Big Shake Up In the Princess World

Mulan: Hasbro on the left and Mattel on the right.

Mulan: Hasbro on the left and Mattel on the right.

A big shake up in the world of twelve inch princesses – the license for the Disney dolls has shifted from one toy giant to another. What does this mean for the toy industry, but more importantly, what does this mean for your child and the marketing coming our way?

Via Bloomberg, “Hasbro’s researchers talked to thousands of girls at the company’s Pawtucket headquarters, as well as in Hong Kong, London, and Los Angeles, and found that girls thought about princesses in much the same way that boys viewed superheroes. Sometimes they liked a character because of her dress; other times they focused on her abilities, such as archery and sword fighting (Merida, from Brave) or the ability to conjure ice and snow (Elsa). “Sometimes they want a prince, sometimes there is no need for a prince,” says Frascotti. Disney didn’t have to reimagine the princesses, it turned out. Girls had already done it themselves. The dolls had just never been marketed like that.
 
You don’t say.
 
Disney wants more empowered heroines. Can princesses pull that off? Well, Andrea Hopelain is VP for global brand strategy at Hasbro, who now holds the coveted princess doll license, is quoted in the piece saying “We can reintroduce Mulan. We can play up that Tiana is a great cook.”
 
Tiana was a great cook. But in 2016, parents – and their girls – are looking for toy companies to play up that Tiana was a savvy female entrepreneur who went after her dream and became a dedicated business owner. Her business happens to be cooking.
There is a difference, and that difference is a very important one when we’re talking about empowerment and little girls.
 

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

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

A Troubling Toy Trend

Movie and television licensing has all but taken over the toy aisle, popular characters and series dominating sales and leaving little to no room for non-character toys. So what does this mean for our families when we shop for toys?

This spells trouble for those of us looking for imaginative, open-ended toys that wait for the child to create the story line and character. Gender balance and diversity will leave much to be desired, as heroes are almost always white males and licensed characters come with easily identifiable gender roles. The negative, myopic influences from Hollywood are now packaged up for our kids. And the flip side is, we get less interesting, diverse media because a consideration for green lighting a series is “Can it sell toys ?”

Play time should be an exchange of ideas from child to child, not Hollywood to child. Toys are losing their imagination, instead turning kids into trained consumers.

Toys are losing their imagination, instead turning kids into trained consumers.

Toys are losing their imagination, instead turning kids into trained consumers.

Families will have to work even harder at not allowing media to become all-consuming lifestyle brands as kids will want every product that follows the theater release from toys to backpacks, t-shirts to toothbrushes (that always come at a higher cost, to boot). We’re going to find ourselves saying a lot of “No’s” as we walk through the toy aisles and bug-eye at the cost of the base command ship needed to complete the play experience of the dozen plastic action figures for which you spent fifteen bucks each. How many kids are going to settle for a cardboard box as you say, “Here, make a spaceship out of this”?

And finally, independent toy makers will have an even more difficult time getting into stores because retailers will want to give shelf real estate to lucrative licensed products that are sure to sell. The toy industry is moving farther away from creating amazing play time as its focus is profit driven for corporate shareholders.

In the land of creativity and pretend we have nearly lost the desire to take risks and introduce new, exciting ideas. And that is the exact opposite of what childhood is all about.

Read more about this toy trend from the New York Times’ Hitching a Toy to a Star: Superhero Movies Create Opportunity for Toymakers.

(Hat tip to our friends at Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood for the article link.)

 

Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

Asking People To Think Is Not The Same As Asking People To Hate

Let’s redirect a thread that went off the rails last night. I asked for community members to caption a snapshot taken during a retail experience of two toys placed at eye level to young children.

The snapshot sent in by a shopper that I asked to be captioned by my community.

The snapshot sent in by a shopper that I asked to be captioned by my community.

In short time people became upset claiming that I was hating on the toy company who makes the toys and “overreaching”. If I had asked the group to evaluate the toy company based on two products from their large line, I’d agree with that criticism. Except that is not what I did. I’m not taking a holistic look at this company because I’m asking my community to simply caption a snapshot – which by definition means a still from a moment in time.

Asking people to think is not the same as asking people to hate. Asking people to think critically about what media and cultural messages a child might experience and ingest during a shopping trip isn’t an overreach. It is a necessity.

