Support new documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom

The Mask You Live In

What about the boys? There is so much focus on how girls are treated by society and media, it is a valid question to stop and ask if we are giving the same considerations to boys and what that impact might be.

I notice it most with teens and young men, their movements are like a choreographed dance, their gait and posturing all mimicking each other. In college my girlfriends and I called it “The Man Dance”, as we sat there waiting for these boys to really figure out what it meant to be a man. But you’d look into their eyes, or have a long conversation with one of your guy friends, and realize they are just as confused, uncertain, excited, compassionate, and lonely as we were. We were allowed to show it, of course, because we were girls. The boys couldn’t because then the homophobic slurs would start, and our friend would be teased for having any human emotion beyond indifference and arrogance.

I was raised with brothers and am now raising a son. I’ve always had a close group of guy friends, even now, and I feel like I understand their insecurities and hopes and ambitions. My husband is the kind of man who says ‘I love you’ to all of us all of the time, who is affectionate and intelligent and thoughtful. He is a “man’s man”, but he is a man who respects women and is kind and gentle to children. He has emotions, we’ve seen him cry over more than just sports. Our son is allowed to dance and wear toe polish and love art with as much freedom as he is allowed to love racing down the street on his bike and mud stomping through creeks and catching bugs. He is allowed to be a human being, to laugh and cry and worry and whoop and shy away.

But not all boys have that right. Yesterday I heard a mother tell her eighteen month old son not to be “such a wuss” because he didn’t want to kill a bug. I heard a group of teen boys walking down the city street in front of my house, one boy being teased for being a “pussy”. He must have committed some indiscretion against the Man Code which immediately earned him the fate of being feminized and degraded.

And I wonder, will they be allowed the space to grow into their own manhood? What kind of men will they be? Or will they have to wear the mask?

My friend and colleague Jennifer Siebel Newsom has begun a new project looking at all of these issues facing our boys. Whether you have sons or daughters or no children, how our society treats its youngest members is impacting all of us. Jennifer and I have talked to each other about the hopes and dreams we have for our children and how the media and culture impacts our vision of the people our children can become. Jennifer is raising two daughters and a son.

Her new project, The Mask You Live In, will be a 75 minute documentary featuring powerful interviews with popular thought leaders and celebrities as well as academics and experts in neuroscience, biology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, ethics, education, sports, media, and history. It will be an exploration of American masculinity, and what prices our boys pay to fill that role.

From the Kickstarter campaign page: “The Mask You Live In documentary will examine how gender stereotypes are interconnected with race, class, and circumstance, and how kids are further influenced by the education system, sports culture, and mass media- video games and pornography in particular. The film also highlights the importance of placing emphasis on the social and emotional needs of boys through healthy family communication, alternative teaching strategies, conscious media consumption, positive role modeling and innovative mentorship programs.”

I hope you join PPBB in supporting this much needed project. Jennifer has set to to continue the discussion and increase the comprehension of gender inequality in our country. Click HERE to visit the Kickstarter page to support this project, even a $25 or $50 donation will push the project forward.

I'm Here For The Shark

“We went to a local festival where there was face painting. When we approached the tent, my 4yr old daughter was offered a butterfly, heart, or a flower. She let them know that she was there for a shark.” -PPBB Community Member Bess Bedell

When we limit our children, we limit our children.
Why not offer them the entire world, and allow them to choose their own way through it?

Did the face painter really give the child choices by only offering options based on gender assumptions? What messages do those assumptions tell girls? Would the face painter have offered the same choices to a boy? Would sparkles have been offered to a boy? Is a little girl required to like sparkles?

Could we just get out of their way and let kids be kids?

A little girl who is very proud of her shark!

 

The Space To Be Kids: A Lesson in Picture Frames

I have two kids, a boy and a girl. Amelia just turned six, Benny is almost four. With it being mid-winter and still getting dark around 5pm, our family needs activities in the evening to keep the children creative and industrious (read: keep them from destroying more of our house). This weekend the project was decorating frames for their school pictures for their dad’s new office.

We dumped out the tub of art supplies, armed each kid with a bottle of glue, and got down to it. Glitter glue, feathers, foam bugs, pom poms, jewels, scraps of paper, and tubes of glitter were in hot demand. Both kids were really into their creations, and it very quickly became obvious we’d have to ration the glitter.  Both kids had access to everything on the table, and the only instructions were to “have at it”. I found the end results to be really interesting.

One child described their frame as, “Camouflaged and woodsy so I can be a dangerous hiding animal.”  Huh.
The other child described their frame as “Pretty and beautiful and nice.”  Aww.

Benny and Amelia

Two frames. One by a boy, one by a girl.

We need to give kids the space to be themselves.

