Asking People To Think Is Not The Same As Asking People To Hate

Let’s redirect a thread that went off the rails last night. I asked for community members to caption a snapshot taken during a retail experience of two toys placed at eye level to young children.

The snapshot sent in by a shopper that I asked to be captioned by my community.

The snapshot sent in by a shopper that I asked to be captioned by my community.

In short time people became upset claiming that I was hating on the toy company who makes the toys and “overreaching”. If I had asked the group to evaluate the toy company based on two products from their large line, I’d agree with that criticism. Except that is not what I did. I’m not taking a holistic look at this company because I’m asking my community to simply caption a snapshot – which by definition means a still from a moment in time.

Asking people to think is not the same as asking people to hate. Asking people to think critically about what media and cultural messages a child might experience and ingest during a shopping trip isn’t an overreach. It is a necessity.

I choose all of my words very carefully here, I have to because I have such a large audience and I have to make sure every word counts and gets across the message I want delivered.

That is exactly why I chose the word “snapshot”. Because it is a moment in time, and that is what a young child would be seeing if he or she were in the store. From this snapshot a child in present time would see a boy playing with cars that do things and go out into the world and a girl at home cooking. That comprises the world a young child would know. That singular message alone reinforces ALL of the other gender stereotypes that young child will pick up and that presents our society with some very serious limitations and deficits.

It is the drip, drip, drip, drip of sexism that most grotesquely impacts our society.

It is the drip, drip, drip, drip of sexism that most silently impacts our society.

It is the drip, drip, drip, drip of sexism that most effectively impacts our society.

With several commentors making impassioned defenses of the Hape toy company I looked carefully through their 244 page catalog and while there are really darling toys, their marketing is not. Some balanced photos yes, but hugely lacking in diversity and extremely gendered. It is such a shame, because their toys look fantastic. I’ve purchased their toys before and I don’t like or dislike them, I’m simply making an observation based on data present.

I did see some photos of girls building (Yay!) and boys and girls playing together (yes!), but I lost count of the gendered toy pairings I saw. In the first 148 pages no boys were playing house, while dozens of girls are playing house or caring for babies. Ditto for kitchen scenes. Not a single girls was shown holding a vehicle or tool (at least not in the first 148 pages). Most of the girls were wearing soft, pastel colors while the boys wore bold colors like green and red. I got so annoyed on page 148 when I flipped from a girl feeding a pink baby in a pink high chair to a boy building a red, white, and bold blue rocket that I closed the link. I went back and finished it, and yes I did see some boys in kitchens (and grilling, natch!) and boys and girls playing together, I’m not left jumping up and down and clicking my heels. Here’s why….

We should be a tish more keen to educational toy companies who do indeed produce great toys that come in boxes we recycle which make us believe the boxes don’t matter…..but this company is savvy enough to market to their niche one way in their catalog and turn around to use gender stereotypes on the boxes that go in the mainstream stores for toys that get seen by thousands more children and get sold to the masses that see the gender stereotype and buy it. As progressive parents you and I probably buy one of each for our whatever-gender child….but is that what the majority of the population is doing? No.

And that becomes a REALLY big problem down the line, and THAT is what gets my condemnation.

Also, I always have to ask this: If the boxes had photos that were racist instead of sexist, would some of you still be making the “adults, leave kids alone who just want to be kids” argument? I surely hope not. Are “kids just being kids” when exposed to adult sexist attitudes? And if not, is it then okay for me to question the marketing of these sexist attitudes to children? Even if that marketing comes from natural wood, European-looking toy companies?

Asking people to think is not the same as asking people to hate.

 

Fancy Dresses and Hurtful Comments: A Lesson From Award-Winning Comedian Sarah Millican

A recent unfortunate event that comedian Sarah Millican experienced provides us with an important conversation starter for our kids. I’m uncomfortable raising my children in a culture where the public verbal crucifixion of successful women who appear in public looking anything less than a super model is widely accepted as the staus quo. While Sarah is certainly not the first female celeb to encounter this kind of public body scrutiny (can you imagine just for a minute how that must feel at that level of publicity?) and she won’t be the last, I think her response to the matter provides us with an important teachable moment for our children/students.

Why does it matter so much what I was wearing? Why did no one ask my husband where he got his suit from? I felt wonderful in that dress. And surely that’s all that counts. I made a decision the following day that should I ever be invited to attend the Baftas again, I will wear the same dress. To make the point that it doesn’t matter what I wear; that’s not what I’m being judged on. With the added fun of answering the red-carpet question, “Where did you get your dress?” with “Oh, it’s just last year’s, pet”.

-Sarah Millican

Read Sarah Millican’s response here – Sarah Millican: Twitter was a pin to my excitable Bafta balloon.

Also read this great piece on PolicyMic by Julianne Ross, who ties in similar responses from Cate Blanchett, Emma Stone, and Gabourey Sidibe – Comedian’s Response to Criticism of Her Red Carpet Look Deserves a Standing Ovation

Such endless emphasis on looks implies that women’s bodies are always blank slates for commentary and criticism, and it trivializes their other, more meaningful, accomplishments. Comedy in particular is not known for being the most gender equitable industry; female comedians are often held to a higher standard of presentability and expected to be both hilarious and hot in a way that male comics aren’t. This makes Millican’s refusal to put up with this type of treatment all the more satisfying.

-Julianne Ross

Gabourey

Gabourey shows twitter how to *drop mic*. Dang girl!

 

I recommend that you read both links together with your kids and discuss a few points:

1) Talk about why women and their bodies are publicly discussed and judged in our culture.

2) Then talk about the effect that has on women, famous and not famous. Also, what effect does that have on boys and men?

3) Review some comments your child could say should he/she overhear people making judging or hurtful comments about someone’s appearance. It is fun to dress up and we often feel great when we do. Is it ever acceptable to tear someone down based on what they look like or what they are wearing?

4) Discuss if you have ever been on the receiving end of comments like this, but more importantly, if you have ever been the one making comments like this. I recently did this with my 8yo daughter while resolving some mean girl behavior at school that I was horrified to discover she was a part of. While having a conversation about accountability and empathy with my daughter we talked about her involvement, which was being a silent follower of the mean girls and how I felt that was worse of all because she was letting someone else think for her. We talked about leading with kindness. I let her know that her behavior was similar to what mean girls did to me in school and how sad and lonely it had made me feel. She was devastated and it opened her eyes to the situation from all angles.

5) Talk about the importance of appearance (as far as fitting into the Beauty Myth) over the importance of accomplishment, and why one matters and one does not. Also talk about how to demonstrate confidence and class.

 

Learn more about Sarah Millican and her fantastic career here.

Sarah Millican

I think Sarah Millican looks beautiful here, but for the record and more importantly she is hysterical which is just how I like my award-winning, sell-out crowd comedians.

