From the Mouths of Babes: Girls Gone Missing

We had so much fun at a good buddy’s birthday party today and it was great for the kids to run around for a few hours before we are house bound when this arctic air hits Wisconsin. The birthday boy was so thoughtful when planning for his party to include Amelia. He made sure that his cupcake flags had a Princess Leia, and the water bottles had male and female Star Wars characters on the labels (so the kids could tell them apart).
I was trying to explain to her who Padme was so we were looking for her image on the table cloth among all the other Star Wars characters. What Amelia said to me broke my heart a little, not necessarily what she said, but the knowledge that was behind it.

“Mom, don’t bother looking. The girls are never on there.”

Girls gone missing.

What message does that give my daughter? What about my son and the other boys at the party?

Where are the ladies?

Where are the ladies?

“Frozen” Partially Thaws My Cold Heart To Disney Princesses

The cast of "Frozen".

The cast of “Frozen”.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend my mom and I took the kids to see Disney’s new animated film “Frozen”. The kids had been excited to see it for weeks and the previews had me intrigued. This would be Disney’s first princess film made in the aftermath of the national backlash to Princess Culture and I was eager to see if they had taken any of these concepts to heart.

Maybe they did, maybe it was coincidence, but “Frozen” seems to be taking some serious steps towards featuring empowered princesses who are strong, smart, and adventurous.

Seriously, I just typed that sentence about a pair of Disney princesses.

Perhaps my cold heart towards princesses is thawing? We all remember my love fest for Merida. “Frozen” isn’t a perfect film, and I do not dig Princess Culture and the messages girls learn from it, but……

I really like Elsa and Anna, the princess sisters from the film. Following in the footsteps of Merida, these sisters are in command of their own stories, stay awake the entire time (major bonus!), and their main goal is not to find a prince. We see the sisters be funny, daring, stand up for themselves, care about each other, make mistakes, not back down from a fight, climb a mountain, build an ice palace, repel off a cliff and punch out a deceitful prince. Woohoo! While I am still epically tired of the princess narrative used as the vehicle to serve stories to girls, if I look at this movie by itself and let it stand on its own merit then I have to be honest and say that we really loved it and I think Elsa and Anna teach kids some great lessons.

“Frozen” is very loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”. Very loosely based, so don’t spend too much time getting twisted up about the change in characters and story line.

The film begins as Elsa and her little sister Anna play in a castle ballroom until an accident leaves Anna hurt, the family racing to save her (great shot of the Queen charging out the castle gates on her horse as they speed into the forest to save her daughter), and ultimately the course of Elsa’s girlhood changing in order to reign in this great power growing stronger inside of her.

Elsa and Anna are separated and we see the strain that puts on the girls who dearly love each other. When their parents’ ship is lost at sea Elsa must prepare to become Queen when she comes of age. Anna is desperate for companionship and on the day of the coronation meets a handsome prince who promises a great many things. Anna decides a few hours later that is a great idea to become engaged to him — a move that is heavily questioned by Elsa and later by Anna’s new friend Kristoff.

An argument between the sisters during the ball leads to Elsa exiling herself from the kingdom, the kingdom falling into eternal winter, and Anna embarking on a great journey to bring her sister back. The film does a nice job of showing the love and complexities in a relationship between sisters, which is the note the film finishes on.

 

So, let’s start with what I didn’t like:

~ Elsa and Anna look like Barbie dolls, with giant, giant eyes. Great article about that here. As adventurous and independent as these gals are, the message is still that you must be beautiful while you do it.

~ In one scene we see Anna as a child singing about Elsa coming out to play with her and she flies in front of a great portrait of Joan of Arc and you think “Hey girl power!”  Minutes later in the film we see a teen Anna in the same portrait gallery, this time singing about meeting “the one” and falling in love. Doh! It didn’t bother me so much the idea of a teen girl wanting to find love, more so the idea that once a girl ‘comes of age’ she forsakes adventure and pursing her interests to marry and settle down. The song was an avenue to introduce the story line of the deceitful prince, but he could have shown up regardless after Anna sings a song about her life taking twists and turns and not knowing what her next adventure will be. I mean, Joan of Arc probably didn’t sing about boyfriends before riding off into battle….

~ When Elsa leaves the confines of the palace and can finally be herself on her mountain she gets sexed up quite a bit. My five year old even commented on it, saying she was too sexy. It would make sense for Elsa to let her hair down a bit, but there seemed to be an unnecessary focus on her sexuality. Also I could not stop thinking about Vanna White.

~ Again, for the story to unfold it makes sense, but the scene where the trolls meet Anna and immediately launch into a song and dance number about Kristoff being a fixer-upper but they can still fall in love……it sends the message that boy + girl = love. The song could have been about boy + girl = great pair for finishing their quest.

~ There is one scene where weapons are pointed and Elsa and my kids found that very upsetting.

~ And with films like this, there is always the disconnect between the feisty princesses we meet on screen and the tie-in merchandise that sells beauty and a narrow definition of femininity to girls. We had a big discussion about that here.

