I complain a lot on Reel Girl about how there are no– ZERO– female mascots on children’s cereal boxes. It’s an example of the radical gender inequality in the imaginary world, and how girls gone missing seems normal to kids and parents alike. This annihilation conditions us all to expect and accept a world where females go missing.
Today, my kids had Rice Krispies for breakfast. You all know about the famed three: Snap, Crackle, and Pop. If you’re my age, you know their theme song, too.
But check out the new material we found on the back of the box:
It’s an “IMAGINATION ADENTURE!” Isn’t that great? The directions are as follows:
Can you look at the pictures and tell a story? Make up a tale for each picture or string them together for a creative journey.
How cool, my kids are going to get to use images to make up stories. What could be better than that? Let’s see how Rice Krispies is going to help to inspire children to imagine. Here’s the first picture.
Rice Krispies provides children with 8 characters to work with on this imagination adventure: 6 males and 2 females. Girls are half of the kid population, half of the kids eating Rice Krispies, so why are they presented as a minority in this “creative” game? Am I nitpicking? The box is asking your kids to look at the details of these pictures and make up a story. Obviously, whoever created these pictures put thought into how to develop your kids’ imagination. But If your kids play this game as directed, it’s one more way they’re being trained to create, be familiar with, and pay attention to stories where males are the main characters and in the majority, while females fade into the background.
Looking at picture #1, I asked my four year old: “Can you find the girls? Can you count them?” She was so excited about that, it’s how we came up with the game: Find the Girls on the Cereal Box!
Moving on to picture #2. Who is the protagonist here? Hmmm…
Again, I asked: “Can you find any girls? What is the girl doing? Why?” At this point, my other two daughters, ages 6 and 9, joined in. They were into it, and I found myself hoping that maybe my kids are learning creative skills now, how to notice the female and more importantly, to make her the protagonist in the story. “Find the Girls!” continued…
Picture #3 is the closest a female gets to a starring role in this “imagination adventure,” and she is still, clearly, placed behind the boy. My kids noted she is riding a sea horse. Picture #4 makes up for that tiny step forward, with five males to one female. The girl is clearly in the background, but at least, the girl is in the driver’s seat, right? I asked my daughters what the girl was doing here, and my four year old said, “Watching the boy!”
And now, for the final pic.
When I asked my kids what the girl was doing? “Same as the last one! Watching the boy.”
“Can you make up a story about her?” I asked.
I try to censor the sexism I can, but so much of the time, it’s obviously impossible since gender stereotypes are everywhere. I think the most useful strategy, as parents, is to train our kids to respond with a critical and creative eye. If you try playing “Find the Girls on the Cereal Box,” let me know how it goes. For my family, it helped squeeze some real creativity out of the same old, same old.
You know what’s crazy? After stuff like this Rice Krispies box all over the place, Disney execs, marketers, media people, parents will say that girls go missing in kids’ media because girls will watch stories about boys but boys won’t watch stories bout girls. Huh. How do you think kids get to be that way, Hollywood? Girl aren’t born more generous, open-minded, or altruistic. Girls watch movies about boys because they are trained to.