ReelGirl around the web in 2010

Thank you to all the ReelGirl readers! In ReelGirl’s first year, ReelGirl blog entries are regularly cross-posted on SF Gate, Ms. Magazine, and The Woodhull Institute (the latter, I cofounded and help edit the blog, so no surprise there : )) ReelGirl blogs were also featured on top trafficked sites of the internet including Jezebel (on sexism in Dr. Seuss and childfree women) and in The Week as best opinion (on breasts and Santa.) Please continue to pass on the word about ReelGirl and susbscribe (link at top right corner) if you haven’t already!

Here’s to a great year and an even better 2011!



Sugar In My Bowl

Exciting news! Sugar In My Bowl, an anthology edited by Erica Jong published by Ecco/ HarperCollins (“a surprising look at female sexuality in our time”) is coming out in June. I have a short story included called “Light Me Up.” You can pre-order the book on Amazon by clicking here. 

Cheapskate Santa gave best Christmas ever

This year, my husband and I told our kids that Santa was probably going to give each of them just two presents. Not because they were bad, we said, but Santa was exhausted. “He really tired himself out last year, trying to haul so many presents around the world, many of them way too heavy for him and the reindeer.”

My daughter prefers her old teletubbie to new presentsMy daughter prefers an old teletubbie to new presents 

“The elves are burnt out too,” we said. “And if they work too hard again, they might not be able to do anything next Christmas.”

Last year, my husband and I went crazy with gifts. Flashy ones like kitchens you had to build that came with fake wooden food and matching plate sets, plastic cars big enough to sit in, and pretty clothes from Mudpie. And in spite of our efforts, maybe even because of them, it seemed like everyone ended up in a bad mood.

I was unhappy surveying the loot, because I had no idea where to put all that stuff. I didn’t want a tent in my living room.

Santa gave my kids an air hockey table so large a family of five could eat Christmas dinner on it. My husband was upset, because I didn’t appreciate the air hockey table that he transported in his truck, home from Target, and then spent hours and hours putting together– along with the play kitchen and the car. I was mad about that too, because while he assembled, getting in a progressively horrible mood as he misplaced tiny parts, I was left to do all the wrapping, in beautiful paper sold by individual sheet, tied up with sheer, wiry ribbons that he didn’t seem to admire at all.

Needless to say, on Christmas morning a year ago, when the kids woke up and tore open their presents, there were no cries of “how lovely!” about the wrapping. They were disappointed when all the unwrapping was over. No more presents! And then they went on to covet and compare and argue over each other’s gifts.

So this year each kid got a Penbo Penguin— a penguin that waddles around, talks when you pet it, and lays an egg. (Apparently, my kids along with many others across America, saw this creature on TV and fell in love.) My toddler also got some monster trucks, my four year old received a stuffed, lavender unicorn, and my seven year old, a rockstar Zhu Zhu pet.

Penbo Penguin

Here’s the thing: my kids got upset when there were no more presents to open, but no more upset than they were last year when they received more than triple the presents. Seriously. I could time the minutes they spent on regret, and it would be the same.

Here is what I learned: no matter how many presents there are, the ending will always come and endings are always kind of sad. The major difference this year was that I was able to just let my kids be sad. I didn’t get mad at them about how ungrateful or spoiled they were for not appreciating the time and money that went towards making the day perfect for them. For the first time, I didn’t try to use my adult reasoning on their child-minds to get them see the light. I let Christmas be about them and not about me. Not taking it all personally, I was able to see their point of view, let them bum out a little, and then move on in their own time.

I could do this because I felt serene. I didn’t have my annual anxiety attack about all the stuff and how there was nowhere to put it. And maybe the best thing, for my family and the planet: there were no mounds of garbage! Not only were there less presents, but there was no pile of gorgeous paper and $10 bows. On Christmas Eve, instead of swearing as he assembled toys with directions as elaborate as nuclear bombs, my husband and I wrapped together, using thin paper from Walgreens that ripped easily. I let him help, appreciating his lumpy wrap-jobs, white undersides showing at the corners, just happy to do it together. In twenty minutes, we were all done, and we had a great night, watching a movie by the fire.

