Just for Fun, 'Cause Dang, I Need Some

So many people have sent me links to Jamie Moore's work. Moore is a photographer and mom to a 5-year-old girl, Emma.  In response to the cultural omnivorousness of Disney Princess, she she began to think about:

...all the REAL women for my daughter to know about and look up too, REAL women who without ever meeting Emma have changed her life for the better. My daughter wasn’t born into royalty, but she was born into a country where she can now vote, become a doctor, a pilot, an astronaut, or even President if she wants and that’s what REALLY matters. I wanted her to know the value of these amazing women who had gone against everything so she can now have everything. 

Gosh, that is so beautifully written, isn't it? Anyway, she and Emma chose five of those women for Emma to dress up as to honor for her fifth birthday.

...but there are thousands of unbelievable women (and girls) who have beat the odds and fought (and still fight) for their equal rights all over the world……..so let’s set aside the Barbie Dolls and the Disney Princesses for just a moment, and let’s show our girls the REAL women they can be.

You have got to see the results. GOT TO. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about "fighting fun with fun." Everyone has their own limits, tolerance, acceptance for the Disney Princesses and all that comes after, but wherever you stand on that spectrum, it's important to give your daughter a broader view (no intended, sort of) of what it means to be a girl and a woman. So thank you SO MUCH for giving me something beautiful I can share with my daughter, Ms. Moore and Emma.

I hope you don't mind if I reprint one of your photos here....And could you please, please keep going with this project? We need it!

How We've Decamped from Science

A recent Christian Science Monitorarticle confirmed that there are still gaps between girls and boys in STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) subjects despite larger gains in education for women over the past 40 years.  Among the high school graduating class of 2011, for instance, 80% of computer-science course Advanced Placement test-takers, 77% of those taking the physics exam for electricity and magnetism and 74 percent of mechanics exams. Also, 59 percent of those taking Calculus BC, the more advanced of two AP courses offered in the subject, were male. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows  continued achievement gaps between boys and girls in STEM fields as well, especially science. Boys outperform girls at the 4th, 8th and 12th grade level with the biggest gap being in 12th grade.

No bueno, right?

I was thinking about this the other day, when I attended the orientation for my daughter's drama camp, a wonderful program that centers on Elizabethan history, stage combat and Shakespearien drama. Be still my English major's heart, right?

As it happens, she's attending it with a male friend. He  will be one of maybe three boys in the entire camp. I was truly saddened thinking about how the  arts have become a  "girl thing" (not to mention the irony given that all the female parts in Shakespeare's plays were originally played by boys). It's impoverishing to boys' souls when they are tacitly discouraged from drama, fine art, writing, reading, music.

What ARE boys doing? Well, sports, of course. Science camps. Robotics. Things my girl did up until this summer. Somehow, without my noticing,  we slipped into stereotypical girl land. I think that is exactly what happens: according to the article, girls begin to fall behind in STEM in elementary school and the gap just gets wider. In part, no doubt, because of  something going on in the classroom. But the culture outside of school is also to blame:  from the get-go girls are rewarded in their play and by adults  for how they look rather than what they do. Even the putative "science kits" for girls, which I've written about before  are more about cultivating obsessions with beauty and consumerism than actual science. To that list I'd add the HELLACIOUS video "Science: It's A Girl Thing" by the clearly-on-crack European Commission that's been making the rounds lately. I guess they didn't read the recent study of middle school girls  from the University of Michigan  that found that attempts to "glamorize" women in  STEM seem to be less motivating to girls than more "everyday" female STEM role models. So try this video instead:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_176279&src_vid=g032MPrSjFA&v=vpgc_cvCsP4&feature=iv

There are also the extra-curricular activities we think about for our girls. This is not an easy one for me as a parent. I'm not a STEM person myself. Nor is my husband, who is a documentarian. Still....our daughter loves math. She adores science. She is a regular at the science museum that's down the street from our home. We listen obsessively to the fabulous They Might Be Giants "Here Comes Science" album. Here are a couple of vids from that one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0zION8xjbM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf33ueRXMzQ

And even with all that, we ended up this summer with nary a STEM activity in sight. Nor will she see many boys in her activities over the next few months, reinforcing the idea that they are more "other" than is necessary (though we do discuss a great deal why there are no boys at horse camp or drama camp).

The truth is, I probably will never enroll my daughter in as many extra-curriculuars as I should that would keep her brain STEM alive. I am a passionate under-scheduler and I prioritize the arts, then something physical and, eventually all will fall by the wayside for Bat Mitzvah training.  I depend on her school, her teachers, to stoke her interest--and all their students' interest--in those critical subjects. I hope they do. I hope they notice when the little differences begin emerging so that they don't become the kind of big gaps that will, later, limit them in their choice of professions and earning power.

 

***

Yeah, I know I haven't written about Brave. I was on a deadline. Now it seems too late. So, briefly, I thought the movie was okay. It wasn't my favorite Pixar movie by a longshot. If considered as a "princess" movie it was certainly superior to most (though Mulan I and II are still my favorites). I could talk about how we deserve broader representations of females on film, ones that aren't royal (it seems that a number of people can't even remember that princesses were not, until recently, the only image for girls allowed on screen).

