That's Not Merida: The Disconnect Between the Merida we love, Disney, and Target

Pixar Merida vs Disney Merida - Was the sexualization necessary?

The Merida Makeover has been big news the past couple of weeks, and rightly so as families are fast becoming tired of the continuous sexing up of female characters and toys for girls. Viral blog posts, viral petitions, viral satire cartoons…. the story and disbelief of the sexy makeover has proved to be highly contagious.  Discussions and shares on the Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies blog and facebook page last week alone engaged over 60,000 users.

The backlash over Sexy Merida was primarily driven by social media activism giving consumers an aggregated voice that went viral and then hit mainstream media. We’ve seen this before a dozen times (think JC Penney t-shirt gate, Chap Stick, LEGO, sexist Abercrombie tees, SPARK girls vs Seventeen), so this in and of itself is not phenomenal or new.

What was new last week (and phenomenal!) was parents and concerned adults active in communities like Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies became teachers, taking the messages about sexualization and gender stereotypes to their circles. These people turned their friends into informed activists, and that is an incredible thing. The ripple effect can be powerful, which is something I discuss in my upcoming book, “Redefine Girly”.

Disney has not budged in light of the media frenzy over the change.org and other smaller petitions. The petition was a good start and was useful in calling a huge amount of attention to the story. But it only required three seconds of activism. Now we need to go several more layers down, and as experienced activists, I know this community is the perfect group to get busy creating true, lasting change.

There are three things I want us to focus on today:
1. Contact Target to let them know their exclusive versions of Merida dolls are inappropriate and they have lost a sale because you will not purchase these dolls for a child. You can see my comment to Target here.
Effect: This tells retailers that as consumers we will expect more from them and what they carry from suppliers. This tells suppliers/media creators (Disney) their retail partners will also feel pressure when products like the Merida makeover go amiss.

2. Help the Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Community create a list of 5-7 Action Items that creatively lays out steps Disney can take to make this right.
Effect: By using our consumers voices to talk *with* a corporation (as opposed to making demands from) we demonstrate to the people inside that we understand they are friends and parents and neighbors who may not completely understand the issue or how to get out of it. This community believes in “When you know better, you do better”. Let’s show Disney how they can do better.

3. A little bit later today I will introduce a new interactive website that was created by a team of allies dedicated to making sure girls are seen as smart, daring, and adventurous. This website will connect the dots between Merida being a symptom of a much larger public health issue.

Effect: This will be a way to inspire ongoing, informed activism to create lasting change.  The website will simultaneously teach on the issues and harness the power of social media to attract more voices to the discussion with Disney.

First, I want us to focus on letting retailers know what we think when they carry versions of Merida that are disingenuous of the character created by Brenda Chapman, consumers become frustrated and angry and hold them accountable for taking part in spreading sexualized messages to children. Chapman has been very clear on why Merida was created in the spirit she was. Target stores carry some exclusive Disney licenses produced by Mattel. Whether it is a complete lack of common sense, a void of creativity, or both, this doll is not Merida:

Target stores offer the Disney Princess Merida Sparkle Doll.

I wrote a review for this doll, which has yet to populate on the Target website:

While looking for an “end of the school year” gift for my brave and spirited daughter, I stumbled upon this doll and was completely taken aback. I cringed and laughed out loud at the same time.

I would never buy this for my children. This is insulting to the fans and consumers of Pixar’s gem of a female protagonist from last summer. Be sure that the majority of children and parents see right through this. We fell in love with Merida *because* she was different. I would think Target is a large enough retailer to be able to demand better from Disney. Did no one at Target or Disney actually see “Brave”?

This doll is clearly a drastic departure from the Pixar Merida; the wild, strong, fresh faced princess that my entire family fell in love with last summer. I find myself continuing to ask why toy manufacturers insist on such a narrow depiction of female characters, shoving all of them into the “pretty and delicate princess” toy mold. Surely there is more creativity involved in creating this second tier merchandise.

When you put the daring, tangled hair, non-perfect Princess Merida on your shelves, you’ll have a customer in me. This doll is ridiculous and I will be spending my money elsewhere.

 

While I was showing my daughter the doll above, I came across this doll also exclusive to Target:

Only at Target, the Disney Brave Storytellers Meet Merida doll.

