Oh Ferguson…And countless other communities

The news of no indictment in Ferguson arrived just as my family was sitting down to a late dinner on a snowy Wisconsin evening. I’ve spent the past two hours trying to come up with something profound or inspiring or “right” to say, because saying nothing doesn’t feel right either.

At one point I even sat down to type out my thoughts but deleted it, every word felt inadequate. I kept picturing Michael Brown’s parents. Usually so good with words, I was empty tonight. So very sad, angry, and empty.

But there were plates to clear and a sink to fill with suds and rooms to straighten and kids to round up, brush and put to bed. Many times as a parent you don’t get to feel your feels when you are having them, as the business of children demands everything else of you.

It was as I put my son to bed that I understood what needed to be said. I looked at my beautiful son as he lay snuggled under his blankets, my hand pressed between his two small hands. He is six, He is white, He is still at an age of innocence. He is still mine to mold and shape before more of the outside world comes in to influence.

So I pictured Michael Brown’s parents as I kissed my little white boy’s hands and made a promise to continue to teach him to use those hands for good. And I pictured Michael Brown’s parents as I kissed my little white boy’s forehead and made a promise to continue to teach him to use his mind to seek justice and equality. And I pictured Michael Brown’s parents as I kissed my little white boy’s face and made a promise to continue to teach him to see your brown skin boy as an equal, as a brother. As no less than he.

And I placed my hand on my son’s heart and whispered to him what I do every night. “I love you. You are a good and smart boy and I am proud of you. Dream good dreams, be kind and brave as you do.”

The thing about parenting is that we all have the same dreams for our babies. And yet, the thing about parenting is that our experiences can be so vastly different from one another.

For all the families who raise and love brown skinned boys who have worries and concerns that I will never know with my white son, I don’t have words adequate for tonight. I can only promise to raise my children to see injustice and inequality as an offense to all people and to see the value in changing it.

I pray for peace. I understand your rage. Black Lives Matter.

Handshake between races a over white background



This was written in response to my post by a friend of mine, a mother of a little brown boy, and they had me in tears…..
“As I kiss the sweet curls of my brown skinned child I find comfort in the mothers like you who are teaching their children to be different, to be more. I will teach my son to be different, to be more, and to find your sons in a crowd because they will be strong hearted friends and allies.”


Resources for talking to your children about Ferguson, racial profiling, officer involved shootings, law and order, and racial equality:
1. Even if you are not a teacher, check out the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus on twitter.

2. Understanding the grand jury ruling on Michael Brown’s death from PBS gives the facts/timeline of events, links to news stories, and educational videos promoting nonviolent reactions to racial inequality.

3. The Death of Michael Brown: Teaching About Ferguson from the Learning Network of the New York Times offers a roundup of thoughtful ideas (especially excellent/appropriate to explore with tweens/teens).

4. For younger children, this is an age-appropriate guide for letting conversation happen from the Psychological Network.

A Conversation With Barbie: Missteps and Moving Forward

Recently toy giant Mattel received heavy criticism for a book that was part of the 2010 launch of the Barbie I Can Be….A Computer Engineer career doll. As the internet found out this week, much to our surprise, in the book Barbie actually does zero computer engineering. In fact, as the story plays out we see Barbie framed as rather incompetent when it comes to tech. To make matters worse, Barbie calls on two male friends to come and save the day. The fact that the book was written by a female computer engineer makes the situation all the more incredulous.

Things went really wrong with this book, and Mattel did a good job of owning it with this statement posted to their facebook page:

“The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girl’s imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.” 

Barbie is a lot of things to a lot of people. She’s polarizing and inspiring. She’s a glamorous beauty and she’s a ground breaking career girl. She’s also in the the homes of millions of little girls.

While the internet has done an amazing job of responding to and re-framing  this misstep by the brand I was interested in a deeper conversation. I think the problems were well covered by others so I wanted to focus on a few key points:

  • Do they understand the issues facing girls who want to pursue STEM interests and careers? Do they understand how this book fed into those issues as opposed to fighting them in an empowering way for girls?
  • How did this book get past the review process and make it to print? Where were the checks and balances?
  • Moving forward, how will Mattel work to stay aware of girls’ issues and reflect that knowledge through truly empowering toys and media for young consumers?

This brings us to the perfect time for me to issue the disclaimer that despite being a frequent critic of the brand, I was invited to participate in a play experiment called The Barbie Project. It was a role I accepted, have enjoyed with my daughter, and a role I used to get my questions answered by Barbie’s Lori Pantel Vice President, Global Brand Marketing. There are a lot of moving pieces to such a large brand like Barbie, and each of those pieces is a human being. When we peel back the layers and open a conversation with each of those people in a way that moves the issue forward, we move closer towards the goal of creating meaningful change for our kids.

My interview with Barbie’s Lori Pantel Vice President, Global Brand Marketing:

1. The first question on everyone’s mind is, how did this get past the review process at Mattel and become published? Each time there is a media whirlwind around an offending product that is the one question I see over and over again. We know Barbie is aware of the issues surrounding girls and STEM, but this book does not reflect that. Can you help us backtrack and understand the process for developing a product like this book? And what are the checks and balances? 