I could also talk about how I didn't understand what made Merida "brave" per se. Her mother was certainly brave. But what was brave about her? How did she change? She changed her relationship to her mother because her mother changed. In the revelatory scene when she's talking to the men her mother is feeding her lines, she's not coming to anything. It seemed to me that what made her "brave" was that they slapped a bow and a quiver on her. But that's a symbol, not a character trait.

I would've found the movie more interesting, too, if the men hadn't been such dolts. What if her suitors were actually appealing? Was the issue that Merida didn't want to marry someone she didn't choose or she didn't want to marry an idiot?

And, then, while the mother was fine, it would have been nice if there were some other female roles in the movie--a friend, say, or lady-in-waiting. It was as if Pixar was so afraid males wouldn't go that they didn't want to have any extraneous females muddying up the place. Imagine, for a second, a movie in which the two main characters were male and every other character in the film was female, without comment  (ok, yeah, the cook in Brave was female, but still). The movie did nothing to change the statistics that the Geena Davis Institute published on the percentage of speaking characters  in family movies held by females: it remains a paltry %29..

But really, I think the issue is this: the discussion of the movie is symptomatic of the problem. There are so few female protagonists in family films (or any other film) that when there finally is one, we can't just look at it as a movie. We can't just say, yeah, it was okay. It has to have all this weight on it, all this pressure. It has to be a referendum. If there were just more, more, more then Brave could've just been another Pixar film, no more, no less, instead of a major event because they FINALLY, after twelve films, realized they hadn't made one starring a woman.

So what do I think of Brave? What I think of Brave is that I wish I didn't have to think so much about Brave. You know what would have been REALLY radical? In our screening (and I assume at theaters) there was a short before the movie called "La Luna." It featured two old men and a little boy in a row boat whose job involved changing the phases of the moon. What if the old men and been women? What if the boy had been a girl? What if there had been no comment about that? Seeing the short before the much-ballyhooed "first Pixar princess" (note that "princess" was at some point substituted for "female" as if the two are interchangeable) reminded me that when a character is male it is assumed to be universal, and so goes without comment. Only when she is female does she become specific. I want to see so many females on screen that we, too, are universal.

Also, I wish I could get my hair to look like that.

If Brave didn't do it for you, or even if it did, I hope you'll also take a look at the movies on my fight fun with fun page. And be sure to check out Studio Ghibli's latest: Arietty based on The Borrowers. Disney buried it, which was a shame.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp2nb9Vq0yY

 

"Sociological Images": Will You Marry Me?

Sociological Images is ruining my life. I can spend hours looking at their images tracking....well, everything  (God and the U.S. dollar) but especially the evolution of gender:  there's their current Lego  series; the periodic rants on  pet ownership; how  video game ads have changedmen's/women's toilet signs from around the world and the take-down of Zoe Deschanel-style "manic Pixie dream girls" (a term coined by Nathan Rabin at A.V. Club  and further explained by Feminist Frequency). Things you never think about, never notice, but that shape us all the same. Love. LOVE!!! One of my favorites, is from about a year ago:  a round-up of products for kids. Among them,  onesies that include a list of "ingredients" on the tummy. What are boys made of? Love, energy, and dirt:

And girls?  love, beauty and kindness:

 

Then there's this photo of ride-aboard trucks at Target:

The boys’ version is red and is, appropriately, called a Lil’ Fire Truck Ride-On. The pink version, on the other hand, is the Lil’ Princess Ride-On — because apparently there’s no appropriate vehicle to define as “girly,” so the easiest way to gender the toy was just to call it a thing for princesses and be done with it:

 

And finally a set of receiving blankies for newborns. Blue for the "little man":

and pink for the "little cupcake" (in case, as SI quips, your baked goods are cold)

Again, I thought this was 2012, but apparently we have all been catapulted back to the set of "Mad Men."

Check out the site yourself and you too can feel vaguely productive while getting no work done....

DREAMY reviews for "Kepler's Dream"

I wrote earlier this week about the must-read YA novel, Kepler's Dream, which was officially published yesterday. I'm thrilled to report that the book is already racking up stellar reviews. In this coming Sunday's New York Times "Book Review" the discerning Dani Shapiro--herself a wonderful writer--calls the book  "delightful" and "marvelous" and  "full of smart, subversive commentary on the numbing effects of contemporary youth culture." She adds:

But in the end it is Ella's voice--utterly captivating, idiosyncratic, rich and memorable--that ties all the pieces together in, yes, a kind of dream logic, making this not only an entertaining book but an absorbing and artful one.

