Aye Aye, Captain!

What image comes to mind when you read that? A crusty old pirate steadying the wheel of his ship? A noble merchant carrying his goods across the sea? A fierce female battleship captain? Does ‘Captain’ have to be followed with a ‘sir’?

It doesn’t. At least, that’s not the way I grew up sailing with my family on the Great Lakes. Truth be told, I have never said “Aye aye, Captain” while sailing all those years (unless I was trying to be a pain to my dad). Many times, my dad let me take the helm and I was the commander of the ship. And by ‘ship’ I mean a 26 foot sailboat, but when you are a six year old that is some pretty important stuff.

I can remember competitively racing with my dad in high school and college, when I was usually the only female in the crew. I was expected to pull my weight and be as strong as the guys, hoisting sails and trimming jibs and taking the rough waves and wind that only Lake Michigan can deliver. I never really thought about it all that much, but the times my dad gave me the helm during a race were moments that were about more than just making me a better sailor. Those moments were also about letting me be in charge, letting me be in charge during a race when decisions meant seconds and angles that could win or lose for the whole crew, and letting me be in charge over a crew of men.

My kids are big time into Jake and the Never Land Pirates right now, and often times play pirates during pretend play. When my six year old daughter plays, she is a loud and daring captain, and never second guesses her ability to carry that role. My four year old Benny and I like to have picnic lunches in our family room and watch an episode together. The show is a cute preschool-aged cartoon that depicts the lead Jake, and his side kicks Izzy and Cubby, running circles around that wily Captain Hook, Smitty, and the rest of the crew. While Izzy has her magic pixie dust that allow people to fly, and Cubby is a whiz with maps, ultimately it is Jake who usually saves the day. The show does involve story lines highlighting teamwork, friendships, and listening to each other. Yet in much of the licensed merchandise, like t-shirts, backpacks, and party supplies, Izzy is missing. Gone completely from the cast, and that sends a strong message to both boys and girls.

Jake and his crew.

The show has many great points, but it never shows Izzy sailing the boat. Or carrying the sword. Although she is adventurous, she is always in pink and purple. In scenes that include extra safety gear, like rock climbing, Izzy’s helmet is pink with flowers, while the boys get dinosaur spikes and blue with lightening bolts. Izzy voices her opinion a lot, and several times has saved the crew with her pixie dust. Still, she is a pink-clad fairy-dust carrying example of the Smurfette Trope. Sure many girls like pink and flowers, but many girls don’t. Could Izzy have been depicted in another way and still have been found appealing to young viewers? What would happen if Izzy wore the green dinosaur spike helmet? Could that send a message to kids, and help break down all these gender stereotypes they are surrounded by? Could Izzy be the center of a storyline, and Jake take the second fiddle spot?

Don’t get me wrong, I love that Izzy is an integral part of Jake’s crew, and that both little boys and girls watching the show are seeing a strong girl be friends with boys. Go to Pinterest, and you’ll find tons of ideas for birthday parties themed around the show (never mind that Izzy is again missing from some of the series of birthday plates and napkins). The party ideas are for both boys and girls, which I think that is important because we need to bring boys and girls together in friendship as much as we can. Benny wants to have a pirate party for his friends (a group of even numbered boys and girls) when his birthday comes this spring, and Jake and the Never Land Pirates shows that both boys and girls can be pirates and work together and go on adventures. I’ll just need to look extra hard for invitations and tableware that includes Izzy…

Every once in a while, it would nice to see Izzy be at the helm of those adventures. This coming weekend Amelia and I are headed out of town for a Girls Weekend with three other moms and their daughters. One of the activities we have planned is to go sailing with my dad. He and I switched the sails on the boat this past weekend, planning for light wind. Which is perfect sailing conditions for this crew, considering six and seven year old girls are going to be steering the boat.

Yo ho, let’s go!

So yo ho ho, me hearties, why not let a girl run the show?

Me, age 6.5yrs, on Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park near Pittsburgh PA.

Disney, Where is Izzy?

Disney's Jake and the Never Land Pirates

A couple of days ago I was out shopping for a special t-shirt for my 4yo son to start pre-K with next week, just something simple to help ease his nerves. I was happy to find t-shirts with his favorite characters Jake and the Never Land Pirates, on sale to boot, at JC Penney. My enthusiasm last twenty seven seconds, at which point I realized NONE of the 2T-5T tees carried by JC Penney featured one of the shows main characters – the girl pirate named Izzy.

