Men and Women in Media: A Big Difference

“When we first started, I thought this isn’t going to be as biased as we think….but when you look at the wall, the two sides are utterly different. The men are nearly all active, doing things. Not posed….the women are all passive. It’s all about how [the women] look.
When I look at the men’s side, I see real life. But when I look at the women’s side, it doesn’t seem real. It’s all manufactured.”

This video is for a petition calling to end an exploitative page in a popular British paper, but the message in the video applies to us all. Women are used as ornaments instead of being shown as instruments. Men are active, display a range of emotion, and are clothed power holders and power brokers. Women are nearly naked and either smiling or pouting.

These images are not unique to tabloids, we see similar in all forms of media and advertising. When we are exposed to this message over and over and over and over again, it becomes harder and harder to ignore or fight back against.

Now imagine you’re a child.

"The Experiment" wall created by the No More Page 3 Team.

“The Experiment” wall created by the No More Page 3 Team.

Watch the full five and a half minute video below:

(Thanks We Are More blog for the link!)

 

 

I’m Sad About The Things My Community Doesn’t Get

Last night I hosted a live chat about Barbie, billed as an extension of and reflection from my time spent thus far on The Barbie Project. For those who are unfamiliar, The Barbie Project is a play experiment that I have been involved with and blogging about since April. The project has created some really fantastic, thoughtful, funny and inspiring posts about how our girls play.

The live chat went great – better than I expected actually – and I was able to email the Barbie Team a list of nine action items we’d like to see them incorporate in their toys moving forward. (I’ll be writing a post on those in a bit.) I don’t have any control over at Mattel so I cannot comment as to whether or not any of our suggestions will be used. But your voices were heard. There is value in that. Thank you to all who participated, it was a fantastic discussion and revealed how complex this multi-faceted doll/brand is. More importantly, it revealed how creative our girls are and how they make their toys their own.

There will always be girls who play with Barbies. I want to make sure that play is as empowered and healthy as it can be and that is why I am doing The Barbie Project. I know girls use Barbies in very creative, adventurous ways and I feel that we shouldn’t count that out. I see a strong interest from Barbie in better understanding empowered play in today’s girls and creating dolls that act like a canvas for their imagination. Why not guide them along the way?

 

Now I need to clarify a few things with y’all. 

Because as great as the constructive criticism and play ideas were from our discussion, I was left feeling very sad and frustrated.

 

Melissa is sad.

Melissa is sad.

My very first post for the series began by fully explaining why I was doing this. It would be very important for you to read that now, if you have not yet done so.

Especially those out there calling my integrity into question.

It would be equally important to remember, my participation in The Barbie Project was not for our PPBB community. My posts were not intended for you guys. I’m thrilled if you read them, thank you. Several folks contacted me to say my Barbie Project posts were very helpful to them and helped them think more creatively about their child’s play. I was pleased to hear it as that was my goal.

Those posts were for ‘pinkified parents’. My posts were for people who normally do not think critically about media messages or use media literacy with their children. I wanted those parents to have better ideas for empowered and intelligent play with their girls. I also wrote the posts for people assume Barbie play is all fashion shows, proms, and weddings. Many times, it is far from it.

I put my reputation on the line to accomplish bringing our messages into Barbie’s spaces – of ten million people. And I’m really sad there are so many people out there in my community who don’t get that.

There is value in spreading the message. I don’t need to continue to preach to the choir. You all get it and know how the song goes. That is why I’m usually so proud of you. But please see that I need to go out onto the sidewalk and ask new folks to come on in and sing with us.

Be certain on the fact that I absolutely wanted the opportunity to insert my voice into the Barbie community, and win over those parents and have them start following my work. I also want my voice at the table at Barbie Headquarters. I’m sure you see the value in that. I’m confident you understand the power in meeting people where they are at and meeting companies in the middle.

