Gender Inclusive Photos for Youth Programming: Appearances Matter

I received an email from the director of a youth programs center asking to use photos of my children playing sports in their marketing materials. I declined for numerous reasons, the main one being that I am unfamiliar with their program and only endorse products/media I have closely vetted.

That said, I decided to take the opportunity to offer some unsolicited advice:

I would like to offer a bit of advice from a media literacy/marketing perspective — your link as it is now shows girls doing ballet and boys engaged in chess, science, and reading. That would not go over well with my community of 20,000+ parents who are very vocal in their desire for a gender equal childhood for their (all) children. One place I use for awesome stock photos is yadda yadda yadda….. Each image is a dollar and has a standard license for royalty free use. When I typed in “kids playing chess” I found several images that showed a boy and girl playing chess together. Same if I do “boy and girl ballet”. By making each of your course offerings very clearly open to both boys and girls you instantly double your market. While many parents are actively fighting the gender stereotypes presented to children, others may still be thinking and operating in a very binary system and would never have considered chess for their daughter had the suggestion not been inconspicuously put there by the photo. That’s how marketing works, right? Suggest to the consumer they need/want what they didn’t know they needed/wanted. 

The push for girls and STEM is huge among parents right now, and ballet training can be incredibly beneficial to boys who love dance/music/movement, but also for boys who long to be amazing football players (aka Lynn Swann’s amazing sideline foot work).  Kids’ interests in activities are sparked by all kinds of things, and a child looking over a brochure or website might see a boy doing ballet and think, “Hey that looks awesome, I want to try that!” Kids also love having a friend in the class, so now you have two enrollment spots filled by two boys doing ballet or a brother/sister combo signed up for chess. It just seems like good business to widen the market for potential clients, especially as so many community programs (summer programs in particular) are overly and unnecessarily gendered. Your course descriptions are wonderfully non-gendered and I’d love to see photos that mirror that kind of gender inclusiveness. 

I think you might have a lot of luck using the site I mentioned for images that best represent the quality youth programming your organization seems to offer. 

Thanks much, 


Representations of gender matter, whether it is youth programming brochures and websites to the instructions for board games. What is familiar to us becomes our norm, and when we are speaking of gender this usually means girls and their abilities and contributions are minimized or left out altogether. Even when this is done without intent (as is often the case), the message lingers and still works to shape young minds and reinforce dated stereotypes in older minds.

I’m pleased to report I had an immediate response to my email from the program director that assured he and his staff do give consideration to gender representations in their materials and had had trouble finding better photos that demonstrated this. Hopefully they’ll have better luck with the site I referred them to. The director also said they have an equal number of girls as boys registered for their upcoming chess class – kudos to those parents who don’t limit their daughters to ballet, cheer, and princess camps! Our kids thrive the most when we allow them the space to show us how Full of Awesome they really are, in all of their unique and special ways.

Moral of the story: Use your voice. It is important to call out the folks who are getting it wrong and perpetuating gender stereotypes in childhood. But it is just as important to give praise to the folks who are trying to do better and who are getting it right.

Dance is a beautiful part of being human. Humans are comprised of girls AND boys.

Dance is a beautiful part of being human. Humans are comprised of girls AND boys.


That’s more like. Both girls and boys can be master chess players.

The Words We Choose Matter

Last night at my son’s basketball practice I was chatting with his best friend’s mom while we watched the boys play. My daughter sat in between us playing Minecraft. The other mom and I were commenting on how good one of the boys on the team is — I talking about a first grader hitting three point shots. His skills, follow through after a shot, all of it – he is crazy good. Either he watches a ton of pro ball and is adept at mimicking their moves (similar to how I learned to ride horses) or someone at home is teaching him.

I turned to the other mom and was about to say, “He must have an older brother at home who is a star player and practices with him a lot.” But I caught myself, and changed ‘brother’ to ‘sibling’. Maybe his big sister is the all-star player. Or his mom.

Because what a crummy message to send to my daughter, sandwiched between our conversation, who is too shy to play basketball right now. The words I choose matter. Why give my daughter one more message that the court is only for boys? The court is for people who play basketball.

Casual references to gender matter when our kids are listening to our every word.

Casual references to gender matter when our kids are listening to our every word.


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love. If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” here, at your local bookseller or online.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The Case of the Missing Pink Pencil

The other day my six-year-old first grade son was very annoyed with me as we walked through the toy store following his visit to the ER to check on a possibly broken arm. I let him lead the way through the store, saying he could pick out a small toy as a reward for being so well behaved during our long hospital visit and because the nurse who had promised him a lollipop and sticker if he was good didn’t make good on her words.