From Library Journal:

Ella’s divorced mother has leukemia and her father is busy guiding trips for his fly-fishing-trip business so the 11-year-old is sent to stay with her grandmother. Neither of her parents gets along well with her father’s mother, and Ella hasn’t ever met her. She joins eccentric Violet Von Stern at her adobe home and names it The House of Mud. Under the brilliant Albuquerque’s night sky, she wishes on stars for her mom’s recovery. Her grandmother sternly corrects and lectures her, but Ella’s stay is full of interesting surprises. One of grandma’s books, Kepler’s Dream, has been stolen from her extensive library, and it’s worth thousands of dollars. Ella puts her detective skills to work to find the missing book while discovering the importance of family. Bell has created a fascinating cast of eclectic characters who are sure to capture and retain readers’ attention. Smart and thoughtful, the story sparkles like Kepler’s favorite stars in Bell’s debut offering for children.–Helen Foster James, University of California at San Diego

And Booklist:

While her mother is in treatment for leukemia, 11-year-old Ella goes to spend the summer with the grandmother she has never known. She is initially intimidated by the formidable relative she calls the GM (for grandmother or, alternately, general major). Despite worries about her mother, Ella falls into the rhythm of life in Albuquerque, befriends a few people, and begins to uncover family secrets. When the theft of a rare book, Kepler’s Dream, upsets her grandmother, Ella and a friend attempt to find it and unmask the thief. However, the mystery always takes a backseat to the revelation of characters and relationships in past and present. Punctuated by the occasional letter to her mother, Ella’s narration is fresh, distinctive, and full of dry humor. After she discovers that her grandmother is a stickler for correct word usage, Ella privately refers to the GM’s home as the GGCF (Good Grammar Correctional Facility). One of the pleasures of the novel is Ella’s gradual realization of what she has in common with her initially aloof grandmother. Two strong individuals under stress, they come across as fully rounded characters, and even the minor players here are distinctive, credible, and memorable. An impressive debut for Bell. — Carolyn Phelan

Congratulations, Juliet Bell!

 

I feel so passionately about this book. I so want to get it out there. Rare is the book for middle graders these days that is beautifully written; has a very real girl at its heart; and has a well-plotted, age-appropriate, gore-free story!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfD6CLGmwfM

 

 

Read These Now!!!

Looking for a  new “fight fun with fun” book for your middle grade daughter (or son….)? Honey, have I got two for you. Kepler’s Dream, the debut YA novel by Juliet Bell, is about 11-year-old Ella, a clever, compassionate  girl whose mother’s cancer treatment and father’s disengagement exile her to   “Broken Family Camp” for the summer: staying with her severe-natured grandmother in her peacock-ridden hacienda in Albuquerque. Neither of them is happy about the arrangement. Ella is afraid her mother may die, but all her grandmother seems to care about is her crazy library full of books When a rare and much-loved volume, Kepler's Dream of the Moon, is stolen, however, Ella decides it's up to her to find it. The result  could be the key to healing her broken family. This is the kind of book I used to love as a girl, back in the days before the vampires and zombies and murder-tainment (nothing against Hunger Games)  struck. Ella feels utterly real, her voice just the right amount of snarky, her struggles relevant and relatable. I loved that nearly all of the central relationships were among women (though plenty of complex men are in there, too), especially the initially-hostile  one between Ella and her friend-to-be Rosie. Just because they’re the same age doesn’t mean they have to like each other, right? There’s a mystery at the heart of Kepler’s Dream, which I won't spoil, but really, this  a family issue story in the tradition of Paul Zindel or Judy Bloom. As Kirkus said when describing this “utterly satisfying” book:

Ella learns how blame can tear a family apart and how forgiveness and the things of which dreams are made can heal. The credibly realistic resolution leaves Ella firmly grounded with deepened family ties, a new friend and some hard-won horseback-riding skills.

 

Meanwhile, back in the land of fantasy and fairy tales, Daisy and I have been riveted by the audiobook of Shannon Hale'The Goose Girl. It is performed by our beloved Full Cast Audio and, as usual, they do not disappoint. Amazon says this book is for 6th-9th graders and they may well enjoy it, but as a read-aloud, Daisy and I were riveted (and she’s 8 ½ these days). She has friends in second grade who are enjoying it as well.

You may be familiar with the Grimm’s story that inspired this tale, but Shannon Hale has taken what amounts to a (very bloody) sketch and turned it into a (less bloody) masterpiece. At 16, Anidori–Kiladra Talianna Isillee, Crown Princess of Kildenree is sweet, if naïve and cosseted. She possesses the gift of “animal speak, ” something little valued by her imperial—and imperious—mother, the queen. When she’s shipped off to a neighboring kingdom to marry its prince (and keep the peace) she is easily overthrown by a mutinous entourage headed by her lady-in-waiting. Ani barely escapes with her life. Eventually she disguises herself as a goose girl. Before the story is over, she learns lessons in courage, justice, perseverance and coming in to your own as a woman and a person. In the end, birthright doesn’t make Ani a princess—her character, forged by experience, and her brave actions do. I cannot recommend this audiobook highly enough.

Both Kepler's Dream and Goose Girl are about girls who face enormous obstacles they have to work hard to overcome--that only they can overcome. And through making hard choices, facing unforeseen challenges, they make not only their lives but the lives of those around them--friends, family, strangers--better. They come into power, and that is a beautiful thing.

