like the girl toy, despite the girl putting up a pretty good defense as to why she did not.

I was trying to behave myself so I kept my mouth shut (the child’s mother was right there and it was her place to say something) but I could see the little girl becoming frustrated. I know the girl sitting next to the Happy Meal girl and I could tell she did not agree with what this adult was doing. Benny was on my left and gave me a look that said “Oh hell no” and the boy on my right had just told my son the day before he didn’t want to play on our basketball team if there was a girl for a coach (me) because girls are stupid and dumb. And 1, 2, 3 we see how this starts, the falling into stereotypes coupled with the lack of understanding and respect between the sexes.

By kindergarten most children have learned and adopted cultural gender norms and roles.

By kindergarten most children have learned and adopted cultural gender norms and roles.

I was incredulous as to why the adult, an educator, would not take the girl at her word and instead ask more questions that would allow the girl to reveal the unique and special person she is……as opposed to steering the conversation to make sure the girl remain in her sparkly, pink, stereotyped box.

When the look on the girl’s face switched from frustration to sadness and resignation I could take it no longer and said, for the whole table to hear, “Friend, I think if you are eating a Happy Meal you should be free to choose whichever toy makes you happy. Boy or girl toys, that doesn’t even mean anything. You can like what you like and toys are for everyone.”

Benny gave me an approving nod and smiled at his friend. His friend, eyes shining brightly once again said, “Yeah! Toys are for everyone but NOT FOR FISH!”

And once again my fine friends, we have empirical evidence as to why the world should be left to the charge of six year olds.



Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

Artistic Expression Does Not Pedophilia Make

The new video by musical artist Sia, director Daniel Askill and choreographer Ryan Heffington for Sia’s emotional song “Elastic Heart” starring actor Shia LaBeouf and child dance star Maddie Ziegler has been called a “poetic cage battle” the singer sets up as “two warring ‘sia’ self states”. And it has people stirred up and shouting accusations of pedophilia. It may be the age and gender difference. It may be the nude bodysuits meant to showcase the choreography without distraction. It may be that people are so unfamiliar to the type of deep art Sia creates and with viewing raw, poetic, primal dance that they do not recognize art when they see it.

In the heat of the "Elastic Heart" cage battle.

In the heat of the “Elastic Heart” cage battle.


But to call it pedophilia.

I am not comfortable with this.

It is critically important that we act as a village around our children and as a society condemn pedophilia and other child-focused sexual predilections and regard them as taboo.   (cc: toy companies and tween clothing brands who make millions off of corporate pedophilia with hyper-sexualized apparel and products as you groom children into becoming cradle-to-grave consumers)

It is equally critical we allow girls to have relationships with people outside of sexual categorizations: Pedophilia – Lolita – Slut. Or the seemingly less dangerous: Little Girlfriend – Future Heart breaker – Playground Crush – Future Wife – Future Stripper.  When we sexualize the motives, relationships, and bodies of girls as they move through life we cut short their ability to experience the full scope of human interaction.

Girls are not sexual objects. A girl’s identity does not come from nor should it be framed by her status to a male in an actual or more often times perceived sexual relationship.

Similarly, when we label every interaction between a grown man and a girl child with a knee jerk “pedophilia” cry, we criminalize men on the sole nature of their biological sex. This not only creates a false and unnecessary air of suspicion around men who harbor no ill intent toward our children, it robs girls of half the population that could have been a teacher, mentor, loving family member, coach, or fellow artist to her.

This I identified with immediately: that sense of wonder, tenderness, abject fear, and bewilderment you feel when your loved one afflicted with mental illness is asleep before you.

This I identified with immediately: that sense of wonder, tenderness, abject fear, and bewilderment you feel when your loved one afflicted with mental illness is asleep before you.

We must understand what pedophilia truly is, what it looks like, and what it isn’t. When we cry wolf with ‘pedophilia’ too easily we undermine efforts to stop true child exploitation and abuse. This isn’t that.

This performance is not pedophilia. This dance is not sexual. The human form is not always sexual. Nudity is not always sexual. Rather, nude body suits meant specifically to create a blank canvas for the dance to play out instead of highlight the dancers are not sexual (in this context). Interactions between a male and female are not always sexual. A girl moving her body is not always for the sake of sexual titillation.

A girl has the right to take up space with her body. Move her body. Express raw emotion with her body. Create art with her body.

People do not have the right to always sexualize that. Any of that.

Pedophilia – I don’t think that word means what people think it means. By definition is a psychiatric disorder in which a post-pubescent teen over the age of 16 or adult has a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children, usually under the age of 11 years old but as old as 13 years old. More common in men than women, it affects less than 5% of the population. Pedophilia can have comorbidity with other psychopathologies and does not always lead to child molestation.

