I made a few attempts to watch ‘Walking Dead’ with my husband but I couldn’t take the violence. (I had the same reaction to ‘Game of Thrones’ along with the rape scenes. ‘Mad Men,’ I had to give up as well, because while I understand the show is about sexism, not sexist, I couldn’t handle Don Draper’s serial cheating. All those shows, I liked– the acting and the storylines– they’re just not for me at this time in my life.) But my husband held strong with ‘Walking Dead’ and became a true fan. He loves that show. So today, while picking up a prescription at Walgreens when I spotted Michonne grimacing at me from the toy aisle, I couldn’t resist buying her as a present.
You probably know how rare it is to find a female action figure, not to mention a non-white female action figure, without her breasts popping out of her shirt, wearing pants even, just sitting there on a shelf in a store and not hiding out on some obscure internet site. Let’s just say she’s far rarer than the unicorn in fantasy figure world.
Here are Batgirl, Hawkgirl, Wonder Woman in her invisible plane, another Catwoman on a motorcycle, and team of soccer players.
Here’s Katniss, Merida, Rue, and Coraline again.
Though, in theory, I’d rather my kids play with Michonne than Barbie, I wasn’t sure if I planned on letting them near her, when she comes with exotic weapons and also a couple severed heads. But when my daughter heard my husband’s joyful cry after he saw the package, I thought all was lost.
Within days of its appearance early this month, the Research Institute — a paleontologist, an astronomer and a chemist — sold out on Lego’s website and will not be available at major retailers, including Target and Walmart.
Toys “R” Us did carry the line, but according to associates reached by telephone at two of its New York stores, it sold out at those locations as well.
A Toys “R” Us spokeswoman, Kathleen Waugh, said in an email that it would be available in about a week at the company’s Times Square and F.A.O. Schwarz stores.
Lego said the set was manufactured as a limited edition, meaning it was not mass-produced. The true enthusiast can still buy the Research Institute at Amazon.com, however, but for about three times its $19.99 retail price.
So instead of launching a major marketing campaign for the scientists, the way they did for Friends, for example, showing non-stop ads on TV and creating mini-movies featuring the figs all over the internet, these scientists will be hidden from kidworld. The figs won’t be seen on T-shirts, shoes sold at Stride Rite, lunchboxes or cereal boxes. There is no upcoming blockbuster movie where a chemist, astronomer, and paleontologist are a team of brilliant, brave heroes fighting evil. No, instead, LEGO’s female scientists are destined to a similar fate as female superheroes, possible to find if parents scour the internet, but missing from your children’s daily life, not present in stores that sell kids’ clothing, books, and toys, a venue where our children will mostly likely have to settle for slave Leia
or girls who hang out at the cafe or beauty salon.
Almost since I started this blog, I’ve been writing about the ridiculously sexist stereotypes marketed to kids by LEGO. The problem for me is I see so much potential in this toy. It’s a great toy, but it’s so limited in what it creates. I’ve blogged about LEGO’s great gender inclusive ad from the early 80s,
I remember when we broke up the first time
Saying, “This is it, I’ve had enough,” ’cause like
We hadn’t seen each other in a month
When you said you needed space. (What?)
Then you come around again and say
“Baby, I miss you and I swear I’m gonna change, trust me.”
Remember how that lasted for a day?
I say, “I hate you,” we break up, you call me, “I love you.”Ooh, we called it off again last night
But ooh, this time I’m telling you, I’m telling youWe are never ever ever getting back together,
We are never ever ever getting back together,
You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me
But we are never ever ever ever getting back togetherLike, ever…I’m really gonna miss you picking fights
And me falling for it screaming that I’m right
And you would hide away and find your peace of mind
With some indie record that’s much cooler than mineOoh, you called me up again tonight
But ooh, this time I’m telling you, I’m telling youWe are never, ever, ever getting back together
We are never, ever, ever getting back together
You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me (talk to me)
But we are never ever ever ever getting back togetherOoh, yeah, ooh yeah, ooh yeah
Oh oh ohI used to think that we were forever ever
And I used to say, “Never say never…”
Uggg… so he calls me up and he’s like, “I still love you,”
And I’m like… “I just… I mean this is exhausting, you know, like,
We are never getting back together. Like, ever”No!We are never ever ever getting back together
We are never ever ever getting back together
You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me
But we are never ever ever ever getting back togetherWe, ooh, getting back together, ohhh,
We, ooh, getting back togetherYou go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me (talk to me)
But we are never ever ever ever getting back together
I love that her son wanted them. Can you fucking deal with this– gendered goldfish? We have sunk to a new low. Barely. Here’s what I blogged in March 2012:
Hey Goldfish Snack Crackers, girls aren’t a minority
My daughter is home sick today. She’s lying on the couch, watching TV, and eating Parmesan Goldfish. An ad for Goldfish crackers came on. She thought that coincidence was pretty hilarious. She held up one of her crackers and said, “Hi!” to the Goldfish on TV. Then she looked at down at the package. “Who are mine?” she wanted to know.