Everything I have said in this months-long Barbie conversation is true to who I am and what I stand for: girl-centric characters in play, adventure, taking up space, girls exploring the world, girls in leadership positions, building and STEM during play, empowered/intelligent play, not shaming girls for being feminine or pretty, focusing on what a girl can do vs what she looks like, using critical thinking around toys/media. I feel very confident in that I have not gone off course. I’m very proud of the posts Amelia and I put up for the Barbie Project.

In a time when so many toy lines remove the girl characters, I like that Barbie offers career and adventure options that no one else has. In an afternoon Amelia’s dolls can be President, a doctor, a mom, an astronaut, a marine biologist, a jeep-driving safari hunter, a glamorous woman in a ball gown, a group of friends heading off on a road trip in their camper, a teen in sneakers roasting marshmallows under the open, starry sky. Girl characters are at the center of it. They are the essence of it. Shop online if the big box retailers don’t carry what you want, and then contact those retailers and explain that to them. I don’t see Barbie as the hill I want to die on when it comes to my daughter. That doesn’t mean we don’t talk about the bumps along the way like body image, a dress that is a bit too skimpy, skin colors, hair textures, pointy feet, the pink, etc. We talk about all of it.

Those conversations go right to the Barbie Team. I don’t have any way to measure how much influence we have over there or not, but I can assure you I am using every opportunity available to me to exercise my influence. Find value in that, regardless of how you feel about the toy.

And recognize, the Barbie Team is listening to this community. That is something I hear demanded of them frequently, yet when Lori Pantel, VP of Global Brand Marketing for Barbie, granted me her only interview following the computer programming book fall-out our community largely ignored that conversation. I was embarrassed. I was extremely disappointed in that failure to recognize the significance of that for our community and what statement Barbie made by making that move.

I am sometimes left wondering what exactly it is people want, beyond a platform to complain. I prefer engagement and acting as a change agent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Okay, now. I’d like you all to remember that behind these words on the screen your looking at sits a person. A person trying to educate parents, create social change, make a witty comment or two, and provide for her family.

I’ve spent every morning for the past five and half years showing up – for you. For all of you. I spend hours vetting, curating, and moderating our community….more hours blogging…..months writing a book and now traveling and speaking to groups to spread our message.

Melissa is happy it is morning and she says 'Let's go see what the PPBBers are doing today!'

Melissa is happy it is morning and she says ‘Let’s go see what the PPBBers are doing today!’

In regards to my working as a consultant to media content creators, I want to say three things:

  1. You cannot see what I’m doing behind the scenes nor hear what I’m saying in private conversations I’m having with the powers that be. I cannot share those with you, per binding legal contracts.
  2. I get paid for the work I do. My skills and expertise come at a price, and I hold no shame in knowing my worth. You don’t work for free and neither do I.
  3. The media content creators I have been working with are fantastic people who are closer to being allies with us than you might first think. Change is slow. That doesn’t mean we aren’t trying.
I want to tell you something the woman who mentors me taught me years ago: Change comes from within. Change is slow, it requires a buy in and that necessitates trust. It takes time to build trust. But the change that comes from this is the most meaningful and lasting.
I want you to know — the trust this community has in me is something I do not take for granted nor take lightly. My time spent doing this work is the only thing I will justify for spending time away from my kids. I cherish this community, as often you all are my only sense of sanity as I try to make sense of all the fuckery out there being marketed to our kids.

We need to work together to make changes for our kids, they deserve a healthy childhood. I need all of you to have faith that every decision I make is guided by that commitment.

I will never ask for you to trust me, because trust has to be earned not requested. You can decide for yourselves whether or not to put your trust in me. What I will do is promise that I will work every day to create meaningful change for our children. Every day I wake up and that is my goal, it is what drives me. I will prove myself to you through my words and actions, so that you know you can count on me to give brands hell when it is called for. You all can also count on me to meet brands in the middle and gain some ground for our kids.
I have poured my heart, soul, blood sweat, tears, and money into this business/book/community. I only get one shot at losing my integrity. There is not a chance I will sell out. Our kids mean too much to me.
Melissa says 'Look, we've got this.'  The important word being 'we' - meaning we need to stick together.