Enjoy.

Prom Plastic Surgery and Girls SPARKing a Difference

When  we called people "plastic" back when I was a teenager, it was an insult. These days, apparently, not so much. Joe Kelly, over at The Dadman (an expert on how to father girls, as well as husband to Nancy Gruver, founder of New Moon Girls online community/magazine) sent me a press release discussing the 71% rise in chin implants in 2011, in large part driven by teen girls asking to have the procedure done...for prom. That's right, 20, 680 surgical procedures at $3,500-$7,000 a pop were performed last year. There has also been a spike in "ear-pinning," (for those up-dos) which Darrick Antell, a spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, informally called "Clark Gable Wings." Antell told the Sunday Times:

At proms in the past, teens would line up for photographs and face the camera. But the rise of more informal images, captured during video chats or by smartphones when they are leaning over a buffet maybe, has shown them angles of their face they had not seen in a mirror.

Oh, well in that case....

The HuffPo asks in a poll, "Do you think getting plastic surgery for prom is excessive?"

Like we need to vote on that????

Whether or not surgery for prom (or any teen cosmetic surgery. Or, for that matter, any cosmetic surgery on anyone) is excessive is not really the question. Nor do I want to get into a debate over what those girls' parents were thinking. The issue to ponder  is, how, even as girls are higher achieving and better-educated than ever, did we get to this point? And how do we pull back from the brink?

Well, for starters, the culture that bombards girls  at unprecedentedly early ages  with an unattainable ideal of beauty, pressures them to define themselves from the outside in, tells them that the most important thing to their well-being and success is being the Fairest of them All. They learn over and over whether from their baby rattles or their  science kits or their flower seeds that who they are is how they look.

What's more, these days, even the people who embody the unattainable, ideal haven't actually attained it. That's different than when I was young, and it messes with girls' heads. One way to combat that is to make sure EVERY girl (and EVERY woman and EVERY boy and EVERY man) sees and discusses the Dove "Evolution" video. I've shown it to my daughter repeatedly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hibyAJOSW8U

Another good clip, especially for boys:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5_AFk9aOAA

We can also support girls who are trying to make change. Here's an opportunity: 14-year-old Julia Bluhm, a SPARK team member, has started a petition to ask Seventeen Magazine to run one--JUST ONE--un-altered photo spread a month in the publication.

I was a rabid fan of Seventeen as a girl. I sat down with my monthly issue the minute I got it and read it cover-to-cover. I mean that literally. I read every ad. I read every article. I didn't jump to the back when an article did, I waited until I got to that page. I kept every issue--I think I may still have them--in a footlocker in my green room with its white patent crinkle-leather beanbag chair and its green swag lamp. I knew all the bylines and the names of all the models. Years later, I met folks who had written for the publication and they were shocked when I could quote their pieces back to them. (You can read about a modern girl's love/hate with the iconic girl mag here). Seventeen is part of why I became a writer. It may also have contributed to the eating disorder I struggled with as a teen. So I don't take the magazine's influence lightly.

SPARK and Julia have  already gotten over 43,000 signatures on her change.org petition. I would love to see them get at least 50,000, so these marvelous girl activists know  that we adult women (and our daughters, sons, menfolk) are behind them.

In a supporting--and fun--activity, SPARK's partner site, poweredbygirl.org invites girls (and adults) to contribute an on-line spoof of the current Seventeen cover.  I believe understanding and taking control of media messages can be transformative for girls, turning them from princesses into heroines. Why don't you try it yourself and see?

 

 

(posted by avivajaye)

"Never Grow a Wishbone, Daughter...."

Sarah McMane, a high school English teacher in Upstate New York , accomplished poet and mom of a 2-year-old girl. She also founded an annual coffeehouse-style annual performance of original student poetry. Each year, as a model for her kids, she contributes an original poem of her own. She sent me this year's piece, which I loved so much I thought I'd post it here. Enjoy. Clementine Paddleford, incidentally, was an American journalist, food writer and activist.

_________________________________

For My Daughter

"Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be." –Clementine Paddleford

Never play the princess when you can be the queen: rule the kingdom, swing a scepter, wear a crown of gold. Don't dance in glass slippers, crystal carving up your toes— be a barefoot Amazon instead, for those shoes will surely shatter on your feet.

Never wear only pink when you can strut in crimson red, sweat in heather grey, and shimmer in sky blue, claim the golden sun upon your hair. Colors are for everyone, boys and girls, men and women— be a verdant garden, the landscape of Versailles, not a pale primrose blindly pushed aside.

Chase green dragons and one-eyed zombies, fierce and fiery toothy monsters, not merely lazy butterflies, sweet and slow on summer days. For you can tame the most brutish beasts with your wily wits and charm, and lizard scales feel just as smooth as gossamer insect wings.

Tramp muddy through the house in a purple tutu and cowboy boots. Have a tea party in your overalls. Build a fort of birch branches, a zoo of Legos, a rocketship of Queen Anne chairs and coverlets, first stop on the moon.