They are: Xtreme, Gilbert, Brooke, and Finn.
I know what you’re thinking: Xtreme must be female, right? Or maybe Finn? Pepperidge Farm would never put 3 males and 1 female on a package. So, I went to Wikipedia. Check out these character descriptions:
Finn- A cheddar flavored goldfish that wears sunglasses (though not in the commercials).
Gilbert- A pretzel goldfish that tends to be a worrier.
Brooke- The beautiful and intelligent parmesan flavored goldfish and the only female member of the goldfish club until both Candace and Coral showed up.
Xtreme- A flavor-blasted fish who enjoys doing crazy stunts. His real (and embarrassing) name is Fumbleton.
Swimmington Von Stuffington III Esquire- Xtreme’s snobby older brother.
IQ- A honey graham fish who wears eyeglasses lives in the vacuum and befriends Gilbert and helps him escape out of the vacuum.
Candace- A pink fish who wears a red bow on her head and has a small blue star on her tail fin. She has a crush on Gilbert. Candace is also the winner of the “Finn’s New Friend” contest.
Coral- A chocolate graham and fun-spirited fish with a Southern accent who currently befriends the club. She is possibly somewhat of a tomboy.
When I created this blog, I wrote that I was going to rate kids media and toys. I never considered blogging about sexism in food. Reese’s Puffs, Special K, M & Ms, and Goldfish have, unfortunately, changed my mind.
My daughter and I made up different names and stories for the Goldfish, of course. But don’t start telling me it’s a free country, and we can just make up anything we like. I’m a creative person, and I struggle with this. Give me something to work with here, Pepperidge Farm! I’m also, like most moms, busy. Can’t I just read the damn names off the bag?
It would be so much easier to foster creativity in kids (and the adults that they will become) if we weren’t mired with the same old, same old ridiculous, gender-stereotyped narratives at every turn.
A year later, I posted this:
M &Ms, Goldfish, cereal boxes, and the Minority Feisty
Over the weekend we received a tip from a concerned mother who had come across something very disconcerting while perusing the aisles of Toys R Us. Apparently the only available toy or figurine of the Star Wars character Princess Leia is of her in the “Slave Outfit” from Return of the Jedi. Bikini? Check. Loin cloth? Check. Chain around the neck? Check. And in case you were wondering if it was actually geared towards children, it’s listed for kids ages 4+….This is a perfect and heart-breaking example of how ingrained sexism is in geek culture. It’s not like there’s a Chewbacca toy in a banana hammock
This makes me so mad. It’s so twisted. Taking the heroic Leia, one of the few females in the Star Wars franchise at all, certainly the most famous one, then showing her chained and in a bikini again and again and again.
Yesterday, I posted this picture of a LEGO set I bought for my daughter. I chose it because the salesperson told me it was the only one in the store that includes Leia. I regretted the purchase as soon as I saw this mini-fig. Now, I know to check more carefully.
I also posted yet another picture of an illustration from Vader’s Little Princess, where the distorted narrative depicts the slave outfit as Leia’s independent, rebellious choice:
The book has another illustration with the same message:
Desperate for female superheroes to show my kids, I purchased the DVD set of the Wonder Woman TV series starring Lynda Carter. My 5 year old daughter wanted to know: “Why is she in her underwear?” Here’s Wonder Woman as a LEGO minifig (not easy to find at a toy store or Target, even half dressed.)
When Pigtail Pals founder Melissa Wardy dropped her kids off at school, they were walking behind a first grader with a Winx backpack:
On her blog, Wardy writes:
Try this test: If the image can be lifted from the child’s toy/backpack/t-shirt and placed on the billboard for a strip club and not look out of place, then things are seriously fucked.
I’m not saying that 4 year old kids know what being half naked has to do with adult sexuality, but these repeated images teach all children that it’s normal to sexualize girls. Sexualization is very different from sexuality. In her best-selling book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein quotes Stephen Hinshaw from his book The Triple Bind:
“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.
