If you won’t buy your kids racist presents, don’t buy them sexist ones

Maybe it’s because Santa is an old, white guy, but the Christmas season has a special way of bringing out the inner sexist in grown-ups. In fact, I started my blog, Reel Girl, 2 days after Christmas, 4 years ago, because I was blown away by the gender stereotyped presents my three daughters, then ages 10 months, 3 and 6 years, received. It was Polly Pocket who drove me to blog.


I call her Polly Prostitute, partly due to her fashion choices which include boots, heels, and minis that barely cover her ass. Before you get mad at me for “slut-shaming,” this is a doll marketed to little girls. Why do kids, ages 4 – 7 (the group Polly is supposedly for) need to be choosing belly-baring outfits for Polly? But, really, the bigger question is: Why do girls need to be choosing any kind of outfit for Polly at all?


This tiny plastic doll has about 50 million even tinier plastic articles of clothing, all impossible to keep track of, like fluorescent stilettos or a hairband with kitty ears smaller than my pinky nail. I have a hard enough time not losing the tiny clothing that the three real humans in my house wear, why in Santa’s name would I want this shit lying around around to sort and organize, all so my daughters can get trained to focus on clothing, shopping, fashion, and appearance?

All three of my daughters received multiple “age appropriate” gifts back in 2009, and have every year since, that involved dressing: paper dolls with paper clothes, magnetic dolls with magnetic clothes, soft dolls with clothes you can button and tie, and of course, Barbies, and American Girl dolls at $100 a pop. The list goes on.

I’m here to tell you that these toys are not cute, nor are they a phase girls are ever allowed to “grow out” of. This focus on appearance never disappears from a girl’s life; it simply mutates. That, my friends, is dangerous. We wonder how and why girls get so obsessed with their bodies. Mystified, we conclude this preoccupation is “natural.”  Kids keep getting sexualized and sexually abused. Eating disorders are epidemic, and still, we, authority figures and role models, keep giving girls toys that teach them and train them that how they look is the most important thing. Can you imagine doing this to boys? Giving them endless toys to dress, providing them with very few other male images, from the moment they exit the womb? Would we label that abusive?

If female characters don’t look like Polly Pocket, they pretty much go missing from kidworld all together. Part of that is due to Hollywood. Female protagonists go missing from most of the narratives made into mainstream movies and marketed to kids. Every year, on Reel Girl, I post all the children’s movies coming out that year, and female protagonists are few and far between. If you look at the posters, you can see how females, literally, get marginalized. Check out this recent Christmas movie, as a typical example.



Do you think if parents saw a poster with this many female characters for a mainstream movie in theaters across America, they might do a double take? But this gender ratio is so normal, hardly any one notices. It’s in the Hobbit, Tinitin, Star Wars. And then the toys come out based on those films. This year, my seven year old daughter wanted a more adventurous LEGO set than Friends, where the girls sit at cafes and bakeries. We looked in stores for Leia. This is what we found.


Yep, there’s our girl, in a metal bikini, chained to a giant, green beast. I bet Polly would love that outfit, too. And what’s crazy is that we got this set in the hope that it would be empowering for her, because it included Leia. I know if I search on the internet, I can find a few female minifigs that aren’t quite as awful, but why can’t I see them in a toy store? Why can’t kids experience powerful females as they go about their day, on cereal boxes and embossed on diapers, the way we see powerful and varied male characters everywhere we look? Why are powerful females presented as if they were some kind of special interest group if they exist at all? Why are girls, anywhere outside of the Pink Ghetto, shown as in they are a minority when they are, in fact, one half of the kid population?

Here’s a brief history lesson on racist propaganda and children’s media.

Images/ narratives of Jews 1938


Africans 1931


Females 2013


Be on the right side of history. Please, say no to sexist toys for your kids this Holiday season.





65 thoughts on “If you won’t buy your kids racist presents, don’t buy them sexist ones


    I’m sorry that this isn’t the most eloquent start to a comment, but I can’t react any other way to some of the nonsense replies here. I’m usually the type of person that will go through all comments, no matter how long or numerous, but the logical (ph)allacies and the intellectual dishonesty is killing me here.

    First off, gotta love the people getting all upset that a woman DARES to compare the oppression of women to racial oppression. A few things for these women still suffering from internalized misogyny:

    1) Women/girls are the group with the longest history of oppression/slavery. In fact, anthropologists still can’t put a date on how old patriarchy is, but it is clear that it has been in place for at least 10,000 years in most parts of the world. And where there is patriarchy, women are oppressed and enslaved. In case I really need to spell it out.

    2) Even with racial minorities, women are always dehumanized more than men, including by men of their own race. Men in racial minorities also get better treatment by white men than women of their own race. So this is indeed more than just a black vs white thing. Worse, there is no group of men who haven’t historically (or currently) oppressed women. Even male Jewish prisoners during nazi germany raped their fellow women, who were forced into brothels, according to the latters’ testimonies. Plus all these civil wars, where men have raped their “own” women, regardless of race.

    3) There are literally MILLIONS of girls/women sex trafficked every year. AKA, being raped by multitudes of men with almost no support/hope to escape. Wow, so many disenfranchised classes of men have that happen to them in the same proportion to women, right? Oh wait, no. Never.

    4) Insert all the other shit EVERY woman has had to deal with everyday for god knows how many millenia, some of us being worse-off than others, and which men want us to believe is normal and natural. Like these degrading toys for girls. All the shit that men almost never ever ever have to deal with or worry about, and if it does happen to them, well THEN it’s unnatural or abnormal. Way for women to buy into this self-hating garbage.