The Questions We Should Be Asking After Reading What Mrs. Hall Had To Say

What would you say to Mrs. Hall?

Dear Mrs. Hall,
When I was seventeen years old my girlfriends and I were allowed to get a hotel room and followed our boys basketball team to Madison to cheer them on for a state tournament. After finishing checking in we went up to our room, realized it had a giant atrium window and promptly flashed the lobby. The looks on the faces of our classmate below was hilarious. I was a wild child at that age, yet I guarantee you my mom (who was very involved in my life and was a great parent) is going to be pissed when she reads this but I am 35 years old now so I’m hoping her statute of limitations has expired. At seventeen I didn’t need women like you shaming me. I needed women like you mentoring me, caring about me, not throwing me away. I needed women to wink at me at my youthful indiscretions, and then show me how to be a grown up. The only difference between me and the girls you shame is that when I was seventeen, there was no Instagram or facebook. At seventeen, I didn’t flash the lobby because of low self-esteem or to tempt boys or men who linger and lust after high school girls, I flashed the lobby because it was my world and everyone else was just a guest in it.

I wanted to tell you this for two reasons. Oh, I should mention, my friends and I also went skinny dipping. A lot. I wanted to tell you this for two reasons, the first being, I wanted to level the playing field for all of the girls who have to live their adolescence on social media and every mistake is forever captured. I went through those years free of that burden. Second, I wanted to tell you this because my girlfriends and I all grew up to marry nice guys, have cute kids, and balance successful careers. The other two girls who flashed the lobby with me? One is a high school teacher and the other is a director at a communications firm in Washington DC. And me? Well I run a global business and just finished writing a book about how to raise empowered girls. Ironic, no? We didn’t turn out okay because we eventually found nice boys like Hall boys to marry, we turned out okay because there was nothing wrong with us to begin with.

I simply wanted you to know that teenage girls who make mistakes can grow up to be women who do amazing things. I want to share my approach with you, and you may take it or leave it: I don’t believe in shaming people. I believe in teaching and in growth. You write a ton about Christ on your blog and while not a Christian I find many of your posts beautiful. I believe Christ’s approach was teaching, too. Teaching and growth. So I ask you to look into your heart where I can clearly see that you love your children, and look to the children of others with that same love. In love there is not room for shame.

Teach girls, mentor them, show them by your own example what kind of women they can be. And for goodness sake, allow them to make some mistakes. I am also concerned about teen girls, media, messages, and sexualization. The difference between you and I is that I would not kick them off my on-line island and consider them devalued, I would open my arms and say, “Come here, Baby, you and I need to chat.” And then we would talk about school, and goals, and sports or whatever her activities are, who she thinks is cute, and then I would cleverly segue way into the importance of having a personal brand, the value I see in her, and that because she is a teen and perhaps not thinking long range, I would gently explain to her that some of her online behavior doesn’t mesh with the personal brand I see her building in other areas of her life. And we would talk about what messages she might be sending that she might regret, if what she is doing is smart, and if what she is doing is safe. I would leave her with information she can chew on and implement, but most importantly, I would leave her knowing she has someone in her corner. Someone who sees her worth simply because she lives and breaths, no other qualifiers necessary.

Thank you for sparking such a fascinating national conversation. I have learned, and I hope you have too.
Best,
Melissa

 

Two days ago the internet exploded when a mom of four, Mrs. Hall, shared a letter on her blog to teenage girls who use social media in a way that she does not approve. In that time the woman has received support, mixed feelings from readers, and she has been flamed. Some people tried to give her the benefit of the doubt and saw that her words were coming from a place, the execution was just very off.  If you read a little bit into her blog and her bio, Kim Hall comes from a conservative religious background so it is possible that may be the source of her view point for the shaming of female sexuality and professing virtue and purity as the highest form of morality. Those are not values I hold, but the woman is allowed to have her faith and her opinions.

I felt it important to discuss this article with the facebook community, because it brings up so many good points for parents of tweens (and kids of all ages, really). Whether your kids are using social media or not, and whether you are talking to them about sex or not yet, this is a good read to get you thinking ahead. Mostly because it is so misguided.

I want to frame our conversation carefully, because I don’t want this to turn into us piling on the author of this post. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with various parts of the post, and I think it came from a good place, it just didn’t get to where it was going. Namely, boys can control their urges and girls are not responsible for boy’s behavior. Second to this is, girls are allowed to express their sexuality, even if we feel it is in a way that may not be the best thought out demonstration.

You may agree or disagree with Mrs. Hall’s sentiments, but what I’d like you to think about while reading and then discuss are:

1. Can slut-shaming be a two-way street? Can boys be on the receiving end?

2. Is nudity/partial nudity the same as sexualized self-objectification? Is that the point Mrs. Hall is trying to make with the shirtless photos of her sons in a post that slut-shames girls? Or is she being simultaneously obtuse and preachy? Would it bother you if the Hall boys were posting shirtless pics that your daughter was exposed to?

3. Does one (or 80) sexy selfies ruin a girl, so that no “good man” will want her? Did you experiment with your sexuality in ways that you are grateful are not forever captured on social media?

4. Is Mrs. Hall doing the right thing by openly discussing sex with her children, and their use of social media?

5. How do you feel about the comment, “If you are friends with a Hall boy, you are friends with the Hall family”? Should tweens/teens be allowed some privacy online, or is it all an open book?

6. If you were the parent of one of these girls Mrs. Hall is talking about, how would you feel after reading this? Is there more to your daughter than one sexy facebook towel pose?

7. How does the line about “once a male sees you naked he can never unsee it” grab you? Are their bigger implications at play there on how we validate male sexuality/desire but invalidate female sexuality?

8. And finally, is Mrs. Hall onto something? Why are so many young girls and women posting sexy, duck lipped photos of themselves? Are boys doing the same thing and we aren’t paying attention because our culture loves to be hyper-vigilant over the sexuality of young girls?

As always, the PPBB facebook community delivered with a conversation thread that reached just over 10,600 people. The comments were thoughtful and productive. Not everyone agree with each other (those are the best conversations, yes?) but everyone did a great job of expressing concern for their children, concern for the self worth of girls they do not know, and concern at a macro level on what messages girls are getting from society and how this impacts their behavior and thinking. These sentiments were echoed in posts that popped up during the day in reply to Mrs. Hall, my three favorites will be linked at the end of this post.