I choose all of my words very carefully here, I have to because I have such a large audience and I have to make sure every word counts and gets across the message I want delivered.

That is exactly why I chose the word “snapshot”. Because it is a moment in time, and that is what a young child would be seeing if he or she were in the store. From this snapshot a child in present time would see a boy playing with cars that do things and go out into the world and a girl at home cooking. That comprises the world a young child would know. That singular message alone reinforces ALL of the other gender stereotypes that young child will pick up and that presents our society with some very serious limitations and deficits.

It is the drip, drip, drip, drip of sexism that most grotesquely impacts our society.

It is the drip, drip, drip, drip of sexism that most silently impacts our society.

It is the drip, drip, drip, drip of sexism that most effectively impacts our society.

With several commentors making impassioned defenses of the Hape toy company I looked carefully through their 244 page catalog and while there are really darling toys, their marketing is not. Some balanced photos yes, but hugely lacking in diversity and extremely gendered. It is such a shame, because their toys look fantastic. I’ve purchased their toys before and I don’t like or dislike them, I’m simply making an observation based on data present.

I did see some photos of girls building (Yay!) and boys and girls playing together (yes!), but I lost count of the gendered toy pairings I saw. In the first 148 pages no boys were playing house, while dozens of girls are playing house or caring for babies. Ditto for kitchen scenes. Not a single girls was shown holding a vehicle or tool (at least not in the first 148 pages). Most of the girls were wearing soft, pastel colors while the boys wore bold colors like green and red. I got so annoyed on page 148 when I flipped from a girl feeding a pink baby in a pink high chair to a boy building a red, white, and bold blue rocket that I closed the link. I went back and finished it, and yes I did see some boys in kitchens (and grilling, natch!) and boys and girls playing together, I’m not left jumping up and down and clicking my heels. Here’s why….

We should be a tish more keen to educational toy companies who do indeed produce great toys that come in boxes we recycle which make us believe the boxes don’t matter…..but this company is savvy enough to market to their niche one way in their catalog and turn around to use gender stereotypes on the boxes that go in the mainstream stores for toys that get seen by thousands more children and get sold to the masses that see the gender stereotype and buy it. As progressive parents you and I probably buy one of each for our whatever-gender child….but is that what the majority of the population is doing? No.

And that becomes a REALLY big problem down the line, and THAT is what gets my condemnation.

Also, I always have to ask this: If the boxes had photos that were racist instead of sexist, would some of you still be making the “adults, leave kids alone who just want to be kids” argument? I surely hope not. Are “kids just being kids” when exposed to adult sexist attitudes? And if not, is it then okay for me to question the marketing of these sexist attitudes to children? Even if that marketing comes from natural wood, European-looking toy companies?

Asking people to think is not the same as asking people to hate.

 

Fairy Tale High Makes My Brain Hurt

This is how girlhood is marketed to our daughters. What are they learning?

Have you seen the newest doll for girls? Fairy Tale High is the latest to hit the shelves and I think it has all the prerequisites we have come to expect these days:
~ narrow version of beauty that favors skinny White girls with perfect features
~ impossibly spindly legs supporting giant heads with giant amounts of hair
~ heavy makeup and long, luscious hair styled perfectly
~ short skirts, thigh high stockings, fetishized footwear (lucite heels, anyone?)
~ bare midriffs
~ “Come hither” looks from overly large eyes
~ story lines limited to fashion, singing, and dancing
~ webisodes where characters treat each other horribly until the 3 second feel-good spot at the end
~ faux-social marketing meant to masquerade as empowerment

Here’s the website if you want to see more: www.fairytalehigh.com

 

Fairy Tale High dolls are new and more of the same old, same old. Yawn, Stretch, Roll over.

If this was the only brand like this, it wouldn’t be so offensive. But when this is all that is marketed to our daughters in the mainstream by company after company, it sells our daughters short. If Fairy Tale High was on the shelf next to the Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Sonia Sotomayor dolls I would tell parents that you can choose how to spend your dollars in the marketplace and ultimately it is up to you to make good decisions about the media and messages that come into your home. But when there is such a lack of choice, how much room for healthy and responsible decisions to we really have? Did you take into consideration the billions spent on children’s advertising each year? Is it fair that parents have to constantly be battling inappropriate and sexualized, stereotyped media? I didn’t sign up for this when I had kids.