I wonder what it would be like to start 2011 well-rested with no hangover?

Share your Christmas stories

Please share with me any stories you have about shopping and what you found marketed to boys or girls, what you bought, and what they end up liking or hating.

One of my resolutions for 2011 is to make ReelGirl a great resource for parents looking for media and products that will empower their kids. I’m going to focus on rating toys, books, TV, and movies. I can use your help telling me what’s out there.

Thanks and Happy Holidays

‘Tis the season for stereotyping

Please, Santa, not another pink christmas!

I’m the mother of three daughters, and last Christmas, my first with three kids, I was overwhelmed by pink presents, waxy haired dolls, rainbows, fairies and stuffed animals with curly eyelashes and bows. Shocked at the remarkable difference between toys marketed to girls versus boys, when my nine month had far more in common with her ten month old male cousin than her older sisters; frustrated and annoyed that boys’ toys were action based– building, driving, moving– while girls’ toys, at baby age, were about grooming and looking pretty, I started my blog ReelGirl to rate toys and media for girl empowerment as a resource for parents.

SeoWoo and Her Pink Things by JeongMee YoonSeoWoo and Her Pink Things by JeongMee Yoon 

One year later, I’ve discovered some incredible allies everywhere from the blogosphere to think tanks to the art world, all communicating the message to parents: stop falling into the easy trap of gender stereotyping and programming our kids at the youngest possible age.

There’s the story of Katie Goldman that went viral on the internet: Katie is a seven year-old sci-fi fan from Evanston, Illinois, who carried her “Star Wars” water bottle to school every day, until crying, she asked her mom if she could take an old pink one instead. Kids at school teased her, insisting “Star Wars” was only for boys.

There is The Pink Stinks campaign in the UK.

There is the Korean artist, JeongMee Yoon, his work pictured above, who created The Pink and Blue Project. He photographed boys with all their blue things and girls with all their pink things. On his website, Yoon writes: “The saccharine, confectionary pink objects that fill my images of little girls and their accessories reveal a pervasive and culturally manipulated expression of femininity.”

Lyn Mikel Brown, author of Packaging Girlhood, launched a campaign to get some girl themed balloons included in the Macys Thanksgiving Day parade. She says, “In the 84-year history of the parade, only 8% of all the balloons were of female characters. That’s 10 out of 129! Macy’s has over 3.5million people lining the New York streets to watch the parade and another 50 million viewing from home. Don’t the little girls deserve to see themselves reflected in the event?”

A Ms. Magazine blogger, Emily Rosenbaum, has a post up about how toy stores don’t offer gender neutral aisles, but want everything divided into girls’ or boys’ sections because its easier to move merchandise that way.

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media released a comprehensive study on the lack of female characters in films. The study examined 122 top-grossing domestic family films rated G, PG, PG-13 from 2006-09. Of the 5,554 speaking characters studied, 71% were male, 29% female. That’s a ratio of 2.42 males to every 1 female, which has not changed in 20 years! A higher percentage of females than males are depicted in sexualized attire (24% vs. 4%) and as physically attractive. Females are also often portrayed as younger than their male counterparts, reinforcing the idea that youthfulness, beauty, and a sexy demeanor are more important for females than for males. It’s o surprise that this depiction is rooted in gender inequities behind the camera: only 7% of directors, 13% of writers and 20% of producers are female. Films with one or more female screenwriters depict 10% more girls and women on screen than do those films with all male screenwriters. It’s the male run film industry that creates our movies that in turn, creates the accompanying toys, lunchboxes, bed sheets, diapers, clothing and on and on.

We know that the most important human conditioning happens in the earliest years of our lives. Tragically, this is when the commercialized gender programming is at its most vicious. It’s not the kids keeping this going, but their parents, who feel safe and secure whenever their kids fit neatly into gender stereotypes, happily exclaiming, “See, look at that– she turned that truck into a doll bed!” and then choosing to ignore the times when their sons clip barettes into their hair or wear beads.

