Fox News covers Reel Girl’s letter to Stride Rite on its sexism

I’ll post the video from my appearance on “Fox and Friends” when I figure out how, but here are a couple pics I snapped from my TV. (Obviously, I’m slightly tech-challenged.) Whatever you want to say about Fox, they covered this story. I’m happy to get the news out into the world about Stride Rite’s sexism and how gender stereotypes hurt kids. If you haven’t seen my letter to Stride Rite, you can read it here. 

“Gender stereotyping leads to bullying. It limits all kids and that’s the problem with it.”

RG

genderrules

SellingStereotypes

 

 

After massive protest, Disney pulls new Merida from site

Exciting news! Today, Rebecca Hains, blogger and media studies professor, reports:

“As of today, Disney has quietly pulled the 2D image of Merida from its website, replacing it with the original Pixar version. Perhaps we’ll be spared an onslaught of sexy Merida merchandise yet.”

YAY! Check out the link, it’s true! BRAVE Merida is back.

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.

Of the debacle Hains writes:

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!

It’s up to you. This could be a turning point. Parents, please use your voice and your wallet to keep strong, heroic females showing up in narratives and images marketed to your kids. Right now, girls are missing from children’s media and when they do appear, they’re sexualized. This is normal. Not healthy, but tragically, perfectly normal.

Yesterday, Melissa Wardy posted this image on her Pigtail Pals Facebook page, reminding us Merida’s new image was not created in a vacuum.

pigtails

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

nazibook

Africans circa 1931

tin_tin_in_congo11

Females circa 2013

bratzwallpaper-source_4cj

 

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.

meridatarget

 

 

 

King Fergus of ‘Brave’ demands to know: ‘Where’s my makeover?’

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?”

"BRAVE"

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:

meridamakeover

Now, King Fergus wants to know:  “Artists, what can you do for me?”

Fergus won’t be getting a makeover because male characters are allowed to occupy a whole range of looks (including rats or planes) and personalities. Male characters aren’t clones. Please sign the petition to Disney: “Say No to the Merida Makeover, Keep Our Hero Brave.” (100,000 signatures and counting!)

Gender-fluid piece in NYT insulting to girls and women

The New York Times piece on gender-fluid kids reinforces so many stereotypes, I’ve got to go through them.

Let’s start with sentence #1:

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”

Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped binary/ boy-girl opposites: soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas, lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows. I waited for her to explore any reasons why our culture promotes this symbology. Unfortunately, I waited for the whole article.

Why are princesses considered to be the epitome of femininity? Could it, perhaps, have little do with with genes and everything to do with the fact that perpetuating the image of a passive, “pretty” female  is popular in a patriarchal culture? Just maybe?

A few more sentences down:

Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man.

Most kids on Planet Earth would paint their fingernails if they weren’t told and shown by grown-ups that it’s a “girl thing.” Nail polish has nothing to do with penises or vulvas or genes, or even anything as deep and profound as “”gender fluidity.” To kids, nail polish is art play, brushes and paint. That’s it. Oh, right, art is for girls. Unless you’re a famous artist whose paintings sell for the most possible amount of money. Then art is for boys.

On an email that Alex’s parents sent to his school:

Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.

What? Does this writer have young daughters? Has Padawer heard about the boy’s baseball team from Our Lady of Sorrows that recently forfeited rather than play a girl? Or what about Katie, the girl who was bullied just because she brought her Star Wars lunch box, a “boy thing,” to school?  Does Padawer know Katie’s experience isn’t unusual? How rare it is to find a girl today who isn’t concerned that a Spider-Man shirt (or any superhero shirt or outfit) is boyish and that she’ll be teased if she wears it? My whole blog, Reel Girl, is about that “raised eyebrow.” Has Padawer seen summer’s blockbuster movie “The Avengers” with just one female to five male superheroes? The typical female/ male ratio? Or how “The Avengers” movie poster features the female’s ass? Think that might have something to do with why females care more than males about how their asses are going to look?  You can see the poster here along with the pantless Wonder Woman. Does Padawer get or care that our kids are surrounded by these kinds of images in movies and toys and diapers and posters every day? How can Padawer practically leave sexism out of a New York Times piece 8 pages long on gender?

