Finally, Christmas is over and I am so sick of the whole thing; instead of subjecting my family to my endless frustration with all the lame toys out there marketed to girls, I’m going to blog. I’m the mother of three daughters, ages 6 years to ten months, and I’d like to connect with some like-minded parents looking for products for girls and get some help exchanging information and rating products and media (movies, books, cartoons etc.)
The toy industry acts as if boys and girls are polar opposites (you know the drill– Mars and Venus) One thing that drives me crazy– dolls marketed to boys are called “action figures.” Dolls marketed to girls are called dolls. While boy dolls usually frown and look tough, girl “dolls” almost always smile, their eyes often looking upward. This smile tyranny is one of the most annoying forms of sexism and it manages to cross all kinds of class lines. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked by a homeless person, given him money or not, and he calls out to me: “Smile, Baby.” And speaking of the ubiquitous, submissive smiling female, a friend came to visit me in San Francisco, the father of a three year old, and told me when they were driving down Broadway, where all the strip joints were, there was a giant photo featuring an exotic dancer and his daughter pointed, shouting: “Ariel!”
Second thing that drives me crazy– so many girls toys with the focus on dressing them up and fashion. My three year old got Polly Pocket for Christmas. I can’t stand Polly Pocket. I call her Polly Prostitute, partly due to her fashion choices which include thigh high boots in every shade of pastel and minis that barely cover her ass. This tiny plastic doll has about 50 million tinier little plastic outfits, impossible to keep track of– I mean a hairband with kitty ears smaller than my pinky nail. My nine month old has practically choked on a fllourescent stilleto more than once. I admit, dressing tiny Polly in her tiny clothing has honed my daughter’s fine motor skills into nothing less than phenomenal, but I hate that she is being trained to focus an inordinate amount of time and energy on getting dressed. My three year old also received magnetic, smiling girls with magentic clothing and you change their outfits, mix and match. Again, she is learning matching skills but the dressing is too much. I am going to get the names and the prices of these toys for you and post them because I would like this bog to be informational as well as commentary.
Another thing that drove me crazy this year, Rudolph the Red Nosed Renideer, I bought the dvd for my kids. And yes, we actually had a great time watching it under blankets, sitting by the fire, but I can’t get past that there are NO girl reindeers. There’s a big scene where the boy reindeers compete and learn how to fly (“playing reindeeer games”) There is only one girl- Clarisse: she does not fly or even aspire to fly; she gets the role of cheerleader. My daughter had a friend in pre-school, and I live in San Francisco, supposedly an open and liberal city– the kids in that school put on a Christmas play and the girls were not allowed to be reindeers or Santa because those were boy roles. That sucks. There are no girl elves in the Rudolph movie with speaking parts. There is Herbie, the elf who doesn’t fit in “a misfit,” and I do like the message of embracing your individuality. I can’t help but think Herbie is kind of a gay character, he’s the only elf with good hair– or possibly hair at all– and its a great message to find strength in your differences and to to be yourself. Speaking of which, Santa is extremely critical and only likes Rudolph when he realizes what Rudolph can do for him. Kind of lame, maybe a typical stren father figure role. My husband pointed out, when I complained, that Santa is under a lot of pressure, he’s got a big job to do; he has to know he can rely on his team and that sled is going to fly.
On this blog, I’m going to be rating toys and films, not on sex and violence, but on stereotyping because that’s the kind of imagery that is most damaging to kids– boys and girls both. Three S’s is the worst rating, three Gs for girls, is the best gender rolemodeling. Rudolph gets SS, it doesn’t get three S’s because Clarisse and Rudolph’s mom do stand up for themselves and refuse when Rudolph’s dad tells them to stay home, that its man’s work to find and rescue Rudolph. (I know this only because my six yesr old told me, I missed that part while re-stocking their bowls of cheez-its.) The message of indiviuality is important though with the almost total lack of girls in this story, its kind of like when you go to a private school info night (you can tell what else I’ve been doing) and the head of school tells you how imprtant diversity is to them but there’s no diversity at their school– it’s an intellectual idea, not made into an experience or a reality except in the most limited way.
I am not one of those mom’s who never let’s my kid watch TV (though I am pretty strict about how much) or who only likes wooden toys. I think we all live in the world and I’d like to help them to figure out how to be naviagte it, appropriating toys that are sexist whenever possible, however they can, rather than attempting to isolate them. I’m not “against” Barbie, I think she, like any toy, can be used as a creative outlet. I think “forbidding” toys is like “forbidding candy” which I also don’t do; it only makes kids want them more. That said, I don’t go out of my way to bring that stuff in my home, and I try to get as excited as possible about stuff that I think is good for them.
Let me know about great toys for girls or the ones that drive you crazy and why, what you’ve seen out there, what you’ve liked, what your kids have liked. If you are a girl older than my own, I’d love your comments.