    5) A more specific example, but I think it applies particularly well to the author’s post. People reading this, when you think of the word “witch”, what pops up in your mind? It’s that misogynistic image developed during the Burning Times no doubt, wherein we don’t even know how many thousands (or apparently, maybe even millions) of women were burnt to death, had their breasts sliced off, drowned, raped, had their babies thrown into the fire with them, etc etc etc. Yet that image of the haggard witch is still with us, AND IS. COMPLETELY. OK. So why are racist images of other races (rightfully) outrageous to most people, but these images of women killed in a genocide are completely inoffensive and still propagated? And these were almost all white women too. HMMM.

    I’ll stop here, though there is much more to say. Suffice it to say, even women seem to have internalized that our specific oppression as women is forever incomparable to men’s, even though ours is objectively worse in terms of scale, magnitude, and time. In fact, stating this is so TABOO, that women of all races will freak out and tell you that you are racist. So sorry, but ad hominems and straw-womans don’t an argument make.

    • Just to edit: “Men in racial minorities also get better treatment by white men than women of their own race.” I don’t think I was clear here, sorry. I mean that white men will give better treatment to, say, men of color than to women of color.

  2. Actually, having the unfortunate experience of driving down one of the streets in Phoenix, renowned for “walkers” during the late evening, there is an eerie resemblance to the type of clothing used by prostitutes and the current Polly Pockets. That’s not accidental… and it’s not a “I am woman, hear me roar” theme… it’s an enslaving of the body for less than noble pursuits. Whomever is behind the enslaving can be discussed and dissected… but heed this well… it is enslaving and the victims are our daughters. At first the discussion on here was humorous but soon became ridiculous… education does not always equate to wisdom. Beat your chests as you might… your dollar is your vote… don’t buy sexist toys.

  3. “Blatantly racist jokes are not accepted in kidworld. Racism does still exist, but parents, kids, teachers, doctors don’t giggle and laugh at blatant racism the way they do with blatant sexism.” I think this is a little naive. How many “fat and sassy” black stereotypes do you still see in movies? How many marginal sidekicks of color are still used for comedic relief? I’d argue that there are still plenty of blatantly racist stereotypes in the media, yes even in kid world, and the dominant culture still finds them perfectly acceptable. Just because they aren’t mammys in blackface like in the old Tom and Jerry cartoons, doesn’t mean they aren’t still equally as harmful as those damned Bratz dolls. And believe me, if you think people don’t still giggle at blatantly racist jokes, you are living in a bubble. As someone who “passes for white”, I get to hear them all the time.

    I think it’s easy to get defensive when you feel like you’re trying to do the right thing, and people are saying you might be racist. But it would be really helpful to show context for those two images, and how dehumanizing anyone can lead to violence and oppression. Gender based violence, rape, and even the murdering and mutilation of girl infants can definitely be linked to culture and media representation. But you have to be very careful to fully explain how gender representation in the media is equal to nazi propaganda. Without a clear and fully explained link between the two, your blog post reads as jarring, and yes, racist.

    Check out this excellent video by Jay Smooth about racist behavior vs. “being a racist”. Your intentions might have been wonderful, but that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from making mistakes, or from listening to the WOC who are (very reasonably, I might add) trying to explain to you why your blog post is problematic. http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/08/people-sound-racist/

    • Hi Lori,

      One more time, racism exists. Racism is a huge and horrible problem. I never said it doesn’t exist and I am going to stop repeating myself after this slew of comments. You would never see toys blatantly and openly divided by race the way they are by gender. It is OKAY it is ACCEPTED to blatantly and openly stereotype gender in 2013. Yes, the sexualizing of kids is propaganda that dehumanizes and objectifies girls. It is dangerous. It affects everybody. You can tell me as much as you want that it is not serious and horrible and damaging and not as bad but I don’t buy it.


      • I never said that sexualizing kids wasn’t dangerous and serious. I think it is, very much so. My point was that here, in this specific blog post, you did not draw those parallels well.

  4. Dear Margot,

    Thank you for discussing this crucial topic! We are taught from an early age to value only our looks, not our wit, intelligence nor our ability to express our opinions. Apparently, we are also taught to be harshly critical of one another as women.

    The dehumanizing portrayal of ANY group has proven time and time again to have cruel and drastic consequences. Dehumanizing women, half the population of the world, is still acceptable in every country on every continent. The objectification and sexualization of girls and women will continue to make life more dangerous and unjust for all of us until we can talk about it and change the deeply ingrained prejudice that takes place even in 2013.

    Thank you for your passion to help girls and women of every age, race and creed. Please women: let us support one another and tear each other down for having the best intentions. There are enough obstacles in our lives to hold us back, we should not stand in our own way for the pursuit of gender equality.

    • To act like woc should just shut up in name of an inexistent universal sisterhood is ridiculous, woc cannot simply separate their experiences of sexism and racism, they get the full deal all the time, and it’s the job of us, privileged white women, to listen when we get called out.

      • Of course Women of Color cannot separate experiences, nor should we. But women also need to encourage and support one another in this sometimes cruelly patriarchal world.

          • Hi Aninha,

            As I wrote, feminism has a history of racism where WOC have been ignored and marginalized, but when you write “where is the suppport from white women” there are examples of white women supporting WOC throughout history as well from abolitionists to civil rights to reproductive rights battles today. If you are talking about my blog in particular, recently I’ve been writing about Whoopi Goldberg http://reelgirl.com/2013/11/could-i-love-whoopi-goldberg-even-more-check-out-this-video/; lack of black women on SNL http://reelgirl.com/2013/11/whoopi-goldberg-never-asked-to-host-snl/. Recurring mentions include Bella’s Mystery Deck http://reelgirl.com/2013/09/looking-for-perfect-activity-on-a-rainy-day-bellas-mystery-deck/ and black hair http://reelgirl.com/2012/12/black-hair-and-feminism-beyonce-willow-smith-chris-rock-and-rhonda-lee/

            I mostly write on Reel Girl about how kids media is gendered– robots, cars, rats, penguins etc

            I am appalled at the gender division that exists in mainstream america– we would never market toys in 2013 openly to white kids or black kids.