When we first learned of this earlier in the week, to be honest, we were horrified & disappointed because this doesn’t reflect our vision for the brand.  We believe that girls can do anything and be anything.  And as a Mom myself, I take this vision very seriously.

To better answer the “How did this happen”? We spent the early part of the week digging in to the how & why because: 1. We wanted to identify where our process of checks and balances broke down.  2. To ensure it never happens again.

Our publishing process has changed since this book was first released in 2010.  

In 2010 our process for content publishing was that we worked with licensed partners around the world and they were given “story starters” and plot themes.  Those themes were then given to independent writers to create age appropriate books for young readers.  While most of the Barbie books do a good job of reflecting the brand values and positioning, we run the risk of misinterpretation and ultimately loss of quality control.  Clearly, we do not want this to ever happen again. Over the past year we have changed the strategy. Today, instead of asking others to interpret our brand, we now concept, write, and approve all stories for publishing here at Mattel. 

In light of this week’s learnings, we have started to audit all of our current publishing content that is available now in the marketplace.


2. I’ve been a critic of Barbie in the past, and even during my time on The Barbie Project I’ve talked about the dual nature of the doll as I see both positive and negative aspects. Clearly, I’m not a fan of this book. Has it been pulled?

The short answer is yes, the book has been pulled by Random House. The minute we learned of this title and read the content, we immediately partnered with Random House to pull the book from the market.   


3. So, as my daughter says, you are ‘Barbie’s Boss’, which is her understanding of your role at Mattel. For the little girls out there who want to be the boss some day, what would you tell them about being the boss when a fumble like this happens at work and how do you show your team good leadership?

That’s very sweet, but I actually don’t think of myself as “Barbie’s Boss.”  I believe that part of good leadership is taking responsibility – facing the challenge head on and using it as a learning moment. I would tell your daughter that we are all human. And at times will make mistakes – but what is most important is how we learn and grow from them. 


4. There are a lot of moving pieces to a large brand, and those pieces are people who are a part of our culture. This book wasn’t too far off from what real girls and women experience in everyday culture. I can see how creators might overlook things they were never taught to question. What I see as I travel and speak to groups is that ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’ So, now that Barbie knows better how will Barbie do better in the future?

Over the past few years the brand has partnered with 3rd party experts as it relates to our Career of the Year programs. Whether NASA for "Barbie as Astronaut" or a diverse group of entrepreneurs this past summer for the launch of Entrepreneur Barbie. The brand engages in these partnerships to ensure authenticity in both the doll design and program content. We will continue to explore these types of partnerships when exploring new areas for the brand.

We believe that Barbie unlocks a girl’s imagination. And that through open-ended play, Barbie invites girls to explore the world around them. We know it is critically important to not only listen to girls but also to listen to and learn from parents. That’s what we are doing now and will continue to do going forward.


I really appreciate Lori Pantel taking the time to answer these questions. Authentic communication with brands is a best first step in bringing about the changes we would like to see. As I continue to fill my role on The Barbie Project I will use every opportunity to encourage the brand to continue to move in the direction of empowered, diverse play for girls. Here is what I would hope to see the brand take away from this week of negative press and use it as a learning experience and catalyst for change:

  • Rewrite and publish the computer programming book. Just reboot the project and get it done right. Engage with women from STEM fields or groups who teach girls to code. Best yet: Have the girls in these coding/engineering groups team with Mattel to write a new version of the book they know will inspire little girls.
  • Reach out to advocates and experts who work to empower girls. Use our knowledge and consultations to guide decisions during the creative and development process.
  • Truly commit to showing girls all of Barbie’s careers are within reach through interactive web pages and product packing. Highlight women in those careers, much like the Barbie I Can Be…..An Entrepreneur site does. Then replace the two craft projects with a road map to developing a working business plan and a template for business cards. The Barbie Computer Engineer could come with an app where girls can get code from the inside of the doll’s package they input into the app to design the robot puppy they saw Barbie bring to life in the code *she successfully wrote and programmed* in the new book.
  • Pledge to keep Barbie as the protagonist in all of her stories. Let girls see her doing the problem solving, going on the adventures, and saving the day. Introduce new friends along the way, but keep Barbie in a position of power and leadership.


And what, dear reader, should your take away be? Let’s remember this is one conversation in what needs to be an ongoing conversation. As you read, think about how you want that conversation shaped, who you want heard, and how best to deliver your messages.

Computer Engineer Barbie

Computer Engineer Barbie

Fathers Count

Guest blogger and PPBB Community Member Eryk Woods shares with us his feelings on being a father and being marginalized by marketers and the media. Fathers and male mentors play a huge role in the lives of children but too often we see their contributions mocked or altogether forgotten. Today, we look at how marketing to parents needs to be more inclusive….and how that will shift perceptions of both motherhood and fatherhood for our kids. 

It’s mid November and my Christmas shopping has been done for a while now.  My almost seven-year-old is getting a couple of science sets and a computer of his very own. His main presents are hidden away in my closet but I’d still like to fill out the tree with a couple of ancillary gifts, so every now and then I’ll jump on Amazon to see if anything catches my eye.  That’s when I stumbled upon their holiday toy list.

Where is Amazon's lists of Dad-selected toys?

