Polly Pocket

Finally, Christmas is over and I am so sick of the whole thing; instead of subjecting my family to my endless frustration with all the lame toys out there marketed to girls, I’m going to blog. I’m the mother of three daughters, ages 6 years to ten months, and I’d like to connect with some like-minded parents looking for products for girls and get some help exchanging information and rating products and media (movies, books, cartoons etc.)

The toy industry acts as if boys and girls are polar opposites (you know the drill– Mars and Venus) One thing that drives me crazy– dolls marketed to boys are called “action figures.” Dolls marketed to girls are called dolls. While boy dolls usually frown and look tough, girl “dolls” almost always smile, their eyes often looking upward. This smile tyranny is one of the most annoying forms of sexism and it manages to cross all kinds of class lines. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked by a homeless person, given him money or not, and he calls out to me: “Smile, Baby.” And speaking of the ubiquitous, submissive smiling female, a friend came to visit me in San Francisco, the father of a three year old, and told me when they were driving down Broadway, where all the strip joints were, there was a giant photo featuring an exotic dancer and his daughter pointed, shouting: “Ariel!”

Second thing that drives me crazy– so many girls toys with the focus on dressing them up and fashion. My three year old got Polly Pocket for Christmas. I can’t stand Polly Pocket. I call her Polly Prostitute, partly due to her fashion choices which include thigh high boots in every shade of pastel and minis that barely cover her ass. This tiny plastic doll has about 50 million tinier little plastic outfits, impossible to keep track of– I mean a hairband with kitty ears smaller than my pinky nail. My nine month old has practically choked on a fllourescent stilleto more than once. I admit, dressing tiny Polly in her tiny clothing has honed my daughter’s fine motor skills into nothing less than phenomenal, but I hate that she is being trained to focus an inordinate amount of time and energy on getting dressed. My three year old also received magnetic, smiling girls with magentic clothing and you change their outfits, mix and match. Again, she is learning matching skills but the dressing is too much. I am going to get the names and the prices of these toys for you and post them because I would like this bog to be informational as well as commentary.

Another thing that drove me crazy this year, Rudolph the Red Nosed Renideer, I bought the dvd for my kids. And yes, we actually had a great time watching it under blankets, sitting by the fire, but I can’t get past that there are NO girl reindeers. There’s a big scene where the boy reindeers compete and  learn how to fly (“playing reindeeer games”) There is only one girl- Clarisse: she does not fly or even aspire to fly; she gets the role of cheerleader. My daughter had a friend in pre-school, and I live in San Francisco, supposedly an open and liberal city– the kids in that school put on a Christmas play and the girls were not allowed to be reindeers or Santa because those were boy roles. That sucks. There are no girl elves in the Rudolph movie with speaking parts. There is Herbie, the elf who doesn’t fit in “a misfit,” and I do like the message of embracing your individuality. I can’t help but think Herbie is kind of a gay character, he’s the only elf with good hair– or possibly hair at all– and its a great message to find strength in your differences and to to be yourself. Speaking of which, Santa is extremely critical and only likes Rudolph when he realizes what Rudolph can do for him. Kind of lame, maybe a typical stren father figure role. My husband pointed out, when I complained, that Santa is under a lot of pressure, he’s got a big job to do; he has to know he can rely on his team and that sled is going to fly.

On this blog, I’m going to be rating toys and  films, not on sex and violence, but on stereotyping because that’s the kind of imagery that is most damaging to kids– boys and girls both. Three S’s is the worst rating, three Gs for girls, is the best gender rolemodeling. Rudolph gets SS, it doesn’t get three S’s because Clarisse and Rudolph’s mom do stand up for themselves and refuse when Rudolph’s dad tells them to stay home, that its man’s work to find and rescue Rudolph. (I know this only because my six yesr old told me, I missed that part while re-stocking their bowls of cheez-its.) The message of indiviuality is important though with the almost total lack of girls in this story, its kind of like when you go to a private school info  night (you can tell what else I’ve been doing) and the head of school tells you how imprtant diversity is to them but there’s no diversity at their school– it’s an intellectual idea, not made into an experience or a reality except in the most limited way.

I am not one of those mom’s who never let’s my kid watch TV (though I am pretty strict about how much) or who only likes wooden toys. I think we all live in the world and I’d like to help them to figure out how to be naviagte it, appropriating toys that are sexist whenever possible, however they can, rather than attempting to isolate them. I’m not “against” Barbie, I think she, like any toy, can be used as a creative outlet. I think “forbidding” toys is like “forbidding candy” which I also don’t do; it only makes kids want them more. That said, I don’t go out of my way to bring that stuff in my home, and I try to get as excited as possible about stuff that I think is good for them.

Let me know about great toys for girls or the ones that drive you crazy and why, what you’ve seen out there, what you’ve liked, what your kids have liked. If you are a girl older than my own, I’d love your comments.

Here’s something I wrote a couple years ago for the San Jose Mercury News on the same topic that kind of inspired me to do this blog. I think you are not allowed to post articles in their full form but as far as I can tell, this one is not anywhere on the internet anymore given the long time lapse so I’m just gong to put it up and hope I don’t get in trouble.