Yes, of course it’s much easier for kids and parents to cave in to ideas pushed at us and in turn by us in an endless Escher loop. We’re interacting with billion dollar film and toy industries and thousands of years of institutionalized gender roles. If we follow the rules, our kids are less likely to get teased. There’s Christmas shopping to be done, much for people we hardly know, and if we just opt to get a girl kid something pink, we can be reasonably sure, everyone will be happy. But this Christmas, why not try something radical? Especially those of you buying for the youngest kids who usually aren’t too indoctrinated yet. I’ve never met a two year old who didn’t love pushing a doll stroller and a car. To the kid, they’re both just objects on wheels. They can’t tell the difference yet. You’re the one who can.

Read more:

ReelGirl is one year old!

Last year, my first Christmas with three daughters drove me to blogging. I couldn’t believe how different the toys marketed to my kids versus toys marketed to boys were. I was amazed at the billion dollar effort spent on gender programming.

Thank you to all the ReelGirl fans. Happy Holidays!

Here’s a version of one of my first posts up on SF Gate today.


Santa, the Easter Bunny, unicorns, and heaven

What do you tell your media saturated kids when they ask you if Santa is real?

I tell them how Santa can fold his body up, like a magical yogi, to wiggle down our chimney. I tell them which reindeer are the fastest, smartest, or strongest; what they all like to eat (cold, baby carrots and chocolate coins.)

In my stories, there are also girl reindeer, and Mrs. Claus is Sara, an artist who is famous throughout the North Pole for her animal portraiture.

My kids look adorable sucking it all up, mouths open, eyes wide, round cheeks; their faces are all circles. But while they are looking at me, mesmerized, asking a million more questions, sometimes I wonder about telling them such elaborate lies. What’s going to happen when they figure me out? How old they will be? Will they feel sad? Disillusioned? Will they ever take me seriously again?

I didn’t grow up believing any of this stuff so I don’t know. Probably, making it all up isn’t a big deal. Or maybe it is. Now I think, possibly, all these childhood myths serve a brilliant purpose: a gentle way for kids to learn well-intended parents are not always reliable sources of truth.

Is ‘Black Swan’ supposed to be funny?

This movie is so campy, like a horror film or a melodrama parody. I don’t think that’s the director’s intention. That said, I had a great time going out to see it. I would recommend this movie if you, like me, rarely get that chance and you are craving some well-produced, Hollywood escapism.


Here are some things I liked about it:

(1) Natalie Portman is a great actress. As always, she gives an excellent performance. But her role is kind of a one-note. She’s got Oscar buzz, but, in the same way her character is challenged in the movie, Portman doesn’t get much of a chance to show her “dark” side. (Though unlike her character, we all know Portman can pull off dark; it’s this script/ role that limit her here.)

(2) Some breaking of stereotypes. I thought this movie was going to have two female rivals who hate each other and wickedly compete for the star role. We’ve all seen this set up a million times. But Portman wins her role at the beginning of the movie. The movie is about how winning that prize affects her. Kunis and Portman are supposed to look alike in the psycho-girl-twin way Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh do in “Single White Female.” Kunis, I think, is wearing brown contacts to make that point, and they’ve got the “white swan” versus “black swan” thing going on which the movie beats to death in repetitive dialogue and symbolism. But Kunis’ character, Lily, is only out to get Nina in Nina’s head. Lily is actually supportive and funny. That Lily is evil only in fantasy is a cool, different take– the idea that women aren’t really all out to get each other! (Of course, Nina does have the quintessential psycho-mom who keeps her daughter locked away, as just seen in “Tangled”.)

(3) Many female parts: Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder are also in the movie. There is really only one male role. Other males have walk-ons as sex objects or as supporting dancers.

Children and the death of socks

When I decided to have kids, I knew sacrafices would be made, but I did not plan for the end of matching socks.

There are way, way too many socks, many of them super-tiny. I don’t have the time to spend hours seeking out and matching up these socks. Who in the world has this time? Or this drive? Or this kind of organized, efficient mind?

No one in my family, not my kids or my husband, wears matching socks anymore. We do wear socks with the same thickness. You can’t wear a thin sock with a bulky sock.

There is one exception: a new pair of socks. My niece just gave me a pair of black socks, soft and thin, decorated with circus elephants. Today, I’m sporting a match.