TOMS Reacts With Lightning Speed to Consumers Voicing Concern Over Gendered Messages

This morning @morandifan1 tweeted a photo to me of a troubling message from the usually progressive brand TOMS. On their website’s kids landing page was a trio of three photos, one suggesting boys’ “Playtime Approved” shoes and the other suggesting to “Little Ladies: adorn their feet for spring” with a bubble gum pink background.

TOMS original landing page.

TOMS original landing page.

Girls are definitely more than adornment. Thanks @morandifan1 for using your voice to call this out.

On the PPBB Facebook page I posted:

Really, TOMS? Girls are not ornaments we adorn. Girls play, too!

Your website says, “A simple idea can make a big difference.” Here’s a simple idea for you: Please regard girls’ feet as the vehicles for climbing, running, jumping, chasing, twirling, skidding, sliding, and tumbling. Girls are children, active, wild and full of energy. Little girls’ feet do the very same things little boys’ feet do.

See girls for the instruments they are, not the ornaments our culture tells them to be!

TOMS post


That was at 1:15pm or thereabouts, you can read the thread here. I also sent out a similar tweet around the same time:

TOMS tweet
In no less than two hours TOMS had responded on the PPBB Facebook page with this statement:



The update to their website now reflects a more gender inclusive message, inviting customers to check out “new arrivals for kids”. A marked improvement from the earlier suggestion that boys do playtime while girls sit pretty. We know that message doesn’t align with TOMS branding or how they view their customers, and I was so pleased to see how quickly they acted once made aware of the misstep.

Pink shoes, patterned shoes, glitter shoes, ice cream shoes, rhino shoes, stars & stripes shoes…..thank you for making all shoes for all kids and recognizing girls AND boys like dress up shoes and playtime shoes. Thanks TOMS!

The update to the TOMS website this afternoon.

The update to the TOMS website this afternoon.


MAW Profile PicMelissa 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

Find her at You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Mom Contacts Company Over Missing Girl Characters, Company Responds It Is Because Boys Think Girls Are Gross

*Please be sure to see Update 1 & 2 and the end of the post!

Veronica, a mom of two from Washington State, was shopping recently in search of Big Hero 6-themed fabric in order to make her two young movie fans some throw pillows. For those familiar with children’s media and the secondary product market, you might be able to guess what happens next.

The FULL cast of Big Hero 6.

The FULL cast of Big Hero 6.

Veronica would discover two of the movies heroes, two integral parts of the story and plot, two of the six Big Heroes, were missing from the fabric. As in, not on it anywhere. Which two characters are missing in action? Why, the female characters, but of course! Honey Lemon and GoGo were nowhere to be found.

Veronica and her children decided to pass on the fabric manufactured by Springs Creative and left the store. Her children were not interested in a choice that failed to include all of the heroes they loved.

It would have been easy to just leave it there, tell the kids they’ll find something else, maybe gripe to friends on Facebook. But Veronica felt she needed to speak out, and speak up directly to the decision makers who would have consciously left out the female characters. She was not only personally offended, she saw this as an injustice to her children and all children. Below is her correspondence with Springs Creative.


I am the mother of two wonderful children who wanted some super cool pillows made out of their favorite characters in Big Hero 6. They love all of the characters, but their favorites are Baymax and Honey Lemon. Guess what’s missing from the fabric, not just Honey Lemon, but GoGo too. BOTH of the ONLY female characters, both equally as brilliant and smart and capable as Wasabi and Hiro, are missing. It’s not Big Hero 6 without them.

I can’t find a way to contact Disney to right this terrible wrong. As a woman, and an Engineer, I myself find this offensive. Put the Big Hero 6 back together on the same fabric. Even my children do not want the fabric without ALL of the heros on it.


Veronica received the following response. It is a revealing look into how brands think about marketing their wares, assumptions made about children and gender, and the self-fulfilling prophecy they create for themselves training boys and girls to regard each other as separate and undesirable species.

Big Hero 6.2PNG

The missing Big Hero 6 heroes Gogo and Honey Lemon.

Hi Veronica

Thanks for your email! Here is a little background on how we develop our designs.  When designing for a new film, we are developing well before the film is released and long before we have seen the movies ourselves.  Thus, we rely on the filmmakers to provide a recommended target audience.  Disney’s target audience for Big Hero 6 is boys 5-12 and secondary are girls 5-12 and teens.  Since this is geared toward boys, we chose to focus either on the main characters (in this case Baymax and Hiro), or on just the boy characters.  We have found boys do not want girl characters on their things (eeeww girls! Yuck! Haha). Should Big Hero 6 continue to resonate in the market place I think you will begin to see more product and even fabric with all the characters including the female characters.

