Start your summer reading early: Pick up ‘Redefining Girly’

UPDATED POST: REDEFINING GIRLY BLOG TOUR!

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.

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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.

Reel Girl rates Redefining Girly ***HHH***

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?”

 

Open request to strangers, doctors, teachers: Don’t make small talk about my daughter’s appearance

There is an excellent letter from Kasey Edwards to Santa posted on the blog Role/ Reboot. Here’s how it begins:

Dear Santa,

What I want for Christmas is for people to stop objectifying my daughter.

 

But after I took my 4-year-old daughter Violet to visit you last week, it seems that even YOU can’t deliver on this particular request.

 

You may recall that we walked into your little house for the family photo and you remarked on every item of clothing Violet was wearing—including her socks.

 

And then you told her she was the most beautiful and best-dressed person in the shopping center.

 

Couldn’t you have just stopped there? Hell no! You kept going and suggested that she takes up modeling when she grows up.

 

I wrote a post about this topic 2 years ago, when my youngest daughter started preschool.

I know making small talk with a two year old is hard. Toddlers can be shy, are easily distracted, and might even burst into tears if you say the wrong thing. It’s not easy to break the ice. But please: if you meet a little girl on the street, in a store, on the playground,  try to think of something, anything to say rather than commenting on her hair, dress, shoes, eyes etc.

 

My two year old just started preschool, and by the time I’ve kissed her good bye and left her in the classroom, she’s gotten about 10 compliments on her appearance. Of course, she’s adorable. All little kids are. But remember, their little brains are getting wired up. Kids love attention, to be smiled at, and to connect– these are exactly the kinds of interactions that make their brains grow. When they learn, this young, that so many responses are based on how they look, it affects them for life.

 

For alternative ice breakers try “Hi, you seem happy today! What’s going on? (or sad or angry)” or “Is that your kitty? (or bunny, dog) What’s her name?” Talk about the weather, seriously. Ask if they come here often. If you must say something to a little girl about how she looks, balance it out with other topics that have nothing to do with her appearance (meaning don’t talk about how she looks unless this is going to be a long interaction.)

 

When people tell your daughter how pretty she is, don’t repeat the compliment to her (as in “She loves this dress. It’s her favorite.”) Don’t make her say thank you. Gently deflect the topic. No matter what other people say, you’re the parent whose opinion matters most to her at this age. Do tell your daughters they are beautiful “on the inside and the outside.” It’s something that should be said by you and that she feels confident about. It’s the proportion of looks based comments, the constant repetition of them, and how they form the basis for social interaction that’s damaging.

 

In her letter to Santa, Edwards also gives some suggestions about how to break the ice when talking to a little girl besides focusing on her appearance, though, obviously, these are geared towards Santa.

-       Where have you been today? or Where are you going today?

–       How old are you?

–       What do you want to be when you grow up?

–       What’s your favorite book/toy/sport/animal/food/song?

–       Do you know any Christmas carols?

–       Check out your surroundings and remark on something such as a flowering plant, a truck, a picture on the wall, Christmas decorations, even the weather.

–       Or just imagine what you would say to her if she were boy.

 

I love the last one. Thinking that way really helps to become aware of our sexist conditioning. I get how challenging this is. Yesterday, my two older daughters dressed my younger one, and she went out into the world looking like this.

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I tried my best to get the monster-flower off her head, but had to give up because my struggle was getting counter-productive. I was giving her appearance too much attention. But I knew it was unlikely this kid would go out in the world and no one would comment on that thing, which was, by the way, a Christmas present. That’s its whole purpose, right? It’s going to feel almost rude to an adult to ignore it.

But that’s what I’m asking you to do. Ignore it. But don’t ignore her. Talk about something else. Ask her how her day is going or what she’s on her way to do or if she had a good sleep last night.

