Boys will be boys, girls will clean up

blue milk blogger saw her three year son watching the Australian animated show for toddlers “Bananas in Pyjamas.” She blogs:

I was so bewildered by it that I ended up watching the whole episode again on iview to be sure about what I was seeing.”

In the series, there are two banana adult figures and three bears, 2 girls and 1 boy, all friends. In the episode blue milk saw, the boy bear buys a Super Bear costume and then causes all sorts of trouble, getting caught up in his imagination and believing he really is a superhero. The bananas try to help out a little, but don’t get too involved, knowing they get to return home soon. So the clean up is left to the girl bears.

blue milk goes on:

Tellingly, the little girl bears deal with these problems in a way that doesn’t involve Super Bear having to know about it because he would only cause more mess if he tried to help and because they do not want to hurt his dignity or spoil his fun. Worse still, his fun interrupts their own fun and plans and when they express some irritation about it all the Bananas encourage them to be careful not to ruin the boy bear’s illusion of himself as a superhero. It wouldn’t have particularly disturbed me as a story if it was about a parent or uncle cleaning up after the little boy teddy bear…But the sight of two little girls doing the cleaning up and taking care of, instead of  having fun and adventures themselves? And the idea that the little boy got to experience the thrill of danger while the little girls got to worry about him? It all struck me as so, so wrong.”

First of all, I am amazed, once again, though I know I shouldn’t be, how universal sexism in kidworld is. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid in Australia or a kid in the USA, if it’s PBS or Disney, if it’s a movie or TV: except for the Minority Feisty, boys will be boys and girls will clean up.

The TV show blue milk describes really irks me because my whole blog, Reel Girl, is about protecting the imagination of children (and hopefully, eventually, the adults they grown into.) I guess you could look at this episode as enlightening: Look, this is just what happens in real life. Males are encouraged and supported by the world to imagine and act; females are not. But somehow, I suspect three year old children don’t get irony.

Eating like crazy, rich, white people

blue milk posted this intro:

Oh my god, Ta-Nehisi Coates knows how to write an Opinion piece. Here he is in The New York Times talking about the relationship between intuitive eating and historical affluence and how this all relates to culture and politics. It is an exceptionally clever way of framing the discussion.

Here’s the excerpt:

I left the first of these dinners in bemused dudgeon. “Crazy rich white people,”  I would scoff. “Who goes to a nice dinner and leaves hungry?” In fact, they were not hungry at all. I discovered this a few dinners later, when I found myself embroiled in this ritual of half-dining. It was as though some invisible force was slowing my fork, forcing me into pauses, until I found myself nibbling and sampling my way through the meal. And when I rose both caffeinated and buzzed, I was, to my shock, completely satiated.

Like many Americans, I was from a world where “finish your plate” was gospel. The older people there held hunger in their recent memory. For generations they had worked with their arms, backs and hands. With scarcity a constant, and manual labor the norm, “finish your plate” fit the screws of their lives. I did not worry for food. I sat at my desk staring at a computer screen for much of the day. But still I ate like a stevedore. In the old world, this culture of eating kept my forebears alive. In this new one it was slowly killing me…

..Using the wrong tool for the job is a problem that extends beyond the dining room. The set of practices required for a young man to secure his safety on the streets of his troubled neighborhood are not the same as those required to place him on an honor roll, and these are not the same as the set of practices required to write the great American novel. The way to guide him through this transition is not to insult his native language. It is to teach him a new one.

Thank you Ta-Nehisi Coates for writing this! And to the feminist motherhood blog blue milk for picking it up.

Every time I blog about the way I eat or how I feed my family– intuitive eating, letting my kids eat whatever and whenever they want, and that they never get in trouble for “wasting” food– I get comments about how wasteful and unhealthy I am, along with what a terrible mother I am.

Intuitive eating is about so much more than eating. It’s about learning how to listen to your body and listen to yourself. It’s about self respect and independence and health and not giving a shit what other people think or say about you.

If you don’t know how to listen to your  body, learn. Buy the books When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies or Preventing Childhood Eating Problems. Raise your kids to be intuitive eaters. That is, honestly, the best way to stop “wasting food.” And it sure makes meal times more pleasant.

Reel Girl is 2 years old today! Progress made against ‘genderfication’ of childhood?