Where is Amazon’s lists of Dad-selected toys?


The list was divided into categories: Active Playtime, Wood & Recycled, STEM, etc.  But it was the category titled, “Mom Picks 2014” that made my heart sink.  I’m a dad.

Where is the “Dad Picks 2014” category? Of course, it’s not there, and sadly, I’m not surprised in the least.

This is the way dads are systematically excluded from parenthood, and retailers are a prime culprit. Try this: type www.amazon.com/mom into your browser.  You’ll find yourself at a page titled Amazon Mom, where you can get great deals on diapers, formula, baby shampoo, strollers, and all kinds of products for babies and kids.  There are categories here too: For Baby, For Kids, For Parents, and For Mom.  This last category is interesting, containing things like pregnancy books and diapers bags, things no dad will ever need, right?  Why would a dad ever need to know anything about pregnancy and childbirth?  That’s mom’s job!  I’ll be out in the waiting room passing out cigars.

Note that there’s no category “for dad,” even though Amazon’s own billing for Amazon Mom says, “Amazon Mom is open to anyone, whether you’re a mom, dad, grandparent or caretaker.”  THEN WHY IS IT CALLED AMAZON MOM?! Wouldn’t “Amazon Parents” work just as well?

Yes, yes, I know all the excuses by now and have heard them many times before.  “It’s just a clever name for marketing purposes.”  Or, “They’re just playing to their target demographic.”  Or, “Well moms still do most of the shopping these days.”  And sadly, those excuses are often true.  Stereotypes exist for a reason, but they’re nonetheless harmful.

I have been what you could call a “father’s rights activist” since the day I found out I was going to be a dad.  I distinctly remember shopping for a car seat, and reeling at the Graco box with the words, “Ask moms who know” printed on the side.  I remember feeling overwhelmed by my sudden awakening to just how anti-dad the world of parenting really was.  The word “mom” was plastered all over everything in the baby aisle.  I instantly noticed how absent dads were from cereal, diaper and laundry commercials.  Parenting magazine’s slogan, printed on the front of every issue, was, “What really matters to moms” and featured articles very much intended for women.

"Mom-tested” toy lists are obviously not new.

“Mom-tested” toy lists are obviously not new.


It all felt so disheartening.  I obviously didn’t belong in this world of parenting, and it would have been easy for me to “take the hint” and leave it all up to my wife, but no matter how frustrating it was, it was not going to stop me from being the dad I knew I could be, the dad that my absentee dad was not.

If there’s a silver lining to growing up without a father, it’s that he wasn’t there to teach me the wrong way to be a dad.  The kind of dad who passes the baby off to mom when there’s a diaper that needs changing.  The kind of dad who tells his friends that he can’t go for drinks tonight because he has to “babysit” his own kids.  The kind of dad who only sees his son’s Christmas gifts on Christmas morning when they’re unwrapped, because mom did all the shopping and wrapping and filled out the card, “From mom and dad.”

I have the confidence and convictions to be faced with a category called “Mom Picks 2014” and click on it anyway because I know that’s just marketing slang for “top trending toys.”  But how many dads out there will use this as an excuse to pass the job off to mom?  How many dads will see this and allow it to reinforce their existing beliefs that the shopping and the diaper changes and the doctor’s appointments and the parent-teacher conferences are not his job? None of that benefits moms, dads, or most importantly, children. 

I’ve had this discussion before, and this is the part where someone says, “But it’s his responsibility to be a good father!”  I agree, wholeheartedly!  It’s nobody’s responsibility but his own to be the father that his children deserve.  But does that mean we can’t make fatherhood more inviting?  Does that mean we can’t welcome him in and make him feel included?  Why can’t the target demographic for holiday toy list be all parents?  What is there to gain by deliberately leaving out dads?  We could argue that all the moms out there who are doing all the shopping for their kids can feel a bit of recognition for their hard work, but in truth, this exclusionism hurts mothers as well.  I heard it said that decades ago, men went to work and women raised the kids, and now men and women both go to work, and women raise the kids.  There’s a lot of truth to this.  We’re pushing hard to get women into the boardroom, but what are we doing to push men to be more involved at home and in their children’s lives?

Things are getting better.  Graco and Parenting Magazine have dropped their mom-centric slogans.  Commercials with dad competently pouring cereal and doing laundry are becoming more common.  But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that these changes happened organically.  They happened because people spoke out against the exclusion of fathers in all facets of parenting, including something as seemingly trivial as the name of a category on a holiday gift list.  Keep the momentum going!

Moms, we need your help!  You are our biggest allies in this fight.  Please, reach out to these marketing agencies and tell them that you don’t want to be pandered to at the expense of fathers.  And dads, don’t let yourself be convinced that you are anything less than half of a parenting team.  You’re not mom’s assistant and you’re certainly not a casual observer.  You are dad!  Don’t be anything less.


Eryk Woods is a single dad, a former Marine, and a current tech guy living in the great Northwest.

