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).

File under I Need Feminism Because…..Twin Peaks and Bosses

My husband is at a business dinner at Twin Peaks. And that's a bunch of bullshit.

My husband is at a business dinner at Twin Peaks. And that’s a bunch of bullshit.

I need feminism because…My husband is at dinner with his boss and his boss’s boss at a restaurant where the waitresses dress like this. The name and logo of this fine establishment are a play off women’s breasts. The company’s website  invites you to “come enjoy the views.” 

Should my husband have declined the invite? Well, do you decline dinner with the boss’s boss even if the restaurant of choice is exploitative and sexist? How do you walk away from the group? Could that decision impact your career? How big is the strength of your convictions?
I am quite sure my husband is aware when he gets home he is a dead man walking.**
Now imagine you are a new, young female hire of my husband’s employer and you are excited you were invited to dinner with the corner office. You are excited to talk about clients you want to bring in and show off your expertise on a particular product line. Maybe drop a mention of a conference you want to attend and how you could build business there. And then you arrive at dinner. At this place.
How big do you feel now? How are you sure the boss’s boss isn’t just staring at your tits and thinking about f*cking you while you talk about profit growth and project acquisitions? How likely are you to feel respected at work tomorrow? How do you maintain respect your bosses knowing they chose this place because it is as close as they could get to expensing a jaunt to the strip club? And you know they all have wives and children waiting for them at home.
Is my husband in trouble with me? Well I tell you what, my ten-year-old daughter just asked where her daddy is as this is our normal dinner time. So I’ll tell her.
And when he walks through the door I’ll watch her eat him alive. I’ve found it is far easier to justify sexism to your wife than it is to the fuming, disappointed face of your daughter. Somehow the rationale withers away when you have to spell it out for a person who still holds faith this isn’t how the world is supposed to work.
She’s watching me type this, looking over my shoulder. You should see the look on her face, the moment she saw the photo of the waitresses. She asked if the women in the photograph were strippers. She is hurt and confused.
And she is angry.”It makes me sad. I feel badly for the women, they should have undershirts on and not booty shorts. You mean they have to wear that to work? If I worked there as a waitress I would quit. If I worked at Daddy’s office, I wouldn’t feel valued or respected. Honestly? I think that is b.s.”

I asked my son what he would do if he were part of the dinner group. He replied, “When I got there I would not go in. It wouldn’t feel right.”

Should have husband have said no? Should they have picked a different restaurant? I’ll ask you again, how big is the strength of your convictions?

 **I felt the need to add this edit because I after reading many of the comments it seemed the point of this post was missed. This post is more about shaming the business practice and the sexism in the workplace than it was personally shaming my husband. He was in a hard spot, one I point out in the post, and really there was no winning for him. He didn’t really have any good choices here, but he did know ahead of time our family’s opinion of these places. That was clear by the strong reaction my daughter had. Intelligent, outspoken girls with strong opinions are not “weapons”.
Either way, while this specific situation involved my husband, how many fathers/husbands/brothers are party to a sexist workplace – whether their participation is voluntary or not? This situation could happen to any guy at work – the post was to ask people what the strength of their convictions was because at some point it will be put to the test, and to consider how frequently women have to deal with this in the workplace.**

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).

When Super Heroes Aren’t So Super: Sluts and Whores and Other Lessons

It seems unreasonable to expect super heroes to be super every minute of every day. From Achilles to Superman to Wonder Woman, every hero has their weakness. For Hawkeye and Captain America, that weakness appears to be sexism and misogyny.

For example, during the Avengers: Age of Ultron press tour Hawkeye actor Jeremy Renner made a “joke” during a  Digital Spy interview that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow was “a slut” (00:15) because she chose to date a man other than his character. Captain America actor Chris Evans begins laughing so hard he can barely breathe. Mostly because he was thinking the exact same witty reply. Evans decides to call Black Widow “a complete whore” instead (00:18).


Wait one minute, Friends! Let’s see our heroes in action again!

Chris Evans cannot contain himself over Jeremy Renne's "slut joke".

Chris Evans cannot contain himself over Jeremy Renne’s “slut joke”.

Do you get it, mere mortal? It is funny that she is such a “slut”. A “complete whore”. Because she is dating a different guy than either of these catches. Both these guys were thinking the SAME THING! AT THE SAME TIME! And she’ll always just be the flirtatious sidekick in any super hero film. I mean, that is just grab-your-chest-hilarity.