Dream of dinosaurs and baby dolls, bold brontosaurus and bookish Belle, not Barbie on the runway or Disney damsels in distress— you are much too strong to play the simpering waif.

Don a baseball cap, dance with Daddy, paint your toenails, climb a cottonwood. Learn to speak with both your mind and heart. For the ground beneath will hold you, dear— know that you are free. And never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.

 

My Favorite Reader Photos

I’ve been off-line for two weeks which is like two centuries in social media time. Here are some of the things I’ve apparently missed. A reader sent me a photo of Kraft's  Girlz  cheese.

 

Beyond  the gratuitous sexualization of dairy products...um, cheese pods????

This one is  from the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum:

So, blue or gray for historical accuracy and pink....for girls? I would hate to have been wearing pink in a field of gray.

Seriously, pink Confederate soldier caps? As a 7-year-old, my parents took me to Gettysburg.  I happily popped my traditional Union blue soldier hat atop my favorite outfit: a red-and-white striped t-shirt (decorated with a jaunty, patriotic blue anchor), cut-off jean shorts and navy blue sneakers. If my scanner weren’t broken, I’d post a Kodak moment of  my  brothers and me decked out in our caps, dangling our legs over a cannon, waving Old Glory.

I know the Lincoln Museum gives ample space to Mary's accomplishments, but what I wish in retrospect is that someone had told me—and my brothers—back at Gettysburg about the courage of ordinary women during the Civil War: their incredibly brrave role as battlefield nurses (a new and much-resisted concept at the time). If your little one is into Magic Tree House, check out Civil War on Sunday. Or check out this site  for a quick rund-down on women of the Civil War (both sides) including  Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix and even some Mulan-style soldiers. After all, we can't teach our children what we don't know ourselves!

Finally, here is an art piece by an 8th grader named Carole that says, more eloquently than I could, how the toxic culture of girlhood makes her feel. Carole,  thank you so much for sending it.

In Memoriam: Benedict and Nancy Freedman

Ben Freedman, my friend, inspiration and the co-author (with his wife Nancy) of my favorite book as a girl—Mrs. Mike-died on February 24 at the age of 92. I found out earlier this week when the New York Times obituary page called me for a quote. Here is a picture of my original copy of Mrs. Mike, which I still have, held together by scotch tape and rubber bands.

Ben and Nancy (who died in 2010) led rich, full lives—I loved going to their apartment to listen to stories of their adventures, schemes and foibles. Even in failing healthy, they were exuberant and intellectually engaged, full of plans for the future, still writing every single day.

In honor of their lives, and to mark their loss, here is a link to Ben’s obituary.

And here is a link to a piece I wrote for Oprah Magazine about what they meant to me . I’m so grateful I had opportunity to write it—and even more grateful that I could do it while they were still around to read it.

Nancy and Ben were iconoclasts, free-thinkers, the ultimate champions of the  "fight fun with fun" mentality.  Nancy used to reminded me, “You have to celebrate bad news. Good news, you're happy anyway, but bad news--you've got to have a great dinner and kick up your heels.”

May we all, like then, remember to kick up our heels.

 

 

Is it Contradictory to Embrace the "Princess Boy?"

In today's Motherlode Emily Rosenbaum struggles with what seems to her to be a contradiction in the how she parents her daughter vs. her sons. The revelation was triggered when her  3-year-old girl returned from the Home Depot (with Emily's husband) brandishing a Disney Princess light switch plate (in case you're keeping track: that would be DP item #25,978 of the 26,000+  I mention in CAMD). It probably looked something like this:

Emily was furious, but her husband said:

You know, you’re reacting just the way I react when Zach wants to buy pink clothes. You should allow her to express herself as much as you let the boys do it.

That pulled Emily up short. Turns out their son, Zach, "is the only boy in his second-grade class to regularly rock a pink hoodie and pink socks. Benjamin spent his toddler years dressed as Tinkerbell, and we potty trained him by giving him plastic Disney princesses as reward." What bothers her is the idea that her daughter is into pink and princess. "It's a parenting Catch-22," she writes:

We have excellent books like Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter [Aw, gee, thanks, say I!] that deconstruct why princesses are so injurious to girls. Yet Cheryl Kilodavis’s My Princess Boy has us jumping up and down to support a boy’s right to like pretty things. We gag at nail polish marketed to children, yet we are delighted by a J. Crew ad featuring a boy in toenail polish.

Which is it? Are princesses bad for kids or part of their right to express themselves? Should we shield our children from the nefarious influence of cosmetics or embrace them?

I don't necessarily see these positions as mutually exclusive. Because really, it's not about "princesses." It's about recognizing the limitations our culture places on both girls and boys through its selling of very narrow ideas of femininity and masculinity.