And wrote another review, which like the other review has yet to appear on the Target website:

While reviewing Target’s new Princess Merida doll, virtually unrecognizable as Merida, I pulled up this doll to show my daughter the difference between the two and we could not believe what we were seeing.

I purchased this doll in this exact box in November 2012 as a Christmas gift for my daughter. Six months ago the doll did not have a sparkly dress with sweetheart neckline. The doll I purchased wore the emerald green dress Merida wore in the movie when she declared her independence from her mother’s plans for her future. The bow for the doll I purchased was true to the movie, this one is gold and fit for a princess, I presume. Gone is the leather quiver that came with my doll, replaced with a golden comb, natch. A core part of Merida was the character her unruly, wild hair held.

If these dolls are exclusive to Target, licensed through Disney, I have to wonder if Target thinks its consumers are stupid, or if the toy designers never saw the movie or understand exactly what was so popular about it.

I am glad I purchased the Merida that I did before she got the Disney Princess makeover. I would not purchase this current version for my children. When viewing this, my seven year old asked that you be brave enough to make bold dolls for girls. I hope you are up to the task.

My research revealed that both of these dolls seem to be exclusive for Target, designed by Disney and produced by Mattel.  Disney is responsible for the design. My question to my community is, does Target have to carry them? Or can Target be the retailer who stands up and says no to the ridiculous sexualization of these dolls? While the dolls themselves are not overtly sexual, the sexualization comes in when we see a doll like the first one in this post be made over to fit beauty norms and have her beauty be her sole attribute to the exclusion of all other things; she is made into an object of beauty, so much so that she is unrecognizable as the character she is supposed to be.

Let’s inform Target we do not appreciate them carrying dolls that teach our children a girl should be valued for beauty and nothing else. Merida broke that mold in her movie, and I’d like to see Target be the retailer who breaks that mold for our familes. My comment on Target’s facebook page is here, and I would love for you to add your thoughts underneath it or create your own respectful message to Target. As my seven year old daughter said today, she would like toy companies and the grown ups who sell the toys to be brave.

After you make contact with Target, let’s focus our energy as a group on making a list of 5-7 action items to be sent to Disney, sort of a road map for Disney, that includes some creative problem solving but also lets them know we will not stand for the strong female protagonist we fell in love with to fall into the dainty, pretty princess trap. What would we like to see Disney do, and what are reasonable asks? Let us craft this as if it were going into a board room with top executives and as a group of tens of thousands of concerned consumers, this is what we would like to see them do.

For example, toy production for a line like this starts 12-18 months out. Can Target or Disney pull all of the dolls? That may not be possible, and it may not be doable immediately. Could they change website content to erase all instances of the new Sexy Merida and release a statement committing to doing so? Or create content with a counter message, to reassure families they got this wrong and understand now how to get it right? Could they work with Pigtails Pals & Ballcap Buddies to join with us to spread our message “There Are Many Ways To Be A Girl”? Could they write an open letter to girls (but maybe ALL kids, since so many boys loved Merida, too) and express to them they understand why Merida was loved by so many, they are proud of these girls for using their voices, and they promise to do right by them in the future? What are some of your ideas?

I refuse to believe it is a foregone conclusion that corporations act void of ethics or caring.  I run a business and I don’t operate that way. Corporations are made up of people who have families and these issues affect them just as much as they affect us. If it is their job to work at Disney, how can we help them do this aspect of their job better? When my customers contact me and ask for a change, I take it into consideration and many times have made those changes asked for. (Example — remember when I forget the bike helmets on the Bike Riders design? Whoops! It was pointed out to me on our facebook page, the constructive criticism was spot on, and the change was made the next business day.)

Let’s act together as a group and with the members of our sister organizations, be strong advocates for our children. Disney may not know or understand a way out of this. Let’s give them some ideas.

Ultimately, what we do as parents and concerned consumers matters because our children are watching our actions (or lack thereof). My seven year old daughter and five year old son wanted nothing to do with new Sexy Merida. We love Original Merida. As a parent who is conscientious of the media my children take in, the Pixar Merida up against the Disney Princess Merida feels like a bait-and-switch. Disney was remiss not to capitalize on their giant hit popular with boys and girls. The adventurous, bold, fresh-faced princess was a mega-hit because of those qualities. We want to qualities to stay in place.