 

What I liked:

~ “Frozen” had a female director, and I think it shows in many parts of the film. This princess tale is a departure from the Cinderella/Sleep Beauty we grew up with and the guy-dependent Little Mermaid/Princess Jasmine/Belle and continues to take the modernization of that franchise forward, expanding on the independence we saw in princesses from “Tangled” and “Princess and the Frog”.

~ Elsa is powerful, she knows it, and she owns it. She never backs down to the men trying to control her. She cares about the people in her kingdom and struggles with the responsibility of how to be a good leader.

~ Anna is confident, determined, learns from her mistakes, is quick on her feet, and on the journey to find Elsa we see her rescue Kristoff just as many times as he rescues her. She never backs down from a fight, whether it is snarling wolves or a giant snow monster.

~ There are two love stories in this film, the central one being between Elsa and Anna. But Anna and Kristoff end up falling for each other and while I don’t like a girl’s story ending with the finding of a man, we see their relationship grow over time and Kristoff is a good guy (unlike, say, the princes Merida is introduced to).

~ Olaf the snowman is really funny!

~ Kristoff is shown as a full human being with emotions and complex thoughts, which is the most admirable “prince” we’ve ever seen Disney produce. Kristoff isn’t a prince by birth, but by actions. He is the kind of character I would like Benny looking up to. Benny thought he was really cool and Amelia said she would want to be his friend but definitely NOT do any kissing.

~ The animation is incredible and the songs are fantastic. It felt like watching a gorgeous Broadway play. Disney does this kind of film very well and in that sense, “Frozen” is a masterpiece.

~ Family, above all else, is the moral of the story. The sisters save each other, the guys in the story are the side kicks. Even the romance that blossoms between Anna and Kristoff at the end is a subplot.

~ Elsa and Anna are the authors and heroines of their own story and that is all I ask for in tales about girls. As tired as I am of princesses, these are two princesses I can fall in love with. Merida, Elsa, and Anna are on my A+ list. None are perfect, but I think it is imperfect characters that can sometimes make the best media role models.

Frozen is a tale about two sisters, their love for each other, and the adventure that love takes them on.

Frozen is a tale about two sisters, their love for each other, and the adventure that love takes them on.

 

Media Literacy By 8:20am

How much does media affect our kids? Well, all before 8:20 a.m. these are the questions I answered for my seven year old. Keep in mind when you read these that this child has been raised in a home that teaches media literacy along with ABC’s and 123’s, and that my husband and I closely filter what we watch, hear, and play with.

You cannot escape it, you have to know how to repackage, reframe, and reteach it. My daughter is awash with negative influences from peers at school right now. I can’t control how other people raise their kids, I can only help mine sort through the messages and keep our family’s morals front and center.

Conversation 1 at 7:19 am:
Amelia:  “Mom, I think for Halloween I want to be the vampire or the mummy from Monster High. The other girls are all going to be Draculaura. Can I be that?”

Me: “If all the other girls are going to be wearing the same costume, why would you want to look like them? Would it be more fun to create our own mummy or vampire? I will totally help you create an awesome costume, but I need to be up front with you right now, your father and I are not going to allow you to be dressed like a Monster High character. Can you tell me why?”

Amelia: “I know why. It is just that all the other girls are going to be it.”

Me: “Are you sure it is all the other girls, or just a couple that you are focusing on? Because I know for a fact that Emily and Angelina are both going to be ninjas.”

Amelia: “Well, I was also thinking of being Sam Sparks. Or a strawberry. Probably a vicious strawberry.”

 

Conversation 2 at 7:40 am:

Amelia: “At school the girls say that their clothes and accessories come from Justice. What is Justice?”

Me: “Oh, Justice is a store for girls in the mall. We can check it out sometime. I think you wear really cool clothes to school. No one quite has your style, little girlfriend.”

Amelia: “I know. My outfits are fabulous. I just wish I had more accessories. All the other girls say that is where their stuff comes from.”

Me: “Hmmm……I would be sad if I couldn’t pick you out on the playground because you and all the other girls look like a herd of zebras. Do you want to be all the other girls and blend in? Or do you want to be Amelia?

Amelia: “I want to be Amelia. Not a zebra. Is Justice the right kind of clothes for kids? Like no short skirts? Because I don’t need my business showing on the monkey bars.”

Conversation 3 at 8:14 am:

Amelia: “Mom, the princesses on that backpack look sexy. That isn’t really appropriate for school.”

Me: “I agree with you 100%.”

Amelia: “Maybe her parents don’t think about those things. Because those princesses don’t look like they do anything but stand around and be sexy.”

Me: “I think you are correct. That is why our family focuses on smart thoughts and brave actions. I think that girl is probably a neat little kid with a backpack that doesn’t send healthy or appropriate messages.”

Amelia: “Yeah, and she is a kindergartener so she doesn’t even need to be thinking about being sexy.”

Me: “True, and neither to second grade girls.”

