Stride Rite needs to give kids more choices, not fewer

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:

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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.

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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.

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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?

18 thoughts on “Stride Rite needs to give kids more choices, not fewer

  1. I think it was the Bee Movie that finally pushed me right over the edge as a parent. It’s just so absurd. Imagine if Marlin had actually changed into a female in the movie! Now that would have made for an interesting, outside-the-box movie.

    • Also, since Dory is female, she being paired with a female Marlin would also make this “accurate,” more outside-the-box version of the movie a buddy movie with two female characters.

      This may be an “adult” movie with human characters, but one example of a buddy movie with two female characters in it is the movie Heat. The blog site, Bitch Flicks wrote about this movie, praising it and wanting more movies like it coming out.

      A Letter to Hollywood: Keep Films Like ‘The Heat’ Coming: http://www.btchflcks.com/2013/07/a-letter-to-hollywood-keep-films-like.html?m=0

      If there can be “adult” movies with two female friends in 2013, why aren’t there any family and kids films with female friends in 2013.

    • What about the one where all the cows WITH VISIBLE UDDERS were male??? I forget what movie that was, and I wasn’t even aware of all the sexism in kids media at that time, and still, I thought that was ridiculous.

      • Yeah, that was one of my favorites, too, Margot. I mention that one in my own “about” page on my blog! When I saw the ad my jaw dropped. So absurd!

      • That movie with male cows with udders is called Barnyard and there is a TV series based on it called Back at the Barnyard.

        Bulls (male cattle) have nipples, but they don’t have udders. There were also female cattle (cows) in the movie and video game (Daisy and Bessie) and the show (Abby and Bessie) with udders along with the male cattle (Ben in the movie and video game, Otis and the three Jersey Cows in both movie, video game, and show). The female ones are supposed to have udders, while the male ones are a classic example of animal gender bender.

  2. Pingback: Baby apps, teen films, Stride Rite, Marissa Meyer, female-centric media or lack thereof, media research, Miley and Robin – Marketing, Media and Childhood

  3. If anything is natural for kids it’s being gender *plural*. If they aren’t being directed one way or the other they like to mix it up. And the thing we absolutely DON’T need is anyone suggesting to kids that there is anything unnatural if they happen to like something from the ‘wrong’ side of the gender divide.

  4. Also, somewhat relatedly, I recently had a very hard time buying a new suit. Nordstrom Rack, for example, had an entire wall of suits for men, and not a single suit for women that wasn’t in mother-of-the-bride territory. Are there really that many more men who have to suit up for work? I can’t think so. Retailers just can’t move past outdated ideas about gender.

  5. Gender stereotyping leads to bullying. Gender stereotyping leads to bullying. Gender stereotyping leads to bullying. Such an important point. Keep up the good work!

  6. Here is a Sociological Images post by The Society Pages that talks about how Bee Movie foisted the patriarchal human gender hierarchy onto bee characters, featuring pollen jocks and pollen groupies as bee equivalents of jocks and groupies respectively. The gender ratio in fictional media (animated works, live action works, video games, books, comics), which treats female characters as a minority, doesn’t reflect human gender ratio in real life, much less real life gender ratio in ants and eusocial bees.

    Recreating the Human Gender Hierarchy in Bee Movie: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/06/08/recreating-the-human-gender-hiearchy-in-bee-movie/

    If A Bugs Life were accurate, Flik would be female, if Antz were accurate, Z would be female, and if Bee Movie were accurate, Barry B. Benson would be female.

    Also, if Finding Nemo were accurate, Marlin the clownfish would have turned female after the female clownfish, Coral, was killed. Clownfish are protoandrous hermaphrodites; they born male and turn female when they mature. When the dominant female is removed from the group, one of the most dominant males becomes female. So, the movie would have been a mother/son relationship movie instead of the father/son relationship movie it is.

  7. Excellent post. I haven’t read the comments on those articles (a form of mental self-preservation), but I’ve seen their ilk in all their guises too many times to count, including venom in my own e-mail box. From the dismissive to the hostile, they are telling in the extent to which they reveal how deeply ingrained the idea that gendered products and media is “natural” is.

    On another note, wish that first commenter you quoted could take a look at this picture of FDR. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/multimedia/photos/?c=y&articleID=119483704

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