“That’s not Merida” is the echo from children everywhere. Target and Disney, we ask that you do better, and honor who Merida really was. By doing so, you send a strong message to my son and daughter when they see bold and brave Merida on the shelf. Children learn from the media around them. Let’s give them the healthiest messages possible.

Okay, tell us what you said to Target, and what ideas you have for our list to Disney! And let’s move fast on this! I want a printable ready by Wednesday morning for our new collaborative website!

Housekeeping Items: Petitions, Pejoratives, and Will Not Shares

A few things:
1. Some folks are sending me cartoons and posts on the Sexy Merida makeover, and I just wanted to remind this community that I do not share content that depicts violence against women (one Merida shooting another with an arrow) or articles/posts that use pejoratives against women (whore, slut, skank, etc).

2. This page/business uses media literacy to teach people about the harms of gender stereotypes and sexualization in childhood. We strongly encourage educated activism on the part of our followers, because we understand how these issues negatively impact our children’s development.
Another thing we strongly encourage is teaching children critical thinking skills. For example, this protest against Sexy Merida is not that we are upset that Disney failed to show our children what strong women look like and that we want a giant corporation to do a better job of “babysitting our children”. This protest is about being mindful of the media and messages our children take in, and being upset about Disney introducing a strong female protagonist to our children and then turning her into a sexualized version of her former brave self.

3. I know the change.org petition has received a lot of press, but the real story in my opinion are the individuals who shared blogs and took part in facebook threads with their circles of friends educating them on this subject. It takes three seconds to sign the online petition and that has power (sometimes, in this instance yes) but taking the time to teach has a more lasting effect, and that is what I saw parents from my Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies community and my sister organizations do in their private circles. It was wonderful to watch my followers become teachers themselves. I often say sexualization is the children’s rights issue of our time, and this week we saw parents everywhere take up that fight! I could not be more proud of all of you.

Dear Lego, ___________(you fill in the blank).

I’ve just heard from my colleagues at SPARK that Lego has not responded to our petition with 51,600 signatures from Lego customers upset over the gender stereotypes represented in the new Lego Friends line. They’ve issued press releases battling our talking points, but they have not responded to 51,600 voices. Nor has Lego responded to the two certified letters SPARK and sister orgs have sent requesting a meeting.  Maybe Lego is unaware of how a brand’s identity can become easily and quickly tarnished by people on the internet (see: JC Penney, Chap Stick, and Komen).  

As I sit here in my family room watching my kids play with their Legos (they are building a house for whales with an art room), I find myself wondering how big Pigtail Pals would have to get where I wouldn’t care about 51,600 people being upset with my product and feeling no sense of responsibility to answer them. Maybe “meet in the middle” is lost in translation on the Danes.

Let’s heat things up. Let Lego hear what you have to say. Give your kids a voice, and let them write a letter or color a picture expressing their feelings. This is far from over, especially as I’m getting numerous reports from parents that they bought the a piece from the Friends line with an open mind, and were discouraged when their daughter lost interest in about 20 minutes. I don’t think that has anything to do with girls and their interest or ability in building as it does more reflect the lameness of these Friends sets.

Lego could have done have hit one out of the park with this line. Instead we have a wall of purple boxes representing what I think are an outsider’s stereotypes of what American girls are like. I think girls worldwide deserve better.

Let Lego hear your voice, and if you would like your letter published here, please send me a copy at info@pigtailpals.com. Children’s letters and pictures are most welcome as well!

michael.mcnally@LEGO.com
Jørgen.VigKnudstorp@LEGO.com
Charlotte.Simonsen@LEGO.com
Mads.Nipper@LEGO.com

or

LEGO Systems, Inc.
555 Taylor Road
P.O. Box 1138
Enfield, CT 06083-1138

Child Abuse Doesn’t Look Like Batman or Smurfette

What happens on December 7th? That’s my question for this silly Facebook group whose goal is: “There should be no human faces on Facebook but an invasion of memories to raise awareness to end Violence Against Children.” As of this morning the group has 7,800 some members, no website, is made up of “unnamed volunteers”, and offers no information on child abuse numbers, warning signs, or action items in their facebook feed. Here’s more on the story.