Here are my favorite replies from PPBB community members to the questions I asked above:

Ashley Chenard: Nice to see this opened for discussion here. I’ve seen friends sharing this like crazy and while I can agree with parts of it, I also found it to be rather focused on blaming the female. And her ironic photo choice of her sons. Just didn’t settle entirely right with me. Sounded like the kind of moms I have dealt with in person that you just grit your teeth and can’t wait to be done with. I commend the effort, but could be better executed. I trust both my son and daughter to make decisions for themselves and that they’ll either embrace the morals I impart on them or they’ll mess up regardless because that is what humans do. It is my job to be there for them, but not to helicopter over them. The way this came across to me is that boys are animals but its the girls job to prevent them from being pigs. My son is not an animal, and its not my daughters job to keep your sons from being pigs.

Tanya Roe: I think that what bothers me the most here is that she focuses on what girls should be doing to snag a decent man. I would rather talk about having respect for our own bodies and characters, how focusing so much on what boys think of them needs to be changed. I want my daughters to grow up and find loving healthy relationships with people of integrity–with themselves first and then a partner if they so choose. I want my daughters posting pictures of all the cool EXPERIENCES they are having rather than focusing only on how their bodies look to boys/peers.

Amanda Elisabeth: What she is falling to address is WHY so many teenage girls feel the need to have pictures like that. Media and society teaches our girls that their only value is their sexuality, and then we condemn them for acting out the way our society wants? I don’t like this article. She is using the same logic people use for rape victims: I.e. her skirt was too short. Why not have a discussion with your son regarding the pressures his female peers feel from society and the possible reasons they post those pictures? Why not talk about an appropriate action your sons can take while interacting with their female friends instead of just blocking the young girls.

Elaine Fleschner: I certainly don’t want my daughter, once she’s old enough to think of such things, to post those sexy poses/photos online. But I think this article is obnoxious. How about instead of posting this blanket “We like you, but we won’t be your friend if you do blank”, she have a frank discussion with the specific girls she’s concerned about–if in fact they are family friends. I think it’s good that the family talk about sex and social media together, but a real nuanced understanding would also require them to note the social pressures girls are under, which do not face them as boys. Mrs. Hall comes across as sanctimonious and obnoxious.

Florence Vaccaro Michel: Thank you for posting these questions! Two fb friends have already posted this thing, and while I think it’s a good place to START a conversation about social media, it is far from the whole conversation. I think reducing a girl to a few poorly-thought-out instagram posts does that girl a disservice. I also think the idea put forth here reduces ALL girls to “sacred vessels”- their modesty becomes their biggest virtue (which naturally leads into their purity being the most important thing about them). It frames all girls as madonna/whore- either you post modest, wholesome pictures of yourself (and you’re a good girl) or you post duck face, arched back pictures in a towel (and you’re a bad girl). So now we’re teaching boys that all girls fall into one category or the other.

That being said, I think that every parent needs to help their kids manage social media in their own way. The fact that this mom is having open conversations with her boys about the items posted on social media is commendable. And she is, in some respects, encouraging her boys to see and recognize that girls are more than just their image (even if it’s done in a clumsy and somewhat reductive way).

Tanya Burns: “We hope to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.” Then teach your boys not to do so. I am not arguing that I want my daughter posting pics like she speaks of. She is 12, shy, and not a selfie kind of gal. But when she is 16, and has all these years of media literacy under her belt, I’d like to hope she still has better things to do in life. In this post, Mrs. Hall speaks of no second chances, and puts the onus on girls not to show her boys things they should not linger over. I can promise you that out of all the kids mine knows on instagram, there are just as many 12 year old boys doing the “pull your shirt up and try to contort your little body to look like you have abs” pose as there are girls with duck face. But everyone does seem to focus on the girls. Why does a 12 year old boy think he needs to “look ripped”? Are hormones not flowing on both sides of the equation in puberty? As one friend pointed out, what if it’s not the “sexy, duck lipped girls” that a young man is checking out on instagram, but your son and his abs? Sadly, this is not just teenagers now. The “tweens” are in on it too. I’ve seen girls as young as 9 on youtube posing and pouting because they’ve seen others do it. Do we not come back full circle to the oversexualization of childhood we talk about every day?

Mandy McManus Emedi: I applaud the intent of this post, but I do not think it was fully thought-out. The group picture of the author’s boys at the beach just makes me sad. I don’t have any issue with kids in swimsuits if they’re running and jumping and playing at the beach…but the poses of the two older boys, in particular, seem meant (by them) to show off their bodies. Sadly, by using this photo, I think the article illustrates the double standard for boys versus girls. The author is talking about the responsible use of social media (among other, larger topics), but she doesn’t seem to realize she’s violating the same ideas she’s presenting.

Marisa Winegar: Where’s the empathy for the girls who are growing up in a culture that says they have to compete to be the hottest to have value? There’s no acknowledgment that girls don’t post sexy selfies in a vaccum. I don’t want my daughter doing that, but I can see why girls feel that way. It’s a societal problem, not a “bad girl” problem. And the solution has to acknowledge that girls are judged on their sex appeal everyday, perhaps even by the sons referenced in this post. Is she hot or not? That’s what FB was invented for! I don’t like it, but it’s not the girls who created this climate. They are the victims, not the perpetrators.

Lisa Mohl Kaplin: It’s very difficult for me to find the good in this article because it is so sanctimonious and judgmental. The idea of a family sitting down to view and judge the pictures of other children makes me sad and discouraged. Also, if we want our children to dress more appropriately, shaming them will never be the right answer. Helping them feel good about themselves so they don’t feel the need to get attention through their physical appearance will work far better. I also worry for the young girl in this family who has now observed her brothers and parents critiquing girls based on very limited information. Thank goodness we didn’t have the internet when I was a teen, I’m pretty sure Mrs. Hall wouldn’t have been too pleased with me.

Lucinda Robbins: While I think it’s important for girls to understand the image they are portraying on social media, I also think the idea that she would teach her boys that one suggestive selfie makes a girl unworthy to talk with is troublesome to me. (especially when her boys are posing half nude throughout the post). I think there’s an overemphasis on girls’ purity, which also bothers me. Girls need to be careful, but boys also need to recognize that both girls and boys are sexual being and both girls and boys are responsible for their thoughts and behavior. Girls do not bear responsibility for boys’ behavior, and this seems to be what she’s implying. I would think she would think better of her boys than to think they cannot be friends with or control themselves around a girl who (OMG!) posts pics of herself in her jammies.

Jennifer Wade Shewmaker: I read this yesterday and had so many of these same questions! My first thought is that these girls aren’t taking selfies in a vacuum, there is a culture of Sexualization that promotes it. They aren’t “bad or unsafe girls.” They’re girls who are feeling two things: 1.) their own developing sexual desires and feelings and 2.) the pressure to gain power through it.