First sentence of paragraph 3: (Yes, we’re only there.)

There have always been people who defy gender norms.

No way! You’re kidding me. Like women who wanted to vote? Women who didn’t faint in the street?

Moving on to page 2:

Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted.

Um, wrong again. Been to a clothing store for little kids recently? Ever tried to buy a onesie for a girl with a female pilot on it? Or a female doing anything adventurous? Check out Pigtail Pals, one of the few companies that dares to stray from “pervasive and accepted” femininity. One of the few. And we’re talking toddlers here.

The studies that do exist indicate that tomboys are somewhat more likely than gender-typical girls to become bisexual, lesbian or male-identified, but most become heterosexual women.

Is the writer really writing a piece on gender fluid kids and using the word “tomboy” without irony?

Next page:

Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?

Hard not to wonder. Exactly! Finally, the writer wonders. But, not for long. Here’s the next sentence:

Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical?

Once again, I’ve got to ask: Does Padawer have a young daughter? Legions of young girls “insist on dresses” because like all kids, they want attention. Sadly, girls get a tremendous amount of attention from grown-ups for how they look. Today, my three year old daughter wanted to wear a princess dress to preschool, because she knew that if she did, the parents and teachers would say, “Wow, you’re so pretty! I love your dress.” And if it’s not a girl’s dress everyone focuses on, it could be her hair, or perhaps her shoes which are probably glittery or shiny or have giant flowers on them because that’s what they sell at Target and Stride Rite. Unfortunately, focusing on appearance is how most adults today make small talk with three year old girls.

The next two graphs are the best in the article so I will paste them in full, though notice the use of “tomboy” again with no irony.

Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.

Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.

The piece is riddled with more gender assumptions that aren’t questioned.

When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.”

But why is beauty shop feminine? We all know beauty toys and products are marketed to girls, but why? Here’s that Avengers ass poster again. In a male dominated world, women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are taught to focus on how they look and that if they do so they can get power and prestige. Appearance is the area where girls are trained to channel their ambition and competition. Oh, sorry, girls aren’t competitive or ambitious. That’s a boy thing.

On gender fluid child, P.J., the author writes:

Most of the time, he chooses pants that are pink or purple.

Wait a minute, didn’t she write a few pages back about Jo Poletti’s book Pink and Blue? Remember, pink used to be a “boy” color; it’s only recently that it’s perceived as a “girl” color?

Here might be the most fucked up quote:

When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?

When Miss Representation posted that on its Facebook page  above the link to the the article, angry commenters immediately began to respond:

i am NOT the lesser gender!
why can’t people see how insulting that is? i mean, who would *openly* call a race or ability or sexual orientation “lesser” and not largely be considered a bigot?

It was that comment that inspired me to write this post, because the whole piece is insulting to girls and women. I hope it’s insulting to boys and men as well.

Read my email to the New York Times editor here.

Read my response to comments on this post here.

Reel Girl’s book recs of the week

JoJo’s Flying Side Kick is about a Tae Kwon Do student who must break a board with a flying side kick in order to win her yellow belt.

JoJo is nervous about the test, telling her Grandaddy: “I’m freakin’ out!” He helps her by giving a tutorial on fancy footwork from his boxing days. JoJo experiences other fears– a creepy-looking tree, the swing that hangs from it, a boy from her class tells her she “yells like a mouse.” In order to nail the side kick, JoJo uses the footwork, imagines the board is the tree, and gives a giant yell: “KEEEYAAAHHH!”

This book is really fun to read out loud. I love how all of the protagonist’s fears are woven together and then conquered in unison. The story teaches kids the great lesson that courage doesn’t mean having no fear but doing something even when you’re terrified. Reel Girl rates JoJo’s Flying Side Kick ***GGG***

Adelaide is the story of a kangaroo born with wings. She knows she doesn’t quite belong in her family of wingless creatures, so she hooks up with a pilot and travels the world, exploring and having adventures.

