Big Shake Up In the Princess World

Mulan: Hasbro on the left and Mattel on the right.

Mulan: Hasbro on the left and Mattel on the right.

A big shake up in the world of twelve inch princesses – the license for the Disney dolls has shifted from one toy giant to another. What does this mean for the toy industry, but more importantly, what does this mean for your child and the marketing coming our way?

Via Bloomberg, “Hasbro’s researchers talked to thousands of girls at the company’s Pawtucket headquarters, as well as in Hong Kong, London, and Los Angeles, and found that girls thought about princesses in much the same way that boys viewed superheroes. Sometimes they liked a character because of her dress; other times they focused on her abilities, such as archery and sword fighting (Merida, from Brave) or the ability to conjure ice and snow (Elsa). “Sometimes they want a prince, sometimes there is no need for a prince,” says Frascotti. Disney didn’t have to reimagine the princesses, it turned out. Girls had already done it themselves. The dolls had just never been marketed like that.
 
You don’t say.
 
Disney wants more empowered heroines. Can princesses pull that off? Well, Andrea Hopelain is VP for global brand strategy at Hasbro, who now holds the coveted princess doll license, is quoted in the piece saying “We can reintroduce Mulan. We can play up that Tiana is a great cook.”
 
Tiana was a great cook. But in 2016, parents – and their girls – are looking for toy companies to play up that Tiana was a savvy female entrepreneur who went after her dream and became a dedicated business owner. Her business happens to be cooking.
There is a difference, and that difference is a very important one when we’re talking about empowerment and little girls.
 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa 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 connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Toys Ads and Distorted Children’s Play

What do kids learn about gender from watching TV ads?

What do kids learn about gender from watching TV ads?

A group of powerful children’s advocates in the UK, Let Toys Be Toys For Girls and Boys, studied television commercials for toys and found that boys and girls are painted very differently by marketers. While marketing directly to children is questionable to begin with, using marketing gimmicks steeped in sexism is even more so. 

Let Toys Be Toys’ study  revealed how sexism and gender roles are directly marketed to our youngest members of society:

The results should be no surprise to those parents who watch commercial television with their children; a majority of TV adverts show boys and girls playing separately, in very stereotypical ways.

  • Boys were shown as active and aggressive, and the language used in adverts targeted at them emphasises control, power and conflict. Not one advert for baby or fashion dolls included a boy.
  • Girls were generally shown as passive, unless they were dancing. The language used in the ads focuses on fantasy, beauty and relationships. Out of 25 ads for toy vehicles, only one included a girl.

Ads targeted at boys were mainly for toys such as vehicles, action figures, construction sets and toy weapons, while those targeted at girls were predominantly for dolls, glamour and grooming, with an overwhelming emphasis on appearance, performing, nurturing and relationships.

Ads that featured boys and girls together were usually in categories such as action/board games, art/craft materials, interactive toys and soft toys. The action games we watched all had boys and girls playing together, although boys outnumbered girls 3:2, and these ads all had male voiceovers.

Some ads that featured boys and girls together showed them as adversaries, for example the girls screaming and running away from the boy’s Wild Pets remote control spider, or the boy trying to break into a girl’s secret journal.

The full report can be found here, but an easy synopses to use with children to make them better aware of these issues are the word clouds LTBT made from boy and girl commercials:

LTBT Boys Cloud

Let Toys Be Toys boys’ cloud from television commercials, 2015.

LTBT Girls Cloud

Let Toys Be Toys girls’ cloud from television commercials, 2015.

 

The findings are not shocking to anyone aware of the gender stereotypes children face as they try to navigate childhood, but they are important because:

1. We can compare/contrast this with findings from a similar study in 2011 – despite all the advocacy and media attention around this topic, has anything changed? You can also compare/contrast the 2015 word clouds by LTBT to the 2011 word clouds Crystal Smith (author of “Achilles Effect: What Pop Culture Is Teaching Boys About Masculinity”) created from her study:

Achilles Effect word cloud from boys' commercials, 2011.

Achilles Effect word cloud from boys’ commercials, 2011.

AchE Girls

Achilles Effect word cloud from girls’ commercials, 2011.

 
2. The word clouds from both studies serve as an excellent teaching tool to use with kids when practicing media literacy. You can also include music, sounds, tone of voice, and colors used in toy advertisements to break down how toy companies are trying to shape boy consumers and girl consumers. Push the kids to use critical thinking around whether or not those depictions match up to their own play interests and those of children they know.
(Example: My daughter was very upset my son got a remote control car from Santa but she did not, and accused Santa of being sexist. She delighted in borrowing aforementioned remote control car to run over an obstacle course of Peanut gang figures and Princess magna-clip dolls.)
 