In Melissa Wardy’s great new book Redefining Girly, Rosalind Wiseman offers these suggestions:

So compliment her on something she’s specifically doing that you think is great. Ask friends for their support because you’ll be raising your girls together. To strangers, I’d say: “Thanks, but you know what is the coolest thing about her? She draws animals incredibly well!” Yes, the other person may think you’re strange for saying something so random but your daughter will hear you complimenting something she specifically does, bringing attention to a skill you admire. She’ll know that the most important people in her life value her for more than her appearance.

This is messy stuff and you don’t have to fight every single battle that comes your way. If you’re too tired to have these conversations on a particular day, don’t sweat it. You’ll always have another day. Be proud of taking this one on. I see way too many girls whose parents haven’t provided this guidance and support and truly believe their self value is based on looking like the “perfect girl.”

 

From the moment they are born, girl babies get attention for how they look. They are dressed like dolls and turned into objects by their own parents, a practice reinforced by our powerfully sexist culture. For too many women, how we look is the source of our identity and power or lack there of. When is it going to stop? Why not start with you? Make a different kind of small talk with the next little girl you see. It’s a small but powerful step to change the world.

Update: I’m getting lots of comments where people are saying style and fashion are about free choice and autonomy. When a little kid conforms to certain choices– poofy dresses,  giant hairpieces– and receives positive attention from strangers, teachers, doctors, where is her free choice?

The gender marketing aimed at kids today is so aggressive, there isn’t really free choice anymore. For example, If you ask her, almost every little girl will tell you that pink is her favorite color, but it wasn’t always that way. Pink wasn’t even a “girl” color until the last century. Before that, it was a “boy” color, a pastel version of red which symbolized courage. Blue used to be a girl color because it was the color of the Virgin Mary, and that’s why early Disney heroines like Cinderella and Alice were shown in blue.

Below, I’m posting a video of my daughter talking about getting bullied at preschool for wearing “boy shoes.” If a 4 year old girl gets compliments and positive affirmation for wearing a flower on her head but she gets mocked, ostracized, or ignored for wearing “Star Wars” shoes, what is she going to choose? Where is her free choice?

It’s only going to come when we all stop focusing so much attention on what she looks like.

One solution I tried that worked pretty well when my daughter was two was to have my her pick out 4 favorite dresses and wear them repeatedly. She was pleased b/c she loved the dresses, but at least the preschool parents, teachers, and peers stopped commenting on the same old, same old. I blogged about that here. My daughter has done pretty well holding on to autonomy so far, but I find, every year she gets older, it becomes harder to protect her imagination.

Sexualization of childoohood is children’s rights issue of our time

Just received the brand new book by Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals: Redfining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from birth to Tween.

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I am so excited to read this! I am a huge fan of Wardy’s company PIgtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies, and of her excellent blog, so I know this is going to be good.

From the prologue:

I believe that the sexualization of childhood will soon be seen as the children’s right issues of our time. Sexualization affects both boys and girls of all ages but is especially focused on our girls. Sexualization affects all races, economic classes, and geographical areas. It robs children of their right to childhood and to reach psychological developmental milestones fairly, and it affects their self esteem, body image, and performance in school. Sexualization interferes with kids right to develop a healthy sexuality and understanding of intimacy.

I love how Wardy succinctly differentiates between sexualization– sexuality as performance–  and real sexuality. I just skimmed the book and it looks like it is full of practical tips about how to raise healthy, strong girls, how to help keep them connected to their minds, hearts, bodies, and deepest dreams.

It makes me so sad when I see how kidworld and parents project such different expectations on boy children versus girl children. I am looking forward to reading a book about how to confront and challenge bias and help change the world.

Order Redfining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from birth to Tween on Amazon

Peer bullying on the rise when preschool girls wear ‘boy’ shoes

Yesterday, I posted this video of my 4 year old daughter talking about getting bullied at preschool for wearing ‘boy’ shoes.

I’ve gotten so many comments on Reel Girl’s Facebook page about kids being bullied by their peers when they step out of these gender norms that surround them like shrink rap, I’ve started asking parents if they would video their children telling their stories. Meanwhile, I Googled ‘bullied for wearing boy shoes’ and found some stuff that is making me cringe and want to scream, so I’m going to blog about it instead.