Or music videos.

Sia’s issues the following statement: “I anticipated some ‘pedophelia!!!’ Cries for this video. All I can say is Maddie and Shia are two of the only actors I felt could play these two warring ‘sia’ self states. I apologize to those who feel triggered by ?#?ElasticHeart.? My intention was to create some emotional content, not to upset anybody.”

Sia’s statement helps us to understand the two dancers represent the two battling sides of herself, possibly referring to mental illness. We see a precursor to this in the “Chandelier” video, in which Maddie Ziegler gives an equally haunting and gorgeous performance. “Elastic Heart” is a continuation of that battle. It is the self fighting against self. It has also been interpreted as a sibling or parent/child relationship. As someone who parents a child with anxiety, I immediately recognized and identified with the struggle, heart ache, exhaustion, fear, and unconditional love Shia LaBeouf portrays in such a soulful way toward the girl, in all her many emotional states. Maddie Ziegler is….beyond. Clearly she is a gifted child whose talent in dance and depth of emotion extends far, far past her twelve years of age. During a conversation with friends, several who deal with mental illness said they immediately connected with Maddie’s portion of this story.

And that is all we have here, folks. A story crafted by a group of artists. It was suggested in conversation to me that the sex of either performer could be changed but the dance kept the same and the story would endure.

The sexualization of girls is a significant and massive continuum we need to continue to talk about and stand up to. Part of that fight is making sure that anytime a girl takes up space with her body she is not stigmatized into a premature and erroneous sex object paradigm.

A moment where unconditional love and a tearing of the selves takes place.

A moment where unconditional love and a tearing of the selves takes place.

“Elastic Heart”

And another one bites the dust
Oh why can I not conquer love?
And I might have thought that we were one
Wanted to fight this war without weapons

And I wanted it, I wanted it bad
But there were so many red flags
Now another one bites the dust
Yeah, let’s be clear, I’ll trust no one

You did not break me
I’m still fighting for peace

Well, I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart,
But your blade it might be too sharp
I’m like a rubber band until you pull too hard,
I may snap and I move fast
But you won’t see me fall apart
‘Cause I’ve got an elastic heart

I’ve got an elastic heart
Yeah, I’ve got an elastic heart

And I will stay up through the night
Let’s be clear, won’t close my eyes
And I know that I can survive
I’ll walk through fire to save my life

And I want it, I want my life so bad
I’m doing everything I can
Then another one bites the dust
It’s hard to lose a chosen one

You did not break me
I’m still fighting for peace

Well, I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart,
But your blade it might be too sharp
I’m like a rubber band until you pull too hard,
I may snap and I move fast
But you won’t see me fall apart
‘Cause I’ve got an elastic heart

I’ve got an elastic heart

Thank you MaryEllen, Pearl, Debra, Imelda, Courtney, Gabrielle, Erika, Brystan, Leland, Emily, Laura, Miranda, Casey, Kerry, Christine, Jess, Tyler, Bil, Christina, Mike, Hayley, Brandi, Karen and Mary for the thoughtful discussion today.

Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com. Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: http://pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

Why “Slap Her” Video by Fanpage.it and Ciaopeople Media Group is Important

If something begins, reignites, or furthers a conversation does it have merit?

Still shot from  Italian video journalist Luca Lavarone's "From a slap" PSA video.

Still shot from Italian video journalist Luca Lavarone’s “From a slap” PSA video.

The million of views of “Dalle uno schiaffo” or “From a Slap” in the days following its release ought to count for something. If nothing else, perhaps it is a demonstration of the yearning people around the world share for truly meaningful messages about domestic violence and the value women and girls ought to hold in society.

"Martina" of the "From a slap" video by Fanpage.it.

“Martina” of the “From a slap” video by Fanpage.it.

In the short video we see six young boys introduce themselves, state their age, say what they want to be when they grow up and why they want to do these careers. A few moments later a girl named “Martina” enters the frame, but we aren’t given any facts about “Martina” that humanize her to the boys or to the viewer. She never speaks, except once to say “Grazie” when one of the boys tells her she is a ‘very pretty girl.’ Her sole purpose is to be a pretty object placed before the boys in this “social experiment” from Ciaopeople Media Group that runs Fanpage.it, an online newspaper that had Italian video journalist Luca Lavarone produce the video to raise awareness toward the epidemic violence Italian women face in intimate relationships.