I hope this helps explain why you might see product this way. We enjoy hearing feedback like this. So please, continue to do so.

Best regards,
Emily Robbins Kelly
Licensing Manager
Springs Creative Products Group, LLC

As you may have predicted, Veronica was displeased with this response. The word Veronica used with me when we discussed this was “disgusted”, and my reaction was much the same. Worse, this response came from a woman. Someone who should get it, someone who should be an ally.  Someone who is part of a team who makes decisions that impact what tens of thousands of kids see and learn.

By the description from their website, Springs Creative is a clearly a rather big production: “Our distribution center ships to all states in the U.S., to 21 foreign countries, and to military bases worldwide. The distribution center houses more than 11 million yards of fabric as well as crafts and finished product. The facility is approximately 450,000 square feet with 32 dock doors.”

And those 32 dock doors ship 11 million yards of fabric from a company who tells its customers boys don’t want girls on their stuff because girls are “eeeeww girls! Yuck! Haha”. It is hysterical, if the systematic conditioning of children by marketers to be sexist and devalue girls is your kind of funny. If it isn’t, then you know this is just one more drop in an over-flowing bucket telling our girls they don’t matter, don’t count, don’t get to be present.

Well thank goodness for Veronica. Be not silent.


First off, it’s Big Hero 6. Not Big Hero 4 and two others.

Women have just as much of a right to be here, be represented, acknowledged and idolized as men. Women have a place in this world too, and are capable of achieving greatness in math and science as well.

By eliminating the women in your fabric design, you are telling boys that it’s OK to think girls are yucky, unworthy and less than a boy. You are also telling girls they are unworthy, unwanted and that it’s un-cool to be smart and confident.

It’s not just your one design. It’s your design, with all of the other designs in the industry, in our daily lives, that tell girls and women that they are not worth it, they are not as important or capable. And even more dangerously telling boys that girls are worthless and yucky.

Colors, math, science, music and art are for everyone. Not just some for boys, and not just some for girls. For everyone!

But as for this design it’s a total failure, despite your target audience approach. It’s called Big Hero 6, and you are missing two of the hero’s. And I truly don’t think you will find many objections from any boy or girl to having ALL of the hero’s represented.

I will have to make my own designs for now,


If you would like to contact Springs Creative to politely request they reconsider their thinking on this, you can find their info here. Use Veronica’s second email as a guide for tone and content, it is excellent. Let them know that kids love all kinds of characters, gender isn’t really a part of that coolness factor despite how convinced grown ups think it is.

Big Hero 6.3PNG.

I took an informal poll on our Facebook page today and the answers were refreshing, representative of what I was expecting from my community, and hopefully eye opening for companies and manufacturers who read it. Tomorrow I’ll put up a more formal poll on the blog for the community, the results of which will be compiled and made into a printable that can be downloaded and sent to companies who continue to insist on gender segregation in childhood.

Of the three questions I asked today, most people (out of 170 or so answers) replied with this pattern:

Question 1: Many popular kids shows and movie casts have a group of male characters (with a male main/title character) and one-two female side-kick characters. In the secondary-market toy and apparel products, the female characters are often left out (think Star Wars, Toy Story, Jake & Never Land Pirates, Paw Patrol, etc). This is because ____________

Top answers were B & C
B) manufacturers operate with the belief boys think girls are gross and don’t want girls on their stuff, even relaying this belief to customers, which influences what they think will sell and the products they make.
C) manufacturers operate with the belief girls are only interested in princesses and fashion and do not watch more action/adventure children’s media, therefore the female characters can get discarded from merchandise.

Question 2: If your child is the fan of a co-ed cast but the secondary market products leave out the female characters, are you less likely to purchase those products?
Top answers were B & C
B) I would not buy the product.
C) I want to burn this place down *

*Pigtail Pals LLC nor Melissa Atkins Wardy does not condone the actual burning down of things. 

Question 3: Think of the boys in your life you know, specifically ages 0-103. Do the majority of them think “girls are gross”, or do they have female friends and family members they enjoy, respect, love, learn from, and cherish?
A) The boys I know think girls are their personal kryptonite.
B) The boys I know think girls are cool and make good friends and role models.