From Coupon Cilpinista:

Yesterday my 4 year old wore her waterproof slip-on shoes for boy or girl to school (they are black Timberland moccasins) and she told me this morning, “The girls would not play with me yesterdays because they said I was wearing boys shoes, can you please put sparkly shoes on me ???”

I was in shock. Are you serious? Is this something I should address with the school??? BULLYING starting THIS YOUNG??? I don’t know what to think– my daughter loves those shoes and her sparkly shoes are not comfortable or for winter weather but she wants to wear them to appease the bullies in her classroom.

What would you do?????

 

Here’s some advice she got from 8 different fans of hers, without irony, each confirmed with multiple likes:

Cover them in glitter. Change the shoelaces to a girlie style.

 

Bedazzle her moccasins

 

Add something to moccasins to make it more “girly”

 

This is so sad – I’d talk to the teacher for sure. I also like the ideas of “girling up” her boots with shoe laces, etc. Good luck CouponClipinista

 

put sparkles on the shoes…that should do it.

 

Yep. I would bedazzel the crap out of em. I can tell you from experience, the school wont do anything!!

 

I agree. Bedazzle them. glue on a few rhinestones or a bow.

 

Bedazzle her shoes :o)

 

Note to parents: Gender stereotyping CAUSES bullying. Bedazzling shoes? Not a solution here. What is that teaching your kid? To do whatever the bullies say to do. And what is it teaching the other kids? Keep bullying. Is that the lesson we want to be teaching here? I honestly don’t even think these 4 year olds know they are bullying, because not enough parents and teachers are telling them that. I think these kids believe that they are stating a fact.

Some parents tell Coupon Clipinista similar stories:

At 4 my daughter LOVED Spiderman. There was no talking her out of getting the Spiderman tennis shoes. She wore them to school and was told they were “boy shoes” (They were.) When she came home telling me about it, I told her, “do you like them?” “yes.” I told her to tell the kids when they said that again that anyone can wear Spiderman shoes. She had the same situation about the same age about wearing the color blue (still her favorite color 6 years later.) Her PreK4 classmates told her blue was for boys. We talked again and I told her that she can wear ant color she wants. And if the other kids don’t like it, too bad for them…they are going to miss out on wearing lots of cool colors. She went to school confidently and told them you can wear whatever color if you are a boy or a girl. I liked the idea of teaching her to be confident about her ideas even if they were not always “girly”

 

Another mom/ teacher:

As a teacher, sad to say, yes, bullying starts this young. My son, at 4 loved his pink t-shirt. Wore it to preschool once, and will not wear it out of the house (so sad) due to peer’s comments – at 4!!!! Yes, speak to the teacher, so he/she knows what is going on in their classroom and can address it. Then talk to you daughter. Don’t let her give in to peers. Point out how to be an individual and to take pride in that. When all is said and done, I woud let her wear the shoes of her choice. Unfortunately, it will be the choice peers, unless she is strong and willing to be her own person.

 

Apparently, there was a whole controversy around this post:

Yesterday my mom posted a picture on Facebook of my 5-year-old brother … wearing a pair of shoes he picked out for his first day of preschool. She explained to him in the store that they were really made for girls. [The boy] then told her that he didn’t care and that ‘ninjas can wear pink shoes too.’

However, my mom received about 20 comments on the photo from various family members saying how ‘wrong’ it is and how ‘things like this will affect him socially’ and, put most eloquently by my great aunt, ‘that sh*t will turn him gay.’

 

From that story come links about “gender non-conforming camp.” Seriously? We’re talking about shoes here. Shoes. Preschoolers. Bullying epidemic. The solution is not sending the kids off to some camp. The solution is to stop buying into the gender segregated marketing that is so aggressively targeted at kids and parents from multinational companies.

A Reel Girl Facebook fan posted a great link about the Miller Mix story: 

My daughter, fresh from day one of a much-loved and progressive preschool, announces her sporty blue Toy Story sneakers — once adored — are for boys
and no one at her school likes girls who wear boys’ shoes.