Pitch Perfect 2’s Rape Culture Scene Hits a Wrong Note

Even when we get women behind the camera and a cast full of female protagonists, usually touted as a cure to Hollywood’s ills and missteps, we can still have media go terribly wrong. In the just-released trailer for Pitch Perfect 2 there is a scene that is very troubling because it strikes a chord to a much bigger issue. Perhaps there is more to this scene than first meets the eye. Hopefully it ends with a affirmative PSA promoting consent and taking a stand against college men raping college women, delivered in the hysterical way that only Rebel Wilson can. That would be grand. If not it only serves to mislead the film’s fans, many of whom are teens and young adults, about what consent means and looks like, as well as what girls really mean when they say ‘no’.

Because you know, she didn’t mean it. She wanted it. And she liked it.

In this scene (at 2:11) we see a guy hitting on “Fat Amy”, Rebel Wilson’s very funny character. At a party scene full of alcohol and underage drinking – known contributors to campus and high school rape – we watch a rival singer hit on Amy and ask if she wants to have sex later. She acts appalled and voices a loud “NO!” immediately followed by a confusing wink at the boy. Not understanding, he tries to clarify and we watch the same schtick again. There’s a lot that could have been done with these few minutes in the film, but these minutes don’t pass by in a vacuum. They have meaning to the culture at large.

For a film written by, directed by and starring women this is irresponsible and insensitive. That most of these women have been previously heralded in the media as great feminist role models, this scene is really all the more troubling. If you’re going to be sex-positive, show your character going all in. Go Fat Amy, get some! With enthusiastic consent that better represents most college women’s sexual agency. Comedic sexual come on’s are something Rebel Wilson is phenomenal at. No need to be coy about her desire. She can still make a clandestine lover out of her rival, which actually could have led to some truly funny scenes. No need to make an ass out of a guy trying to understand if consent was there or not.

Media perpetuates Rape Culture and mocks the idea - and neccessity - of consent.

Media perpetuates Rape Culture and mocks the idea – and neccessity – of consent.

This trailer is filling my newsfeed and twitter stream and no doubt yours, as well as any tween/teen social media users you have at home. In fact, this party scene is the final frame of the trailer as it was meant to have lasting impact and influence by the people who want to earn money from this movie. So talk about it with your kids: the responsibilities media content creators have, unpack Rape Culture and how it is perpetuated, the roles young men and women play in Rape Culture, how kids learn to navigate sexual relationships, and how maybe women have a responsibility to each other not to make a joke out of rape.

It isn’t dark or salty humor. It isn’t satire. Much like the rape whistle joke Kay Cannon included in the original Pitch Perfect screenplay, it isn’t doing any of us any favors.

It is SO disappointing to see women in Hollywood be so insensitive to the campus rape crisis by including this scene that only further reinforces the “No means YES!” belief far too many college men (and apparently administrators) hold. Like when they chant outside their fraternities and parties “No means yes and yes means anal!” HILARIOUS!!!

Incredibly irresponsible for a film directed by Elizabeth Banks and a scene starring Rebel Wilson, who have been cheered for their feminism, and who are capable of better comedy. Because if there is anything that is not chuckle-fest inducing, it is the fact that one in five women will be raped while trying to get a higher education, usually by men they considered friends or lovers.

That’s not a statistic I’m in love with. Hopefully by the time the film is released, this scene will be cut or reworked.


The Words We Choose Matter

Last night at my son’s basketball practice I was chatting with his best friend’s mom while we watched the boys play. My daughter sat in between us playing Minecraft. The other mom and I were commenting on how good one of the boys on the team is — I talking about a first grader hitting three point shots. His skills, follow through after a shot, all of it – he is crazy good. Either he watches a ton of pro ball and is adept at mimicking their moves (similar to how I learned to ride horses) or someone at home is teaching him.

I turned to the other mom and was about to say, “He must have an older brother at home who is a star player and practices with him a lot.” But I caught myself, and changed ‘brother’ to ‘sibling’. Maybe his big sister is the all-star player. Or his mom.

Because what a crummy message to send to my daughter, sandwiched between our conversation, who is too shy to play basketball right now. The words I choose matter. Why give my daughter one more message that the court is only for boys? The court is for people who play basketball.

Casual references to gender matter when our kids are listening to our every word.

Casual references to gender matter when our kids are listening to our every word.


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit www.pigtailpals.com.

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” here, at your local bookseller or online.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Why I’m Happy My Daughter Is Playing Minecraft

Female scientist skin for Minecraft.

Female scientist skin for Minecraft.

My kids entered the world of Minecraft for the first time this weekend (in Creative mode) and spent hours figuring out the game and building things. The very first comment the Original Pigtail Pal, eight year old Amelia, made was “How do I make my player a girl? Is being a girl an option?”

I’m glad she questions her media, thinks critically about why the default character is (almost always) male and seeks ways to make changes. At the same time, I hate that my son doesn’t have to think twice about his gender being represented while my daughter approaches nearly all media with the question “And where are the girls?” at the ready and has to question why people like her are so often afterthoughts or altogether missing.

Girls and women are underrepresented in science and technology fields. As this article points out, “Building — or ‘modding’ as it is known — allows for any aspect of the game to be changed by coding (writing source code) in a programming language (Java). Not only do coding skills directly transfer to the kinds of 21st-century jobs important in our new economy, but coding skills build other skills and knowledge — critical thinking, logic and problem-solving skills — important in the STEM fields.”