This show is really popular with the preschool and early elementary ages, and while it fits nicely into the Smurfette Principle and only a couple of episodes pass the Bechdel Test, for the most part I approve of it for my children. There are episodes when a pirate princess (of course she’s a princess!) and mermaids help to balance out the gender scale. I talk with my kids about why there are so few girls in the show, and what more girl pirates could be doing in the episodes if they were on the show.

The situation with the t-shirts made me really sad. Not one shirt featured Izzy on it. Not. One. She is an important cast member, and the only female. I then remembered that I was in the Boys section, and thought surely they would have girl designs. I walked across the room to the Girls section (because boys and girls have to be segregated,  you know) to look for the girl version of the Jake and the Never Land Pirates. Nope. Nada. No Izzy, no girl pirate shirts.

What?! This show is super popular with boys AND girls right now, why would there be no shirts for girls, and no trace of Izzy on the shirts?

Your answer is: because of sexism and gender stereotypes. Did Disney and JC Penney think boys wouldn’t wear a shirt with a girl on it? When I showed Benny his new shirt, he got a huge smile on his face, immediately followed by a look of confusion. “Where’s Izzy?” he asked. I told him I guess she wasn’t on the shirts, and I thought it was the strangest thing. He got really mad, and said he didn’t want the shirt and to return it.

Disney's "Izzy" from Jake and the Never Land Pirates.

“I doun wanna wear a shirbt that doun has allub my frenz.” He didn’t want to wear a shirt that didn’t have all of his friends. He said Izzy’s feeling are probably hurt, and he wanted to be a friend to all of them and not make her sad. My 6yo daughter Amelia came in the room, and the first thing out of her mouth was, “Hey! Why is Izzy not on that shirt?”

Kids notices these things. Girls notice when they are missing, and so often they are missing.

What message does this send to little girls who love the show, saw the shirts, and realized there was no representation of Izzy? What does that teach these girls about the value a girl holds?

What message does that teach boys about girls?

Why is there only one girl character to choose from in the first place?

Why the ever-loving hell would a show built on cross-gender friendships and teamwork intentionally remove that element in its merchandise? Why only sell to boys? Why not market to girls, too? Why not market to children instead of sexes?

To be fair, there are selections exclusive to the Disney Store on their website that feature Izzy, and I’ve been told by several parents those shirts are sold out. No wonder.

But why does that not carry over to their licensed products to other retailers? The shirt selections I saw at JC Penney and Target had no Izzy on them.


Coincidentally, Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies has a girl pirate design for a tee, because we know that lots of girls LOVE pirates!


The cast of Jake and the Never Land Pirates, sans Izzy.

While I was shopping, the discovery of the shirt above made my head explode. Apparently whoever licensed and produced these tees for JC Penney decided boys would absolutely not wear a shirt with a girl on it, so in this depiction of the cast, they replaced Izzy’s head with a gold doubloon. The gator and the coin get a spot over Izzy. We get it, Disney. We know where females rank.

Thankfully, I’ve taught my kids to reject this kind of thinking, and after viewing the t-shirt choices from the Disney store, both immediately went to the kitchen table to color Disney a very strong message of complaint. I asked Benny if he was sure he wanted to return his shirt and he said now he wanted to keep it but also wanted a shirt with just Izzy on it, like the one we just saw from the Disney store. But even the Disney store has their apparel selections notes “For Boys” or “For Girls”.  Amelia said she wanted a shirt with everyone because you don’t exclude people when you are on a team. Benny then asked how to spell “Boss of Everything” and Amelia asked permission to use the word “jerks”.

Benny telling me why he is upset that Izzy is not on his shirt.

When we talked about this with the PPBB Facebook Community, there was lots of folks upset and expressing frustration. So many parents are sick and tired of the gender divide in childhood.

Janessa Hall: “This conversation reminds me so much of looking for Dora outfits when my oldest was a little younger. He loved Dora, and they only came in pink, sparkles, bows, etc.”

Katt Mikaboshi:  “My daughter loves Yo Gabba Gabba and saw a shirt in the “girls” section,but when she opened it up it only had the boy charters on it and no girls(?) I never encountered this before,but it hurts my head. My daughter asked me “why did they forget the girls?” 🙁 “