The best part of the night was when my husband came in from shoveling snow, saw the kids frames, and asked how they decided to decorate them. Amelia made the comment about being a dangerous woodland animal. Mr. Pigtail Pals said that he hopes she doesn’t jump out of the frame and bite him, and then tickled her until she collapsed into a heap on the floor. Mr. Pigtail Pals said something about how he liked all of the sparkly and bright color on Benny’s frame. Benny sat there and beamed. Mr. Pigtail Pals asked Benny how he chose all the special decorations, and Benny answered that he wanted it to be “Pretty and beautiful and nice” for his daddy to look at while he was away from us at work. Mr. Pigtail Pals said it would be wonderful to have something “pretty and beautiful and nice” from his Benny Boy.
Kids just need the space to be kids. Free of stereotypes, free of limitations.
 
More on giving kids space:
“Shiloh, Meet My Daughter” click here. (From Princess Free Zone)
“Gender equity: Doing the math” click here.
“10 Reasons Girls & Boys Should Play Together” click here. (From Superhero Princess, The Sanford Harmony Program)
“Robert Munsch and Gender Balance” click here. (From Achilles Effect)

Lowest Common Denominator

Lego wordle from Lego Friends tv commercial. Any of that say STEM to you?

I know we’ve been talking about Lego quite a bit.

What I find so fascinating about this story is how it is the perfect microcosm of all things girlhood these days. Corporate pink-washing, relegating girls to all things pretty and sweet, beauty over brains, using sexism to defend sexism, make-up on 8 year olds in a Lego tv commercial, and the list goes on.

So while this is about Lego, this is about so much more. Lego is just a symptom of ginormous problems staring down our girls. I just hope we are raising them to be tough enough to take it on and squash it.

Lowest Common Denominator

To be fair, the new Lego Friends isn’t all bad. It is just that it isn’t all that good, from a brand parents go to as an amazing brain-boosting toy. This new line leaves many parents wondering how Lego sees their girls’ brains, as the girl’s line is heavy on the cute, light on construction (I don’t count putting flower petals on stems or bows on dogs as building). I do like the science lab and tree house, and even the cafe (a little bit) and vet clinic. Olivia’s big house looks like it would be fun to build. Amelia, my almost-6-year-old would like them, but we would both be left wishing the majority of the sets required more actual construction. And challenging construction at that. There are so few building pieces, it would be hard to take them apart and build your own creation. That is the kind of stuff that breaks my Lego-loving heart.

The other part that breaks my heart is how segregated by gender Lego has become. Amelia received and loved the Lego City Marina for Christmas. For her birthday next week, my mom and dad got her another section of Lego City. I bought her a tub of primary colored bricks and a green and blue building board. But I wonder in a couple of years how my kids will view Lego, with the boy-dominated licensed sets and the all-girl Heartlake City. Lego has drawn a rather thick pink and blue line in the sand. Try as I might, I don’t know how much longer I will be able to keep Lego gender-equal in my home. As it stands, Lego seems to have some pretty sexist messages jumping off their boxes at kids, and I’m not a huge fan of teaching my kids sexist messages. Lyn Mikel Brown says,“The human brain is “fantastically plastic” and the best thing we can do for our children is to give them a full range of opportunities and experiences, especially in the early years. We don’t know at five how little Tierra’s or Tommy’s passions and talents will surface, so why pay good money to limit their options to the pink and blue aisles of toy stores?”

Lego is in the spot they are in not because girls changed, but because Lego changed on girls. To boost sales in the early 2000′s they focused on licensing deals with boys square in their sights. Girls stopped playing with Lego because Leg0 stopped including them. You’ve all seen the 1981 “What it is, is beautiful” ad circulating….1981 was 31 years ago. 31 years is a long time, Lego. Lego’s own marketing told girls that Lego wasn’t for girls. You can kinda see how girls went they way they did on this one.

Lego used the lowest common denominator  in girlhood to design their line. Lego says the end result is after four years of $4 million in global research and this is what girls and moms want. For reals, Lego? I guess they didn’t interview the several thousands of moms (and dads and aunts and uncles and grandmas and caring adults) who voiced their opinion on the Lego Facebook page, several thousand more from the Pigtail Pals Facebook page (and other rad groups like Powered By Girl, SPARK, New Moon GirlsPrincess Free Zone, Reel Girl; and the formidable girl culture expert, one Peggy Orenstein). A change.org petition calling for Lego to try harder for our girls has a couple thousand signatures.  Lego says their research revealed girls play in the first person, are interested in beauty, and want to get to their role playing more quickly than boys. This fascinates me, as I have spent the past two weeks watching my female child play HOURS of Lego and not once tell herself to hurry it up so her Lego self can get her plastic hair done at the beauty salon.

Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth asks, “How (and why) are we missing profound opportunities to leverage neuroscience breakthroughs for positive change, wellness and play? How can we finally be tossing aside ‘hardwired corpus calossum theories’ on differences in boys/girls, acknowledging brain plasticity and realizing this play pattern/edu deficit stuff is NOT ‘set in stone’ and yet simultaneously standby to see Lego spend $40 million in mega-marketing bucks to proceed to SET it in stone.” Read the entire amazing post HERE.

