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?
Today, my kids had Rice Krispies for breakfast. You all know about the famed three: Snap, Crackle, and Pop. If you’re my age, you know their theme song, too.
But check out the new material we found on the back of the box:
It’s an “IMAGINATION ADENTURE!” Isn’t that great? The directions are as follows:
Can you look at the pictures and tell a story? Make up a tale for each picture or string them together for a creative journey.
How cool, my kids are going to get to use images to make up stories. What could be better than that? Let’s see how Rice Krispies is going to help to inspire children to imagine. Here’s the first picture.
Rice Krispies provides children with 8 characters to work with on this imagination adventure: 6 males and 2 females. Girls are half of the kid population, half of the kids eating Rice Krispies, so why are they presented as a minority in this “creative” game? Am I nitpicking? The box is asking your kids to look at the details of these pictures and make up a story. Obviously, whoever created these pictures put thought into how to develop your kids’ imagination. But If your kids play this game as directed, it’s one more way they’re being trained to create, be familiar with, and pay attention to stories where males are the main characters and in the majority, while females fade into the background.
Looking at picture #1, I asked my four year old: “Can you find the girls? Can you count them?” She was so excited about that, it’s how we came up with the game: Find the Girls on the Cereal Box!
Moving on to picture #2. Who is the protagonist here? Hmmm…
Again, I asked: “Can you find any girls? What is the girl doing? Why?” At this point, my other two daughters, ages 6 and 9, joined in. They were into it, and I found myself hoping that maybe my kids are learning creative skills now, how to notice the female and more importantly, to make her the protagonist in the story. “Find the Girls!” continued…
Picture #3 is the closest a female gets to a starring role in this “imagination adventure,” and she is still, clearly, placed behind the boy. My kids noted she is riding a sea horse. Picture #4 makes up for that tiny step forward, with five males to one female. The girl is clearly in the background, but at least, the girl is in the driver’s seat, right? I asked my daughters what the girl was doing here, and my four year old said, “Watching the boy!”
And now, for the final pic.
When I asked my kids what the girl was doing? “Same as the last one! Watching the boy.”
“Can you make up a story about her?” I asked.
I try to censor the sexism I can, but so much of the time, it’s obviously impossible since gender stereotypes are everywhere. I think the most useful strategy, as parents, is to train our kids to respond with a critical and creative eye. If you try playing “Find the Girls on the Cereal Box,” let me know how it goes. For my family, it helped squeeze some real creativity out of the same old, same old.
You know what’s crazy? After stuff like this Rice Krispies box all over the place, Disney execs, marketers, media people, parents will say that girls go missing in kids’ media because girls will watch stories about boys but boys won’t watch stories bout girls. Huh. How do you think kids get to be that way, Hollywood? Girl aren’t born more generous, open-minded, or altruistic. Girls watch movies about boys because they are trained to.
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.
On Reel Girl’s Facebook page, Ana Campos shared a YouTube video by Marc Crilley, one of her favorite Manga artists. Crilley is an incredibly successful writer and illustrator of children’s books. The video is fascinating because Crilley takes you through the steps of how artists distort female anatomy. First, Crilley draws a regularly proportioned teenage girl. Then, he demonstrates the typical pattern and process of how artists exaggerate her proportions, drawing three well-known, female animated characters.
It’s troubling, really in a way that artists, maybe many of them male, have this way of reducing the width of the female waist when they’re drawing it to just ridiculously small proportions and you know, you do sort of fear that this contributes to women’s body image, this crazy idea of the super narrow waist, but nevertheless you see it again and again. Finally, the big difference here, the knees, the line of the knees, much, much higher than in real life. So what’s interesting is you see that the whole area of the waist is being raised up here so as to create these incredibly long legs as an exaggerated style. To me, its sort of like Barbie doll style legs…
While watching this video, I was thinking about the incredible influence of the artist to create reality. When you combine images with narratives, it can be so powerful, like being God. Not to mention repeating and repeating the same sequence to the growing brains of little kids.
My four year old daughter loves Cheerios, and last night, my husband brought home a new box. Excited for breakfast this morning, we got it out. Here’s what we saw on the front: Shrek, Puss In Boots, and Donkey, 3 male characters from “Shrek.”
