Gender Stereotypes, Bullying, and Stepping Up: What We Learn from Michael Morones

We need to step up. We need to be the generation of parents who puts an end to bullying in our schools. No more excusing it, no more silence. No more thinking someone else will take care of it. No more kids feeling the only way to escape is to kill themselves.

Last week we learned about Michael, a kind and creative boy who was bullied by his peers because he loved My Little Ponies and the violin. They said he was acting like a girl. They said he was gay. Michael hung himself, and is now surrounded by family and love as he fights to wake up and resume his life. Michael is eleven years old.

“Girly” and “gay” must stop being used as slurs. All people have worth. Being a girl or being gay does not devalue a person. The way a child expresses their individuality has little to do with their gender or sexuality. Gender stereotypes are hurtful and we need to take action to make them unacceptable.

My good friend and colleague Carrie Goldman (author, “Bullied”) brings our attention directly where it needs to be: “We must continue to educate our young people on the fact that gender stereotypes are harmful, and that it is okay for boys and girls to play with all toys, not just the ones marketed to their gender.”

The silence of Michael’s school is also completely unacceptable. Become familiar with the bullying policy at your child’s school. Be proactive and talk to teachers and the principal. Look into programs like Buddy Benches or start an after school Kindness Club. Create a message wall where students can write kind messages to each other on post it notes. If you are at school and see students being unkind to each other, say something to them and set the example for the children around you. Finally, talk with your children at home about being an active witness when they encounter bullying and let them know they can always come talk to you and receive your full attention.

Christian Bucks developed a Buddy Bench for his school. (Image via HuffPo)

Christian Bucks developed a Buddy Bench for his school. (Image via HuffPo)

More info on Buddy Benches: http://magazines.scholastic.com/news/2013/12/Buddy-Bench

Interactive book for K-3 students on stopping bullying, “Jake and Riley’s Recess Rescue”: http://www.pigtailpals.com/jaandrirere.html

A special thank you to my dear friend Carrie Goldman, who is so passionate about this issue and a true champion for our kids. If you have not yet, please pick up a copy of her book “Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins, August 2012)” and learn more about the issue and how we can stop it.

Brave Girls Want Dolls That Do Not Originate In or Reflect Porn Culture – NSFW

A guest post by Charlotte Kugler

*Editor’s Note: Given a contentious facebook discussion this morning, I want to make it clear that myself, Charlotte, and much of the PPBB community understands there are boys and men who enjoy MLP and are great, non-pervy guys. This post isn’t about them.

As a student at Mount Holyoke, a women’s liberal arts college in western Massachusetts, I’ve done a lot of thinking in recent years about feminism and the evolving role of women and girls in American society. A lot of my friends are involved in geek subculture, which is made up of people who are passionate about a variety of hobbies and interests such as anime, books, comics, cosplaying, tabletop roleplaying, and fantasy and science fiction franchises. The term for the fans of any particular fictional work is  “fandom,” and as happens in mainstream culture as well, girls and women in fandom subcultures are often marginalized.

A popular television show among college-aged geeks these days is My Little Pony, which was initially marketed towards young girls with positive messages about friendship and kindness. People my age sometimes re-watch favorite TV series from their childhoods (or other children’s shows that they haven’t seen before) as a way to relax or because they find it fun. However, the adult fandom for My Little Pony is largely composed of men who call themselves “bronies” and who watch the show to mock it, or in worse cases, to actively oppose its female-centric messages and to corrupt its wholesomeness. Some bronies make pornographic art of the characters, called fan art, and write pornographic stories featuring them, called fan fiction. Not all fan art and fan fiction is necessarily pornographic in nature; in fact, much of it isn’t, especially within the fandoms of children’s shows. But when adults deliberately pornify children’s products and media for their own consumption, not only does this severely detract from the purpose of the show— in the case of My Little Pony, to teach young girls about how to be good people—but it also sets up an inappropriate and sometimes dangerous situation on the Internet. How many mothers know that if their daughters or sons do a Google search for the character names in My Little Pony, they may inadvertently stumble upon pornographic pictures? Yes, there is Pinkie Pie porn, in keeping with Rule 34.

What does this porn look like? Take a guess! The recently-launched line of toys called Equestria Girls feature humanized versions of the pony characters. These figures are highly sexualized and are designed to appeal to the media-engendered desire of many girls these days to look and act more grown up than they are. These dolls bear a striking resemblance to some of the pornography drawn by male adult fans of My Little Pony in which the ponies are humanized in order to be able to perform sexually. Little girls are playing with dolls that through coincidence or design now look like actual pornography on the Internet, with clothing and attitudes that may later turn up on the Internet as well, in Facebook selfies. These dots bear connecting. Toy companies succeed in increasingly blurring the line between childhood and adulthood, and contribute to the overall mainstreaming of porn culture.

Girls deserve to grow up free from the stereotyped and sexualized versions of girlhood and female gender roles marketed by corporations like the one behind Equestria Girls…and Monster High, and Winx Club, et cetera. They deserve to be encouraged to explore all of the interests and opportunities that boys are able to investigate as children without limitation based on their gender. They also deserve to enter adolescence not suffering already from low self-esteem, poor body image and eating disorders, and unhealthy views of sexuality, which can all result when society pushes young girls to define themselves according to what boys and men expect of them.

I’m so happy to see that my mother (Lori Day) and Melissa Wardy and so many other adults care about this issue and have even formed an organization to directly address it called Brave Girls Alliance (www.bravegirlswant.com). I know what brave girls want. They want dolls that do not originate in or reflect porn culture!

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Charlotte Kugler

Charlotte Kugler is a 21-year-old senior at Mount Holyoke College in western Massachusetts. She is double-majoring in English and Anthropology and will be applying to graduate schools this fall in pursuit of a Master’s degree in Communications. Charlotte is the contributing author to the upcoming book Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More, written with her mother, Lori Day.

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Melissa’s notes:

The parallels that Charlotte draws in her post from porn culture to children’s media is something that greatly concerns me as a parent. I want you to view these images and look for similarities in apparel, shoes, posts, hair, facial expressions, body shape, etc. The line between porn and childhood is very blurred indeed.

Here is a fun game to play: Put Hugh Hefner in the line up of any of these “toys” ensembles. Does he look out of place? Does that sentence alone make your head explode? If Hugh Hefner doesn’t look out of place standing in line with children’s toys, what does that say about children’s toys?

These images are from the Playboy Mansion, Monster High, Esquestria Girls, strip club billboards in Los Angeles and London, Winx Club, and a Halloween costume superstore website. The fact they could all be layered on top of each other and not look dissimilar should have you thinking critically about the media and products being sold to our children, and the overall message being given about the value and worth of the female body.

Want to be part of making change? Support the fundraising campaign of the Brave Girls Alliance, where we are taking these messages about healthier media and products for girls to the heart of Times Square: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/brave-girls-invade-times-square/x/3977451

We are nearly 70% funded and have only a week left! We want to take YOUR voices to the billboards of Times Square and work together to say ENOUGH!