You know how I always say, “I’m not anti-pink. I’m not anti-princess. I am anti-limitation. When we limit our children, we limit our children.”? Well, that pithy Amy Jussel says it this way and I like it:

I AM against stacking the deck of ‘learned behavior’ with pervasively marketed signals of stereotyped imagery embedding into the brain with stiflingly narrowcast assembly-line rote mimickry. I far prefer pure, imaginative, problem-solving free form fun.

I encourage you to watch the Lego Friends tv commercials, with the make-up clad third graders in the opener making a heart with their hands (awww, somewhere Taylor Swift just did one back) and the music sparkles and we are introduced to Heartlake City, the pinky-purple enclave where the Lego Friends live. With hearts on sky scrapers not a male in sight. Weird.

Watch as the saccharine-sweet narrator talks about the Friends partying at the cafe with the girls (only after they’ve been styled at the salon) because they need to chill after decorating their houses. It is important to note the commercial doesn’t show the girls finishing up a surgery at the clinic and then heading over to the science lab to help Lego Friend Olivia with her latest experiment. Lego shows the girls get coiffed at the salon and then go party.  I think Lego needs to Redefine Girly just a tish.

I think the commercial speaks loudly as to how Lego sees girls, what Lego thinks girls are interested in, and how highly Lego holds girls’ capacity for spacial reasoning and construction play. Will this attract our girly-girls out there who think Lego is only for boys, or will only play with pink and pretty things? Maybe. I am yet unconvinced the ends justify the means. Being a girly-girl doesn’t make one incapable of building and planning and designing and reasoning, but Lego doesn’t seem to see it that way. Lego has a very clear idea of what “girly” means to them.

I am left wondering, in the age of childhood obesity, why Lego could not have created a juice bar/farmer’s stand with fresh produce and flowers? The all-female residents of Heartlake City are shown in the commercials rolling down to the cafe for burgers, shakes, and cupcakes. Instead of a cupcake baker, couldn’t Lego Friend Andrea be an organic farmer and we could build her a barn and big Chevy farm truck? And she could have a little laptop where she tracks weather systems and soil conditions and Skypes with other organic farmers around the world? No? Too much?   

I also wonder, why can’t a single one of the girls work in downtown Heartlake in one of those skyscrapers? Maybe as, oh I don’t know…an engineer or architect? Is that just crazy talk? Why are they in the burbs decorating houses and cupcakes? Did I miss the Lego Friends Time Machine that zapped us back to 1952? Were you to lay a track of the Lego Friends commercial over one for Barbie Charm School or Lelli Kelly sparkle toe shoes or anything Disney Princess, they all sound exactly the same. Somehow Lego and other marketers decided the way to attract XX-chromosome customers you need a syrupy-sweet female voice with blue birds singing in the background to sell girls on the notion their role in this world is to be pretty and sweet. Way to STEM it up, Lego.

As Daniel Sinker says in his post, “Legos are still held up as a gateway to engineering and science, and despite my misgivings about the current state of their kits, I still believe they are. But if they’ve become toys marketed to a single gender, then we’re just reproducing the already awful gender imbalance in STEM education and employment.”

If girls are playing in the first person, as Lego says their research found, why is Lego not making people that are amazing role models for girls? Why is Lego not taking this opportunity to promote STEM to girls? In addition to a cafe owner, where is the calculus teacher or surgeon or CEO or scientific explorer or rescue worker or geologist or…..anything but what they gave us that sells girls short. Mireya Mayor is a famous National Geographic wildlife explorer, author, and a total girly-girl, even when treking across the world discovering new animal species. Lego, the king of licensing, couldn’t send her an email? I’d buy Mireya Mayor or Bindi Irwin Lego by the bucket. I like the vet (short skirt-wearing vet, this was questioned by a vet on our Facebook page) and the invention lab, but instead Lego morphed Polly Pockets and Barbie into brick form. Lego had such an amazing opportunity here to break away from the pack at the quarter pole and be a champion for girls. They didn’t take it. It is still out there, Mega Bloks, in case your listening.

Somebody please have the guts to show our girls how strong and smart and incredible and powerful they can be. I do it with my shirts and I sell them by the thousands. Let’s put that into a little plastic toy form. I’ve got ideas, who wants to listen? Mattel, wanna talk? Manhattan Toy Company? Is there ANYONE out there who has not drank the pink Kool-Aid?? I think I’m going to make myself cry.

Let’s move on…..

NBC’s TODAY Show Uses Sexism and Stereotypes to Promote Sexism and Stereotypes

On Tuesday morning many of us watched incredulously (jump to 5:01 in the video) as Matt Lauer interviewed Star Jones, Donny Deutsch, and Dr. Nancy Snyderman. One of the topics discussed was Lego Friends, and the two minute discussion was a master’s class in using ingrained cultural sexism to defend sexism. The interview left many of us furious and offended. As was brilliantly said on the Pigtail Facebook page: “Having people with such a reach not GET IT is overwhelming.”

Margot Magowan of Reel Girl transcribed the segment:

Matt Lauer:
Star Jones: And they give you little electric mixers and brushes and combs and purses.

Donnie Deutsch: Perfect, perfect.