She decides to stick around Paris where she loves the art and culture but misses kangaroos. One day she saves two children from a burning building but is seriously hurt in the fall. (Her wings can’t carry all that weight.) After a hospital stay, she decides to visit the zoo where she meets and falls in love with a kangaroo named Leon. I really like how this story ends with a wedding and then baby kangaroos but its an unexpected surprise. The “happily ever after” finale isn’t the focus of Adelaide’s quest, but its nice that she finds her soulmate showing heroic, powerful females can fall in love, too. Reel Girl rates Adelaide ***GGG***

Shrek the Third: Fiona’s Fairy-tale Five is kind of chesey, and a cheaply made, stapled together book, but I adore it. There is much to love about the first Shrek story/ movie: how Fiona transforms at the end from “beautiful” princess to fat, green, troll to find true love. How great is that? So much potential here to flip fairy tales– and the notion of what it is to be “happily ever after” and what beauty and love is too– on its head. Not to mention that so much of the Shrek franchise is about making fun of Disney.

But as the far as the big screen, the female potential for greatness in this epic remains tragically unexplored.  All three movies are Shrek’s stories, not Fiona’s. Fiona is only the Token Feisty, the strong female character included in many contemporary animated films so the audience won’t care or even notice that all of the other characters in the film are male, including the star who the movie is often titled for.

Fiona’s role is the love interest. The Shrek movie sequels are even more disappointing with the third one morphing into another animated father-son type saga (and Justin Timberlake vehicle) where Shrek must find an heir– male, of course. Fiona’s part is reduced to nothing. Where did she go? It sucks to see “Shrek 3″ with your daughters, to say the least. But luckily, there is this cheap, little book. From the back of  Fiona’s Fairy -tale Five:

 “When Shrek is off finding an heir to the  throne, Fiona must watch the kingdom. But soon Prince Charming and his band of villains storm the castle. Fiona has little time to turn a group of prim and proper princesses into lean, mean fighting machines. Can the fairy-tale five come together to take back the castle?

This book would make such a great movie, it kills me. Imagine the princesses voiced by Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph joining Cameron Diaz’s Fiona. This little story is so subversive too, because Disney absolutely forbids its princesses to interact with each other. (Or even look at each other, embossed on diapers, T shirts, or coloring books each one gazes off in a different direction, ignoring the other. Great model for female friendship, huh?)

But who got the spin off movie from Shrek? That would be Puss in Boots. I want to tear out my hair. But check out this book, it’s also a good “gateway” story if your kids are into princesses. Reel Girl rates Shrek the Third: Fiona’s Fairy-tale Five***GGG/T***

For a ratings key go to the About page.

The limits of a list

In response to the current national dialogue on media and products for girls, New York Times writer Lisa Belkin generated a list of books with strong female role models.

On her blog, pigtailpals, Melissa Wardy points out that Belkin’s suggestions are dominated by princesses; better strong than weak ones, but what about the radical idea of books about girls with no princesses in them at all? Wardy says, “can we PLEASE not LIMIT femininity to princesses, even the kind that scrape their knees?” Check out Wardy’s book recs here.

I agree with Wardy and have a similar argument about the so-called brave princesses in modern movies. These girls make elaborate shows of independence, refusing to marry the guy they’re supposed to, but marriage is still the basis of entire plotlines– rebellion within the safest possible framework. Yawn! Boys in movies get to go off and have adventures. Why can’t girls do that too? This is a fantasy world, after all. If girls are this limited in dreamland, what does that say about their options in reality?

But here’s the challenge: as I rate books and media, there are many great books, but I often have issues with them, even the best ones! Maybe this is because behavior, once rewarded, is hard to kick. When I wrote critically in school, found and analyzed the ‘flaw,’ I got an A. Or maybe, being cranky and critical is my own personality flaw. Or maybe the problem is just that books are personal. When you start reading one, you enter into a relationship with it. There are few ‘perfect’ books and media for everyone (except maybe Hayao Miyazaki)

For example, I absolutely love C. S. Lewis and the whole Narnia series. I love it so much, I named my first daughter Lucy after the protagonist in the books. But the Jesus stuff in Lewis can be distracting. Also, Susan, the older sister, stops believing in Narnia when she hits puberty, starting to only to care about boys. This transition does not happen to the males in the book.

I named my second daughter Alice after you know who. I love this book, but Lewis Carroll, as we all know, had his issues with girls. As far as I can tell, his pathology doesn’t seep into the book or does it?