With startling article titles like “Watch a Grown Man Ask a Little Boy to Hit a Girl” (TIME) the video continues to circle the Internet. It is being called a “heartwarming tearjerker” and a “remarkable PSA” . Not only does AdWeek think the video is remarkable, writer Roo Ciambriello says the video “contains a powerful, effective message addressing a serious problem.”

Except that it doesn’t, as the main messages it contains oversimplify the complex issue of domestic violence. But maybe that is expecting too much from a video whose sole purpose was to highlight an issue, not solve it. “From a slap” is the perfect kind of viral video ad agencies create and stage to earn those coveted clicks and press mentions ahead of the creative award season, all the while knowing the vast majority of the public isn’t going to and doesn’t want to think too deeply about any one issue (outside of bacon and kittens). Much of the messaging in “From a slap” is completely contrary to what most violence prevention programs teach. It ignores consent, white washes Italian domestic violence and trivializes a desperately serious issue not only for the girls and women of Italy, but for female around the globe.

We need to be critical of and think critically on several facts here:

1. For the purposes of this video “Martina” is an object, not a person. That is a problem. The first step in violence towards a person is to remove their humanity (Jean Kilbourne).

2. The boys never ask for “Martina’s” consent to touch her.

3. “Martina” fits the Beauty Myth, and while non-beautiful girls are no less likely to be a victim of domestic violence than beautiful girls, the boys instantly give the attractive “Martina” a higher social rank than they would a girl who is less physically beautiful. To the boys, her beauty gives her value. The message should be that “Martina” being a human is what gives her value.

4. The boys have just met this girl on the street, yet domestic violence takes place between intimate partners and usually in the privacy of the home. It is different to ask a boy to slap a girl he just met who has not “wronged” him than it is to ask a boy to slap a girl he is already frustrated with, intimidated by, or angry at.

5. There is no information at the end of the video for Italian domestic violence shelters, help lines, anti-violence programs or educational resources. (There are resources at the end of this blog post.)

6. Research tells us that domestic violence is cyclical and the more violence a boy grows up with, the more likely it is he grows up to be violent in his own relationships. But we never see the parents’ reactions to the boys or “Martina” and we never hear them explain why their boys have been taught to not hit girls. It would have been particularly moving to hear the fathers explain why their sons have been taught this message.

7. The voice behind the camera sexualizes both the boy(s) and girl in the final frame when we read his command “Kiss her!” Our gallant little knight who had just refused to hit the girl does not turn to the girl to ask her consent to a kiss…..instead the boy keeps his impish gaze on the owner of the male voice and without him even thinking if he should ask the girl, the boy ask the man, “Can I kiss her on the mouth or the cheek?” Fade to black. And thud. The final frame of this video undoes the previous three and a half minutes as we go from the warm fuzzies we were feeling over these six adorable boys who tell the cameramen “No, I will not hit a girl, not even with a flower” to what should be a gut-churning “boys will be boys” response to a “remarkable PSA” ending with the very problematic consent issue of touching a girl in a sexual manner without her consent. Because she wants it. She was asking for it. I want it, I don’t need her permission. Riesci a crederci! Incredibile!

But Luca Lavarone wasn’t making a documentary on Italian domestic violence or how to teach consent to kids. He conducted and made public a social experiment meant to get people talking. He succeeded, and for that reason alone his efforts should be praised even with the video’s imperfections taken into consideration.

Remember – domestic violence festers in silence, shame, and obscurity. Lavarone has the world talking – THIS is important. Domestic violence takes place (almost always) behind closed doors and comes with social stigma and blame attached for the victim. For families and women with domestic violence in their past and present, you know exactly what this looks and feels like. While many American journalists and bloggers have been hypercritical of the video, I’d like to hear the voices of Italian women, specifically those who help the abused and those who have been abused. I’m willing to bet they and the families who survive the women murdered by their partners appreciate the conversation taking place around these dangerous situations.

So let’s keep talking.

And let’s consider……

Maybe “Martina” not having a back story could have been intentional because “Martina” isn’t any specific girl, she is there to represent “all girls“. “Martina” is “every girl” and serves as the potential victim despite being found beautiful and lovely by the boys, a position far too many women will find hauntingly familiar. Domestic violence victims are adored and loved, at first. Likewise these boys aren’t really specific boys, they are meant to represent a cross section of “all men” who could be prone to perpetrate – and perpetuate – domestic violence. A fire fighter, a police man, a pizza maker, a baker.

