Make Believe Animals Made of Make Believe Colors

This weekend my kids were hanging out with a bunch of friends and I was leading them in a group art project. It was a game left over from Amelia’s Wild Kratts-themed birthday party the week before, and I figured it would keep the crew busy while dinner was being made upstairs.

The game had two teams creating newly discovered animals during a Creature Adventure. The three seven year olds and the four four year olds divided into to teams to begin their projects. Each group was given a sheet of poster board, a box of primary colored markers, and a lunch bag that contained one-sentence clues that would help them create their animal. The seven year olds were in charge of reading the clues and the four year olds were in charge of putting caps back on the markers. Each teammate took a turn pulling a clue and drawing the characteristic described. The big kids did a great job coaching the little kids.

The clues said things like “This animals has crazy fur” or “This animals has wings”. Tusks, long legs, short legs, polka dots, and sharp claws were some other clues. As the different teams pulled out the clues in random order, it was fun to watch the two make believe animals take shape. There was lots of imagination being put to good use!

At one point, one of the four year old boys reached for a pair of markers that one of the seven year old girls deemed “girl colors”. She tried to hand him two different colors she thought were more appropriate, but his little lip started to quiver and tears sprang to his eyes.

“But but but I want peeeeeink and purble,” the little guy said, holding out is hand for the pink and purple markers, pushing the blue and green markers away with his other hand.

“Well, I think these are better for you because these are boy colors,” the older girl tried reassuring him.

“Peeeeink and purble, please,” he repeated, not wavering.

At this moment both of my kids, who were on opposite teams, said in unison, “Colors are for everyone.” All of the kids put their heads up to see what was going on.

“If our animals are totally new and never discovered before, do you think there is such a thing as girl colors and boy colors for them?” I asked.

The older girl smiled at me, then her eyes got big and she let out a big laugh.

“OH MY GOSH! I FORGOT!” she giggled, and handed the little boy the pink and purple markers. She watched him draw the animal characteristic from his clue, helped him with a question, and told him he did a nice job and gave him a hug.

Just a simple little reminder was all it took to put down any gender stereotypes and the kids went on being kids again.

As both teams finished their pictures I told them we would go out in the woods tomorrow and try to find animal tracks and that maybe we would find some that matched our new animals. The animals were fun to look at, and it was cool to see the beginning drawing skills of the four year olds compared to the more advanced skills of the seven year olds.

The next morning we were making a thank you sign for the owner of the cabin we had been visiting all weekend. Each of the seven kids was choosing a marker to sign their name. As 4yo Benny reached for a marker to sign his name, he chose pink. The older girl from the day before was standing by him and said, “Benny, your name looks nice in pink.”

“Yeah it does,” said Benny. “Pink is a breeally nice color.”

“All the colors are nice when they are together. Do you want to go outside now?” And off they ran.

One of the Creature Adventure teams.

 

Another Creature Adventure team hard at work.

M&M’s and Jim Crow and Sexism

Hey Kiddies! Step right up! We’ve got some delicious candy covered milk chocolate here! We’ve got candy for White Kids and candy for Black Kids! Different candy for different kinds of kids! Use the correct side and step right up!

Well now wait a minute. That’s incredibly offensive.

Hey Kiddies! Step right up! We’ve got some delicious candy covered milk chocolate here! We’ve got candy for Christian Kids on the left, Jews and Mormons on the right! Grab your quarter and don’t mix it up! Different candy for different kinds of kids!

Stop right there. We don’t work like that in this country anymore. People aren’t so different that they need separate machines from which to get their candy. That is really offensive.

Boy M&M's and Girl M&M's seen in Vegas this weekend.

STILL   OFFENSIVE !!

Could you imagine a side for White Kids and a side for Black Kids, like the drinking fountains from the 1950′s? Different sides because the two groups are so unequal, so different they cannot live as one? That is so offensive, it makes my face feel hot. Our old Jim Crow ways have shifted from black and white, to pink and blue.

Despite every marketer in the United States telling us otherwise, boys and girls actually are not that different, and do not necessitate different vending machines nor color of candy to enjoy a sweet treat. They do not need to be reminded of their gender every single time they touch a product.

If everywhere we turn, our boys and girls get the message that their sex makes them inherently different species, they will start to accept that as the norm.

If everywhere boys and girls turn, they see children categorized and boxed and labeled, they will lose the ability to see themselves outside of those parameters. They will lose the ability to see each as equals, as friends, as playmates, as fellow schoolmates, and eventually as co-workers and colleagues and partners in life.

Boys Rocks and Girls Rule, and don’t fall off your chairs in surprise….but what if that all went IN THE SAME BOX!?

If you arent’ mad, you aren’t paying attention. We need to change the way we think about our kids.