So let's unpack this a bit.  Emily's husband says girls are "expressing themselves" by buying into a $4 billion marketing blitz that is geared towards convincing girls this is  the only way for them to act out femininity. Remember that developmentally, most 3-year-old girls do want to express their girlness (and boys their boyness). The princess industrial complex exploits and distorts that impulse.  Take a look, for instance, at the winner of the contest I held  when the CAMD paperback first came out.  It's one of the best illustrations I've seen of how today's  princess play flattens girls individuality and imaginations. They're not  "expressing" femininity so much as latching onto one  heavily marketed aspect that has been sold to an unhealthy extreme. I mean look at  how many DP items there are at Home Depot alone! That's not including non-Disney items (search princess instead of Disney Princess). What other choices are little girls offered?

That brings me to the  second issue--the pendulum-swing we often engage in when we discuss this topic. The choices seem to be that  a girl is either "expressing her femininity" by ensconcing herself in pink and princess or shunning  "girlie stuff" and sleeping with a football. To me the real task is to find a "third way" that exposes  girls to and allows them expression of a broader, healthier range of ideas about femininity: ones  that aren't perpetually linked to appearance and consumerism and  that aren't putting them on a path to define themselves through that connection for the rest of their lives. That's why I added the "fight fun with fun" section to this site--to offer  at least some options for cultivating a different, celebratory, joyous vision of girls' femininity that is unhooked from the current script.

Okay, now, onto the princess boy. Honestly, who doesn't like a few sparkles? I put them on the cover of my book! Everyone should be able to indulge in a little dress-up occasionally. That said, celebrating the  "princess boy" is really about  not wanting ANY of our children limited by stereotypes or denied the full range of human desires, emotions, enjoyments and potential. In  our culture right now boys are actively discouraged from engaging in anything seen as "feminine," which means they're denied color, sparkles, art, aesthetics, music and many things that, once upon a time, were the province and right of both sexes. When we hyper-segment kids by gender everyone is hurt, everyone is limited. But there's an additional issue when we teach boys they can't play with "girl" things: they learn not only to disdain  that which is associated with girls but to disdain girls themselves. Enforcing masculinity in childhood play is how we replicate misogyny and homophobia. Bad, bad juju.

Another way to think about it might be to flip it.  You might be more comfortable buying your daughter a toy gun because violence is not marketed to her as the cornerstone of feminine identity. It might feel subversive, expansive, whereas you might fret that buying one for your son  would reinforce the message that he's supposed to be tough, hard, emotionless, cruel.

So it's not about saying pink and sparkles are okay for boys and not girls, it's about trying to navigate through a world of products and images that are hyper-segmented and unhealthy, promote stereotypes, alienation between the sexes, and limit kids' access to the full spectrum of life. Emily, that's a really, really good impulse on your part that the marketplace, in its simplicity, is trying to convince you is hypocrisy.

You've got so many opportunities to create change as the parent of both a girl and boys. Listen, a  little self-decoration (henna tattoos, washable markers, face paint, glitter) is fun for all. Meanwhile,  try to expose your children of both sexes to a wide range of ideas, toys, images, clothing. Rather than simply allowing Zack to wear pink, why not also read him  the kind of stories about strong women and competent, clever girls that I'm sure you read to your daughter? If he likes to dress up as a Disney Princess, why not suggest a Greek goddess? Or Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Or Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service? How subversive would that be? Would that make you less comfortable than celebrating "the princess boy?" And if so, why? Perhaps that's the real question.

Who Needs Lego Friends When You Have a Lego Granddaughter?

A reader named Leslie, whose daughter, Callie's eloquent letter about Lego's new "Friends" line was summarily dismissed by that company, just sent me this photo:  

 

Callie and her cousins made this Lego "birthday cake"  for their grandmother, who is unable to eat the real deal.  Here's the family of girls and women preparing to blow out the candles. I bet they wished for creative, open-ended toys that didn't stereotype and hyper-segment children.

And guess what, Lego? THIS IS WHAT BEAUTIFUL LOOKS LIKE!!!!!!

In Which We Rescue the Fairy Tale

Before being co-opted by Uncle Walt (and, for that matter, the Brothers Grimm), the medieval, European fairy tales were a women's medium, an oral tradition shared over long hours of repetitive work, such as spinning (that's where "spinsters" comes from...). The tales were the entertainment of their day: the movies, the TV, even the porn (did you really think that Rapunzel and the Prince just talked in that tower?). The Grimms recorded the tales of their time and place, but as their compendium went through a variety of reprints--and as the stories became aimed at children--the brothers took out the sex (especially the pervasiveness of incest as the motivation for a heroine's flight) and amped up the violence. They figured, like many of the day, that scaring the beejezus  out of kids would get them to  behave. Personally, I love fairy tales and there are those (such as Bruno Bettelheim) who insist that you should read them, gore and all, to even the smallest children. That makes this modern mommy queasy, but I do think they're great for older girls and I still love reading them as an adult. The Disney animators' brushes have painted the heroines as passive and the prince as the savior, but in fact, that's not how many of the story goes. There are some great tales of female feistiness, cleverness and heroics. Most are waaaaay to bloody for girls (some that aren't are on my resources page). But for those of you over, say, twelve, I'd suggest starting with the following, which you can find online, along with many others, at SurLaLune Fairy Tales:

Fitcher's Bird

The Girl Without Hands

The Robber Bridegroom

Bluebeard

All-Kinds-of-Fur

Tatterhood

Fairy and folk tales  of  female bravery can be found in every culture.  Also check out Alison Lurie's book, Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Fairy Tales, some of which can be shared (or altered to share) with little girls.