I love Harriet the Spy, but Harriet treats her friends so badly that parts of the book were difficult to read to my kid. She’s never experienced that level of negative social interaction; Harriet called her friends names my daughter didn’t even know (and now does) and there are also a bunch of class issues in the book. Harriet is super rich, she has a cook who she treats badly and a nanny who she treats badly, though at least the nanny can stick up herself.

Right after Harriet, we read Danny the Champion of the World who is so poor in contrast to Harriet. He lives in a one room house with his dad. No mom in this book.  The author, Roald Dahl is probably my favorite kids writer, his writing is so good, but he has very few girl characters in his books. When he does have them, like The Witches, a funny and brilliant book, the story can be outright misogynistic.  Still, I’d rather read Roald Dahl than a badly written fairy series that’s all about girls.

The point is: books are personal and that lists, by nature, are limited. The most important thing is that our kids are reading and to have an open dialogue with them about whatever that book is. Remember, the goal is to teach her to think critically so she can get straight As and then grow up to complain about everything just like her mom.

NYT writer suggests books with strong girls

Peggy Orenstein’s book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, has helped to incite a national dialogue on how kids’ media and products influence girls, which ReelGirl loves because that’s supposed to be the whole purpose of this blog.

I write “supposed to be” because, as any one who reads this blog knows, I’ve strayed far from my initial my mission. But once again (I think my last time was New Year’s) I commit to making ReelGirl a resource where parents can go to look up a toy or a product to get some ideas about how and why it could be good for girls (and boys for that matter because gender stereotyping, ultimately, isn’t so fabulous for anyone. )

Lisa Belkin, a writer for the New York Times suggested these books. I hope to read them and let you know my thoughts. Please let me know yours!

One thing parents can do, then, is add examples of femininity without frills. To that end, following up on our conversation here last week about children’s books in general, here’s the start of a list of books for young girls that turn more than a few stereotypes on their heads while remaining fun reads. Of course, as with any children’s book, read it first, because my idea of what is good for your child might not be the same as yours.

“An Undone Fairy Tale”, by Ian Lendler. A slapstick treat. The princess rescues herself.

“The Enchanted Forest Chronicles”, by Patricia C. Wrede.  A four-book series (I have linked to the first one) in which a strong-minded princess saves kind dragons.

“Princess Grace” by Mary Hoffman. A girl who loves princesses learns that real ones in history have done far more than just lie around and look pretty. In the end she chooses to emulate an African princess in a Kente cloth dress.

“Do Princesses Scrape their Knees?” by Carmela LaVigna Coyle. Part of a series (others are “Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots?” and “Do Princesses Kiss Frogs.) The titles tell the story.

“Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella” by Susan Lowell. The ball is a rodeo and Cindy earns her prince’s respect after her fairy godmother gives her “gumption” and a set of diamond studded spurs.

“Cinder Edna” by Ellen Jackson. Edna lives next door to Ella, and while Ella depends on her fairy godmother to change her life, Edna earns money mowing lawns. Guess which one gets the Happier Ever After?

“The Very Fairy Princess” by Julie Andrews and her daughter, author Emma Watson Hamilton. Geraldine believes she is a princess, even though her brother says princesses “don’t have scabby knees.”

“The Secret Lives of Princesses” by Philippe Lechermeier. An illustrated “history” of quirky, independent princesses.

“Zog” by Julia Donaldson. An accident prone dragon and the princess he “captures.” He gets hurt, she helps him, and she becomes a doctor.

Girl characters lacking in animation movies

I wrote this for The San Jose Mercury news in 2007 when “Ratatouille” opened. The movie’s hypocritical reference to sexism helped to inspire my blog, ReelGirl. Please read and let me know what you think.

Phooey on `Ratatouille’: Female leads lacking in kid films

STUDIOS ACKNOWLEDGE, ACCEPT SEXISM

By Margot Magowan

Article Launched: 07/06/2007 01:32:35 AM PDT

“Ratatouille” made $47 million opening weekend, but as I watched the

film with my 4-year-old daughter, I felt depressed. There was nary a

female rat in sight. I’d forked over $9 so my daughter could get yet

another lesson in sexism direct from Pixar or Disney: No matter if

you’re a rodent, car, or fish – boys are the ones with the starring

roles while girls are relegated to sidekicks.

