Amelia Gets Sexy

The photo I asked the PPBB Community to caption.

During our caption contest for the photo at your left there were a couple of comments about kids not noticing this kind of thing / don’t make a big deal if they don’t / don’t shelter your kids just talk to them / and one about packing up the kids to play at the park instead because they shouldn’t be at the mall anyway.  (Yes, you could have played along on our Bingo card and won several times over.

I don’t think removing children from public spaces meant for all ages is the answer. The existence of children is not the problem. The acceptance of sexualization of the female form as our status quo is the problem.

My kids and I had no choice but to walk past this on the way to the specialty store we needed to buy a gift at. I very rarely go to our mall, so I had no idea this display was waiting for us. Because of the way the window sits in the wall, from the direction we were walking a shopper cannot see the images until you are in front of them. And then you are in front of 8 feet tall porny banners for poorly made lingerie and sex toys. With your seven and four year old. You are fooling yourself if you think kids don’t notice these kinds of things. Eyes wide shut.

My seven year old daughter did notice the banners. And she did comment. And I did talk to her.

“Oh, those girls are pretty. I really like them.” -7yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia

“What do you like about them?” -Me

“Oh, they are so pretty. Like Barbie.” -OPP

“I think you are pretty and I think I am pretty. I think these women are showing a different look. Why do you think they are dressed like that?” -Me

“Well, that is their fancy underwear and the man is trying to see their boobs.” -OPP  (See photo below)

“Remember the other night when you asked me what ‘sexy’ meant? These girls are dressed in a way that many people view as ‘sexy’. The underwear is called lingerie, it is only for grown ups. Their hair and makeup and poses, it is all meant to be sexy. They want the man to be looking at their breasts.” -Me

“Oh my god. I had no idea that is what it….Mom? Am I in trouble for looking at it?” -OPP

“No, you are not in trouble. There is no way for us to not look at it right now. But I want you to see the difference between being a beautiful, strong little girl in your own heart, and being a sexy grown up who wants men to look at your body. Being sexy is not for kids.” -Me

“Yeah. That isn’t appropriate for kids’ private parts.” -OPP

We walked into the store we needed to go to, ironically the University Bookstore right next door, and on our way out, Amelia said, “Mom, you should take a picture of me in the car like Ben because then people can see that I am a kid and that sexy ladies are for sexy ladies.”

So here you go. The photo of Benny (above) was taken in the moment, to show the juxtaposition of the children’s play space being invaded by sexualization. The photo of Amelia is staged, at her request, so that you can see that, in her words, “Sexy ladies are for sexy ladies, and not for kids.”

Amelia gets "sexy", and wanted to show you why it isn't for kids. C'mon People!

My first grader learned two new words at school this week, neither of which I am happy about. “Sexy” was one of them. The other was “asshole”. I always say that if the child is able to ask the question, she is ready for the answer. I don’t believe in sheltering my children, but I do believe in respecting their childhood. Our children have a natural born right to a childhood. I didn’t want to be explaining these concepts to her at seven years old. I am pissed that I have to.

Yet, I do have to. Or at least, begin to. This will be just one of many conversations about this topic as she matures. This wasn’t a commercial that I could turn off or something that I could have avoided. As is the case with so much marketing, there are very few ways to escape it. That is WHY they call it marketing.

Because I respect Amelia’s right to a childhood and her right to develop a healthy sexuality and sense of self-worth, she is now starting to understand “sexy”. I explained it to her in as best an age appropriate way as I could manage. I think she is getting, in a small way, what “sexy” might mean. The concept of “sexy’ isn’t a bad thing when introduced at an age appropriate time, and allowed to be explored when the person is ready. But I do have to say, the people who force this on kids and families really are assholes.


I’m really glad she didn’t notice or didn’t ask about the whip and tie. I can handle talking about a lot of things with my kids. BDSM less than ten feet from the kiddies rides is not one of those things.


Web shot of Spencer's window advert for their lingerie sale.