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This image was spotted by our Body Image Workshop co-leader Marci Warhaft-Nadler and her family while in Las Vegas this weekend. Her sons quickly told her to get out the camera and take a picture for Pigtail Pals. Once your eyes are open to it, you cannot unsee it.
Marci’s 10yo son Logan asks, “So what happens if you eat the wrong ones?”

Great question, Logan. Great question.

Have Yourself A Very Sexist Holiday

As we enter the holiday season, the inevitable toy catalogs begin arriving on our doormats. Most of the celebrations this time of year involve some form of gift giving, and if you have kiddos, that means t-o-y-s. Toys, toys, and more toys! I have a 2.5 year old boy and 4.5 year old girl and I needed Christmas present ideas, so against my better judgement I picked up three of the catalogs from major retailers in my town to look through the offerings. We don’t watch tv channels that have commercials with the kids, so I wasn’t up-to-date on the latest and greatest from the toy manufacturers. I flipped page after page, bracing myself for what I knew would be pink and blue and pink and blue. Taken one toy at a time, things wouldn’t seem so bad….but when I had four catalogs side by side, and when I had all the pieces of the proverbial puzzle together….   

…my head exploded. Literally, right off the top of my neck. I know I talk about media literacy and sexualization for a living, but what I was seeing was unreal, unthinkable in 2010, and limiting beyond measure.   

I have pretty strong feelings about childhood being a time of rich play, imagination, and exploration. For both genders. Childhood should be feast of color and creativity and movement. I find it wildly offensive that as I looked through these catalogs, color, movement, type of play, and learning were all predetermined according to gender. A child does not need to be reminded of gender every time he or she picks up or looks at a toy. What I had spread out before me was approximately 160 pages of gender stereotype after gender stereotype, and all of it being sold by mainstream retailers because it is our status quo.   

As I looked through these catalogs, I saw zero boys nuturing dolls or pets, or playing with toys that encouraged fashion sense or manscaping. I saw zero girls constructing or destructing anything, moving vehicles, or holding weapons or sports equipment. Our kids, as young as preschool ages, were being sold extremely narrow definitions of gender roles.   

I refuse to accept the status quo. As you read through the numbers below and view the photos from the catalogs, replace “gender stereotype” with “racial” or “religious” stereotype and see if you think an ENTIRE industry marketed to children should stand on limiting and binary ideals.   

I want you to see what I saw. So here’s what I did – I tallied the number of kids in each catalog (Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us), then the number of boys and number of girls, I counted how many were doing gender-specific things, and how many were doing unisex or non-traditional gender things. I looked at main color themes and main activity themes. Main themes and gender-normal toys be marketed to boys were: vehicles, fighting/sports/weapons, and construction. Main themes and gender-normal toys being sold to girls were: fashion/beauty, pet/baby care, and cooking. The proof of the pudding is in the eating….   

(Note: When I refer to “gender-biased” and “non-tradional” toys – I am referring to norms given by the toy industry.)   

First up: TOYS R US

Total Number of Pages 80
Total Number of Kids Photographed 185
Total Number of Boys 97
Total Number of Girls 88
Images of Boys & Girls playing together 11
   
(Of 97) Boys Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 87 (vehicles, superheroes, sports/weapons, construction)
(Of 97) Boys Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 97) Boys Playing w/ Unisex Toys 10 (piano, map, art easel, play kitchen, outdoor toys)
   
(Of 88) Girls Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 84
(Of 88) Girls Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 3 (telescope, skateboard, guitar)
(Of 88) Girls Playing w/ Unisex Toys 10
   
3 Main color Themes for Girls Pink, purple, aqua
3 Main color Themes for Boys Blue, gray, green
3 Main Activity Themes for Girls Beauty/fashion, cooking, baby care
3 Main Activity Themes for Boys Vehicles, construction, fighting

    

Images from Toys R Us holiday catalog. Click to enlarge photo.

 Things to note in this photo:
 
Girls are focused on caring for other things, like pets and babies.  Boys had zero toys that demonstrated caring for something.
 
Girls are focused on activities centered around physical appearance, like the fashion wardrobe or mermaid beauty vanity, yet there were zero equivalent toys for boys.
 
Girls toys come in very few color options and contain zero primary colors.
 
Girls are all virtually sitting in one place and playing quietly.
 
Boys have large, loud movements while playing. They move things! Make thing! Experiment!
 
Boys toys have zero focus on attracting members of opposite sex.
 
 
 
 

More images from Toys R Us. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo: 

Of 88 girls featured, here are the 4 doing non-traditional gender things: guitar, ball, telescope, skateboarding. 4 of 88. (Do love that the guitar girl is getting her hair messed up, and the skateboarding girl is probably getting sweaty.)   