Amelia: “Oh, I’m not. I’m thinking about all the dead pigeons in New York City.”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Miley, Robin, Race, Raunch and Kids

Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus perform. (Image via HuffPo)

In this age of slut-shaming hypersensitivity and the slipping of a culture based on a shared sense of morals regarding decency and self-respect we sometimes fail to have the conversations we should be because no one wants their head chopped off for speaking up and no one wants to be made to feel bad about a lack of morals. Or common sense.

Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus are being talked about everywhere, in different ways and by different communities, but the conversation is valid. It is not acceptable to attempt to shut up and silence people concerned about the impact of media with the cries of “slut-shaming!” simply because we are discussing how raunch culture impacts our families and society as a whole. Critical analysis and media literacy require us to examine these things, and we can do so in a way that does not include slut-shaming. What is so interesting is that all of the kids and young adults I have spoken to about the performance and who I have seen interviewed in the media all had the same reaction, “That is so unfortunate. It is really inappropriate.”

Both performers should be held accountable for what they did. It was rehearsed, there were many adults involved in making the decisions about what the audience would see. I think we can hold performers responsible for their art free of censorship, as the audience we have every right to comment on and critique. This act went on stage with those responsible knowing plenty of young people would be seeing it. I’m rather certain they were banking on that.

I’m not sure too many people had high standards for Thicke, whose rise to fame came on the wings of this summer’s rape anthem. On the TODAY show his mom spoke of her shock over the way Miley danced with her son, but said nothing of Thicke’s sexist, degrading video to his hit song about date rape. It is the perfect example of the double standards we hold in society. She says she can’t unsee Miley’s rump twerking on her son, just like I can’t unhear Thicke’s lyrics about wanting to tear a girl’s ass in half during anal sex because she’s the sexiest bitch up in this place. I wonder if that makes his mom blush, too?

People feel differently about Cyrus than they do about Thicke, and when we discuss this we are falling short when we shrug it off by saying she doesn’t want to be a role model, doesn’t owe anyone anything, and can express her sexuality any way she wants. That falls short because she is a role model and how she expresses her sexuality impacts the millions of girls with less fame and less money. Miley becomes part of a media culture. Media shapes perception, and perception becomes reality.

People are chalking it up to her being a mistake-prone 20 year old. She can wear what she wants, do what she wants. Other people are saying she is at the mercy of her management and production team. Still others are saying she is a lost child star who still needs some guidance and the pressure of the spotlight is so hard.

I was once a hard-partying twenty year old young woman who will forever be grateful social media did not exist during the years I was 17-22. But here’s the thing – You aren’t a badass or a sexual grown up when you have to try so hard to prove to everyone that you are. And you don’t get street cred for exploitation.

Another special moment from the Cyrus/Thicke duet. (Image via HuffPo)

Miley’s performance wasn’t about her authentic sexuality, it was about her sexuality as a product. When every single female pop star has the same version of sexuality, perhaps we should start questioning how authentic or manufactured it is. It was a racist and raunchy display of how women have to try to obtain media power given the normalization of porn culture in the mainstream, appropriating dance moves from Black strip clubs of the South, and using her Black female dancers as sexual props. Friends, that ain’t feminism or empowerment. I need you to stop pretending that it is.

The sexualization of and by Miley Cyrus matters. The self-objectification to boost a career and ratings matters. During a discussion about this my friend and colleague Nancy Gruver of New Moon Girls said, “When the BEST option for wielding power in our culture that a privileged, intelligent, ambitious and hardworking young woman sees is to manipulate media by purposefully turning herself from a person (subject of her own actions & thoughts) to an object (a non-human thing) of other people’s actions and thoughts it’s the culture that needs change – and that’s what we want to focus attention on. The need to change the culture to help ALL girls and young women be seen and treated as people, not objects.”

In her post “Miley Cyrus joins the boys’ club” my friend Soraya Chemaly writes how Miley was just acting like one of the guys, but being judged for it like a woman. Soraya is right, much of this criticism is linked to Miley’s gender and is the reason she swings and misses but Robin Thicke gets walked to first. The thing is, no one in the audience was cheering her on with a “Yeah, get it girl!” Most of the audience and the online reaction was “Dear God, girl get off the stage!”

But there is another part to this conversation. In order to be “one of the guys”, Miley had to sell other women out.

“In your quest to swing a big dick you made other women the objects. You made them bend over to you, just like you bent over to Robin Thicke. You grabbed them, leered at them, and diminished them to build yourself up. Maybe they’ll let you in their club. Maybe, for a while, you get to be the subject instead of the object.” – Emily Heist Moss

So I can’t spend time trying to convince people how wrong the sexualization, objectification, and racism were in this performance. You see it or you don’t. The new Miley is a brand, you like it or you don’t. This is not a rare occurrence, it is one more drop in an overflowing bucket of  media reeking of sexism and racism.

What I’m more interested in is guiding parents in how to discuss this with your kids. This post and this post do a nice job of addressing Miley as a person and would be good to read with your tweens/teens and discuss.

Here is what I asked of my facebook community, and you can see the discussions play out here and here.