People will come back and say two things:
1. Just don’t buy it.
2. Companies don’t raise your kids, you do.

This kind of lowest-common denominator garbage dominates the marketplace, leaves girls with a very narrow definition of who they can be and leaves them lacking any real role models, teaches boys not to expect much from girls, and reinforces gender stereotypes about girls for those who view these toys and are inundated with the marketing and merchandising. Can parents provide different role models? Absolutely, but it doesn’t take an exceptionally clever kid to figure out very quickly what our society values from females and what it doesn’t.

I think a lot of parents do raise their children well and have a vested interested in having these children enter adulthood as whole, intelligent, accomplished people. It is a shame so many toy companies don’t share those same values, especially when it comes to our girls.

Sex may sell, but should sex sell to seven year olds? What the market bears is a litmus test for society and right now, our society is pretty sick.

I am going to spend the rest of the day obsessing over a Sonia Sotomayor action figure. Because I need media like Fairy Tale High to die. Compare the FTH webisode when Cinderella’s lucite heel falls off in the hallway and she becomes a limping, exasperated mess to the video below of the Bronte sisters, and ask yourself if maybe the toy industry for girls doesn’t suck just a little bit.

Look at Sotomayor and Ginsburg in the new portrait for the National Portrait Gallery, they smolder confidence, intelligence, and I detect a little bit of badassness off Ginsburg. Which is so much more desirable than looking like a piece of sparkly bubble gum, a la Fairy Tale High.

We are letting toy manufacturers sell the wrong messages to our daughters.

My friend David Trumble gave some famous women in history a princess make over. So that we could all see the ridiculousness of Princess Culture.

A Stranger's Butt Made Me Think About Street Harassment and Our Kids

I had an interesting series of thoughts this morning as I was looking at a stranger’s butt. Okay, let me back up a step. This weekend a friend shared with me that her teenage daughter experienced her first encounter with street harassment. The encounter was actually quite alarming, and as a former investigator one of my first thoughts goes to the  perp’s MO, as in “I wonder what about her hair style and clothing style attracted this guy. I wonder what about the way she was walking made her his target.” The way the incident happened, there was something about her that this guy felt made it worth his while to engage with her in a very threatening manner. In this encounter, she wasn’t simply walking by on a sidewalk and he chose to cat call her. In this instance he put himself in her path, stopping her in her tracks thereby treating her as an object to be moved or disrupted, as opposed to an autonomous human being with thoughts, feelings, and purpose.

So this morning I was running an errand and a guy cut right in front of me while I was walking. He seemed preoccupied and I genuinely think he never saw me. But since he nearly crashed into me, I took note of what he was wearing and what he looked like. What stood out to me was that his shorts were so low his entire butt was visible. He had underwear on, but his entire backside was showing above the top of his shorts. I find this fashion trend absurd, but it got me thinking about my friend’s daughter.

This young man is likely not going to encounter any street harassment for having his butt hang out or his underwear showing. No one is going to think he is “asking for” anything, be it verbal sexual harassment to rape. His public display of his underwear will not be mistaken as an invitation for sexual assault.  He won’t be labeled a slut or a whore. I bet no one will even tell him to pull up his pants or invest in a belt. No one will police his body, make assumptions about his sexual history, nor assume he’s going to end up working a stripper pole.

He’s just a guy with his ass hanging out.

Girls, you get to play by a different set of rules.

Think about life now for my friend’s daughter. She is a young teen who is now indoctrinated into the club of women and girls who know that no matter what we are wearing or what we look like, at any time we can encounter street harassment from men. I was fourteen when this first happened to me. I felt embarrassed about my body, I didn’t want the sexual attention the way it was being given. It made me feel cheap. I wished my boobs would go away because as excited as I was to get them, so far they were just causing me trouble. I was scared to tell my mom about it, even though she and my dad had raised me to expect respect from people and how to stand up for myself. It took some older girls taking me under their protective wings to teach me that when street harassment happens there was nothing wrong with my body and that I should be proud of it.