Window display at Spencer's, looking directly out onto the mall walkway and directly across from children's play area.















Here were my favorite captions :

Caroline Burkhart Askew: “Hop in, Mom! We’ve got to get away from this blatant display of sexism speedy quick!”

Theresa Costello: “Yellow Sports Car Ride: 25 cents. Soft Core Porn in the store window: Free. Your son leanring he has to pay more for a fake car ride then a woman’s dignity? Priceless.”

Daniel Singha:l “Mom, you can’t park in the red light district, lemme move the car.”

Christine Harris” “Bemused preschooler flees porntastic midwest mall in speedster hotwired by older sibling. News at 11.”

Sexism is included in the ticket price at Legoland

This just in from a Pigtail Pals Parent after a weekend trip to Legoland:

“After being there I realized the problem is far bigger than their friends line. The shows we saw have not one respectable female character (they manage to portray even cleopat…ra like a kardashian sister). Their kids meals and collectible cups come in pink or blue. The blue ones have several lego characters (ninjas, pirates, etc) on one side and a huge pirate ship scene on the other. The pink ones have 3 “sassy” looking girls (not lego figures) on both sides. They’re not doing anything, or supposed to be anything. They’re just standing there with big doey eyes being,……I don’t know……..”cool” girls, I guess? And then there’s still this. In fun town (which was pretty fun before I saw this), there are two life size characters built entirely from legos. there’s a male police officer and a female firefighter. Cool, right? Except the man is talking into his walkie talkie, while the woman is………wait for it…….not putting out a fire, but……….putting on lipstick!!! WTH???” -Sarah L.


Next, check out the second installment of this fantastic video series by our colleague Feminist Frequency.

(Skip to 8:30 if you are short on time, but the whole thing is well worth it!)

Have Yourself A Very Sexist Holiday

As we enter the holiday season, the inevitable toy catalogs begin arriving on our doormats. Most of the celebrations this time of year involve some form of gift giving, and if you have kiddos, that means t-o-y-s. Toys, toys, and more toys! I have a 2.5 year old boy and 4.5 year old girl and I needed Christmas present ideas, so against my better judgement I picked up three of the catalogs from major retailers in my town to look through the offerings. We don’t watch tv channels that have commercials with the kids, so I wasn’t up-to-date on the latest and greatest from the toy manufacturers. I flipped page after page, bracing myself for what I knew would be pink and blue and pink and blue. Taken one toy at a time, things wouldn’t seem so bad….but when I had four catalogs side by side, and when I had all the pieces of the proverbial puzzle together….   

…my head exploded. Literally, right off the top of my neck. I know I talk about media literacy and sexualization for a living, but what I was seeing was unreal, unthinkable in 2010, and limiting beyond measure.   

I have pretty strong feelings about childhood being a time of rich play, imagination, and exploration. For both genders. Childhood should be feast of color and creativity and movement. I find it wildly offensive that as I looked through these catalogs, color, movement, type of play, and learning were all predetermined according to gender. A child does not need to be reminded of gender every time he or she picks up or looks at a toy. What I had spread out before me was approximately 160 pages of gender stereotype after gender stereotype, and all of it being sold by mainstream retailers because it is our status quo.   

As I looked through these catalogs, I saw zero boys nuturing dolls or pets, or playing with toys that encouraged fashion sense or manscaping. I saw zero girls constructing or destructing anything, moving vehicles, or holding weapons or sports equipment. Our kids, as young as preschool ages, were being sold extremely narrow definitions of gender roles.   

I refuse to accept the status quo. As you read through the numbers below and view the photos from the catalogs, replace “gender stereotype” with “racial” or “religious” stereotype and see if you think an ENTIRE industry marketed to children should stand on limiting and binary ideals.   

