She Snuck a Barbie and the World Didn’t End

Barbie and Bindi Irwin. One of these things is not like the other.

This weekend my daughter snuck a Barbie doll that I use for Media Literacy Workshops for parents, teaching them the harms of gender stereotyping and sexualization. And she wouldn’t give it back. Ironic, I know.

I had taken Surfer Barbie and Wolverine out of the bag to snap a picture of them together to illustrate my point on how disproportionate their bodies are, coupled with stats on how boys’ and girls’ positive body image is tanking. After I got the photo I needed, I shoved Barbie under a pile of baby clothes headed for the tub in the basement, except her damn legs are so long they were sticking out from underneath the jammies and t-shirts. I was in a hurry to get the kids their lunch, so I didn’t give it much thought.

And that was my undoing. Apparently 5 year old girls have Barbie radar, because Amelia was on that doll like white on rice. She noticed it a few minutes later, ran to it, looked around to see if I was watching, then grabbed it and ran back to my desk while holding Barbie victoriously above her head as she expelled a giant “AHHH HA! Now I have Barbie!!”

I might have muttered something under my breath, then said to myself, “Self, just play it cool.”

“Mmkay, Smalls. Well, why don’t you go play while I finish this email and then make lunch.” That’s me, playing it so cool as Amelia races upstairs to go stash Barbie somewhere in her room.

While eating lunch, Amelia has pondered up a few questions, because up to her this point, her 5 years, 4 months, and 5 days of life have been Barbie/Bratz free. (for the sake of disclosure, we have a couple of Disney Princess books that were hand-me-downs)

“Hey Mom, why are Barbie’s feet high and pointy?” Amelia asks.

“Because she always wears high heels,” I say, extremely interested to see where this is going.

“Yeah, but she is supposed to be a surfer so how can she surf in heels?”

“I know, right? Doesn’t make much sense to me either. Maybe she leaves her heels on the beach.”

“And and AND a shark EATS her! Rawmahnaom rawrrrerrr!!” offers Benny, Amelia’s little brother. Ben and I fist bump.

“Ugh, Ben. And Mom? Why does she wear so much make up? Bindi doesn’t wear make up but she also surfs and she has the right kind of feet. Her make up would wash off…” Amelia trails off, I can tell she is sorting it out in her head, so I let it marinate for a few moments.

“Yes, I suppose it would. I don’t wear make up when I swim because it seems silly and it would wash off.”

“Mom, you wear make up so you don’t look so tired. Maybe that is why Barbie wears it,” suggests Amelia.

“Darling, Barbie does not have children. I don’t think she is as tired as Mommy is. I think she just always wears make up.”

“Mom, why are her legs longer than Bindi’s legs?” asks Amelia.

“Well, Barbie is supposed to be an adult and Bindi is a kid, so Barbie is taller. Barbie is like, twenty five and Bindi is only twelve. But if Barbie were a real life person, her body could not look like that. Her body wouldn’t function the way it needs to in order to be healthy,” I answer.

“Huh,” says Amelia.

“Huh,” says I.

And that was the end of it for the afternoon, until my husband came home from work. The dogs alerted Amelia that he had pulled into the garage, so she tore upstairs to grab Barbie, and then rushed to the door to meet her daddy.

“Ohmygawd DAD! Look! I got a Barbie and now I know what she feels like and she wears high heels but not when she swims but she does wear make up all the time and she isn’t tired like mom!”

“Holy sh…..should we tell Mom what you have?” asks my husband.

“Yeah, who cares? Mom said I could play with it.”

“Seriously?” questions my husband as he walks into the dining room. “You let her have a Barbie?”

“No, she stole Barbie. But getting it back from her will be a bigger deal than just letting her play with it for a couple of days. I guarantee you that plastic hunk will be forgotten somewhere by Monday morning.”

“The world IS coming to an end this weekend,” jokes my husband.

“Heh, maybe. But Surfer Barbie has a tasteful tankini on, which is better to me than a uber sexy, club-y outfit. And Amelia has already begun to question why she is so different from her Bindi Irwin doll, so let’s just let it be.”

“Fine, but I don’t want her to have any more Barbies. That’s just garbage for her head,” my husband says. Ahhh, I do love the man.

“Agreed.”

So that was that. Amelia never mentioned Barbie for the rest of the weekend. Barbie was stuffed in a box with the Bindi doll and all of Amelia’s headbands and jewelry and never resurfaced. I had to dig around for her this morning after the kiddos were at preschool.

I’m not glad Amelia swiped her from the counter, but I’m glad she immediately started to question why Barbie was different from the other toys she has been raised with. I’m glad Amelia’s foundation is rooted in healthy, non-sexualized, age appropriate lessons so that Barbie isn’t the norm. To Amelia, Barbie looked abnormal. Fine by me.

I don’t feel like I have failed my daughter. I try to be a great parent, but not a perfect one. Amelia won’t be getting any more Barbies. I don’t like Barbie any better than I did last week, but it was actually rather cool to see how it played out, as I knew this day would come at some point. And my daughter questioned what didn’t make sense to her. All I ask is that she never stops questioning.

We can’t have our kids live in a bubble. We can’t be perfect parents. We have every right to keep products and messages out of our homes that we know to be harmful to our kids and their development. The message I want to send is that even when something slips through the cracks, if you have raised your children with a healthy and balanced foundation, they will question the messages and experiences that do not make sense to them.

Never stop questioning.

Sexy Toys, Little Girls, and the Big Picture

I do not have a sign posted anywhere in my home saying “Barbie and Princesses Forbidden”.  They simply aren’t a part of our media diet. Not on our radar. We have dolls and we have stories that involve a princess character, but they fall into a menagerie of toys, books, and characters.  

Amelia, my five year old girl.

I like that my daughter is five years old, going on six. I cherish childhood. I don’t shelter her, I just offer her a more healthy diet of influences for her childhood. At our house, it is Bindi Irwin over Barbie. Dr. Mireya Mayor over marriage for a princess. My daughter loves science, nature, art, and the Penguins of Madagascar. This weekend she discovered Star Wars when my husband gave the kids some little action figures from his youth. It is not so much that I have forbidden things from my home, as it is more my husband and I offer different choices. My daughter sees toys and images we don’t have in our home when she plays at other people’s houses, or when she is at school. It isn’t a big deal. I do not feel this will undo my parenting. She doesn’t consider them to be the proverbial “forbidden fruit”. She simply has been raised to have different interests and influences.