1. Give examples of how we deconstruct this kind of media and its messages to our kids.
2. How we differentiate sexual expression vs putting raunch on display for ratings.
3. How you explain to kids why they might hear Miley taking so much heat but not Robin.
4. How you explain the difference between critiquing media and critiquing a person to your child.

Nearly everyone is focused on Miley and girls. Well, what about Robin and boys? Let’s look at this….
– How would you talk to your tween/teen BOYS about older men using younger girls like sex objects and male performers being surrounded by barely-dressed female backup dancers?
– How would your boys answer: When so many of the female performers are so scantily clad, is that self expression of sexuality or the symptom of something larger? Why were none of the men nearly naked?
– How would your boys answer: How do you feel the representations of women last night affect your female friends and family members?
– How would your boys answer: What expectations does our family have around how you will treat girls and women? Did what you see or heard about from the VMA’s live up to that or fall short?

 

And here are some of the best responses:

“I do see that she is taking all the heat and its sad that he isn’t, not to mention any of the other grown adults with much a more developed prefrontal cortex who green lit the performance. It’s interesting to show children that se is getting all of the attention (however negative) but there is an unseen puppeteer in the way of management, agents, PR people, production teams, marketing, etc that all have their hand in the till. I remind my daughter that we don’t know Miley. We can’t say she’s a “bad girl” but we can say that she performed inappropriately and made decisions that would not be considered good choices in our family. The thing that bothers me the most about the whole performance is the teddy bears. It’s almost as if the set decorator (who obviously had a hand in the video as well) is making the statement that she’s “a little girl with her stuffed animal but look at how naughty she can be.” That, to me, is the worst “artistic” statement and contributes to the allure of over-sexualization of young girls.” -Jessyca Haddix

“It was a great example of what is called The Patriarchal Bargain. A patriarchal bargain is when a woman willingly accepts gender rules that generally disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power she can then wrest from the system. It is an individual strategy designed to manipulate the system to one’s best advantage, but one that leaves the system itself intact. Miley fulfilled the bargain in textbook fashion – sexualizing herself, turning the Male Gaze on herself, in order to manipulate the system, which benefits her personally, but at the expense of all other young women, who feel the repercussions of male gaze, without being able to subvert it for financial gain. This isn’t about making the world G-rated. It is about making women objects, instead of letting them be subjects. It isn’t a healthy take on female sexuality at all – there is no empowerment for women in that performance, or in singing a song that glorifies the interchangeability of objectified women for men’s pleasure.” -Kristin Yates Thomas

“I think our society has crafted a script that Miley is just following (as are many of us). It’s a script where someone appeals to children, and then in order to try and broaden that appeal, they resort to incredibly raunchy, provocative, disturbingly over-sexualized performances. In this script, our part as grownups is to be horrified and disturbed, and our teenagers’ part is to be fascinated by the sexuality and enjoy that their parents are so horrified.
I think we need to find ways to get around that script. We need to create an environment where young performers can break into an older market without needing to resort to shock tactics. We need to help teens understand that there are so many other ways to be an grownup performer than these overly sexual tactics… maybe offer them some awesome examples of music stars who appeal to adults in a non-sexual way. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I don’t think it can just be “oh that’s so awful!” because that’s just playing into the script of “child star gone bad” that Miley is intentionally playing, and teenagers are buying.” -Scott Gendel

“I think an important thing to discuss with our kids is what’s the purpose of media. It’s attention to and selling of a brand, message or product. So I would ask what are they attempting to “sell” or bring attention to. Women often times have to try harder to stay in the limelight and constantly push the sexuality boundaries to stay “relevant”. -Angelica Amador

“If I were having this conversation with my kids, I’d talk about how some former child and teen stars introduce raunch into their performance when they reach adulthood, in order to distance themselves from the “child” label that no longer fits them. It has a marketing aspect–telling the world they’re no longer (hopefully) marketing to a child audience, but to an adult audience. A lot of teenagers change their dress and demeanor to show that they’re growing up as well. However, there are classy ways to do this, and ways that make a person (male or female) look foolish. This performance was an excellent example of how to make yourself look foolish.” – Jessica Goeller

“Media is a vehicle. It is how messages and imagery are transmitted publicly when you are not there in person to directly see or hear information, a performance, etc. It is how material flows through video, internet, radio, print, etc. Children can understand that media is a tool for making money as well as transmitting information, and that the people who control media control information and messaging, and make money doing so. Their motives, therefore, are not always pure. They are selling the public something. In the case of Miley’s performance, media is trying to sell music, and also a message about women: that they are valued for their sexuality above their talent, and that they must perform sexuality in order to sell anything else. Miley herself is both used by the media, and a user of the media. She is used in that she has bought into the idea that media ubiquitously promotes about female sexuality being the primary worth of females, and a necessary path to success. She also used media to promote herself, regardless of the message it sends to young fans. Therefore, media literacy is important for children to understand and a skill to be developed–so that they will learn to think critically about the complex relationship between human beings and media. In my opinion, in the case of Miley Cyrus, there is enough blame to go around for everyone–Media, her managers, patriarchy, and Miley herself. But kids need help deconstructing this.” -Lori Day

