All These Girls In Pink

Girls are not the problem.
Pink is not the problem.
Limiting girls to pink and to a narrow definition of what it means to be a girl is a HUGE problem. 
 

We went up to the cabin this weekend, located in the vast north woods of Wisconsin. Within thirty minutes of arriving we had set out on our first adventure with the kids. I took this photo of Amelia as she made her way down the steep, rocky drive and it struck me how much pink she was wearing. This is something not common for her and it seemed like an odd color to wear to go explore the muddy, early spring trails.

Heading out to explore the woods in pink and more pink.

Heading out to explore the woods in pink and more pink.

She had marched out of the cabin happy and confident, so I bit my tongue over telling her to change into pants she can get dirty and muddy. She howled for wolves on her way down to the meadow and creek. As we threw rocks and snow into the water Amelia and her best friend who was our guest for the weekend begged to trek across the road to the neighbor’s house where a team of sled dogs live in order to ask the neighbor if she would take them mushing. Dog sledding? I don’t know the term for that one.

After the girls finished shooting their bow and arrow they hauled rocks out of the woods to make benches near the fire pit.

After the girls finished shooting their bow and arrow they hauled rocks out of the woods to make benches near the fire pit.

I do know this — Pink can get dirty and muddy. Pink can go on adventures. Girls wearing pink are not going to not get dirty and muddy because of the pink. Not unless we tell them not to.

Racing snow boats in the creek.

Racing snow boats in the creek.

Much thought and debate is given to such a simple color these days. The gender stereotypes so often packaged in pink are far less simple. I am frequently involved in these conversations and I often find myself thinking about what girls think about all of this pink. Do they see it the same way adults do? We definitely hear from girls who are tired of all the pink, but do they see the color as limiting or as presenting limitations like so many of their parents do?  As far as my daughter goes, the answer is no. Well, the answer is actually more like “sometimes”.

If you were to ask Amelia what her favorite color is she will sometimes say pink, sometimes blue, and sometimes “all of them”. She will rant for hours to anyone who will listen about the gendering and sexism of Legos. But when her dad presented her with her first red Swiss army knife this weekend she asked if they also came in pink. She is eight years old and seems to be going through a very feminine stage right now (on some days), but she is overall a very balanced and well rounded kid so I’m not freaking out over a little pink and princess. It is a small part of her total package.

I find myself wondering all of the time what girls make of all the hullabaloo about girlhood.

I find myself wondering all of the time what girls make of all the hullabaloo about girlhood.

Pink has become a sort of uniform for girls, and that does bother me a great deal. I dislike the loss of individuality for herd mentality. I dislike that gender has to be the most salient quality about our daughters. Have you been to a preschool or elementary school lately? Herds of pink little girls. My daughter and I are often frustrated at the lack of color choices when shopping for things like coats, boots, and outdoor gear. Such was the case when we found the coat in the photo above. Our choices were pink, pink, and pink at the time we needed to buy one. We bought the blue rain boots from the “boys” section. Though my daughter’s closet includes a rainbow of color, there are definitely days she trends towards the monochromatic look. The day after she wore all pink she wore all blue.

And here is what I was thinking as I watched Amelia, her little brother Ben, and her best friend Maddy explore the great woods of Wisconsin that hold endless adventures for them: I think it is important for adults to be wise to the gendering of children’s products and the stereotypes packaged in pink. But more importantly, I think we need to be very, very careful we do not package our girls in those same stereotypes just because they are wearing pink. 

The presence of pink does not preclude the craving for adventure.

The presence of pink does not preclude the craving for adventure.

 

I say YES to limiting gendered products and unbalanced media.

I say YES to dismissing the gender stereotypes.

I caution you about limiting or dismissing the girls in pink. 

"I gotta bail before I go into the drink!" Amelia screamed while sledding.

“I gotta bail before I go into the drink!” Amelia screamed while sledding.

