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.