Matt Lauer: You’re sounding down on this.

Jones: When you’re a little girl, you want to build bridges also. You want to put them on top of each other. You don’t want–

Lauer: So go out and buy the architectural Lego.

(Nancy Snyderman laughs.)

Jones: Which is exactly the way my three year old goddaughter does. She has the architectural one. The big yellow ones.

Nancy Snyderman: These are perfectly okay. The reality is there is a gender difference. Girls like playing with girl’s things, and you’re still constructing things. If the cupcake girl can still do calculus, I have no issue.

Umm…I have an issue. A really BIG one. Nancy Snyderman is a medical doctor, which is going to have people seeing her as an authority. While I think I understand what she was trying to say, she didn’t say it well. I’ve been on tv, I’ve been on live tv, and I know the interviews move fast and you have 2-3 seconds to say what you need to say. So maybe she didn’t mean it the way it came out, though her laughing and body language during the interview suggests otherwise. But this “Girls like playing with girl’s things”? What is that, Good Doctor? Is that  your professional opinion? Or a categorical stereotype? My daughter likes to play with her giant whale/dolphin collection, her oceanographer figures, her marine biology boat, and her science kit. Before the ocean phase, she was into dinosaurs. Before that, volcanoes and she carried grotesque dock spiders around in little jars. Despite her love of sparkles and leg warmers, she has zero interest in princesses. So what are “girl things”, Doctor? Should I be concerned for my daughter? Could something be wrong with her? Oh dear!

Then there’s this part, Italics mine because there was so much interupting at this point it is hard to follow:

Deutsch: You’re teaching them to build! (Not really, the sets require precious little challenging building.)

Snyderman: It gets girls into architecture and math and design, I’m all for it!

Jones: Give them some alternatives for goodness sake. (Visibly frustrated.)

Lauer: There’s no law that says they can’t go to the store and buy the Frank Lloyd Wright line. (No law, but a hell of a lot of marketing.)

Jones: They (don’t) put the Legos in the girls sections. (Star was interupted here and not able to finish her sentence.)

Deutsch: Little Girls do like princesses and things like that. I like princesses. (Categorical stereotype presented as fact. My little girl does not like princess. I know many others like her.)

Snyderman: And will parents buy this for boys? (Laughs loudly)

Deutsch: No they won’t. (Laughs loudly, with an “Oh my God, that’d be so gay” look on his face.)

Lauer: That’s probably not going to happen. (Gives Nancy a “Are you crazy” side glance because everyone knows boys don’t touch girls’ things.)

(Matt, Donny, and Nancy all laugh loudly as Star sits slumped and defeated in her chair.)

Well then. If that isn’t offensive, I don’t know what is. First, for a segment on marketing, no one but Star Jones seemed to understand marketing. How a product is packaged, and who is shown playing with it, matters. Where the product is placed in the store, specifically the pink and blue toy aisles, matters. The images and messages and color coding our kids see over and over and over again, matters. This is called marketing, and marketers know all of this matters. That is why they spend so much money doing it. Keep in mind, Donny Deutsch is an ad guy. A famous one. And he uses a cupcake and princess analogy presented as fact, when what he is doing is missing the point that girls are programmed and conditioned to like those things because so often, they have no other choices. They like what they have to choose from. It is like Henry Ford saying, “You can have any color you want so long as it is black.” Girls who are given a wider range to choose from demonstrate a variety of interests. If from that wide range they choose cupcakes and tutus, bless their little hearts. But sweet baby jeebus give them choices. Choices! 2012 could be the year of choices!!

Second, the bigger issue is the laughter over the idea of boys playing with this Lego Friends line. And not just a chuckle. Three of the four “professional” panelists had cracked themselves up over the idea of a boy playing with a toy so feminine. Clearly the panelists feel there is a definite distinction over what girls and boys should be playing with, and the idea of a boy being interested in Heartlake City is hilarious.

The Sanford Harmony Program  said it best on the Pigtail Facebook page: “This was a tremendous missed opportunity for bringing boys and girls TOGETHER. If children are given more chances to establish some common ground, and work and play with one another, they will be more inclined to engage more often – learning from and about each other along the way. The messages and images polarizing our girls and boys contribute tremendously to the notion that boys and girls grow-up in “separate worlds.” In these single-gender peer groups, kids are honing their communication and problem solving skills in isolation of one another and socializing each other in different ways. The world is co-ed – let’s do something to help bring our kids together.” 

Vintage Lego ad, when Lego knew who they were and what they meant to kids.

 Side by Side Gender Apartheid: A Visual Reference

I headed to YouTube to catch some Lego tv commercials, and see if maybe this all wasn’t just in my head. So I watched two Lego Friends commercials, and then created a wordle from the words in the used by the narrator in the commercial, and the colors most represented by the brick colors in the sets. I then did the same for a Lego Dino and Lego City commercial.

You be the judge.

Apartheid (n): From the Afrikaans word for “apartness”, a system of segregation.

