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).

The Fantastical Mystery of Women Missing From History

Where do women in history go?

Where do women in history go?

Yesterday my daughter Amelia went on a field trip with her third grade class to see a play about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We talked a bit about the play and what her thoughts were, and one of the first things she said was, “Mom, there were five actors. Four were men and then there was one woman to play all the women. Just one woman.”

Now, you never really know how accurate information is coming from a nine year old, especially since she was able to give me great detail on the bus ride shenanigans but very little details about the play. But she did say that the male actors all stayed in character while the sole female actor had to flip flop between female roles. I asked her what she thought about there being just one woman to which she replied, “It just seems like they forgot that women were a part of all that history, too. There was just one woman for ALL those women. It didn’t feel right.”

In my head I started going through the names and faces of the women and girls from the Civil Rights Movement: Ruby Bridges, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mildred Loving, Daisy Bates, Myrlie Evers Williams, Septima Poinsette Clark and Dorothy Height…..

Oh the irony of Dorothy Height, well-known in her time as a great orator and a key organizer of the 1963 March On Washington, yet not allowed by her male counterparts to speak that day.

They didn’t allow any women to speak that day. And that wasn’t the first time.

No wonder the women in the play are interchangeable.

No wonder my daughter found the play to be boring.

 

 

Each of these women above may have been striving for the same goal and working together, but each woman was unique and different from the next. A sharecropper. A journalist. A mother of four who holds a degree in voice and violin from the New England Conservatory of Music. A prize-winning orator.

I asked my daughter to tell me more, specifically which women did the female actor portray and how did it make Amelia feel when the female actor would switch roles.

“First she was Rosa Parks, who had a pretty big job with the Civil Rights parades if I recall. Then they made her flip to his WIFE. And I’m all, ‘Uh no, that’s Rosa Parks, you just don’t mess with that business’. The men were just standing there like mountains because they. are. men. so that’s who they get to be forever like they’re sooooooo important. But the women were all flip flopping, like any woman could fill that role as long as it was a girl. It felt like the women were cut in half. And I was sitting in my chair squeaking my boots on the floor because at this point I’m angry, right? I’m sitting in my chair and I KNOW that Coretta Scott King did a lot of work herself to help the brown skin people. And I’m thinking, “Oh Coretta be like – jokers please, you need to hire more actors!'”

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

My nine year old is aware of when her gender is being left out, be it advertising, media characters and stories, politics, sports, or plays about the journey for equality.

And so I teach her, when history attempts to write us out we are to make sure we write ourselves right back in.

Women's history books we have at home.

Women’s history books we have at home.

The book in the center, “Lives of Extraordinary Women”, was given to my daughter for her birthday by my mother. It is what women have done for each other for centuries, we share and retell our stories to make sure our contributions that shaped the world are not forgotten nor credited to our brothers.

It is what we do so that when our little girls go to a play they question why there is only one woman on stage for the telling of a movement that had men as its stars but was carried forward on the backs of its women.

 

List of books as they appear in photo:

Who Was books includes biographies on Maria Tallchief, Jane Goodall, Sacagawea, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, and more….

No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States by Nancy F. Cott

Rosie the Riveter: Women Working On The Home Front in World War II by Penny Colman

Anne Frank In The World compiled by the Anne Frank House

Scholastic Encyclopedia of Women in the United States by Sheila Keenan

America’s Daughters: 400 Years of American Women by Judith Head

Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt

I Am books include biographies on Cleopatra, Hellen Keller, Harriet Tubman, and Sacagawea

American Girl books

FlyGirl by Sherri Smith

Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel

American Women: Their Lives In Their Words by Doreen Rappaport

Demeter’s Choice: A Portrait of My Grandmother as a Young Woman by Mary Tonetti Dorra

 

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).

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.