Sexism is included in the ticket price at Legoland

This just in from a Pigtail Pals Parent after a weekend trip to Legoland:

“After being there I realized the problem is far bigger than their friends line. The shows we saw have not one respectable female character (they manage to portray even cleopat…ra like a kardashian sister). Their kids meals and collectible cups come in pink or blue. The blue ones have several lego characters (ninjas, pirates, etc) on one side and a huge pirate ship scene on the other. The pink ones have 3 “sassy” looking girls (not lego figures) on both sides. They’re not doing anything, or supposed to be anything. They’re just standing there with big doey eyes being,……I don’t know……..”cool” girls, I guess? And then there’s still this. In fun town (which was pretty fun before I saw this), there are two life size characters built entirely from legos. there’s a male police officer and a female firefighter. Cool, right? Except the man is talking into his walkie talkie, while the woman is………wait for it…….not putting out a fire, but……….putting on lipstick!!! WTH???” -Sarah L.

 

Next, check out the second installment of this fantastic video series by our colleague Feminist Frequency.

(Skip to 8:30 if you are short on time, but the whole thing is well worth it!)

Lowest Common Denominator

Lego wordle from Lego Friends tv commercial. Any of that say STEM to you?

I know we’ve been talking about Lego quite a bit.

What I find so fascinating about this story is how it is the perfect microcosm of all things girlhood these days. Corporate pink-washing, relegating girls to all things pretty and sweet, beauty over brains, using sexism to defend sexism, make-up on 8 year olds in a Lego tv commercial, and the list goes on.

So while this is about Lego, this is about so much more. Lego is just a symptom of ginormous problems staring down our girls. I just hope we are raising them to be tough enough to take it on and squash it.

Lowest Common Denominator

To be fair, the new Lego Friends isn’t all bad. It is just that it isn’t all that good, from a brand parents go to as an amazing brain-boosting toy. This new line leaves many parents wondering how Lego sees their girls’ brains, as the girl’s line is heavy on the cute, light on construction (I don’t count putting flower petals on stems or bows on dogs as building). I do like the science lab and tree house, and even the cafe (a little bit) and vet clinic. Olivia’s big house looks like it would be fun to build. Amelia, my almost-6-year-old would like them, but we would both be left wishing the majority of the sets required more actual construction. And challenging construction at that. There are so few building pieces, it would be hard to take them apart and build your own creation. That is the kind of stuff that breaks my Lego-loving heart.

The other part that breaks my heart is how segregated by gender Lego has become. Amelia received and loved the Lego City Marina for Christmas. For her birthday next week, my mom and dad got her another section of Lego City. I bought her a tub of primary colored bricks and a green and blue building board. But I wonder in a couple of years how my kids will view Lego, with the boy-dominated licensed sets and the all-girl Heartlake City. Lego has drawn a rather thick pink and blue line in the sand. Try as I might, I don’t know how much longer I will be able to keep Lego gender-equal in my home. As it stands, Lego seems to have some pretty sexist messages jumping off their boxes at kids, and I’m not a huge fan of teaching my kids sexist messages. Lyn Mikel Brown says,“The human brain is “fantastically plastic” and the best thing we can do for our children is to give them a full range of opportunities and experiences, especially in the early years. We don’t know at five how little Tierra’s or Tommy’s passions and talents will surface, so why pay good money to limit their options to the pink and blue aisles of toy stores?”

Lego is in the spot they are in not because girls changed, but because Lego changed on girls. To boost sales in the early 2000′s they focused on licensing deals with boys square in their sights. Girls stopped playing with Lego because Leg0 stopped including them. You’ve all seen the 1981 “What it is, is beautiful” ad circulating….1981 was 31 years ago. 31 years is a long time, Lego. Lego’s own marketing told girls that Lego wasn’t for girls. You can kinda see how girls went they way they did on this one.

Lego used the lowest common denominator  in girlhood to design their line. Lego says the end result is after four years of $4 million in global research and this is what girls and moms want. For reals, Lego? I guess they didn’t interview the several thousands of moms (and dads and aunts and uncles and grandmas and caring adults) who voiced their opinion on the Lego Facebook page, several thousand more from the Pigtail Pals Facebook page (and other rad groups like Powered By Girl, SPARK, New Moon GirlsPrincess Free Zone, Reel Girl; and the formidable girl culture expert, one Peggy Orenstein). A change.org petition calling for Lego to try harder for our girls has a couple thousand signatures.  Lego says their research revealed girls play in the first person, are interested in beauty, and want to get to their role playing more quickly than boys. This fascinates me, as I have spent the past two weeks watching my female child play HOURS of Lego and not once tell herself to hurry it up so her Lego self can get her plastic hair done at the beauty salon.

Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth asks, “How (and why) are we missing profound opportunities to leverage neuroscience breakthroughs for positive change, wellness and play? How can we finally be tossing aside ‘hardwired corpus calossum theories’ on differences in boys/girls, acknowledging brain plasticity and realizing this play pattern/edu deficit stuff is NOT ‘set in stone’ and yet simultaneously standby to see Lego spend $40 million in mega-marketing bucks to proceed to SET it in stone.” Read the entire amazing post HERE.

You know how I always say, “I’m not anti-pink. I’m not anti-princess. I am anti-limitation. When we limit our children, we limit our children.”? Well, that pithy Amy Jussel says it this way and I like it:

I AM against stacking the deck of ‘learned behavior’ with pervasively marketed signals of stereotyped imagery embedding into the brain with stiflingly narrowcast assembly-line rote mimickry. I far prefer pure, imaginative, problem-solving free form fun.

I encourage you to watch the Lego Friends tv commercials, with the make-up clad third graders in the opener making a heart with their hands (awww, somewhere Taylor Swift just did one back) and the music sparkles and we are introduced to Heartlake City, the pinky-purple enclave where the Lego Friends live. With hearts on sky scrapers not a male in sight. Weird.

Watch as the saccharine-sweet narrator talks about the Friends partying at the cafe with the girls (only after they’ve been styled at the salon) because they need to chill after decorating their houses. It is important to note the commercial doesn’t show the girls finishing up a surgery at the clinic and then heading over to the science lab to help Lego Friend Olivia with her latest experiment. Lego shows the girls get coiffed at the salon and then go party.  I think Lego needs to Redefine Girly just a tish.

I think the commercial speaks loudly as to how Lego sees girls, what Lego thinks girls are interested in, and how highly Lego holds girls’ capacity for spacial reasoning and construction play. Will this attract our girly-girls out there who think Lego is only for boys, or will only play with pink and pretty things? Maybe. I am yet unconvinced the ends justify the means. Being a girly-girl doesn’t make one incapable of building and planning and designing and reasoning, but Lego doesn’t seem to see it that way. Lego has a very clear idea of what “girly” means to them.

I am left wondering, in the age of childhood obesity, why Lego could not have created a juice bar/farmer’s stand with fresh produce and flowers? The all-female residents of Heartlake City are shown in the commercials rolling down to the cafe for burgers, shakes, and cupcakes. Instead of a cupcake baker, couldn’t Lego Friend Andrea be an organic farmer and we could build her a barn and big Chevy farm truck? And she could have a little laptop where she tracks weather systems and soil conditions and Skypes with other organic farmers around the world? No? Too much?   

I also wonder, why can’t a single one of the girls work in downtown Heartlake in one of those skyscrapers? Maybe as, oh I don’t know…an engineer or architect? Is that just crazy talk? Why are they in the burbs decorating houses and cupcakes? Did I miss the Lego Friends Time Machine that zapped us back to 1952? Were you to lay a track of the Lego Friends commercial over one for Barbie Charm School or Lelli Kelly sparkle toe shoes or anything Disney Princess, they all sound exactly the same. Somehow Lego and other marketers decided the way to attract XX-chromosome customers you need a syrupy-sweet female voice with blue birds singing in the background to sell girls on the notion their role in this world is to be pretty and sweet. Way to STEM it up, Lego.

As Daniel Sinker says in his post, “Legos are still held up as a gateway to engineering and science, and despite my misgivings about the current state of their kits, I still believe they are. But if they’ve become toys marketed to a single gender, then we’re just reproducing the already awful gender imbalance in STEM education and employment.”

If girls are playing in the first person, as Lego says their research found, why is Lego not making people that are amazing role models for girls? Why is Lego not taking this opportunity to promote STEM to girls? In addition to a cafe owner, where is the calculus teacher or surgeon or CEO or scientific explorer or rescue worker or geologist or…..anything but what they gave us that sells girls short. Mireya Mayor is a famous National Geographic wildlife explorer, author, and a total girly-girl, even when treking across the world discovering new animal species. Lego, the king of licensing, couldn’t send her an email? I’d buy Mireya Mayor or Bindi Irwin Lego by the bucket. I like the vet (short skirt-wearing vet, this was questioned by a vet on our Facebook page) and the invention lab, but instead Lego morphed Polly Pockets and Barbie into brick form. Lego had such an amazing opportunity here to break away from the pack at the quarter pole and be a champion for girls. They didn’t take it. It is still out there, Mega Bloks, in case your listening.