Besides “Shrek,” there are 3 other Cheerios collectible DVDs where we can “catch up with all our favorite DreamWorks characters.”
Unlike other cereal brands that have their own mascots, a cast of no less than 100% male characters, Cheerios borrows its crew from DreamWorks. But, apparently, these favorites don’t privilege females either, to say the least. “How to Train Your Dragon” pictures a boy and his male dragon, the two stars. We do see a girl riding bitch. Then, there’s “Kung Fu Panda” starring…Kung Fu Panda! And finally, Madagascar showing 6 male characters: the zebra, lion, and 4 penguins. Where is the hippo, the Minority Feisty in that movie?
Hippo does show up in the “fame game” on the reverse side of the box.
See, there she is down on the left. There are 8 characters and she is the only female. The game your kids play is “match each character to what they are famous for.” While characters are known for “Training the Furious Five” or “Being the Dragon Warrior,” what’s the hippo known for? “Loving a Giraffe.” No joke. Incidentally, my six year old daughter told me that hippo’s feelings are not reciprocated; giraffe never wants to dance with her.
See that little box to the right with the Croods character? He’s one the males from that movie too.
I write this a lot, but if this Cheerios box were one of many images kids see, it would not be a big deal. But again and again, kids see females go missing. It’s totally normal in their world. They don’t think anything of it and neither do we. But females are half of the population, so why are they presented as a tiny minority in kidworld practically everywhere outside of the Pink Ghetto? It’s an annihilation that acclimates a whole new generation to expect and accept a world where females go missing. Hey, Cheerios, can you make at least half of the characters on your box female? There’s no reason for the imaginary world to be sexist.
When my daughter begged for a pair of shoes that reminded her of Dorothy, the salesperson smiled sheepishly at me. “You might want to cover those with hairspray,” she warned me. “It keeps the glitter on.” Because I’m not the kind of mom to remember to spray my daughter’s shoes (not to mention own a can of hairspray) coupled with my daughter’s active lifestyle, here’s how her shoes looked a couple weeks later:
My mother has a theory. Not only are “girl” shoes ridiculous for running or jumping or anything that kids love to do, they are designed to fall apart. A new pair loses its shine, glitter, or bow within days. Kids beg for new shoes and parents, agreeing the shoes look dilapidated, comply. Abracadabra, your daughter’s shoe-shopper rate rivals Carrie Bradshaw’s.
Speaking of, just read this tidbit in Us Magazine:
Sarah Jessica Parker, 48, revealed that she has given up heels (except for special events) due to a foot deformity caused by years of walking in stilettos for “Sex and the City.”
How do you protect your daughter’s feet and do your part not to program her for a lifetime consumerism by age 3? Buy “boy” shoes. My three year old got a pair of Star Wars sneakers because her male cousin has the same ones. Almost six months later, they look brand new.
Isn’t that great? Leaders in breaking gender stereotypes! Read on.
Parents have gotten more open minded when it comes to how children play and what kind of toys are appropriate for their kids, according to Maureen O’Brien, a developmental psychologist who consulted with Mattel (MAT, Fortune 500) on its Mega Bloks set.
More open minded? I guess open-minded means going to a mega store chain like Target and shopping in a “girl” aisle full of pink. Gender segregated toys have never been so homogenized and mass-marketed and cross-marketed through movies, clothing, videos, apps and diaper icons as they are today. Here’s an ad for LEGO ‘for girls’ from 1981, when I was a kid.
Here’s an ad for LEGO for girls, literally, today:
The CNN post rewrites history and misleads further here:
“There has always been this artificial gender distinction when it comes to play, but now it’s falling away as we learn more about the advantages of different toys,” said O’Brien.
It’s not falling away. It’s getting so defined, kids can hardly cross it.
Here is the “to be sure” paragraph. When I teach Op-Ed writing, I always talk about the “to be sure” graph writers must include to anticipate counter-arguments. You’re not supposed to actually use the cliche phrase as this writer does here:
To be sure, the new toys continue to play into some stereotypes. A Barbie construction set lets children build a fashion boutique, Lego Friends sells a pet salon, and the Nerf Rebelle comes in shades of hot pink and purple.
