‘Gender neutral’ not exactly what I’m going for…

Friday, on the local San Francisco public radio station, KQED, I heard a show about children and gender neutral toys. It was a great program, featuring the brilliant Peggy Orenstein, among others, and I was psyched to hear the topic of kids and toys debated as we go into the Christmas season. But, I’ve got to say, I’m not entirely on board with the term “gender neutral” that the host kept using to define a goal. And that is a term that the media seems to cling to when the topic of sexism in kidworld is discussed. When I was on Fox News, the host kept trying to put the same words in my mouth, and I didn’t like it.

Let me be clear here. I absolutely believe toys in stores should be divided by type– building, outdoor, figures/ dolls etc– not by gender. I don’t believe objects should be color coded to imply they should be played with by boys or girls. I am hard pressed to think of something more absurd and simultaneously socially accepted than this. I desperately want to see girls and boys pictured playing together on boxes. When the term “gender neutral” is used, I think this is the goal referred to, a goal I share with all of my heart.

I guess the issue from me is that powerful female characters are already drastically missing from the fantasy world created by grown-ups for children. When we talk about “gender neutral,” I fear that girls will continue to go missing from this debate– about children, toys, play, and sexism– even more. “Gender neutral” needs to be a goal of sorts, but we also have to keep in mind that all kids need to see more girls and women doing more things. Do we call that “gender neutral”?

Another problem for me with the term is that “gender neutral” doesn’t inspire me. “Gender neutral” makes me think of a bunch of grown-ups or academics or psychiatrists sitting around wearing super thick glasses and holding notebooks.

Here is what I want to see in kidworld: More females having adventures. More females doing cool shit. Got it? Do you call that gender neutral or do you call that being alive?

I want options. Variety. Diversity. Multiple narratives. I want all kids to see many more images of powerful and complex females, to see girls taking risks, saving the world, being brave, smart, and going on adventures in the fantasy world and in the real one. You could argue that we need to see more images of boys being kind and geeky and paternal, but from my vantage point, as a reader, movie goer, and watcher of TV shows, that’s pretty covered. I honestly believe the best way to help boys get out of gender stereotypes right now is to show them females being strong, being the star of the movie, or the central figure in a game that everyone wants to play.

But, as it stands, this is not the case at all. Strong female characters have gone missing. Part of this lack is because there are so few female characters in kids’ movies. Those narratives get licensed into LEGO and diapers and clothing. But even when female characters show up, they get “make-overs” or companies like Stride Rite will remove Wonder Woman, Black Widow, and Leia from their Justice League, Avengers, and Star Wars products and marketing. It’s really shocking how strong female characters keep disappearing from toys, clothing, and all kinds of children’s products.

Here’s my four year old daughter (holding a lunchbox from the Seventies.)

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My daughter isn’t a “tomboy” or a “girlie-girl.” She likes pants; she likes dresses; she like yellow, she likes pink, she likes black. She likes to race and play soccer and read and make art. She loves superheroes and her mermaid Barbie. But the older she gets, the more I see her choices getting influenced and limited by stores and marketing and media and peers. My goal is to have her world grow, not shrink. I’m not sure that “gender neutral” is what she needs.

 

What’s the difference between parents of pageant kids and you?

Did you know that tween girls spend 40 million a month a beauty products? Another fun fact: The percentage of eight- to twelve-year-olds who regularly use mascara and eyeliner doubled between 2008 and 2010.

This info is from Peggy Orenstein’s best-selling book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Here’s the passage where she writes about the difference between the parents of child pageant competitors and “ordinary” parents:

No question, they have taken the obsession with girl’s looks to an appalling extreme; but, one could argue, the difference between them and the rest of us may be more one of degree than of kind.  “Ordinary” parents might balk at the $3,000 dress or the spray tan but guess what? in 2007, we spent a whopping $11.5 billion on clothing for our seven to fourteen-year-olds, up from $10 billion in 2004. Close of half to six to nine year old girls regulatry use lipstick or gloss, presumably with parental approval; the precentage of eight to twelve year olds who regularly use mascara and eyeliner doubled between 2008 and 2010, to 18 and 15 percent respectively. “Tween” girls now spend more than $40 million a month on beauty products. No wonder Nair, the depilatory maker, in 2007 released Nair Pretty, a fruit-scented line designed to make ten-year-old conscious of their “unwanted” body hair. And who, according to the industry tracking group, NPD, most inspires girls’ purchases? Their moms. AS a headline on the cheeky feminist Web site Jezebel.cm asked, “How Many 8 Year Olds Have to Get Bikini Waxes Before We Can All Agree the Terrorists Have Won?

Did you know BRCA (breast cancer) gene is owned by a corporation?