Somebody please have the guts to show our girls how strong and smart and incredible and powerful they can be. I do it with my shirts and I sell them by the thousands. Let’s put that into a little plastic toy form. I’ve got ideas, who wants to listen? Mattel, wanna talk? Manhattan Toy Company? Is there ANYONE out there who has not drank the pink Kool-Aid?? I think I’m going to make myself cry.

Let’s move on…..

NBC’s TODAY Show Uses Sexism and Stereotypes to Promote Sexism and Stereotypes

On Tuesday morning many of us watched incredulously (jump to 5:01 in the video) as Matt Lauer interviewed Star Jones, Donny Deutsch, and Dr. Nancy Snyderman. One of the topics discussed was Lego Friends, and the two minute discussion was a master’s class in using ingrained cultural sexism to defend sexism. The interview left many of us furious and offended. As was brilliantly said on the Pigtail Facebook page: “Having people with such a reach not GET IT is overwhelming.”

Margot Magowan of Reel Girl transcribed the segment:

Matt Lauer:
Star Jones: And they give you little electric mixers and brushes and combs and purses.

Donnie Deutsch: Perfect, perfect.

Matt Lauer: You’re sounding down on this.

Jones: When you’re a little girl, you want to build bridges also. You want to put them on top of each other. You don’t want–

Lauer: So go out and buy the architectural Lego.

(Nancy Snyderman laughs.)

Jones: Which is exactly the way my three year old goddaughter does. She has the architectural one. The big yellow ones.

Nancy Snyderman: These are perfectly okay. The reality is there is a gender difference. Girls like playing with girl’s things, and you’re still constructing things. If the cupcake girl can still do calculus, I have no issue.

Umm…I have an issue. A really BIG one. Nancy Snyderman is a medical doctor, which is going to have people seeing her as an authority. While I think I understand what she was trying to say, she didn’t say it well. I’ve been on tv, I’ve been on live tv, and I know the interviews move fast and you have 2-3 seconds to say what you need to say. So maybe she didn’t mean it the way it came out, though her laughing and body language during the interview suggests otherwise. But this “Girls like playing with girl’s things”? What is that, Good Doctor? Is that  your professional opinion? Or a categorical stereotype? My daughter likes to play with her giant whale/dolphin collection, her oceanographer figures, her marine biology boat, and her science kit. Before the ocean phase, she was into dinosaurs. Before that, volcanoes and she carried grotesque dock spiders around in little jars. Despite her love of sparkles and leg warmers, she has zero interest in princesses. So what are “girl things”, Doctor? Should I be concerned for my daughter? Could something be wrong with her? Oh dear!

Then there’s this part, Italics mine because there was so much interupting at this point it is hard to follow:

Deutsch: You’re teaching them to build! (Not really, the sets require precious little challenging building.)

Snyderman: It gets girls into architecture and math and design, I’m all for it!

Jones: Give them some alternatives for goodness sake. (Visibly frustrated.)

Lauer: There’s no law that says they can’t go to the store and buy the Frank Lloyd Wright line. (No law, but a hell of a lot of marketing.)

Jones: They (don’t) put the Legos in the girls sections. (Star was interupted here and not able to finish her sentence.)

Deutsch: Little Girls do like princesses and things like that. I like princesses. (Categorical stereotype presented as fact. My little girl does not like princess. I know many others like her.)

Snyderman: And will parents buy this for boys? (Laughs loudly)

Deutsch: No they won’t. (Laughs loudly, with an “Oh my God, that’d be so gay” look on his face.)

Lauer: That’s probably not going to happen. (Gives Nancy a “Are you crazy” side glance because everyone knows boys don’t touch girls’ things.)

(Matt, Donny, and Nancy all laugh loudly as Star sits slumped and defeated in her chair.)

Well then. If that isn’t offensive, I don’t know what is. First, for a segment on marketing, no one but Star Jones seemed to understand marketing. How a product is packaged, and who is shown playing with it, matters. Where the product is placed in the store, specifically the pink and blue toy aisles, matters. The images and messages and color coding our kids see over and over and over again, matters. This is called marketing, and marketers know all of this matters. That is why they spend so much money doing it. Keep in mind, Donny Deutsch is an ad guy. A famous one. And he uses a cupcake and princess analogy presented as fact, when what he is doing is missing the point that girls are programmed and conditioned to like those things because so often, they have no other choices. They like what they have to choose from. It is like Henry Ford saying, “You can have any color you want so long as it is black.” Girls who are given a wider range to choose from demonstrate a variety of interests. If from that wide range they choose cupcakes and tutus, bless their little hearts. But sweet baby jeebus give them choices. Choices! 2012 could be the year of choices!!

