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.
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.