 

Finally, a great solution posted from Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals: A Letter to Bella and Other Girls with Blue Shoes.

I heard from your mom that someone at school said your shoes were for boys. Maybe because they were blue or maybe because Buzz Lightyear was on them. At our house, we say, “Colors are for everyone.” Sometimes people get mixed up about that because they don’t think about it very hard. That makes me feel frustrated. All you have to do is look around the world and know that colors are for everyone.

But Bella, isn’t that silly! How could your blue Buzz Lightyear shoes be for boys if colors are for everyone and Buzz Lightyear is from a movie made for all kids and you are a girl standing in those shoes! I think people get confused about that, because they think something is only for boys because they never took the time to consider girls. I think people should consider girls.

Since you are four years old, you know a lot of stuff, and you know that girls can like or do anything boys can. And boys can like or do anything girls can. Things are kind of silly right now because grown ups keep getting in the way of kids, and some grown ups who are in charge of the companies that make stuff for kids like toys and clothes, they don’t have good imaginations like you and I do. These grown ups try to fit kids into little boxes that are labeled “Boy” or “Girl”, and then they only let certain colors or ideas into each box. They do that because it makes it easier for them to sell their stuff. Since boys and girls don’t grow in boxes, you can see how really goofy this is. But I have to be honest with you, there are a lot of grown ups who don’t question these pink and blue boxes, and then they teach that thinking to their kids, and then their kids lose their imaginations.

I couldn’t agree more. Here’s an ad I saw in a window of a Stride Rite in the neighborhood where my kids go to school. I also speak about one of the times my daughter was teased for her shoes.

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Here’s me on Fox and Friends talking about the gender stereotyping in this ad and what kinds of damaging messages that’s sending to kids. I also speak about one of the times my daughter was teased.

Here’s my letter to Stride Rite Until you stop gender stereotyping, we’re through.

Once again: What happened to my daughter is not an exception. This kind of bullying is happening to kids in preschools all over America. It’s on the rise, because gender stereotyping kids is on the rise. Check out these pictures of kids toys/ clothing from the Seventies and now. What are we doing to stop this? Oh, that’s right, bedazzling.

In Europe, they’re trying something else. Due to a campaign in Europe by Let Toys Be Toys For Girls and Boys, stores in including Toys R Us, stopped segregating products by gender, and instead, are organizing them by type. Here’s what Toys Will Be Toys reported on Toys R Us.

 

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.

 

But what are we doing in America? Been to a Toys R Us lately? Or a Target? Or a Stride Rite?

 A Mighty Girl has started a similar petition in the U.S. to the Let Toys Be Toys petition in Europe, hoping to stop stores here from selling kids gender segregation. Please sign. Don’t be a passive bystander. Do something to stop the bullying and these limits placed on our children.

If your kids have stories about being bullied for not conforming to these caricature gender stereotypes, please share them. I’d love to see the videos of your kids telling their stories if you would like to post them here.

 

Inoculate your daughter, teach her these basic mirror skills

Here’s a great tip to inoculate your daughter against internalizing the barrage of criticism about her appearance. If that critical voice gets trapped and trained in your kid’s head and wiring, it becomes a bad habit that, like any addiction, is difficult to break. I got this tip from Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals, and so far, it works really well. I can see my kids using it.

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Tell your daughter that you use a mirror to see if you have food on your face or something like that. You don’t look in the mirror to see if you are beautiful. Beauty is a feeling that comes from within you, and a mirror can’t give you that. Let your daughter see you use a mirror this way as well.

Repeat this lesson as often as necessary. It’s basic but effective.

Extra tip: If your daughter protests or seems confused, which she may not, explain that the correct way to use a mirror is the exact opposite of how the wicked queen relied on it in “Snow White,” asking “Who is the fairest of all?” Explain how the Queen’s misuse of the mirror, her dependence on its voice instead of her own, sapped her power and helped to cause her downfall.

 

 

 

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.

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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

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Africans circa 1931

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Females circa 2013

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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.