The top answer for Question 3 was B) The boys I know think girls are cool and make good friends and role models.

So why don’t children’s products reflect this?


Update 1: The issue of girl characters gone missing from products is not unique to Springs Creative. They are simply one spoke in the wheel. Let’s call attention to and create meaningful change around the entire problem. Use hashtag #IncludeTheGirls to call out other products and media content creators who intentionally leave girl characters out. Need some examples to get your started?

Images from #IncludeTheGirls campaign.

Images from #IncludeTheGirls campaign.

Update 2: I received a call this afternoon from the nice folks at Springs Creative and they requested I post and share the statement below. I VERY pleased with their words and how effective all of you were with your emails. Well done all around today. And a sincere thank you to the team at Springs Creative for listening to consumers and being willing to make meaningful changes for our kids. Thank you!!

The following is the statement from Springs Creative:

Big Hero 6 fans, we at Springs Creative have heard you loud and clear! 

First of all, thank you all for your feedback about our products.  It is sometimes difficult to hear negative feedback but the message was clear and we intend to act upon your message.

Most importantly, Springs Creative does not condone sexism in any shape or form and does not design products to shine a negative light on females OR males. In fact, the majority of our licensed properties highlight strong female figures. We value the contributions of women greatly and are proud to say that over half of our corporate employees are indeed female.  We are well represented by females in our leadership and executive positions. This issue is not something we take lightly and this is not how we operate our business as a good corporate citizen.

Our Licensing Manager is a highly professional, competent and strong woman and we stand behind her as we do all of our associates.

The good news for you is that we will be talking with our valued long term licensing partner Disney immediately about additional designs for Big Hero 6 that in fact incorporate all of the characters you know and love.  We would never intentionally offend any segment of the population.  We are a strong company with positive morals and values and we respect and see both genders equally.

Thank you for your support, time and attention.  We sincerely believe you will be happy with the results coming your way soon.

 Springs Creative Products Group

Now it is time to thank Springs Creative for being willing to make changes, send them a positive note on their Facebook page or send a follow up email of appreciation.

Update 3: Hey BoingBoing, thanks for featuring our post on your page!

MAW Profile PicMelissa 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

Find her at You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

That’s all he should have to be.

Sad boyBoys have feelings, too. This was the third morning in a row my first grade son has had strong emotions and anxiety about going to school. Each morning it has taken me thirty to sixty minutes to get him into his classroom. He is terrified of his Spring Sing concert next Thursday and for several weeks he has been in tears over this event. His teachers have been wonderful and understanding about it, and he and I are problem solving towards a solution that will help ease much of what he is feeling.

Yet I’m giving him the room he needs to have all the feels.

I’m not rushing him through it nor covering it up. I’m not apologizing to anyone for it. I’m not trying to mask it when we’re in the hallway and he is curled on my lap crying or buried into my chest begging to not have to go to school that day. I’m not asking him to ‘man up’, or telling him ‘boys don’t cry’. I’m not demanding he ‘toughen up’ or ‘act like a big boy’. I’m letting him be Ben. That’s all he can be. That’s all he should have to be.

I’m letting him feel fear.
I’m letting him feel uncertainty and doubt.
I’m letting him ask for help when he feels overwhelmed.
I’m asking him to tell me what he is feeling and experiencing.
I’m letting him cry, and cry in front of others.
I’m letting him set his limits that feel right for him.

I’m doing all this because, one, I’ve been through it with his big sister for years so I’m familiar with the terrain of anxiety. And two, because by giving my boy the space and the right to have feelings I am establishing a truth for him: He is a human being and he will have a range of feelings and emotions in life, and he has every right to them and to work through them.

If only all of our boys were given those same rights.


MAW Profile PicMelissa 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

Find her at You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Guess what toy makers? Girls love adventure!

Katie Nielsen is a young entrepreneur who loved adventure as a kid. Looking at the toy market today, Nielsen sees sharp gender segregation that encourages action-oriented play for boys and fashion-oriented play for girls. Frustrated by this stereotyping, she’s founded Ember World, a toy company to create a brand new category of empowering toys for girls: adventure dolls.