Words captured from Lego commercials, Lego Friends on left, Lego Dino and Lego City on right. (pigtailpalsblog.com)

Color Lines

Imagine a toy store where the aisles are seperated by color. The toys in the different-colored aisles contrast sharply from each other, and send strong messages to the children viewing them about what is and is not accepted and expected from children of the other color. They also send strong messages about which colored child should be in which aisle, and where their interests lay. For the most part, the children accept the color lines and stick to their aisle. Grown ups seem to have no problem with it.

The Black Aisle for African American kids. The White Aisle for Caucasion kids.
Oh, is that offensive? We wouldn’t dream of segregating toys like that, you’re right.
I meant the Purple Aisle for Christians, The Blue Aisle for Jews, and the far Red Aisle for Muslims.
No, wrong again? Still offensive? We don’t seperate children by race or religion. We wouldn’t teach, and certainly not market nor build profits off intolerance, stereotypes, and limitation like that, got it.

Now imagine I’m talking about Pink and Blue.
Still. Offensive.

When we limit our children, we limit our children.

Another New Tee, Some Charity Donations, and a Favorite Photo

A NEW TEE:

When my daughter was in preschool, she fell in love with the ocean and everything blue. My son loves anything pink. We started to say, “Colors are for everyone” quite a bit at our house.

Then a mama from the Pigtail Pals Parent Community introduced me to her little Bella , and Bella’s double scoop awesome shoes. Blue shoes. Because colors are for everyone. I have had several parents tell me stories like Bella’s, where their child was teased or even bullied because of a color. Because of the simpleness of a color, and the ignorant notion that some colors don’t belong to some people because of their gender. Let’s take one more piece of childhood back for our kids, and allow them to teach grown ups what we seem to have forgotten: Colors Are For Everyone.

The very latest design out of Pigtail Pals: Colors Are For Everyone.

Available in long or short sleeve in a variety of colors for little boys and girl.

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CHARITY DONATIONS:
 
Pigtail Pals has always had the belief that with success comes the ability and responsibility to give back. September was a banner month for us, so we wanted to show girls what Social Responsibility looks like, and chose four examples of ways to affect the local, national, and global education of girls.
 

National Geographic for Amelia's entire classroom!

First up: Our local gift. I asked my daughter’s kindergarten teacher what she needed for her classroom, something she wasn’t able to afford for the kids she wished she had. She sighed, and said she really wished the classroom could have a subscription to National Geographic. The family I grew up in has always gotten Nat Geo. Even now my husband and I receive the adult issue, and each of my children has a subscription to the version for kids. I thought this was a wonderful idea. Then I wondered how a class of 24 five year olds would share one magazine. Since Pigtail Pals is all about teaching girls they are smart, daring, and adventurous, I purchased the entire class – each student – a subscription to the National Geographic Young Explorers magazine.  This also gives our teacher lessons plans, whiteboard activities, and educational posters for the classroom. Now the little girls in Amelia’s class will see just how big our world is, and the amount of space for them in it.

 

New Moon Girls magazine and online community.

Next: Our national gifts. We purchased 2 sponsorship  subscriptions to our fave girl media, New Moon Girls. Maybe you have seen the card we include with our orders that shines a light on the great work they do with empowering girls through responsible, intelligent, ad-free content. Both of our sponsorships will go to a library or school or girls group who is in need.

 
The night before Pigtail Pals went viral, I got an email from a customer and fellow blogger, asking for my help. Communities in Vermont and New York had their library destroyed by Hurricane Irene, and none of the children’s book had survived. When I clicked through to the link, the pile of muddy, wet, trashed children’s books made me cry. My family visits our amazing public library several times a month, with my kids checking out dozens of books with each visit. Not only was the library destroyed, most of the town was destroyed. The library staff is working to put back together their personal lives, and the town’s treasured library. I knew I wanted to help, but then Pigtail Pals exploded with back-to-back viral events and six weeks of my life went by in a second. Yesterday I called the Norwich Bookstore and talked to Liza, who told me how dire things were with the library and how the town was really coming together to rebuild. I sent in donations to the West Hartford Library in West Hartford,Vermont and the Wells Memorial Library in Upper Jay, NY.
 

Library in Upper Jay, NY destroyed by Hurricane Irene.

You can donate as well, or encourage your child to donate their allowance for the month. $5 buys a new book for a child who needs it right now. Here’s the info you need…

Make a check payable to the Wells Memorial Library and send to:

Wells Memorial Library  PO Box 57    Upper Jay, NY 12987

Or you can call the independent book shop The Bookstore Plus at (518) 523-2950 and they’ll help you purchase a gift card for the library over the phone.

 

Make a check payable to the Friends of the West Hartford Library and send to:

Friends of the West Hartford Library   PO Box 3   West Hartford VT 05084

Or you can call the independent book shop The Norwich Bookstore at (802) 649 -1114 and they’ll help you purchase a gift card for the library over the phone.

 

Students helped by Edge of Seven in Nepal.