Let’s also note, none of the boys said “When I grow up, I want to be an abuser of women”. That’s ridiculous, right? No, it isn’t. Most boys don’t want to grow up to hurt the people they love but somewhere along the way they see might see violence set as the example set at home, they see it in the media coupled with the persistent objectification of women, they grow to understand violence and brute physical strength are tied to the cultural definition of masculinity, they see peers be abusive to girlfriends and are not taught to stand up to it, and so on. But no little boy says, “When I am a man I want to beat my wife until she is bloody, broken, and dead.”

While domestic violence doesn’t usually take place on the street and by definition wouldn’t take place between strangers, the request for the boys to caress “Martina’s” cheek then quickly followed by the order “Slap her!”/”Slap her hard!” has people upset, and rightly so. Again, important to note that while this video is likely staged, not a single boy asked for the girl’s permission to touch her face for the caress nor did the girl assert her personal boundaries. Consent is such an important concept to teach our boys and girls, and the video did not show this – but maybe that is part of Lavarone’s point. Perhaps Luca Lavarone wanted that to be part of the conversation he ignited. After all, we need to remember that we don’t know Lavarone’s personal history with domestic violence in a country where 30% of women experience it and thousands lose their lives to it.

And it is the caress/slap request that has me believing we are really losing something in translation as different cultures have different practices when it comes to physical contact. Part of me thinks for us non-Italians, we are missing or misunderstanding an Italian cultural reference to the caress/slap moment. I believe the intended message with the caress/slap was: A person uses their open hand for a caress just like you do an open palm or back-handed slap across the face or upside the head. What you do with that hand can be loving or hurtful. These actions are very different and yet similar. A boy who gives a caress could just as likely deliver a slap. Unless he is taught not to.

Another impression I had was that I felt a sense of trust between “Martina” and the cameraman/voice behind the camera. She made eye contact with that person when she was amused or surprised, like they were sharing a joke at the boys’ expense. There was an air of familiarity between the girl and whoever is behind the camera and it seemed she knew what to expect, what the boys would be asked. She stood in place calmly and confidently. And when the voice commanded “Slap her!”/”Slap her hard!” the expressions “Martina” made were very telling, but she never broke her gaze from the boys as they made their decisions whether or not to slap her. In fact, when you watch the video again pay very close attention to her face in those moments. You see her connect with the emotional struggle she witnesses within each boy – do I listen to the grown up or do I refuse and do what I know to be right? In those moments, we see our humanity. It is actually quite beautiful and reveals that as children we are very adept at loving ourselves and each other.

And the boys (possibly scripted to) refuse! Each boy has a different reaction and reason as one by one they all refuse. Important to note, we never hear “Martina’s” reaction to the commands “Slap her!” and “Slap her hard!” I’m hoping she would have said something like, “Oh HELL no. NO ONE uses violence to control me!” because her parents taught her that message just as they teach their little Italian boys to “not hit girls”. I’m also hoping the parents of Italy teach their girls not to hit the boys they love, as domestic violence is a lopsided but two-way street.

When told to slap the girl the reactions of the two littlest boys (ages seven and eight) reveal why this video is important. Even if these were a child actors and even if the video is by and large staged, the emotion behind their soulful eyes is real and anyone familiar with children can read what each is thinking: The littlest one smiles and shifts his weight in an uncomfortable moment of disbelief because he knows what the grown up is ordering him to do is wrong. He tucks his chin and turns his head slightly to the side as he thinks, “Nooooo, what you are telling me to do is wrong. I am not going to listen, even if you think I’m naughty for not listening.” After all, we teach our kids to listen to and trust adults, right? The other boy’s lips part as his mouth opens in shock and his eyes glisten with emotion. THAT is important because until we teach our boys via culture and/or personal experience to control and intimidate females via domestic violence, they know it to be wrong. We see they are surprised and shocked by it.

Perhaps we are left to question ourselves how it is we desensitize them to it?

While their initial “No’s” were softly spoken, with clarity each boy states why he will not hit the girl standing before him. The implied message is these young boys have been raised right, to know that men do not hit women and that somewhere there is an adult teaching him that. I think THAT is an important message here — children need to be taught domestic violence (all violence, yes?) is wrong and that violence is least acceptable in our intimate relationships. For my American friends, I’m assuming most of us have no idea how Italian society and families approach this and perhaps teaching boys not to be violent to girls (or anyone) is a new concept to Italians to address while raising families. We need to remember, Italians were the intended target audience for this video.

The emotional scenes finish with a stark black and white screen that reads ‘In the kids’ world, women don’t get hit.’ And anyone familiar with domestic violence knows it is anything but black and white. It is not a simple mess people find themselves in and it is not a simple mess to clean up. The UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said after a visit to Italy in 2012 that there was an “urgent need” to tackle the issue of domestic violence in Italian society. Manjoo reported, “Most manifestations of violence are under-reported in the context of a family-oriented and patriarchal society where domestic violence is not always perceived as a crime, there is economic dependency, and there are perceptions that the state response to such complaints will not be appropriate or helpful.”