I want you to see what I saw. So here’s what I did – I tallied the number of kids in each catalog (Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us), then the number of boys and number of girls, I counted how many were doing gender-specific things, and how many were doing unisex or non-traditional gender things. I looked at main color themes and main activity themes. Main themes and gender-normal toys be marketed to boys were: vehicles, fighting/sports/weapons, and construction. Main themes and gender-normal toys being sold to girls were: fashion/beauty, pet/baby care, and cooking. The proof of the pudding is in the eating….   

(Note: When I refer to “gender-biased” and “non-tradional” toys – I am referring to norms given by the toy industry.)   

First up: TOYS R US

Total Number of Pages 80
Total Number of Kids Photographed 185
Total Number of Boys 97
Total Number of Girls 88
Images of Boys & Girls playing together 11
(Of 97) Boys Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 87 (vehicles, superheroes, sports/weapons, construction)
(Of 97) Boys Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 97) Boys Playing w/ Unisex Toys 10 (piano, map, art easel, play kitchen, outdoor toys)
(Of 88) Girls Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 84
(Of 88) Girls Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 3 (telescope, skateboard, guitar)
(Of 88) Girls Playing w/ Unisex Toys 10
3 Main color Themes for Girls Pink, purple, aqua
3 Main color Themes for Boys Blue, gray, green
3 Main Activity Themes for Girls Beauty/fashion, cooking, baby care
3 Main Activity Themes for Boys Vehicles, construction, fighting


Images from Toys R Us holiday catalog. Click to enlarge photo.

 Things to note in this photo:
Girls are focused on caring for other things, like pets and babies.  Boys had zero toys that demonstrated caring for something.
Girls are focused on activities centered around physical appearance, like the fashion wardrobe or mermaid beauty vanity, yet there were zero equivalent toys for boys.
Girls toys come in very few color options and contain zero primary colors.
Girls are all virtually sitting in one place and playing quietly.
Boys have large, loud movements while playing. They move things! Make thing! Experiment!
Boys toys have zero focus on attracting members of opposite sex.

More images from Toys R Us. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo: 

Of 88 girls featured, here are the 4 doing non-traditional gender things: guitar, ball, telescope, skateboarding. 4 of 88. (Do love that the guitar girl is getting her hair messed up, and the skateboarding girl is probably getting sweaty.)   

Notice the kitchen set in the middle of the page? The boy’s kitchen has blue trim, and the little fella is managing to make himself a piece of toast. Enlarge the photo and look at the girl’s kitchen – pink trim, pots on the stove, and she’s feeding a baby. The boy’s kitchen doesn’t even have a space for the baby.   

On the right side of the pic – notice how different the boy’s dress up and girl’s dress up is. Tough and ready for action! vs. tulle and petticoats to sit at tea. Every girl featured in dress up clothes was wearing some sort of giant princess dress, with zero other options.   

Also on the right – pay BIG attention to the types of body frames – huge muscles for boys, and ultra-skinny with giant heads for girls.   



Next up: Walmart

Total Number of Pages 53
Total Number of Kids Photographed 58
Total Number of Boys 32
Total Number of Girls 26
Images of Boys & Girls playing together 2
(Of 32) Boys Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 31
(Of 32) Boys Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 32) Boys Playing w/ Unisex Toys 1 (cooking in a blue kitchen)
(Of 26) Girls Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 20
(Of 26) Girls Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 1 (robot)
(Of 26) Girls Playing w/ Unisex Toys 5 (farm, computer reader, scooter, ride on car)
3 Main color Themes for Girls Pink, purple, aqua
3 Main color Themes for Boys Red, black, blue
3 Main Activity Themes for Girls Fashion, pet cars, babies
3 Main Activity Themes for Boys Fighting/heroes, vehicles, games


Images from Walmart catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo:   

Boys are taking over, building and moving things, and loudly playing with their worlds.   

Girls are playing sweetly and quietly prepare meals and stir some kind of batter.   

Girls focus on fashion dolls with impossible body proportions.   

Girls are never shown with weapons or sporting equipment.   

Images from Walmart catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photos:   

Barbie-looking girls drive pink/purple Barbie car. The only ride-on cars girls were shown driving were pink and/or purple.   