            In America, we are so far behind with women 76 in the world as far as participation is government. Before 9/ 11 no one even knew what the Taliban– gender apartheid– was. Gender issues are generally considered cultural while race issue are considered political. That is not to say racism does not exist! Racism is horrible and everywhere. I never wrote that racism is not here. I am saying caricatures of gender are accpeted today.

            What I believe is so dangerous that is happening right now is mainstream culture accepts caricatures o gender and tells that it is normal and natural. Eben the comments here– how dare I compare, to me reflects how we don’t take these issues seriously. It is propaganda. It is insiduous. It affects all of us but most people are blind to it. It is so ubiquitous, its invisible. I believe what the dehumanzing going ton to women right now is similar to the dehumanizing of people throughout history. It is a crucial and important step in objectification and annihilation.


      • Hi Aninha,

        Huh? That is not what she said. She was referring to the point of the post which was not about racism versus sexism but this, as she wrote.

        “The dehumanizing portrayal of ANY group has proven time and time again to have cruel and drastic consequences. Dehumanizing women, half the population of the world, is still acceptable in every country on every continent. The objectification and sexualization of girls and women will continue to make life more dangerous and unjust for all of us until we can talk about it and change the deeply ingrained prejudice that takes place even in 2013.”

        I am listening. I am posting all the comments and responding to them, and I invited Lesley to write her own post. I asked Lesley because her comments are always great and she had specific examples about characters of color in kids media which is what Reel Girl is mostly about.


        • Racial caricatures are still accepted today though, which is why it’s problematic to compare racism and sexism and basically say racism is less of a problem.

          Racism in mainstream media is completely accepted. Just like Tintin is sexist for not having any female presence, Frozen is racist for not letting poc have lines or influence the plot in any meaningful way while at the same time appropriating saami culture.

          The hunger games is racist for not letting girls of color audition for the role of a girl of color.

          Brave and Tangled were racist for having an all white cast.

          You say that race is not so much of a problem because most characters are not human so they don’t have a race. But if it is like that, then why is it that the princesses being thin and most protagonists being thin is a problem?
          The non-human characters also don’t register as “thin” per se, but there’s still a problem because we live in a fat shaming culture and kids do notice that the kids who go on adventures are mostly thin while the fat characters are supportive, it’s the same with race. Kids notice that the human characters never look like them.

          • Hi Aninha,

            Frozen had all white cast. That is racist. It’s excuse would probably be that that is historically and geographically accurate but that is bullshit because this is a movie about a magical snowqueen who can makes things out of ice, they can put in diverse characters. The Hunger Games also has all white protags, though there are some important characters of color, they are not the protgas. The same with Brave and Tangled. It’s a recurring pattern. I was not a fan of “Princess in the Frog” either” which had a girl of color protag.

            As far as the cars, robots, fish, planes, penhuins– KIDS see gender in those characters. The gender is exaggerated and caricatured and there are sexist jokes made about it that kids get.

            Finally, females are ONE HALF of the population and they should be half of the characters in children’s media.


    • Hi Prof JJ,

      Yes, this is the point:

      “The dehumanizing portrayal of ANY group has proven time and time again to have cruel and drastic consequences. Dehumanizing women, half the population of the world, is still acceptable in every country on every continent. The objectification and sexualization of girls and women will continue to make life more dangerous and unjust for all of us until we can talk about it and change the deeply ingrained prejudice that takes place even in 2013.”

      Thank you for your comment.


  5. Yuck, as a Black woman (notice how I can’t simply separate the two), I am all for gender neutral toys. However, what I’m not down for is you comparing Bratz Dolls to toys/books that reinforced negative representations of Jewish people and Black people; representations contributed to and justified genocide in Belgian Congo (please read up on this, approx. 10 million people died) and the Holocaust. I also don’t appreciate how dismissive you are in the comments when people have brought up these real concerns and how you will resort to all sorts of mental gymnastics to deflect from you non-intersectional white feminism. Disgusting.

    • Hi Milena,

      The Bratz dolls are just one example of the sexualizing of kids. Sexualizing toys for little girls normalizes it, so much that no one hardly notices. In 2013 in the USA girls, right now, are in sexual slavery. Do you follow the news, there was just the biggest bust of child prostitution ever right here in America http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/07/29/fbi-arrest-child-prostitution-ring-rescue/2595725/. Those three women Ariel Castro locked up, raped, and abused in his basement who he kept as slaves for 10 years? Or what about the women and girls all over the world, right now, who are in sexual slavery? Have you read Half the Sky? You may not think rape and sexual slavery of women and girls is “as bad” as the holocaust or genocide in the Congo, so how bad is it? What am I allowed to compare it to? What about the Somal women raped as a weapon of war? Or are you offended and disgusted by me because I relate that to a Princess Leia toy or a Brazt doll? That is exactly what propaganda is. Propaganda dehumanizes. Propaganda makes us accept objectification as normal and okay.

      Dismissive of the comments? I invited one of the commneters to post on Reel Girl. I have responded to all of them. I am stating my opinion in reaction.


      • It’s quite clear that you are racist. I don’t care how many Whoopi Goldberg articles you’ve written. I pray that the devil comes for your soul.

