Today, during a soccer game, a kid on the opposing team made fun of my four year old daughter’s ‘boy’ shoes. I am so sick of this shit I could scream. It is crazy to me that people actually say, actually believe it’s “natural” for girls “want” pink stuff. My God, I’m honestly surprised my daughter has stuck with her Star Wars shoes for this long. As I’ve blogged, she isn’t even a big Star Wars fan, fighting for her passion with these shoes. She just bought a pair of shoes. I really feel like she could go either way, or one of many ways, pink and sparkly or action hero or something else, but everything out there is telling her which limited “choice” to make.
So after my daughter leaves the field, crying, which, by the way, I was totally bummed about. We’d rehearsed other responses, “I like my shoes” “There is no such thing as boy shoes,” so many times, but still, of course, I comforted her. I said I would talk to the girl. Her father, a nice guy, happened to be sitting right next to me. First, he called another kid over, asking her if she’d made fun of my daughter’s shoes. Both that kid and my daughter denied she was the one. Then the guy calls over his daughter who admits it was her, and my daughter seconds that. “I’m so sorry,” he said to me, after making his kid apologize. “I don’t know where she gets it.” I told him preschool, probably. And then he looks at his daughter and tells her: “Star Wars is cool. Star Wars has Princess Leia and she’s beautiful!”
Is that a bummer of a response or what? Here is a dad trying but totally missing the point. So I said, “And Leia is smart and brave and powerful, too.”
“Yeah,” says the dad.
How many times, do you think, in one day– from people telling them how pretty their dresses are or their hair or their shoes, to TV shows and books and movies and toys— little girls are shown that what they look like is the most important thing of all? What do you think they are learning to value most, their actions or their appearance? Where do you think they are learning to focus their efforts, concerns, and ambitions?
Here’s the video of my daughter talking about being bullied for ‘boy shoes made a couple months ago. Please share your stories so parents start to understand the epidemic that gender bullying has become, in preschool and beyond.
Here’s my 4 year old daughter talking about how kids at preschool teased her for wearing “boy” shoes. A group of them wouldn’t let her enter the “train hole,” a play structure shaped like a train, because she was wearing her Star Wars shoes.
After my daughter told me about the teasing, which happened more than once, I spoke to her teacher who then talked with the kids about how anyone can wear any kind of shoe they like.
The bullying that happened to my daughter occurs in schools every day, and we all need to be doing more to stop it. Instead, we’re exacerbating it by buying into gender marketing sold to us by multi-national media companies and chain stores.
Whenever I blog or speak about gender segregating kids, I get the argument that it’s just “natural,” and if your kid happens to be the rare exception, she can “choose” another toy or T shirt if she wants. (Here I am recently responding to those arguments on Fox News but they are all over this blog as well.) How many kids have the courage to be the “exception?” And why has straying from pink or princess become an exception? How long until my daughter starts “choosing” the shoes that she’s supposed to wear and like, shoes that she doesn’t get teased for wearing? I’m stating what should be obvious here: When one type of product is aggressively marketed to boys, and another type to girls kids don’t have a choice.
The retailer today confirmed that they would draw up a set of principles for in-store signage meaning that, in the long-term, explicit references to gender will be removed and images will show boys and girls enjoying the same toys. They promised to start by looking at the way toys are represented in their upcoming Christmas catalogue.
I was talking to a teacher friend recently who said that 10 or 15 years ago, if she asked her Kindergarten class what their favorite colors were, she heard many different answers. Now, she still hears the boys name many different colors, but the girls almost all say pink…
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.”
Today, I walked by your store on California Street in San Francisco, and I was saddened by how differently you market shoes to girls and boys. What’s with your gender stereotyping? I don’t get it. Aren’t girls and boys feet pretty similar? Don’t all kids need shoes where they can be active? Please tell me why Stride Rite markets shoes to little kids as if girls and boys are completely different species. As author Rebecca Hains writes, according to Stride Rite, girls are pretty and boys are active. This kind of gender stereotyping limits all kids.
Here’s the huge poster selling shoes to girls in the window of the San Francisco store.
According to Stride Rite, girls like pink, purple, sparkles, and princesses.
Here’s your poster selling shoes to boys.