Since I’m the mother of 3 daughters, I would tell Mrs. Hall that I am teaching my girls to think about how they dress and what they post in terms of the message they want to send to the world about themselves. I want them to focus on their own agency in that scenario. It is not their job to account for every sexual thought a boy may have. It is their job to make respectful, thoughtful choices about who they are and what they want to share about that with the world. And, their developing sexuality shouldn’t be any more threatening than a boys developing sexuality. These are natural, normal feelings and parents need to help kids learn how to process them in safe, healthy, respectful ways rather then through shaming them.

Kelsey’s N Reilleys Mommy: And so begins the subtle underpinnings of rape culture.

 

In support of what Mrs. Hall had to say:

Melissa Vaclavicek Murray: I don’t know. I didn’t see this as a “bad girl” issue, so much as a stupid girl issue. When my kids are older (both girls under the age of 6), I intend to point out potential red flags and encourage them to look for positive attributes when considering someone to date/marry. A person who posts multiple selfies a day and sexually suggestive pics gives off red flags. While those red flags don’t necessarily point to “slut” (the author never said that), they do point to lack of self-esteem, self-respect, and self-control. Not great attributes for a significant other. That’s not slut shaming. That’s just being smart. That’s a mother who cares about her sons imparting wisdom that they don’t have in their hormone-filled teenage bodies. She’s helping them look past the bedroom eyes and glossy duck lips, and find a person with substance. The author may have been clumsy in her execution (ridiculous picture to go with the article), but I think this is advice that most involved parents give to their kids.

Kathy Onufer Krapf: I didn’t take it negatively like many here did. I took it as a reminder that social media is public and that what is posted “can’t be unseen”. We are all leaving digital imprints that we don’t realize and we ALL need to be more accountable for ourselves and our children. I think she was coming from the right place, regardless of whether or not we agree with how she framed it.

Lisa Hollander Parente: I’m torn on this one. While I do agree that tweens and teens need to be more aware of what they are posting and putting into cyberspace, this feels a bit like slut shaming to me. The author posts pictures of her sons posing in what can be considered provocative ways and yet that is okay? Why because they are boys and don’t have boobs? And this part trouble me the most: ” Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it? You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?” Why not instead of chastising the girl she teaches the “Hall Boys” to respect a woman regardless of what she is or is not wearing? How about teaching those boys that a woman is not an object for them to gawk at? Like I said, there are parts of this that I do agree with, but I don’t think she’s thought it through completely.

 

Other blog posts I loved on this subject:

http://thelippylactator.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/an-fyi-to-my-daughters/

http://putdowntheurinalcake.com/2013/09/dear-mrs-hall-regarding-your-fyi-if-youre-a-teenage-girl/

http://rebeccahains.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/a-response-to-mrs-hall-teaching-our-boys-respect-and-self-control/

http://unchainedfaith.com/2013/09/04/fyi-if-youre-a-mom-of-teenage-boys/

 

 

 

Oy Does Toyland Give Me a Headache

Despite the fact that Halloween is still three weeks away, a store based in my home state of Wisconsin had their much anticipated holiday toy catalog out in the paper today. I got my hopes up when I opened it and there was a 10 year old boy holding a baby and showing the baby a toy. The first several pages were mostly gender neutral toys labeled “Preschool”….

Then I came to page 18, the first in the “Girls” section. I was immediately knocked over by the pink, pink, and more pink splashed across a two page spread of kitchen and housecleaning tools all gender coded because domestic duties are a woman’s work, don’t you know. Turn the page to Monster Glam dress up kids, tiaras, high heels, and princess dresses. Then we move into the pet care play, fairies and scary-skinny sexy fashion dolls. The background on all of these pages is pink, natch.

The first page of the “Boys” section shows two boy models blasting something into smithereens with giant sized automatic guns, and seven more boys on packages taking aim with their guns. Because what five year old boy doesn’t need a Howitzer and endless rounds of ammo, right? Another page of guns, some power tools, space fantasy play, vehicles and rescue squads, and then farm equipment. The background for these pages is blue or green.

There is a somewhat gender neutral “Crafts and Entertainment”, but most of the craft kits feature girls on the box or are activities like “Princess Mosaic Tiara Activity Kit” or “Princess Glitter Domes”. In the “Books and Games” section most of the books and games are character-branded and therefore gendered. The “Sporting Goods” section is dominated by boys.

The only thing keeping me from losing my mind is that the science kits all look super awesome and are gender neutral (no Spa Science or Lipstick Lab kits, thank goodness). That is what I will be buying my children. From a different store, most likely, if I can find one that respectfully advertises to children.

In a 71 page catalog there are 9 images of boys and girls playing together. On the pages advertising the toys never once is a boy shown doing something caring or tender, nor is a girl shown doing something more adventurous than sledding. The predominant theme for girls was keeping up the house and looking pretty. The predominant theme for boys was killing and taking care of the farm. My we’ve come a long way since the 19th century.

These issues are not specific to this store. We know all too well every catalog we get is going to look like this unless we live in Sweden. This kind of marketing is everywhere, so much so that people believe these manufactured differences to be biological truth. I say: When we limit our children, we limit our children.

“Watch commercials that are targeted at little girls. A commercial for a toy or a game for a little girl always seems like it came from another world where feminism NEVER happened.” -Jared Logan

This video nails it, via Princess Free Zone.

Disney, Where is Izzy?

Disney's Jake and the Never Land Pirates

A couple of days ago I was out shopping for a special t-shirt for my 4yo son to start pre-K with next week, just something simple to help ease his nerves. I was happy to find t-shirts with his favorite characters Jake and the Never Land Pirates, on sale to boot, at JC Penney. My enthusiasm last twenty seven seconds, at which point I realized NONE of the 2T-5T tees carried by JC Penney featured one of the shows main characters – the girl pirate named Izzy.

This show is really popular with the preschool and early elementary ages, and while it fits nicely into the Smurfette Principle and only a couple of episodes pass the Bechdel Test, for the most part I approve of it for my children. There are episodes when a pirate princess (of course she’s a princess!) and mermaids help to balance out the gender scale. I talk with my kids about why there are so few girls in the show, and what more girl pirates could be doing in the episodes if they were on the show.

The situation with the t-shirts made me really sad. Not one shirt featured Izzy on it. Not. One. She is an important cast member, and the only female. I then remembered that I was in the Boys section, and thought surely they would have girl designs. I walked across the room to the Girls section (because boys and girls have to be segregated,  you know) to look for the girl version of the Jake and the Never Land Pirates. Nope. Nada. No Izzy, no girl pirate shirts.

What?! This show is super popular with boys AND girls right now, why would there be no shirts for girls, and no trace of Izzy on the shirts?

Your answer is: because of sexism and gender stereotypes. Did Disney and JC Penney think boys wouldn’t wear a shirt with a girl on it? When I showed Benny his new shirt, he got a huge smile on his face, immediately followed by a look of confusion. “Where’s Izzy?” he asked. I told him I guess she wasn’t on the shirts, and I thought it was the strangest thing. He got really mad, and said he didn’t want the shirt and to return it.