There has been an on going discussion on the Pigtail Pals’ twitter and facebook pages about toys for girls that some parents feel are too sexy and aren’t allowed in the home. Everyone seems to have a different opinion. Some allow Barbie, but say no way to makeup. Others allow makeup, but say no way to Monster High and Bratz. Some moms allow Tinker Bell, but say no way to Princesses….you get the picture. Everyone has their different line of acceptable/unacceptable.

In my opinion, sexy toys undermine the woman I am trying to raise my daughter to become.

I do not find the behavior of sexually precocious children to be cute. I do not like when little girls are dressed like mini adults. I especially do not like that the toy aisles geared toward my daughter are a pink explosion carrying messages about sexiness, narrowly defined beauty, narcissism, shopping, and becoming someone’s bride.

I think girlhood is an extremely important time for our daughters, as these years will lay a foundation for the women they will grow into.

So where your line sits will be up to you, what you allow or don’t allow. Maybe you think all of it is a big deal. Maybe you think none of it is a big deal. Maybe you pick and choose your battles.

I just want you to think about this when you make your decisions:

“It’s undeniably true that girls are encouraged to sexualize themselves at early ages, and that this can harm their developing sense of self. But our cultural sense of responsibility is deeply skewed. We condition young girls to aspire to an extremely restrictive standard of beauty and sexuality from almost the day they come into the world. We surround them with sexualized images of women, and tell them that these women have special value. And then, when little girls start behaving or dressing like those beautiful, desirable, special women — when they engage in the very childlike activity of imitating their role models — we condemn the girls and their parents…” -Sady Doyle for Global Comment.

I do not ban anything. I simply choose not accept any of the following for my daughter and her girlhood.

And my daughter seems to be doing just fine.

                                               

Birthday Parties: Gifts, Manners, and Spa Diva Princess Cocktail Limo Parties

Image from goodreads.com

 I get a lot of questions from parents relating to all things birthday….

Can I include a gift wish list with the invitation?

What do I do with the awful sexy doll/kitten heels/bag of makeup/Justin Bieber poster that was given to my child?

 
 What do I do when my kindergartener insists on buying a toy for a party she’s been invited to that is so inappropriate, it is inappropriate to explain to her why it is so inappropriate?
 
We got invited to a limo diva rockstar princess spa-cocktail-fashion show party, for a five year old. What the hell?
 
We celebrate our child’s birthday because it is the day they joined our world, made our family that much more complete, and began the journey of life. We honor one more year of health and happiness under their belt, and look to the coming year to be filled with more learning and exploration. That, of course, is the poetic side of birthdays.
 
When you’re a mom, you know there is the nitty gritty side of planning a guest list, invites, cake and food, party activities, treat sacks, decorations…..you can make it as simple or as complex as you want. You put a lot of effort into this day, and you want the best day for your child. This can be easily undermined when your child receives gifts that drive you up the wall. Everyone has their different breaking point. For me, it is sexualized dolls. Another friend of mine abhors make-up for little girls. Yet another hates toys with batteries, or toys that are weapons. I hear a lot of people gripe about Moon Sand. And then there is my friend who despises sidewalk chalk for her kids. I know, I think it is weird, too.
 
To answer your question, I do not think it is polite to include gift suggestions with the invite. You sent out the invite because you wanted that person/family to come celebrate your child. If they do bring a gift, how lovely of them. And yes, the majority of the time they bring a gift, and wasn’t it ever so thoughtful of the party guest, when they responded in a timely manner to the RSVP, to ask what would make a wonderful gift for the birthday boy/girl. So be prepared! A couple of weeks before your child’s party, make a list and  identify toys, learning toys, or books you would like added to your personal collection.
  • Recognize what skills your child will be growing into during the coming year, and be ready to list off a couple of toys that reflect this.
  • Seasonal toys are great: bubbles, playground ball, mould for making ice blocks, or snow paint. 
  • For older kiddos, have them help you create a list, and then you’ve also created the opportunity for that talk about what gifts are and are not acceptable for your family.  

For my kids, we have small birthday parties, but I try to have a list of 10-12 gifts, and then I share 1-2 ideas per invited family. My group of mommy friends is really awesome at asking what the child would like as a gift, and I just say something simple like, “We are so glad you can join us for the party! To answer your question about a gift for Amelia, she still loves all things oceanography and science related, and of course art supplies for her are always a hit.” This also makes it easier for the shopper, especially if they bring their child along to help shop, they have more to work with should they not be able to find one item suggested.

The other problem with suggesting gifts on the invite is that people may not think the same way you do. Asking for “age appropriate, gender neutral toys” may mean absolutely nothing to them. We have family friends that have no problem with their boys running around with toys guns, and other family friends whose entire house is a shrine to Barbie and the Tinkerbell. Instead I am very direct, and if they ask for gift ideas, I have a list of items at the ready, and can give a couple of suggestions within a $10-20 price point.

To answer your next question, yes, if emailing the party details to your family is acceptable and expected practice within your clan and it is standard to make gift suggestions at that time, then who am I to rile you up. If that is how your extended family gets business done, that’s fine. My family does that at Christmas time because we are scattered across the globe, and it just makes things easier. I also think it is fine to request “No gifts please” and just enjoy a day of fun, and later on exchange a few gifts from family. We have done this in the past, and I know families that do this every year – instead of gifts, ask for teddy bears and books that will be donated to the women’s shelter, school supplies to be donated, pet supplies for the animal shelter, or grocery items for the food pantry. Since kids whose families use the food pantry have birthdays, it would be fun for each guest to bring their own supplies to contribute to a big group of birthday party items, like cake mix, icing, candles, balloons, streamers, and colored plates/napkins. Every kid should get to make a wish on their birthday.

Since birthday parties are really about celebrating the child, not hauling in gifts, an idea that I think is so cool that I learned from a mom from our facebook page is to ask that the attending child make a gift for the host. She said they have received really cool craft projects, very sweet cards, and a few painted rocks for the birthday girl’s garden. I thought that was a great way to teach kids about consumerism, crafting, the nature of giving, and the graciousness of receiving a gift from the heart.

For questions on how and where to shop for a great toy or gift, see this post I wrote, “Toy Shopping Tips”.  (hint: independent toy stores and online mommy-owned businesses. Ahem.)

