Sexism From The Back Seat: What Women Want

At least no one said "thigh gap".

At least no one said “thigh gap”.

While driving with my children this morning we heard an obnoxious morning radio program ask a trivia question for listeners. “What do forty percent of women wish they had?”

 
My kids – my kids, who live in the epicenter of media literacy, critical thinking, and gender equality – began yelling out their guesses from the back seat.
 
“An engagement ring!”
“A husband!”
“A nice kid!”
“Coffee! Tequila, probably, if they have kids.”
 
Ummmm…..what? I wondered why these were their answers. Did they really think this is what women coveted, or did they think this is what women would probably answer? Would those have been their answers had the question been about men? Probably not, and I wanted them to think about that. 
 
Then the callers were put on air with their answers: husbands, bigger boobs, lose weight, shopping spree, better hair, etc.
 
“What total, sexist crap,” I said as I flicked the station.
 
So I shouted out my own answers:
 
“Diversified stock portfolio!”
“An executive position and house husband!”
“Equal pay for equal work!”
“Win IronWoman!”
“Sell off a successful business and travel the world!”
“An all-female government!”
“A Woman Card-toting sparkling UNICORN!”
 
My unamused ten-year-old said, “Okay, okay you’ve made your point.”
 
“Thank you, 1956. You had me worried there for a moment. Marriage and kids are nice, if that is what a woman chooses for herself, but these days women can dream about things beyond being a wife and mother,” I replied.
 
Gender stereotypes creep up everywhere, all the time. It is not unnormal for your child to repeat them, whether or not they are reinforced at home. They are influenced by society just like we are.
When you hear stereotypes, you need to redirect them. Even when your kids don’t readily agree with you, (hello, parents of four-year-olds) your comments will challenge their thinking and lay a foundation for them to question the gender binary and stereotypical boxes we place people in.
 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining 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.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

Mom and Daughter Question the Gendered Difference In Boys’ and Girls’ Clothing Sizes

If you’ve shopped for children’s clothing in the past few years you understand not all things are created equal. Despite parents loudly supporting moves to get away from gender stereotypes in the children’s marketplace and a new bunch of small businesses popping up to offer more gender neutral (we prefer “gender inclusive”) children’s apparel, when shopping mainstream it is very difficult to find clothing that is not segregated by color, theme, and even fit. From infants to youth, the problem persists with very troubling messaging behind it about what size girls’ bodies should be and what things they should like. 

In the guest post below, Gabrielle New and her daughter Sparky, 9, unpack all of this following a recent shopping trip for youth t-shirts. 

I have a nine-year-old daughter whom I refer to online as “Sparky”. She’s barely 4’ tall and weighs about 47 lbs, so she’s usually in the 1% on the growth charts and wears a size 6.  She’s also a geek and a Disney fan, like her mama, so she enjoys t-shirts with her favorite characters on them.  Recently, we went on a shopping trip to our local Target, and saw that character tees were marked down, so we glanced through them.  Sparky found a shirt from the girls’ 6-16 aisle that she liked with Mal from Disney’s Descendants, and then we checked the corresponding boys’ rack, as they often have characters there that she likes (Target is getting somewhat better at including super heroes on the girls’ aisle, but there is often an overabundance of glitter and pink, and we both get tired of that.)  We found a cute Star Wars shirt on the boys’ rack, and decided to get both shirts.  We chose a size Small for both shirts, knowing the boys’ shirt would be sized a little differently.  Then we got home and compared them.

We were both shocked at the extreme size difference between the two shirts.  A size Small should fit the average 6-7 year old child.  I can’t image there is usually such a huge dichotomy in the bodies of children of different sexes at that age.  It struck such a note with my daughter that she decided to write down her thoughts,

Why do some places, for example, Target, have different sized shirts for boys and girls? Well, I think it’s unfair. Why can’t they just have different sized kids shirts? Here are some reasons I think we should just have different sized kids shirts.

Here is my first reason. I found a “boys” shirt I liked. My mom bought it for me and it was big around the waist. The shirt probably won’t be found in the “girls” side and we couldn’t find it in a smaller size. That is my first reason.

My second reason goes something like this. The “boys” and “girls” shirts might not fit the boys or/and girls. The shirts might be too slim or too wide for both genders. They could also be too small or too big. That is my second reason.

These are the reasons I have for why “boys” and “girls” shirts should not be different sizes.

Her teacher might be pleased with her paragraph structure but I am very proud that my daughter is aware of two kinds of sexism at play here.  First, the assumption that Star Wars would be uninteresting to girls.  While Disney is doing better with Rey, we are still seeing most geeky merchandise reserved for boys.  And when it is marketed to girls, it’s often pastel or pink, glittery, and missing all the cool jokes or mash-ups.

Second, there is a measure of body-shaming inherent in only selling “long and lean” overly fitted shirts for girls and huge, square-ish shirts for boys.  My daughter may enjoy a fitted shirt sometimes because she is so petite, but her friends come in all sizes.  So, she argues that all shirts should be available to all children, in a variety of sizes, so everyone can enjoy whichever shirts they like.