Disney's "Izzy" from Jake and the Never Land Pirates.

“I doun wanna wear a shirbt that doun has allub my frenz.” He didn’t want to wear a shirt that didn’t have all of his friends. He said Izzy’s feeling are probably hurt, and he wanted to be a friend to all of them and not make her sad. My 6yo daughter Amelia came in the room, and the first thing out of her mouth was, “Hey! Why is Izzy not on that shirt?”

Kids notices these things. Girls notice when they are missing, and so often they are missing.

What message does this send to little girls who love the show, saw the shirts, and realized there was no representation of Izzy? What does that teach these girls about the value a girl holds?

What message does that teach boys about girls?

Why is there only one girl character to choose from in the first place?

Why the ever-loving hell would a show built on cross-gender friendships and teamwork intentionally remove that element in its merchandise? Why only sell to boys? Why not market to girls, too? Why not market to children instead of sexes?

To be fair, there are selections exclusive to the Disney Store on their website that feature Izzy, and I’ve been told by several parents those shirts are sold out. No wonder.

But why does that not carry over to their licensed products to other retailers? The shirt selections I saw at JC Penney and Target had no Izzy on them.

 

Coincidentally, Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies has a girl pirate design for a tee, because we know that lots of girls LOVE pirates!

 

The cast of Jake and the Never Land Pirates, sans Izzy.

While I was shopping, the discovery of the shirt above made my head explode. Apparently whoever licensed and produced these tees for JC Penney decided boys would absolutely not wear a shirt with a girl on it, so in this depiction of the cast, they replaced Izzy’s head with a gold doubloon. The gator and the coin get a spot over Izzy. We get it, Disney. We know where females rank.

Thankfully, I’ve taught my kids to reject this kind of thinking, and after viewing the t-shirt choices from the Disney store, both immediately went to the kitchen table to color Disney a very strong message of complaint. I asked Benny if he was sure he wanted to return his shirt and he said now he wanted to keep it but also wanted a shirt with just Izzy on it, like the one we just saw from the Disney store. But even the Disney store has their apparel selections notes “For Boys” or “For Girls”.  Amelia said she wanted a shirt with everyone because you don’t exclude people when you are on a team. Benny then asked how to spell “Boss of Everything” and Amelia asked permission to use the word “jerks”.

Benny telling me why he is upset that Izzy is not on his shirt.

When we talked about this with the PPBB Facebook Community, there was lots of folks upset and expressing frustration. So many parents are sick and tired of the gender divide in childhood.

Janessa Hall: “This conversation reminds me so much of looking for Dora outfits when my oldest was a little younger. He loved Dora, and they only came in pink, sparkles, bows, etc.”

Katt Mikaboshi:  “My daughter loves Yo Gabba Gabba and saw a shirt in the “girls” section,but when she opened it up it only had the boy charters on it and no girls(?) I never encountered this before,but it hurts my head. My daughter asked me “why did they forget the girls?” :(

Why Face Painting Matters

I’ve had several parents write in to our Facebook  page sharing their experiences with face painters at community events and children’s museums. One comment and photo came in, then another, and another. I took a step back to think about why this was important and why parents were sharing this with me. And then it clicked — this was more than the individual choices of these kids.  Face painting is one of the few activities where a service for children is marketed directly to children in real time, and the child present picks the product directly in front of the marketer, with the marketer being able to immediately influence the choice.

Why does this matter?

How many thousands and thousands of kids do you think face painters come in contact with? What messages could and should those people be sending? Several parents have written to me saying their daughter was discouraged from getting a sports ball on her cheek, and instead got a yellow flower. Or the little boy who was discouraged from getting a butterfly, until his mom had to step in and defend his choice. When face painters say “Oh, that’s a girl color, you don’t want that” they are directly impacting the child’s imagination and reinforcing gender stereotypes. They are directly using sexism to change what your child thinks.

It seems pretty obvious how sexist the reactions steeped in gender stereotypes are and how they limit our kids. I would like to instead focus on a few fine artists and kiddos who got it right:

A satisfied customer! Tiger Snake Girl.

 

“I just need to give massive kudos to the lovely woman who painted my daughters face today at Adventure Aquarium. B asked to be a snake, the woman asked if she wanted to be a green snake or another color. B opted to be an orange tiger snake. But she never once suggested the bright pink or purple and told her an tiger snake was an awesome choice!”  — Alicia, PPBB mama

A pigtailed baby jaguar.

 

“FULL OF AWESOME! I thought you might like to see who was totally full of awesome and getting her face painted as a baby jaguar in a sea of girls all getting their faces painted to be Hawaiian princesses at the local street fair on Sunday… :-) (Tallie, in her Full of Awesome Shirt!)”  — Roby, PPBB mama

A very delighted blue butterfly.

 

“I thought I’d share my son’s photo from the recent Renaissance Faire. We had to fight with the artist to get him the painting he wanted, rather than the “Boy one” she was insisting he would like better. Check out this face, does he look unhappy???” — Morgan, PPBB mama

This is one serious predator!

 

Natalie (7 yrs) to the face-painter: “I’d like to look like a tiger please.”
Artist: “Ohh, why that? You’re so cute, and you have such a pretty sparkly top on; wouldn’t you like some flowers or a rainbow instead? It would maaaaatch…”
Natalie: “No thank you. This outfit is for when I’m a dancer. The paint is for when I’m a predator. Tulips aren’t very good camouflage in the jungle.”
(You see that the frustrated artist couldn’t help herself and HAD to add some sparkle to Talie’s forehead and nose anyway. I hope it doesn’t glare and scare off all the prey.)” — Rachel, PPBB mama

Childhood is not a time for limitations. Childhood is a time for choices. We need adults to remember to respect and honor that, and pack away our preconceived notions of what boys and girls can and cannot do. In childhood, they should be able to do it all.

Be Wary The Words of Hateful Men: A Lesson from North Carolina

Dear Boy and Girls,

It was not so long ago, that I was a girl. I ran in the woods and played soccer and sailed and had dolls. I loved playing restaurant and school. But I loved pretending to be a spy even more. When I was little, like you are today, I had the freedom to be who I wanted to be.