In the black ride-on car at top-middle, at first it looks as though the girl is in the driver’s seat. Now note which side the steering wheel is on.   

Love the pic of the girl playing with the primary colored robot!  

ALL Toy Story products in ALL three mags were marketed ONLY to boys.   

Note the Table of Contents – childhood divided into the boy side and girl side.   

The lower right hand picture drove me insane: Girl sits on her princess couch cheering on what is a cartoon elf shooting the basketball. Heaven forbid we put the ball in HER hands and let her take a shot.     


Finally: Target

Total Number of Pages 44
Total Number of Kids Photographed 61
Total Number of Boys 36
Total Number of Girls 25
Images of Boys & Girls playing together 2
(Of 36) Boys Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 33
(Of 36) Boys Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 36) Boys Playing w/ Unisex Toys 3 (play kitchen, computers, bikes)
(Of 25) Girls Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 20
(Of 25) Girls Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 25) Girls Playing w/ Unisex Toys 5 (Imaginext Big Foot, scooter, Wii Soccer, Leap Frog computer, bikes)
3 Main color Themes for Girls Pink, purple, aqua
3 Main color Themes for Boys Dark blue, orange, red
3 Main Activity Themes for Girls fashion/beauty, cooking, babies
3 Main Activity Themes for Boys Vehicles, sports, fighting/super hero toys

Images from Target catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo:   

Girls play with kitchens or tiny little houses that keep them quiet and sitting still.   

Girls dolls are focused on fashion and hyperfeminine attributes.   

Girls dolls all have SAME body size – which would be unattainable for a human with organs or a neck less than 20some inches thick to support those giant, giant heads.   

Boys build things!   

Boys move things!   

Boys fight!   

Boy toys have primary colors.   

Girls toys are overwhelmingly pink, purple, and aqua.   


 These are the toys and messages available to you and yours this holiday season. I’ll show you a post next week that has my family mixing things up a little bit. Santa will be bringing my girl a cloth doll, a dolphin trainer doll, a marine biologist doll, a collection of baby sea animals, a stuffed dolphin, and Legos (primary colors). My boy will be getting Toy Story, a cloth doll, a stuffed cat, a tea set, and wooden train cars and tracks. Both kids will be getting puzzles, games, coloring books/art supplies, and story books. I refuse to accept the stereotypes being sold to my kids. I damn sure won’t be teaching them to my kids.   

Toys and playtime in my house look a WHOLE LOT like this, from One Step Ahead:  

At One Step Ahead, boys and girls play together. Boys have dolls and girls conduct trains. Science and sports are for both genders. THIS is what childhood should look like!

The Feminist and Homemaker Inside: A Comment on Toys

I am not sure if I am a feminist. I certainly have the independent and saucy outspoken makings of one. I embrace most but not all of the ideals embodied in that movement. Considering any of the other labels I have to choose from, I guess “feminist” is the best fit. Before my children were born I worked in a male-dominated field. I took my husband’s name when we married. He works outside of the home, I work within. I used to investigate crime, and now I schedule playgroup and burn cookies. When stuff is really heavy, I ask my husband to move it. I will not lie to you – if a bug is bigger than the circumference of my thumb, I grab the children and scream for him to kill it.

I am not sure if I am a homemaker. I have a young son and daughter that I am responsible for while my husband is at the office for 12 hours a day. I breastfed and baby-wore and co-slept.  I wake, feed, dress, drive, teach, feed, change, drive, feed, play, chase, feed, change, clean up after, clean up after, feed, and clean up after my kids all day, every day of the week. On special days I remove buttons from nostrils, melted toys from the microwave, and discuss matters like whale poop and how crayons work. I also fly to Washington DC and New York City and Los Angeles for business, take phone calls and emails from vendors and authors and customers and press all day long, and run a business that is trying to change the way we think about our girls.