      • those women arial castro kept as slaves are receiving media attention and an outpouring of support. the (black) people in that ridiculous tin-tin pic would not have even made a headline had they been raped and murdered i that era. so yes, it is a terrible comparison. and trying to push this into a “but look at women all over the world” is not a valid argument either. while women all over the world do suffer, it’s incredibly dismissive to compare sexual slavery, rape, genocide, racism, and abuse to a picture of dolls that encourage gender roles of girls in america and the west. is it terrible girls are told from the earliest of ages their function is to be pretty and find a husband? absolutely. but that in no way equals sexual slavery or racism. because when those little girls who got bratz dolls for christmas grow up, they have a choice. it may be a hard choice to defy the patriarchal standard, it may cause them emotional distress, but at the end of the day they will not be sex slaves of someone because of bratz dolls. and while we are talking solidarity and race, have you written a post about why white feminists celebrated the right to vote decades before their black sisters, especially in southern america, could access clean bathrooms, and white schools, let alone a voting booth?
        and finally, polly the prostitute? really offensive on a lot of levels. you claim to support women,yet you compare certain fashion trends to prostitutes? and since you have read half the sky, you must know the risk sex workers face? you must know their rates of rape, murder, and abuse are astronomical, even compared to other women? that police don’t care when sex workers are murdered, that these women are some of the most marginalized on the planet? yet you mock them indirectly by linking sexy clothes to them? these things should not be marketed to little girls, but when you use prostitute to demonstrate your distaste of something, you are really reinforcing the divide between “respectable women” and sex workers. that divide and stigma leads to deaths of sex workers every single day, because sex workers are considered worth less than other women because of their profession (having sex outside of patriarchal approved scenarios). as someone so concerned about women’s issues, you should know better. and again, race plays a part because many sex workers facing the most risk are women of color. so not only are you dismissing sex workers as a whole, you are cutting even deeper by reinforcing racial stereotypes of women of color who have to combat racism and sexism in a daily basis.

        • Hi Nina,

          Wow, you are saying that the women held as sex slaves, raped, and beaten “received media attention.” When Ariel Castro was boought on domestic violence charges they were dropped because the victim’s lawyer did not show up. I cannot believe you are in this innane who has it worse debate. The point is about propaganda, about accepting something as normal and ok. That is a crucial step in objectifying and dehumanzing people.

          “it’s incredibly dismissive to compare sexual slavery, rape, genocide, racism, and abuse to a picture of dolls that encourage gender roles of girls in america and the west.”

          People keep being offended that I dare compare rape to dolls. What do you think that kids book in Hitler’s era is all about? That is my point! We live in a world where sexualizing kids is normal. As I just wrote to someone else, France outlawed child beauty pageants for this reason. In America, we have TV shows about them, celeberties like Fergie dress up as child beauty pageant contestants. All of this acceptance sets up a community where sexual abuse of children happens. The fact that in the USA we don’t take sexualizng of kids seriously affects the whole world. Again, as I wrte to someone else, most Americans didn’t even know about the Taliban before 9/11. It was gender apartheid, and we didnt care here. Gender issues are considered cultural. When the USA– the supposed leader of the free and the brave– sets a dominant culture where dehumanizing women and sexualizing girls is OK, that affects the whole world, who we respond to and why. This is what the book “Half the Sky” is about, written by Pulitzer Prize winning NY times– when a prominent dissident was arrested in China, they would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, they didn’t even consider it news.

          Sexual slavery is going on right now in the USA, there was just the largest arrest ever of trafficked kids, I posted the link on another comment.

          Once again, with Polly Prostitute, I did not use “sexy” because its not real sexuality, it is commodifying and selling sex and its happening to kids RIGHT NOW. I am writing about an entire culture that objectifies an dehumanized women and girls and that we, here in the USA, accept as normal and I am saying that humans will look back on this time at the caricatures the dominant culture accepts about gender and be just as appalled as we are now about what was in European kids literature about jews or africans.


          • “Wow, you are saying that the women held as sex slaves, raped, and beaten “received media attention.””
            yes. as in, the country knows who they are and is overall, being supportive of them. as opposed to people depicted in images like the ones you showed. black women were raped and nobody cared. black men were lynched for even perceived flirtation with white women. so yeah, it’s a crappy parallel.

            and again- nobody is saying that children should be sexualized or that there isn’t propaganda everywhere doing it. i am saying using racist imagery to make your point is not a good thing. you said:

            “we, here in the USA, accept as normal and I am saying that humans will look back on this time at the caricatures the dominant culture accepts about gender and be just as appalled as we are now about what was in European kids literature about jews or africans.”

            that is incredibly dismissive because racism is still incredibly prevalent in american society. so to post some picture and act like racism is practically over is really hurtful and offensive. this image is from decades ago yet also in the 2000’s we had white people wearing blackface for halloween, people talking about lynching the n***** president, and people celebrating the death of black youth, and if you need more examples, i can provide them. it’s really dismissive to use the image the way you are. people should be appaled by those tin tin images, but they should be more appalled that p.o.c still, in 2013, have to explain why blackface is racist. it’s like taking a misogynistic image from an anti-suffrage poster from 1908, to point out how awful sexism was back then, and thankfully men and women are pretty much equal now. because sexism isn’t nearly gone. neither is racism. so please don’t dismiss the racism people of color have to face. that isn’t helpful. because i do agree with you, we do normalize sexualizing girls. and that is wrong. and it leads to all sorts of things, but making a comparison to racism experienced by black people/p.o.c. is just not right.
            and please don’t back pedal in your use of the word prostitute. you intentionally used the word prostitute in a shaming and derogatory manner,and that shaming leads to stigma which has caused a very real body count because anything associated with the word “prostitute” is bad, including actual sex workers themselves. you cannot exclude sex workers from the same dignity and safety other women have while claiming to be “pro women”. using terms with so much negative baggage can only be done in a way to dehumanize the women associated with them. that is really not ok for you to do. not when actual sex workers get murdered everyday, and nobody cares.