Boys are powerful. They like orange, blue, red, yellow, and black.
The shoes displayed below the girl poster are also– surprise, surprise– pink, purple and sparkly. The shoes displayed below the boy poster feature Spider-Man and Captain America shoes.
Where are the female superheroes at Stride Rite? Not on the socks you sell. Those are my daughter’s hands in the picture. She was looking for Wonder Woman.
Apparently, Wonder Woman isn’t one of the world’s greatest superheroes. Isn’t she a member of the Justice League? Where’d she go? What about Black Widow? Why has she gone missing from the Avengers Assemble? And while we’re looking for MIA powerful females, where’s Leia with her lightsaber? Why isn’t she part of the Stride Rite Star Wars shoes marketing plan?
Here are my three daughters ages 4, 7, and 10 wearing Stride Rite shoes.
Unfortunately, we will no longer be shopping at Stride Rite.The way you guide girls to one side of your store and boys to the other is manipulative and destructive. My youngest child chose her orange shoes from the “boy” side, but every year, my kids get more influenced by marketing such as yours. Their choices become more limited as they repeatedly see that girls are supposed to be so radically different than boys, only wear certain colors, and behave in a certain “feminine” way. For as long as I can, I hope to protect my kids from learning that boys are valued for what they do, while girls are valued for how they appear. That means not shopping at Stride Rite.
Update: On Reel Girl’s Facebook page, Lizards and Lullabies posted this email just received from Stride Rite. Guess they’re working hard to snag back to school shoppers. Makes sense, that’s why my family went shoe shopping.
wish like a princess? They’ve found a way to make a princess EVEN MORE passive!
Here’s the ad:
Update:This comment, posted on Pigtail Pals Facebook page, makes me so frustrated. Diana got way more than a confused look from the sales associate when her daughter dared to step beyond gender limits at Stride Rite:
“We just went into a Stride Rite store for my 4yo daughter and she was drawn to the “boys” side with the Spider Man shoes. The sales associate actually stopped her and said “Oh honey, those are for boys. Let’s get you something prettier over here.”
I told the sales associate that she was free to pick a shoe from whatever side she wanted and that pretty wasn’t defined by pink, purple and glitter, nor was it the only quality we wanted in a sneaker.
We walked out with Spider Man sneakers that light up and are awesome. I did mention to the woman that while we appreciated her friendliness, we did not appreciate her gender stereotyping and making my daughter feel like she shouldn’t be excited about black, red and blue shoes with eyes that light up.”
And one more thing, while I’m here. All that “pretty,” shiny stuff on girl’s shoes gets scuffed up and falls off pretty fast. When it does, parents are likely to buy kids new shoes, which is great for business and also, creating lifetime consumers. Check out this post: Are girl’s shoes designed to disintegrate?
In the California public school system during first grade, kids learn about U.S. currency. I was bummed to watch my daughters spend hours studying, sorting, organizing, and diagramming endless stacks of male profiles. I still have a four year old to go through the training. It sucks. While this is supposed to be a math lesson, it’s yet another space where children see that males are important while females go missing. Six year olds learn– often with no authority figure like a teacher even mentioning the sexism– that males are leaders and females are invisible.
How different would our world be if our children grew up in a world where they saw female faces on the bills and coins they used every day? Really, what would have to change?
Well guess what? The land of the free and the brave may be remarkably sexist, but the Bank of England made the crazy, brazen, radical step of putting a woman author on money. Do you think they were closer to being courageous because they have a queen already there?
This is the great Jane Austen. Please show this bill to your kids. It’s really important that they see it.
In the United States, there is no shortage of notable women, but bank notes haven’t been updated since 1929, nine years after women gained the right to vote.
All of the paper money in the United States features men — nine presidents, two former treasury secretaries and one Benjamin Franklin.
Don’t let your children go through this sexist history lesson without acknowledging the inequity. A world where females go missing shouldn’t seem normal or okay to kids.
Here are some tips I discovered when my children learned about U.S. currency in first grade that may be helpful to you.
Show your kids other currencies where females are featured on money. This can be fun. Some money is beautiful or cool to look at. It’s all fascinating. You can learn a lot about people and their countries. This new Jane Austen bill is great opportunity. Let your kids know that U.S. bank notes have not been changed since 1929, 10 years after women got the vote. Ask your children who they would put on money if they could honor someone. Help them design a bill. Play store with their currency.
