Sexism From The Back Seat: What Women Want

At least no one said "thigh gap".

At least no one said “thigh gap”.

While driving with my children this morning we heard an obnoxious morning radio program ask a trivia question for listeners. “What do forty percent of women wish they had?”

My kids – my kids, who live in the epicenter of media literacy, critical thinking, and gender equality – began yelling out their guesses from the back seat.
“An engagement ring!”
“A husband!”
“A nice kid!”
“Coffee! Tequila, probably, if they have kids.”
Ummmm…..what? I wondered why these were their answers. Did they really think this is what women coveted, or did they think this is what women would probably answer? Would those have been their answers had the question been about men? Probably not, and I wanted them to think about that. 
Then the callers were put on air with their answers: husbands, bigger boobs, lose weight, shopping spree, better hair, etc.
“What total, sexist crap,” I said as I flicked the station.
So I shouted out my own answers:
“Diversified stock portfolio!”
“An executive position and house husband!”
“Equal pay for equal work!”
“Win IronWoman!”
“Sell off a successful business and travel the world!”
“An all-female government!”
“A Woman Card-toting sparkling UNICORN!”
My unamused ten-year-old said, “Okay, okay you’ve made your point.”
“Thank you, 1956. You had me worried there for a moment. Marriage and kids are nice, if that is what a woman chooses for herself, but these days women can dream about things beyond being a wife and mother,” I replied.
Gender stereotypes creep up everywhere, all the time. It is not unnormal for your child to repeat them, whether or not they are reinforced at home. They are influenced by society just like we are.
When you hear stereotypes, you need to redirect them. Even when your kids don’t readily agree with you, (hello, parents of four-year-olds) your comments will challenge their thinking and lay a foundation for them to question the gender binary and stereotypical boxes we place people in.

Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009

Find her at You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

Pulling Back Curtain On Beauty Myth


When young boys and girls are surrounded by media, marketing, and the entertainment industry nearly 24/7, what messages do they learn about beauty and physical expectations held by society?

Let’s use this image actress Allison Williams created for Instagram as a discussion starter with kids.

Image via Yahoo!

Image via Yahoo!

This photo is a great tool in showing kids how the beauty and entertainment industries work. It reveals beauty expectations held for women, as well as the difference between reality and mirage.

Compare and contrast the two different versions we see of the same person, asking critical thinking questions like:
~ cover the left side of the photo and only show your child the right side, ask them to describe the lady. now show them the right side, ask what differences they notice, what changed on her face? did it change how they perceive her?
~ how long might it take to achieve the look on left and what tools go into providing that look? make a list of how many different cosmetics and brushes it would take. (I count at least 20)
~ is look on left an everyday look, or special event look created by professional makeup artist? should women need a professional’s help to be able to show up to an event? or everyday life?
~ it is perfectly fine to want to get fancied up for a special event. does this look on the left need to be everyday? more specifically (for older kiddos) do girls/women need to feel like they should look like the left side *every day*? how might that pressure feel to them?
~ what messages are given about what physical features are desirable for women? is this inclusive of all women (age, ethnicity, etc)? if it is not inclusive, how might that make women feel?
~ what messages do boys/men learn when women are expected to look like the image on the left? are those fair expectations for boys/men to be taught? how might that impact them?
~ do men have to go to these same lengths? do men have to spend the same amount of time and money to be considered ‘presentable’? if no, how much money and time do men save?
more specifically (for older kiddos), if no, why is it acceptable for men to show up with their normal faces or even looking scruffy compared to what female counterparts look like?
~ ask them what they would tell kids about the tricks played beauty myth the entertainment industry.

“It used to be that actresses and models wanted you to think they woke up looking completely flawless. But lately, a handful have been pulling back the curtain to show fans what really goes into creating their perfect look.” -Sara Bliss for Yahoo!

Read the full article about the photo here on Yahoo! 


Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009

Find her at You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (PP&BB).  

Questions from the Trenches: Tricky Questions While Shopping

Parent Question: My son has been questioning who the super hero girls are for a few weeks now and despite me naming Wonder Woman, Pippi Longstocking (who he doesn’t believe to be a super hero, Cat Woman and examples of real women (who I think possess or/possessed super powers), I had no other female super heroes to use as reference). Yesterday while at the store he ran up to a box of Monster High dolls and said, “Look, Mommy there ARE girl super heroes!” I quickly ushered him away so he didn’t study the picture of the ridiculous dolls too closely and told him that “those were NOT super heroes, they were women…selling crazy shoes”. He said “They didn’t look like women” and I told him the drawing was done by an adult artist who didn’t know how to draw girls.

I’m clearly such an amateur! I honestly wasn’t prepared for that sort of inquiry right then and there (was also dealing with a squirming baby) and I don’t think I handled it in the best way I could have. Have any of you dealt with a similar situation? What would you have said to raise more awareness/clarity on this type of situation?

PPBB Answer: For being put on the spot, I think you handled it just fine. I have dealt with similar situations with my daughter and explaining these kinds of “toys” to kids isn’t always easy. That is what is so tricky about discussing sexualization to our little kids, it isn’t very appropriate to spell out for them why it is so wrong because they don’t have their own understanding of sexuality yet. What I find as the best route to take is to ask the child a lot of critical thinking questions and get them thinking about the wrongness of these dolls without really having to tell your preschooler what sexualization is.

So, what I always try to do is ask the child why they think what they are thinking. I would ask your son why he thinks they are super heroes and what powers they might have. Suggest that super heroes are famous for what they do, not how they look. Does he think these dolls focus on what they do, or how they look? I would comment that super heroes are usually very strong and the bodies on these dolls are out of balance and don’t have any muscle, so they probably aren’t very strong. These dolls are too thin just as many super heroes are too muscular. A real person who was this thin would be very sick and need a doctor to get well I would ask him if he thinks it would be easy to fight bad guys dressed the way the dolls are, in short skirts and teetering heels. Could they fall over and get hurt? Could their underwear show? These are common sense things little kids understand.

Ask him if these dolls are girls, are they dressed like girls he knows? What do the girls he knows wear to play in? Do their faces look friendly or mean? I would mention that I think the way the dolls are dressed is very grown up and that if they were girls they would not be allowed to dress like this at school and they might even get in trouble with their parents.

I think you are on the right track and as your kids continue to take in media message that do not fit your family’s values for a healthy childhood you can continue to question and reframe and get them thinking and critiquing what they are seeing and hearing. Dolls like this are probably going to remain on the market a long time as unfortunately they make these companies a lot of money. So we won’t be able to shelter our kids from exposure to this, but we have every right to raise our kids with the knowledge that companies making money off of selling “sexy” to little kids is really wrong and unhealthy and should probably be illegal.

Bailey Richards Shoemaker took screen shots of the top selling dolls. What common denominators do you see?

Bailey Richards Shoemaker took screen shots of the top selling dolls. What common denominators do you see?

Mattel's Monster High dolls, 2013

Mattel’s Monster High dolls, 2013

** Important to note: I don’t think I’ve ever said anything nice about Monster High, but in 2012 I flew to Mattel headquarters to meet with the designers and executives of the brand to discuss the issues with the line and offer suggestions for improvement. The overall message from me was: Focus more on the scary, much less on the sexy. The group of dolls above reflect some of the changes we discussed, like adding leggings under short skirts and not revealing midriffs to make them a little more appropriate for children. You can see the difference from the original dolls below. Their are still issues with homogenous beauty and body image, but their have been improvements. Ish.

The original Monster High from Mattel.

The original Monster High from Mattel.

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.”