Couple that with the excellent point made by Mic’s Elizabeth Plank about the white washing of domestic violence in the video, “But it’s immigrant and undocumented women who are especially vulnerable in Italy, and they won’t be safe until they are part of the national conversation about the issue. No one is protected from domestic violence, but to erase the experiences of those who are most at risk can be damaging for the cause.”

So, what’s the verdict on the video everyone is talking about this week? Problematic? Yes. Most definitely yes. But should this video be condemned with the vitriol it is getting from some? I don’t disagree with the critical conversation around this video, but we need to take a deep breath and a step back see it for what it is: a marketing gimmick that is misinformed and only touches the tip of the iceberg that is the very important epidemic of gendered violence in Italy. And what do we know about icebergs? The most dangerous portions are under the water, where people aren’t looking.

This week, the world is looking under the waters. THAT MATTERS.

We should not turn to advertising agencies and video journalists to solve deeply troubling societal ills. We should count on them to contribute to and disseminate the conversation. Perhaps the whole point of this video, and why it IS SO IMPORTANT and should not be ignored, it that is has all of us now pulled into the conversation. Well done, Luca Lavarone.

Now it is our turn to do the meaningful work. Be not silent.


For information on domestic violence and how to get help for a domestic violence situation in Italy:

Italy’s National Women’s Helpline ‘Antiviolenza Donna’: Call (1522)   Help is free of charge and available 24/7

Italy’s National Association DiRe “Women in Network Against Violence”

Italy’s D.i.Re Cerca Il Antiviolenza Piu Vincino A Te (map of centers throughout Italy)

Information on violence against women in Italy from WAVE – Women Against Violence in Europe

The Pixel Project: Abusive Relationships and the Escape Checklist

Domestic Violence / Incest / Rape Help and Intervention for Women in Countries Around the Globe from Pixel Project

Helplines for the 28 EU Countries from WAVE

United States National Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) Help is free of charge and available 24/7



Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com. Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: http://pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

Men and Women in Media: A Big Difference

“When we first started, I thought this isn’t going to be as biased as we think….but when you look at the wall, the two sides are utterly different. The men are nearly all active, doing things. Not posed….the women are all passive. It’s all about how [the women] look.
When I look at the men’s side, I see real life. But when I look at the women’s side, it doesn’t seem real. It’s all manufactured.”

This video is for a petition calling to end an exploitative page in a popular British paper, but the message in the video applies to us all. Women are used as ornaments instead of being shown as instruments. Men are active, display a range of emotion, and are clothed power holders and power brokers. Women are nearly naked and either smiling or pouting.

These images are not unique to tabloids, we see similar in all forms of media and advertising. When we are exposed to this message over and over and over and over again, it becomes harder and harder to ignore or fight back against.

Now imagine you’re a child.

"The Experiment" wall created by the No More Page 3 Team.

“The Experiment” wall created by the No More Page 3 Team.

Watch the full five and a half minute video below:

(Thanks We Are More blog for the link!)



Proudly Reflecting On All I Didn’t Get Done in 2014 While Filling Jars

At some point mid-morning today I realized it was New Year’s Eve and that maybe I should be doing the “Year In Review” fabulous list thing other bloggers, non-profits, and activist orgs planned and scheduled weeks ago. But I just didn’t do that. Mostly because in the time it took me to type that first sentence, my son interrupted me. Twice. That’s how it goes here, as I try to work from home with two kids and no child care when they are not in school. It is a blend of part circus, part CIA mind experiment on sanity.

I discovered a To Do list on my desk today dated June 23rd, and I can remember rewriting that list thinking (hoping) I’d have it all done by *Child interrupts again.* the end of August. Clearly, I thought wrong. My family and small children just demanded so much of my time this year. I just didn’t get a lot done in 2014.

Well, I published a book that Publishers Weekly named on of the Top 100 Books of 2014 — pretty much blowing my mind. I*Child interrupts again.* I did some press for that book, like when my friend and colleague Dr. Jennifer Hartstein and I were on the TODAY Show – definitely a highlight of my year. I had another successful year in business running the PPBB shop, I helped colleagues with projects, I gave some speeches, flew to and from LA and NYC for consulting clients, and gave a gazillion media interviews. *Child interrupts again.* I contributed to several of my colleagues books, walked away from projects I no longer felt comfortable working on, did some *Child interrupts again.* I did some important work with some major brands that create media for children, and I *Child interrupts again.* Sigh.