Another important point –> Common Core doesn’t teach coding. Kids need to learn it on their own and according to data from the Center for Reading Research, girls receive the same messages about coding as they do about math and science — that it is a “boy” subject. Coding and STEM are for everyone and we need to figure out how to get AND retain more girls in STEM clubs and careers. If that belief holds true for girls it has the potential to directly impact them long term when it comes to career choice and earning potential. No matter what careers our daughters ultimately enter, knowing a digital language like Java or Ruby will matter.

Luckily, there are ways to change the skin so Amelia’s “Steve” can now become “Amelia the Scientist” after school today. You can’t be what you can’t see. And when my kids play together, I want Ben to see his sister as a scientist, not another Steve. Simple changes like this can have a big impact on how kids grow up and what interests they pursue.


If You Give A Girl A Puzzle

Let’s Put The Pieces Together

When the currently popular and substantially profitable “girl empowerment marketing ” becomes a story of saving girls from their mindless, idle feminine selves, we need to take a step back and consider how well we really understand today’s girls and what goes on in their hearts and minds. Let us compare and contrast two ads that came out this week, both offering very different messages about girls and STEM.

In one ad, the girl is shown as a natural-born scientist who uses inspiration from the world around her to bring her ideas to life.

In the other ad, the girls are shown as mindless robots who need the presence of a savior product in order to be rescued from themselves.

Ignoring for the moment this is an advert for a controversial oil company……Pay attention to the details of the story being told here. Children don’t play with toys the way they are marketed or intended to be played with. Curiosity is innate in the child. A knack for STEM is already inside a girl. A good toy sparks innovation and wonder. A good toy can be many different things, even the least likely of things.

The other viral video from this week is a commercial for a toy company and also has us thinking about girls and STEM, but this one  further divides the girl side of the gendered, segmented children’s toy market into 1) sneaker-wearing, hammer-wielding Tomboy Girls and 2) glammed up, brainwashed one-dimensional Barbie Girls. In the Goldie Blox ad the “sparkly girls”, also sometimes referred to as “tutu girls”, are robotic pink-wearing drones who soak up gender norm and beauty messages without question. These girls and their pink tunnel vision are the problem, until they are saved by Goldie and her hammer.


Girl empowerment? Buyer beware.

Attack the media and marketing that sell girls short, yes. Challenge a generation of parents who fail to think critically about the media and toys they provide their children. But let’s back off the attacks on girls and how they do girlhood.

There is a difference between a girl-centric business using “girl power” as a marketing gimmick and a business centered in authentic girl empowerment. May I suggest we think twice about bashing the intellectual capabilities of girls who play with Barbies, enjoy fashion and glam, or who by genetic lottery fit the beauty norm? None of those things are mutually exclusive to also liking or being good at STEM pursuits.

My Friends, fashion dolls are not the hill you want to die on. While definitely an imperfect toy that require parents to assist with unpacking messages, insisting fashion dolls are the root cause of the Failure of Girls demonstrates a profound lack in understanding how girls really play and think. The Shell ad showcases this beautifully.

From Shell's How Will You Change The World? video

From Shell’s How Will You Change The World? video

Barbie isn’t the enemy. Limitation is. The Goldie Blox spot tried to show this, but the message came off as: Pink sparkle girls who play with Barbies and enjoy glam dress-up are mindless idiots who must be saved from their soulless selves. Girls who play with Barbie are no less capable of innovation, creativity, demonstrating STEM skills, and driving a successful education and professional career years down the road. They can be pretty and feminine while doing it. There are many ways to be a girl.

As a mom said on my facebook page and I have to completely agree based on my own family’s experiences, “The Goldie Blox building sets are frustrating and fall apart as you are building them. There is very little that you can actually do with them. My daughter has had more creative and imaginative play with her *gasp* Barbie dolls.”

This isn’t a debate between Goldie Blox or Barbie, there is room for both on the shelf and both serve a purpose. The Goldie Blox ad is a great ad, as far as advertising goes. Goldie Blox’s newly released zip line set and movie machine set are neat. But for those of us truly invested in girl empowerment, our focus should be on how we are using, depicting, and profiting from girls in marketing. Let’s be mindful of what problems and deficits we are being marketed about our girls versus what we know to be true as we watch them grow day in and day out.

EVERY GIRL has a scientist inside of her. Girls are not the problem, we are. We’ve forgotten how to draw the curiosity out of her, we’ve stopping expecting it from her, and we’ve stopped giving her opportunities to explore it, experiment with it, and expand on it. We’ve listened to what the media wants us to believe about our troubled girls, and bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Girls know better, they are waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

At breakfast these girls were playing Barbie. By lunch they were examining specimens at the Smithsonian. My 5yo niece is instructing my 6yo son on what to do with his QVR code.


If you give a girl a puzzle, she’ll want to solve it.

And she’ll likely want another one. 

When she’s finished, she’ll put on her favorite science goggles. 

Then she’ll call all her friends over and you’ll need puzzles and goggles for them, too. 

After the puzzles, they’ll want to go outside and make a fort. 

When the girls finish getting dirty building the fort they’ll find a toy to take apart and rebuild. 

Of course, when she’s finished she’ll want a science experiment. 

