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