Since my letter to Stride Rite about how its gender stereotyped marketing limits all kids, hundreds of commenters on Jezebel, Daily Mail, Huffington Post, Fox News, and this blog are upset for the same reason: (This one from Daily Mail)
Normal boys will NOT wear pink, girly shoes. It’s just a fact of nature. That is the reason society and marketers accept different preferences for different genders. Get over it! Who wants to live in a world where there are two genders who all look alike, have the same preferences, etc. What a boring world you liberal nuts would desire to live in!
Not wanting to live in a boring world where everyone looks alike is exactly why I wrote my letter to Stride Rite. All children need to be exposed to all colors. Children weren’t even color-coded before the early twentieth century. Before that, babies wore white, because to get clothing clean, it had to be boiled. Take a look at President Roosevelt:
Pink was first a “boy” color, a version of red which symbolized strength. Blue was a “girl” color, associated with the Virgin Mary. That’s why in the early Disney movies, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland all wore blue.
But today, because of marketing, we get comments like the one above from adults and from kids. Here it is again:
Normal boys will NOT wear pink…It’s just a fact of nature.
People keep asking me if I want “gender neutral.” I’m not even sure what that means, and the question misses the point. I want options. I want all kids to see many more images of powerful and complex females, to see girls taking risks, saving the world, being brave, smart, and going on adventures in the fantasy world and in the real one.
As it stands, strong female characters have gone missing from kidworld. Part of this overall lack is because there are so few female characters in kids’ movies. I started Reel Girl because in movie after movie for kids, there’s usually a male protagonist while females, who are, in fact, half of the kid population are presented as if they were a minority. The fewer females you have, the easier it is to stereotype them. And still, companies like Stride Rite continue to erase the few female characters that do exist in mainstream culture, removing Wonder Woman, Black Widow, and Leia from their Justice League, Avengers, and Star Wars products and marketing.
Here’s my four year old daughter. I wouldn’t call her a “tomboy,” whatever that means. She likes pants; she likes dresses; she like yellow, she likes pink, she likes black. She likes to race and play soccer and read and make art. She loves superheroes and her mermaid Barbie.
My daughter chose Star Wars shoes because her male cousin had them. So part of her decision was made from just hanging out with a boy, something we don’t see nearly enough of today with all these gender segregated toys and marketing. At school, wearing her new shoes, my daughter was teased by a five year old girl who told her she was wearing “boy shoes.” How long until my daughter stops going to the “boy” side of stores?
My 7 year old daughter told me that at her school, a first grade boy was playing with a castle, and she heard a first grade girl keep telling him: “That’s a girl toy.” The girl wouldn’t let up until the boy stopped playing and moved away. Gender stereotyping leads to bullying and that limits all kids. And gender stereotyping is everywhere. Even if I don’t shop at Stride Rite, my kids will still see this ad in the window. The Stride Rite store is in a San Francisco neighborhood where lots of kids go school. Hundreds of children will see this ad every day.
I agree with the commenters. I wish Stride Rite would recognize that we don’t want want to live in a world where two genders all look alike and have all the same preferences. All kids need to see more female protagonists and strong female characters. Stride Rite, are you listening?