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it, and you may even speak up about it.  I hope my daughter continues to speak up when she sees something she thinks is wrong, and I thank this community for helping me teach her.

 

Gabrielle New is actively raising awareness for gender equality while working and raising her family in California. Sparky is a fourth grader, a junior red belt in Tae Kwon Do, a geekling, and a world-changer in the making.

Have you experienced this with your family? What do your kids think about marketers telling kids what their bodies should look like, and what characters they should love?

 

Toys Ads and Distorted Children’s Play

What do kids learn about gender from watching TV ads?

What do kids learn about gender from watching TV ads?

A group of powerful children’s advocates in the UK, Let Toys Be Toys For Girls and Boys, studied television commercials for toys and found that boys and girls are painted very differently by marketers. While marketing directly to children is questionable to begin with, using marketing gimmicks steeped in sexism is even more so. 

Let Toys Be Toys’ study  revealed how sexism and gender roles are directly marketed to our youngest members of society:

The results should be no surprise to those parents who watch commercial television with their children; a majority of TV adverts show boys and girls playing separately, in very stereotypical ways.

  • Boys were shown as active and aggressive, and the language used in adverts targeted at them emphasises control, power and conflict. Not one advert for baby or fashion dolls included a boy.
  • Girls were generally shown as passive, unless they were dancing. The language used in the ads focuses on fantasy, beauty and relationships. Out of 25 ads for toy vehicles, only one included a girl.

Ads targeted at boys were mainly for toys such as vehicles, action figures, construction sets and toy weapons, while those targeted at girls were predominantly for dolls, glamour and grooming, with an overwhelming emphasis on appearance, performing, nurturing and relationships.

Ads that featured boys and girls together were usually in categories such as action/board games, art/craft materials, interactive toys and soft toys. The action games we watched all had boys and girls playing together, although boys outnumbered girls 3:2, and these ads all had male voiceovers.

Some ads that featured boys and girls together showed them as adversaries, for example the girls screaming and running away from the boy’s Wild Pets remote control spider, or the boy trying to break into a girl’s secret journal.

The full report can be found here, but an easy synopses to use with children to make them better aware of these issues are the word clouds LTBT made from boy and girl commercials:

LTBT Boys Cloud

Let Toys Be Toys boys’ cloud from television commercials, 2015.

LTBT Girls Cloud

Let Toys Be Toys girls’ cloud from television commercials, 2015.

 

The findings are not shocking to anyone aware of the gender stereotypes children face as they try to navigate childhood, but they are important because:

1. We can compare/contrast this with findings from a similar study in 2011 – despite all the advocacy and media attention around this topic, has anything changed? You can also compare/contrast the 2015 word clouds by LTBT to the 2011 word clouds Crystal Smith (author of “Achilles Effect: What Pop Culture Is Teaching Boys About Masculinity”) created from her study:

Achilles Effect word cloud from boys' commercials, 2011.

Achilles Effect word cloud from boys’ commercials, 2011.

AchE Girls

Achilles Effect word cloud from girls’ commercials, 2011.

 
2. The word clouds from both studies serve as an excellent teaching tool to use with kids when practicing media literacy. You can also include music, sounds, tone of voice, and colors used in toy advertisements to break down how toy companies are trying to shape boy consumers and girl consumers. Push the kids to use critical thinking around whether or not those depictions match up to their own play interests and those of children they know.
(Example: My daughter was very upset my son got a remote control car from Santa but she did not, and accused Santa of being sexist. She delighted in borrowing aforementioned remote control car to run over an obstacle course of Peanut gang figures and Princess magna-clip dolls.)
 
3. We are given insight into how marketers and society at large views children. We can take time to contact these offending companies and ask them to do better. We can also take time to contact the companies who are getting it right and make sure we sing their praises to friends, family, and social media circles.
We can then take this information and subvert the messaging within our own families and become better informed consumers. When our children grow up seeing boys and girls as equals and unique individuls, they become better informed people.
 
{Thank you to Let Toys Be Toys – For Girls and Boys and Achilles Effect for all of your hard work!}

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa 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.

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

Dad Writes To Fisher-Price To Let Them Know Trains Are For Girls, Too

The White Family, lovers of trains and confident girls.

The White Family, lovers of trains and confident girls.

UPDATE 11-23-15: Fisher-Price response is at end of post.

This week I met Jake White on Twitter, a dad raising two daughters who love trains and engineering toys. He wanted to share his family’s disappointment with the current Fisher-Price holiday catalog from Toys “R” Us that featured only boys playing with Thomas trains.

Really – page after page of boys happily playing with trains. Zero girls.

His main concern was why, in 2015, do toy companies still cling to the belief only boys enjoy playing with trains and building things?

As Jake points out perfectly in his letters, “Girls also love discovering new things, using their imagination, and engaging in problem solving and cooperation. Those are not boy-specific endeavors.”

