This product was seen at the John Lewis store in High Wycombe. Not familiar with this UK institution, I looked it up to find it has almost 650,00 likes.
I imagine the day this product is on display in a museum, an artifact. People will look at it, baffled, not even understanding. Students will study how backwards the sexist culture was in 2013, wondering how and why our culture allowed and accepted all this, as if it were okay or funny or just normal.
The latest global estimate from the United Nations Say No to Violence Campaign is that the percentage of women and girls who have experienced violence in their lifetimes is now up to an unbearable 70%. In a world in which this many girls and women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, allowing content about raping and beating women to be shared, boasted and joked about contributes to the normalisation of domestic and sexual violence, creates an atmosphere in which perpetrators are more likely to believe they will go unpunished, and communicates to victims that they will not be taken seriously if they report.
Violence against women is epidemic. A first step to abuse is always dehumanizing the victim. Propaganda, in the form of images and narratives, effectively dehumanizes on a mass scale. Here’s some propaganda marketed to kids:
Images/ narratives of Jews circa 1938
Africans circa 1931
Females circa 2013
It’s easy to look back on history and wonder: How did people ever put up with that? I’d never buy into it.
But what are you participating in right now that is completely accepted, not to mention celebrated, by our culture?
I guess Disney was right to be so terrified of creating a strong, BRAVE, female protagonist (along with Pixar studios which hadn’t had ANY female protags before “Brave.”) It looks like Merida could be turning Disney’s franchise on it’s head. That’s pretty damn heroic.
Another mistake Disney made with “Brave?” They hired a female director. They fired her, but it was too late. Brenda Chapman wrote “Brave” based on her daughter. She was furious with the character’s transformation and wrote publicly about Disney’s terrible mistake.
That’s right: Although Merida was created by a woman as a role model for girls, the male-dominated consumer product division at Disney has ignored the character’s intended benefits for young girls, sexualizing her for profit. Compared with her film counterpart, this new Merida is slimmer and bustier. She wears makeup, and her hair’s characteristic wildness is gone: It has been volumized and restyled with a texture more traditionally “pretty.” Furthermore, she is missing her signature bow, arrow, and quiver; instead, she wears a fashionable sash around her sparkly, off-the-shoulder gown. (As Peggy Orenstein noted when she broke the news of the redesign, “Moms tell me all the time that their preschool daughters are pitching fits and destroying their t-shirts because ‘princesses don’t cover their shoulders.’” I’ve heard the same from parents, as well.)
Is the sexualized image of Merida gone for good? Has Disney learned a lesson? Or will that lesson be: No more strong female characters leading a film! No more female directors writing about their daughters! Keep the females weak and quiet!
Objectifying and sexualizing girls is dangerous. A first step to abuse is always dehumanizing the victim. Propaganda, in the form of images and narratives, effectively dehumanizes on a mass scale.
Images/ narratives of Jews circa 1938
Africans circa 1931
Females circa 2013
It’s easy to look back on history and wonder: How did people ever put up with that? I’d never buy into it, not to mention expose my child to it. But what are you participating in right now that is completely accepted, not to mention celebrated, by our culture?
Be part of the solution. Demand narratives with strong female characters for your kids.
Update: New Merida may be off Disney’s site but she’s showing up all over the place including Target. Below is Target’s web page.
Since his daughter, Princess Merida, made national headlines with her makeover– she’s skinnier with tamed curls, a new off the shoulder gown, and the belt that once held her quiver has morphed into a fashion sash– King Fergus wants to know: “Where’s my makeover?”
Fergus says, “It’s not fair. I’m the King! Why are princesses always the ones who get to look pretty? Some would call me fat, hairy, and I’m missing a leg for goodness sake. Where’s my stylist?” Throughout DunBroch, Fergus has posted these before and after pics of Merida:
Now, King Fergus wants to know: “Artists, what can you do for me?”
Perhaps I am the wrong person to open this discussion, because I was raised in a house where being beautiful (if you were a girl) was everything – I was dragged from under my bed as a 6-year-old, kicking and screaming, so that my “ugly” straight hair could be permed.I was the only pre-teen I knew who was forced to wear makeup.And I existed on air-popped popcorn throughout high school because I dreaded being withdrawn from school and put on a liquid diet until I lost weight like a friend of mine.I grew up to make my living for a while from my looks, modeling and acting.So it would be silly to claim I don’t carry some baggage about beauty, and I won’t even try.
But I’m going to throw my hat into the ring anyway on the latest movement to redefine beauty, to make it more inclusive, to tell every woman she’s beautiful (yes, Dove, that’s you…and so many more).I hate it.I absolutely detest it.Why?Because even the most well-intentioned, politically correct, supportive, inclusive statements and movements can still be boiled down to this:beauty is all important.