This week, news reports headlined that Angelina Jolie’s aunt died from breast cancer. Watching “Entertainment Tonight” yesterday, my husband and I saw graphs and images of Jolie’s maternal family tree back to her great-great grandmother, tracked by an investigative journalist. We saw images of death certificates and who signed them. I was wondering why, with all of this incredibly deep, highly researched, investigative coverage we never hear anything about the terribly creepy story of who owns the BRCA gene. That’s right, owns it. The “breast cancer gene” mutation that Jolie tested positive for, a discovery that made her decide to undergo a double mastectomy, is the property of a corporation called Myriad Genetics.

The ACLU/ Breast Cancer Action is currently challenging Myriad Genetics and gene patenting:

Breast Cancer Action opposes human gene patenting. We believe it’s wrong for the government to give one company the power to dictate all scientific and medical uses of genes that each of us has in our bodies. We urgently need more and better options for the treatment and risk reduction of breast cancer, and we cannot afford to have progress stymied by the monopolies that gene patents create.

 

How did I get the story about the BRCA gene amidst all the Jolie coverage? From CNN, the New York Times, an entertainment show? No, from a Tweet on Peggy Orenstein’s feed:

Myriad genetics OWNS BRCA gene. OWNS it. That’s a block to research & better options for someone like Angelina Jolie

peggy-orenstein-bio

I follow Orenstein because I’m a huge fan of her book, CInderellla Ate My Daughter. Orenstein is also a breast cancer survivor, who, coincidentally, wrote an in depth story for New York Times MagazineOur Feel Good War on Breast Cancer” covering the corruption in breast cancer research, funding, and treatment published just a month before Jolie’s huge story broke.

Here’s something else we don’t hear about breast health that I learned from Orenstein’s blog:

I find that when I tell my friends that my reconstructed breast is numb they are shocked: they had no idea that would be so.

I’ve blogged before that breasts are secondary sex characteristics, but we hardly think of them that way any more in this culture. The value of breasts seems to be mostly the aesthetic and sexual pleasure of men. Almost as an afterthought, we realize that breasts exist to nurture babies. But what about recognzing that breasts are there for the sexual pleasure of women? Fake breasts are often numb breasts, and if you think about it, that’s about as asexual as you can get.

As I’ve blogged, Jolie made a viable choice. I admire her for speaking out publicly about what happened to her. When women tell their stories, it helps all women. But I hope that America takes advantage of this media coverage about breast health to find out more on the truth about cancer and treatment.

Last night, “Entertainment Tonight” showed images of Jolie’s two biological daughters, Shiloh and Vivienne, reporting that medical experts advise they get tested for BRCA at age 18. I hope Jolie works to give her daughters better options, continuing to speak out about the issues around breast health, and the problems that occur when a government allows a corporation to own genes. Americans need to know about it.

 

 

Thank you Angelina Jolie and Peggy Orenstein for speaking out

Today, actress and director Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about her decision to undergo a double mastectomy. She made that choice after discovering she carried a dangerous gene and also because her mom died of cancer.

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Last week, Peggy Orenstein, an author and breast cancer survivor, wrote an in depth piece on cancer for the New York Times, that included why she she made a different decision.

peggy-orenstein-bio

 

I am so grateful that both of these women have the courage and access to tell the truth about their lives publicly. When women can speak out and tell their own stories, that helps all women. Both of you are making sure that a “woman’s issue” gets on the front pages and into the forefront of national discussion. Hopefully, we’ll come out of this more educated than we were. THANK YOU.

Update: Here goes the nat’l public discussion: Did u know corporations can own genes? Tweet from Peggy, check out the link:

Myriad genetics OWNS BRCA gene. OWNS it. That’s a block to research & better options for someone like Angelina Jolie http://ow.ly/l1XTX

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.

meridatarget

 

 

 

Disney destroys Brave’s Merida with sexy makeover #NotBuyingIt

From the Mary Sue:

“On May 11th Brave‘s Merida will be officially crowned as the 11th Disney Princess, the impact of which is that Disney will be selling more stuff with her on it, I guess? Anyway. Along with the “coronation ceremony,” to be held at Walt Disney World, Merida’s gotten a new redesign…”

A great summary from Toward the Stars:

towardthestars

Here’s one of my favorite pre-botox, pre-makeover Merida expressions.

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Pithy analysis from Peggy Orenstein on the eventual fate of way too many of Disney’s female characters:

Because, in the end, it wasn’t about being brave after all. It was about being pretty…I’m especially creeped out by Belle who appears to have had major surgery… In addition to everything else, they’re pushing the brown girls slowly but surely to the edges…

I’ve always said that it’s not about the movies. It’s about the bait-and-switch that happens in the merchandise, and the way the characters have evolved and proliferated off-screen. Maybe the problem is partly that these characters are designed in Hollywood, where real women are altering their appearance so regularly that animators, and certainly studio execs, think it’s normal.