“I am raising 3 boys to be men and did some thinking on this after breakfast, as I was looking at your page and other posts on line about the performance last night. We don’t have cable now and my husband and I debate whether we ever will. We want to be careful about what our kids are exposed to – but we are also coming from the point of view right now of parents of very young children (ages 1, 2, and 5). We know as they get older we will start to lose some control over what they are exposed to in the media. We try to focus now on teaching them certain values – such as respect for all people. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Hopefully then, when they are older, we can have frank discussions about issues like this. I can’t help but worry about this topic because – holy wow! – how will things be different in 5 and 10 years and how in the heck WILL we talk to our sons about things like this and remain confident that we are giving them the tools to live their lives like gentlemen, with a healthy and realistic view of the world and the ability and confidence to make good decisions and not be afraid to stand by their convictions!” -Shannon Cooper Woodward

“I feel like it would go something like this. “You see those girls up there that are half naked and making very sexual gestures? They are people. The simple fact that they are people means they deserve to be treated with at least the most basic level of respect even if they are not respecting themselves right now. Sometimes respect means not participating in another person’s disrespect of themselves. This could mean trying to quietly take them to the side and talk to them, to let them know that they are worth so much more then the side of themselves they are showing to the world right now; or in the case of things in the media it could mean looking away, closing the magazine, not buying the mp3 etc. etc. If that man up there in the stripes thought that Miley deserved more respect what do you think he could’ve done differently?” -Theresa Costello

“The incident was, to me, very sad – but not so unexpected. Why are we surprised when a 20 year-old young woman sexualizes and objectifies herself for an audience (and to make money)? She’s acting out the messages that our culture has sent her for years. Let’s get angry at the culture that teaches girls and young women that objectifying themselves is okay. It’s not. It’s ironic that this conversation is happening on Women’s Equality Day. The performance last night with Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke was an out and out demonstration of inequality. In honor of Women’s Equality Day, let’s talk about the real issues – and let’s include men and boys in that conversation or there’s no way that we will be able to change our culture and the messages that it sends to both girls and boys about how to behave individually and how to interact with each other.” -Julie Simons

A still from Miley's entourage performance of "We Can't Stop". (Image via HuffPo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Businesses Getting It Right

Earlier this week lots of folks were sharing with me photos of offensive t-shirts from The Children’s Place selling girls short by promoting the old stereotypes that shopping, music, and dancing are her best school subjects while math is her weak link. Another tee has her coveting diamonds from birth. Within a day or two of the very public parental outcry The Children’s Place issued an apology and pulled the shirts. How they got there in the first place is beyond me. We need to being to demand more from retailers marketing to our families. How many times does a business get to say “Oopsie!” before the apology starts to feel trite?

Here’s the thing — I’m feeling really burned out talking about the negative stuff. These corporations are making millions off the backs of our children, either from parents who don’t know better or who don’t care to know better. As consumers we either stand up to gender stereotypes and sexualization in the marketplace or we don’t. I think it is important to talk about the offenders and educate by way of the bad stuff, but….

In doing so we sometimes forget to highlight the folks getting it RIGHT. So while we protest The Children’s Place or Monster High or My Little Pony or Hot Wheels whatever is making headlines this week, let’s all make a point to give a shout out to smaller businesses that are led by women who work long hours trying to make things right for girls.

Enough is enough! Let’s start talking about business leaders who are getting it right!

Here’s a good start:
1. Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies: You can find inspiring, artful t-shirts at www.pigtailpals.com in sizes Infant through Adult 3X. Our Redefine Girly line shows girls being smart, daring, and adventurous. Our Whimsy Bee & Curious Crickets line shows snapshots from childrens’ imaginations. Our Empowering Kids line gives the strong message that there are many ways to be a girl and positive messages about body image. Our Cannonball line shows boys and girls playing outside in the different seasons, enjoying each others friendship.

2. New Moon Girls is an advertisement-free, girl-led magazine with really great content perfect for girls ages 8+ . Girls create and edit most of the content.

3. Check out the great dolls from Go! Go! Sports Girls that encourage girls to dream big and do great things with their strong bodies. Aurora World also make super cute, age-appropriate mermaid dolls, part of their Sea Sparkles line.

4. Order some science-themed learning toys from Toward the Stars.

5. Explore the Women of Action Series of books (from my book’s publisher, Chicago Review Press!) “Women Aviators: 26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, Daring Missions, and Record-Setting Journeys” and “A World of Her Own: 24 Amazing Women Explorers and Adventurers” .

6. Learn about who the Bug Chicks are and support their project to fund a coast-to-coast show for kids.

7. Discover everything that is In This Together Media for girls and encourage your daughter to start using her voice.

8. Meet Super Tool Lula from Princess Free Zone. She is a young super hero who Redefines Girly and fights bullying!

9. Check out the Reading Lists for parents and kids recommended by the PPBB community.

10. Support the #BraveGirlsWant billboard campaign to project our messages to Times Square this fall!

Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies products empower and inspire kids and adults alike!