Notice the kitchen set in the middle of the page? The boy’s kitchen has blue trim, and the little fella is managing to make himself a piece of toast. Enlarge the photo and look at the girl’s kitchen – pink trim, pots on the stove, and she’s feeding a baby. The boy’s kitchen doesn’t even have a space for the baby.   

On the right side of the pic – notice how different the boy’s dress up and girl’s dress up is. Tough and ready for action! vs. tulle and petticoats to sit at tea. Every girl featured in dress up clothes was wearing some sort of giant princess dress, with zero other options.   

Also on the right – pay BIG attention to the types of body frames – huge muscles for boys, and ultra-skinny with giant heads for girls.   

    

    

Next up: Walmart

Total Number of Pages 53
Total Number of Kids Photographed 58
Total Number of Boys 32
Total Number of Girls 26
Images of Boys & Girls playing together 2
   
(Of 32) Boys Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 31
(Of 32) Boys Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 32) Boys Playing w/ Unisex Toys 1 (cooking in a blue kitchen)
   
(Of 26) Girls Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 20
(Of 26) Girls Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 1 (robot)
(Of 26) Girls Playing w/ Unisex Toys 5 (farm, computer reader, scooter, ride on car)
   
3 Main color Themes for Girls Pink, purple, aqua
3 Main color Themes for Boys Red, black, blue
3 Main Activity Themes for Girls Fashion, pet cars, babies
3 Main Activity Themes for Boys Fighting/heroes, vehicles, games

    

Images from Walmart catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo:   

Boys are taking over, building and moving things, and loudly playing with their worlds.   

Girls are playing sweetly and quietly prepare meals and stir some kind of batter.   

Girls focus on fashion dolls with impossible body proportions.   

Girls are never shown with weapons or sporting equipment.   

Images from Walmart catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photos:   

Barbie-looking girls drive pink/purple Barbie car. The only ride-on cars girls were shown driving were pink and/or purple.   

In the black ride-on car at top-middle, at first it looks as though the girl is in the driver’s seat. Now note which side the steering wheel is on.   

Love the pic of the girl playing with the primary colored robot!  

ALL Toy Story products in ALL three mags were marketed ONLY to boys.   

Note the Table of Contents – childhood divided into the boy side and girl side.   

The lower right hand picture drove me insane: Girl sits on her princess couch cheering on what is a cartoon elf shooting the basketball. Heaven forbid we put the ball in HER hands and let her take a shot.     

     

Finally: Target

Total Number of Pages 44
Total Number of Kids Photographed 61
Total Number of Boys 36
Total Number of Girls 25
Images of Boys & Girls playing together 2
   
(Of 36) Boys Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 33
(Of 36) Boys Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 36) Boys Playing w/ Unisex Toys 3 (play kitchen, computers, bikes)
   
(Of 25) Girls Playing w/ Gender-Biased Toys 20
(Of 25) Girls Playing w/ Non-traditional Gender Toys 0
(Of 25) Girls Playing w/ Unisex Toys 5 (Imaginext Big Foot, scooter, Wii Soccer, Leap Frog computer, bikes)
   
3 Main color Themes for Girls Pink, purple, aqua
3 Main color Themes for Boys Dark blue, orange, red
3 Main Activity Themes for Girls fashion/beauty, cooking, babies
3 Main Activity Themes for Boys Vehicles, sports, fighting/super hero toys

Images from Target catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo:   

Girls play with kitchens or tiny little houses that keep them quiet and sitting still.   

Girls dolls are focused on fashion and hyperfeminine attributes.   

Girls dolls all have SAME body size – which would be unattainable for a human with organs or a neck less than 20some inches thick to support those giant, giant heads.   

Boys build things!   

Boys move things!   

Boys fight!   

Boy toys have primary colors.   

Girls toys are overwhelmingly pink, purple, and aqua.   

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 These are the toys and messages available to you and yours this holiday season. I’ll show you a post next week that has my family mixing things up a little bit. Santa will be bringing my girl a cloth doll, a dolphin trainer doll, a marine biologist doll, a collection of baby sea animals, a stuffed dolphin, and Legos (primary colors). My boy will be getting Toy Story, a cloth doll, a stuffed cat, a tea set, and wooden train cars and tracks. Both kids will be getting puzzles, games, coloring books/art supplies, and story books. I refuse to accept the stereotypes being sold to my kids. I damn sure won’t be teaching them to my kids.   

Toys and playtime in my house look a WHOLE LOT like this, from One Step Ahead:  

At One Step Ahead, boys and girls play together. Boys have dolls and girls conduct trains. Science and sports are for both genders. THIS is what childhood should look like!