Melissa says ‘Look, we’ve got this.’
The important word being ‘we’ – meaning we need to stick together.

Sex In A Bottle: Deconstructing Perfume Marketing With My Kid

The 8yo Original Pigtail Pal and I were at the mall yesterday running some errands when a marketing poster at the department store perfume counter caught her eye while I was making a return with the cashier. She has been paying a lot of attention to the images displayed in stores lately, and I can tell she is giving them a lot of thought. The woman in the photo was wearing an evening gown and was very thin. The angle of the photograph drew your eye to focus on her exceptionally long legs. She was in a seated position reclining backwards with her legs spread partly open, the high slits in her dress causing the fabric to fall between her legs. The position of her body made her look like a prop and look on her face was a highly suggestive “Come hither” gaze. It prompted Amelia to ask if the woman was being sexy.

I answered that she was, but then compared that photo to one of a different model for a different perfume brand. The second model was wearing a women’s suit jacket that was open with nothing underneath. Her photo was also sexy, but in a different way. In this photo her eyes were closed and she had a sublime smile on her face, Her head was titled back, her smile turned towards her shoulder, her hands gently touching her neck. Her image gave off a feeling of self love and radiated beauty. Those two things together made it sexy.

(Unfortunately I can’t find either photo online to show you here.)

Amelia and I talked about how the two different images made us feel, why the first model was so thin, why it looked like the first model was waiting for someone while the other woman seemed to be by herself, why one photo focused on spread legs and the other focused on a happy face, and why companies would use those pictures to sell perfume.

“If perfume is supposed to smell nice and it is grouped into the groups you talked about then why aren’t they showing the different smells inside the bottle so you know what you are getting?” -Amelia

“Because they aren’t really selling perfume, they are selling the illusion of beauty and sex. The perfume isn’t the only thing people are buying when they buy this.” -Me

“They buy it to be sexy?” -Amelia

“Right, they buy it to feel attractive and sexy. People are drawn to the various scents, but the photos influence our feelings around the products and how we want those products to make us feel. That is called advertising. The companies do this to get our money. Feeling sexy is totally fine, but companies trying to sell that feeling to you isn’t always a good thing. Feeling sexy isn’t something you buy or get from other people, it is something you feel on the inside once you are more of an adult.” -Me

“You probably have to be in college to feel sexy.” -Amelia

“Right, or maybe a little bit in high school. Also, if you notice in all of these photos around the perfume and makeup counters the women are all white, all thin, all young and all more or less look the same. Women of all shapes, ages, and colors feel sexy and beautiful, but you don’t see that in advertising and that is why Mommy doesn’t like those photos. I don’t like when companies tell women how to feel about themselves.” -Me

“I would never listen to that because I would just listen to myself that I am beautiful. And I guess for third grade I don’t really need to be sexy but I would like to do a ninja obstacle course.” -Amelia

My work here is done. For today.

Amelia and I then walked hand in hand down to Bath & Body Works, whose lotions and potions  feature images of the scents inside and doesn’t rely on sex to sell. I bought my favorite oriental floral perfume and then I bought a little lotion with a light, sweet floral scent for Amelia who has no business being sexy in third grade but can certainly be a nice-smelling ninja.

I don’t mind her wanting to try on little bits of adulthood here and there, like high heels, makeup and perfume. When she is dancing around in my bras or asking to try my lipstick I just make sure she understands she is a visitor here, that the bras are too big and the lipstick too dark for a little girl. I teach her that everything that goes into being a woman is fantastic, and worth waiting for. I tell her there’s no need to rush it because being a confident little girl is equally fantastic.