 

Should – Guest Post by Cammy Nelson

“Should” – A Guest Post by Cammy Nelson

“Should” is a powerful little word that has drained more energy, caused more stress and produced even more frustration than I want to think about for as long as I can remember.  I should do well in school, I should be a good friend, I should always be happy, I should make everyone around me happy, I should be the leader, I should get as involved as I could, I should make a difference NOW, I should, I should, I SHOULD. The word seemed to come at me from every area of my life: school, family, organizations, sports, and even myself. Then, a whole new level of should’s came at me. These were much worse and much more frustrating…

These shoulds told me that I should wear makeup, I should lose weight, I should go on a diet, I should have a boyfriend, I should hate my body, I shouldn’t speak up in class, I should always be nice, I should eat less, I should have perfect teeth, I should be popular, I should be PERFECT.  These should’s were trying to make me believe that I wasn’t good enough and I needed to “fix” the things that could be changed.

Well, I’m here to tell you a little something about that heavy “should” word – it’s just a word.  When I was in middle school, I would have loved it if someone had said to me “you can ignore that word, and any word, that makes you feel like you’re not good enough or that you need to be something you’re not.” The negativity surrounding me was horribly draining for me, and it still is for many girls.  THAT is what really needed to change.

For every girl who feels like she has a constantly growing list of “should’s” that need to be followed, I’ve created something better for you.  If I could hand my 12-year-old self a list of “should’s”, this is what it would look like…

  • You should be YOU. Exactly who you are right now. That girl is AWESOME and I want to see the rock star that she is.
  • You should do and wear whatever makes you feel confident!
  • You should write your own definition of beautiful. Make it whatever you believe real beauty looks like, sounds like, and acts like.
  • You should not be afraid of your bright light. Do not play small for anyone – that only hurts you.
  • You should learn about you and discover what you are passionate about.
  • You should be quiet if you need time alone to think, process, and develop ideas.
  • You should speak up when you want to share your voice, speak your mind, ask a question, share your dreams, help a friend, laugh… or whenever you want.
  • You should learn about the advertising you see every day. The reality behind it will shock you.
  • You should be a leader be a leader sometimes and a follower every now an then. You will not and do not need to know the answer at all times. Give yourself room to grow and learn.
  • You should do YOUR best. That’s the greatest strength you will ever feel.
  • You should never hide your intelligence. Smart girls are AWESOME!!!
  • You should be a good friend to those who are a good friend to you.
  • You should always believe in yourself – with confidence as your wings, you will fly higher than you can imagine.
  • You should learn about your body. Understand it, listen to it, take care of it, and love it. Your body carries you through life and will be there through all the amazing experiences you will have.
  • You should take it one day at a time. Things will seem overwhelming from time to time, but remember that the future comes one day at a time.
  • You should forge your own path, follow your dreams, and always, ALWAYS know that YOU ARE ENOUGH! You are everything you will become and you have it within you to make all of your dreams a reality.

 

To the brave girls reading this, you get to start making decisions for yourself now. You get to decide who you want to be, what’s important to you, and how you will get to where to want to be. Listening to the “should’s” of life will only hold you back. Spend your time thinking of the amazing experiences you will fill your life with, the people you want to surround you, and the dreams you have for the world. Try new things, make new friends, and step outside your comfort zone.  Ignore the negativity that comes your way and remember, the only thing that will ever really matter is that you are being you.

Cammy Nelson

 

 

Cammy Nelson is a speaker on girls, goals, and personal power. After spending nearly her entire life speaking on self-esteem and the media, Cammy is committed to creating change for girls through her inspiring message of empowerment and leadership. For more information on Cammy and her mission, visit www.givegirlsmore.weebly.com.

Once You See It, You See It Everywhere

Tomorrow I’m going to share a great story from my good friend Sara about how she saw some gendered marketing to kids and spoke up about it….at our county fair. The reactions of the people she spoke with were really funny and encouraging.

In the meantime, check out what some of our PPBB Community Members shared with us via email and on the facebook page:

Andria's daughter watches as her dad learns from a mechanic how to change the headlight in their family car.

 

“Hi Melissa! I wanted to send this to you because it made me so excited to see a female mechanic showing my husband how to change the headlight on our car. My daughter was excited and was asking all about fixing cars! It’s true! You can’t be what you can’t see! Glad she saw a women doing a stereotypical man’s job! Thanks for all your awesome advocating on behalf of all the daughters out there!”  -Andria Lewis

“I went to our local Hallmark store to get a birthday card for my three year old daughter after I couldn’t find a suitable one at Party America the prior day. I was thoroughly disgusted by my choices. Every single card for younger girls was about how the birthday girl is “pretty” and “sweet” and “snuggly”. I’d say 80-90% of them either had some sort of sexualized princess on the card or referred to the birthday girl as a princess. The “boy” cards, on the other hand, focused on how the birthday boy is adventurous, strong, smart and fun. It is no wonder girls are still dealing with gender bias – kids are being taught this before they can even read. I ended up buying my daughter a mickey mouse card from the “boys” section. There is no reason it couldn’t have been in the girls section but I’m sure most people stick to their “section” since half of the cards wouldn’t work since they refer to the “birthday boy”. My daughter may be sweet, snuggly and pretty but those aren’t my favorite qualities about her and I should be able to find a card that celebrates the other, more substantive, qualities that I love about her. Guess I’ll be looking elsewhere in the future or ditching the birthday cards all together. She could care less if she gets a card after she unwraps the bulldozer she’s getting to play in the dirt in the backyard….. one of her favorite things to do.” -Lisa Nicolls