And chances are, if you give her all these STEM opportunities, 

she’ll grow up knowing she was a scientist, engineer, and mathematician all along. 

Let's be very careful with what we presume about our girls, their interests, and abilities.

Let’s be very careful with what we presume about our girls, their interests, and abilities.


Exploring the Smithsonian Qurios lab.

Exploring the Smithsonian Qurios lab.

GIrls are fully capable of being multi-dimenisonal.

GIrls are fully capable of being multi-dimenisonal.

Healing Hearts

A few months ago Amelia and I were at our breaking point, as a painful school year in a difficult classroom came to a close and we struggled on a daily basis to get through life while she was socially crippled with anxiety. I had no idea how the anxiety starts or what caused it, and I had no idea how to get rid of it. As a parent, there is no pain worse than seeing your child suffer.

My bright, strong, opinionated, brave, and wild girl had been taken over by this shadow and we didn’t know how to lift it. Friends put me in touch with mental health experts I needed to gather information from, a new school year with a teacher who is a unicorn have made all the difference, and medication to assist in bringing the anxiety under control has given us our girl back – the vibrant, high energy, laughing girl with mischievous eyes we had been missing for eighteen months is back.

One of the most touching moments of someone reaching out to help us was my friend Jacque, a fellow small-business owner and mom I had known for years messaged me and said she wanted to give Amelia a special afternoon to lift her spirits and allow her to be a carefree kid. “Carefree” and anxiety don’t often go hand in hand, but Jacque knew from experience her plan would work.

I was given directions to a farm about an hour from our house and didn’t know much beyond the fact that we were going to see therapy horses. When the big afternoon arrived we pulled down a long gravel drive on  a warm autumn afternoon and pulled up next to the barn with a table out front decorated with purple star balloons, a container of Amelia’s favorite flavor of ice cream, and the biggest bag of gummy bears I had ever seen.

Amelia and Jacque, one of HHHH's volunteers.

Amelia and Jacque, one of HHHH’s volunteers.

We were at the new site for Healing Hearts with Hooves and Hounds, a nonprofit organization on a mission to help survivors of domestic violence find healing and peace in their lives through animal therapy and spread domestic violence awareness and anti-bullying education. Through confidential retreats held on one of their two foster farms, HHHH uses rescued animals to give positive, healing, and healthy experiences to make domestic violence survivors and bullying victims whole again.

Can therapy come in the form of a miniature donkey? Apparently yes, when that pocket-size donkey runs to the marsh in the middle of his paddock to “hide” from his owners, unaware the tips of his ears were giving away his location and the irony of it all brings out giant belly laughs from the little girl who didn’t laugh for eighteen months. Also – pregnant miniature ponies are a thing to behold.

Benny makes a new friend, once they got the stinker out of his hiding spot in the marsh.

Benny makes a new friend, once they got the stinker out of his hiding spot in the marsh.

Healing Hearts with Hooves and Hounds is currently holding a fundraising drive right now, they are a great organization to donate to. But please act fast, the drive ends in ten days (Nov 16). 

Mark Schuring co-founded Healing Hearts with Hooves and Hounds (HHHH) in 2004 with his aunt, Traci Schuring, who shared his resolve to help victims of domestic abuse and bullying through the healing power of animals.  Sadly, on December 8, 2012, Traci was killed by her abusive husband in their home in Southern Wisconsin, while her daughters were waiting to be picked up from school.  In this dramatic fashion, Mark understood why the program was so important to her and has pursued the mission with a fervor ever since.

Healing Hearts with Hooves and Hounds, is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to helping survivors of domestic abuse and bullying find healing and peace in their lives through animal therapy.  Domestic violence is a serious issue; one in four women is abused, and one in three people know someone who is abused.  Meanwhile, animal therapy has been shown to promote emotional well-being in patients struggling with things such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.

HHHH is comprised of 30 volunteers, 3 horses, 9 mini-horses, 5 mini-goats, 5 mini-donkeys, and roughly 15 hounds.  Currently, HHHH’s animals are spread across two locations:  a small pasture located on 17 acres of farmland in Capron, IL, and an acre and a half of farmland in Lawrence, IL.  The primary goal of this campaign is to aggregate all of the HHHH animals onto one location, which is a 10-20 acre plot of farmland located in Harvard, IL.  Over the past 10 years, the HHHH animals have already positively impacted the lives of hundreds of domestic violence and bullying victims.

Benny said being near the horses and feeling their breath made him feel "warm and fizzy".

Benny said being near the horses and feeling their breath made him feel “warm and fizzy”.

So that’s the background on this great organization, but that doesn’t really give a clear picture of how this really works. I know there is science behind all of it, but…..

When a 2,000 pound horse with deep, dark eyes approaches your child and they stand eye to eye, her tiny hand on the giant beast’s warm and beating heart, you don’t really know how it works you just know some kind of magic is taking place.

Maybe it was the ancient oak tress all over the property, the golden sun on a gorgeous autumn day, the half pound of gummy bears we ate, or the genuine kindness and acceptance that were offered to Amelia by humans and hooves alike…..all I know is that as we left, this is what Amelia looked like.

Whole. Healed. Happy.