I started Reel Girl on December 27, 2009 in a post Christmas pink haze. It was my first holiday season with three daughters, my youngest child was nine months old. I was amazed by how gendered all their Christmas presents were. Truly amazed. Even the little one had a stack of all pink toys and clothing. But it was Polly Pocket who drove me to blog. Those teeny-weeny clothes. I can’t even deal with organizing all the clothing for my own kids, not to mention Polly’s ugly, shiny outfits. It wasn’t just Polly, of course. So many toys given to my kids had to do with getting dressed: magnetic dress dolls, paper doll cut out coloring books, Barbie dolls, on and on and on. Talk about training your daughters to be obsessed with clothing and appearance.

In the two years that I’ve been blogging and paying a lot of attention to this issue, have we made progress limiting the ‘genderfication’ of childhood? (I’m using ‘genderfication’ instead of ‘gendering’ to highlight the mass-market, artificial drive to segregate kids)

Movies and TV seem worse than ever. Girls are half our kid population but show up only as a tiny minority on the big and small screens. In 2010, Disney switched the title of “Rapunzel” to “Tangled” and announced it would make no more princess movies. Who cares, right? Princesses suck. But the complex problem is, tragically, if a girl character gets top billing in a film at all, chances are she’s a princess. It’s kind of like if you want to win a Miss America college scholarship, first you’ve got to parade around in your bathing suit. By saying no more princesses, what Disney was really saying was: coming soon, even fewer girl stars! At that time, in response to Disney’s blatant sexism of switching a title to hide a girl and publicly announcing that decision, hardly a parent made a peep.

And toys? Also, only worse. To me, the new Legos for girls that just went on the market hit an all time low in the genderfication of childhood.

But on the positive side, parents are getting pissed off. Hundreds (can I say thousands yet?) are going to Lego’s Facebook page and complaining.

There’s other evidence parents have had enough. Early this year, Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter came out and became a best-seller. Melissa Wardy’s Pigtail Pals, a company aimed at creating empowering clothing for girls, grew enormously, in part when posts Wardy wrote about JCPenney’s sexist T shirt  “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother did it for me” went viral. JCPenney pulled the shirt.

The Geena Davis Institute released an in depth study about the sexism in kids’ media. Other organizations doing great work as far as activism around these issues include Powered by Girl, SPARK, About Face, SheHeroes, Hardy Girls Healthy Women, Princess Free Zone, 7Wonderlicious, Achilles Effect, Pink Stinks, New Moon Girls, and more. In the past two years, I’ve discovered some great blogs that monitor the sexism marketed to our kids including Balancing Jane, Mama Feminista, The Twin Coach, Blue Milk, Hoyden About Town, and many more.

In two years, Reel Girl has grown as well. Reel Girl posts have been featured, written about, or linked to major sites around the web including The Week (best opinion a couple times), Jezebel, Blogher (Spotlight Blogger), Forbes.com, Wall Street Journal, Adweek, Ms., Common Sense Media, and many more. Reel Girl is also cross posted on SFGate.

Reel Girl guest poster Melissa Spiers wrote about a sexist ad from ChapStick. Her post received over 25,000 page views and the company ended up taking down and discontinuing the photo of a woman’s ass.

This summer Pixar is coming out with Brave, the animation studio’s first film ever to star a female protagonist. It’s kind of unbelievable that we’ve  had to wait this long for one girl, but I’m excited to see her. I hope people go in droves and take their sons as well. This whole issue is really about the parents, and I’m happy they’re taking more action.

But there is a kid who is really pissed off and telling the world about it herself. Her name is Riley and the youtube video showing her smart observations on the gendered aisles, toys, and colors forced on kids is going viral as I post this. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. It’s awesome.

And finally some exciting news around here: my husband and I are writing a Middle Grade book inspired by a story he started telling our daughters. It’s a fantasy adventure. Here’s one sentence about it: “Legend of Emery: The Battle for the Sather Stone is the story of how Nessa, a Frake, and Posey, a Fairy, overcome a history of mutual prejudice to become great friends, working together to stop a war by recovering the stolen Sather stone, the source of all magic, and returning it to its rightful owner, the Fairy Queen Arabel.”

Here’s to hoping we take many more giant steps forward in 2012.