Second, the bigger issue is the laughter over the idea of boys playing with this Lego Friends line. And not just a chuckle. Three of the four “professional” panelists had cracked themselves up over the idea of a boy playing with a toy so feminine. Clearly the panelists feel there is a definite distinction over what girls and boys should be playing with, and the idea of a boy being interested in Heartlake City is hilarious.

The Sanford Harmony Program  said it best on the Pigtail Facebook page: “This was a tremendous missed opportunity for bringing boys and girls TOGETHER. If children are given more chances to establish some common ground, and work and play with one another, they will be more inclined to engage more often – learning from and about each other along the way. The messages and images polarizing our girls and boys contribute tremendously to the notion that boys and girls grow-up in “separate worlds.” In these single-gender peer groups, kids are honing their communication and problem solving skills in isolation of one another and socializing each other in different ways. The world is co-ed – let’s do something to help bring our kids together.” 

Vintage Lego ad, when Lego knew who they were and what they meant to kids.

 Side by Side Gender Apartheid: A Visual Reference

I headed to YouTube to catch some Lego tv commercials, and see if maybe this all wasn’t just in my head. So I watched two Lego Friends commercials, and then created a wordle from the words in the used by the narrator in the commercial, and the colors most represented by the brick colors in the sets. I then did the same for a Lego Dino and Lego City commercial.

You be the judge.

Apartheid (n): From the Afrikaans word for “apartness”, a system of segregation.

Words captured from Lego commercials, Lego Friends on left, Lego Dino and Lego City on right. (pigtailpalsblog.com)

It Is Not About the T-shirt

Walk with me, now, and see the forest through the trees.

The JC Penney T-shirt Gate is actually not about a t-shirt. Kind of like the Holy Roman Empire being neither holy nor Roman. Confusing, I know.

This entire viral uproar is over parents and other concerned individuals being sick and tired of  the pervasive message marketed everywhere to our daughters that being pretty and obsessed with boys and shopping (maybe cupcakes and puppies as Anderson Cooper points out) is what being a girl is all about. It has come to define girlhood, and nearly every product made for them. Walk through any clothing department or toy aisle — what messages do you see for girls? What messages do you see for boys? It is gender apartheid, and our daugthers ended up with the short end of the stick.

I call bullshit. While JC Penney took one shirt down, as I said on Tuesday night, they’ve got another dozen that continue to sell girls short. A JC Penney juniors buyer purchased these shirts, in dozens of styles, from a manufacturer; another employee wrote the offensive and sexist online product descriptions. This doesn’t seem to be a one-time mistake. This seems to be a pattern of selling girls short. I don’t see the funny.

Pigtail Pals has been here since 2009 fighting to put better products and messages in the marketplace for girls. We’ve been blogging and directing an amazing Parent Community to fight for our kids. And we’re not about to change our message. 

We created a tee in direct response to the garbage at JC Penney. It is selling like wildfire. And it ought to, because pretty’s got nothing to do with it.

I’d like to see the media focus on THIS tee, instead of the one at JC Penney. We need to change the way we think about our girls.

Pigtail Pals new tee, available on eight colors 3T - Ladies.

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I also want to set the the record straight for clothing label Self Esteem, owned by All Access Apparel, who unfortunately was brought into this by media and bloggers who did not check their facts. The LA clothing company Self Esteem is NOT the manufacturer of the tees in question.

Unfortunately, no one at Self Esteem was ever contacted to confirm that they indeed were the manufacturer of the T-shirt. The company was associated with the shirt because they were grouped on the JCPenney website where the ‘Too Pretty’ shirt was displayed.

“This huge oversight on the part of the media and concerned mothers has caused our company’s name to be defamed not only with one of our largest customers, JCPenney, but with our entire customer base,” said President of Self Esteem Richard Clareman. “We have always and will continue to promote positive messages to young girls.”

Pretty’s Got Nothing To Do With It

Tomorrow I send my child to her first day of school. Her first day of kindergarten. Her first day of formal education in a public school with years and years and years of learning to follow.

So I’ll ask you kindly to get out of her way, JC Penney. You too, Orbeez and Skechers. Mattel and your Monster High, we’ve already had words.

My daughter will not be sent to school with the message from her parents that she is inadequate. She will not be taught that she is incapable of learning, and mastering, what is taught to her at school. She will not be treated as though she were delicate. Tea cups are delicate, girls are not. She will not be encouraged, at the tender age of five, to be “flirty” or “sugarlicious”. Over my dead body will I give her the message that her beauty is her worth, or that at the age of five, she should be sexually objectifying herself. I take great issue with that notion, and it burns me to the core.

So this crap? Will NOT be coming into my home. Will NOT be poisoning my daughter’s self-image. Will NOT be teaching my son to sell girls short.  Stop selling shitty messages to my kids.