I’m not so sure you have the same freedoms today, although technically we should be about 27 years more advanced than we were in 1985. It confuses me as to why we are moving backwards. Everywhere I look, I see messages called stereotypes that tell you how to be a boy and how to be a girl. These messages are unfair, and to be honest with you, there isn’t a lot of truth behind them. I see them in your toys and your clothes and your media, like the tv and movies. The problem is, your grown ups aren’t always aware of that. Sometimes grown ups believe these messages, and they think there is only one way to be a boy, and only one way to be a girl. Sometimes growns ups don’t even know how to think outside of these strereotypes, or they don’t consider questioning them. Sometimes grown ups are scared by these stereotypes, especially when kids try to break them down. I’m so glad that every day there seems to be kids like you that know better, and love art and cars and dolls and sports and mud and sparkles and all the colors of the rainbow.

Sometimes, grown ups take these stereotype messages too far. Sometimes, grown ups use these stereotypes to teach hate. Sometimes the grown ups will say their reasons are because of their religion. A man from North Carolina did last week, when he was advocating for his church congregation to “beat the gay” out of their children who he feels stray too far out of the rigid gender roles he sets forth. Gender roles means only certain things for boys to do and certain things for girls, and you can’t break the rules. This man was saying that if a boy is acting too much like a girl, his parents should beat him. Or if a girl gets too dirty playing sports, she needs to quickly go inside and get clean and pretty and sweet smelling again.  When this man talked about physically hurting children, it made my stomach sick like I was going to throw up. I’m not sure why the people sat there and listened to him. If I had been there, I would have stood up and said very loudly how out of line he was, and then walked out with my family. An important person to me taught me a long time ago that when you hear or see hate, you be not silent.

You need to be careful when you hear hateful words from people.  There is never a time when it is okay for a grown up to hit, punch, or break the bones of a child. But this man from North Carolina said it was okay, because he thought his religion said so. Only small men tell people to hurt others. Even smaller men try to take away the rights of others. There isn’t any right way to be a kid, and I don’t think people should put limits on you, especially when you are playing and discovering. I don’t ever think an adult should ever physically hurt you.

What I really think is that adults need to get a little braver, and take a stand when they hear hateful words or see hateful actions. I read the story about the man from North Carolina, but I didn’t read anything about people getting up and leaving. They were not being careful about the words from a hateful man. They were wrong to have thought so highly of him. They certainly were not being brave.

A very little boy doesn’t put on a dress because he is gay, he puts on a dress because he is playing. He does not need to be punched. We need to give our sons the space to be human.

A young girl does not “butch it up” on the soccer field because she is gay, she is dirty and sweaty because she is an athlete. She does not need a beating. It is not our daughter’s responsibility to be pretty and sweet smelling for the world.

A young boy’s love of art or enjoyment caring for a doll or beloved stuffed animal is not a result of his “limp wrist” and implied impending gayness, he loves these because at a young age he sees beauty and loves creating things and caring for things. My guess is, this boy will grow up to be five times the man that this fella from North Carolina claims to be. Real men do not hurt children.

A young girl who wears shorty short hair or loves bugs or dinosaurs or sports is not necessarily gay, she simply finds things interesting that lay outside of the sparkling pink box she is maybe being told to stay in. My guess is, this girl will grow up to be a smart student who loves science and has all kinds of friends because she knows there is no right way to be — you just be you. You do how you do.

Girly girls and tomboys and geeky girls and sporty boys and princess boys and nerdy boys and and and ……. It doesn’t really matter to me what kind of kid your are. Maybe you’re a mix of all kinds. I think grown ups should just get back to calling you “children”, and get out of your way as you explore our world and discover all that you can be in it.

Now go outside and play.

Love,

Melissa (mom to Ben and Amelia)

 
My son Ben, in a hot pink mask and riding a unicorn.

                                                                                           

My girl Amelia, digging worms up from the garden.

I Offer A Different Perspective

There’s a post going around that seems popular, a letter from a mother to a daughter telling the little girl that the world hates her because of her sex, and to just, and I quote - “fuck ‘em”.

I’d like to offer a different perspective.

I don’t know the person who wrote this post, neither as a blogger nor as a mom. I’m sure she’s very good at both. I’m not going to judge her words, but I’d like to offer my own.

I’m not going to teach my daughter that the world hates her. I’m going to teach her that she will face challenges and obstacles and unfairness and she will encounter people with different, often stubborn, opinions and she will need to rise above them. She will need to rise. The world doesn’t hate its girls, the world is still trying to figure out what to do with the power that lies inside of its daughters. A different perspective.

The post talks about the world hating its girls, from the moment they are born. I remember the very moment my daughter was born, after hours and hours and hours of an agonizing labor and pushing, the child was laid on my chest. My first touch to my newborn was on her back, and she felt like warm, wet, velvet. She was covered in my blood and I stared into her face and I loved her. Fiercely and instantly. Her father loved her, and wiped away tears as he leaned down to kiss his newborn daughter as she took in her first breaths. Her father cut the cord, separating her body from mine, and never left her side as the nurses measured and weighed and bathed her. He wept the entire time, because the man knew no other way to express the amount of love he felt for this tiny creature. My husband, this brand new girl’s father, called our extended family and friends, who rejoiced over the announcement of her healthy birth. Her father and little brother and grandfather and uncles and male cousins all love and cherish her.  A different perspective.

Yes, she cried when she took her first breaths. Not because the world is a cold, uncaring, and frustrating place that hates her. She cried because she was announcing she was here, and the world would never be the same. She cried out because newborn babies do not yet know how to holler “Hey! I am full of awesome!”.  A different perspective. 

I’m not going to teach my daughter that “there is nothing worse than being a girl”. I am going to teach my daughter to Redefine Girly. There are people in the world who do not value girls, especially as much as they value boys. But how much power and attention do those folks really deserve? There are also thousands and thousands of people in the world who do value and cherish girls, and I choose to focus on them. I will teach my daughter not to give her energy or attention to people who don’t deserve it. I believe the author of the post was trying to say the same thing, but where you put your energy in life is important. I will teach my daughter to see and give importance to the people who, by the thousands and millions, do value girls. A different perspective. 

I also am a former-girl, and I have never felt hated. I have felt challenged. I have been teased for throwing like a girl, and I have picked up the ball and thrown harder and straighter. I have been told I couldn’t do something or other because I was a girl, and I have set about and done it.  I have faced barriers, and I have climbed right over the top of them. I have face ignorance, and I have relied on my beliefs and education to maneuver around it. I have faced sexism, and I have proven myself time and again. I haven’t felt the need to “f*ck ‘em”. I have felt the need to exceed people’s expectations of me, all the while acting with respect, compassion, and class. This is what I will teach my daughter so that when she does face the unjust way the world can sometimes treat its girls, she will have  treasure trove of stories and skills to draw from. I’m not going to raise my daughter as a victim of the world. I’m going to raise her as a force to be reckoned with. A different perspective.