          • Hi Nina,

            Once again– YES RACISM EXISTS RIGHT NOW. RACISM IS NOT OVER. RACISM IS EVERYWHERE. I don’t need you to give me recent examples of racism, tey are everywhere– Trayvon Martin just happened THIS YEAR>

            Blatant stereotypes of racism are and racist jokes are not accepted in mainstream society the way gendered caricatures are.THis is not to say racism is not as bad as sexism, this is to say that as a mainstream culture we accept sexism and the sexulazing of girls right now an dits danngerous.

            The blackface is an good example of how she was ridiculed, rightly so, for her disgusting racism. Halloween for girls it is still, right now, in 2013, for most girls, all about dressing in gender stereotypes, those stereotypes are accepted, embraced, and celebrated by mainstream america and parents. So are the child beauty pageants on TV.

            ” it’s like taking a misogynistic image from an anti-suffrage poster from 1908, to point out how awful sexism was back then, and thankfully men and women are pretty much equal now. because sexism isn’t nearly gone. neither is racism. so please don’t dismiss the racism people of color have to face. that isn’t helpful. because i do agree with you, we do normalize sexualizing girls. and that is wrong. and it leads to all sorts of things, but making a comparison to racism experienced by black people/p.o.c. is just not right.”

            I dont know how many times I can say this. RACISM IS NOT GONE!!!!!!!!!! I’ve wrote for the SF CHronicle 10 years ago about how I am against gender segregated schools, how i believe they foster stereotypes. In that article, called “Single-Sex schools, It’s still segregation” I made an analogy to false generalizations of difference based on educated races separately. The point, again, is not that racism does not exist. RACISM EXISTS. RACISM EXISTS IN SCHOOLS> RACISM IS HORRIBLE AND INSIDIUOUS. The point is that extreme gender stereotyping is accepted by mainstream america– that girls and boys learn differently, have different brains, and should be educated differently. I will look for alink to the piece. SEPARATE IS NOT EQUAL. It never has been, it never will be. Propaganda separates, dehumaninzes, objectifies, and sexualizes and it is happening right now, under the guise of being innocuous.

            I cant keep repeating myself. I wish we didn’t disagree but I guess we do.


        • Violence against women is an epidemic in this country: One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime and on average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day. EVERY DAY. http://reelgirl.com/2010/06/prosecute-gender-crimes-van-der-sloot-first-up/

          Want to see some search engine terms I get coming to Reel Girl today? Sexual abuse is epidemic and we live in a culture that condones sexualizing girls. France is taking steps, as is Sweden with the Bechdel test. In Europe, stores have stopped gender segregating toys. Not here. I know you think this is trivial, toys and dolls, but it’s not. It’s propaganda and its dangerous, and dangerous to condone it. here are some search terms today

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  6. I agree with everything Dr. Vanessa said. You did not make a clear connection between racist and sexist toys, so the images of racist children’s books seemed quite random and seem to be only used for shock value.

  7. Leslie,
    Thank you for entering in the conversation, in spite of your hesitancy. I am not talking about people getting degrees here. I am talking about the appropriation of black bodies in the name of white feminism. An image of Africans carrying a white hunter is in no way comparable to Bratz, not because of the propaganda issue, but because the subject was about accepting racist toys at one time the way some people accept sexist toys now. The least Margo could have done was shown an image of a racist toy that was popular in the past, instead of throwing up the first image that pops up when you enter racism into google. Next time you want to mention racism, run it by one of your many black friends, the way a male runs a feminist comment by a woman, before you post. It may be more racist than you think.
    I called you an expert, Margo, because you are telling us what to do and not to do. Don’t be on the wrong side of history, either.

  8. Polly Prostitute? Well aren’t you a peach. It’s disgusting that you are implying a woman cannot show her belly without being a whore. That is disgusting. You should be ashamed of yourself. And you call yourself a feminist.

    • Hi Elle,

      I am talking about a toy for young children. I am sick of most the toys and all the female characters in movies and cartoons, from Leia to Barbie being sexualized. Its not about freedom, its dangerous for kids. KIDS


      • I understand why you find Polly’s clothing problematic, but sex-worker-shaming language is not helping make the point that toys for girls often have an element of fashion that focuses too much on physical attractiveness and also focuses on “sexy,” more adult-focused fashion within limited gender presentations.

        I’ve been reading here for a while and like your work in general, but the execution of this piece is problematic even though you raise a lot of good questions and points. Dr. Paugh’s comments are particularly on point. I hope the (thoughtful, not trolling) comments are helpful for thinking about intersectionality.

        • Hi Leah,

          I don’t feel like Polly Pocket’s clothing is truly “sexy.” I thought about writing “sexy” but it’s not sexy, it’s sexuality as performance, it is selling sex, as opposed to true sexuality (here is a post on that http://reelgirl.com/2013/08/new-video-on-sexualization-of-girls/) which is why I used the term prostitute.

          I think this is an important discussion and I appreciate people telling me their reaction.


          • I would argue that sexuality as performance (fashion, advertising, the way we teach children to behave in sexual and romantic relationships) is not the same as sex work, which is more the (theatrical) performance of sex. Someone dressing in a way that replicates the sexual fantasy feminine of the culture does not make them a sex worker. A doll dressed in this fashion sends a message to young girls about culturally acceptable attractiveness. It shows how women’s bodies are commodified by popular media. But it is not cause to shame sex workers, nor to police women who choose to dress in ways that make them feel comfortable.