My favorite physical version of the Grimms' stories is Maria Tatar's The Annotated Brothers Grimm. You can't beat it. Great on discussing women's roles as well. I'd also suggest Jane Yolen's Not One Damsel in Distress, The Serpent Slayer, and Lady of Ten Thousand Names. Each has some stories within that are appropriate for little ones.

Start with those, then just keep on going! Enjoy!

 

Please Judge this Book By Its Cover!

Just got a copy of the Cinderella Ate My Daughter paperback, hot off the Harper Press. Looks so eye-catching--and they kept the sparkles!  

I'll write more about real stuff soon (busy time) but just wanted to post this. I'm such a proud Mama.....

Oh, and it's in stores Jan 31. If you live in one of the cities I'm visiting, please come say hi!

Of Legos and Lincoln Logs, Or: Whatever Happened to 1972?

In the wake of  my recent NY Times editorial on nature, nurture, gender and the new Lego Friends line, a reader sent me this photo of the gifts she and her husband gave their 5-year-old son this Christmas: her husband's old Lincoln Log and Tinker Toy sets. He was born in 1972. He (the husband/father) was born in 1972.

The Tinkertoys package explicitly states, "For boys and girls." And note the girl happily building a ranch on the cover of the  Lincoln Logs!

Their son's response: "I didn't know these were for girls, too!" Point made (my point, that is).

FYI, you can still get gender-neutral Lincoln Logs (with pictures of cabins on the box, no kids shown). But there is also this set:

 

Again, necessary? Why? How does it affect the potential for boys and girls to interact? Play together? Is it relegating girls to pink and pretty or just meeting them half-way?

You can also get  a girls' version of "classic"  Tinker Toys.

 

It allows them to construct, "a flower garden, a butterfly a microphone and more!"

Among other things I wonder: what's the microphone got to do with it?

Pearls From Ruby

The best thing we can do for our daughters is to teach them, as they get older, to make their own courageous way through the woods of the girlie-girl culture. So what a thrill to read this  blog post by my friend Marcelle's 11-year-old daughter, Ruby. Ruby wrote it after she and her mom, who live in New York City,  went shopping for her Halloween costume. Needless to say, they didn't find one, though Ruby sure found her voice. It's one thing for us adults to talk to girls about the creepy (not in a good way) costumes, but how much more powerful to hear it from a peer!

So Ruby and Marcelle, you are my sheroes and here, with her permission, is Ruby's post:

TRICKS AND TREATS: RETURN TO INNOCENCE

by Ruby Karp

So, you know what time it is! That’s right, Halloween! When you dress up as a scary ghost or zombie, right? Not for girls my age (I’m 11, in sixth grade). For us, it is dress-up-in-an-inappropriate-way time. And I know I am in that inbetween age, where I’m still a kid and almost something else, but seriously. I love Halloween, I love trick-or-treating with my friends, I love the way the neighborhood turns into a magical place with cobwebs and spiders and everything spooky-safe. And ever since I was 7, it’s been hard for me to find a costume that isn’t above the knee or low-cut or has a choker involved.

Like this year, I wanted to be Elmo and my friend was going to be Cookie Monster but where were the fuzzy costumes? NOWHERE. Instead of fun costumes that I would have a hard time choosing between, I found super-short dresses that aren’t cute, they’re inappropriate for me. How does Snow White turn into a girl in a sports bra that’s blue and a yellow mini skirt and super high heels that are bright red? Tell me, how is that Snow White? I looked at a Little Red Riding Hood costume and it went up really high. I mean, the list goes on and on.

And you know, instead of just telling my mom, “So this year, I want to be a Ghoulish Girl,” and going to the costume store and picking it out in five minutes, we have to search for something and my mom has to inspect it! Can you imagine trying to decide what costume is sexy and which is not with your mom? Do you know how embarrassing that is? Well, believe it. I have to do that every Halloween. Now, it isn’t easy when my best friend and me had been planning to be something together and your mom tells you cant because it is too-something-gross. So this year, I’m borrowing my friend’s old pumpkin costume that her Mom sewed for her (yep, she’s got a Super-Mom) and it is perfect for me, a girl of 11 years old.

It is sad how for Halloween, girls have less and less options on what to wear, that they have to choose between ick and ickier. I used to love Halloween because you could dress up in public  like a fairy and not look weird! Now, when I look for a fairy costume, I look a little too weird. Why do costume-makers want girls looking like this? What is going to happen to the next generation? Maybe the GOOD costumes won’t even be here anymore, the only choice a 10-year-old girl will have is to be something with the word “vixen” or “sexy” in the costume title. Sigh. I can only hope for the best.