Our final donation was made at an international level, to one of our favorite orgs, Edge of Seven. What you will learn in the first thirty seconds of the video with my friend Erin is that 600 million girls live in developing countries, and a quarter of them are not in schools. Nepal is one of these countries. $100 allows one girl to attend school by covering her room & board for an entire year. This girl will go on to return to her community, and invest in her people by becoming a nurse, a teacher, a social worker. Girls will go on to invest 90% of their income back into their community. “Girls are the foundation of every community.” Will you join us in sending a girl from Nepal to school?

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Finally, I wanted to share with you a photo of my favorite teenager Hayley. She wore her new Full of Awesome tee to her follow-up MRI after surviving a rare brain tumor this spring. The scan was clear, Hayley is cancer free, and she is most definitely full of awesome. Through this entire ordeal, Hayley has been strong, courageous, gracious, and every day I have watched her make the choice to live full of awesome.

Hayley finds out she is Cancer FREE! Take that, Cancer! Hayley just kicked your butt!

Rice Krispie Treats and Boxes of Barbies

Rice Krispie Treat (recipe below) from blog One Ordinary Day.

When I was little, I would go to my friend Kelly’s house after school. Her mom was not only the nicest person in the world, she also made THE BEST afterschool snacks. Kelly’s mom made Rice Krispie Treats. My mom did not. My mom made other goodies, but she did not make Rice Krispie Treats. Somewhere in my DNA is an affinity for Rice Krispie Treats. 

So when I went to Kelly’s, I’d gorge on them. As much puffed rice and mallow as I could fit into my seven year old tummy…I would happily nom away. Then I’d go home and not eat one for weeks at a time. We ate crazy healthy at home. 

Interestingly enough, I am now 33 years old and I have zero idea when the last time was that I ate a Rice Krispie Treat. Years. Maybe even a decade? But I eat healthy every day, and my kids do, too. 

Oh? What does this have to do with boxes of Barbies at preschool? Because what you do at home and the values you give your children inside the nest you have built for them will be greater and more powerful than any misplaced box of Barbies. Should Barbies be at preschool? No. I can think of 87 more educational toys right off the top of my head. Preschoolers deserve more imaginative, open ended play - specifically when they are in their place of learning. Name me a time when preschoolers aren’t learning, right? 

They are clever little critters, those preschoolers. Sucking every. single. thing. in. As the parent of a preschooler, I know how frustrating it can be when they pick up behaviors (or vocab) from school that you’d rather they had not. I also know what it feels like to worry about the influences, and the strength of those influences, your child encounters while at school. 

So what to do if your child’s preschool offers toys that you aren’t in love with? Does gendering have a place in preschool? Do you have the right to speak up about it? 

First, I’d say make sure what your child is calling a Barbie/gun/whatever is really a Barbie/gun/whatever. Your kiddo might come home saying she loves playing with Barbie at school and you could be fretting over nothing, because she was really playing with a Waldorf doll. Ha! That “gun” could be a wooden block, or some other kid’s shoe. Preschoolers live life by their own rules. After all, it is their world and we are just guests in it, so make sure you are eye level with them. 

But let’s say it is Barbie. And you don’t want your kid playing with her. What to do? The best place to start is asking questions. Kids love getting asked questions more than they like asking them. So ask away: What was fun about Barbie? How did you play with her? What friends did you play with? Oh that’s so silly, who made up that part of the story? Yeah, you’re right, we don’t have Barbie at home. What is your favorite toy at home? etc. You are laying groundwork that will build critical thinking skills – a crucial tool in media literacy.

And? When you ask how did he/she play with Barbie, your kid could surprise you….”Mooooom! At school we made a space station, but there was so much goo! And did you bring me a snack? No, Mom, it was pretend goo in my magnation. And the people kept getting stuck in the goo so they had to wear special suits that were green like grassy popsicles and the goo was bad and it was hot and it burned their feet and then monsters came and they all had to fight and then the good guys got away but one good guy got her long hair stuck in the goo and the monsters ate her up and OH MY GOD Nick hit Maya with his shoe and Maya’s nose started to bleed and then NICK PUKED!” 

And what was the highlight of the day? Not playing with Barbie or even Barbie getting her long hair stuck in the pretend hot goo. It was Nick puking. Barbie makes me puke, but she isn’t all bad all the time. Mostly. There can be creative play with a Barbie in hand. 

Second, most preschools rotate their toys, so Barbie may only be on the scene for a few weeks at a time. Remember – Rice Krispie Treats. It isn’t lasting. If it is really bothering you that Barbie is in the classroom, you could politely say to the teacher, “I’ve noticed Ally sharing with me that she is playing with the same toy day after day. She gets so excited when you rotate toys. Do you have a date to change up the room again soon? Ally loves it so much when you expose her to new toys and ideas.”

If it is really really bothering you that Barbie is in the classroom, email or call the teacher and let him/her know that you’d like a 15minute chat (not at drop-off or pick-up) to share your concerns and why you’d like to request that Barbie not be in the room. If the teacher says “Oh, but the girls just love them,” that would be a great time to bring up the fact that those girls then probably play with Barbie at home, and it would be so super to have the school offer new, more education-based toys because after all, we go to school to learn. Touch on the fact that Mattel’s version of Barbie today is usually dressed in extremely sexy, age inappropriate clothing, and then there is the body image stuff. The school can and should offer better, healthier toys. 