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Kids want to see heroic, female protagonists

Yesterday, I posted about A Mighty Girl’s news that kids’ underwear with female superheroes on it sold out. I also posted about a dad shopping with his 5 year old daughter who complained about the lack of cool female characters on clothing.

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He bought his daughter boy underwear. A commenter expressed the same frustration: her daughter is fan of Spider-Man and she started a petition to get girl underwear designs integrated with boy underwear. I signed this and I hope you do too, but I want to recognize the deeper issue here and make sure this info isn’t misconstrued into: See, girls like boy characters, so let’s just keep making them and let girls go missing.

All kids want cool characters. They want to see exciting narratives where heroes take risks, make choices, and act.

Why is there no Spider-Girl movie and 5 movies about Spider-Man? Where is Spider-Woman? Why are there 7 Batman movies while Batgirl, like Supergirl, is practically invisible? And why, for God’s sake, are we still waiting for a major release of a Wonder Woman movie in theaters? Not to mention multiple sequels?

I read this on Pigtail Pals Facebook page, Melissa Wardy’s talk with her daughter, the Original Pigtail Pal.

“Mom? Every time I watch that Spider Man movie I can see there are no girls in it. I get really mad! I just don’t get why there can’t be more girls in it.” -7yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia, girl and Spider Man fan
“I think it is really important that you noticed that. There should be and easily could be more girls in it. How could we change that?” -Me
“Oh. Oh ho ho. We’ll just show them what girl super heroes look like.” -OPP
“Maybe that could help them have more balance with girls.” -Me
“Yeah, they need more bad ass girls.” -OPP
“Uh no, I said ‘balance’.” -Me
“I know. I said ‘bad ass’.” -OPP

Hollywood and Target, are you listening?

 

Shopping for ‘full of awesome’ kids clothing? Go to Pigtail Pals!

I have always loved Pigtail Pals for its cool clothing, its brilliant founder, Melissa Wardy, and its high quality product. But today, I have one more reason for romance, something that trumps all other loves: today, my three year old daughter dressed herself. She chose all of her own clothing, from underwear to socks, and arrived upstairs for breakfast, fully prepared for the day. What was she wearing, you ask? Lucky for you, we stopped at Whole Foods on the way to school and I got a photo:

All black. Hee hee. Except for the blue socks, of course, which, I’m sure you notice, match. Hallelujah! (Where is her arm though? I can’t wait to show her this. She looks like ghost-girl.) But best of all, and this goes back to Pigtail Pals, check out the back of her T-shirt:

My daughter loves the words, the colored-spiral of them, the bumpy feel, and also, how incredibly soft the material is.

Seeing this outfit reminded me of what a great Xmas shopping destination Pigtail Pals is if you are looking for clothing for children.

Melissa Wardy founded Pigtail Pals when she had a baby daughter, named her after Amelia Earhart, and then couldn’t find a single onesie that showed a girl with a plane on it. Then, Melissa realized she couldn’t find children’s clothing showing girls doing much of anything at all. So she came up with some designs and started a company. Years later, Pigtail Pals has grown into a successful business and Wardy is coming out with a book on “redefining girly.”

Here are Pigtail Pals best-selling ‘Full of Awesome’ T-shirts.

I keep giving you these sites for shopping because there are alternatives out there. It sucks that sometimes we have to look so hard for them, but I think the more we talk about them, (along with the way marketing, in general, is shifting to FB, Twitter) we can get the word out to more people.

Final photo of a proud three year old, her shirt covered in doughnut crumbs just in time for school.

Reel Girl rates Pigtail Pals ***HHH***

 

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.

‘Not a single onesie in all of humankind had a little girl and an airplane on it’

After JCPenney’s  “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother had to do it for me,” shirt for girls incited a protest that went viral, Pigtail Pals, a site that creates clothing empowering to girls, put out a best-selling shirt that reads “Pretty’s got nothing to do with it.”

Now Reel Girl talks to Pigtail Pals’ awesome founder, Melissa Wardy:

Why did you create Pigtail Pals?