The disease of homogeneous, anorexic, botoxed, generic females has spread worldwide, through these kinds of images. Did you see the Reddit story about the Korean beauty queens: “Has plastic surgery made these beauty queens all look the same? Koreans complain about pageant clones.” Talk about creepy.

beautyqueens

One commenter wrote:

‘The surgery takes away their individuality and uniqueness and its sad. Most are beautiful without it but telling them that their Korean ethnic features are in fact lovely is as effective as screaming at a brick wall.

‘They wont believe you because they’ve been brainwashed to think westernization of their features is superior, I don’t think they want to look white, but a mix of white and Asian and definitely less Korean.’

This is how one “beauty” queen describes herself:

The student revealed her plastic surgery secret after photos emerged of her looking very different at school, but she said she hadn’t misled anyone.

But she defended her crown telling the Korean media: ‘I never said I was born beautiful.’

 

So sad because this generic look has absolutely nothing to do with “beauty” and everything to do with power, Westernization, capitalism, and status. TV host Stephen Colbert explained it well when he jokingly asked teen writer/ phenom Tavi Gevinson: “But if girls feel good about themselves, how will we sell them things they don’t need?”

How indeed? I was a huge Merida fan, as were my kids, and I bought my three young daughters several figures, books, and posters featuring her because she was cool. Here’s a framed poster over my four year old daughter’s bed so she can see her when she goes to sleep at night, along with her favorite Merida book.

Mposter

Like Merida, my daughter, Rose, has wild, curly hair that she hates to have brushed.

rose

I hope my daughter never feels that she has to look generic and homogeneous in order to be “beautiful.” I hope she always knows that her beauty comes from her spirit. That’s not some meaningless cliche. There’s nothing “attractive” about frozen-faced clones. Disney’s new, madeover Merida has absolutely nothing to offer my kids. I won’t be buying ANY merchandise with this awful, new image.

Reel Girl rates the new Merida ***SSS*** for major stereotyping.

Please Tweet @Disney We want Merida brave, not botoxed. New, madeover Merida is bad for kids #NotBuyingIt

 

 

Peggy Orenstein on the difference between sexuality and sexualization

Last week, I went to a reading by Peggy Orenstein from her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, now out in paperback. I’m such a huge Orenstein fan and I’ve written so much about her on this blog, that I wondered if after I saw her read, I would have anything left to blog about.

Guess what? I do!

Mostly, I’ve written about Orenstein’s research on the princess culture and how it affects little girls. But at the reading, Orenstein spoke a lot about older girls and also the potential, deep, long-term effects of relentlessly teaching girls through play and media to focus on their appearance.

I blog a lot about how girls get trained early (through toys about dressing dolls, roles in movies and TV, incessant compliments for their dresses, shoes, hair etc) that they get attention for and an actual identity from how they look. Orenstein spoke about how this emphasis can set girls in a pattern that puts them at risk. For what? Eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem, and sexual dysfunction.

Cinderella Ate My Daughter traces how the real life Disney stars/ girl princesses (i.e. Lindsay Lohan, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus etc) attempt to make their transitions from girl-princesses into adult ones; or more crassly, from virgin to whore. Orenstein writes it’s impossible to commodify one end of the spectrum and not the other, and there are so few models of healthy female sexuality out there.

Our daughters may not be faced with the decision of whether to strip for Maxim, but they will have to figure out how to become sexual beings without being objectified or stigmatized.

All that early training for girls to focus incessantly on their appearance lasts a lifetime. What happens when these girls try to grow up? Orenstein writes that girls learn: “Look sexy, but don’t feel sexual, to provoke desire in others without experiencing it themselves.” How does this emphasis on dressing up and attention for appearance affect kids as they grow? In CAMD, 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.

This distinction between sexuality and sexualization is not made often enough. If you’re against the sexualization of girls, it’s often concluded that you’re somehow anti-sex, on the same team with Phyllis Schlafly or a fan of “traditional family values.”  The political agenda to promote healthy sexuality is actually the opposite and must include access to contraception for all women, sex education in schools, and full reproductive rights.

The sexualization of girls has nothing to do with real sexuality.

OpEd on gendered toys in Sunday’s New York Times

The New York Times is reporting on it! It must be a serious issue, right?

From Cinderella Ate My Daughter’s awesome author Peggy Orenstein:

Every experience, every interaction, every activity — when they laugh, cry, learn, play — strengthens some neural circuits at the expense of others, and the younger the child the greater the effect. Consider: boys from more egalitarian homes are more nurturing toward babies. Meanwhile, in a study of more than 5,000 3-year-olds, girls with older brothers had stronger spatial skills than both girls and boys with older sisters.

At issue, then, is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine. And promoting, without forcing, cross-sex friendships as well as a breadth of play styles may be more beneficial. There is even evidence that children who have opposite-sex friendships during their early years have healthier romantic relationships as teenagers.

Read the rest here.

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.