What to do with that gift that drives you up the wall. There is a strong possibility your child will receive a gift that you do not approve of. Amelia has received make-up before that I wasn’t prepared for and wasn’t crazy about, but I let it slide because after a day or two, it was forgotten. Had the gift been a Bratz or Monster High doll, we would have sat down and talked in an age appropriate way about why her dad and I feel these kinds of dolls are inappropriate for children. Of course, it is kind of tricky to explain why something is so inappropriate when a kid this age shouldn’t even be thinking about the inappropriate aspects of the inappropriate toy. “Dressed like a sex worker” and “vapid lifestyle focused on partying and consumer consumption” are just not phrases or ideas I want her to pick up. I know there are parents who just scoop it up and toss it, but that doesn’t allow your child the opportunity to learn or build critical thinking skills (unless your kid is two, then yes, pitch it). Better to explain why the gift won’t be staying in your home, take the child with you to return it, and help them pick out something that is a better choice. Before you head to the store, have a short conversation about what are better choices and what price point you are working with. You might even want to write a list (or draw pictures for pre-readers) of three or four other choices, that way you have a visual cue to use if you need to reference back to the conversation. Put your child in the driver’s seat, and make it about them making a good choice, not you taking away a “bad” toy. That, my friends, is media literacy and critical thinking, and a little bit of budget managing to boot…..Necessary and wonderful skills to give your children.

All of this, by the way, applies to when your child is the shopper, choosing a gift for a party he or she will be attending. Talk about what rules or limits the other family might have, and what the gift your child is choosing tells the recipient about their friendship. Any kid can buy the hottest toy off of the shelf. But your kid is so awesome and such a good friend, he/she knows that the birthday boy/girl plays board games with their family every Friday night, or that he/she loves art and horses. Work from there, and pick a gift that really honors who that child is as a person.

(A tip on teaching young kids about money – I only have ten fingers, so once when I was returning a duplicate gift with Amelia this year, I was trying to explain to her that her gift was $15 so that is what she had to spend. She kept picking items that were $25-30 and I kept running out of fingers. We sat down right in the middle of the store, pulled out paper and a pen from my purse, and wrote down 30 circles. I put an “x” inside 15 of them. It helped to show her that 30 was beyond her $15 limit. Then we went around and picked smaller items, and each $3 or $5 dollar item got that corresponding number of circles colored in, to let her know those were full and she could track her way to her limit. When all was said and done, she ended up with four items for herself, and then took her 2.5yo brother by the hand, showed him the card, and said he had $2 left he could spend on himself. Seriously proud mommy moment for me!)

It is also a good idea to discuss with your child before their party about how to graciously receive a gift, even if upon opening it your kiddo discovers it is something they won’t be allowed to keep, don’t like, or already have. Manners are important, most especially when you have guests in your home. You could even come up with a baseball signal, like an ear tug, or flick of the nose and brush of the shoulder, so that when your child opens it and glances at you with the guidance/approval/holy cow-will-you-let-me-keep-this look, they know you’ll give them the info they want, and he or she can still practice polite manners and smile and say thank you to the giver.

Now….how to have that sticky convo with the repeat offender who insists your child needs the entire collection of Pussy Cat Doll dolls or kitten heels or mini-adult outfit….etc. Here’s what you need to understand – if you are already here and reading this blog, you are probably A) rather clever and B) tuned into the sexualization and gender stereotypes in childhood. I love having you here and that you are reading this blog. But the whole world doesn’t read my blog, or buy my t-shirts. Yet. So the whole world doesn’t know about this stuff like you and I do. So go easy. And as always, act with grace.

  • “Aunt Midge, thank you so much for coming to Ashlyn’s party. Yes, she loved seeing you and enjoyed opening your gift. Actually, since  you brought it up, I wanted you to know that we decided to return Rhinestone Fashionista Barbie for a big floor puzzle. Well, I know you loved Barbie as a girl, but she’s changed a lot over the years from when you were little and you know how conscious we are about raising Ashlyn to be a confident girl. We prefer to stay away from toys that are focused on beauty and shopping. You should see Ashlyn stick her tongue out as she works on the puzzle, it is really quite darling. What’s that? Yes, the jello mould was lovely. Thank you.”
  • “Amy, thanks so much for joining us on Saturday. That skit you did with the kids still has us chuckling. Listen, I actually wanted to discuss something with you, because I know how much you love being Maddie’s auntie and how much she means to you. It’s just that I’ve been doing so much reading about all of this sexualization stuff, like you know, when girls grow up too fast and get taught about looking sexy so young, well, it just has John and I kind of baffled, and we felt the Bratz doll and mini skirt and high heels that Maddie opened fell into that category. I know your gifts in the past are focused on the fun you two have being so girly together, but you are such a great role model for her that it would mean a lot to us if you could focus on her being a little girl. She’s only five, so things like art supplies, dress up clothes, puppets, books,  you know, that is all so great for her. We love how her face lights up every time she sees you, and it felt really good to be able to be honest with you about this.”
  • “Hi Kate. Oh, Elise told Morgan at school that we returned the gift…and oh, well, I’m sorry Morgan’s feelings are hurt by this as certainly that wasn’t our intention. We really appreciated you coming to the party, but Elise and I decided that the Twilight movies series and t-shirt weren’t appropriate for a girl her age. Yes, I know Morgan loves them, but she has older sisters so she is exposed to different things at your house. I think it is so great that Morgan loves monsters, and maybe next time the girls play we can help them set up a haunted house, or make life size monster puppets.”

You will ultimately have to decide how you can approach the person since each relationship is so different. By principal, I feel parents should always act as an advocate for their child. If it will cause holy war with your mother-in-law, realize that family is more important that any plastic crap imported from China. Yes, it is the plastic equivalent of a toxic diet….but I’m not sure it is worth losing friendships or family relations over. And you can always say the dog ate it.

Look, the bottom line is that you are the parent. YOU are the parent. You make the decisions for your child. The popular phrase in the media right now is “Everything in moderation”. Fine. But I don’t see that as helpful or informative. There is very little moderation to the sexualized messages and gender stereotypes in products for our girls. YOU are responsible for raising your girl up correctly, growing her in the most empowering and healthy environment you can create. YOU have every right to say “Hell to the no that crap does not enter this house.” Each family has their different breaking points – you have to decide where you draw the line. A couple of my friends have challenged my stance on the sexy dolls and movie characters. But it is well known how I feel about the sexy dolls and gender stereotypes, and in my house — what Mama says, Mama means. In the nearly five years we’ve lived here and celebrated birthdays with this bunch of gals, they have time and again respected my wishes and given my daughter gifts that reflect her current interests and her curiosity. So much so, in fact, this year during Amelia’s ocean themed party I was moved to tears at the thoughtfulness and creativity my friends put into their gifts, and how proud Amelia’s little friends were that they had found such perfect stuff for my little ocean-loving gal. It was a really, really great day.