“Cars,” “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Lion King,” “Monsters Inc.”

each features a male hero and multiple male characters; often a token

female is around to help propel one of the guys to greatness.

“Ratatouille” faithfully follows suit. Colette, a female human sous

chef, even justifies her secondary role in the film with a brief

monologue on misogyny: “Do you know how hard I had to work to get

ahead in this male-dominated kitchen?” she yells at our hero.

The speech is there to throw girls a bone, and you can find this

gesture in most modern day motion picture cartoons. It’s that nod to

the audience: unlike all those cartoons of yesteryear, we know this is

sexist, but there’s nothing we can do about it.

When I complained to my mom and sister: “Why couldn’t Ratatouille have

been female? Why no girls – again?” They said, “Didn’t you hear

Colette’s talk? That’s how it is in the real world.” OK, let me get

this straight: It’s just fine to stretch our imaginations to believe

in a talking rat who can cook, but when it comes to gender

roles, we admire realism and authenticity?

When my daughter goes to the movies, she sees animals talk, fairies or

unicorns prance around, witches cast evil spells, but she’s never

shown a magical land where boys and girls are treated equally, where

gender doesn’t matter. Why can’t Pixar or Disney allow her the fantasy

of equality?

After I saw “The Lion King,” I wanted to know: Why couldn’t the

lionesses have attacked weak, old Scar? Why did they have to wait

around for Simba to come back to Pride Rock to help them? I was told:

that’s how it is in nature – lionesses need a male to lead the pride.

So a lion can be best friends with a warthog and a meerkat without

gobbling them up, but a lioness heading a pride? That could never

happen in the animal kingdom!

Pixar has yet to allow girls any starring roles, but Disney permits it

if she’s a princess. Audiences can count on the contemporary princess

movie to throw girls their bone: Unlike princesses of the past who

happily went off with the first guy who kissed them out of

unconsciousness, these modern girls get to choose whom they marry.

Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine put up a huge stink, stubbornly refusing

betrothal to the obvious choice. But these elaborate shows of

independence are bases for entire plot lines, keeping the princesses

stories almost entirely focused on marriage: rebellion within the

safest possible framework.

When my daughter was watching “Mulan” – probably the most feminist of

all the motion picture cartoons – dress up as a boy to fight in a war,

she asked me, “Why can’t girls fight?” Before she can even understand

how Mulan is empowering, first she has to understand sexism. But does

she need to know, at age 4, about sexism? Does she need to know people

still believe girls can’t do so many things, like cook in a top-tier

French kitchen? Why can’t she just see a girl chef making great food,

receiving acclaim for her talent, being helped along by a girl rat or

sous chef boy?

The hyper-concern for gender accuracy in the fantasy world extends to

things like plush toys – when I refer to my kid’s animals as “she,”

adults invariably do a double take, checking for manes or tusks: even

female toys must stay in their place. And of course, toys are a big

part of the problem. With today’s mass marketing, all these movie

characters live on as action figures, dolls, games, on T-shirts and

cereal boxes. On my daughter’s kite, her beach ball, her pull-ups, the

trifecta of Jasmine, Belle and Ariel smile shyly. My daughter wasn’t

born with this fairy tale-princess fantasy embedded in her brain, but

like any kid, she’s self-centered. She likes the movies that are all

about her. Females are half of the population. We pay our $10 just

like everyone else. When can we get more representation in our movies?

How long do we have to wait?

Pixar is made up of a bunch of guy geeks. Disney’s top brass is

practically all male. Maybe when we get more female studio heads, more

female directors and producers and writers, we’ll see groups of girls

having adventures; girl heroes doing cool, brave things in starring

roles where marriage may never be mentioned at all. Maybe then people

will wake up, finally recognize the radical lack of imagination going

on in our make believe worlds; Princess Charming finally rescues

Sleeping Hunk.

Why are kids the gender police?

Lots of comments on my last post about Peggy Orenstein’s new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, and that no matter how no matter how hard parents try, girls and boys adamantly refuse to be nudged out of their prescribed (marketed!) gender roles.