I have to search real hard for a good non-weird costume. And it shouldn’t be this hard. Really, the only thing we can do is hope that the costumes go back to the way they were when I was little, when you could be a Princess or a Baseball Player and not look like you were out to be anything else but that. And more appropriate. NOTE TO PEOPLE WHO MAKE THESE COUSTUMES: we are not 25. We are 11. Start making costumes like it. AND FAST.

What a gem. Thanks, Ruby!

Don't be a "Trick" or "Treat" This Halloween

My beloved friends at SPARK have teamed up with HollabackPhilly and Beauty Redefined to sponsor a "Taking Back Halloween" contest for teenage girls. I wish they'd extend it down to 5-year-olds, whose costumes are getting sexier all the time, but hey, it's a start.  Here's what the site says:

Submit your spookiest, creepiest, punniest, funniest, most creative and brilliant costumes to our Costume Contest for the chance to win amazing prizes (including an iPod!). But we don’t want just any store-bought costume–like SPARKteam member Melissa says below, this contest is about creativity.

Over to you, Melissa:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hqs-TFQFaBA&feature=player_embedded

 

SPARK has created a fabulous space where girls can talk back to the media that tries to define and narrow them. It's also a great resource for us adults looking for "what we can do." Take a look at their SPARKit! Action ideas.

There. Now I feel a little teeny bit better about October.

One from the OMG Files--and One from the TG (Thank God) Files, Too

Okay, yeah, just when I think Toddlers & Tiaras can't sink any lower, it does. And though I think the whole T&T business detracts from the real and (God, I hope) more subtle forms of sexualization most girls face every day it also desensitizes us and, as I have said (and said and said) can let viewers off the hook with its extremity, making us think, even unconsciously, "well, nothing I do with my daughter is THAT bad." Still, posting this video of a 4-year-old with FAKE BOOBS YES I SAID FAKE BOOBS is irresistible. They got me. I can't help it.

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But to do penance for posting that--and because it's FAR more important and worthy and necessary and totally mandatory viewing, here is a clip of my aforementioned Shero, La Rachel Simmons on the same show talking about the updated version of her classic, required-reading bible on girls' social dynamics, Odd Girl Out. Watch the vid. Buy the book, unlike the T&T stuff, you won't be sorry afterwards.

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Just as an aside, I wonder why the ad before this video is for men's shaving gel. Whatever.

 

My Shero--La Rachel Simmons

I love Rachel Simmons. Even though she called me the grandmother of the girls' movement when I was YOUNGER THAN SHE IS NOW (ahem!). Yes she did. And yet, we have grown to be dear friends. I'm forgiving that way.  

Anyway, in addition to her writing, speaking, coaching and work with Simone Marean and Ronald at the marvelous Girls Leadership Institute she has just released  a revised and updated edition of her germinal (not seminal, get it?) book, "Odd Girl Out." As she writes in the new introduction, 'I wrote [this] as an observer, but I have revised it as a practitioner.

 

According to Slate XX , Rachel returns to the material "with more perspective":

Simmons’s transition has changed her book fundamentally, and for the better. In its original form, Odd Girl Out brought a largely unexamined social problem into the public eye with sensitivity and insight, but offered little by way of solutions or advice. Now it is both a sociological text and a how-to. Simmons has added three new chapters focused on the roles of parents and teachers, which detail the tricks and tips she’s picked up over the years. She gets incredibly specific, down to which sentences do and don’t work with teens, and how best to approach another parent or teacher about bullying.

The new Odd Girl Out also addresses the changes brought about by technology. Facebook and sexting didn’t exist in 2002, but now they dominate the way girls conceptualize and conduct their friendships. Simmons tackles social media’s effect on teen girls in two new chapters that cover cyberbullying, privacy, and what parents can do to help their daughters negotiate the slippery world of online interaction. What she describes is frankly horrifying, an inescapable maelstrom of hormones, insecurity, and cruelty enabled by the Internet’s tendency to erase inhibitions and accountability. Refreshingly, though, Simmons refuses to see girls as victims of new technology. “Social media may magnify emotions and facilitate cruelty, but it does not ‘make’ girls act a particular way,” she writes. The solution, she suggests, isn’t to log off but to develop strategies for communicating healthily, just like in real-time interactions.

Simmons has made plenty of tweaks and improvements to her original work, but here’s what remains unchanged: Odd Girl Out is gripping because it’s relatable, even to those of us who are mercifully removed from the social politics of middle and high school. By documenting girls’ social lives with depth and nuance (no girl is just a bully or just a victim, Simmons reminds us) the book encourages us to consider what transpired at our own lunch tables, and how that shaped the kind of women we became. Everyone knows what it feels like to be the odd girl out, and Simmons has turned her book into a meeting place for all experiences: Girls find a voice and an ally, parents and teachers gain perspective and tools to help the girls in their lives, and the rest of us observe from the sidelines, feeling wiser and a bit better understood.

Also, catch this interview with La Rachel herself on NPR. She is so smart, so relatable and so wise about the world--hey, kind of like my grandma!

 

Rachel Simmons: Shayne Punim!