In short: sexualization is performance; it’s all about being desirable to others. Sexuality is understanding and connecting to your own desire.
At the reading, Orenstein shared this passage from Cinderella Ate My Daughter:
Let me be clear here: I object– strenuously– to the sexualization of girls but not necessarily to girls having sex. I expect and want my daughter to have a healthy, joyous erotic life before marriage. Long, long, long before marriage. I do, however, want her to understand why she’s doing it: not for someone else’s enjoyment, not to keep a boyfriend from leaving, not because everyone else is. I want her to explore and understand her body’s responses, her own pleasure, her own desire. I want her to be able to express her needs in a relationship, to say no when she needs to, to value reciprocity, and to experience true intimacy. The virgin/ whore cycle of the pop princesses, like so much of the girlie girl culture, pushes in the opposite direction, encouraging girls to view self-objectification as a feminist rite of passage.
That last sentence is again, exactly how Leia is presented in Vader’s Little Princess.
Older girls and women can choose to wear a bikini, or a even chain around their necks if they want, but girls and women should not feel like they have to be “attractive” to men all the time, 24 hours a day. Or even 12 hours a day. Or 6. Or any hours at all. Nor should they feel like they have to be attractive to all men. It’s this kind of fucked up mentality– be attractive to all men, all the time, that leads to men feeling entitled to women’s bodies. I could go on here about the legal ramifications of this as far reproductive rights, coverage for contraception etc, but that’s another post. The point of this one is that 4 year old girls should not be trained that it’s completely normal to be half naked most of the time. The females in kidworld should not be constantly baring their bellies. Please stop selling kids toys and media where females are half dressed. Parents, please stop buying these kinds of toys for your children. They set a dangerous precedent. That’s no slut-shaming but protecting childhood from adult sexuality.
I’d like to collect some images of Princess Leia here that you all think would be good for Disney to base its merchandise on. Here’s a couple to start:
More great posts on this issue from around the web:
The current assortment of Star Wars products at the Disney Store launched earlier this year, and is just the beginning of what is to come,” Disney spokeswoman Margita Thompson told TIME. “We’re excited to be rolling out new products in the coming months, including several items that will feature Princess Leia, one of the most iconic characters in the Star Wars galaxy.
I am so excited, both about the product and that we are making a difference! Good job everybody.
Note to Disney, we do not want to see Leia in her slave girl-S & M-metal bikini chained to Jabba the Hut, as she is in this LEGO set that I regretted purchasing for my 7 year old daughter.
Nor do we want to see narratives where Leia is again in said bikini arguing with her father that she actually wants to wear it– when it was Jabba that forced her into the outfit in the first place– as in Vader’s Little Princess which I regretted reading to my 5 year old daughter.
We’re over the metal bikini. Leia has been hard enough to find in toy sets, on T-shirts or sippy cups. We want to see a strong and powerful action figure saving the galaxy.
Plus-size swimwear company Swimsuits for All set out to prove that “sexy curves go beyond a size four” by shooting its own swimwear calendar, including a picture reenacting this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Are you kidding me? Do you think I’d be any happier if my 3 daughters saw that picture in the Safeway checkout line instead of this one?
All right, maybe I’d be a smidgen happier that my kids wouldn’t have to see more starving women defined as beautiful, but my goals and expectations are so much higher than what this image from Swimsuits for All represents. I want to see images of women where they are not defined by their sexuality, by whether whomever is looking at them finds them sexy or not, where what they look like in bathing suits is not the be-all end-all, where who thinks they are attractive only matters in a very particular context, like when they are with someone who they love or want to have sex with.
Swimsuits for All is in the business of selling swimsuits. The company has got to sell its product, so posing women in the merchandise that it’s marketing makes sense. I’m not indicting the company, but pretending as if seeing this image all over the internet is liberating is ridiculous. Also, it might be nice to see the women swimming in their suits. What about playing volleyball on the beach? Building awesome sandcastles? Doing something? There could be a shot of a woman or two sunbathing, as long as the “aren’t I sexy” poses were not the dominant, ubiquitous ones.
I’ve written this for a long time, but “fat” women beauty contests don’t represent progress. Women no longer paraded as meat is progress.
Last week, Disney admitted that they have no plans for any Princess Leia merchandise in the Disney store, a situation of distinct irony for reasons I hope I don’t have to explain.