*Child interrupts again.* I was go *Child interrupts again.* I was going through my email inbox today, trying to clear out the 415 emails that sat in there when I started opening email after email from parents, writing me: nice notes about my book and my work for gender equality in childhood, sharing cute photos of their adorable kid wearing their PPBB t-shirt, and writing in asking for advice on some issue or other involving their child and media. I feel rotten I only had time to respond to a few of these messages, often weeks later. I do suppose that is my one regret for the year. In addition to my overflowing email inbox, I have 901 messages waiting for me on facebook and *Child interrupts again.* by the grace of goddess there is no count to the num *Child interrupts again.*  to the number of comments/questions posted to the PPBB facebook page I was never able to respond to.

Hang on, I’m going to give this interrupting child a calculator to play with and a lolllipop to share with the dog. Don’t judge me.

I generally read everything sent my way, but I just do not have the time to respond to the volume of communications coming in. I love helping parents and families, but the number of messages and requests for my time and help overwhelms me. (In 2015 I’ll be shifting my business and attention quite a bit to better accommodate the amount of time I need to spend helping families. I think we’re all going to be much happier as this rolls out. More on that later!)

But I didn’t write as many blogs as I had hoped. I have a couple dozen started but never finished for lack of time. I never launched the blog book tour I had wanted and I never wrote nor had published Op-Eds I had hoped to get into the major papers. I actually came close to getting one in the NYT but in the last round of consideration they declined, which was thrilling to know that something I wrote was considered by editors at the New York Times. It was the most exciting “No” I’ve ever gotten. I never scheduled the photo shoot I needed to do for the retail side of my business. I’m still trying to get the new website and online shop done. In fact, I spent most of this year feeling completely overwhelmed and out of control.

I did manage to keep food in the house, and even made a few homemade dinners and baked some muffins and cookies. Together my husband and I got laundry washed and I even put away laundry a few times. Once in May all seven laundry baskets were empty and I was so giddy I stretched them out across my family room floor and posted the photo on facebook. We made it to a few doctor appointments on time. I was able to plan nice birthday parties for my kids, celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary with my husband and renew our vows in a ceremony at the beach, and we took two weeks in July to spend time with my brothers and their families who had just returned from Costa Rica and Madagascar. The winter holidays arrived along with the retail holiday season that went by in a sleep-deprived blur……and now it is the evening of New Year’s Eve.

For all the things I didn’t get done this year for work, I harbor zero regret. It is not that I lack ambition or drive or momentum. I lack more than 24 hours in a day and I have two little people counting on me to be “Mom”.  My daughter also battled anxiety that had left her debilitated, her and I in tears most days. Our family was in a tailspin until July when she began medication and we got most of our life back to normal. I had a year of work to catch up on and a book launch ruined, but I had a daughter who was getting healthy and thriving again.

And I’m guessing all of this isn’t too far off for most parents reading this right now. Our individual circumstances are probably a bit different, but we’re more the same than not. We’re all busy, we all have demands on our time, we all feel like we don’t spend enough time with our kids, many of us have kids with special needs or difficult family circumstances, and I’m willing to bet a lot of us feel like we could have worked harder/made more money/accomplished more professionally.

So for all I didn’t get done, here’s what I did do: I help my family fill this jar.

In this jar is everything I didn’t do for work replaced by something far more meaningful. In this jar sits another year of experiences shared as a family, an empire of memories that span across my children’s childhood.

Decades from now literally no one will remember whether or not I had an Op-Ed published in the NYT or a best-selling book or that my hair looked really amazing on the TODAY Show. No one will care about viral blog posts and a Facebook status that was shared a many hundreds times. That is all the fool’s gold we gather and spend minute by minute that really holds little meaning as we look across the span of our life.

This jar is full of notes that commemorate lost teeth, a trip to the State Fair, late night ice cream runs in our pajamas, catching lightning bugs and having bonfires, hikes in the woods, camping in the back yard, roads trips, lakes kayaked, eagle nests watched, stomping in the creek, ticket stubs, water park wrist bracelets, good days at school, trips to the museum in Chicago on the train, new kittens, fun with friends, and the big events and little events and forgettable events were it not for time taken to give all of this meaning.

THIS is the good stuff. This is the time investment that will be remembered when I am old and gray. And even when I am long gone, because no one forgets the childhood their parents helped them create.

It will all be remembered because it was joy that was shared. Even the low moments and bad days will be remembered, as my kids will recall their parents were there for them and loved them unconditionally.

