Parents get sick of sexist marketing

T shirt-gate has a positive side. After JCPenney’s  “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother had to do it for me,” shirt for girls incited a protest that went viral, more parents are catching on to how damaging kidworld’s sexist marketing has become.

Parenting blogs all over the internet are posting on sexist marketing, many upset that massive chains like Target and WalMart have several aisles of action/ activity centered “boy toys” and far fewer options and space for “girl toys.”

Pigtail Pals, a site that creates clothing empowering to girls, is getting thousands of new customers and repeatedly selling out of its shirt created in response to Penney’s that reads, “Pretty’s got nothing to do with it.”

It’s great that parents are choosing more carefully when and how to spend their dollars because now as never before TV series, movies, toys, products, apps, video games are all linked, figuratively and literally by phones, computers, tablets on and on creating a super-monochromatic world to easily push products.

As Peggy Orenstein wrote in her bestseller Cinderella Ate My Daughter, an effective strategy to move merchandise is to segment the marketplace:

Splitting kids and adults, or for that matter, penguins, into ever tinier categories has proved a surefire way to boost profits. So where there was once a big group called kids we now have toddlers, pre-schoolers, tweens, young-adolescents and older adolescents, each with their own developmental and marketing profile…One of the easiest ways to segment the market is to magnify gender differences or invent them where they did not previously exist.

Just think about face creams. As any woman who has walked through a department store knows, you are not advised to buy one bottle of moisturizer but a day cream, night cream, eye cream, neck or decolletage, and then an SPF for face and another for body because, you”ll be warned: “You can get an SPF in your daily moisturizer, but you shouldn’t really ask one cream to do two jobs.”

Why sell a brown bat when you can get parents to buy one that’s pink and one that’s blue?

Adweek reports on new mom, Jenny Gill, who gave birth at New York’s Cornell Weill hospital and had her picture snapped the way you do when taking your kid to the zoo or the Academy of Sciences, and then was offered a Disney onesie, free.

Gill says:

“In the middle of taking the pictures, she pulls out this cutely wrapped onesie and says, ‘Oh, here’s a free Disney onesie. We’ll just need your email address,’” Gill recalls. “It weirded me out. I just gave birth, please lay off with the Disney already!”

Disney is unlikely to lay off anytime soon, and neither are the countless other brands in need of dollars. They’re part of a trend—fueled in part by the growth of digital devices—toward aggressively targeting a demographic that didn’t exist, in marketers’ eyes, until recently: infants to 3-year-olds. By getting their logos and iconic characters in front of babies—even those with still-blurry eyesight—they hope to establish brand-name preference before she or he has uttered a word…

Dan Acuff, a former marketing consultant to Hasbro, Mattel, Nestlé, and others. “Babies don’t distinguish between reality and fantasy, so they think, ‘Let’s get them while they’re susceptible.’”

Which brings us back to movies. As I’ve written before, it’s no fun picking on loveable cartoon characters. Everyone, including me, adores Nemo and the Lion King and Ratatouille, all great films. But let’s face it: these movies are also the first step in a mass marketing machine. When girl characters are left out or given limited roles (see Reel Girl’s gallery of 2011 movies ) both genders learn repeatedly that boys are more important and can do many more things than girls can. And as marketer Dan Acuff implies above, fantasy creates reality.

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The T shirt that’s changing the world

Update: Parents and advocates are now bringing attention to another sexist T, this one by Forever 21 that reads: “Allergic to algebra”

The Mommy Files posts:

Many Reddit readers were outraged. A user who calls herself PrincessJingles chimed in: “‘Allergic to algebra’…really? The last thing the young women of our world need is another reason to think being dumb is cool. This tee is an affront to learned women the world over who have the audacity to dream of a day when women will be respected equally by their male peers, not because of some feminist movement, but simply because we give no reason for our male counterparts to think otherwise. Shame on you.”

Forever 21, a Los Angeles-based retailer that’s popular with teens, is selling the tee for $12.80. This isn’t the retailer’s only shirt implying that girls are stupid and uninterested in school. The words “Skool sucks” are boldly written across one shirt and another reads “I love school” on the front and “Not…” on the back.

After furious parents protested JCPenney’s sexist T shirt that read “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me,” the massive chain store pulled it. It’s is a huge victory for parents and kids, boys included, because when kids repeatedly get the message that girls are only supposed to be pretty, it’s bad for everyone.

Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals has created an awesome T-shirt that’s selling like hotcakes. The shirt reads: “Pretty has nothing to do with it.” You  can buy the shirt here.