 

Orenstein elaborates on this challenge in her book: right around ages 2 -3, kids begin to understand that there’s something called a ‘boy’ and something thing called a ‘girl ‘and that something important differentiates between them. The problem is, they’re not sure what that is. Orenstein writes, “The whole penis-vagina thing does not hold quite the same cachet among the wee ones as it does among us.”

Orenstein recounts a story about a kid, Jeremy, who wore his favorite barrettes to school and was taunted by another kid who said, “You’re a girl!”

Jeremy denied it, arguing that he had a penis and testicles. The classmate replied, “Everyone has a penis, only girls wear barrettes.”

Orenstein asks: “If toting the standard equipment is not what makes you male or female, exactly what does? Well, duh, barrettes.”

Making things evermore complicated, kids at this age also don’t understand that identity is fixed, a girl might grow up to be a dad or a mom. All this ‘slippery stuff’ can make a kid nervous– if she cuts her hair too short, she could turn into a boy!

Orenstein quotes the neuroscientist, Lise Eliot, author ofPink Brain, Blue Brain: “The prefrontal cortex of the brain is what looks to the future, and that’s the slowest part to develop. Another example would be death: young children have a very hard time understanding that a pet or a person who has died is gone forever. They may listen to what you say and seem to get it, but secretly, they believe it can change.”

(Note: I feel the same way about death– eek!)

Orenstein says kids’ solution at this stage is often to “cling rigidly to the rules and hope for the best.” Lucky for them– the Disney Princess marketing machine is here to help! Orenstein writes, “Developmentally speaking, they were genius, dovetailing with the precise moment that girls need to prove they’re girls.”

There’s no simple solution here, but plenty to think about, the main question being, when your child is looking for an identity, do you want the Disney executives to be the ones suggesting it to her?

Female desire and the princess culture

Thank you Peggy Orenstein for writing the brilliant book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Every parent should read this new, excellent analysis of the ubiquitous princess kid-culture and its various mutations in the world of grown-up women.

 

Orenstein, a NY Times journalist, mom, and writer takes on and deconstructs two (so annoying!) messages every parent hears if she dares to challenge the monarchy of these frothy creatures.

Myth number one: we’re just giving girls what they want!

Orenstein responds with a brief history of marketing and information on child brain development– some major points paraphrased here:

Pink Children were not color-coded until early twentieth century. Before that, babies wore all white, because to get clothing clean, it had to be boiled. Boys and girls also used to all wear dresses. When nursery colors were introduced, pink was more masculine, a pastel version of the red, which was associated with strength. Blue was like the Virgin Mary and symbolized innocence, thus the girl color. When the color switched is vague. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland all wear blue. Sleeping Beauty’s gown was switched to pink to differentiate her from Cinderella.

Baby doll In an 1898 survey, less than 25% of girls said dolls were their favorite toy. “President Theodore Roosevelt… obsessed with declining birth rates among white, Anglo-Saxon women, began waging a campaign against ‘race-suicide.’ When women ‘feared motherhood,” he warned, our nation trembled on the ‘brink of doom.’ Baby dolls were seen as a way to revive the flagging maternal instinct of girls, to remind them of their patriotic duty to conceive; within a few years, dolls were ubiquitous, synonymous with girlhood itself. Miniature brooms, dustpans, and stoves tutored these same young ladies in the skills of homemaking…”

Princess When Orenstein herself was a kid, being called a Princess, specifically Jewish-American, was the worst insult a kid (and her family) could get. How had a generation transformed this word into a coveted compliment?

Disney Princesses as a group brand did not exist until 2000. Disney hired Andy Mooney from Nike. He went to a Disney on Ice show and saw little girls in homemade princess costumes. Disney had never marketed characters outside of a movie release and never princesses from different movies together. Roy Disney was against it, and that’s why, still, even on pull-ups, you won’t see the princesses looking at each other. (How’s that for a model for girls in groups or female friendships?) Princesses are now marketed to girls ages 2 – 6. Mooney began the campaign by envisioning a girl’s room and thinking about a princess fantasy: what kind of clock would a princess have? What type of bedding? Dora and Mattel followed suit with Dora and Barbie princess versions and then along came everyone else.