Amelia at the end of her HHHH retreat.

Amelia at the end of her HHHH retreat.

Healing Hearts holds private confidential retreats in northeastern Illinois via appointment with Mark Schuring (815/245-0842). HHHH also travel to events with the animals to promote domestic violence awareness and anti-bullying education.

Visit their website here: healingheartshh.org   and Facebook page 

Please consider donating to them here: startsomegood.com/healinghearts
$5 buys a bale of hay

$10 buys a 50lb bag of grain

$25 buys 5 bales of hay

$50 buys 5 50lb bags of grain

$100 buys 20 bales of hay

$200 buys 20 50lb bags of grain

$500 buys 100 bales of hay or 50 50lb bags of grain

$1,000 buys a 1 month lease for 10-20 acres worth of farmland

The Barbie Project: All In An Afternoon

I love spying on my kids while they play, the ability to peek into their imaginations is an incredible gift. Their make believe world does not follow the rules of the real one and in this space of pretend they are free to create without limitations or boundaries.

I’m willing to bet most people assume Barbie play is all about “fluff”, like the weddings/princesses/spa day/shopping spree themes we stereotype girls into. What is closer to the truth is far more intriguing, as I’ve seen Amelia and her friends create worlds much richer in story and context. The depth of the characters they assign to their Barbie dolls has been really fascinating to watch.

Amelia’s Barbies came to us as a surfer, Sea World dolphin trainer, SCUBA diver/treasure hunter, pilot, dog trainer, astronaut, nurse, musician, and an entrepreneur. Over these past few months I’ve watched Amelia’s Barbies transform into National Geographic explorers tenting off the side of a cliff, they’ve built a dream house truly representative of my little girl’s dreams, they’ve hunted man-eating lions, they’ve done lots of camping, they’ve hosted galas with the Queen to show off their yield from archaeological expeditions and they’ve even discovered hidden tombs of Egyptian pharaohs.

Amelia is really interested in ancient Egypt right now and was ecstatic over this Cleopatra Barbie I was able to find for her.

Amelia is really interested in ancient Egypt right now and was ecstatic over this Cleopatra Barbie I was able to find for her.

Kids play what they learn, as parents it is our job to provide them with learning opportunities that show them how big the world is that is waiting for them. It can be exhausting to keep up with and feed the wonder of a child’s mind, but that effort is ALWAYS worth it!

Here are some things we do at our house to really enrich Amelia’s play:

1. Provide context — books, videos, museum exhibits, library visits, a local special-interest club, and websites (with parental supervision) can all be used to build knowledge and create a foundation upon which her play will be based.

Example: When Amelia became super interested in being a National Geographic Explorer I took her to hear a NatGeo wildlife correspondent Dr. Mireya Mayor speak at the University of Wisconsin, and later this week we’ll be visiting the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC. We often hear “you can’t be what you can’t see”, so I’m taking the responsibility to show her women who have blazed trails for her!

2. Provide opportunity — Screens off and imaginations on! Set up an atmosphere in the house where imagination is tops and other distractions like a TV are at a minimum. Keeps toys stored where she can easily get them out to engage in play. Sit on the floor with your child as she sets up her toys and offer ideas to help develop the story, building on clues she is giving you. “How about this” and “Let’s pretend that” can be powerful ignition switches for her mind!

Example: A cardboard box is never just a cardboard box when a child is involved. A cardboard box, or several in various sizes, is like a blank canvas. It could be transformed into a camper, a rescue boat, space shuttle, underwater research vessel, mermaid palace made of pearl, a school, a volcano, a restaurant, a restaurant inside a volcano….

3. Change location — She already thinks playing with Barbie is fun….but what if you build a blanket fort first? Or turn the space under the dining room table into her space station/hospital/castle/company world headquarters? What about turning off the lights in the bathroom and turning the (empty) bathtub into a cave? Trust me, the extra mess is completely worth the hours of fun she’ll have!

Example: Maybe your daughter really loves the fairy or princess Barbies. Who says Barbie has to stay inside? Go build a fairy house out in the garden or during a family hike in the woods. Construct a snow palace for her princess Barbies once winter arrives. And winter always arrives, doesn’t it?

4. Art projects — With tools like Pinterest at our fingertips, finding art or learning projects to do at home is a cinch! Amelia and I have used these to make back drops for her play with Barbie, and if I knew how to sew I’m sure we’d find some pretty amazing patterns for various outfits and gowns. If you notice a recurring theme in your daughter’s play, like running a jewelry shop or something, capitalize on that! Together explore jewelry making, sign up for a local artisan class, or study jewelry from a specific culture or time period. Amelia and I have researched jewelry from ancient Egypt quite a bit over the past few months.

Example: At Goodwill this past weekend I found an Egyptian mummy art kit. The steps include casting and wrapping a little plastic body into a mummy and then painting the sarcophagus it will go into. Oh, it just so happens the sarcophagus is the perfect size for a Barbie! I’m hoping Amelia will choose to entomb a few of her dolls as right now she is going through several rolls of toilet paper a week mummifying all of them over and over again!