 

Exhibit A: JC Penney ‘self-esteem’ tee Too Pretty to do Homework

JC Penny thinks girls are too pretty to do homework.

Despite the direct contradiction to their charity Pennies From Heaven, this shirt teaches girls to expect very little from themselves, that their looks supercede their intellect, and that ‘being pretty’ will get you by. Pretty’s got nothing to do with school. Oh, and that little notion that the academic work should be left to the boys. In 2011, we are teaching the grand daughters of the Women’s Lib movement to forsake their education and have their looks be their main focus.

You can petition JC Penney and their shitty shirt right HERE. Even if they pull this shirt, they’ve got another dozen just like it.

So don’t buy it, right? It is just one shirt. Right?

Wrong. WRONG.

It is the culture of consumer beauty and self-objectified sex surrounding our girls that drips right off a script page from a Kardashian-esque reality tv show. The message that beauty and sexiness measure a woman’s worth, and that one can never be too young to focus on these things.

Exhibit B: Orbeez Soothing Spa with magic rainbow de-stressing beads, for that stressed-out 11yo in your life. Because, OMG, school is just like soooooo freaking hard! You can watch the commercial HERE.

Orbeez wants you to know that school is hard!

 

Orbeez wants you to know that foot spas help your hurting brain from all that learning!

Who needs hard things, like learning, when you can relax at the spa and work on your pretty. How I went through my entire girlhood in the absense of spa products and services usually reserved for adult women of a certain income and lifestyle, I’ll never know.

Learning hurts! Pretty is fun!

 

Exhibit C: Mattel Monster High Monster Mash backpackbecause prostitute-chic NEVER goes out of style for the under-10 set, and when sending our daughters to school, who doesn’t want them to aim to be a Hollywood Boulevard hooker?

Now your favorite friendly prostitutes can go with you to school! Whee!

 
 
Exhibit D: Skechers Flirty Flutters and Sugarlicious sneakers. I actually love me some Twinkle Toes, I blame my inner Lisa Frank. My daughter is jonesing for a pair, big time. But me thinks that shoes available in ‘pre-school and gradeschool’ sizes don’t need the words “flirty” in there….and ‘Sugarlicious’ sounds like sex lotion or a dancer at Girlz Girlz Girlz. Just sayin.
 

I like the sparkle. Don't like sexual innuendo on my little daughter's feet.

 

Pre-schoolers and Gradschoolers do NOT need to be 'flirty'.

 

Anyhoo….let’s change the way we think about our girls. Let’s do better. They deserve it.

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Update: Make sure to check out our NEW TEE created in response to the JC Penney tee. It is selling like wildfire! Let’s all build girls up, not sell them short.

Pigtail Pals created a new tee, availabe in eight colors sizes 3T - Ladies.

A Letter to Bella, and Other Girls With Blue Shoes

Bella and her blue shoes.

Dear Bella,

Your mom told me all about your awesome blue shoes. I like blue. My little girl, Amelia, she loves blue because it is the color of the ocean. But if you asked her, she would tell you her favorite color is rainbow. Rainbows are so nice because they include all of the colors.

I heard from your mom that someone at school said your shoes were for boys. Maybe because they were blue or maybe because Buzz Lightyear was on them. At our house, we say, “Colors are for everyone.” Sometimes people get mixed up about that because they don’t think about it very hard. That makes me feel frustrated. All you have to do is look around the world and know that colors are for everyone.

But Bella, isn’t that silly! How could your blue Buzz Lightyear shoes be for boys if colors are for everyone and Buzz Lightyear is from a movie made for all kids and you are a girl standing in those shoes! I think people get confused about that, because they think something is only for boys because they never took the time to consider girls. I think people should consider girls.

Since you are four years old, you know a lot of stuff, and you know that girls can like or do anything boys can. And boys can like or do anything girls can. Things are kind of silly right now because grown ups keep getting in the way of kids, and some grown ups who are in charge of the companies that make stuff for kids like toys and clothes, they don’t have good imaginations like you and I do. These grown ups try to fit kids into little boxes that are labeled “Boy” or “Girl”, and then they only let certain colors or ideas into each box. They do that because it makes it easier for them to sell their stuff. Since boys and girls don’t grow in boxes, you can see how really goofy this is. But I have to be honest with you, there are a lot of grown ups who don’t question these pink and blue boxes, and then they teach that thinking to their kids, and then their kids lose their imaginations. Those are the kinds of kids who say stuff to you at school about your blue shoes.

Bella, your blue shoes are double scoop awesome, it is just that people have lost their imaginations. Little girls like you, with sparks in their eyes and fires in their hearts, you challenge what they think and expect from girls and they don’t know what to do. You make people think harder and that scares them.