If you don’t know of Wardy or her site and blog, check it out. Here’s how she describes her products/site’s mission:

“Pigtail Pals was created by Melissa Wardy, a mom and entrepreneur who was fed up of the limitations and stereotypes found in children’s clothing. Melissa wanted role models for her daughter that exemplified courage, intelligence, and imagination.

She doesn’t want to confine her little girl to the pink and purple world being marketed to her. When Melissa couldn’t find what she wanted, Pigtail Pals was born. It is our intention to show girls that they may be bold, adventurous and heroic just like the boys!

A Pigtail Pal doesn’t wish upon a star and wait for her prince to show up. A Pigtail Pal gets into her rocket ship and finds that star all on her own!

An interview with Wardy coming soon.

Love this comment

Got this from holierthanthou on SFGate (where Reel Girl is crossposted) in response to Fifty is not the new thirty:

When I was a kid, people used to say “life begins at 40.” I thought that was just BS old people said to make themselves feel better. But it’s true. That is if you haven’t waited until 40 to start having children like many women these days. I work with a woman who’s five years older than me and has a 12 year old.

My children were raised and gone off to college by the time I was 45 . Empty nest? It’s pure heaven folks. I do what I want, when I want and if I want to. My time is my own, my life is my own, I did everything I signed up for and now I can be as selfish and self indulgent as I want. I watch what I want on tv and drink beer and walk my dogs and there’s an old guy living in the basement who loves his leather lazy-boy.

I don’t even miss the leering. I thought I would miss the power of youth and looks but I don’t. It’s a relief to be free of all the crap that goes along with being objectified. It’s very relaxing not to worry about looking at a man in the eyes more than two seconds and having them proceed to think I just lit up a billboard across my head that said “eff me.”

I look at young mothers in the grocery store with a couple of fussy children and I see that look and I remember, and the hair on the back of my neck stands up.

Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow

I’m so excited about the new book  Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow by Katy Towell that instead of blogging about it, I’m going to sneak off and finish reading it now that my kids are, finally and thankfully, off at school. More soon, but try to get your hands on this amazing book as soon as possible. And, please, Hollywood, make a movie! You can order the book here.

My daughter and my mortgage

What do you teach your kids about money?

I know lots of parents do allowance but that hasn’t worked so well in our family. There was anxiety about lost money, skipped payments, fights over what the money should be used for. It didn’t seem like a great way to introduce financial life to my kids.

So I switched strategies and my new plan seems to be working well. I just try to talk to my kids about money without attaching emotion to the topic, without getting into any big issues of rich or poor, without even focusing much on values like saving or spending. I am basically teaching them about money the same way I teach them about new words or the solar system.

My oldest kid is eight and I’ve taught her about our mortgage. She can read the monthly statement. She knows how much we owe on the house, how much we pay every month, how much of that goes to the down payment and how much goes to the bank, though she doesn’t understand what interest is. She loves to open up the statement and as far as I can tell, she doesn’t equate the house or the money we owe with anxiety or status or anything much at all.

My hope for my daughters is that they grow up financially literate and comfortable talking about money, that its natural for them to do so and not scary, that they are able to talk about money with bosses, business partners, girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands or whomever.

Maybe in a year or so, I’ll attempt allowance again.

Why Fifty is Not the New Thirty

On my birthday this year, I posted about how great it felt to be 42. With all that I’d heard and read about women on the other side of forty– who knew? I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Fascinated by my state of mind, I read several books about women and aging, trying to figure out if other people, especially women, felt like I did.

One of my favorites is called Between a Rock and a Hot Place: Why Fifty is Not the New Thirty by Tracey Jackson. Jackson is hilarious. I was laughing out loud for the whole read. Jackson and I are different in many ways, our attitudes about plastic surgery being just one, but she writes totally honestly, it seems, about what getting older is like for her. Her basic thesis is that if you accept change, go with the flow, don’t try to be thirty, life is different but good.

As I read, I started to wonder if perhaps menopause isn’t about “drying up” and nature having no use for you anymore, as I’d heard in the past. Maybe menopause includes focusing your body’s energy away from reproduction, using precious resources elsewhere.  Curious, I read The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup, an ob/ gyn. She goes into a multitude of ways that she believes menopause jump starts the brain into a mind body revolution. Again, Northrup is not saying fifty is thirty. She’s basically saying life is a mysterious adventure.

Another book I absolutely love is Prime Time by Jane Fonda. This book is so brave. Like Jackson’s, it’s another honest account about growing older. It may not be your story, but it’s Fonda’s and she tells it well. Though the book jacket and PR material promotes the book as “making the most of all of your life” this book is really about the “Third Act” as Fonda calls it. I guess the publishers thought billing it that way wouldn’t sell. Thank God Jane Fonda is Jane Fonda and can write about whatever she wants and get it published.