Does gendering have a place in preschool? 

No. I would argue further (until I’m blue in the face) that most certainly sexualized toys have zero place in preschool. 

**Here’s a GREAT article from one of my fave parenting sites, The Sixty Second Parent, on how to pick superb toys for your little crew…click HERE.** 

Despite the Hannah Montana shirts and Disney Princess backpacks and Spiderman shoes…preschool is about learning to love learning. Preschool is a really important time in a young child’s life for early literacy, socialization and friendship skills, building confidence, open ended play, getting messy, and exploration. Those seven things are non-specific to gender. If something in the classroom is being pushed on or limiting one group of students, then there is an imbalance in their learning. As a parent, hell yes you have a right to speak up if you feel your child’s learning is being hindered. BUT – be polite and well-informed and gracious to the teacher. They are professionals who dedicate their careers to our little guys, and maybe they just never questioned Barbie one way or the other. As you already know, once your eyes are open to it, you can’t unsee this stuff. 

Children have the natural born right to a childhood free of gender stereotypes and sexualization. Once people start to see it, they start to see it everywhere. You can’t unsee it. 

We can’t shelter our kids. We can protect them from harmful messages and media, yes, but we can’t shelter them. We can’t parent from a place of fear. We can’t, and shouldn’t, try to control their school days. And most importantly, we can’t afford to not talk about things with our kids. The examples we set and the lessons we give at home are most important. A parent is a child’s first teacher. If you are doing your job at home, take a deep breath. Give yourself some credit. This parenting gig is hard, and the pay is rotten. If you are doing your job at home, then the job is getting done. 

Barbie at preschool isn’t going to undo your parenting. Nor will a Hannah Montana shirt, or schoolmates with really crappy parents whose family values look like daytime tv fodder. Should you see your child exhibit behavior you don’t like, nip it in the bud. Explain to your child why you want him or her to act respectful, intelligent, and courteous. Maybe you have a family credo or motto that you expect family members to live up to (“Have a good day at school, Babes. Remember, be a good learner and a kind friend.”). Reinforce good behavior and encourage positive, healthy friendships. 

Try to make the good stuff look cool. So at school, Barbie got eaten by monsters at the space station because her golden, silky hair got stuck in the goo. You know what I see? Ignore Barbie and focus on what is important to your little learner – Goo. Space Station. Monsters. Know how many science and art projects I just thought of that you can do in the evenings or weekends? Focus on the good stuff, and make it cooler than the not good stuff. You remember how to be cool. 

Finally – spend TIME with your kiddo. They grow so, so fast. Don’t Google “Barbie + body image” and look for research that might  indicate your daughter could devleop xyz problems from Barbie play….engage in your own play! Go outside! Craft! Cook! Play a game! When was the last time you sat on the floor criss-cross applesauce and PLAYED with that little kid of yours? Build stuff and dress up and imagine and create and pretend pretend pretend. Did you know the “pretend” is a verb? It is an action, a thought process, a physical energy. And for goodness sakes, get messy!

We can only control so much of our child’s world and what they are exposed to,  but the part we control holds a lot of importance in the mind of that little person you are raising.

Proof in point? I’ve never even made Rice Krispie Treats. I used to love love double love them, and I’ve never even made them. Their power was fleeting. That photo above looks super tasty, and it is from the blog One Ordinary Day and it is of a Cake Batter Rice Krispie Treat

Pay close attention to the quote to the right of the recipe – it is not coincidence it is there and that I found it while looking for a photo of a Rice Krispie Treat for this post - 

“The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.” -Thomas Moore

How To Celebrate International Women’s Day From Your Comfortable Suburban Home

My view of a day spent in a Cape Town township, South Africa.

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  A day to celebrate economic, political, and social gains by women worldwide. Today we honor achievements, and remember the women before us who brought us to this day. Today. A day to celebrate women.

Sisters, wives,  mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, neighbors, friends, schoolmates, and coworkers.  The women of our world.
 
Yet in many places of the world, today will pass without celebration. Odds are good somewhere a woman will cradle a starving or sick child. Somewhere a woman will receive verbal threats or a physical blow from an intimate partner. Somewhere a girl will be raped as she walks to school. Somewhere a woman will walk miles for the clean water she needs to feed her family the one meal a day they can afford.
 
Somewhere a woman will be informed she has lost her job because she had taken time off to birth a child. Somewhere a woman will take home a paycheck that is nearly 1/3 less than that of the guy in the office next to her, although they do the same job. Somewhere a girl will sit in a classroom and be too timid to raise her hand. Somewhere a woman will give up on political ambitions.
 
All of those things have just happened in the time it took you to read those sentences.
 
None of these stories have changed in the 100 years we have celebrated women on this day. But still, we celebrate. Because for over 100 years the voices of women have not been silenced, their dreams have not been swept away despite often times incredible odds, their ambitions have been fulfilled despite being met with resistance. Women have always been strong. We have to be. We bear the weight of the world.
 