The thing is, Little Girlfriend, that people have become so narrow-minded about what girls can do or what girls can like that real girls like you and like my Amelia don’t fit into their little pink boxes. You pop right out of them. Rip them at the corners. Knock the top right off.

And you should. There is nothing in this world that is off limits to you. There is no space nor dream nor challenge that you can’t conquer. There is no set of rules you must follow, no appropriate way to act. There is no person who holds the right to tell you what to think. You, Bella, are the great-great-granddaughter of a generation of women who fought like heroes to make sure there were no more pink boxes to stuff little girls into. Somewhere along the way, we forgot those lessons and grown ups let things get messed up.

Bella with your blue shoes, we really need girls like  you. We need you to remind people what real little girls are like. We need you to remind people that little girls can do anything. I’ll tell you a secret, and you can tell your mom, but I think if grown ups got out of the way of little girls, little girls would have the space to become so amazing and so powerful the Earth would shake right to it’s core and when the ground moves, all those people who lost their imaginations would fall right over.

So Kiddo, next time someone says something to you about something you like, or a color you are wearing, or what you look like, just politely remind them they have lost their imaginations. Rude comments will come your way and you just need to brush them away like a bothersome fly. The problem is not you, the problem is them and the limitations they do not challenge.

In fact, take a look at all of these girls, just like you, proving them wrong. Take a look at these girls, because you fit right in. You fit right in.

Make the ground shake, Baby Girl.

Love, Melissa.

 

Darlings, Time Travel With Me

“I’m having trouble logging into the family access to pay registration. Can you help?” -Me

“Are you the head of the household?” -School Secretary

“I believe so.” -Me

“Are you married?” -School Secretary

“Yes.” -Me

“Then your husband is the head of the household. He will have to call in for the password.” -School Secretary

“How’s that?” -Me

“He is the head of your family. He will have to call in for the log in info.” -School Secretary

“Why can you not give me the info? I’m the one who handles this stuff for our family.” -Me

“Most of the moms do, but we can only give the access information to the head of the household.” -School Secretary

“And by default, it is assumed the man is the head of the household?” -Me

“Yes.” -School Secretary

“Why?” -Me

“Well, that’s just the way it is. Your husband will have to call in.” -School Secretary

“No, Ma’am. I gave birth to and nursed this family. I care for this family 24 hours a day for five years and counting. I cook, clean, launder, shop, organize, chauffeur, correspond, and bank for this family. I schedule doctor, dentist, vet, and home repair appointments for this family. I educate, enrich, plan travel and holidays, and provide for this family. My husband sits in an office for 10 hours a day. My husband will not be calling in because he does not head this household. Let me assure you, I run this joint. Now what’s the password, please.” -Me

The Feminist Mom and the Princess Party

A guest post, by Dana Hernandez.

Dana's daughter desires a princess party.

“Mommy, I want to have a princess party this year for my birthday.”

Suddenly the air was sucked out of the room and I waited for the oxygen masks to deploy from the ceiling as the living room nose-dived.

“What?” I coughed out, wide-eyed to my 4-year-old daughter.

“A princess party!” she smiled, cheekily. “And I can dress up as a princess for Halloween!” She took off in a happy spin as I plummet to the soon-to-be-memorial ground below us. 

Welcome to my surprising life as a stay-at-home mother of two daughters, who is grasping at the label “feminist” with all her might. I thought my role as the Coordinator for the SPARKteam, which stands for Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, and Knowledge, provided me with a shield that protects against anything that is sexualized, pink, princessy, and stereotypical for girls. I was wrong. Really, really wrong.

Let me introduce you to my 4-year-old. She’s the oldest and most graceful of my daughters, with beautiful long, curly locks that bounce down her back. She loves wearing her black tennis shoes, running through mud puddles, playing with cars (especially Lightening McQueen), soccer, swimming, watching baseball,  and drawing. Oh, and she wants to be a princess when she grows up. (Yes, I am clawing at the oxygen masks and the under-the-seat life preservers as I gasp for air.)

Now, I know she is too young to read our blogs at Spark Summit that battle against the sexualization of girls and counter the whole princess-movement for children. I also haven’t read her the Holy Grail of parenting books, “Packaging Girlhood” at bedtime either. And she’s too young for programs at the city non-profit Hardy Girls Healthy Women that I work for.  (Not much longer, I’m sure, once they see me hosting a fucking princess party.)

“She is so pretty,” is the most-often heard compliment I hear about my first-born. And yes, she is. Very. Much prettier than I was or ever will be. She reminds me of “Missy,” the most popular girl in my high school class that had the perfect curly hair and the just-right clothes. You know, the one I was taught to dislike because she was so perfect.