Ben led me through the toy cars, then the Barbie aisle and then over to all of the Elsa and Anna merchandise before we made our way to the arts and crafts. He zeroed in on boxes of Crayola colored pencils on the shelf and I could tell by the look on his face something was brewing…..

“Mom, the other day we were coloring cotton candy in on our worksheets. Can you guess what color mine was?” -Benny

“Hmmm… love cotton candy so I’m going to guess rainbow or turquoise blue?” -Me

“I had to color it purple because my box of colored pencils did not have pink.” -Benny

“Oh. But can’t cotton candy also be blue? Or, whatever color you want it to be?” -Me

“You are missing the point of my talking, Mom. My cotton candy couldn’t be pink because my box didn’t have pink. So pink wasn’t in my choices for me, but it should be because you say colors are for everyone. Why didn’t you buy me a box with pink?” -Benny

“Well buddy, I didn’t intentionally buy boxes without pink. The supply list said ’24 colored pencils’ so I bought two boxes of twelve because that was the cheapest way to do it.” -Me

“But two boxes of twelve is the same twelve colors both of the times. Those twelve colors don’t include pink. So, no pink for Ben.” -Ben

“So, do you think we should buy the box of twenty four pencils that comes with the pink pencil?” -Me

“I think we should, and I think when you buy me things you should just wait and think ‘Does this have pink?’ because you never know what my imagination can do.” -Ben

Colors Ev FINAL

Colors are for Everyone tee design from


Speak All the Louder

Yesterday we all listened to and loved Emma Watson’s UN speech on feminism and gender stereotypes. As quickly as the fanfare arrived, so did the online rape threats, death threats, and website counting down the release of nude photos of the actress/UN ambassador…..just because she is a woman who dared to use her voice and suggest the wild notion that females are human beings.

The reaction of these men who use fear to promote their power is a measure meant to terrorize us to ‘stay in our place’.  To shame empathetic men and to overpower outspoken women. To stunt our thinking and growth as a society. To silence our voices.

I think this kind of man is an excellent reminder of why we must speak all the louder.

There will always be scared men out there for whom educated, outspoken women are threatening. Their fear is not our concern.

There will always be intimidated men out there for whom women are seen only as vaginas, either to sexually please them or piss them off. Their lack of humanity is not our concern.

There will always be small-minded men out there for whom achieving equality between the sexes signals a dangerous loss of power. Their discomfort is not our concern.

Our energy has to be spent on modeling for our young people what a confident woman looks like and how a strong man respects girls and women. That is the single easiest thing that you can do to bring us closer to a world in which an articulate young woman is able to make a speech about men and women being more powerful as equals instead of opposing forces, and not come home to rape and death threats.

Our energy has to be spent on truly empowering our girls, which extends beyond facebook memes and movie characters and cleverly-marketed toys. It is the daily, sometimes grueling work of instilling in our daughters an unshakable knowledge that she has worth. Everything else in the world will tell her otherwise. We have to raise our daughters in such a way that when we send her out into the world she has the heart and courage of a lioness.

Steel yourself to the idea that this will not be easy. That does not mean it is not worth doing.

Our energy must also be spent on our sons, which is an often overlooked yet absurdly obvious answer to the problem of a culture of men who threaten through internet comments unspeakable sexual crimes against women, who create a color-coded system to give girls date rape drugs, or who fail to take a stand  against other men who beat women senseless. And that’s just this week’s headlines.

Our energy must go into expanding the current definition of what it means to be masculine, so that our boys can grow into men who are allowed to be full human beings for whom having emotions and feelings is acceptable. We can teach our sons that violence is not a path to power. We can instill in our sons an unshakable truth that girls and women have value. Boys need see articulate, successful mothers and respectful, self-confident fathers working together to raise their families — and not in just the 1950’s implication of that sentence, I mean as a society of mothers and fathers who take responsibility for our collective children turning out to be good people.

Fear, intimidation, and the threat of violence have always been used to silence voices attempting to bring about change and equal rights. Yet change always comes.

Be not silent. Speak all the louder.

Emma Watson


Image Source: Gender Equality is Not Only a Women’s Issue. It’s a Men’s Issue Too.


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love.

If you would like to order empowering apparel and gifts for girls and boys, please visit

Find Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween” on Amazon.

Join the PPBB Community in conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

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 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. (

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


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.

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?


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!