So for everything I didn’t do, I did help to fill this jar. And I couldn’t be more proud.

I hope your 2014 was this good, and your 2015 even better. Don’t lose sight of what is important, of who really matters, and of how precious our time really is. Most of all, I hope your 2015 is full of meaningful days and wonderful memories made.

Our 2014 Happy Notes Jar.

Our 2014 Happy Notes Jar.

Gender Inclusive Photos for Youth Programming: Appearances Matter

I received an email from the director of a youth programs center asking to use photos of my children playing sports in their marketing materials. I declined for numerous reasons, the main one being that I am unfamiliar with their program and only endorse products/media I have closely vetted.

That said, I decided to take the opportunity to offer some unsolicited advice:

I would like to offer a bit of advice from a media literacy/marketing perspective — your link as it is now shows girls doing ballet and boys engaged in chess, science, and reading. That would not go over well with my community of 20,000+ parents who are very vocal in their desire for a gender equal childhood for their (all) children. One place I use for awesome stock photos is yadda yadda yadda….. Each image is a dollar and has a standard license for royalty free use. When I typed in “kids playing chess” I found several images that showed a boy and girl playing chess together. Same if I do “boy and girl ballet”. By making each of your course offerings very clearly open to both boys and girls you instantly double your market. While many parents are actively fighting the gender stereotypes presented to children, others may still be thinking and operating in a very binary system and would never have considered chess for their daughter had the suggestion not been inconspicuously put there by the photo. That’s how marketing works, right? Suggest to the consumer they need/want what they didn’t know they needed/wanted. 

The push for girls and STEM is huge among parents right now, and ballet training can be incredibly beneficial to boys who love dance/music/movement, but also for boys who long to be amazing football players (aka Lynn Swann’s amazing sideline foot work).  Kids’ interests in activities are sparked by all kinds of things, and a child looking over a brochure or website might see a boy doing ballet and think, “Hey that looks awesome, I want to try that!” Kids also love having a friend in the class, so now you have two enrollment spots filled by two boys doing ballet or a brother/sister combo signed up for chess. It just seems like good business to widen the market for potential clients, especially as so many community programs (summer programs in particular) are overly and unnecessarily gendered. Your course descriptions are wonderfully non-gendered and I’d love to see photos that mirror that kind of gender inclusiveness. 

I think you might have a lot of luck using the site I mentioned for images that best represent the quality youth programming your organization seems to offer. 

Thanks much, 


Representations of gender matter, whether it is youth programming brochures and websites to the instructions for board games. What is familiar to us becomes our norm, and when we are speaking of gender this usually means girls and their abilities and contributions are minimized or left out altogether. Even when this is done without intent (as is often the case), the message lingers and still works to shape young minds and reinforce dated stereotypes in older minds.

I’m pleased to report I had an immediate response to my email from the program director that assured he and his staff do give consideration to gender representations in their materials and had had trouble finding better photos that demonstrated this. Hopefully they’ll have better luck with the site I referred them to. The director also said they have an equal number of girls as boys registered for their upcoming chess class – kudos to those parents who don’t limit their daughters to ballet, cheer, and princess camps! Our kids thrive the most when we allow them the space to show us how Full of Awesome they really are, in all of their unique and special ways.

Moral of the story: Use your voice. It is important to call out the folks who are getting it wrong and perpetuating gender stereotypes in childhood. But it is just as important to give praise to the folks who are trying to do better and who are getting it right.

Dance is a beautiful part of being human. Humans are comprised of girls AND boys.

Dance is a beautiful part of being human. Humans are comprised of girls AND boys.


That’s more like. Both girls and boys can be master chess players.

The True Difference Between Raising Boys and Girls

Here’s the true difference between raising boys and girls:

1. While at a crafts & home store —-
To my son: “Hey Benny, here’s some super hero tin signs.”
To my daughter: “I’m sorry babe, they don’t have any girls.”

2. Still at crafts & home store —-
My son: “Mom, they have Star Wars signs here with the good ol’ guys not the new guys!”
My daughter: “If I turn around, am I going to see Leia in that stupid gold bikini??? Because YOU THINK she’d be wearing her white fighting outfit and holding a laser gun. Like the time she rescues Hans Solo and saves the empire?!”

3. While looking at movie posters as we walk into movie theater —
My son: “Mom, will you take our picture in front of the poster?”
My daughter: “There are no girls. There seriously is not one girl on these posters.”