Let me make this clear as I brace for impact: I do not own one princess movie. My daughters’ favorite movie is Cars and there are more matchbox cars, books, and musical instruments than any other toys in our home. I admit, we do own various Tinkerbell fairies and her fairy friends. (Yes, Tinkerbell has lots of skinny, perfect looking friends, too, with perfect hair. Don’t hate.) But, each fairy has a talent and show bravery and courage at various times throughout the films. I also believe it teaches girls about friendship and forgiveness. So where in the hell is this princess shit coming from?

Get this: A book. One stinking old princess book in a huge box full of books on Craigslist that we bought for $10. It’s like giving Kool-Aid to a baby and expecting her not to like it. Seriously, one look at that dress, that damn carriage, and the dancing with the prince at the end and suddenly everything changed. It’s as if Disney created the brainwashing technique for the United States military. Who can battle a singing mermaid, a fairy godmother, a prince, and a beautiful blue dress with glass slippers?

I never called myself a real feminist before my work with SPARK. I mean, I chose to be a stay-at-home mom and homemaker. I believed that real F-cards were handed out to career-or-nothing-types, until I discovered feminists who taught me about real feminism.

SPARKteam Blogger Stephanie Cole said it best in “The Loaded F-Word” when she redefines a feminist as someone who “keeps an open mind, and tries to always be aware of patriarchy and sexism wherever it occurs. She or he also tries to educate others who are unaware, as well as speak up and take action against inequality.

And my friend Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown, co-founder of Hardy Girls Healthy Women, put me in my place when I questioned if I could be kicked out of the feminist club for allowing my house to become a pink castle. “Feminism gets a bad rap as being one very strict thing, when there are so many ways people are feminists,” Brown said. “My feminism is one that doesn’t turn people away from the honest struggle you are having.”

But, how can I be a feminist and a stay-at-home mother at the same time? Especially when I have failed in the princess debacle?! The answer is simple for me. I follow my gut. I was once on a path to save the world as a high school teacher. Yet, everything changed once I met my daughter. Everything. I left my career as a teacher and moved across the country with my husband to become a stay-at-home mom and homemaker. (Full disclosure, I suck at the homemaking part, but I’m a damn good mom.) Two years later, I had daughter #2–an identical piece of sass with curls.

It was a gutsy move and the best decision my husband and I ever made. I honor the fact that we’ve bloodily scraped by on a one-salary income so I can host play dates, kiss boos-boos, find blankeys, and read stories at naptimes. The monotony of my days is often monstrous and hard.  Though it’s not for everyone, I know it’s something I will always treasure..(Seriously, I don’t really know how “working moms” do their jobs either.)

I have activism in my blood. When I look deep enough, my feminism and my loathing of inequality has always been there. Am I political? Yes. Opinionated? Yes. Strong-willed? Yes. (My husband would say “Hell YES.”) I feel feminism is inherently found in the voice of a mother raising her children, too. I am fighting so hard for my girls to be strong, focused, secure, loving, and determined young women. I abhor a media that labels my girls “tom boys” because they love a good play in the mud or cars.

Real feminism is about choice, right? The choice for me to instill in my girls and others how powerful their lives can be, even if they choose to be stay-at-home moms who let their daughters dress as princesses.

“Why do you want a princess party?” I later asked, when I felt the crash landing had aborted.

“Because I want to be a princess,” she answered.

I shrugged, “But what do they doooo that you like?” I asked, drawing out the verb and trying to crack the code.  My daughter shrugged, “They’re princesses, Mommy! They wear those dresses and are pretty. Do you like princesses, Mommy?”

I think she already knew the answer… “I think they’re kind of boring. They don’t run and play sports, have fun or draw like you do.”

“Then I can be your princess, Mommy,” she said with the biggest smile in the whole wide world. “I can be all of it.”

Yes, she can.

I learned four lessons today: First, I have no idea what I am doing. Second, I am doing a pretty damn good job at it. Third, I just may be hosting a “You-Can-Be-It-All” Princess/Cars party in my future .

And last, my daughter is one awesome princess.

And yes, I am a feminist.

 -Dana Hernandez is a feminist, a stay-at-home mama to two, writer, activist, and SPARKteam Coordinator for SPARK Summit.

Power Reading! Perfect for a Princess!

That’s right, kiddies! Step on up, come see the vast book selection at Scholastic! Do you want adventure, action, powerful careers, and brain play? Well then, have we got the book for you…..