I created Pigtail Pals in honor of my daughter, Amelia, named after Amelia Earhart, when I was looking for a cute outfit for her as an infant and could find only pink and princess. Not a single onesie in all of humankind had a little girl and an airplane on it. I thought girls deserved more empowering and diverse messages than just sparkles and tiaras.

What are your best-sellers?

This fall the best sellers have been my “Pretty’s Got Nothing To Do With It” and “Full of Awesome” designs that I just released in September. Traditional favorites are the astronaut, pilot, carpenter, doctor, military, and scientist designs. And the entire Whimsy Bee line is a hit with its colorful and imaginative designs.

It’s smart of Pigtail Pals to be a for profit instead of a nonprofit! The more successful your company is, the more you can help girls. You call yourself a “mompreneur.” What is that? Who were you inspired by?

Exactly, I want to show other businesses that this is the message parents and girls want, and that a business can be successful doing this. I want to change the way the marketplace looks for young girls. And since Dora has gone the way of the ballerina princess, there is room for the smart and adventurous Pigtail Pals designs to take over. Pigtail Pals has, since the very beginning, made donations to organizations that support girls, and we will continue to do so as our success grows.

A mompreneur is a mother who sees a hole in the marketplace for children, and creates her own product to fill that void. At the time I created Pigtail Pals, there were no other apparel lines on the market that showed girls doing smart, daring, and adventurous things. There were a couple of lines that had empowering phrases, but my preschooler can’t read, so that didn’t mean anything to her. I wanted something in pictures that would really speak to little girls. Girl empowerment is something our daughters need to be raised with, not just something they are introduced to once they are finally old enough to be a Girl Scout or participate in some of the other national programs that only focus on older girls. My girl can’t wait, she needs these messages now.

What do you teach in your workshops? What kind of excercises do you do? Can you see the change before and after or is it more gradual? Do you find parents, teachers, or kids more willing or more resistant?

I teach media literacy in my workshops – a tangible way for parents to digest and parent through all the crap that is out there. I teach how to specifically deal with the highly inappropriate birthday gift, or mother-in-law that bestows makeup and tiny high heels with every visit, or the song that just played on the radio talking about casual or violent sex. Our culture is saturated with this stuff. I find most folks are eager to learn about this, and I see those light bulb moments flash across everyone’s face about 15mintues into every workshop.

The exercises I use are just common sense stuff. For example – I take a box of crayons, and dump it out, but it is full of only pink and purple crayons. I ask the parents, if they had purchased this as a school supply, would they find something wrong with it? Would they return it to the store? I ask them what is missing, and then I ask them to close their eyes and picture their daughter’s closet and toy box. I see little sheepish smiles creep across their face. And they get it – they get how incredibly limiting choices are for girls, and that they bought into it. There is nothing wrong with pink, or purple, but when a girl’s world is full of that and only that, we need to think about what messages that sends. Childhood should be a time full of vibrant, amazing color and learning experiences.

What are your future plans for the company?

In the near future, I’m going to release a line of tee designs that show boys and girls playing together, having great adventures. Also, I’m going to build out the new line of Full of Awesome products. That blog post was such a runaway hit, it is really inspiring to me.

Eventually I want to move into toys and room décor, and I would love to open really special retail spaces.

How do you protect your daughter’s imagination?

We tell stories all the time in the car while driving around town. We create some story to act out while we play outside. My home looks like a preschool with all of the art supplies and learning toys in this place. We take lots of family adventures to educational places like children’s museums and fairs and performances. We read and read and read.

Are there books, TV shows, clothing lines or products you recommend for girls?

There is a lot of good stuff out there, you just have to know where to find it. My daughter is 5 years old, so right now we are really into the Ramona and Judy Moody books. This winter we’re going to start reading the Little House on the Prairie series. Amelia has checked out every single whale and dolphin book our public library offers.  For TV, she loves Animal Planet, SciGirls (PBS), National Geographic, Diego, Wild Kratts (they have two female sci/tech assistants that rock the show), Word World, Peppa Pig, and Scooby Doo.