Here’s something I wrote a couple years ago for the San Jose Mercury News on the same topic that kind of inspired me to do this blog. I think you are not allowed to post articles in their full form but as far as I can tell, this one is not anywhere on the internet anymore given the long time lapse so I’m just gong to put it up and hope I don’t get in trouble.
Phooey on `Ratatouille': Female leads lacking in kid films
STUDIOS ACKNOWLEDGE, ACCEPT SEXISM
By Margot Magowan
Article Launched: 07/06/2007 01:32:35 AM PDT
“Ratatouille” made $47 million opening weekend, but as I watched the
film with my 4-year-old daughter, I felt depressed. There was nary a
female rat in sight. I’d forked over $9 so my daughter could get yet
another lesson in sexism direct from Pixar or Disney: No matter if
you’re a rodent, car, or fish – boys are the ones with the starring
roles while girls are relegated to sidekicks.
“Cars,” “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Lion King,” “Monsters Inc.”
each features a male hero and multiple male characters; often a token
female is around to help propel one of the guys to greatness.
“Ratatouille” faithfully follows suit. Colette, a female human sous
chef, even justifies her secondary role in the film with a brief
monologue on misogyny: “Do you know how hard I had to work to get
ahead in this male-dominated kitchen?” she yells at our hero.
The speech is there to throw girls a bone, and you can find this
gesture in most modern day motion picture cartoons. It’s that nod to
the audience: unlike all those cartoons of yesteryear, we know this is
sexist, but there’s nothing we can do about it.
When I complained to my mom and sister: “Why couldn’t Ratatouille have
been female? Why no girls – again?” They said, “Didn’t you hear
Colette’s talk? That’s how it is in the real world.” OK, let me get
this straight: It’s just fine to stretch our imaginations to believe
in a talking rat who can cook, but when it comes to gender
roles, we admire realism and authenticity?
When my daughter goes to the movies, she sees animals talk, fairies or
unicorns prance around, witches cast evil spells, but she’s never
shown a magical land where boys and girls are treated equally, where
gender doesn’t matter. Why can’t Pixar or Disney allow her the fantasy
After I saw “The Lion King,” I wanted to know: Why couldn’t the
lionesses have attacked weak, old Scar? Why did they have to wait
around for Simba to come back to Pride Rock to help them? I was told:
that’s how it is in nature – lionesses need a male to lead the pride.
So a lion can be best friends with a warthog and a meerkat without
gobbling them up, but a lioness heading a pride? That could never
happen in the animal kingdom!
Pixar has yet to allow girls any starring roles, but Disney permits it
if she’s a princess. Audiences can count on the contemporary princess
movie to throw girls their bone: Unlike princesses of the past who
happily went off with the first guy who kissed them out of
unconsciousness, these modern girls get to choose whom they marry.
Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine put up a huge stink, stubbornly refusing
betrothal to the obvious choice. But these elaborate shows of
independence are bases for entire plot lines, keeping the princesses
stories almost entirely focused on marriage: rebellion within the
safest possible framework.
When my daughter was watching “Mulan” – probably the most feminist of
all the motion picture cartoons – dress up as a boy to fight in a war,
she asked me, “Why can’t girls fight?” Before she can even understand
how Mulan is empowering, first she has to understand sexism. But does
she need to know, at age 4, about sexism? Does she need to know people
still believe girls can’t do so many things, like cook in a top-tier
French kitchen? Why can’t she just see a girl chef making great food,
receiving acclaim for her talent, being helped along by a girl rat or
sous chef boy?
The hyper-concern for gender accuracy in the fantasy world extends to
things like plush toys – when I refer to my kid’s animals as “she,”
adults invariably do a double take, checking for manes or tusks: even
female toys must stay in their place. And of course, toys are a big
part of the problem. With today’s mass marketing, all these movie
characters live on as action figures, dolls, games, on T-shirts and
cereal boxes. On my daughter’s kite, her beach ball, her pull-ups, the
trifecta of Jasmine, Belle and Ariel smile shyly. My daughter wasn’t
born with this fairy tale-princess fantasy embedded in her brain, but
like any kid, she’s self-centered. She likes the movies that are all
about her. Females are half of the population. We pay our $10 just
like everyone else. When can we get more representation in our movies?
How long do we have to wait?
Pixar is made up of a bunch of guy geeks. Disney’s top brass is
practically all male. Maybe when we get more female studio heads, more
female directors and producers and writers, we’ll see groups of girls
having adventures; girl heroes doing cool, brave things in starring
roles where marriage may never be mentioned at all. Maybe then people
will wake up, finally recognize the radical lack of imagination going
on in our make believe worlds; Princess Charming finally rescues