            There’s a big difference between a girl thinking “I have to dress like this to be popular” or “I wish I were thin enough to dress like that” (internalized misogyny and body shame) vs. someone who knows about all the cultural BS pushed onto girls, teaching them to simultaneously have to be sexy but not too sexy or they are “sluts” and if they can’t “can’t pull it off” they have to be shamed, but if they can pull it off or even refuse fashion conventions, they must also be shamed, and bares her midriff because she wants to do so. Basically, absorbing the culture without question vs. questioning the culture and making an informed decision.

          • Hi Leah,

            I am not only referring to being popular. I am saying these images EVERYWHERE of sexualizing young kids as if it is OK leads to the general public sexualizing girls and to sexual abuse. In France, child beauty pageants were just outlawed for this reason http://reelgirl.com/2013/11/u-s-lags-behind-other-countries-in-stopping-sexism/ I am saying the sexualizing of kids works like propaganda to dehumanize and objectify kids so that they are more susceptible to sexual abuse, and people thinking is is OK, normal, acceptable, natural to commodify girls bodies and sell sex. I am saying girls today, right now, in the USA exist in a culture where sexualizing them is normal and they sexulaize themselves as performance, without being connected to their bodies or to a sense of real sexuality and this is a dangerous environment that can lead to sexual abuse.


  9. Here are two non-sexualized, non-Ms. Male Character type female animal characters.

    There is a series of children’s books by Nick Bruel called Bad Kitty. The protagonist is a female cat named Kitty or Bad Kitty, who wreaks havoc around her owner’s home when she is in a bad mood. When a character is shown causing mischief, the character is usually male, but in this series, the character is female. Other female animal characters in the series include Mama Kitty (Bad Kitty’s mother), Chatty Kitty (a Siamese), and Pretty Kitty (a Turkish Angora).

    In the Cartoon Network show, Uncle Grandpa, there are five main characters, the titular Uncle Grandpa, his talking red fanny pack Belly Bag, the static photographic cutout of a tiger Giant Realistic Flying Tiger, the sunglasses-wearing talking pizza slice Pizza Steve, the green dinosaur Mr. Gus. The main cast still follows the Smurfette Principle because the only female character in the main cast is Giant Realistic Flying Tiger. Unlike most examples of the Smurfette Principle, she is no more marked with stereotypical feminizing gender markers as not male than the four male characters are marked as not female.

  10. I remember the old Polly pockets that had no outfit changes all and were just tiny little dolls that could fit in a tiny little house, hence the name Polly POCKET because she could fit in your pocket. I think I prefer the old ones. What ever happened to those? Probably something to do with someone whining that they gave it to their kid that was below the recommended age range and then the kid choked in it.

    • … so they decided to create bigger dolls with tinier clothing so no kid could choke on them? yeah, that sounds like a marketing strategy (nope. not being sarcastic here!)

  11. And… this just got more complicated. I’m not sure about secretly racist white feminists. Of course there are complex figures like Margaret Sanger but I think the more significant issue is that the privilege of white feminists, like the privilege of white males, can sometimes prevent them from always acknowledging the divided loyalties and different experiences of women of color.

    Now, I personally don’t believe that anyone should be barred from an open, civil discussion but everyone’s voice is not equal in every argument. And I think it’s important to tread carefully when co-opting the language of someone else’s struggle and equating your own position to the position of another minority group.

  12. I also noticed this with the recent Disney Infinity character based Nintendo tie-in games. There are all of two characters out of twenty which are female. They are Mrs and Miss Incredible.

    Mrs Incredible is impossibly thin (I worry that the character will split in two in no time!) and the Miss Incredible character, Violet, looks lost and stupid. In fact, from the taster of the game-play on the display in Toys R Us, her “special power” seems to be to accidentally or clumsily do something right, without believing once that she can.

    Ostensibly, this game could have been a wonderful thing, with the rather sage observation that children usually mix up their toys and do not necessarily play with them as the kit or franchise might have intended. However, when the population of the character base is so out of sync with real life it has badly missed the mark. Even the films that many of the characters come from have more female characters than this “Infinity” set. Where are the female characters from Cars? Or Monsters Inc? Or Pirates of the Caribbean? Or Toy Story? None are brought forward in “Infinity” to be the figurines…

    Some balance is added by the special interaction pieces, but these are mostly images of the princess/fairy types, adding magic or skills that are very gender specific.

    I will enjoy the sight of the big green monster from Monsters Inc riding in Cinderella’s gold carriage through a roller-coaster, but I’m still sad for what could have been!

    Meanwhile, you could “accidentally” lose various Polly Pocket bits up the vacuum cleaner, and sneak in some replacements such as Lego (NOT the pink stuff!) and encourage more practical and adventurous play in your daughters. As the oldest of three girls and into engineering, I can heartily recommend it. 🙂

    • Just don’t allow Polly or any scantily clad dolls in the house. I had a similar rule for toy weapons.
      I agree with Clare about this sexism seeping into merchandising, especially electronic games. It keeps girls from realizing they can build these imaginary worlds if they learn STEM.
      BTW, this week is hour of code. Put away the dolls and break out the computer coding lessons, for ages 6 to 60.

      • Hi Vanessa,

        Because sexist culture is so ubiquitous, I generally try to focus on my kids on other things instead of not allowing it. Not allowing it tends to make them want it. I buy them other toys and get super excited about other toys, and generally try to ignore the sexist ones. I am not against toy weapons, though I wouldn’t want lots of them around.


    • Hi Clare,

      Yes, totally agree. And I hate when the character is cool in the movie and then in the toy, they give her a “make-over” like Merida, and so many others. I’m hoping the toys from “Frozen” aren’t super sexist. And yes, all pf Polly Pocket has been lost, so hard to keep track of, you know…


  13. Margo,
    While I agree with you 100% on the over abundance of marketing fashion to girls and that it makes them counsious of their appearance in a way that negates their ability to see from their own identies instead of be seen as the under aged sexual object of others, please stop with the racial analogy until you are either living a black racialized existence or have done your homework on black feminism. Finding one stereotypically racist picture doesn’t make you seem like an expert. From a black perspective it makes you seem insensitive. Acknowledge your own white privilege before you start posting offensive pictures to help your brand of white feminism. Your haven’t earned the right. Most of your article didn’t even cover the racist issue, while half the title of your post implied it would. Stick to slamming Polly Pocket’s hypersexualization of clothes for the pre-teen set. That is actually bad enough, without bringing some fake black outrage into it.