For other clothing lines, I really like Be A Girl Today (http://www.beagirlblog.com/) for awesome girls sports tees. And the Girl Scouts offer great tees, too.
For other products, a few other mompreneur small businesses I love to promote are Cutie Patutus for dress up clothes, Sophie & Lili for wonderful cloth dolls, and Go! Go! Sports Girls for sports-themed dolls. Every girl should have a doctor kit, a tool box, a wooden train, giant floor puzzles, and Legos by the bucket.

On my blog Reel Girl, which is all about  imagining gender equality in the fantasy world, people sometimes complain that issues I care about don’t matter because the characters I write about are imaginary. Or that I am limiting imagination by imposing PC dogma on artists. How do you respond to comments like that?

“You can’t be what you can’t see.” –Marie Wilson, the White House Project. Sexualization is an enormous problem, most specifically in the media. The stats on the representation of girls in the media in a non-sexualized manner are so miniscule, I would argue this isn’t ‘PC dogma’, it is a matter of civil rights. Girls get a seat at the table.

In the past year or so, various sites and movements have cropped up to help defend girls from sexist media or at the very least, educate parents about the negative influences out there, so ubiquitous they are ironically invisible. There was Peggy Orenstein’s best seller  Cinderella Ate My Daughter, The Geena Davis Institute has been doing studies and releasing statistics about the lack of girl characters in animation, author Lyn Mikel Brown and other founded SPARK and advocated for more girl balloons in the Macy Day Parade. And its great news that parents and advocates got so upset about the JCPenney T shirt and got it off the shelves. At the same time, Disney announced its not doing anymore princess movies which translates to even fewer movies starring girls since girls are mostly only allowed to star if they are princesses. Disney also announced this year that is shifting its tween programming to boy based animated cartoons. Do you see the media and more awareness about the media going in a positive or negative direction? Are there other sites or movements that you know of that support girls and girl media?

I think parents and girls need to be very aware that the media is a long ways off from them content that is fair to girls. Like I said, there is good stuff out there, but in reality it is few and far between. Disney is the very last place I would look for positive girl media. As parents become more aware and more savvy, they will start to demand products and media that reflect that. So Pixar is making “Brave”, and that is tremendous, and that will only fill our appetite for so long. They will need to give us more if they want us to keep consuming.

You mentioned SPARK Summit and the Geena Davis Institute for Gender in the Media. I love the work they do. I also really admire my colleagues Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth, Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker of Operation Transformation, and New Moon Girls is doing awesome work right now with their Girl Caught program. Other favorites are Princess Free Zone and Hardy Girls Healthy Women. In the UK I love Pink Stinks, and over in Australia Collective Shout and the Butterfly Effect do amazing work.

One under-reported issue is that when girls go missing in kids films, and the toys, clothing, and other products based on and derived from those films, both genders learn that girls are less important than boys. This is a problem with sites and orgs that focus on girls, in some ways, that continue this polarized segregation. Parents are a huge force here– they should be reading their kids stories about girls, taking them to movies with strong girl parts (if they can find any) and encouraging cross gender friendships. What do you think about this issue? Are there sites, movements, blogs that you know of or like that help educate boys also?

I have a three year old son, so this is an equally important issue for me. My colleague Crystal Smith of Achilles Effect (and author of a great book with same name) is awesome. The work of Jackson Katz is like no other when it comes to boys and media. The blog The Mamafesto writes about her son and his adventures through boyhood.

My work focuses on girls, because the crush for them with sexism and sexualization is immense, and it comes at them as soon as they are born. I don’t necessarily think it is easier for boys, but it is different. I think we need to get back to some common sense childhood. Let’s allow our kids the space to play and explore without limitations based on gender. Pigtail Pals also offers a line for young boys called Curious Crickets, meant to honor the creativity and wonder in boyhood.

Both of my children enjoy and thrive in cross gender friendships. These are crucial for the socialization with the opposite sex in their tween/teen years and beyond. We try to find positive media that equally respects boys and girls. My kids will see my husband wash dishes and fold laundry, and they will see me wrestle with the dogs and use tools and run my business. It is all about balance.