Below is the letter he sent to Fisher-Price Global Brands Executive Vice President Geoff Walker, published here with Jake’s permission. Jake sent a similar letter to Richard Barry, Toys “R” Us Executive Vice President, Global Chief Merchandising Officer.

November 17, 2015

Geoff Walker
Executive Vice President, Fisher-Price Global Brands

Fisher-Price Brands
636 Girard Avenue
East Aurora, NY 14052

Dear Mr. Walker,

Last week we received a mailer from Toys “R” Us advertising various Thomas & Friends products offered at Toys “R” Us stores.  I have attached copies of a few pages of the mailer.  My wife and I were excited about the mailer. She pointed out a coupon for a free Thomas train.  We were excited because both of our daughters, ages 6 and 3, love Thomas.  Especially our youngest daughter, Arwen.  In fact, she loves Thomas so much, her third birthday party in April sported a Thomas & Friends theme, complete with a Thomas banner, homemade train, Thomas plates and cupcakes, and Thomas favors for her friends.  Our oldest daughter, Abby, also likes Thomas because she is a budding engineer who loves putting together new and unique track formations and learning about how trains work.

My excitement quickly turned to disappointment.  I wanted to turn the mailer over to Arwen, but, as I always do before handing over something to my 3-year-old, I flipped through it first.  What I saw was page after page of pictures of boys playing with Thomas engines and accessories.  In fact, there were seventeen pictures of boys included in the mailer.  I was absolutely shocked that I did not see a single picture of a girl playing with Thomas toys.  Not one.

I simply cannot understand how this could happen.  Surely there must be thousands, perhaps even millions, of young girls who love to play with Thomas & Friends toys.  Why would Toys “R” Us and Fisher-Price fail to make any effort to market these toys to girls?  On the back of the removable “Shopping Guide” the following question is posed – “Why Thomas & Friends?”  The answers are: “Discovery” “Imagination” “Problem Solving” and “Cooperation”.  Surely these are traits and ideas that should be encouraged in children regardless of their sex.  Girls also love discovering new things, using their imagination, and engaging in problem solving and cooperation.  Those are not boy-specific endeavors.

Needless to say, I did not turn the mailer over to my daughter.

I hope that, in the future, you will ensure that these types of products are marketed to all children, regardless of their sex.  Please respect children enough to allow them to make their own choices regarding the toys that they play with.

I attempted to raise this issue with your company through its “Thomas & Friends” Facebook page and Twitter account, but received no response.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Jacob J. White

Arwen at her train-themed birthday party.

Arwen at her train-themed birthday party.

I really appreciate when parents like Jake and his wife Aiyana make the effort to provide diverse play experiences for their children, free of gender expectations and stereotypes. Most of the children our family knows play this way – childhood is more than shades of pink and blue.

I also appreciate when parents take the time to use their voices to create meaningful change for children, especially with toy companies who use outdated and limiting gender messages in their marketing and packaging.

Jake, a union lawyer, and Aiyana, a screenwriter, live in the Los Angeles area with their daughters Abby and Arwen.

 

UPDATE: On November 23 Fisher-Price responded to our post with the following tweets. Their response was encouraging and the PPBB Community is hopeful the Fisher-Price Marketing Team takes to heart the idea that all toys are for all kids.

FP Twt 1

FP Twt 2

FP Twt 3

On November 17 ABC News covered another parent’s similar reaction to the Thomas catalog – read the story here. In ABC’s report mom Rebecca Binder is quoted saying, “Girls love Thomas for the same reason boys do. The story lines are all about friendship and teamwork. I see her building complete worlds around her Thomas toys. I just don’t want Reece to ever think it’s weird that she likes them.”

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa 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.

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

 

 

 

A Little Girl Defines Princesses

This story was sent in by PPBB Mom Katie N:

“She gets it! My seven-year-old daughter overheard me make a hypothesis.

Last night a young friend declared that princesses need rescuing. During my lengthy argume– discussion with him, it became apparent that this was very deeply ingrained. As far as he had been taught, princesses are always needing to be rescued. His dad is very anti-princess. My hypothesis was that his dad didn’t want his sister to be into princesses because he also believes that princesses are weak and always needing rescuing.

My daughter asked me why he believed that. I said he probably believes it because that is what our society teaches. That’s what video games show and what stories often tell.

She got a little riled up: ‘But princesses aren’t like that! Princesses are strong and brave! *throws up bicep curl/victory fist* So are girls. Girls are just like princesses!’

She walked on for a bit, seemingly over her moment of passion. But then she stopped to let me catch up. She told me that tomorrow we should have some girl time to see how strong and brave we are.”

Image via thedeadintern.tumblr.com

Image via thedeadintern.tumblr.com

Further reading: 

Historical warrior princesses vs today’s “princess camps”: A Princess Camp Worthy Of Our Girls

How parents can help redefine what “princess” can mean: Repackaging Princesses  and A Different Narrative

Pointing out how ingrained in culture “princess = girls” is: A Sparkly Mermaid Princess Did Not Remove My Gall Bladder

A book list that helps shift the princess image: The Redefine Princessy Book List

 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa 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.

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