5. Dress Up Clothes — Everyone knows one of the best parts about Barbie is the fashion! Changing her outfit 307 times in an afternoon allows Barbie to become so many different things. Children also love to change into character. With all the Halloween costumes about to go on clearance and consignment shops stuffed with great choices, now is the perfect time to fill a dress up trunk for your home. Amelia loves having a great variety of outfits and props to choose from: pirate, witch, doctor, queen, mermaid, pioneer, etc.

6. Encourage leadership — Whether her Barbie owns her own business, runs a kingdom or a country, or is the lead on an expedition, one of the great parts of playing with Barbie is that girls are putting female characters in title roles. Expand those characters you overhear her creating and bring some of them to life by introducing her to powerful queens and female rulers from centuries past and present. Get to know the female entrepreneurs behind Barbie’s 2014 Career Doll of the Year Entrepreneur, like Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code. When you see her using one of her dolls as a head of state, ask your daughter what issues are important to her and the people she is governing. Maybe she is working to stave off a deadly epidemic or she is leading people in planting community gardens in vacant lots and rooftops to end childhood hunger. You’d be surprised what issues kids are really passionate about. Unless we ask we may be totally unaware of their vision and solutions.

Example: If you notice your daughter always has her dolls running businesses along side her Barbie Entrepreneur doll, ask her lots of questions about the business — what service they provide or what product they make, how many people work there, how did they come up with these ideas, etc. You could even take it one step further and create business cards, a business plan, organize business travel, have Barbie address the city council on an issue impacting her business or clients. Doing all of this with Amelia led us to having a lemonade stand this summer that she and her little brother planned, budgeted, marketed, and staffed. At the end of the day the kids had earned just over $70 they split between two charities that are important to them.

7. Go Beyond — If your daughter keeps playing Barbie Wedding or Barbie Fashion Shoot, don’t underestimate what that could mean. First, the wedding business is a multi-billion dollar industry so me thinks it isn’t too shabby a line of work to get into. I wouldn’t write that off just yet. Suggest it be a destination wedding, and pour over maps or travel books from the library together. Or use that story line to build interpersonal and problem solving skills, like maybe two members of the wedding party are in a fight and the wedding coordinator has to settle things down. How would your daughter approach the situation?  Second, there are a ton of logistics that go into these two events, which necessitates someone in a leadership role. That little someone can review travel and hotel brochures, learn how to make reservations, create passports, practice new words from a foreign language, build the hotel her team will be staying at, plan a menu of ethnic food, learn the basics of a camera, study textiles, schedule the models and photographers, bake and decorate a cake…..


The possibilities of play are endless. You just have to be willing to follow where they lead. Your daughter most certainly is.

Amelia's busy work during our trip to Washington DC. I imagine Cleopatra Barbie will be joining the road trip!

Amelia’s busy work during our trip to Washington DC. I imagine Cleopatra Barbie will be joining the road trip!


Learn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}


Barbie Project


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. 

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Lego Female Scientists Infuriate Me

An astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist make up the Research Institute. LEGO definitely had room to grow with this line.

An astronomer, a paleontologist, and a chemist make up the Research Institute. LEGO definitely had room to grow with this line.

Truth be told, I haven’t been able to give Amelia her Lego female scientist set yet. I’ve been hiding it for months. Ben wants one too, and I was only able to get one. So which kid should get it? The girl who needs to see continuous and encouraging reinforcement that women have a place in STEM fields? The set even includes a female paleontologist and T-Rex, like her beloved Sue skeleton from the Field Museum in Chicago. (The most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found and was discovered by a women, fyi.)

Or does my son get it, because he sees so few representations of smart, successful females in children’s media? They could share it, of course, but that only further reinforces how little there really is to go around. And THAT. That is what makes me angry. Like, Hulk angry.

There are eleventy boxes of Ariel’s Magical Kiss and Cinderella’s Castle on the shelf, but finding a box with three female scientists? Good luck with that. Could they make their own scientists and labs from the Legos they already have? Yes and they do, which is why they were so bonkers for this set. I think I’m having such a hard time giving this to my kids because after they go nuts over it and ask for more, I have to tell them, “That’s it. It is just this one. There is no more.”

What a crappy thing to have to tell my science-loving, Lego-obsessed kids that the female scientist thing was just a flash in the pan, not a lasting idea for the world’s largest toy company.

From a friend of a PPBB Community Member:
“My friend just found the Lego female-scientist set at the Mall of America and said she arrived at the Lego Store a few minutes before opening, thinking she’d just ask if they had any and they had ten. The guy in front of her tried to buy five sets, but it’s one per customer. They sold four the first three minutes the store was open.
No wonder people can’t find them, if the store is capable of selling all ten set within FIVE minutes of being open. And this was the **Lego Store**. How can you imagine it’s not a profitable product?”

If the company is only making limited edition sets to drive up value and consumer demand, especially before the holidays, what does that say about our general society? Parents will have to claw and scratch at each other to get their hands on a scarce $20 set of little bricks because their commitment to empowering their daughters and hunger for great STEM toys for girls is so great they’ll totally lose sight of the fact that girl scientists shouldn’t be the rare, toy equivalent of a unicorn.

Toy girl scientists should just be the norm.

The LEGO Research Institute continues to sell out within minutes of being available.

The LEGO Research Institute continues to sell out within minutes of being available.