Women do 2/3 of the world’s work, earn 10% of the income, and own 1% of the land.
 
70 million girls are denied access to education in our world, and another 60 million will be sexually assaulted on their way to school.
 
That all seems far removed from me, as I sit in my comfortable home, typing on my laptop and fetching my son snacks while my daughter is playing at her preschool. It seems as far away as the photo above, that I took during a trip to South Africa in 2003. The children in the foreground danced around us as we unloaded treats from our pockets, and clung to our hands as we talked to the women gathered around those cement basins doing their wash. Do you see the women just right of center, in the white shirt and jean skirt? She was my age when I was on that trip – 25. She had a baby with her, which she later wrapped to her body as she carried her bundled wash on her head. She invited me to walk with her, calling me Tante Melissa. Auntie Melissa. Within minutes we had become sisters. We had nothing in common. Our worlds so different we could have been from separate planets. But still, she offered me smiles and we held hands while we walked. She was proud to show me around. I was honored she accepted me as her friend. When the combi drove away late in the afternoon, she was standing there, waving goodbye to me. I pressed my hand to the glass as I watched her get smaller and smaller.  
 
That trip changed my life. Africa has a way of doing that to you. I have not been able to go back, as now I have my own two babes to carry around. I cannot leave them yet for several weeks at a time, so my return trip will wait. But my compassion does not have to.
 
Today I will celebrate the women in my world. I will send messages to the family members and colleagues who inspire me. I will thank the teachers at my daughters school. I will call a friend to say hello. I will inspire sisterhood in others. I strongly believe that sisterhood – the power of women coming together and working together – is the final untapped natural resource of our world. And it is continually renewed, with the birth of each new baby girl. We are all sisters.
 
There are only two IWD events in my entire state. But I won’t let that limit me. I do not believe in limitations. I will not let the comfort of my day-to-day routine in my predictable suburban neighborhood, in my cozy suburban home, make me blind to what we all need to be seeing.
 
So how can you change the world from where you are?
 
-Think globally, and donate to the amazing efforts of The Girl EffectCharity WaterKiva, and  Heifer International.
-Think locally and donate to a women’s shelter, food pantry,  Girls Inc, write a letter to a woman soldier, or offer assistance to a family you know that is in need.
-Write a letter and thank your mama.
-Give flowers to a friend or mentor with a hand written note telling her why you honor her.
-Over tip the waitress.
-Stand up and walk over to a nearby office or cubicle and tell a colleague you appreciate them.
-Cook a meal for a neighbor. Or get together with a neighbor and cook some meals for a single mom, a new mom, or a widow.
-Invite that single mom or widow into your home for dinner.
-Round up old toys and books and donate them to a crisis nursery.
-Send cards to your closest girlfriends, thanking them for having your back.
-Bake some cookies with the kids and take them to teachers or nurses on the maternity ward, thanking them for what they do for children.
-Sit down with your children and go through a book or website that shares the biographies of the intrepid women who brought us to this day.
-Draw self portraits with your girl, and help her write down her attributes that make her unique and wonderful.
-Send a note to a former teacher. Do you know how important teachers are?
-Make a commitment to offer more grace and kindness to other women.
-And finally, tonight, when all is quiet and you have your mind all your own, write a letter to yourself. Offer gratitude for everything you have in life. Write down those dreams you are too shy to say out loud, and acknowledge the dreams you’ve already made come true. Write down some happy memories from the last year, and new ones you hope to create. Take the chance to inspire yourself.
 
From me to you, Happy 100th International Women’s Day. Cheers to us, and let’s prepare to celebrate 100 more!
 
 
 
 

Valentine’s Day Media Literacy

My five year old had a little Valentine’s Day party in her Pre-K class this week, and she was uber excited to pass out her cards to her 15 classmates. She had worked hard the night before writing her name 15 times. She had done a great job picking out a red wrap dress and turtle neck to wear, topping the outfit off with stripey tights. We’ve lucked out with a class full of really sweet kids, and I love how freaking cute all the kids in her class are. It is a good group of buddies for her to learn and grow with.

When she got home from school, we sat down to go through her cards. I needed to help her read them while she tore through all of her candy. She cared very little about the actual valentine, and more about the candy. I, of course, was immediately analyzing the cards.

The images our kids see, the messages they are exposed to, and the depictions of beauty as value all matter. They matter a lot. So I pay attention.

The images our kids see matter. The visual cues of gender, gender roles, beauty, and body image all impact our kids.

Here they are…..and I saved the best for last:

The gender neutral cards. Amelia's is in this bunch.

The cards from girls...accentuating the Beauty Myth, Thin Ideal, and Princess Culture.

The cards from boys...focusing on power, force, war, and overweight ogres.

The only card of 16 with a child depicted, and looking anything like the actual preschoolers handing out the cards. Bonus points for being bilingual.

Where do I even start? And the poodle is creeping me out.