 

 

 

 

Lego: Magical Prince Kisses Instead of Adventurous Mermaid Princesses

While visiting the Chicago Lego store this weekend:

“MOM! They have Merida and Ariel Legos!” -7yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia

“Really? Oh yeah, there is Merida and the bear cubs and her bow, that is cool. It says Highland Ga….” -Me

“Oh I beg your pardon! That isn’t Ariel. That is when she is a human. She isn’t even a mermaid there!” -OPP

“Um, let me look at the box. Yeah, you are right, she isn’t a mermaid. This is after she has given away her voice and her tail to go on land as a human to kiss some dude she’s never spoken to before.” -Me

“Right? Who does that? I wouldn’t give up my dad or tail to chase some hot guy on a boat. I don’t want this. And I can’t have a boyfriend because I’m seven. But can I get Merida? Because she is a girl like me. You know, someone needs to talk to these people and tell them the business. This is not how you make smart girls. All ‘oooh, oooh I see a prince and now I’m going to be his wife’. GIVE ME A BREAK! What if she wants to keep swimming in the ocean? Or do science? Who makes this stuff? I need to tell them the business. Ariel is a mermaid who wants adventure. That is what all mermaids want.” -OPP

“And she was curious and collected things she discovered around the ocean. But that isn’t what they are selling to girls with this set, is it?”-Me

“Oh. Oh ho ho. I’ll tell you what they are selling, alright.” -OPP

The big Ariel set focuses on a magic kiss, not the adventurous, curious princess.

The big Ariel set focuses on a magic kiss, not the adventurous, curious princess.

I did go on Lego’s website and they do have a small set with Ariel as the mermaid coming January 2014. Nowhere as elaborate as Ariel’s Magical Kiss, however. Much to the disappointment of my mermaid-loving, head-exploding seven year old daughter.

Also? Does the row boat seriously need to be pink?

Some great comments from our Facebook Community when we discussed this:

“The unholy alliance between LEGO and Disney is really upsetting. You have to wonder, will we soon have Disney princess tinker toys and Disney princess Lincoln Logs and Disney princess chess sets. I know all those things are already available in pink “for girls” editions, and it’s just a matter of time before, say, the only way a girl can possibly be taught chess is if the pieces are princesses. This train is not slowing down.”  – Lori Day, author of  “Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More”

“Nothing says age-appropriate marketing like selling a set (aimed at young girls) that essentially says guys kissing ladies who don’t have the voice to give consent is okay… if you want to be a princess who lands the prince, anyway. The whole “Magical Kiss” set isn’t really age appropriate. Why are retailers selling kissing and romance to a young audience at all? Personally, I am a fan of Merida: she wants to be a girl first and doesn’t want to be rushed into an engagement or marriage immediately. She is a positive female character that girls can look to that doesn’t require love at first sight or a happily ever after with a prince. The ending highlights the importance of family and being adventurous and full of awesome just as we are. Most other Disney princesses (Ariel among them) do not carry this same message. This isn’t to say other princesses don’t have great qualities (they do!), but just that the romantic element shouldn’t be what retailers focus on for our youngest consumers. ” -Erin Wolf

“We got the LEGO catalog in the mail the other day. The LEGO Disney sets include: Cinderella’s Castle ($70.00), Merida’s Highland Games ($19.99), Ariel’s Amazing Treasures ($12.99), Cinderella’s Dream Carriage ($29.99) and Rapunzel’s Creativity Tower ($39.99). This is another reason why we buy mostly bricks and not sets.” -Chris Singer

“I got my daughter a tree house kit from the LEGO Creator line. She squealed and hugged me so hard, I nearly cried to see my kid so happy.” -Gabrielle Tenn New

“Wasn’t she wearing blue during this scene? Can’t they at least have her in the correct outfit? Or would blue be too masculine?” -Elizabeth Dale

The other (considerably smaller) set for Ariel that (barely) highlights her positive qualities.

The other (considerably smaller) set for Ariel that (barely) highlights her positive qualities.

Stop Using Stereotypes To Sell STEM to Girls

We all get it, we desperately need more girls involved in STEM at increasingly younger ages. As they age, we need to keep them engaged there. We do a great disservice to them when we raise them solely on a diet of vapid princesses, beauty queens and sexualized fashionistas.

But when we use princess culture, pinkification, and beauty norms to sell STEM toys to girls and fool ourselves that we are amazing and progressive and raising an incredible generation of female engineers we continue to sell our girls short. It is the equivalent of covering broccoli in melted processed cheese and thinking we’ve very served a healthy meal.