Glamour Girl Parties: Are the new “it” thing right now. Usually held at a spa or hair salon or boutique, the girls get vamped up and sometimes sip kiddie cocktails, sometimes travel by limo. Sometimes they drink kiddie cocktails in the limo. The things is, that concept just described my sophomore year of college. Believe you me, you don’t want your seven year old reinacting my sophomore year of college. These parties sexualize our girls in birthday party form, and age compress them with the message that socializing around fizzy special drinks and getting beauty treatments is what women do. Now I love my glass of Pinot and mani pedi just as much as the next girl, BUT, I am 33 years old. When I was seven I was excited to be able to drink a can of Orange Crush. If we let our daughters act 21 when they are in second grade…then what’s left? Where do they go, what boundaries are there left for them to push?
 
You know what I think would be fun for a seven year old girl party? Have them put on silly crazy dress up costumes, roll out a giant piece of butcher paper, and then have them step in a tray of paint and dance while you blast music. While the paint dries on their newly created mural, they can wash their feet in a big washbin of suds, grab a towel and juice box, and sit down to braid each others hair and paint each others piggy toes. Because you know, they are seven.
 
Here’s a recent question I got from Shannon on Facebook:
We get home and she hands me an invitation to a “Glamour Girl” Party. “Get your hair styled, make-up, finger nails painted, sing karaoke, dress-up and put on a fashion show for your parents and friends.”
UGH. UGH. UGHGHGHGHGH. Here’s where this stuff gets hard. It’s easy enough to keep it out of my house … but now what?!? So ALL of the other girls in her class go to this and she misses out and has to hear about it the next Monday? :/ That’s no fun.
I’m not thrilled about the whole thing, but it’s really the make-up part that bothers me more than anything.

So … thoughts? Advice? Insight?

What’s more educational … keeping her home and trying to explain the “why” of it … or letting her go and then using it as a teaching tool for explaining my views on these things??

Pigtail Pals answer:
I understand your discomfort. I think if you feel your daughter will be safe and well looked after, you let her go. The the social aspect of the party will have a bigger impact on her than the make-up. Each of us has a different line – for you it is make-up. I respect that. I think this is the kind of moment out of our control as parents that we use to craft into a learning experience. I think before hand you explain to your daughter that what a special occasion it is for her to get to wear make-up and do these fancy, big girl things.

Then you go over good manners for the party, and send her off and tell her to have fun. When you pick her up, help to shape her take-aways about the experience with questions like:
“Was it fun to have to sit still to get your hair/make-up/nails done?”
“Did you want to sit still or wiggle around?”
“What kind of fancy, big girl hair do’s did the other girls get?”
“Were you able to count how many colors of nail polish? How did you choose your color?”
“Who sang the funniest song?”
“What kind of fancy outfits did you wear in the fashion show? Was the dress up the best part, or was the singing the best part?”
“This was a special treat, should we take a picture of you all fancied up? We don’t do this often, it would be fun to remember.”

And you know? She’s probably going to answer, “Mom, Riley got two of the same puzzles and she has two hamsters but her brother was there even though it said NO BOYS and he ate more cake than us but the cake was good and I didn’t want ice cream and Kayla kept hiccuping when she sang and my head kept getting itchy and Riley’s mom was so funny during the fashion show when she taught us to walk and Isabelle tripped on her dress and Riley liked my present.”

Just like a wedding, she’s going to remember the cake and if
the guest of honor liked the gift. Save the make-up fight for another day.

Shannon’s Feedback a Week Later:

Now, Melissa, I have to say, YOU HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD with this: “Just like a wedding, she’s going to remember the cake and if the guest of honor liked the gift.”

When I asked her what her favorite part was, she said, without hesitation, “THE CAKE.”

The next comment was, “Mom, she didn’t even open her birthday presents. I wanted to see her open her birthday presents. Do you think she’ll remember to take them with her to open later??”

 

Stereotypes by the Basketload

Cute cover to Target's Easter promo catalog. Look past the cute once you get inside and get knocked over with the gender stereotypes.

I live in Wisconsin, the Great White North, the Frozen Tundra, which means I don’t take spring lightly. Today we had sunny skies and near sixty degree temps, so naturally my thick blooded children stripped half naked and played in the mud. I sat on the back steps, soaking in the sun and flipped through the new Target spring catalog that had arrived in the mail. I’m on the hunt for a t-ball stand for the kids, and sure enough, Target has one for $15. Score.
 
Then.
Then I took a closer look. Because we can’t afford to keep looking past all of this with complacent smiles on our faces.
 
The catalog is titled “Now Arriving: Sweet Deals by the Basketload”. I think it is full of basketloads of gender stereotypes.
 
I love me some Target, and shop there once a week. But I rarely buy toys there, and here’s why….
 
Actually, I want YOU to tell me why. Grab your catalog and play along. If you don’t have one, don’t worry, the necessary photos are answer key are below.
 
Page 3: Please use your most descriptive words for the two dolls being sold to girls ages 3 & Up. __________________________ 
 
Page 7: Please count the number of girls shown playing sports. The number is __________.
 
Pages 8-9: Please tell me the colors choices for bikes and scooters marketed to girls. The color is ____________.
 
Pages 16-17, 22-29: Please tell me the main themes for the boys’ toys. There are six:___________________________________ 
 
Pages 16-17, 22-29: Please tell me how many different colors are represented on the boys’ toys: __________
 
Fill in the blank: Please write Boy or Girl, whom do you think the following titled Easter basket packs were marketed to:
1. Bugability Basket: Fill it up with discovery gear for a little explorer. ______________
2. Galactic-Action Basket: Out-of-this-world fun for your cosmic kid. _______________
3. Tiara-rific Basket: Perfect picks for the fairest of them all.____________
4. Giddy-up Basket: Galloping-good gifts for your pony-loving __________.
 
Pages 30-35: Please tell me the main themes for the girls’ toys. There are two:_________________________________
 
Pages 30-35: Please tell me how many different colors are represented on the girls’ toys: __________
 
We change the experiences and learning opportunities and growth that should take place during childhood when we raise our children inside of a culture, specifically a consumer culture, where the items sold to our children as toys offer little to no learning and are so gendered that their world becomes a chasm of blue vs pink, active vs passive, movement based vs. appearance based. This is not what childhood was meant to be, and when we limit our kids, we limit our kids.
- – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – -
 
Friday, March 18th Update: Photos from catalog and Answer Key!