I’ve gotten to know Katie over the past couple weeks, and I love her understanding of girl culture and the need for messages and products just like Ember World. I cannot wait to buy her entire line for my own adventurous daughter. (I think my son would like them, too!) I really love this quote from Katie, “I want to offer girls a doll that lets them play as their most confident and imaginative selves! So many young girls are enthralled with adventure, and love to imagine themselves as the heroes of their own stories. Now these girls can play with a doll that will encourage that adventurous spirit.”

I invited Katie to share her story with the PPBB Community. Enjoy it, and support her Ember World Indiegogo campaign so that we can continue to make meaningful change for our girls!


A guest post by Katie Nielsen, creator of Ember World.

Guess what toy makers? Girls love adventure!

The memories from my own childhood and the imaginations I see in young girls today are chock full of great adventures and unwavering self-confidence. Yet the play style of most girl-centered fashion dolls is all about dress-up and hairdos, while the boys get “action figures” intended for role playing that involves bravery, heroism and power. Why are young girls left out of the action when they are just as likely to see themselves as brave heroes? Why can’t girls have dolls to play out their own adventures with a female lead? The more I thought about this, the more I became convinced that I needed to do something. You know what? Forget fashion dolls – I’m making adventure dolls!

The Ember doll will come with hiking boots and a grappling hook.

The Ember doll will come with hiking boots and a grappling hook.

I designed Ember World adventure dolls to tap into a girl’s natural curiosity and wild imagination. Ember comes with hiking boots and a grappling hook, not your typical hairbrush and pink stilettos. She’s dressed to explore, push limits and make her own way.

We were careful to avoid the dangerously thin proportions of a typical fashion doll and instead we’ve made her strong and healthy looking. Her body is a tool she can use to accomplish her goals, not the center of her life.

Each of the dolls in our series will have a unique skill set they can use to overcome challenges on their adventures.  We have even created a book series to illustrate what confident, motivated girls can accomplish. We hope the girls who play with these dolls and read our stories will be able to see themselves as adventurers and dream big.

The four follow-up characters in Ember World.

The four follow-up characters in Ember World.

Adventure is beautiful. It’s about pushing boundaries and discovering new things. It’s about believing in yourself and finding your hidden courage. It’s about pressing onward. Every child should practice this a million times when they play: I want to see girls fall in love with adventure. I say it’s important to reinforce to girls that they are allowed to be curious, that it’s good to be brave, and that they also belong at the center of great adventures.

To me, this is not just a doll, it’s a whole new category of toys for girls.


Ember Adventure doll vs Fashion Doll

Ember Adventure doll vs Fashion Doll

My hair is worthy of a shampoo commercial and that’s just what grows on my legs. Plucking and shaving is definitely a full time job”  – Clawdeen Wolf

It seems really odd to describe a doll shaving her legs on a toy targeted to children under 10, but that’s exactly what’s on the bio of the popular Monster High® doll Clawdeen Wolf.  I can’t fathom why a major toy company thinks that young girls care about leg hair! The fashion doll markets seems to be unwilling or unable to move away from the old stereotypes about beauty. It’s 2015! It is time to provide girls with choices outside of the fashion and beauty category.

Adventure dolls are designed to be a refreshing alternative to fashion dolls – built for action. They will feature action-oriented clothing and accessories, an immersive adventure storyline, and a strong and healthy looking body. Each doll is a relatable character, and comes with a unique skill set that she uses to drive the adventure.

I hope you’ll come explore what Ember World is all about!

To help us to raise the funds needed to manufacture the first production run of Ember dolls and storybooks (and to order a doll for a young girl in your life), you can visit our crowdfunding campaign page at:


Ember World creator Katie Nielsen.

Ember World creator Katie Nielsen.

Katie Nielsen is an adventurer, entrepreneur and the founder of Ember World – a toy start-up that is looking to inspire confidence in young girls through adventure play. With a background in business, marketing, and women’s studies Katie is passionate about the empowerment of young girls, and the power of entrepreneurship to help change the culture. She wants to see the toy industry invite girls into the action/adventure space, and she’s making this happen with adventure dolls.

The Power of Pause: Time Traveling During Women’s History Month

The funny thing about using media literacy with your family is that often it pops up or is called for when you are least expecting it. For example, while doing research ahead of our spring break trip the last week of March to Colonial Williamsburg/Jamestown Settlement/Great Dismal Swamp our family was watching a travel video highlighting the local area and best activities. When both kids saw something they knew needed more critical thinking, they grabbed the remote to hit the pause button and have their say.

Let me back up a bit…..