    • So only black people can experience or comment on the negativity of racism? Not at all. There are many battles in the anti-racism front, and anti-apartheid front, that had strong white champions. In fact, I find your comments about white feminism highly offensive. Already you are trying to corner some sort of high ground and divide what should be a united community against all discrimination and negative stereotyping.

      I don’t know of one white feminist who is saying “I’m fighting just for white women”. The ones I know about are fighting for ALL women, regardless of colour, race, creed, sexual orientation, and even for transgendered women, whichever way through that gate they are passing.

      The point made was perfectly valid – in the past, racist content in children’s books and games was seen as acceptable, and now it is not. The OP is highlighting that we should try to achieve the same disgust for sexism in children’s lives.

      She is not stacking one “ism” against another, or saying one is more valid than another. Nobody has more or less “right” to make a point, and nobody should be criticised for sticking up for feminism or gender/race rights as if it is owned by one group. She is saying “we won one battle, or at least made a pretty good start – now we need to help girls and women AS WELL”.

      There is a very smart Asian man running a fantastic blog about gender equality and petitioning the media to shame advertising companies into removing their sexist adverts. Should he stop because the women in the adverts are not Asian like him? Or because he is not a woman? I say definitely not.

      • Clare,
        I didn’t say only black people can comment on the negativity of racism. I did say that only black people who have experienced racism or other people who have done research on the negative effects of racism have earned the right to post such racist images as were posted on this blog. As a woman, I have earned the right to speak about my own experience of sexism. If a man does some research into sexism, he has earned the right to post images associated with that research, in context.
        Margo just posted some racist images, not from her own experience or from detailed research on racism.
        We didn’t win the battle on racism. Images like the one she posted are posted on the internet everyday about black people, including the president, his wife, their daughters, and even Oprah. Where were you when white women (under the guise of feminism) were appropriating black women’s bodies in the past few weeks?
        You may not know those white feminists, but they were tweeting #whitegirlsrock during the Black girls rock awards.
        I’m calling out this example of white feminist privilege, do your own homework on how many times you have been a strong white champion against racism and who are these strong white champions of which you speak. Where are they now?
        I acknowledged that the sexism Margo pointed out is wrong. She and you are trying to talk about racism, something which you have shown that you aren’t qualified to tie to sexism using these images out of context.
        You are offended, well so am I.

        • Hi Vanessa,

          Only black people, or people with a phd of some sort can comment on racist imagery? Who is allowed to comment on sexist imagery? Can I comment on anti-semitic imagery? I’m half-Jewish, so does that make it OK? I’m actually wholly Jewish by some definitions since my mother is Jewish. I write about African-Americans/ feminism/ sexism on this blog as well, though perhaps I’m not allowed to do that either.


          • Margot,
            I felt your use of the black imagery was not contextualized. If you want to equate it with anti-semitism you or your ancestors have experienced, I am not complaining about that. I have never been discriminated against because of being Jewish and wouldn’t think that seeing Sophie’s Choice made me an expert on anti-semitism.
            All I’m saying is, you always do your homework when you call out sexism in movies and toys. You site specific examples and research and talk about how it affects yourself and your own children. That is the authentic voice that causes me to follow your blog and respect your advice.
            I am telling you, as a black person, your post needed a lot more examples of similarities between racism and sexism (both personal experience and research) before it should have been titled anything like racism and sexism.
            Where were all the examples about how toys designed to demean black children in the same way that you say Polly demeans girl children? In order to do that, you have to acknowledge you are white, these demeaning toys were made my white people and give some real experiences by black children who were harmed by these toys. That is putting the images in context. Otherwise, you’re just a white person who thinks they have the right to perpetuate them.
            Sarah Palin said our national debt made us slaves to China. Do you really want to defend your right to speak on something your are uninformed about.
            BTW, my PhD isn’t in racism.

          • Hi Vanessa,

            Anti -semitism me or my ancestors have experienced? No, not specifically. I was making a point about propaganda. Again, I never said I was an “expert” and that’s what I mean about phD, you referred to me doing my research. People tell me all the time, by the way, I’m not an expert on this movie or that toy or cartoon etc. I think your point may be the title used the word “racism” but the post was not about racism. If that is your point, I understand why you thought the post was about something different. the post is about how a dominant culture accepts something as normal and then we look back on it and wonder– how could people ever have accepted that. I understand you are unique because you don’t accept the sexism, but most people do. I accept sexism in subtle ways as well and try to recognize how and why when I can. My post is not about an in depth comparison of the history of racism and sexism. That would be a different post. I get that you feel I don’t have enough context in this post to use the image I did. I’ve rwitten extensively about Tintin and the author’s history of racism/ sexism on this site, and gotten plenty of people mad at me for calling him sexist– when Herge himself said he didnt want to include female characters in his stories. I was told I took those quotes out of context. It’s a blog, perhaps I can never provide enough context make true experts happy.


      • Hi Clare,

        Yes, not stacking isms against each other. I’m showing how our culture is accepting something RIGHT NOW that is offensive and I believe people in the future will look back on what we did to kids and be shocked. There have certainly been racist feminists, but to write about propaganda in children’s media is not something I’m not going to do because I’m not an “expert” or I’m too privileged.