3. We are given insight into how marketers and society at large views children. We can take time to contact these offending companies and ask them to do better. We can also take time to contact the companies who are getting it right and make sure we sing their praises to friends, family, and social media circles.
We can then take this information and subvert the messaging within our own families and become better informed consumers. When our children grow up seeing boys and girls as equals and unique individuls, they become better informed people.
 
{Thank you to Let Toys Be Toys – For Girls and Boys and Achilles Effect for all of your hard work!}

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa 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 connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Discover the Unique Girls Explore Dolls

There is no shortage of fashion and princess dolls on the shelves, as most parents these days know. Missing are the dolls that represent women of valor, accomplishment, talent, and grit. I’ve never seen a Mary Cassatt or Bessie Coleman doll next to the hot pink fashionistas. Have you?

www.girls-explore.com

www.girls-explore.com

Last week I welcomed a refreshing change when Girls Explore, a wonderful educational doll company out of New York, sent me two doll sets that provided the “more” so many parents are searching for on behalf of their daughters.

In fact, that is how this small doll company got its start, when creator Randy Allen was sitting around the holiday table with her sisters in 2002 having a discussion about the lack of meaningful, inspiring dolls for girls. Says Allen on the company website, “After several decades in corporate America, including being a computer programmer at IBM, I looked around and noticed how few women sat beside me. From personal experience we knew the difficulty girls have in finding role models and getting good information about careers, often resulting in limited ambitions. Over the next several months that conversation and others led to the concept for Girls Explore.”

Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman arrived in my mailbox and I was really looking forward to opening the packages. I have admired these dolls for a number of years and was excited to see what they looked like in person. I was also interested to see how my almost ten-year-old daughter would react to them.

Girls Explore Harriet Tubman doll.

Girls Explore Harriet Tubman doll.

As if on cue, I heard Amelia (yes, named for Amelia Earhart!) gasp from the kitchen, “Oh snap! She looks JUST like Harriet Tubman!” It would seem a certain someone could not wait one more minute to see what was inside the intriguing black boxes, their fronts decorated with a constellation of photographs of girls sitting in class, coloring, writing, peering through a magnifying glass and experimenting with a gyroscope.

Girls Explore has the motto “Reach for the stars” and their product lives up to it. The licensed and authorized dolls are the exact likeness of the heroine they bring to life during playtime. They are exceptionally well-made with great attention to detail. Everything about these doll sets are perfect and inspiring: the historically accurate costumes, hardbound biographies and activity booklets, and related toy for the child (Harriet Tubman came with a wearable carrying satchel, similar to what she may have used on the Underground Railroad).

I’m looking forward to watching Amelia play with these dolls in the weeks to come and observing what adventures and stories she creates. Considering the template for greatness these influential dolls carry, I think we’re both in a for a treat.

In addition to the doll sets, Girls Explore offers inspirational posters of these heroines and their biographies.

Girls Explore is offering PPBB readers a coupon code for 25% off all doll sets through Christmas, December 25th. The coupon code is PIGTAILPALS. Shop at www.girls-explore.com.

Each doll set comes with a heroine, a biography, and an accompanying child's toy.

Each doll set comes with a heroine, a biography, and an accompanying child’s toy.

 

I received two doll sets from Girls Explore to enable me to write this product review. 

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa 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 connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I received a free Infant Car Seat from Brand X in exchange for writing a review on the blog.

Dad Writes To Fisher-Price To Let Them Know Trains Are For Girls, Too

The White Family, lovers of trains and confident girls.

The White Family, lovers of trains and confident girls.

UPDATE 11-23-15: Fisher-Price response is at end of post.

This week I met Jake White on Twitter, a dad raising two daughters who love trains and engineering toys. He wanted to share his family’s disappointment with the current Fisher-Price holiday catalog from Toys “R” Us that featured only boys playing with Thomas trains.

Really – page after page of boys happily playing with trains. Zero girls.

His main concern was why, in 2015, do toy companies still cling to the belief only boys enjoy playing with trains and building things?

As Jake points out perfectly in his letters, “Girls also love discovering new things, using their imagination, and engaging in problem solving and cooperation. Those are not boy-specific endeavors.”

Below is the letter he sent to Fisher-Price Global Brands Executive Vice President Geoff Walker, published here with Jake’s permission. Jake sent a similar letter to Richard Barry, Toys “R” Us Executive Vice President, Global Chief Merchandising Officer.