The kids were getting excited about the idea of time traveling and running around the colonial town with their cousins. My husband and I love studying history, but our nine-year-old daughter Amelia is typically leery of this as museum exhibits and events most frequently feature men with only a passing mention of the women of the time. Where are all the stories of the intrepid, fascinating women in our world’s history? Amelia says she often feels left out and isn’t interested in learning about “old white guys and the women who cooked and cleaned for them”.

Amelia read a book on Continental Army soldier Deborah Sampson and now fancies herself a soldier on guard at the Jamestown Fort in 1607.

Amelia read a book on Continental Army soldier Deborah Sampson and now fancies herself a soldier on guard at the Jamestown Fort in 1607.

I know the feeling well and so I do for her what my mom did for me: I provide as many books and videos possible showing the contributions women have made to history. I teach her, when history attempts to write us out we are to make sure we write ourselves right back in. We talk about why these stories were minimized, how significant these women really were, and what we can learn from them.

Back to that video…. a couple weeks ahead of our trip we were watching a travel video to give our nine and seven year old kids a better idea of what Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City is and Amelia could not wait to see Pocahontas featured in the part about Jamestown. Unfortunately, the young heroine whose curiosity, sense of adventure, and ease of friendship played a big role in saving the Jamestown settlement during the Starving Time, negotiating the release of prisoners, brokering peace between the Powhatan Indians and English, and serving as an ambassador for the Virginia Colony was only given the slightest mention in this video.

And when that happened, Amelia immediately hit the pause button for the dvd and called it out. She knew Pocahontas had played a significant role in saving the Virginia Colony.

She knew what she was seeing and hearing was more persuasion than it was fact, and she knew to use her voice to say something about it.

A few minutes later in the video we saw two Colonials read the Declaration of Independence from a balcony, proclaiming Virginia a free land from England. In the frame we also saw a black slave woman standing underneath the balcony these men were on, and certainly she would not be free for nearly 100 years.

Now it was Ben’s turn to grab the remote, press pause, and call out the shameful irony of what he was hearing and seeing.

This critical thinking skill serves my children well. It encourages them to question everything they hear and learn, and nowhere is this more important than when learning about history.

Amelia practices the hard work she would have done as a girl in the Powhatan tribe.

Amelia practices the hard work she would have done as a girl in the Powhatan tribe.

Amelia and I had been studying the political and humanitarian role young Pocahontas played in saving the Jamestown Settlement and Virginia Colony, learning that she was more than the romanticized Indian maiden who saved John Smith. Amelia had also just read a book for school titled “The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson”. Sampson had disguised herself as a man and fought with the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War for 17 months before being honorably discharged.

It is stories like these two women that I teach to my daughter as I teach her to live powerfully. Yesterday our family traveled back in time while visiting the Jamestown Settlement and Powhatan Indian village. We talked with the kids about what the men and women would have been doing during this time. We made sure to tell the kids that American history did not begin with the three ships landing on the shores of Virginia in 1607, rather it began hundreds of years prior with the indigenous people of this land. We made sure to explain the slave trade and what life was like for the millions of Africans who were forced to migrate to the Americas as slaves. We teach our children these history lessons to better inform their future.

We’ve talked about the great Queen Elizabeth, Pocahontas/Rebecca Rolfe, the role of colonial women and what their lives were like, Christina Campbell, Catherine Ferguson, Grimke Sisters,  Dolly Madson, Anne Burras, and others. Today during our visit to the Great Dismal Swamp we talked about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

All of these women led courageous lives, changed the story for countless people, and helped craft a nation. There are thousands more just like them, their names and actions forgotten to the ages.

Our original plan for spring break had been to meet the cousins at Disney World. It probably would have been a very memorable trip, with all the kids still small enough to enjoy those stories and characters and have a really magical time. Now it was time for me to press pause. I’m so glad we’re here in the Historic Triangle where I can teach my daughter and son about the men – and women – who helped to weave the cloth that became America.

Tomorrow we head to Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City, where we will trade Cinderella castles and glass slippers for taverns  and shops owned and operated by savvy businesswomen as we search for the identity of Agent 355 of the Culper Ring.

The magic can wait for another time, on this trip we traded princesses for making memories with truly powerful women instead.

The kids sit at the stern of the Susan Constant at the Jamestown Settlement.

The kids sit at the stern of the Susan Constant at the Jamestown Settlement.