This weekend my husband and I took the kids into Chicago for a day in the city. I had a brunch with Ines from 7 Wonderlicious to discuss brand strategy, and the kids were anxious to tear up the Children’s Museum at Navy Pier. I had checked out the website for the museum the night before, and was really excited to see some of the exhibits like the Artabounds Studio, Dinosaur Expedition, and Skyline.
I consider museums to be sacred. They are esteemed building of knowledge where everyone becomes an equal because of their hunger for learning. When I’m feeling completely run down and out of sorts, I head for an art museum. It helps my head to just sit in the sound and the color of the paintings. I have successfully passed down my love of museums to my children, who at ages four and two years old seem to already know everything and question everything all at the same time.
So the night before our trek into the city, I’m pouring over the website and then look at the link for the gift shop. I always like to know ahead of time if places have little trinkets available so each of the kids can get a small ($5 or less) toy when we leave. Then I come across a t-shirt that makes my head explode. I shared the image on our Pigtail Pals Facebook page, and many people had the same reaction. Not only did the shirt have no place in a museum, some commented it had no place, period. I am offended by limitation, especially when aimed at my children whose minds know no boundaries.
My confusion on this has several parts:
1. Why sell a princess shirt in a museum with no exhibits about princesses?
2. Why sell only two shirts for girls, this one with a tiny-waisted white princess, the other pink with butterflies and caption “You make my heart flutter”?
3. Why are girls limited, constantly, to Princess Culture? Why is this their ONLY choice?
4. Why are we constantly bombarding our girls with a very narrow definition of beauty?
5. What do a few royal sparkles and odd floating high heel have to do with learning?
In case you are wondering, the boys had three shirt options: a pirate, a T Rex roaring at the skyline of downtown Chicago, and a blue tee with a space shuttle on it that read “Big Dreams Start Small”.
Girls = “You make my heart flutter.” Butterflies Boys = “Big dreams start small.” Spaceshuttle
Big dreams start small. My daughter is small. She has big dreams.Not a single one, so far as she has shared with me, is about princesses nor their sparkles. She dreams about narwhals and dolphins and Sea World and seals and flying to Madagascar. She thinks volcanic eruptions are divine and she loves to pour and measure liquids. This morning when she was playing pretend with her little brother, she didn’t ask for a princess dress or enchanted high heel to wear. She asked for seal fur so that she could go to the Arctic.
Next to the princess tee above was half a wall of purses trimmed in fur, tiaras, magic wands, jewelry,and fairy wings. Next to the boy’s pirate shirt were astronaut and space toys, dinosaurs, maps, rescue gear and vehicles.
My daughter came to this building for learning. Gender stereotypes do not help her, nor my little son, learn. They limit them. They diminish who she thinks she can be, and what he believes girls are capable of. I teach them everything to the contrary, but this is the urban wallpaper I am forced to raise my children with. Even in this building of learning and exploration.
The gift shop offerings belied the experiences I saw as my family moved through the exhibits. I saw girls pretending to be bugs, playing with cars, building skyscrapers, digging up dino bones, putting out pretend fires, and experimenting with physics like racing balls and flying planes they made of foam pieces. My daughter discovered the joy of delivering enormous static shocks to her dad after she slid down the slide in the Treehouse Trails. She discovered sparks, but not sparkles.
I don’t understand why so much of the marketplace for children does not reflect children. It reflects what a company thinks a child ought to be.
I think we need to change the way we think about our girls.
I am offended by the limitation being sold and taught to girls. I do not accept it. Not for my daughter, not for yours.
If the princess paraphernalia were one of ten other options, I wouldn’t be writing this post. When it is the only option, my head explodes. Childhood is not a time for limitation and stereotypes.
Next time I go to the museum, I hope to see them carrying shirts that show girls as astronauts, doctors, scientists, carpenters, paleontologists, and pilots. Shirts, like these.
We need to change the way we think about our girls.