 

“I was in the mall the other week and saw that they put in a Learning Express. I was like “Oh thank god! Educational toys! Finally we can get away from the pink princess gendered crap.” I’m apparently still more trusting and innocent then I thought. While there were no boy and girl labels on the isles there was clearly the pink side and the blue side. Want to know what was in the pink section under “Fine Motor”? Come on you know you want to know. Manicure sets. 15 different manicure sets! 6 jewelry making kits, 3 perfume crafting sets, and a dozen or so arts and crafts sets that were clearly marketed to only girls. Seriously? Seriously?! How is that educational? How is that learning?! You can be damn sure that there weren’t any cologne making sets over in the blue section. So. Freakin. RAGEY!! Oh. Oh! You wanna top off this crap fest? Nearly every book in the pink section was about girl fitness. But not really fitness so much as how to stay slim and trim. My wife had to walk me out because I was about to lose it all over the teenager behind the counter who she gently reminded me was innocent in all this.” -Theresa Costello

 

“I just started working out at a new gym here in town. Not gender biased at all — women and men are pushed as hard as possible, no one accepts that a woman can’t do what a man can do, except for one thing….The weight bars for women (smaller diameter so we can lift with correct hand position) have pink ends. I’m sure they come from the manufacturer that way. I totally wouldn’t have noticed it if I wasn’t reading your blog. Just the bar has the pink end. All of the weights you put on the bar are black. And those aren’t in special “women” or “men” sizes. But I do make sure I wear glitter and perfume so everyone knows I’m a lady.” -Christy Skalecki (with a bit of sarcasm!)

 

“I’m a 33yr old single mom, doing my best to raise a strong empowered daughter. I’m also a Welding student at my local trade school. Tonight I stopped into Walmart on my way home from class all sweaty and gross and still wearing my welding overalls. One of the teen girls working there commented on my overalls and we got to talking about welding school. To me, it was just another conversation like any other. To her, it meant a lot more. Her eyes lit up as we talked and at the end of our conversation she thanked me for going to welding school and standing up for females (by doing so). I was stunned and humbled. I wanted to share this story because I want us all to remember that we can make a difference in ways we never expect. I saw a girl working a job she doesn’t enjoy (that will never pay well) gain a degree of empowerment tonight. She saw that there can be more in her world than she thought. I don’t think she’s gonna run out and become a welder, but maybe there’s something else she really wants to do, that now seems more attainable. I sure hope she follows her dreams!! No matter how many people say nasty things to you for standing up for girls or doing things considered to be outside your ‘gender’ role, remember that we are making a difference and don’t let it get you down. Hooray for empowered girls AND boys!” -Jessica Geurin

Brave Girls Want

It is time to change our girls’ fate. Our brave daughters have the right to a healthy, carefree childhood.

Introducing the Brave Girls Alliance

www.bravegirlswant.com

The truth is, this post should have been written a couple of weeks ago. But the thing about working in the space of girl empowerment or girl advocacy or whatever you want to call it is that some days, many days, there is so much work to be done it cannot fit into one day or two days or four days and one week becomes two and before you know it you are three weeks into a project that grew bigger and faster than you expected.

And that is a wonderful thing, even though there are 507 emails waiting for me in my Inbox as I write this, the reason it took me three weeks to find the time (at 12:31 am) is that immediately after Ines Almeida and I gathered sixteen of our colleagues to launch the Brave Girls Alliance, we were swamped with requests by other girl experts to join the cause, we launched our first Action Item (petition asking LEGO for more female Minifigs), answered press requests, hosted a massive twitter party, wrote our Core Values, brought more experts on board, held some intercontinental brain-power sessions via Skype, and began to promote this new think tank/advocacy community to our social media communities.

I believe in bringing people together to forward the cause of reclaiming girlhood for our girls. No one person or group can make the difference alone, it will take thousands of us working together to shift this mountain one rock at a time. When we think about the early sexualization, limiting gender stereotypes, gender policing, under-representation in media, constant imprinting of the Beauty Myth, and lack of strong female characters in media how could any one group or person tackle that alone? And those are the First World problems, the issues facing girls around the world are systemic and frightening. We have much work to do.

The Brave Girls Alliance came about when I sent an email to my colleagues asking for some input on a document that was going to be sent to a large media content creator and Ines said, “We should turn this, right here, into a website.” It was a brilliant idea said during the direct aftermath of the Sexy Merida firestorm and Ines was right, we needed one place to aggregate consumer voices and concerned parents/adults and activist girls. Parenting attitudes are trending towards exhaustion over sexualization and gender stereotypes. Those of us on the front lines are seeing and hearing this every day, our large social media communities acting like real time focus groups.