So I don’t really know what I am. I am just me, and this is my family. My husband or I could survive the other being gone on a ten day business trip and hold down the fort just fine. There is definitely a blurring of traditional gender roles in our house, and our kids take it all in.

A few months back I asked my 4.5 year old if she would like an apron for when she plays tea party in her room. Her response, “To do science experiments in?”.  “Oh, no, well, you could. Sometimes people wear aprons when they cook,” I explained.  “You don’t,” she pointed out, “And I’d rather do experiments on dead whales and dolphins.” Okay then. I was scrapping the apron idea because I’d never hear the end of why I didn’t get her a dead whale. I had to chuckle the other day when we were leaving preschool, my 2.5 year old son was holding a baby doll and a bottle, and saw a toy ironing board and iron. “What are deese?” he asked. He has never seen an ironing board in his life. I don’t own one. Nor an apron. For what it is worth, I sling a dishtowel over my shoulder when I cook.

One of the beautiful things about being a woman today is that we have the right to choose. We have the right to choose career, family, or both. I realize the system isn’t perfect, but it is far better than it was. We have the right for our dreams to expand past the walls of home. While many of us know we can’t have it all, all at the same time, we know we have been given the gift of choice. Previous generations of women worked and sacrificed so much to afford us this choice. Today a girl can just as much be an astronaut as she can a homeschooling mom of six. Or she can be an astronaut for a few years and then start her family and focus on her young children. I’m good with all of that, and I see all of it as being equally important.

Here’s what I’m not good with: The toy industry selling space shuttles to boys and Rose Petal Cottages to girls. There are no space shuttles for girls. Not even pink ones. And where is the Acorn Hut for boys that should be boxed and sold right next to the Rose Petal Cottage? The sexism and gender stereotypes sold to children in the toy aisles makes my head explode. Literally, right off the top of my neck. Our entire mainstream, big box toy industry is built on gender stereotyped, often sexualized products. An entire industry built on stereotypes. Replace ‘gender stereotype’ with ‘racial stereotype’ or ‘religious stereotype’ and see how that sits.

I mind very much that I am raising a daughter in a time when we are in the third wave of feminism, it is 2010, and all I can find for the kid is emaciated fashion dolls clothed like sex workers, tiaras and high heels, and products that pitch the joys of homemaking and child-rearing. The independently-owned toy stores aren’t much better. I have to go into the ‘boy’ aisle to get her actual science/nature kits, cars/planes/boats, tools, realistic looking animals, and construction toys like Legos. If you mention pink Legos and science spa kits to me I swear I will scream. Let’s just start putting Vagina Stickers on all of our toys, so girls know explicitly what they can and cannot do, and always remember their gender first and foremost.

One of my favorite customers emailed me the other day to share her feelings about the fine line we have to walk while encouraging our girls to reach for the stars, we shouldn’t undervalue the work of being a mother and taking care of the home. I completely agree with her. As I read her email, I wondered how stay-at-home dads felt about the gendered toy industry, as they were all but invisible to them. Maybe in 2011 we’ll get the Acorn Hut for boys so that our sons can practice being a father and homemaker. There is nothing wrong with a girl playing with dolls, a toy kitchen, a tea set, or play cleaning tools like a vaccum. There is something wrong when NONE of those things is sold to boys. There is something wrong when those are the ONLY things sold to girls.

I am anti-limitation.

You bet I encourage girls to reach for the stars, and be able to calculate and navigate how to get there. Girls are smart, daring, and adventurous, yet that is not reflected in the toys sold to them. Boy are caring, affectionate, and artistic, yet that is not reflected in the toys sold to them.

So homemakers of the world, all of you dedicated and amazing stay-at-home-moms who feel constantly judged by a world who largely does not see nor respect your emmense efforts in raising your family or values the tasks you do during the day that make your house a home….please know that when we are encouraging our daughters to be anything they want to be, that doesn’t diminish what you do. Far from it. For without you, she wouldn’t have the foundation to reach the dreams she has swirling around inside her head.