The traditional wisdom – from my grandmother’s era – was a terse “if you’re not beautiful, cultivate a great personality, be the smartest, wittiest person in the world, be charming, develop great talents.”This seems outrageously offensive in today’s era, yes?It puts beauty in a removed and superior category which excuses the lucky ‘owners’ from doing anything else on that list (plus it reinforces the tired dichotomy of smart/witty/talented vs. beautiful).As much as we sincerely applaud the use of larger-sized models and real women in these new campaigns, the honest truth is: nothing has changed.We are still saying beauty is the defining item in women’s lives.We’re just screaming for an expanded definition.
If you take out the words “beautiful” and “ugly” in the widely celebrated, empowering “Everyone’s Beautiful!” campaigns and you substitutethe words “white” and “black” or “straight” and “gay” you begin to see how thoroughly stupid it is to waste time trying to define (or redefine) “beauty.”Go ahead, try it: “Everyone’s white! You’re white just as you are!” Or“We just need to redefine straight to include all humans! Everyone’s straight!”
It suddenly seems ridiculous (not to mention condescending), doesn’t it? These well-intentioned feel-good anthems really just posit beautiful (or white or straight) as the goal, as the “best” option, as the ultimate compliment/inclusion/approval.Think I’m exaggerating? I can guarantee that someone in response to this article will think the most insulting, awful comment they can summon is “you’re just a jealous, fat, ugly dyke!”But it’s not just those haters – it’s the advertisers, it’s the lawmakers, it’s the population, it’s each and every one of us.We all keep thinking that telling women and girls they’re beautiful is the answer, as long as we adjust the definition to include everyone.But we’re all still holding it up as the holy grail, the pinnacle of achievement, the most important thing they can be.
You know, my mother thought straight hair was disgustingly ugly (a fact she will still tell anyone to this day).As a child, did I wish she would open her beauty boundaries, recalibrate her metric, until it included my stick-straight strands?That would have saved me a lot of tears and chemical burns on my scalp, sure, but really I just remember fervently wishing she would stop focusing on my damned hair so I could go outside and swing on the monkey bars.Did my young friend wish her parents would say “honey, a few extra pounds are beautiful!” Not at all.She felt nearly the same shame and humiliation whether they praised her weight loss or put her on a diet.She simply didn’t want them or anyone else to discuss her body, in any way, good or bad – it was mortifying.She just wanted to be riding her horse.
Each one of us – me, you, Dove, everyone – needs to stop trying to expand our precious definitions (“beauty is valued, so we need to make sure everyone feels beautiful!”) and figure out why (and if) they’re important to define at all.Everyone should be accepted and given equal consideration and rights, even if we’re not all straight, we’re not all white, and we’re not all beautiful.Who cares? Let’s cultivate our talents, our charm, our smarts, our personalities.And then let’s run out and swing on the monkey bars.
“Thoughts that come with dove’s footsteps guide the world.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Melissa Duge Spiers is a writer whose work has appeared in Adventure Sports Journal, Vermont Sports, and The Monterey Herald, among other publications. She is working on her first novel. A graduate of Barnard College, she lives in Santa Cruz, CA with her husband and four children.
This sexism, by the way, goes beyond the specific imagery of a superhero. “Be a hero” translates to “act, take risks, make choices. “I need a hero” means “I’m a minor character. I’m passive, and I wait.”
See the difference?
The insidious problem with this stereotyped gender casting is that women are constantly sidelined and marginalized, remarkably, in the roles they play in their own lives. Females are cast in the supporting role, defined by their relationships as girlfriend, wife, mother, or helper. This sexist narrative has been going on for a long, long time, and we keep recycling it. I just saw this Virginia Woolf quote Tweeted by Bitchflicks:
And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends…They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that.
How small a part! But who would ever guess from looking at how women are depicted in the media– movies, TV, books, advertising– in 2013? Ironically, and this is what is so fucked up and twisted, females get to exist, get to play a part at all when they are sexualized and marginalized.
“Avengers” has the classic Minority Feisty ratio of 5 male superheroes to one female. As artist Kevin Bolk illustrates, the lone female is highlighted by her ass.
What is the solution to this sexism? Be a hero. Women, write your own stories. Make your own art. No one else can do it for us.
Update Here’s a comment from Nick:
Totally agree the solution has to be everywhere. Thanks for this comment and for the thought and research you put into writing female characters.
Obviously, it’s a sexist world out there, and when women make art, it’s often ignored or marginalized. It would help if women were running the major Hollywood studios or had the funds to bankroll those studios, not to mention lead the prestigious organizations and comprise the boards that give awards to “great” artists.
That said, women need to keep writing and creating. Making art is risky and dangerous, engaging in the process is being a hero. Persevering is especially challenging when your work gets dismissed and rejected because stories about women aren’t valued. But, even with all of this against us, women must put our stories and visions out there. I really believe this is the only way we’ll ever achieve full gender equality.
Doesn’t every psychologist and teacher tell us that kids need to be “mirrored?” To create healthy self-esteem, parents aren’t supposed to project their own opinions on to little kids, but reflect what the kid expresses: “You are lifting the box! You’re smiling!” etc.