Ines and I both have large social media followings, but we aren’t always talking about the same things on any given day or week. I then took a look at the top dozen colleagues Ines and I work closely with and I realized in total our communities were close to 85,000 people strong on facebook alone. Ines was right, instead of one project here or one petition there, we needed a constant space where all these like-minded people could come together.

We acted quickly, recruited sixteen of our closest allies to help us found a collaborative group that would bring experts, parents, consumers and girls together.

Our idea is simple: Brave girls want better media.

We are here to ask media creators to expand their version of what it means to be a girl, and recognize our girls as whole, complex people and not as gender stereotypes. Stop profiting from selling girls short.

We believe that girls deserve better, because we know that the consequences to girls’ well-being are serious.

We ask media creators to rethink products in development and ensure they teach girls to be strong, intelligent, and adventurous.

We ask media creators to rethink branding that pigeon-holes girls into the lowest common denominator (glitter, sexuality, hetero-normative femininity).

We ask media creators to elevate the elements that make the characters and narratives unique, instead of homogenizing the images and the merchandise.

We ask
media creators to practice corporate social responsibility now– take the sexy out of childhood. Reducing female characters’ value to being about physical appearance and nothing more damages girls.

How can you become involved?

Visit the website and learn more.

Join up with our facebook page. Invite your friends!

Use the #BraveGirlsWant hashtag when discussing issues about girls and media on twitter.

Read up about the Brave Girls Alliance in recent press articles.

Become familiar with our Core Values.

Read about the accomplishments of our Board.

Post one of our campaign images to facebook or your blog.

Tell us your story.

Join in Action Items, like our current LEGO female Minifig campaign.

Learn more at www.bravegirlswant.com.

So tell us, what does your brave girl want? What kind of media do you want for her? What lessons do you want your brave girl to learn from the media she takes in during her childhood?

Barbie World: Is It What I Thought It Would Be?

“I played with Barbie as a kid, and I turned out fine.”  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that. I could say the same about myself, and minus a few insecure moments about my muscular-and-not-thin thighs, I have by and large turned out okay. My Barbies used to have awesome adventures, mixed in with my LEGO, My Little Pony, and my brothers’ GI Joe. I remember liking the safari outfit just as much as the sparkly ballgown. I never had a Ken doll, my Barbies were far too busy career building and adventuring to worry about that nonsense. I have a more tolerant palette for Barbie than I do princesses, but I think that is in part because princesses weren’t big when I was a kid in the 1980’s (the Disney Princesses weren’t a brand yet) and my Barbies came ready for adventure and didn’t have a pre-written story to be reenacted.

You’ve seen my evolution with Barbie and my daughter play out here. Amelia was six when she got her first Barbie – a mermaid Barbie. She now has several, and plays with them when she is in the tub or pool. Her Barbie collection totals seven dolls: five mermaids, one Surfer Barbie, and one Sea World Trainer Barbie. She also has a Barbie knock-off dolphin trainer from Shedd Aquarium, and a Bindi Irwin Surfer Girl.

While we have stayed far away from sexualized dolls and remain adamant they will not come into our home, I have been able to wrap my head around some of the Barbies. Consider it the “How to be a fan of problematic things” approach. I know the body image issues with Barbie and I have discussed them many times with Amelia, to the point that she can articulate them for herself. As mentioned above, most of her Barbies are mermaids so I didn’t have to worry about sexy outfits because these dolls are half-fish. The Surfer Barbie has a tankini painted on her body, and the Sea World Trainer came in a wetsuit, water shoes, and a fanny pack of smelt.

So I’m not as anti-Barbie as I used to be, but my daughter is older now with more developed critical-thinking skills. The child is an aquatic humanoid and needed dolls that could go in the water with her. She plays for hours swimming with her mermaids, training large imaginary marine animals, rescuing Arctic seals, training her little brother to be a merman, you name it. Her Barbie Mermaids are floating in the pool nearby, helping to create the stage her imagination plays out on.

I know a lot of other people’s girls move beyond the fashion-wedding world of Barbie into true adventures fit for girls ready to take on and take over the world. We had a great discussion on the PPBB facebook page last week about the good that can be extracted from the Disney Princess brand. A ton of parents said that was really helpful, so I’d like to do the same for Barbie. I’ll compile all of this next week into a blog series, because there are some seriously helpful insights to be shared.

So what I’d like to know is:

1. For those of you whose daughters have Barbies, what kind of stories do they play out with their dolls? Where do they play with their dolls?

2. What kinds of tweaks and changes to the story/character development of Barbie could be made to help parents to be more comfortable with the brand? So, maybe we can’t change the physical appearance of Barbie, but much like we did with LEGO when the Friends line was released, what is a “To Do” list we could create to post for parents to see ways that Barbie could be improved and develop more creative play? More adventure outfits and accessories to use in play? New friends to introduce? New story lines?

Amelia's Barbie collection, which now resides outside by the pool for the summer.