This campaign is supposed to continue until Dec 6th. Child abuse affects 5.8 million children every year in this country alone. If child abuse is a system that feeds on the dehumanization of its tiny victims and the facelessness of the perpetrators, this entire event has me scratching my head. What happens on Dec 7th? People I love deeply were abused as children and most likely would have appreciated and benefited from an awareness campaign, so I’d really really like to know what happens on Dec 7th when this schtick is up.

By now you must surely have seen many of your Facebook friends changing their profile pictures into their favorite childhood cartoon character. Many of mine have. I’ve read and been told this is supposed to raise awareness for child abuse, I’m just confused as to how. I’ve been watching the feeds of my friends, and not a single one has started a conversation about child abuse. Just status updates about holiday shopping and Hanukkah food and impending snow storms. I am not going to change my personal or business Facebook profile picture, and I’d like to give you some better ideas on things that could be done to bring awareness about child abuse and its victims. Because you know, changing your Facebook profile photo for three days is simply the very least you can do.

First, let’s cover the facts so that those of you with cartoon pics can have informed conversations about child abuse when you run into your neighbor at the coffee shop:

Latest studies from 2007 show that just over 5.8 million children were reported in 3.5 million cases to state or local Child Protective Service agencies and accepted as alleged victims of abuse.

An estimated 794,000 children were substantiated as victims of abuse and neglect. Of course, this number would not reflect those children who are never reported or receive help.

An estimated 1, 760 children die from abuse each year. That is five kids a day.

 79% of these deaths are in children under 4 years old, at ages when they are MOST dependent on their caretakers for survival, are small in size, and are completely unable to defend themselves.

Of the 1,760 deaths per year from abuse and neglect, 45.3% of these are children under the age of 1 year. Babies. Infants. Beat and neglected to death. Another 34.5 % were age 1-3 years, too small to defend their tiny bodies.

Parents are responsible for 71% of all physical child abuse and neglect. Family members are responsible for 68% of sexual abuse.

1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. 1 in 3. 1 in 5.

Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.

HERE is an entire file dedicated to teaching you the signs of abuse. Read it. Know it. Act upon it when you see it.

30%of abused and neglected children will go on to abuse and neglect their own children.

Well, now you know your numbers for this awareness raising pledged to take place this weekend, but what could you do if you actually wanted to DO SOMETHING?

  • Suspected cases of child abuse and neglect can be reported to local/state agencies or call National Child Abuse Hotline at 1.800.4.A.CHILD / 1.800.422.4453for help. After you make your report, follow up with the agency in a few weeks to ensure they have checked on the welfare of the child(ren) or to provide any additional information.
  • Volunteer at a Crisis Nursery. I have, and they are the happiest and saddest places you’ll ever see. Find one here.
  • Donate to My Stuff Bags Foundation, that provides immediate, tangible items to children who have been torn away from abusive homes, often without the dignity of personal belongings.
  • Donate items to a Crisis Nursery. They are always in need of: diapers, diaper rash cream, pacifiers, child underwear, batteries, healthy child friendly snacks, pajamas, bedtime blankets, stuffed animals, books, toothbrushes and tooth paste.
  • Go to Charity Navigator – Human Services page to find lists of the top rated charities in the nation that help with child abuse and foster children.
  • Go to Prevent Child Abuse America or Child Help to learn more about the topic and find meaningful ways to contribute.  

If you want to really do something this weekend, if you really want to raise awareness, do it in a lasting, meaningful way. $10 worth of supplies or child items in a bag makes an enormous impact on the little hands it will be placed into. How many friends do you have on Facebook? What if each of you gave $10? If you want to raise awareness and be an advocate, do something meaningful for the children we’re all talking about this weekend.

You don’t have to defend yourselves, tell me it could be helping maybe just one child……DO something. Challenge your friends to do something. But DO something, because on Monday when you change your picture back, “back to normal” won’t happen for the 5.8 million kids being abused. DO something.

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Update: There was a request for information on how to prevent child abuse, as many of my links were about how to react to it. The best information I could find on prevention was THIS.

Update: There have been several messages sent asking about the rumor this Facebook game was started by a group of pedophiles to gain access to children. I have found no verification of this story, and the current status on www.snopes.com is that it is false. (Be warned: Snopes takes the same attitude as this post did.)

COMMENTS TO THIS POST ARE NOW CLOSED. Take the time and energy and go put it into our children.