Phooey on `Ratatouille’: Female leads lacking in kid films


By Margot Magowan

Article Launched: 07/06/2007 01:32:35 AM PDT

“Ratatouille” made $47 million opening weekend, but as I watched the

film with my 4-year-old daughter, I felt depressed. There was nary a

female rat in sight. I’d forked over $9 so my daughter could get yet

another lesson in sexism direct from Pixar or Disney: No matter if

you’re a rodent, car, or fish – boys are the ones with the starring

roles while girls are relegated to sidekicks.

“Cars,” “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Lion King,” “Monsters Inc.”

each features a male hero and multiple male characters; often a token

female is around to help propel one of the guys to greatness.

“Ratatouille” faithfully follows suit. Colette, a female human sous

chef, even justifies her secondary role in the film with a brief

monologue on misogyny: “Do you know how hard I had to work to get

ahead in this male-dominated kitchen?” she yells at our hero.

The speech is there to throw girls a bone, and you can find this

gesture in most modern day motion picture cartoons. It’s that nod to

the audience: unlike all those cartoons of yesteryear, we know this is

sexist, but there’s nothing we can do about it.

When I complained to my mom and sister: “Why couldn’t Ratatouille have

been female? Why no girls – again?” They said, “Didn’t you hear

Colette’s talk? That’s how it is in the real world.” OK, let me get

this straight: It’s just fine to stretch our imaginations to believe

in a talking rat who can cook, but when it comes to gender

roles, we admire realism and authenticity?

When my daughter goes to the movies, she sees animals talk, fairies or

unicorns prance around, witches cast evil spells, but she’s never

shown a magical land where boys and girls are treated equally, where

gender doesn’t matter. Why can’t Pixar or Disney allow her the fantasy

of equality?

After I saw “The Lion King,” I wanted to know: Why couldn’t the

lionesses have attacked weak, old Scar? Why did they have to wait

around for Simba to come back to Pride Rock to help them? I was told:

that’s how it is in nature – lionesses need a male to lead the pride.

So a lion can be best friends with a warthog and a meerkat without

gobbling them up, but a lioness heading a pride? That could never

happen in the animal kingdom!

Pixar has yet to allow girls any starring roles, but Disney permits it

if she’s a princess. Audiences can count on the contemporary princess

movie to throw girls their bone: Unlike princesses of the past who

happily went off with the first guy who kissed them out of

unconsciousness, these modern girls get to choose whom they marry.

Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine put up a huge stink, stubbornly refusing

betrothal to the obvious choice. But these elaborate shows of

independence are bases for entire plot lines, keeping the princesses

stories almost entirely focused on marriage: rebellion within the

safest possible framework.

When my daughter was watching “Mulan” – probably the most feminist of

all the motion picture cartoons – dress up as a boy to fight in a war,

she asked me, “Why can’t girls fight?” Before she can even understand

how Mulan is empowering, first she has to understand sexism. But does

she need to know, at age 4, about sexism? Does she need to know people

still believe girls can’t do so many things, like cook in a top-tier

French kitchen? Why can’t she just see a girl chef making great food,

receiving acclaim for her talent, being helped along by a girl rat or

sous chef boy?

The hyper-concern for gender accuracy in the fantasy world extends to

things like plush toys – when I refer to my kid’s animals as “she,”

adults invariably do a double take, checking for manes or tusks: even

female toys must stay in their place. And of course, toys are a big

part of the problem. With today’s mass marketing, all these movie

characters live on as action figures, dolls, games, on T-shirts and

cereal boxes. On my daughter’s kite, her beach ball, her pull-ups, the

trifecta of Jasmine, Belle and Ariel smile shyly. My daughter wasn’t

born with this fairy tale-princess fantasy embedded in her brain, but

like any kid, she’s self-centered. She likes the movies that are all

about her. Females are half of the population. We pay our $10 just

like everyone else. When can we get more representation in our movies?

How long do we have to wait?

Pixar is made up of a bunch of guy geeks. Disney’s top brass is

practically all male. Maybe when we get more female studio heads, more

female directors and producers and writers, we’ll see groups of girls

having adventures; girl heroes doing cool, brave things in starring

roles where marriage may never be mentioned at all. Maybe then people

will wake up, finally recognize the radical lack of imagination going

on in our make believe worlds; Princess Charming finally rescues

Sleeping Hunk.

4 thoughts on “Polly Pocket

  1. Well said. I read parts of your article out loud to my husband. You know it’s good if you want to read it out loud. I just subscribed to your blog. Looking forward to more!

  2. Great Blog!
    Enjoyed reading it and agree with you wholeheartedly. I guess apart from complaining to the toy/film/media companies (which seems to do nothing) we have to do the best we can as a parent to see these things and educate our little people.
    They will get bombarded with all kinds of damaging stuff in their lives and unfortunately this is only a fraction of it. We live in a screwed up world. But there are many wonderful things in it as well and it is our job to show them this stuff too. Our children are being set up for self loathing, low self esteem, depression, anxiety etc etc etc…
    Parents should/must limit and control what their children watch on screens. View it first and decide if it is a good message or not. If not…avoid it. Music videos are one of my pet peeves. The women dance around half naked doing sexual movements, the men are tough looking and have an attitude in their singing (rap)…I am not picking on all music videos…there are music videos that are sending a good message but a lot of it isn’t! This may be “ART” but maybe young children shouldn’t be exposed to this “art” form. Maybe some “art” is for mature audiences? So many young girls see themselves as fat from all the imagery they see daily. Dove is a good company that recognizes this issue and has started making women/men aware of this situation. They have a video on Youtube about it.

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