See how funny it is to call a woman a slut and whore?

See how funny it is to call a woman a slut and whore?

The thing is, you don’t think of the words “slut” or “whore” instantly when asked a question about a woman and her romantic life, even if fictional, because you are overtired from your hard job as a movie actor. Or because you’ve become bored being a grown up sitting in a chair at work. You don’t think those things about a woman because you are behaving in a juvenile manner. You don’t think those things because the woman is just a fictional character.

You think those things because you are misogynist. You laugh at them because you are sexist.

If you didn’t think that way about women you wouldn’t say those things about women. You wouldn’t find them funny. It wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind.

You make comments like that on camera, while doing your job, because it is what the industry permits of you. Maybe even expects of you. It is what you felt is permissible, professionally and culturally.

After all, before this incident the big Avengers: Age of Ultron news was how Black Widow is missing from so much of the merchandise. Of course, having girls disappear is nothing new to the super hero genre. Consumers have to rally to #IncludeTheGirls, even when those female characters are a major part of the original super hero villian-fighting force.

The lessons we take away from this week are that Chris Evans has an effective damage control team he hopefully pays well, Jeremy Renner is the master of sorry-not-sorry apologies, and female super hero fans get the choice between their female characters go completely missing, or be present/sidelined/called gender-based pejoratives.

The second choice of being present but sidelined and denigrated are experiences every girl and woman has nearly every day of her life, which is why Renner’s “well I’m sorry you were offended by my funny joke about a fictional woman, get over it” attempt at an apology is just doubling down on the offensiveness of his original remarks. Do you know a single female who has never been called a slut or whore? I don’t.

The attitudes Renner and Evans – two of the biggest stars in the super hero franchises – display are indicative of the culture that surrounds that type of media and merchandise. It is why I gave my daughter her first comic book this week, Wonder Woman, with great trepidation. Even with the announcement of DC Comics pairing up with a team of licensees including Warner Bros, Mattel, LEGO, and Random House to reboot the super heroines and villains as a cast of teens aimed at girls ages 6-12, the majority of parents I talked to were underwhelmed.

Even if you do not buy into this type of media and merchandising, millions do and millions are impacted and influenced by the messages sent. This was brilliantly outlined by Donna Dickens in her article here:

“Disney has an on-going problem when it comes to lady action figures and swag. With the exception of their Princesses and Tinkerbell, Disney tends to forget their female action stars exist when it comes to merchandising them. It happened with “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It happened with “Star Wars Rebels.” There’s even a Tumblr called But Not Black Widow dedicated to pointing out these disappearing heroines. It’s been an issue since action figures and summer blockbusters made a deal with capitalism devil.
So here are my thoughts to Disney: Between Disney Animated Studios, Pixar Animation, Marvel Studios, and Lucasfilm, you are the world’s greatest commercial influence on childhood. Don’t put up a bar to what kind of toys kids should play with, whether on purpose or due to the outdated idea that women like glitter and men like grit. To use a completely over-the-top paraphrase, “With great power, comes great merchandising responsibility.
Girls don’t want to date superheroes, they want to BE superheroes. And boys don’t need to learn to minimize the impact of women’s accomplishments from a lunchbox.”  

The behavior and words of these two men employed as actors to play super heroes was less than super and far from heroic. It wasn’t a mistake or a slip of the tongue. It was a glimpse at who they are behind the mask. It was a look at the way so many men regard women and girls. And it showcased their greatest weakness.


UPDATE 4/24/15: Cosmopolitan flips the script while interviewing Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo, sending Ruffalo the sexist questions and ScarJo the awesome movie actor ones. Take a look, it is great!

Also this post by Emily Sexton for Grounded Parents is worth the read, connecting the dots between how kids view these “heroes” and what messages they learn from sexist and casually misogynist behavior in real life.

“Have you ever watched the hordes of kids at amusement parks who think that they are really meeting their favorite character when they encounter the poor souls in badly ventilated plush suits?Kids don’t always get the distinction. So when the guy who plays Hawkeye says that the one female hero in the group is a slut, the kids who are the intended audience for the franchise don’t necessarily get that a) it’s a joke and b) that it’s Jeremy Renner saying it, not Hawkeye. They see guys they look up to casually calling women who are supposed to be respected and powerful these names like it’s no big deal, and it should be. One of the handful of women who my daughter actually identifies with was just reduced to a sexual object by her peers. Not cool.”


MAW Profile Pic

Melissa 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 (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

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 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.