4. After our movie, Night at the Museum 3 —
My son: “Well the part I liked best was when the monkey peed right on the little guys to stop the fire lava!”
My daughter: “Mom, how can they go back in history, literally to the ancient Egyptians and they can’t find one interesting woman to play an action hero in that movie?”
Me: “Yeah, I hear you. They had Sacajawea, though.”
My daughter: “All she did was carry around the monkey and kiss Teddy Roosevelt. She was so unimportant Larry didn’t even say goodbye to her. ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE EGYPTIANS!”
Me: “They could have had Joan of Arc instead of Lancelot, who wasn’t an actual historical person.”
My daughter: “Joan of Freaking Arc.”

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Even if you’re only eight years old…….


What my daughter did see: Sacajawea kneels down to read a horse shoe print off a newspaper, and it is literally the most action she has the entire movie.

Sacajawea, holding a monkey.

Sacajawea, holding a monkey.


What my daughter could have seen: Joan of Freaking Arc in place of Lancelot. A peasant girl turned warrior whose battlefield victories took France back from England. Surely she’d be able to keep up with Larry and the crew.

What my daughter could have seen: Joan of Freaking Arc.  (Image credit: Zahrahka Art)

(Image credit: Zahrahka Art)

To Peshwar, With Love

Sending prayers, light and love to the people of Pakistan today. To the families in our community with ties to Pakistan, we grieve the murder of your children and educators. We hold hope for those trying to heal from injuries and for survivors who try to calm terrified hearts.

Two years ago when our children were murdered at Sandy Hook the image below was one that stood out to me, of children in Pakistan praying and grieving for us. Today it is the world’s turn to shift that love to Peshwar.

Love and prayers the world round.

Love and prayers the world round.

For our community, if you discuss this tragedy with your children remember to do so in an age-appropriate way. Point out the helpers, like strangers who carried injured children in their arms to doctors, a parent whose own child did not exit the school but stood with another student waiting for his family, for nurses at bedsides of injured children holding vigil until mother and father arrived, for residents who flooded blood banks to capacity to donate blood to the wounded. For older children, there are beautiful lessons here about empathy and bravery, for example several of the female teachers who witnesses say were killed while trying to stand up to the attackers in order to protect the lives of their students.

While this may seem a world away, point out to your children the similarities we share in this human experience. BBC, Reuters, and Al Jazeera have some moving photo galleries (non-graphic) that demonstrate how connected rather than different we are, despite the borders, oceans, languages, and religions that separate us.
Hands that come together in prayer, perhaps held in a different way, still seek the same peace ours do. Heads bowed in silence, perhaps searching meaning from a different god, feel the same feelings ours do. Mourning that is perhaps spoken in a different language yet carries no less grief. Tears from mothers and fathers that fall with universal understanding, as violence against children and those who try to protect them is an act found unconscionable the world over.

We are more the same than we are different.

The caption explains it all: Children of sworn enemies pray for each other during this tragedy. We can teach our children to love, or to hate.

The caption explains it all: Children of sworn enemies pray for each other during this tragedy. We can teach our children to love, or to hate.

Birthday Parties Outside of the Gender Box

Birthday parties are one place where gender stereotypes can really sneak up on us, especially considering how much of the paper supplies are themed with commercial characters and then even further gendered. My children always have co-ed birthday gatherings and each year they pick a theme for their party. We’ve had parties at a veterinarian’s office, a school gym, pools and water parks, and our house. The themes they choose range from exterminator, dinosaurs, ancient Egypt, Angry Birds, and Wild Kratts. Our parties are creative with a lot of DIY and done on a small budget – but they are always a blast!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Marketers gender party supplies knowing many folks will buy a boy version and girl version because heaven forbid a boy eat off a cake plate that only has Anna and Elsa on it (with no trace of Olaf, Kristof, or Sven). Let’s just get them a pack of Star Wars for good measure.

Allowing your child to express and explore their interests on the special day we celebrate them is a true gift – it says to them that who they are is important and accepted. So if your son wants a Doc McStuffins or My Little Pony party, or your daughter wants a dinosaur or tool party…..go with it!

Here’s a great example of a mom who decided to follow her daughter’s lead and ended up with a very memorable day for the whole family. Why wouldn’t a six year old girl think a tool/building party to be fantastic?

Pinterest is a great place to find ideas, just don’t let the gender categorization fool you. Pick your theme, buy plates and cups in plain colors, and use decorations and games/activities that support the theme without having to buy pre-fab or commercialized items. You don’t need to create a boy version and girl version for you party – just plan a “kid version” and trust in the abilities of the little people to explore and have fun!

Immy is thrilled with her tool-themed party, image via Clarksburg Mom.

Immy is thrilled with her tool-themed party, image via Clarksburg Mom.