Toddler Clothing manufacturers in the 1930s counseled department stores that in order to increase sales they should create a ‘third stepping stone’ between infant wear and older kids clothing

Tween Coined in the mid-1980s as a marketing contrivance (originally included kids 8 – 15)

More on tweens, toddlers, girls and boys: if there is micro-segmentation of products by age and gender, people buy more stuff. If kids need a pink bat and a blue bat, you double your sales. Orenstein writes: “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.”

SeoWoo and Her Pink Things by JeongMee Yoonhttp://www.jeongmeeyoon.com/aw_pinkblue.htm SeoWoo and Her Pink Things by JeongMee Yoon 

One major fallout of gendering every plaything? “Segregated toys discourage cross-sex friendships.” Boys and girls stop playing together. Orenstein writes about the long-term effects: “This is a public health issue. It becomes detrimental to relationships, to psychological health and well-being, when boys and girls don’t learn how to talk to one another…Part of the reason we have the divorce rates we do, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking behaviors, sexual harassment is because the lack of ability to communicate between men and women.”

Orenstein argues: “Eliminating divorce or domestic violence may be an ambitious mandate for a pre-school curriculum, but its not without basis: young children who have friends of the opposite sex have a more positive transition into dating as teenagers and sustain their romantic relationships better.”

Myth #2: that princess stuff is just a phase– she’ll grow out of it!

Princesses are marketed to girls 2 – 6 years old; there’s something very creepy and dangerous about making these kids victims of billion dollar industries. Kids brains are literally being formed, they’re malleable. So this little phase is helping to create a brain that lasts forever.

Scientists have pretty much moved on from the anachronistic, simplistic debate of nature versus nurture. It’s now understood that nature and nurture form and create each other in an endless loop. Your experiences influence your wiring.

For example, small kids can make all kinds of sounds to learn languages. Lise Eliot, author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain is quoted by Orenstein: “Babies are born ready to absorb the sounds, grammar, and intonation of any language, but then the brain wires it up only to perceive and produce a specific language. After puberty, its possible to learn another language but far more difficult. I think of gender differences similarly. The ones that exist become amplified by the two different cultures that boys and girls are immersed in from birth. This contributes to the way their emotional and cognitive circuits get wired.”

“It’s not that pink is intrinsically bad, it is such a tiny slice of the rainbow,” Orenstein writes. To grow brains, kids need more, varied experiences, not fewer.

Phases don’t vanish, they mutate.

Orenstein’s book traces how the real life Disney stars/ girl princesses (i.e. Lindsay Lohan, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Hilary Duff, Miley Cyrus etc) attempt to make their transitions from girl-princesses into adult ones; or more crassly, from virgin to whore. Orenstein writes it’s impossible to commodify one end of the spectrum and not the other, and there are so few models of healthy female sexuality out there. She writes, “Our daughters may not be faced with the decision of whether to strip for Maxim, but they will have to figure out how to become sexual beings without being objectified or stigmatized.” All that early training for girls to focus incessantly on their appearance lasts a lifetime. What happens when these girls try to grow up? Orenstein writes girls learn, “Look sexy, but don’t feel sexual, to provoke desire in others without experiencing it themselves.”

How does this emphasis on dressing up and attention for appearance affect kids as they grow? Stephen Hinshaw, quoted from his book The Triple Bind, explains, “Girls pushed to be sexy too soon can’t really understand what they’re doing…they may never learn to connect their performance to erotic feelings or intimacy. They learn how to act desirable, but not to desire, undermining, rather than promoting, healthy sexuality.”

The basic message I got from this book: the issue is not pink or princesses, but to give your kid more experiences not less. Remember– many colors in the rainbow!

(1) Encourage and reinforce cross-gender play. If your daughter is playing with a boy, acknowledge it, reinforce what they’re doing. You are the biggest influence in your kid’s life, you’re not ‘just another person.’ Talk to your kids pre-school teachers and administrators about encouraging cross-gender play. There is lots in this book about how teachers are not trained in this area at all and miss opportunities to help brains grow.

(2) Remember, your kid is not a small adult. She has a different brain. Help that brain grow! If your son picks up a My Little Pony, buy it for him instead of yet another car. It won’t make him gay! It will make him smart!

(3) Your kids are watching you! Again, they are not just little people with fully formed minds. If you criticize your appearance (or another woman’s), how you treat your partner, how you eat, she takes note.