People will always be selling sex in bottles and limiting versions of homogeneous beauty to her. I can’t stop that, but I can raise a girl who understands from a very early age that she is under no obligation to buy into any of it.

A simple trip to the mall to return some dresses led to a big conversation with my daughter on the marketing of beauty and sex.

A simple trip to the mall to return some dresses led to a big conversation with my daughter on the marketing of beauty and sex.

Perfect Looking Girls at Target: Not Our Bullseye

The kids and I were running errands today and while walking past the girls’ section in Target my eight year old daughter Amelia asked me why all the girls on the signs looked perfect. At first I didn’t understand what signs she meant, but she was referring to the photos of girls modeling the clothes above the racks of merchandise. I asked her to explain what she meant by “perfect”, and then we talked about why and how models are chosen, professional lighting, make up artists (even when it looks like no make up is there), professional hair stylists, clothing stylists, photo retouching, etc.

We talked about the infrequently revealed truth that the models don’t even look like the girls we are seeing. The girls would have arrived on set looking like normal seven, nine, eleven year old girls and then they would have sat through hair and make up before going to wardrobe where a team of adults ensures the models look perfect before sending them out to the photographer whose assistants are then checking for perfect lighting. Amelia and I discussed that what we were seeing was the finished product approved by photo editors, digital retouchers, marketing teams, and so on. The young girls in the images are designed to look perfectly imperfect with professionally styled fly away hairs and garments that show movement to make it appear more playful and childlike. But even the casual, easy-breezy un-perfectness of it is all is very planned, very precisely, for consumer eyes.

Including eight year old consumer eyes.

We went up to the signs and I pointed out how each model was a pretty girl to start with, but had obviously been retouched and I pointed out the ways in which each photo had been altered. I taught Amelia the tricks to look for, and told her it was important to remember the tricks because sometimes your mind would try to fool you with all of these as you think to yourself, “I don’t look like that.” The secret to remember is, “Neither does she.”

Amelia asked what the models thought of their images being changed. She stated the practice of retouching images wasn’t fair to girls who might look at the signs and think about being pretty because it wasn’t real prettiness, it was computer made prettiness. We talked about the fashion, magazine, and advertising industries, and how we can never find our own beauty by looking at someone else. I told her that beauty isn’t a competition and isn’t defined by comparisons. While it is important to see the beauty in others, it is most important to find the beauty that is within ourselves, and that is done by looking inward and at our own skin.

I told Amelia that she was one of the most beautiful people that I had ever met. I told her that inside and out she was lovely, and that knowing and feeling that way about yourself is the best gift you can give yourself. I said to her that too often girls were defined (or defined themselves) by what they looked like, instead of what they accomplish or what they know. I told her that in our family, what you do with your body is way more important than what it looks like.

She looked up at me with her big brown eyes and asked if I was beautiful, to which I answered I most certainly was.

I know from her comments and actions that right now Amelia is confident in her appearance and who she is. She is eight, going into third grade this fall. This is how soon you have to be prepared to have these conversations with your kids and start building their personal brand. Because there are multitudes of marketers out there spending multi-millions ready and willing to do it for you.

 

One of my favorite photos of Amelia, from earlier this summer. She had finally earned the money needed to buy her American Girl doll that she had wanted for over two years. She is so beautiful here, but it is her self confidence shining through and pride in all her hard work that makes her so.

One of my favorite photos of Amelia, from earlier this summer. She had finally earned the money needed to buy her American Girl doll that she had wanted for over two years. She is so beautiful here, but it is her self confidence shining through and pride in all her hard work that makes her so.

 

To  be fair to Target, I don’t think the photos we saw today in the store were inappropriate or anything out of the industry norm. In fact, I think to most people the images are refreshingly age-appropriate, sweet, and fun. But the industry norms are the problem and when we continue to sell girls the mirage of beauty we continue to imprint their minds with the message that above everything they do in life, they must be effortlessly beautiful while doing so.

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.