November 17, 2015

Geoff Walker
Executive Vice President, Fisher-Price Global Brands

Fisher-Price Brands
636 Girard Avenue
East Aurora, NY 14052

Dear Mr. Walker,

Last week we received a mailer from Toys “R” Us advertising various Thomas & Friends products offered at Toys “R” Us stores.  I have attached copies of a few pages of the mailer.  My wife and I were excited about the mailer. She pointed out a coupon for a free Thomas train.  We were excited because both of our daughters, ages 6 and 3, love Thomas.  Especially our youngest daughter, Arwen.  In fact, she loves Thomas so much, her third birthday party in April sported a Thomas & Friends theme, complete with a Thomas banner, homemade train, Thomas plates and cupcakes, and Thomas favors for her friends.  Our oldest daughter, Abby, also likes Thomas because she is a budding engineer who loves putting together new and unique track formations and learning about how trains work.

My excitement quickly turned to disappointment.  I wanted to turn the mailer over to Arwen, but, as I always do before handing over something to my 3-year-old, I flipped through it first.  What I saw was page after page of pictures of boys playing with Thomas engines and accessories.  In fact, there were seventeen pictures of boys included in the mailer.  I was absolutely shocked that I did not see a single picture of a girl playing with Thomas toys.  Not one.

I simply cannot understand how this could happen.  Surely there must be thousands, perhaps even millions, of young girls who love to play with Thomas & Friends toys.  Why would Toys “R” Us and Fisher-Price fail to make any effort to market these toys to girls?  On the back of the removable “Shopping Guide” the following question is posed – “Why Thomas & Friends?”  The answers are: “Discovery” “Imagination” “Problem Solving” and “Cooperation”.  Surely these are traits and ideas that should be encouraged in children regardless of their sex.  Girls also love discovering new things, using their imagination, and engaging in problem solving and cooperation.  Those are not boy-specific endeavors.

Needless to say, I did not turn the mailer over to my daughter.

I hope that, in the future, you will ensure that these types of products are marketed to all children, regardless of their sex.  Please respect children enough to allow them to make their own choices regarding the toys that they play with.

I attempted to raise this issue with your company through its “Thomas & Friends” Facebook page and Twitter account, but received no response.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Jacob J. White

Arwen at her train-themed birthday party.

Arwen at her train-themed birthday party.

I really appreciate when parents like Jake and his wife Aiyana make the effort to provide diverse play experiences for their children, free of gender expectations and stereotypes. Most of the children our family knows play this way – childhood is more than shades of pink and blue.

I also appreciate when parents take the time to use their voices to create meaningful change for children, especially with toy companies who use outdated and limiting gender messages in their marketing and packaging.

Jake, a union lawyer, and Aiyana, a screenwriter, live in the Los Angeles area with their daughters Abby and Arwen.

 

UPDATE: On November 23 Fisher-Price responded to our post with the following tweets. Their response was encouraging and the PPBB Community is hopeful the Fisher-Price Marketing Team takes to heart the idea that all toys are for all kids.

FP Twt 1

FP Twt 2

FP Twt 3

On November 17 ABC News covered another parent’s similar reaction to the Thomas catalog – read the story here. In ABC’s report mom Rebecca Binder is quoted saying, “Girls love Thomas for the same reason boys do. The story lines are all about friendship and teamwork. I see her building complete worlds around her Thomas toys. I just don’t want Reece to ever think it’s weird that she likes them.”

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa 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 connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

 

 

 

A Little Girl Defines Princesses

This story was sent in by PPBB Mom Katie N:

“She gets it! My seven-year-old daughter overheard me make a hypothesis.

Last night a young friend declared that princesses need rescuing. During my lengthy argume– discussion with him, it became apparent that this was very deeply ingrained. As far as he had been taught, princesses are always needing to be rescued. His dad is very anti-princess. My hypothesis was that his dad didn’t want his sister to be into princesses because he also believes that princesses are weak and always needing rescuing.

My daughter asked me why he believed that. I said he probably believes it because that is what our society teaches. That’s what video games show and what stories often tell.

She got a little riled up: ‘But princesses aren’t like that! Princesses are strong and brave! *throws up bicep curl/victory fist* So are girls. Girls are just like princesses!’

She walked on for a bit, seemingly over her moment of passion. But then she stopped to let me catch up. She told me that tomorrow we should have some girl time to see how strong and brave we are.”

Image via thedeadintern.tumblr.com

Image via thedeadintern.tumblr.com

Further reading: 

Historical warrior princesses vs today’s “princess camps”: A Princess Camp Worthy Of Our Girls

How parents can help redefine what “princess” can mean: Repackaging Princesses  and A Different Narrative

Pointing out how ingrained in culture “princess = girls” is: A Sparkly Mermaid Princess Did Not Remove My Gall Bladder

A book list that helps shift the princess image: The Redefine Princessy Book List

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa 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 connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).