Page 3: Describe the dolls

Page 3  Describe the dolls: The Monster High dolls says “Ages 6 & Up”, Barbie Glitter Glam Vac doll is for “Ages 3 & Up”. Both dolls feature extremely thin body frames, further representing the very narrow Beauty Myth sold to our young children. The Monster High doll shows biologically impossible body proportions. Both are wearing makeup and very adult clothing. The Monster High doll’s wardrobe also includes sexually fetishized items like knee high boots, fish nets stockings and sleeves, bottom-grazing mini skirt, and heavy makeup. 

Both dolls offer the message that appearance and sexiness are so important, to the exclusion of all else, it is hard for the young child playing with it to not notice. 

Page 7: Girls?

Page 7: Please count the number of girls shown playing sports. The number is ZERO. 

If we go by the gender coding consistent through the rest of the catalog, girl items are pink. The only pink sports equipment shown is a hoola hoop. 

 
 
 

 

Page 24: Typical boy page.

Page 27: More from the boy section.

 
Pages 16-17, 22-29: Please tell me the main themes for the boys’ toys. There are six:  Construction and Building Blocks, Vehicles and Aircraft, Science, Superheroes, Weapons, and Sports.
  
Pages 16-17, 22-29: Please tell me how many different colors are represented on the boys’ toys: Six
Blue, Orange, Red, Green, Black and Gray, Yellow  
  
  
  
  
 

The baskets sandwiched on the boy pages.

The baskets marketed amidst the girl pages.

Who were these baskets marketed to?

Bugability: Discovery gear for a little explorer? Boys 

Galactic-Action Basket: Out-of-this world fun? Boys  

Tiara-rific Basket: Perfect picks for the fairest of them all? Girls 

Giddy-up Basket: For you pony-loving girls? Girls  (although admittedly, I would have died for this around ages 6-12)

 

Page 32: Girls section of catalog

Page 33: More from the girls section

 

Pages 30-35: Please tell me the main themes for the girls’ toys. There are two: Fashion & Beauty, Playing House

*There are two toys that are vehicles/movement: the My Little Pony Twinkling Balloon and Littlest Pet Shop scooter. It is not an overall theme through the six pages of girl items.
 
Pages 30-35: Please tell me how many different colors are represented on the girls’ toys: Three
Pink, Purple, and Turquiose 
 

  It is 2011. We are raising our children with limited, narrow sexist views and basing their learning and play experiences on their gender. Girls are given two overall themes to fit into, packaged in three color options. Most of the toys for girls come with sexual messges and undertones. All of the toys that involve science, building, sports, and travel are sold to boys. Yes, I could walk across the aisle and buy it for my daughter. But I shouldn’t have to. I find this offensive, and I do not accept it. 

Fear of Fat: Preschool Girls and the Thin Ideal

*Cross posted with permission from Jennifer W. Shewmaker, Ph.D.*

The old and new Strawberry Shortcake, one of many old school children's characters getting sexier, thinner makeovers.

In a study published in 2010, Dr. Jennifer Harriger, a colleague at Pepperdine University, looked at how much girls aged 3-5 had internalized the thin ideal (the idea that beauty in females = thinness) and how they attributed stereotypes to others because of their weight (fat=lazy, stupid, has no friends while thin=nice, sweet, has friends).

Yes, you read that right, 3-5 year olds! You may be thinking, “Oh come on, kids that young don’t think about things like that.” But, according to Dr. Harriger’s research, there is a very strong research base out there that tells us that children as young as 3 years of age are already beginning to buy into the idea that for females, thinness is equal to goodness.

So what did she find? The little girls that were studied showed evidence of having already begun to internalize the thin ideal and to stereotype others based solely on their weight. What was interesting about this study is that they had girls choose from several different game pieces (like those in Candy Land) which were identical except for their weight. The kids chose pieces that represented themselves and a best friend. Up until now, research studies have shown that kids don’t tend to distinguish that much between thin and average weights. However, in this study, the girls more often chose thin game pieces over the average sized ones. Dr. Harriger thinks this may be due to the fact that in recent years, the thin ideal has been presented to very young children more strongly through products and entertainment.

For example, consider this photo below, which was commented upon on Feminist Fatale.com, comparing a Barbie doll from the 1990s to one manufactured today. As you can see, the proportions of the doll, while always ridiculous, have changed even more to emphasize the thin mid-section and curvaceous breast and behind.  There have been many recent make-overs of several well-loved children’s characters, such as that of Strawberry Shortcake, to give them shapes and appearances more in line with the thin ideal. This change in the characterization of positive characters is likely connected to the change in young children’s opinion of thin-vs-average weight.

Barbie may have changed over the years, but her body now looks like a Victoria Secrets model.

One of the saddest and most startling findings in this study had to do with the things that the little girls said about the different game pieces. For example, they said about the fatter piece “I hate her because she has a fat stomach” or “I don’t want to be her, she’s fat and ugly.” What’s worrying is that we also see girls as young as ages 5 and 6 talking about dieting and wanting to be thinner. It’s time to stop and think about the messages our young children are getting about body shape and value. It’s time for all of us to stand together and show our children that being healthy and good isn’t about being “thin,” but about so much more than that. Instead of focusing on thinness, let’s focus on strength, both of body and character.

Harriger, J.A., Calogero, R.M., Witherington, D.C., & Smith J.E. (2010). Body size stereotyping and internalization of the thin-ideal in preschool-age girls. Sex Roles, 63, 609-620. doi: 10.1007/s11199-010-9868-1

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Jennifer W. Shewmaker, Ph.D., is Director of the School Psychology Training and an Associate Professor of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. She often writes on the media, sexualization, and parenting issues.

I Bought a Barbie. And I Can’t Go Through With It.

Mattel's "I Can Be...A Sea World Trainer" Barbie that my daughter will not be receiving on Christmas morning.

 

For a mother, that lure of giving that perfect gift to a delighted and giddy child on Christmas morning is pretty strong.   

My daughter is obsessed with ocean life. This began several months back, when a student teacher at her preschool brought in a giant floor puzzle with an image of the layers of the ocean on it. We’ve checked out every ocean book the library offers, two times over. We’ve watched “Free Willy 4″ more times than I can count. Imaginative play usually involves Amelia training her baby brother, whom she has turned into a dolphin or seal. Our bedtime stories involve belugas and narwhals and orcas and grey whales and various attacking sharks.  