I have no doubt that in good, old Capitalist USA, when women are featured on currency as much as men are, it will be a signpost, maybe more than any other, of gender equality in America.
Reel Girl rates U.S. currency ***SSS*** for major gender stereotyping
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.
It’s Academy Awards week and the ballots are closed. While we don’t know the winners yet, one thing we know for sure is that no women have again been nominated for best director.This is one of the only times of the year when the world is paying attention to the film business, not just movies. The entire industry is on display this weekend and it is still extremely imbalanced.
This is the second year we have created a video to help make people think about the gender imbalance in Hollywood, especially in the area of directing.
I’ve been avoiding writing this post. I knew that female characters in children’s movies were not faring well in 2012. Not in number and not in stature. But I kept hoping. Hoping that somehow, before January, something would change, a slew of movies were going to appear from nowhere, stats would magically shift.
Yes, we got “Brave” this year. Thank you director Brenda Chapman for making Pixar’s first movie ever with a female protagonist. I’m sorry that you, one of the only women to direct animated movies produced by a major studio, were fired half way through production and replaced with a male director.
But “Brave” is just one movie. The exception proves the rule. It’s December now, and sadly, it’s time for me to admit that once again, in the movies made for children in 2012, girls go missing. In staggering proportions, males are consistently front and center; females are mostly sidelined or not there at all.
If you look at the gender placement in the images on the movie posters below, the meaning of “marginalized” couldn’t be more clear. Remember, these are movie for kids. So when your children go to the movies, they are learning, time and time again, that boys are more important than girls.
For those of you who say there are alternative posters that I didn’t put in Reel Girl’s Gallery, you may find them on Google images, but these are the ones I saw all around San Francisco. Even if you find a poster on Google featuring, say, Tooth, the one female Guardian out of five (a typical gender ratio, by the way) that’s a pretty pathetic argument for her relevance.
For those of you who say the posters below do not reflect the movie, that the movie has a strong female in it, maybe even two, maybe three, you are, most likely, referring to the Minority Feisty. No matter how many Minority Feisty there are in an animated film, they are represented as a minority. The irony is, of course, that females are not a minority, not a special interest, not even a fringe group. Females are, in fact, half of the population. Girls are half of the kid population. Why aren’t they represented that way in movies made for children?
I call the Minority Feisty “Feisty” because that is, invariably, the adjective reviewers use to describe the “strong” female character in an animated film. “Feisty” is diminutive. It is what you call someone who plays at being powerful, not someone who is actually powerful. Would you ever call Superman “feisty?” How would he feel if you did?
The role of the Minority Feisty, like a cheerleader or First Lady, is to help the male star along on his important quest. Children need to see females front and center, as protagonists, as the heroes of their own stories.
Finally, even apart from the movie, these posters– and ads– are their own media. Whether or not your kid goes to the movie, she sees these posters everywhere. The movie poster is one of the reasons that I was so thrilled about “Brave.” Finally, San Francisco was papered with an image a daring girl, an image marketed to kids. Obviously, the biggest impact of a narrative is made when kids get to know the character through the movie and then see that character on clothing, food packaging, and toys.
As you look at these posters, imagine the reverse, the gender ratio and the character placement, switched; the movie’s title reflecting the female star. Would you do a double take? How many of us grown-ups don’t even notice the dominance of male characters anymore? How many of us experience the annihilation of females as totally normal, not to mention adorable and child-appropriate?
There is no good reason for the imaginary world to be sexist. Or is there?
Only 16% of protagonists in movies are female; only 16% of women make it into power positions in almost all professions across America. Children’s movie posters, and of course the movies themselves, are an effective way that we acclimate a new generation to expect and accept a world where females go missing.
Out of the 16 posters for children’s movies in 2012 pictured below, just 4 represent movies starring females: “Mirror, Mirror,” “Brave,” “Secret World of Arietty” and “Big Miracle.” The “Big Miracle” poster diminishes Drew Barrymore pretty effectively. I loved “Arrietty,” as I love every Studio Ghibli film, but was surprised to see the boy so big on the poster.
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?
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?