Girls do not need the Pink Princess Hook to get them interested in building or engineering. They need to be handed building materials and the message, “Hey! You are a person with a brain and two hands. Go build, it is great fun!” Kids are naturally curious which makes them natural experimenters which makes them natural builders and creators. All of that comes organically. NO WHERE is the princess complex hardwired.

Stop believing the hype, “Well, if it gets girls building that is all I care about.” No. Just no. Have more faith in girls that they don’t need products dripping in the pink syrup and exhausted princess stories. Be brave enough to tell new, more daring stories. If you go there, the girls will come. They don’t need pink bread crumbs leading the way. Have the strength of your convictions.

I know it is a common belief at some very popular manufacturers of girls toys right now to use the princess hook as any means necessary to get girls building. I know the marketing around some of these companies has the Internet swooning and in love. I’m just not buying it.  I know that to publicly deviate from this thinking may leave me unpopular. But that doesn’t make me wrong.

You cannot create a toy meant to break down stereotypes when you start off with the ideal that “we know all girls love princesses”. That is a stereotype. Not all girls love princesses. Many girls are limited to and even force fed princesses. Many families stay far away from the princess industry. Don’t confuse these two ideas.

This difference is a company that thinly veils mediocre building toys as girl empowerment while still using the same marketing tactics that we can’t stand – namely gender stereotypes and low expectations of girls. As you view this slick marketing, ask yourself if the toy is really that engaging and complex. Is the toy even capable of the engineering concepts being shown and celebrated? I know people will say, “But this is a step in the right direction and we should support it.” Yes, but at the same time, with all of the awareness that is out there, all of the studies and articles published, is it fair that we ask for giant leaps in place of smalls steps? Have we arrived at a time when we can expect more than scraps?

Do the ends justify the means?

For example, this Lego nightgown that has girls “Building Beauty”. Is there a pajama set for boys named “Building Handsome”? Of course there is not. When my daughter builds with her Legos, she builds ocean side villages and tidal waves, science labs, schools, office buildings, and hospitals. We don’t focus on beauty or princess pageants, we focus on brains. It would be nice if these engineering toys did, too.

Lego Friends “Building Beauty” nightgown. (Photo sent in by Amanda Cowell Jones. Thank you!)

Yo Lego, this is building beautiful. And it has nothing to do with what my daughter looks like

 

 

I want all of you to soak this in. Print it out, push it up against your forehead, and soak. it. in.

“After grading finals yesterday, I put my finger on what was bugging me about the whole Goldie Blox argument of “But girls like princesses!” The prompt for the final was two questions: who am I and who do I want to be (referencing and reflecting on the literature we studied this term). Several of my students, who are bright, capable, talented young women, wrote about how they felt restricted or “less than” or “other” because of their looks, and how they didn’t want to or like to feel that way. They said that they felt like women’s accomplishments are tied in no inconsequential way to their appearances. One even wrote “It’s not enough for me to be a good athlete and a good student. Society says I should look beautiful, too, or I’m a failure.”
These girls grew up in the early stages of princess culture. They absorbed the message that their accomplishments don’t mean much unless they’re accompanied by a certain beauty standard. Another said “I’m afraid to draw attention to myself because of the blemishes on my face.” Another: “I know I should care more about who I am than what I look like, but I still think of achievement in terms of weight and appearance.”
Toys that emphasize girls’ appearances rather than their abilities, or that place appearance alongside ability, send toxic messages to the young women they become. It matters. And I don’t want my daughter — or anybody else’s daughter — to feel less than awesome or that she’s somehow a failure because her abilities aren’t paired with a perfectly made-up face or size zero figure or a boyfriend. I don’t want to read essays from my full-of-awesome students that break my heart with the baggage they’re carrying already about womanhood.” -PPBB Community Member Gina Caponi Parnaby

The messages we give our daughters in childhood matter. Make them healthy, empowering ones. And don’t settle for anything less.

 

The Peggy Orenstein Love Fest Continues

Peggy Orenstein's dispatches from the front lines of girlhood.

I’m so excited. And I just can’t hide it. For the last two weeks I’ve been doing little but talking about best-selling author Peggy Orenstein’s new book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”.  It is the kind of book that should be given to new parents when they leave the hospital with their infant daughters. It is the kind of book that will hopefully help to change a culture that is short-changing our daughters.