Of course, this is far from the first time I’ve noticed Leia’s absence. There are so many LEGO “Star Wars” sets but few feature female characters. The origin of that problem obviously is the lack of females in the “Star Wars” movies, but still, why does Leia go missing? If you search on the internet, you can find her in LEGO sets, but as my daughters and I go about our day, walking through toy stores or book stores or Target, we see Leia hardly anywhere. My seven year old and I did spot her one time, and we bought the set but were disappointed that the scene depicted was where she was clad in a metal bikini chained to Jabba the Hut. Do you really want your kids playing with this story? It wouldn’t be so bad if there were many scenes and outfits for Leia, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.
My 5 year old daughter and I go to Whole Foods most mornings where I get a cup of coffee and she reads the rack of kids books. Yesterday, she picked up Darth Vader’s Little Princess, the companion book to the New York Times best-seller Darth Vader and Son. But unlike Luke’s studious and heroic upbringing, in this story, young Leia likes to talk on the phone and paint her nails. The metal bikini she wears is presented as her independent, rebellious choice and not the outfit she was forced into when she was Jabba’s slave:
In case my 5 year old doesn’t get that Leia exposing her body is her choice as a growing, independent female, here is the same message in text and image on another page of the book:
Let’s just say that if I were to write a story about the young Leia, it would be completely different than this sexist, not funny at all, I honesty hope not a best-seller book.
I’m so mad about the degradation and annihilation of Leia not only for girls but for boys. Here is a great opportunity for boys to experience, play with, and admire a heroic female character and that chance has been swiped away from them.
It’s not just the Disney store and the Whole Foods book racks (and all book racks), but Leia also can’t be found among the “Star Wars” clothing merchandise, for example the socks and shoes sold at Stride Rite. When my daughter wore her “Star Wars” shoes, she was teased by other little kids in her class for wearing “boy shoes.” A ridiculous premise in the first place, but why exaggerate this boy/ girl “Star Wars” split by excising Leia?
It’s not only Leia who is missing from Stride Rite. Black Widow, the female Avenger is gone, as is Wonder Woman, the female that used to be shown with the Superfriends. Check out these socks.
Thousands of years ago, conquering armies smashed the idols of their victims and stole their stories, an extremely effective tactic to destroy a community and steal its power. Christians did this to pagans, but of course, this act is all over history. Just like the goddesses morphed into the Virgin, girls are going missing right now in 2014.
The Internet spreads all kinds of social ills, from cyberbullying to mainstreaming hardcore pornography, but for me, the good far outweighs the bad, because I’ve “met” people like the excellent and amazing author of Redefining Girly, Melissa Wardy. Melissa’s blog and online community are a truly invaluable resource that support protecting childhood and raising healthy kids. Now, lucky you– she’s written a book.
From author Melissa Wardy: Hi Margot and hello to all of your Reel Girl readers. I’m so thrilled to be making a stop on the Redefining Girly Blog Tour at one of the blogs that I personally really love. I hope all of you enjoy reading Margot’s thoughts on my new book Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween and at the end of the post find out how you can win one of two Redefine Girly t-shirt gift packs.
Melissa started her children’s clothing company, Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies, not long after her daughter was born, because she couldn’t find a single onesie that showed a girl with an airplane. Really not cool, especially when she named her child after Amelia Earhart. On her site, Melissa writes:
Pigtail Pals was born in May 2009 with the mission to Redefine Girly! I believe girls need to see messages in early childhood that show females being smart, daring, and adventurous. As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
What I love about Melissa is that she walks her talk. A mom can tell her daughters all day long that pretty isn’t the most important thing about them, but if she’s obsessed with her appearance and dieting, what is she showing her kids about her values? The sad truth of parenting is that actions matter more than words, and kids learn from what they experience, not from what they hear you talk at them. That, in my opinion, is the hardest thing about being a mom: trying not to be a hypocrite. Notice I write trying, which brings me to why I value Melissa’s book and believe it’s essential reading for every parent. She helps me to not be a hypocrite and– this is super important– to be kind as well. I know how to be reactive, to tell the truth and be angry about it (as Gloria Steinem famously said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.)” I’m not always sure how to effectively handle a sweet teacher who tells my daughter every morning how pretty she is, a “princess party” birthday invitation sent by a best friend, or a proposed “playdate” to the mall.