Our daughters cannot cancel out nor hide from the world. They cannot go through life with a “eff you” attitude and be angry at the world. It is wrong to assume all men and boys hate and disrespect women and girls. It is hard to teach people and change perspective when they, or you, have been backed into a corner. I will teach my daughter to meet people in the middle. She’ll have a smart mind and a firm handshake and a chin held high. She’ll practice the art of sisterhood. She’ll have class, and be grounded in the idea of who she is. I will teach my daughter that instead of approaching people with a “f*ck ‘em” attitude, I will ask her to learn from them and guide her actions from the knowledge gained from the very people who would keep her down. The rest of the world cannot be damned, because my daughter is just one in a cast of millions. All people have worth. I will teach her people can sometimes be very wrong, and I will teach her to rise. A different perspective.

The world can be a very difficult place to be a girl. The world can be a difficult place to be anybody. The world can also be an amazing, bright, loving, vibrant place to be alive. The world doesn’t hate my daughter. That’s what my daughter and I will focus on. I do agree with the other mother on several points, the most important of which, our daughters absolutely can fly. In fact, they can soar. We just need to teach them how.

My six year old daughter conquering the challenge of the day: flight.

Sears and Their Third Party Vendors Behaving Badly

As a parent and a business owner, I believe that when my name, whether it be my family name or my business name, is attached to something that is found offensive it is my responsibility to do two things: try to correct or amend the offense, and issue a sincere apology. It is simply the right thing to do.

I’m not sure why consumers give large businesses a free pass on that, but we seem to, time after time. I’m told they are just trying to make money. I’m told I don’t have to buy it. “Free speech” and “open market” are things I hear quite a bit, but I have yet to accept that. Specifically when these instances of “free speech” are actually instances of objectifying females or outright misogyny.

As Ryan S. said on our facebook page, “Free speech ends when it promotes violence against others. That’s where the line is drawn.”

Take, for instance, Sears (also owns Lands’ End) – our 126 year old American cornerstone, selling child-sized t-shirts on their online marketplace that read:

“Nice Girls Don’t Use Pepper Spray”

“Don’t Make Me Kick You In The Fallopian Tubes”

“Don’t Make Me Kick You in the Birth Canal”

I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in, because the condoning of rape culture and misogynistic violence against women and girls directed at their genitals sounds like we’re describing a third world country. We are, in fact, talking about Sears and their third party vendor, 99 VOLTS.  These shirts have since been pulled from Sears’ online marketplace. They are still for sale at 99 VOLTS. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

These shirts are offensive in adult sizes, but in children’s sizes it is outright appalling. Nice girls, bad girls, any girls have the right to protect their bodies from rape. Men and boys do not have the privilege to rape, specifically by shaming a girl into “taking it” at the risk of losing her patronizing “nice girl” status. The “Don’t Make Me Kick You” shirts, with the act of aggression specifically aimed at the female reproductive parts is hateful to the point of being misogynistic. We have a lot of that going around these days, but to have it offered in a Youth Small is just too much.  What does it say about our society when we openly teach our children to hate, for the bargain price of $15.99?

When this story broke, it somehow flew under my radar. Then I started getting emails from parents asking if I’d heard that Sears was selling a baby t-shirt that read “Hung Like Daddy”. This shirt that sexualizes little boys has also been pulled by Sears, but if you search “Hung Like Daddy” on sears.com you will find a cache of tongue-in-cheek horse cock Halloween costumes. You know, because Sears is all sorts of classy.

From the Zimbio post linked above, it is reported: “A Sears spokesperson responded to an AdAge query about these offensive T-Shirts with the following:  Thank you for bringing this to our attention. While products like this may appear on Sears.com marketplace through a third party seller, Sears does not sell them. We are removing these products from the site.” 

Well now hold on a minute, Sears. You are, in fact, the seller.  The items were not carried in your store, but I see the Sears logo at the top of the web page, and the BBC accreditation with your contact info at the bottom. I can even earn “Shop Your Way Points” from your store when I shop your woman-hating way.You process my payment. Your third party vendor holds the inventory and does the order fulfillment, but you are indeed the seller. See, just like this, when I go to sears.com to buy the “JC Penney Banned T-Shirt I’m Too Pretty To Do Homework So My Brother Does it For Me”, it looks just like this….

For reals, this is for sale at sears.com.

I’m not sure if you got the memo, but that didn’t go well for JC Penney.  And when JC Penney got busted for it on their online marketplace, they issued a rather acceptable apology. They didn’t pass the buck.

Your Public Relations department wasn’t polite enough to return my phone messages, despite the recording I heard from a woman who sounded like Phyllis Diller telling me you’d return my call within the hour. I sent two emails to the person your fully-automated Public Relations line told me to, but those went unanswered. For posterity’s sake I just sent off a third email, here’s what I asked:

I received a reply email from the Division VP of Public Relations this morning. Why am I left feeling like I am the one who has to police Sears’ website for them, and they’ll only stop selling garbage if they get caught. And why does it feel like I have to apologize when I’m offended? “Sorry you were offended” isn’t the same thing as saying “We deeply apologize our website was offensive to you, violence against women is offensive to us as a brand and as individuals.”

Sears has asked their third party vendor to remove the shirts, and I have confirmed this with that vendor. But this vendor DID NOT lose their approval to sell. When you pile up all of the items mentioned in the post, seems like Sears is doing a pretty crappy job of “policing their marketplace”. What I’d like to hear from Sears, much like we did from Amazon after they finally got the apology correct for selling a how-to-groom-and-rape guide for pedophiles, and much like we did from JC Penney after T-shirt Gate 2011, is a sincere apology. (Hint: Don’t take notes from Chap Stick) Something about Sears respects all of it’s customers, does not condone violence against women and children, and that they are reviewing the vetting process for their third party vendors because maintaining a family brand is important to the people who work for our all-American staple, Sears. They feel very badly this shirts caused distress to their customers and the general public, and moving forward will take appropriate steps to ensure a safe and responsible shopping experience.

Because, call me crazy, I think it would rather be a smart investment on the part of Sears, if they are going to go the third party route, to pay some out-of-work college kids living at home with their parents $9/hour to go through their massive online marketplace to make sure their brand isn’t tied to sexualizing, pedophilic, racist garbage like this:
 

Not to mention, that image looks like something from an Eastern European human traffiking website. Really, Sears? And contrary to Tom’s message, I can earn “Shop Your Way Points” on this and the Homework tee. I won’t be shopping Sears way anytime soon. Or, ever.

If you’d like to contact Sears about any of this troubling information, you can call the Sears National Customer Service Line at 1-800-549-4505to file a complaint. When I did, the woman I spoke with was completely aghast and thanked me for calling in. So be polite to whomever to speak with, because they are people too, and let them know why you want Sears to take some corporate responsibility over it’s marketplace. You could also take a crack at emailing Tom Aiello, asking for an apology that leans a tish more towards accepting some responsibility for the Marketplace they have created, with the Sears name at the top and bottom of every page. Tom’s email address is in the message above.