Except for that little, tiny issue, everything is cool, right?
Here’s the hilarious thing about the post. Toy companies actually admit that gender segregation is about making money.
For toy makers, it is a relatively inexpensive move because they don’t need to develop an entire new line of toys from scratch. In fact, most of them use the same tools and models they use for the traditional toys, says Johnson.
And then again, at the end of the post:
“It’s driven by a simple fact,” said Sean McGowan, a toy analyst with Needham Co. “If you can get a product targeted to one gender to be appealing to the other, you can significantly increase sales.”
The reason these “experts” have the guts to confess the drive isn’t “nature” but capitalism is because the post frames the choice under the umbrella of a bold and non-traditional move.
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.
Get it? Instead of buying one, you buy 2. Or you’re supposed to pick this one, instead of some other brand, because it’s made especially for YOU.
Our underwear shopping system seemed to be going fine until my daughter discovered the existence of the boys’ underwear aisle.
“Dad! Come over here!”
I followed her voice and found my daughter standing, slack-jawed and indignant, looking at the much, much larger and more varied selection of character underwear in the boys’ aisle.
“They have LEGO ‘Star Wars’ underwear! And superheroes! OH! And ‘Phineas and Ferb!’ Dad, can I get these? Do they have girl ones?”
And I had to stand and tell her that no, no, they didn’t make girl versions of these brands of character underwear and I didn’t really have a good explanation why.
If you’re unfamiliar with the world of children’s character underwear, here’s a quick breakdown:
In the girls’ aisle, they have underwear featuring Disney princesses, Hello Kitty, Monster High (a goth-themed toy line), and maybe a few Nickelodeon-branded kids shows (“iCarly,” for example). That’s it.
In the boys’ aisle, they have underwear featuring ‘Star Wars’ (both LEGO and regular versions), DC Superheroes, “Phineas and Ferb,” “Toy Story,” “Batman,” “Transformers,” “The Avengers” –- it’s a much larger character pool.
So up to there I’m totally with this Dad. But then, this:
Do kids’ underwear manufacturers think that, if they put an image of a male character on girls’ underwear, that it will somehow turn the girls into boy-crazy sex maniacs? The logic completely escapes me.
The logic is that there are limited female characters on underwear, because there are limited female characters at all. Even though females are half of the kids population, in kidworld, except for the pink ghetto, girls are shown as a minority.
My big issue is that my daughter is a huge comic book, “Star Wars,” and superhero fan, and, in my vast shopping experience, I have never found any girls’ character underwear that spoke to any of those creative properties. Fine — If you think that having Anakin Skywalker on her undies will turn my daughter into a lusty, inhibition-challenged Jedi-chaser, then just let her have some underwear with Princess Leia or Ahsoka Tano on it, OK? But none exists.
There’s a pack of boys’ DC Superhero underwear that only has the logos of various superheroes on them. Why couldn’t they make those for girls? If the Superman “S” or the Batman bat symbol can appear on boys’ undies, why can’t you stick the same logo on girls’ undies and just call them Supergirl and Batgirl underwear? I couldn’t even find her any Wonder Woman underwear, even though I know my sister was the proud owner of Wonder Woman Underoos back in the ‘80s.
The dad, as you can tell by the post title, ends up buying his daughter boy underwear:
I’m glad this dad saw a problem here, but the larger issue is the lack of heroic, female protagonists in stories marketed to girls and boys.
Last week we posted about our discovery of a new line of superhero underwear for girls but they were so popular that they sold out on Amazon half an hour after our post. Well, we said that we’d let you know when they were restocked and thanks to A Mighty Girl supporter Megan Millaway Burks for giving us a heads up that they are now available again.
Of course, we can’t promise that they will last very long this time as well so our apologies in advance if they become unavailable. To check out the new superhero line for girls, with seven different designs featuring Batgirl, Supergirl and Wonder Woman, visit http://www.amightygirl.com/7pk-dc-comics-girls-briefs