She’s been coveting this Sea World Barbie. She squeals every time we see it in the store. She picks up the box and hugs it. I try to ask her questions like, “Do you think the doll is fun? Are you more excited for the dolphin and orca?” to try to get a picture of what she is really so wild about. She does not own any other Barbies, nor does most of her play seem like if she had a Barbie, it would fit in. I’ve had people tell me the very imaginative ways their girls play with Barbie. I’m sure they do. But my daughter has very imaginative play without the aid of a sexualized toy. Sexualization is sexualization, whether it has blue eye shadow or not. 

Several weeks back I was Christmas shopping and saw this Sea World Barbie for $10. That’s half the price of the dolphin trainer doll on the Sea World website, and the doll there seems to have the same body proportions as Barbie. I do not like Barbie, but I had never purchased one as a parent, so I thought maybe I should try it and see things from that side of the fence. I bought it. And I immediately regretted it.  

I rationalized that I would talk to my husband about it, and get his take. I could always return it, and Amelia would never know. I was certain she would love this on Christmas morning, but I had this pit in my stomach every time I thought about giving her the first Barbie. It goes against everything I believe in, and work for.  

Mattel, the company that makes Barbie, estimates that 90% of 3-10 year old girls own at least one Barbie, with the majority owning eight. We fall into that other 10%, because I read the research and studies and articles all day long. I teach other parents about media literacy and sexualization and the pinkification of girlhood. I know the science behind all of this, and base my business around it. 

Still, I cannot in good conscience give my daughter a toy that is sexualized. That promotes beauty and sexiness as a woman’s ultimates assets. That only has one body size. That has ridiculously sexed up outfits for careers that aren’t very imaginative. That has impossible body and physical portions that disrespect my daughter’s natural beauty and healthy body.  

I know there are tons of people who will say “Get over yourself, Lady”, “Barbie is no big deal”, and my fave “I played with Baribe and I turned out fine”. But research is telling us over and over and over again that early sexualization IS a big deal. A really really big deal. Sexualized childhood is something I do not accept for my children.  

I just can’t do it. I can’t be responsible for giving her those messages. She’ll get them from other sources as she gets older, and it will be my job then to help her question those messages and navigate around them to stay the course of high self-esteem and positive body image.  

I have a lot of parents ask me or email me and say, “How do I do this? How do I keep this stuff away from my daughter?”. Many times I have the answers. Other times I am just the mom of an almost five year old girl, and I can’t answer because I haven’t been there yet.  

I think a lot of good parenting comes down to common sense. And when my mama instincts, when my gut, tells me “Don’t do it”, I don’t do it. Sea World Barbie will be returned to the store.  

For the record, my husband said a firm no to Barbie. Although this Barbie is certainly relatively tame, most others are not. He did, however, spend all of last Friday night digging through boxes in our basement. Saturday morning he presented Amelia with a four inch Princess Leia toy from his childhood. That’s one princess I can live with.  

Sometimes being a good parent isn’t about what you do, it is about what you don’t do. I don’t give my children toys that make my heart hurt. And I think we’ll all have smiles on our faces come Christmas morning. 

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Yesterday our friend Dr. Robyn Silverman wrote this great post: “Happy Holidays! I Hate Everything On My Child’s Wish List” with a helpful list of consideration points should you find yourself in a dilema similar to mine.

Toy Shopping Tips

Pigtail Pal orders waiting to go out the door.

One of the things I am most proud of with Pigtail Pals is that in the 19 months we’ve been in business, we’ve created an amazing and strong community of parents and caring adults dedicated to returning childhood to our children. I think that was most recently evident in the comments to our “Have Yourself A Very Sexist Holiday”  post. Their was a ton of support shown, and some great recommendations made of other places to shop. So I thought I’d pool all that info together into one post.

But first….a few recommendations from the house:

1. Shop local. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy – go to your locally owned bookstore, children’s boutique, or toy shop. They are also most likely to carry smaller brands from small business (ahem, Pigtail Pals).

2. Shop at Pigtail Pals! If you have a girl on your shopping list aged 0-12 years, we’ve got some GREAT gift ideas! www.pigtailpals.com  Tees, hats, bags, and goodies for school! All of our orders come wrapped in tissue with hand tied ribbon.

3. For gorgeous handsewn cloth dolls, visit our good friend Sophie & Lili at  www.sophieandlili.com. The Original Pigtail Pal is getting one of their dolls, so is my neice, and we just gave two as gifts!

4. For tutus, capes, wands, and superhero masks, visit our good friend Cutie Patutus at  www.cutiepatutus.com. The Original Pigtail Pals has a tutu, two wands, and two masks. We play with them all the time!

5. If you have a girl age 8 years or up, get her a subscription to New Moon Girls magazine and online community. They are Pigtail Pals endorsed! Advertisting free, safe, and empowering!

6. We love Melissa & Doug and One Step Ahead.

For those parents struggling with what to buy and how to avoid the stereotyped toys in the big box stores, here is a list of what my kids (under 5yo) got last year and will get this year:

Beanie Babies, art supplies, books, puzzles, vet kit, Animal Planet dinosaurs and whales and dolphins, plush animals, games, Groovy Girls, wooden trains, cars, lacing boards, Leap Frog, paper dolls (they did get eaten, however), Magna Doodle, harmonica, world map, View Master, scarves, bean bags, Wedgits, wooden blocks, and, this may sound weird, but you know the flags people hang outside of their house for the different seasons? Well we inherited a bunch when my Grandma died and my kids absolutely love them – they are ice bergs and magic carpets and tents and train cars….endless play.

We try to focus on open ended play – meaning toys that don’t come with a prewritten story. Most everything in our house is gender neutral in color, and we keep all of our toys on or near the floor in accessible bins (cloth storage cubes from Target, anyone?).

Okay – so here are the suggestions you all shared with each other. I’ve looked at all of them, and they all seem to be places I’d shop without my head exploding:

1. Step 2 has great, gender neutral kitchens (We own one!)

2. Toys Et Cetera looks like they have a great range of toys in bright colors for all age ranges and interests.

3. Nova Natural has gorgeous, natural toys. Many seem very gender neutral, although some options are pricey. Also offer dolls for boys.

4.  Books on gender and sports: “Taking the Field- Women and Men in Sports” and “Out of Play- Critical Essays on Gender and Sport”. Both books are by Michael A. Messner

5. Magic Cabin Love this site! You shop by age, not gender. Things are a little pricey, but I would buy every single item they offer! Also, check out their fairy dolls. So sweet!