I have a massive girl crush on Peggy. Peggy is my Justin Bieber. I had a ZOMG moment when she responded to a tweet I sent her several months back after hearing about her upcoming book. Now I talk to her regularly and consider her another gem in this treasure chest of amazing women I get to work with. I read her book cover to cover in less than 24 hours in a frenzy of “Peggy is going to save the world and I need to buy her a cape” thinking. If there is a way for me to overstate how important I think the content of her book is, I have yet to find it.

If you are familiar with Pigtail Pals and our blog, it would not shock you to know that “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” now holds a sacred spot above my desk, nestled inbetween “Packaging Girlhood” and “So Sexy So Soon”….a trifecta Holy Grail of why we need to save girlhood for our daughters.

Have a read as Peggy answers some questions for us….

Pigtail Pals: You did an amazing job with the research for your book, and mapping out for the reader how we got to this state of girlie-girlz-with-a-z girlhood. What was something that really surprised you as you dug through the glitter and packaged Disney starlets and pink?
Peggy Orenstein: I was really surprised by the way the marketing of wholesomeness (princesses) so seamlessly led to the marketing of diva-hood (pink scrabble set that says f-a-s-h-i-o-n on the cover, even though that IS a 7-letter word) and ultimately sexiness. And I was both surprised and saddened, from a research perspective by the ways that early sexualization disconnects girls from healthy sexuality. I was open to the idea that maybe, just maybe, the “sassiness,” as they call it with little girls, was a sign that they were somehow liberated or empowered or freer with their bodies and sexuality. That they were enjoying their bodies. But it turns out that when sexualized images and behavior is pushed on girls at too young an age, they can’t understand it (thank goodness!) but it teaches them to view sexiness as a performance rather than something they feel from within. So later, when I was talking to Deb Tolman, who is the Goddess of all research on girls and desire, she told me that when she asks teenage girls to describe how they felt during an intimate experience, to describe feelings of desire or arousal, they describe how they think they LOOKED. She has to tell them that looking good is not a feeling. I am actually considering having that sentence tattooed on my forehead.

So when I started the book I wondered, like a lot of parents do, whether this whole princess thing protected girls from sexualization and defining themselves by how they think they look to others, or whether it primed them for it. And I pretty much connect the dots that show that while obviously there is no 1+1=2 connection, no “if you do this, then this will happen for sure,” there definitely is a connection and it’s something parents need to think about.

PtP: Your daughter, Daisy, was in preschool when you started taking notice of the limitations girls are sold. Now that she is a few years older, what challenges do you and your husband face as you help her wade through a media-saturated childhood? Are there any toys or products that are off limits?
PO: I try to think about options rather than restrictions, what I can give her that celebrates being a girl but reflects values about femininity that I embrace. One of my personal lines in the sand, though, was makeup. It wasn’t something I expected. I loved playing with my mom’s old makeup when I was little, I have really great memories of it. But now it’s an industry, child-friendly makeup. And it’s so intense and along with all of the other products it conveys over and over and over that how you look is who you are, that from the time you are 3 years old you define yourself through appearance and play sexiness. So it felt like collusion to me to participate even a little bit. I have a statistic in the book that nearly half of six-to-nine year olds regularly wear lipstick or gloss. And the percentage of 8-12 year olds who wear mascara and eyeliner doubled between 2008 and 2010 (why isn’t the percentage of 8 year old wearing eye makeup ZERO???). So it just didn’t feel the same to me to let my daughter play with lipstick the way I did when I was her age. And she wanted to, she really wanted to. But I would say, honey, makeup is for women, not for little girls. I did not, however, limit what she did at other people’s houses, just like I don’t go over there with a list of foods that I think are appropriate. But in my house? My rules.

We do have some Barbies. Everyone has an opinion about Barbie, right? And I am the first to admit I am contradictory ,hypocritical, inconsistent in how I approach these things. Who isn’t? I’m human. I’m a mom. I do my best. We all do. So my probably ridiculous compromise was to get Wonder Woman Barbie and Cleopatra Barbie (on ebay) and Indonesian Barbie. Is that a mixed message? Well, probably. But you do what you can do, just as with everything else.
 
PtP:”Cinderella Ate My Daughter” does such a great job of showing parents how we might think we are protecting girls with sweet pink and princesses, but you show a darker side to that thinking. Can you quickly tell me about that?