In 2014, the world our children live in is horribly sexist, a place where teachers, doctors, and family, often the people your children love and respect, indoctrinate them to expect and accept all kinds of gender stereotypes. But thanks to Melissa, you don’t have to cave in or isolate. You actually have choices in how you respond and act. Knowing this is liberating and calming. Melissa helps families transition from victims of gender stereotyping to creative heroes who are redefining a nd restoring childhood for our kids. For example, Melissa teaches you how to redefine girly in your own home, again by showing kids a new way with, for example, a hands on dad in the family who does laundry, by encouraging her son to play with dolls, by being a mom who uses tools and fixes things (along with cooking and cleaning), by eating desert with her kids and enjoying it. She gives advice on what to do if a friend or family member gives you hand me down clothes or toys that don’t fit with your ideal:
We’ll say “Thank you so much for thinking of us” and then politely decline or donate away items that carry messages that don’t fit with our family morals.
Simple, right? Yet, so many of us get tongue tied. Melissa’s book is full of useable, practical advice. With her signature combination of compassion and unflinching directness, Melissa gives tips for how to get friends and family on board. First, she reminds you: what you are doing is important. You are not insane. If you care about redefining girly, have no doubt that people will tell you the sexism that you see hurting children is trivial or doesn’t exist at all. Melissa writes:
Remember that you are not alone or crazy for seeing problems with the emotionally toxic ways our culture treats girls. The Resources section at the end of this book is full of alternatives, information, and the names of experts who can help. Our daughters deserve a girlhood free of harm and limitations.
Melissa lists specific tips on how to deal with criticism of your views:
Have a prepared team response you and your parenting partner will use that lets family know this is an issue you take seriously and that you want to have your wishes respected. My husband and I use “We want Amelia to be healthy and happy and we feel this is the best path to achieve that.” (We use the same message for our son.)
Have fun alternatives ready to suggest to family and friends who bring media into your home that you feel are unhealthy. This way you are not just saying no to their media, you are saying yes to healthier choices.
Have a secret signal for your kids to use so they can communicate to you that they need to ask you a question or talk to you about something later (like a baseball coach signal– helpful when a gift is given or a comment is made that your kids know goes against what you teach in your home.)
Melissa also has great one-liners that come in handy including: colors are for everyone, pretty’s got nothing to do with it, toys are made for kids not genders, there are many ways to be a boy/ girl.
Excellent sections in the book include: Encouraging kids at play– the Diverse Toy Box, Around the Kitchen Table– Fat Talk and Body Image, Using Your Voice and Consumer Power To Fight the Companies Making Major Missteps, and my favorite– Becoming the Media You Want to See.
I can’t recommend this book more. Not only will it help you redefine girly, but it shows you how to have fun and be happy while you’re changing the world. I’ve been trying to blog about this book since it came out in January and I tore through it, but it was too damn hard because I wanted to quote the entire thing. Today, I set myself a time limit and my time is up. (I only got through my notes on the first couple chapters.) So I’ll end with THANK YOU MELISSA. I think you’re about 10 years younger than me, but you’re my role model. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
From author Melissa Wardy: Thank you Margot for those wonderful words about my book. It is an honor to receive accolades from such a well-versed writer in this area but also from a woman and mom whom I highly respect. I would love to hear from your audience now and have them share either something they have learned from Redefining Girly if they have already read it, or have them describe an issue/concern they have currently with their daughter that they are hoping to learn more about when they do read the book. I’ll pick two winners to receive a Redefining Girly t-shirt gift pack (two tees + shipping). Winners will be chosen Friday May 30 at 8pm PST so make sure to get a comment in before then! Okay Reel Girl readers, what are your thoughts on Redefining Girly?”
Today, we had Captain Crunch with crunch berries for breakfast. (Not the healthiest choice, I know, blaming my husband who loved the “food” as a kid.) There are no female mascots on children’s cereal. That’s right, zero. You may not think that’s a big deal but it’s one more space in kidworld where girls go missing. Children spend hours studying these cereal boxes and playing the games on them. They’re like newspapers for children, and just like newspapers for adults, males dominate the stories. What if there were no male mascots on children’s cereal? Do you think anyone would notice that?
A while back, in an effort to help my kids learn not to take missing females for granted, as something expected and normal, we invented a new game: Find the Girls on the Cereal Box. It’s actually fun because it’s challenging, and you can have some great discussions about what makes a boy a boy and a girl a girl, according to cereal box creators.
Try it yourself. Here’s my 5 year old daughter with the back of a box of Captain Crunch.
The answer is: 4 girls and 9 boys including Captain Crunch on this box. The photo is not great, and details are key so don’t be too hard on yourself if you got it wrong.
Here’s a close up of the girls we found.
Girl #1 is a girl because her hair is pink, has long curls, and she has eyelashes.