6. For Small Hands has some very diverse options, offering many natural products and things I’ve only seen while traveling.

7. online shop Polka Dot Patch Boutique  has huge selection of artisan toys and clothes.

8. Plan Toys has colorful, gender neutral wooden toys. But it doesn’t look like you can order from their site, maybe through the catalog?

9. Growing Tree Toys shows girls building things! GIRLS ARE BUILDING THINGS!

10. Discovery Toys is a direct sales, home-party based biz with great toys.  

11. tons of Marbleworks stuff on eBay.

** I am going to try to put together a book list for girls 8yo and under before Hanakkuh/Christmas**

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.   

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 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!

The Feminist and Homemaker Inside: A Comment on Toys

I am not sure if I am a feminist. I certainly have the independent and saucy outspoken makings of one. I embrace most but not all of the ideals embodied in that movement. Considering any of the other labels I have to choose from, I guess “feminist” is the best fit. Before my children were born I worked in a male-dominated field. I took my husband’s name when we married. He works outside of the home, I work within. I used to investigate crime, and now I schedule playgroup and burn cookies. When stuff is really heavy, I ask my husband to move it. I will not lie to you – if a bug is bigger than the circumference of my thumb, I grab the children and scream for him to kill it.

I am not sure if I am a homemaker. I have a young son and daughter that I am responsible for while my husband is at the office for 12 hours a day. I breastfed and baby-wore and co-slept.  I wake, feed, dress, drive, teach, feed, change, drive, feed, play, chase, feed, change, clean up after, clean up after, feed, and clean up after my kids all day, every day of the week. On special days I remove buttons from nostrils, melted toys from the microwave, and discuss matters like whale poop and how crayons work. I also fly to Washington DC and New York City and Los Angeles for business, take phone calls and emails from vendors and authors and customers and press all day long, and run a business that is trying to change the way we think about our girls.

So I don’t really know what I am. I am just me, and this is my family. My husband or I could survive the other being gone on a ten day business trip and hold down the fort just fine. There is definitely a blurring of traditional gender roles in our house, and our kids take it all in.

A few months back I asked my 4.5 year old if she would like an apron for when she plays tea party in her room. Her response, “To do science experiments in?”.  “Oh, no, well, you could. Sometimes people wear aprons when they cook,” I explained.  “You don’t,” she pointed out, “And I’d rather do experiments on dead whales and dolphins.” Okay then. I was scrapping the apron idea because I’d never hear the end of why I didn’t get her a dead whale. I had to chuckle the other day when we were leaving preschool, my 2.5 year old son was holding a baby doll and a bottle, and saw a toy ironing board and iron. “What are deese?” he asked. He has never seen an ironing board in his life. I don’t own one. Nor an apron. For what it is worth, I sling a dishtowel over my shoulder when I cook.

One of the beautiful things about being a woman today is that we have the right to choose. We have the right to choose career, family, or both. I realize the system isn’t perfect, but it is far better than it was. We have the right for our dreams to expand past the walls of home. While many of us know we can’t have it all, all at the same time, we know we have been given the gift of choice. Previous generations of women worked and sacrificed so much to afford us this choice. Today a girl can just as much be an astronaut as she can a homeschooling mom of six. Or she can be an astronaut for a few years and then start her family and focus on her young children. I’m good with all of that, and I see all of it as being equally important.

Here’s what I’m not good with: The toy industry selling space shuttles to boys and Rose Petal Cottages to girls. There are no space shuttles for girls. Not even pink ones. And where is the Acorn Hut for boys that should be boxed and sold right next to the Rose Petal Cottage? The sexism and gender stereotypes sold to children in the toy aisles makes my head explode. Literally, right off the top of my neck. Our entire mainstream, big box toy industry is built on gender stereotyped, often sexualized products. An entire industry built on stereotypes. Replace ‘gender stereotype’ with ‘racial stereotype’ or ‘religious stereotype’ and see how that sits.

I mind very much that I am raising a daughter in a time when we are in the third wave of feminism, it is 2010, and all I can find for the kid is emaciated fashion dolls clothed like sex workers, tiaras and high heels, and products that pitch the joys of homemaking and child-rearing. The independently-owned toy stores aren’t much better. I have to go into the ‘boy’ aisle to get her actual science/nature kits, cars/planes/boats, tools, realistic looking animals, and construction toys like Legos. If you mention pink Legos and science spa kits to me I swear I will scream. Let’s just start putting Vagina Stickers on all of our toys, so girls know explicitly what they can and cannot do, and always remember their gender first and foremost.

One of my favorite customers emailed me the other day to share her feelings about the fine line we have to walk while encouraging our girls to reach for the stars, we shouldn’t undervalue the work of being a mother and taking care of the home. I completely agree with her. As I read her email, I wondered how stay-at-home dads felt about the gendered toy industry, as they were all but invisible to them. Maybe in 2011 we’ll get the Acorn Hut for boys so that our sons can practice being a father and homemaker. There is nothing wrong with a girl playing with dolls, a toy kitchen, a tea set, or play cleaning tools like a vaccum. There is something wrong when NONE of those things is sold to boys. There is something wrong when those are the ONLY things sold to girls.

I am anti-limitation.

You bet I encourage girls to reach for the stars, and be able to calculate and navigate how to get there. Girls are smart, daring, and adventurous, yet that is not reflected in the toys sold to them. Boy are caring, affectionate, and artistic, yet that is not reflected in the toys sold to them.

So homemakers of the world, all of you dedicated and amazing stay-at-home-moms who feel constantly judged by a world who largely does not see nor respect your emmense efforts in raising your family or values the tasks you do during the day that make your house a home….please know that when we are encouraging our daughters to be anything they want to be, that doesn’t diminish what you do. Far from it. For without you, she wouldn’t have the foundation to reach the dreams she has swirling around inside her head.

For Now, Dolls Like These

Amelia proudly holds her brand new Sophie & Lili doll

That is Amelia, to the left here. My four year old daughter. Actually, four and a half, she would have me tell you. You see, she is working very hard at turning five, because then she will be allowed to chew gum.

I do not have anything against gum. Until all of this came about, I never really thought about gum. I am aware that a four year old, and certainly a four and a half year old, could chew it. Upon occasion I enjoy its minty refreshing taste. One day she asked for a piece and long story short I made the executive decision the gum chewers of our family needed to be five. And now? It has become this thing. This thing that we talk about – between our family, our playgroup mommies, our teenage babysitters who always seem to be chewing gum…

When Amelia turns five, she will be allowed to go out and buy her first pack of mint gum.