There seems to be no subject this writer is afraid of tackling from death to money to sex. Fonda has one chapter I love about how society as a whole benefits from older people. This perspective is such a different take than what you generally hear from the media about the older generation being a huge, economic drain on everyone else. Fonda writes about “generativity” an idea crucial to healthy aging where your focus moves from yourself to “a broader social radius, giving to the community and larger world.” She also writes about the “silver market:”

Economists argue that there is an important dividend that comes from the increasing number of older people who are relatively well off and who now make up the greater proportion of the market share. Many retirees have accumulated wealth and other significant spending power, which stimulates jobs and financial growth. Older individuals make invaluable investments in real estate, continuing education, technologies for independent living, travel, tourism, health services, and the like…

A study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute  reported that the estimated spending power of baby boomers will soon exceed $2 trillion dollars annually…however, the degree to which the silver market thrives is highly policy dependent. In countries where sound retirement plans are provided, older individuals feel secure to spend their wealth rater than save it…

Older individuals donate more to universities, charities, and civil organizations than at any other age…

Older citizens are active citizens; their efforts to volunteer help hold up communities. They organize and participate in civic organizations, run elections, mentor young people, support their peers in long term car and hospice, lead recreation groups, and assist visitors and hospital, libraries, schools and museums.”

Another book I read is called Fortytude by Sarah Brokaw who is a therapist and noticed many of her clients became happier after 40. Though I understand her curiousity leading her to write the book when so few have been written on this, Brokaw is my age and I found those written by people who had actually experienced more aging more interesting.

I also read The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife by Marianne Wiliamson and though it had some good parts, it seemed to mostly be the same material covered in her previous, better books, just repackaged.

I do have a question that I can’t seem to find an answer to. After reading all these books, I want to know: do emotions age? There’s quite a bit written about the brain aging, and of course, the rest of the body aging. But it seems, at least from what I’ve read and lived, older adults experience emotions just as intensely as babies. And if emotions don’t wither, perhaps, as we grow older, do we potentially become more skilled in handling them? Could this be why I’m happier?

Who gets to be sexy?

Last week, New York Times reporter and Motherlode blogger Lisa Belkin posted about Duke University’s sexist frat party invites which asked women to show up dressed slutty. Just as troubling as the actual invite, Belkin writes, was that women did, in fact, show up dressed slutty. Belkin writes that a generation ago, women were leading Take Back the Night Marches at college campuses. She wants to know: What’s changed?

Amanda Marcotte, blogger for Slate’s XX Factor, responds to Belkin that dressing slutty can be fun. Marcotte is annoyed that Belkin, like so many before her, conflates clothing choices with real social inequalities. Marcotte says a woman can be smart and dress in a skimpy skirt.

Belkin responds that she doesn’t see the men dressing skimpy.

Marcotte replies that her goal here is to dismantle gender norms; if men didn’t fear being emasculated by others, they probably, too, would enjoy wearing skimpy outfits and being lusted after by their peers.

But who gets to be sexy? And why?

The messed up gender disparity here is that men, for the most part, get to be sexy for what they do. While women, for the most part, only for how they appear. One major thing that sucks about this difference is that the “training ground” to support it starts so early- back when we’re little kids. My blog, Reel Girl, is all about the gender difference imposed so young on boys and girls through kids’ TV, movies, books, and toys. In kidworld, the boys get to do stuff. The girls expose their belly buttons and bat their eyelashes and wear different outfits.

In high school, the established pecking order is further enforced- the athletes or the funny guys are the hot ones. A funny girl or athletic girl might be considered hot, but she’s not sexy because of her skills or talents, but in spite of them. And then, of course, next on the social agenda are college frat parties, and then comes the “real world.”

Women, by the way, are not considered sexy based on how they appear because men are visual. Or any other idiotic social Darwinist theory/ explanation about how gender inequity is just “natural.” The reason for the gender difference about who gets to be sexy is this: Men are the guys in charge. For women to have sexual power and political, social, or economic power is threatening to men as a group.

I believe the major reason women are held back is because dangling the carrot- if you achieve, you will be sexy- is a huge motivator, because being sexy is fun. Men have a direct route while women are met with various with dead ends.

The solution to this enforced gender duality is not, alas, to be smart and wear a short skirt all at the same time. It’s to change these stats on American women, who make up 52% of our citizens and 46.5% of our labor force.

Women hold only 15.2% of seats on the boards of Fortune 500 companies.

Women are just 19% of partners in law firms.