So why do the “experts” forget mirroring when it comes to gender? Why do we show our kids a warped, stereotyped mirror and then exclaim, “Look at that, girls just love princesses!” Girls want to see girls. They are just as self-centered as all children are. Unfortunately, in kid world, representations of females are severely limited. They will take what they can get.
There’s a positive side to this. We can train all kids to stay open to diverse stories by exposing them to all kinds of protagonists. Please read your kids books, show your kids movies, tell your kids stories and help them write their own, do imaginary play featuring strong female characters. It will help their brains grow not to mention their self-esteem.
You are definitely not alone or bonkers! In fact, you are intelligent enough to know that sexism is still present in our society. I am 13 and I share the same experiences with you! I never tried to advocate feminism openly in public because I know how ignorant, oblivious , and stubborn people are that they would not accept the truth, or flatly deny the existence of sexism. I would have had the courage if there was such a thing such as a feminist campaign club in my country. At least my sister and all of you here understand sexism!
It makes me so mad and frustrated that neither of these girls, 30 years younger than me, feels like she has a public voice to tell her story. I am happy that they wrote on this blog, and I hope that they will continue to write and refuse to believe that the sexism they experience in their world is trivial and doesn’t matter.
If this isn’t sexist:
And this isn’t sexist:
And this isn’t sexist:
Is this sexist?
This photo of Obama’s inner circle is from the March issue of Vogue magazine.
When girls go missing in children media, it acclimates a whole new generation to expect and accept sexism. It’s an annihilation of half of the population. So why do parents accept sexism in a fantasy world created for children? When did it become normal to us? And why are teenage girls afraid to talk about what they see?
I get a lot of people telling me the issues that I blog about are stupid, irrelevant, or don’t exist at all and how miserable my children must be to have me as a mother. Then, once in a while, I get a comment like this from Jessica. Thank you, Jessica! You rock.
Hello, I’m only 14 but I’m just commenting here to express how so so so grateful and relieved I am to FINALLY find out that I’m not the only one who pays attention to all the sexism that is really all around us, even when everyone else I know thinks I’m over reacting and have gone bonkers. Especially people my age.
Whenever my little sister turns on the TV to watch cartoons, I can’t help but start counting how many female characters there are, yet only to groan in frustration afterwards because there are always more male characters. And the main characters are never females. That is, unless the show’s target audience are girls.
Or whenever I read a book, or watch a movie. It’s always the same. Always.
Even the fact that we’re supposed to use our Dad’s surname as our own, instead of our Mom’s.
I feel truly angry about all this. I wish there were something I could do.
Yet I’ve learned keep it to myself, because whenever I tell someone, anyone, they just roll their eyes like I’m crazy. I’m just a stupid little girl. No one takes it seriously. No one takes ME seriously But they should. Because all this has to change.
It’s really sad how other girls/women don’t even seem to care. I honestly don’t understand. How could anyone think that sexism is “gone”?!
Anyway, I’m so grateful that I have found this blog. Thank you so much. I’m sure you are a very, very good mum.
If you’re going to argue that kids aren’t the market for M & Ms’ sexist ads, children are attracted to animation. You can debate whether that’s natural, conditioning, or a mix of both, but anyone who has a child knows her eyes go to cartoon characters like a magnet. That’s why the U.S. government banned Joe Camel.
If a company is going to use cartoon characters to sell products, not to mention a self-described “family brand” whose product is candy, it should take the responsibility not to promote sexism in its advertising. That’s bad for kids. This mom won’t be buying any more M & Ms. I hope you join me.
I’m sorry, but I’m confused… Yesterday I received an e-mail from you stating that you could not print my message of “Effing Luv U” on my personalized order for a Valentine’s gift for my husband due to the “family-nature of your brand.” But the family-nature of your brand supports advertisement such as this!? MY order was for my husband only, not an advertisement for millions to see.
An adult woman is not permitted to send a sexually suggestive message to her husband, but this ad is appropriate for the ‘family-nature’ of the M & Ms brand?
M&Ms’ hypocrisy reminds me of Miss America contestants getting punished when nude photographs are discovered, public breast-feeding banned as obscene, or Howard Stern complaining about Lena Dunham’s nudity on “Girls.” Sexuality is widely accepted in our culture in specific and contrived ways that are often degrading to women. Selling gender stereotypes to kids is what a “family-brand” should refuse to do.
If you’re going to argue that kids aren’t the market, children are attracted to animation. You can debate whether that’s natural, conditioning, or a mix of both, but anyone who has a child knows her eyes go to cartoon characters like a magnet. That’s why the U.S. government banned Joe Camel.
If a company is going to use cartoon characters to sell products, not to mention a self-described “family brand” whose product is candy, it shouldn’t promote sexism in its advertising.That’s bad for kids. This mom won’t be buying any more M & Ms. I hope you join me.