Amelia will wait, not because I care at all about gum. But because I care that she thinks it is something big girls do so she must wait until she is a big girl too.

For now, it works. If my daughter thinks something is off limits because it is something reserved for big girls, I’m okay with that. I’m in no rush to grow her.

I just don’t like rushing childhood. There are those few, small, precious, simple years that our kids are our very own without the world crushing down on us. A set of years when the world is an expanse in front of them. A world most preschoolers would have you know they have already figured out and know more about than you do. But they don’t have it all figured out yet, and there is so much soaking in of information during these first several years that I want to make sure the information I provide is the best I can find.

I show the world to my daughter. We adventure. We have items all around our home from the collective world travels of my husband and I. Indiana Jones meets Craftsman Revival. We take the kids frequently to the city for diversity and culture. We Skype with the uncle in Costa Rica, who talks to her in Spanish.

But inside my home, in the nest I have created for my two chicks, I want sweet, simple childhood. For as long as I can have it. Crayons and bubbles and wooden blocks and puzzles and books and dominoes and dinosaurs and other such things of that reflect the open-ended ways of their thinking and imagination.

That’s why Amelia holds a hand-made cloth doll that she picked out, looks like her, and has her name sewn to the back. It came with instructions – I’m sure you see the sticker Amelia is displaying for you. Sweet, simple childhood. For now, it is our world.

And for those that know me, know my company, and know my blog, I’ll fight to keep it that way.

You see, not all toys carry this magic. Most toys come with infuriating twist-tie packaging and batteries and plastic gender-stereotyped colors and a scripted role that influences how the child plays with it. What’s worse, some toys come with versions of beauty and size and worth that mess with a child’s developing sense of self. These toys are sexualized, and for now, maybe forever, they have no place in my home. I don’t buy certain products or allow them as gifts because I see them as harmful and unhealthy for my children. Both my girl child and my boy child. In my home, for now, sexualized toys have no place.

Ironically, when I send my child to school, to learn about the expansive world she is a little member of, she sees Princesses and Tinkerbell and Barbie and Hannah. Everywhere. Because these versions of what it is to be a girl have become something of uniform for all of her little classmates. A couple of her closest girl friends have nothing but this stuff on clothing, backpacks, toys in the home, etc. And that is where my frustrations come in – because there is such a big world out there with so many possibilities, why limit our daughter’s thinking to beauty and fashion and make-up and attracting boys? Although you wouldn’t know it from the toy aisles, I think my daughter deserves more. Deserves better.

Mattel's Barbie Fashionista sends some strong, and unhealthy, visiual images.

She deserves toys that, unlike the Mattel Barbie Fashionista with “Miss Sassy” scrawled across her chest, allow her to be a child. I don’t see much value in dolls like Barbie. They are stereotyped, sexualized (especially when dressed like the one to the left), and carry impossible body proportions. It teaches a girl a very narrow version of womanhood. Sure parents can talk to kids about what pretty means and healthy bodies, but at the end of the day the child is still holding a doll that contradicts all of that. When a girl plays with one, she usually sits, creates a dramatic scene, and after a change of clothes or two, acts out the script in her head. I have a friend who defended her daughters playing with Barbie by saying they create scenes where their Barbies go camping and fight off bears. That’s how my friends and I used to play with Barbies, too. And I remember thinking it was fun. But it could have been with a doll that didn’t look like Barbie and been just as much fun. Or we could have been outside fighting off bears for ourselves.

When my daughter comes across Princesses and Barbie and such at stores or school or friends’ houses, she sometimes enjoys playing with them or will ask for a Princess purse or toothbrush. We can’t avoid it, or live in a bubble, so we usually have the “Why do you think they are fun?” or “How would you play with it?” talk. It 99% of the time ends with Amelia deciding there are other fun things to chose from.

I asked Dr. Logan Levkoff, PhD, more about her thoughts on this after we chatted back and forth on twitter on Friday about this. Her kids are close in age to mine, and what she says makes a lot of sense to me:

I find that working with positive and negative images/representations of gender is really helpful – as both a parent and an educator.

I ask lots of questions of my kids (in this case, my 5 year old son). I ask him why he likes a character, what he thinks he/she does, why they are dressed a certain way, and so on. While it seems like this line of questioning is sophisticated, it lays the groundwork for ongoing critical thinking and media literacy. We are a non stereotypical home; my son’s favorite color is hot pink (even though his best girlfriend told him it was a girl’s color), he has long hair, and simultaneously loves sports and hunting for bugs (there’s a huffpost of mine about this).  And he does have a disney princess pool towel. While he used to really like the princesses – he told me recently they were “boring”. When I asked why, he responded, “all they do is get married”. It was validation for me that he could be both entertained and critical.

I completely understand that little girls (and boys) are handed grotesque displays of stereotypes and sexualization. But I would rather my children be able to explore these images and messages at home then to only see them within the context of someone else’s home without the opportunity to think critically about them.

And don’t get me wrong, there are times when my son – or his friends/neighbors – talk about how pretty a character is. When that happens, I show them all different pictures of what I consider pretty. And I challenge them to think of all the other qualities that are more important than “prettiness.”

I think Dr. Levkoff is very smart and very right – we don’t want our kids seeing this stuff within a context that does not allow us to talk to them about it. Kids need our guidance and wisdom to figure out this world and the sometimes crazy things in it. To me, giving a child a doll like the Barbie above just doesn’t make sense. If I saw a real life woman dressed like this she wouldn’t earn my respect and I’d judge what she does for gainful employment. That may not be right or fair, but it is me being honest. You’ll notice in the corner of the packaging, it says for Ages 3+

My daughter is Ages 3+. And for now, maybe forever, we’ll keep talking about it, but we’ll keep it out of our home. I don’t want her girlhood, nor her adulthood, looking like the doll above. I do want it looking like the doll below.

So, for now, dolls like these.

Sophie & Lili doll my family gave as a gift to a newborn girl.

You can find the adorably sweet Sophie & Lili dolls here, there are so many to choose from!

You can learn more about Dr. Logan Levkoff  here, and read her HuffPo column here.

Logan Levkoff, Ph.D. (@loganlevkoff) is a sexologist, sexuality educator, and author of parenting book, “Third Base Ain’t What it Used to Be: What Your Kids are Learning about Sex Today – and How to Teach Them to be Sexually Healthy Adults.”