I might also encourage you to contact the small businesses in your area, or favorite online business, like Pigtail Pals, who operate with integrity and offer respectable apparel for your family. Tell the folks who are doing it right why you appreciate them. We work really hard at what we do, we don’t sell out to make a quick buck, and we put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into building our brands.

You might ask why I’m not doing a change.org petition. Because what happens is that generates a TON of media buzz for the ill-behaved retailer when news channels cherry pick the story off of my blog, and the story becomes an “Oh how could they!?” morning bit with a psychologist inserted for credibility, instead of a story on the company that is doing it right. I’m just tired of it all. Focus on who’s got it right, and parents would know there are much better, more responsible small businesses out there working really hard to bring great products to their families. When people know better, they can do better.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So…..who ARE these third party vendors? Most of them are small businesses, just like Pigtail Pals. The company selling the pepper spray and birth canal tees is 99 VOLTS, located in Florida. I had a long conversation with their manager on Tuesday. It was interesting, to say the least. He did confirm for me that Sears emailed him and instructed him to remove the offensive tees described above, which he did. We then had a very interesting conversation.

**I’m going to apologize ahead of time for the language about to follow, but I think it is really important that you understand where this is all coming from.**

My phone call yesterday with 99 VOLTS manager Emery was, ahem, colorful. He was very polite and took about 30 minutes to answer every single one of my questions. I really appreciated that. 

I begin the convo by saying I want to talk to the guy responsible for the “Don’t Make Me Kick You In The Birth Canal” tee. I hear a chuckle on the other end of the phone. I say rather directly the reason for my call is that I don’t find the violence against women’s genitalia to be funny. Funny Haha or funny ironic. The guy clears his throat and asks how he can help me.

Emery, the manager at 99 VOLTS, confirms for me they are a third party vendor on the Sears marketplace and upload items in bulk. I ask of there are Terms and Conditions or a Code of Conduct for such an agreement, and he says they are. I question if those tees fall within those stipulations, he says he guesses not because Sears emailed him to remove those items.  I ask why they were produced in children’s sizes to begin with, and I get an answer about last time Emery checked, kids cannot buy online unless they are 18 years old, so if a parent buys one of those tees for a kid, they must think it is okay. I then delicately remind Emery that a lot of people who probably shouldn’t procreate, and that what role does 99 VOLTS play in supplying those families with misogynistic and potentially dangerous and desensitizing apparel. Emery says it is a free market, and they appeal to all different kinds of people. Indeed. By the by, 99 VOLTS also sells high brow tees like “Got Farts” and “Jesus is Coming….Hide the Sex Toys”.

So I tell Emery that I understand they have a niche, which seems to be the bar/beach/biker/rock band/frat boy niche. I tell him that I get they want to be edgy and sarcastic and irreverent. I’m fine with all of that. But I ask if violence against women and rape is funny to him. Because it isn’t funny to me, and to most of society. Emery says that 99 VOLTS prides themselves on being sassy. He says someone at 99 VOLTS came up with the t-shirt slogans, they thought it was funny and would sell so they turned it into a t-shirt. I ask Emery how many women are on his design team. He says it is just him and another guy, so zero. I should have asked Emery if he’d ever been raped, and if he giggled his way through it since it is so freaking hysterical to him. I didn’t do that, I played nice.

Next I ask Emery if they have plans for a “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Dick” tee. No he says, that would be offensive. I ask why, and he says they can’t use vulgar words like dick, cock, or pussy. He says they could say anatomical words like penis or testes, but Sears would consider “dick” to be profane. Gasp! I ask him isn’t that just playing semantics, he doesn’t really answer that one. So I ask him if they are developing a “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Testes” tee….and wouldn’t you know it, they are. He explains they couldn’t sell a shirt that says “Eat Shit”, but they apparently thought they could get away with the one about pepper spray that normalizes rape. I think we need to scrub up on our morals, 99 VOLTS.

Emery then tells me the “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Birth Canal” and “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Fallopian Tubes” is really a spin off the idea that when guys are whiny and annoying they get called pussies. So the tee is supposed to be like a warning telling guys to not act effeminate or they’ll get kicked in the pussies they don’t have. But they can’t put the word pussy on a shirt and sell it at Sears, so they went with birth canal. Clever.  I tell Emery that all of that back story is kind of lost when you see the tee on it’s own, and maybe they should rethink the phrase. He then tells me that the most popular tee style they sell that in is baby doll tee. Know what that means? WOMEN are buying it. Good. God.

So we chat a little more about violence against women. This conversation is fascinating to me because for three years I’ve railed against crap sold to kids, but never had the chance to talk to the person who developed it. They have all hidden, and I gotta say, I respect that 99 VOLTS stayed on the phone with me and talked. And even though Emery was certainly smart enough to get that I strongly disagreed with him, we had a really nice conversation. He seemed really open to talking about this. He tells me Sears didn’t have a problem or boot the shirts until people complained. He says Amazon doesn’t have a problem selling it. I remind him Amazon defended the selling of a book written for pedophiles on how to rape children, and maybe Amazon shouldn’t be our gold standard of online commerce.

Then he said some things that makes it so clear to me why stuff like this exists on the market — because people who think it up want to make money, and they don’t really care if they devalue females in order to do it, because they don’t even see it as devaluing females. They don’t seem to see any wrong in what they are doing. Emery said to me, “I do see your point about violence against women, but that is all kind of a gray area.”  I tell him I’m going to need to him expand on that. He says that all through human history, it was acceptable to beat your woman or even kill her if she gets out of line. We (99 VOLTS) do not condone violence against women, or against anyone, but it wasn’t until recently with the feminist movement that it became unacceptable to beat a woman.

Through gritted teeth I tell Emery it has always been wrong to beat or kill a woman, feminists just made sure it was also illegal. He then tells me they offer some nice choices for the ladies, like “Well behaved women rarely make history”. Meh.

But here’s the thing – I ask Emery if he and the other development guy would be willing to have a couple more conversations with me about what they are creating. He says sure. He gives me the number for Chuck, the guy who owns the joint and tells me to call him on Monday. I’m going to do that.

Here’s what I’d like you to do — write to 99 VOLT and ask them to stop making these misogynistic and hateful tees. Emery is one half of the development team, and he seemed open to reason. He’s actually a pretty clever guy and cracked me up a couple of times on the phone. I have an inkling that if 99 VOLTS were enlightened to do better, they just might.

Or not. And then we can use that idea tossed out on the facebook page and see if they’ll make the “Misogynists are Assholes” tee.

99 VOLTS
PO BOX 272
Oneco FL 34264

sales@99volts.com

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.