PO: Um, in 250 pages or less?? Is what I say above good enough (in question 1)? I do think that you can see the trajectory in what happens to the flesh-and-blood Disney princesses, like Miley, Lindsay, Demi etc. They start out wearing “purity” rings that symbolize that they’ll stay chaste until marriage. They say they’re role models and  in no hurry to grow up and that they pick clothes moms approve of. And then—whammo! They’re giving lap dances at age 16 to guys in their mid-40s. They sell wholesomeness and that leads right into selling something else. They’re still role models—and cautionary tales.

PtP:When you and Daisy were on the Today Show, Daisy told us how she wants to be a geologist, librarian, and bakery owner when she grows up. I think that is so awesome! How do you, knowing everything you know about girl culture and marketing, encourage Daisy to explore her interests?
 PO: That cracked me up. Well, we are really blessed in our school community to have a lot of like-minded families who approach not only femininity but education as a kind of inside out process instead of outside in—her school has Montessori roots. So the kids are deeply encouraged in their curiosity, creativity and engagement. Creativity is obviously incredibly important to me, for girls and boys. For adults. For cats. For anyone. And part of this to me is not only about the sexualization and the diva-fication and the narrowing of perspective and definitions of femininity but also about the destruction of kids’ creativity, telling them what to think, how to play. I quote a 9-year-old girl in the book who says she doesn’t like imaginative play bcause she doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do, she can’t make thigns up. She prefers to play online. I never expected when I became a mom that such a huge part of my job was going to be to protect my child’s childhood. Her right to be a child. Her right to be a child that is not marketed to, her right NOT to be a billboard for some product line. So, we really limit screens. No Disney channel. No commercial TV (except she watches sports with my husband sometimes which leads to the excellent question, “Daddy, what is ‘Viagra?’”). Which is not to say she doesn’t watch stuff, but she watches on netflix or itunes or dvr so we choose what she can see. So again, it becomes about what she GETS to watch, not what she CAN’T watch.  Lots of open-ended toys, including those little Schilling and Papo figurines of royal figures and Maid Marion and such. Lots of art. Music. Books.  Books on CD. Playmobil. Legos. Citiblocks. Old school things. Things that aren’t licensed to the gills. And we go places and do things, of course. She’s heavily into swimming.  And as she said, she’s really, really into science. Which is a little befuddling to me, I have to admit. But luckily, she has two friends whose parents are physicists and our neighbor across the street is a retired engineer. So they do all kinds of science projects with her. They are, in fact, THRILLED to have a child they can do that with, so that does my heart good. There’s a lot you can do alone, but ultimately, really, you have to embed your family in a community that shares your values, and loves and encourages one another and one another’s children.

PtP: CAMD teaches parents how marketers have very carefully and lucratively crafted our culture’s current version of girlhood. Can you give me two or three ways parents can sidestep the crap and have their daughters emerge from girlhood unscathed? Do you have any tips we can put in our bag of tricks?
PO: Well, a lot of what I just said. But I think the very most important thing is to remember that you can’t tell your daughter no all the time and think that she’ll get the message that you’re offering her MORE choices. Girls need and want to celebrate being girls. So, though I sort of hate to say it, parents have to put in the time to find alternatives to defining femininity through beauty alone. Like I said (did I say this?) we looked to Greek myths. We looked to the Bible, to the story of Miriam. We looked to the movies My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. I mean, in terms of consumer products. Obviously, it isn’t just about buying, but we do live in a consumer-driven society and we have to deal with that. So you have to think about “get to”, not just “can’t”. And the good news is that making good choices for them when they are little really does affect how they’ll navigate through images and ideas about femininity when they’re older. It can make them more resilient.

And I really think about this like the food movement. 10-15 years ago who knew what transfat was (I actually still don’t know, but I know we shouldn’t eat it)? Who cared where food came from? But because a couple of books sparked national conversation, we are conscious of our choices, we try to be healthier, Congress is revamping school lunches. McDonald’s is offering healthier choices. MCDONALD’S!!!! If we could make McDonald’s blink, goodness knows we should be able to make Mattel blink.

Finally: there are all sorts of alternatives out there if you look. Wonderful alternatives….LIKE PIGTAIL PALS!!!!!!!