    • Hi Vanessa,

      The analogy I’m making is about propaganda presented by a dominant culture to make bias appear innocuous and normal. I am continually amazed that sexism is so accepted by parents in “progressive” San Francisco.

      I don’t even know what this sentence means: “Finding one stereotypically racist picture doesn’t make you seem like an expert.” I never said I was an expert, but I can certainly find you more anti-semitic and racist propaganda. Propaganda affects everyone who sees it.


      • Margot,
        Just by saying the racist propaganda was once accepted, you are leaving out black people, who never accepted it. We never thought it was ok.

        I don’t think the hypersexualized images of Bratz marketed to young girls are ok. I never thought it was ok.

        I found a graphic that sums up the point we agree on:
        Does a toy require specific genitalia to operate?
        Yes. Then it is not for children.
        No. Then it is for children of any gender. Period.

        Some people are already on the same page with you on this issue.

          • Umm…I feel a little nervous and under qualified entering this discussion, but want to add my perspective as a decidedly non-academic Jewish, African American feminist and mother of a black daughter. For one thing, saying that “we won one battle” [against racism in children’s products] sounds laughably naive. Margot I am so happy and grateful to you for your unflinching dedication to pointing out sexism in pop culture, but you don’t seem to be as aware, or as concerned about racist images that have NOT gone away.We were similarly outraged by the LEGO friends line, but were you equally annoyed, (as I was) that the African American friend was the “rock star”? You have done a great job of pointing out how girls in movie posters are either left off, or relegated to the background; have you observed, and also pointed out how the same thing happens to African American and Latino characters in the vast majority of books, movies and tv shows? How a franchise like Harry Potter, while paying lip service to diversity, consistently shoves the non-white characters to the background, reducing their already limited roles in the books to mere walk ons and generally silent roles in the movies?

            I don’t think this is because you don’t care about racism, but, like boys who learn from Hollywood that it is normal for girls to be on the margins, it is normal for you NOT to see African Americans as the centerpiece of a narrative, as having agency and driving the story; you just don’t notice it as much as I do. And while there are many more females in the US than African Americans, we are also severely under represented in pop culture, and even more so in children’s books than are girls. I could reel off a dozen well known, classic children’s book centering on girls: The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Beezus and Ramona, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, a Little Princess, the Secret Garden. How many classic, iconic, children’s books feature nonwhite kids? How about contemporary franchises like Harry Potter, Buffy, Divergent, Star wars, Enders Game, or the Avengers?

            We agree that it is crucial for boys to read and see varied depictions of girls in media. Don’t you think it is just as important for white children to see complex, diverse minority characters in books and movies and tv shows? Are you working to make that happen for your daughters?

            I understand and respect that the purpose of your blog is to highlight the underrepresentation and stereotyping of girls, a worthy and absolutely necessary endeavor. However, when you throw racism into the equation so casually, as though it were a thing of the past, a “battle we’ve already won”, then otherwise supportive sistas like Dr. Pugh and I are going to roll our eyes at what comes off as arrogance, obtuseness or unforgivable naivete.

          • Hi Lesley

            (1) Please don’t ever think you are not qualified to state your opinion and thank you for doing so.

            (2) Racism is in no way over. Neither is anti-semitism. Blatant caricatures of racism and sexism are generally not accepted in kidworld the way that caricatures of gender are. For example, Tom and Jerry cartoons used to be blatantly racist. Now if you watch Tom and Jerry, there is a disclaimer about the racism but nothing about the sexism. The same is true with Tintin, Speilberg would never have made a movie of Tintin in the Congo in 2013, but he was perfectly OK making a movie about another Tintin that is just as sexist. With movies and cartoons for kids, many of the characters are animals, robots, cars, aliens, etc and they are always gendered and that gender is caricatured and exaggerated. That is what I write about mostly here. You’ll have a movie like Planes where a joke is made about how ladies can’t fly. That is a blatantly sexist joke, totally accepted in kidworld. Blatantly racist jokes are not accepted in kidworld. Racism does still exist, but parents, kids, teachers, doctors don’t giggle and laugh at blatant racism the way they do with blatant sexism.

            (3) I am sure I don’t notice racism as much as you do and you are also right that the main purpose of this blog is gender, but I appreciate when racism is pointed out. YES racial diversity is under-represented. YES I do seek out diverse characters for my daughters. I let my 10 year old watch Scandal because, even though there is sex, it has a powerful african-american woman and that is more important to me that she see. When I see dolls of powerful african-americans, I try to get them, like Rue from Hunger Games.

            (4) I’m sorry you feel I casually throw racism in here. I am talking about liberal/ progressive/ educated parents who would never laugh at a blatantly racist joke in kids media but will at sexist ones and show then to their kids. But I don’t feel like I am arrogant, obtuse, or unforgivable, but that’s matter of opionion of course.

            (5) If you want to write a post for Reel Girl about this, I would love it.


  14. The easy answer is that toy manufacturers want kids to keep coming back. It’s great if you love that one toy. But after you’ve handed over your money, they don’t keep earning money unless they get you to buy something else. And sure they can release new dolls and cars and water guns and whatnot but sometimes parents don’t want to buy their kids a completely new toy every year and sometimes kids still like the old toy. And so we get extra clothes for Barbie and more cars for the race track you bought last year and additional playsets for your dolls, etc. etc.

    The more complicated answer is that this rationale for why toy manufacturers sell toys that make playtime about the project of getting dressed in the first place isn’t as easy answered. It’s not because they’re in cahoots with the fashion industry and trying to make girls obsessed with their appearances and the image they’re projecting into the world. One day I will write something on the incredibly messed up “What Not To Wear” mentality.

    Also, no, Margot it’s still super judgmental for you to call her Polly Prostitute.

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