Women represent 17% of the United States Congress.

Throughout our history only four women have held the office of Supreme Court Justice.

There are currently only six female governors.

Women make up 14% of all guest appearances on the influential Sunday television talk shows; among repeat guests, only 7% are women.

Only 15% of the authors on the The New York Times best seller list for nonfiction are women.

Only about 20% of op-eds in America’s newspapers are by women.

Women make up 8% of all writers of major motion pictures.

Women are 17% of all executive producers.

Women are 2% of all cinematographers.

See my first post on Belkin’s NYT story where I wrote that not so much has changed in the past twenty or thirty years for women on college campuses or elsewhere.

Reel Girl is now on Facebook. Click here to join.

Reel Girl gets Facebook page

Please visit it here, click “like” and suggest to your friends.

But here are some questions:

What is the point of this page? If I have my blog and my own FB page, why this? Do I do daily posts?

And…do you like Reel Girl and one word or two? I like one because its sounds kind of like a superhero, but I like the way just the words look better as two, and its harder to find in a search if its one word.

Let me know your success and failure stories with FB, Twitter etc which I am not sure I am making full use of either. What do people like on Twitter? I usually just post my blogs…

Do you think the blog address should just be or

Visit Reel Girl on FB



Why would a feminist be good at housework?

Not only do I hate housework, I’m horrible at it. Mess doesn’t bother me in some basic way it annoys other people. If I see something on the floor, I feel no strong need to pick it up.

But here’s the problem: I live with four other people in a house that fits us only if we are super organized. Our home is a Victorian built in 1911 with tiny, flat closets and no garage. Basically, zero storage space. So, though I may be missing the gene that makes you like everything in its proper place, as previously posted, I don’t like to yell at my kids and I don’t like to waste time. The antidote, I’ve slowly come to realize, is keeping life organized.

I’ve been getting lots of help in this area from a fascinating book called Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. I bought this book years ago, not because I was interested at all in keeping house. I’d read about it on Salon and was intrigued that the author was a philosophy professor, Harvard Law grad and was also obsessed by housekeeping. Why would someone so smart care so much about housekeeping? But the book was just too huge– over 8oo pages. I only read her intro and decided this woman wasn’t just obsessed, she had OCD. Whatever I was missing, she had too much of. Clearly, a smart woman cared this much about housekeeping only because she was crazy. I stopped reading.

This all happened when I was single and lived blissfully alone in a one bedroom flat I rented. But now, I need help.

Last week, after repeated letters from the library, I finally set out to search for my kids overdue books. That’s when I came across Mendelson’s book on the shelf, covered with dust (which she wouldn’t like) ten years since I’d opened it. I’ve had it near me ever since. Quite simply, this book is saving my life. Or rather, it’s helping to give me my life back. Mendelson’s housekeeping isn’t about wasting time, it’s about saving it.  Because God knows, I don’t have hours to spend looking for my kids’ books. Who does? Or, maybe more importantly, I don’t have the energy to waste being pissed off at my kids while I’m looking. Instead, I need to conserve crucial resources (time and energy) by designating a shelf in the house where we keep the library books. I need to make sure we keep up with putting them there. Duh.

I’ll admit, I was a little worried I was so into this read. Had getting married and having kids messed up my brain? Had I developed OCD? If I did in fact do what Mendelson recommended, would I ever do anything but clean and organize? I wanted to know: What has this woman done since she wrote this massive book besides clean house? I googled her. Since 1999, Mendelson has written and published three more books– all novels. She also teaches and lectures. That sold me–  keeping house allows you to accomplish more, not less.

Not only that, something else in Mendelson’s book changed the way I think about housekeeping into something that actually inspires me. She writes that making a home a home is not about decor or furnishings. She thinks we spend too much money on all that. Nor is making a home about Martha Stewart type knick-knacks, in some nostalgic quest to make an old fashioned, homey home. Mendelson writes:

“Ironically, people are led into the error of playing house instead of keeping house by a genuine desire for home and its comforts. Nostalgia means literally, homesickness.

“What really does work to increase the feeling of having a home and its comforts is housekeeping. Housekeeping creates cleanliness, order, regularity, beauty, the conditions for health and safety, and a good place to do and feel all the things you wish and need to do in your home. Whether you live alone, with a spouse, parents and ten children, it is your housekeeping that keeps your home alive, that turns it into a small society in its own right, a vital place with its own ways and rhythms, the place where you can more be yourself than anywhere else.”

I get what she is saying– a home that functions well, that relaxes and restores you and your family, is not about presenting a perfect, finished product. What makes a home a home is the continual process of caring for it.