Oh, no, not you Sweetie. So sorry, you misunderstood. That’s okay, Sugar. Look here, see the pretty princess books in pink? See how everything is so pretty? And pink? See the glitter and sparkles? Sparkles, Sweetie, sparkles!

~~~~~—-~~~~—-~~~~~—-~~~~

Anyway, that’s the conversation I have with myself when I look through the Scholastic book orders that come home with my preschooler. I still buy a few every month, but I gotta be honest with you, my patience is running very thin.

More on this to come….but you tell me, what is Scholastic really selling to our kids?

 

Have Yourself A Very Sexist Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First up: TOYS R US

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

    

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

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

More images from Toys R Us. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo: 

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

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

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

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

    

    

Next up: Walmart

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

    

Images from Walmart catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo:   

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

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

Girls focus on fashion dolls with impossible body proportions.   

Girls are never shown with weapons or sporting equipment.   

Images from Walmart catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photos:   

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

Finally: Target

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

Images from Target catalog. Click to enlarge.

 Things to note in this photo:   

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

Girls dolls are focused on fashion and hyperfeminine attributes.   

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

Boys build things!   

Boys move things!   

Boys fight!   

Boy toys have primary colors.   

Girls toys are overwhelmingly pink, purple, and aqua.   

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

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

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

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

An Open Letter to the Medical Community: Be. Smarter.

Dear Pediatricians of America -

I bring my children to you so that I may utilize your medical knowledge and training for the safe keeping and well being of their tiny, precious bodies with which I have been gracefully entrusted. My boy and my girl are unique, creative, whole beings with a hunger for learning and a dynamic approach to life that leaves me simultaneously invigorated and exhausted .

My children are perhaps no more amazing than my neighbor’s children, but I find them remarkable. Which is why I need you to be smarter when you talk to them. I need you to think creatively and spontaneously and like a little person would. You are, after all, in the business of little people. I’m sure somewhere along the years of your extensive education, you would have dedicated a few hours of study to the social and emotional development of children, specifically preschoolers. You would then understand what is age appropriate, and what is not.

You would understand why my head exploded when my four year old daughter was greeted in this manner by a doctor today:

“Hi, I’m Doctor Blahblah. Are you in school? Do you have a boyfriend?”

She looks at him stunned, but does not answer.

“Do you at least have an ugly boyfriend?” the Doctor asks.

“No, I go to school to learn.” Stated articulately and matter of factly by a four year old to a doctor in his sixties.

I bit my tongue. My preschooler said what needed to be said, in that moment. Now I have something to say.

A girl has more to offer this world than her beauty. A girl has greater things to achieve than the status of having a boyfriend. Even if it is just an ugly boy (at least should she be able to manage that, right?).  A GIRL’S WORTH DOES NOT COME FROM MEN. A girl has greater, more fantastical dreams than that of becoming someone’s girlfriend. A girl should be allowed to spend her girlhood unconcerned about boys and romance. Certainly, at the preschool age, developmentally this is not even on my child’s radar, as she is sent to school to learn and make friends and figure out how scissors work. She goes to school not to attract members of the opposite sex, but to build the foundation of what will become her learning career and foster an intellect I can surmise will be greater than your own. When speaking to a girl, as an educated adult, you have the social responsibility to build her UP. Aside from the remark being sexist, sexualized, irreverant, it undermined all of the amazing things my daughter is capable of and interested in. But she wasn’t asked about any of that. She was asked if anyone had found her attractive enough to make her their girlfriend. At the age of four.

As a doctor, you hold a position of trust and respect from both the parent and the child. You are the keeper of their health, a vested partner in their growth and healthy development. This includes my daughter’s sexuality, which I don’t need you messing with. Whether she is four of fourteen, the first question you ask her should not be her current status of boyfriend/no boyfriend, because then you make her an object. Someone else’s possession. You place upon her heteronormative stereotypes, social pressures, and pieces of the beauty myth. You ask her to think about things she is not developmentally ready for, thus sexualizing her. You’ve asked her nothing of herself. Her amazing, vibrant, shining, talented self. I find ALL of this unacceptable.

So next time you speak to my daughter – my wild creature with light in her eyes, who is obsessed with science and loves the color blue and will break down every gender stereotype you throw her way – next time use your damn head. Ask her something about herself – How old are you? Know any good jokes? What is your favorite color? Why is blue your favorite color? Why do you think your baby brother is using his head to push the stool across the room? Did you see the funny poster of the babies in the flower pots? What did you do today? How high can you jump? What is your favorite toy to play with? Did you make an art project in school today? What kind of silly things do you do with your family? What things do you do with your friends? Can I hear you count to 25? Can you touch your nose and rub your tummy? What is the funniest thing you saw today? Have you been growing? How fast can you hop on one foot? What is your favorite animal?

See, that wasn’t hard. You’re a doctor, afterall. Be smarter than my four year old.

Respectfully,

Melissa A. Wardy