The summer it happened these older college girls taught me that I wasn’t the problem, the boys and men doing this were the problem. It was the guys on the street, the pervy dads in the bleachers, the guys on the other school’s soccer team, the construction workers at the job site. They were the problem, the thoughts they were voicing and the actions they were choosing to follow through on. THAT was the problem. Not a fourteen year old girl walking down the street.

These older girls helped me develop some tactics to deal with guys like that. Sometimes you make a joke of it or flirt back and then quickly leave to dissipate the situation. Sometimes you act like a hard ass and use foul language. Sometimes you just ignore it. Sometimes if you get groped you throw a punch or a knee to the groin. You do whatever you have to to stay safe. Sadly, I think I was well into college before I even knew the term “street harassment”. It was happening to me and my friends and we didn’t even know what to call it. We just thought it was “guys being guys”, but that assessment isn’t very fair to the guy friends we had who acted respectfully towards us and around us.

These situations happened to me regularly, and it had nothing to do with how I was dressed or what I was acting like. I was just a girl who dared to take up space in public and that fact alone made some guys think I was their property. And so it was with my friend’s daughter this weekend.

So while I’m looking at this guy’s butt hanging out of his shorts this morning, I started to think about him, my friend’s daughter, and what I try to teach parents about media literacy and how media and marketing impact our kids. I started to connect some dots, see if you follow along:

From infancy boys are taught to be rowdy rock ‘n roll bad boys who are little masters of the universe and tiny stud muffins.

From infancy girls are taught to be sweet and pretty, things to be adored and kept beautiful while pleasing everyone around with the sweet prettiness.

These messages are all over media, apparel, toys, and are relayed by people who interact with our children.

It isn’t long before boys are sold messages about being aggressive and violent as a direct biological tie to their gender.

Similarly, girls get the message very early it is never too early to start being sexy and taking steps to gain the attention of boys.

Girls learn that boys are aggressive by nature and are the default gender the world revolves around. Boys learn girls are supposed to be hot and a prize to be won.

What they don’t seem learn is that each are intricately layered human beings deserving of respect.

Enter media like video games and movies that depict adult content for children who do not have the capacity to understand and digest it. Specifically, extreme violence and unhealthy depictions of adult sexuality that usually involves disrespect, pain, and even violence towards the woman.

Unless taught by his family, a boy is less likely to learn from our culture that girls and women are worthy of respect and equality or that aggression does not make you a man.

Unless taught by her family, a girl is less likely learn to offer herself as a whole person rather than a sexual object or that she can be many things without needing the approval of men.

And then our children grow up to become teens with hormones. In high school, many girls have their first sexual encounter with an overwhelming majority of them self reporting their first time with sexual intercourse was under coercion. Boys report being pressured to have sex.

By the time they are teens most boys will have seen very little media that respects women and most girls will have seen very little media in which women ask for or take respect. Then we consider all of the advertising they have seen up to this point, the vast majority of which shows women as objects to be used for male sexual desire.

They grow up even more, and one in four women will be sexually assaulted at college and 99% of the time her perpetrator will be male.

They’ll grow up even more and become women who will earn less than men, have less chances at career advancement to the highest levels, will have less opportunity to hold public office, will experience sexual harassment in the workplace, and will find family-work balance very, very difficult to achieve.

 

So when I look at a stranger’s butt and think about my friend’s daughter being harassed while she is out for walk I, also think about how this fits into the big picture in how we raise or children and what messages we choose to accept or reject. I think about how I try to teach parents to see the forest through the trees, and that while one gendered item or media component may seem trivial, it all adds up to a deep, dark forest we have to shepherd our children through. We also have to teach them how to find their own way, because we won’t always be by their sides.

Thankfully this weekend my friend was not far behind her daughter and scared off the creep who put his car in the way of a fourteen year old girl walking on a path, and leered at her though the window. I am relieved nothing happened to the girl. I am angry a man thought he could act this way toward a young woman. At the same time, I am heartbroken she came home and told her mom, “I hate being a girl.”

And that is why I will always challenge the status quo when it comes to gender stereotypes and sexualization in childhood, and why I teach my children to do the same. We are short changing our children, and in doing some we are bankrupting our entire society.

How do gender stereotypes and sexualization in childhood affect our society as a whole? See the forest through the trees.