Alone in a Room on National TV

So you know when you're watching CNN or MSNBC or FOX news orPBS or whatever and they have some talking head on a monitor chatting with the host? Well here's how they do that when you're the guest: you are sitting alone in a black-walled, darkened room staring into a camera lens. You do not see the host. You do not see the other guests. You do not see yourself. You have no idea whether or not you are on-screen at any given moment. You hear the host and the other guests through the earpiece and you talk earnestly at nothing at all. It's a seriously weird deal. But that's how it goes, especially if you live in California and most of the media is in New York. I never get used to it. But I did it the other night because I was asked to be on the PBS News Hour with Gwen Eiffel and, really, how cool is that? Anyway, here's how it came out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk_J6l_T2Jg&list=PLgawtcOBBjr-JeJG7XTRqPO-oeuWZK1De&index=2

Seriously, Disney, I'm Trying to Take a Little Break Here-- MUST YOU?

Update: The fabulous A Mighty Girl has put a petition up on Change.org asking Disney to keep Merida BRAVE. You can sign it here. So, I was about to commend Disney for doing something right. Yes, I was. The front page story in today's New York Times reported that the company stopped production of branded merchandise in Bangladesh in March, after the last disaster there: a fire that killed 112 people. To wit:

 A Disney official told The New York Times on Wednesday that the company had sent a letter to thousands of licensees and vendors on March 4 setting out new rules for overseas production.

Less than 1 percent of the factories used by Disney’s contractors are in Bangladesh, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The company’s efforts had accelerated because of the November fire at a factory that labor advocates asserted had made Disney apparel. The Disney ban also extends to other countries, including Pakistan, where a fire last September killed 262 garment workers.

So good for them. Good for Disney for trying to show some leadership and ethics regarding how its products are made. I respect that.

Now back to discussing the depressing results.

Rebecca Pahle over at The Mary Sue alerted me to the news that on May 11 Merida from Brave will to be crowned the 11th Disney princess. You remember Merida, right? The one with the bow and arrow? The one who looked like this?

Well, not any more. As with the other Princesses, she has gotten a redesign, a pretty-sexy-skinny makeover to boost revenues. Voila, the new Merida:

There's the hot hair, the coy expression. Also the obligatory exposed shoulders (moms tell me all the time that their preschool daughters are pitching fits and destroying their t-shirts because "princesses don't cover their shoulders), slimmer waist, and the bow and arrow replaced by...what is that, a low-slung belt? And she has what appear to be high-heeled shoes. Or at least slimmer, pointier feet.

Inside the Magic, a blog promoting Disney and theme park events, says that Merida's official royal ceremony will be well attended:

She will be joining existing Disney Princesses Snow White, Mulan, Aurora, Belle, Tiana, Ariel, Cinderella, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Rapunzel in the line, all of whom are likely to make an appearance at the coronation. New hairstyles, makeup, and dresses were recently given to the princesses in a modern update to their looks, which are also now reflected at Disney’s theme parks .

Because, in the end, it wasn't about being brave after all. It was about being pretty.

In case you've missed it, by the way, here's the updated look of the other ten princesses:

I'm especially creeped out by Belle who appears to have had major surgery. Compare this new chickabiddy to the actual movie:

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

Or, wait, maybe I'm more creeped out by the way they've changed Aurora (who used to be called Briar Rose).

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

Or, wait, what about what about the apparent lobotomy that Rapunzel has had? OrAnd  Cinderella looking like Taylor Swift? And Pocahontas?  Tiana looks like she's not getting enough to eat at that restaurant of hers. And Mulan, poor, poor Mulan. And here's  what Jasmine used to look like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kl4hJ4j48s

Snow White and Ariel were always especially  vapid so I don't have much to say there.

I hate to be in the position of defending the "old days" when the princesses looked "normal" (because, really, it's all relative and it's not like I was happy with them before this). Still, check out this pic, also from Inside the Magic, of the latest princess lineup including the new Merida:

Look at that head position on poor, exposed-shouldered Merida! In addition to everything else, they're pushing the brown girls slowly but surely to the edges. Tiana is thinking, "Wait, I only got one year up front? One lousy year to make up for nearly a century of racism (though to be fair, the ugliness extended well beyond Disney's depiction of African Americans)?  Meanwhile, Mulan looks WEIRDER THAN EVER. She doesn't even look human she's been so Orientalized and botoxed.

This is what she used to look like:

 

I've always said that it's not about the movies. It's about the bait-and-switch that happens in the merchandise, and the way the characters have evolved and proliferated off-screen. Maybe the problem is partly that these characters are designed in Hollywood, where real women are altering their appearance so regularly that animators, and certainly studio execs, think it's normal.

Ok, you know what? I'm so tired. Someone else take over here and make some pithy, salient points about the impact on girls of being bombarded with skinny, pretty, sexy messages and endless consumer products that tell them from the earliest ages that how they look is who they are, ok?  

I'll just leave you with that moment of promise, the trailer from Brave when we thought maybe Disney was showing some leadership and ethics not only in how they made their products, but the actual products they made.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEHWDA_6e3M

If You Let Me Be a Princess.....

Just saw this latest video posted by Disney. They're trying to rebrand the Princesses as being about strength of character and self-efficacy. What do you think? Can they do this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUGnu0gXtn4

while also peddling tens of thousands of products to our daughters that emphasize beauty and consumerism? Does the brave Rapunzel in the movie offset the one who is on the Escape From the Tower Lip & Nail Set?

Or the Pretty Pretty Princess board game?

Or the zillions of other products out there? You tell me.

Meanwhile, this video put me in mind of one from years ago, back in the days of Girl Power, that Nike did:

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

And finally just for fun and to illustrate how deeply the Princess phenom has gripped our collective imagination, (see it before it goes viral and loses its cool) I give you "Hipster Disney Princess the Musical!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yPfmRoSfpA

Kind of the opposite of age compression.....

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....

A Spoonful of WHAT Makes the Medicine Go Down?

The garden used to be a wholesome place where you could wrest your child away from the tentacles of licensed products, right?  No more. the ever-brilliant Rebecca Hains has made me aware of  Burpee’s new Disney Princess seeds (oh yes, that’s what I wrote).

 

Needless to say, the ladies only grace flower packets—Mickey, Donald and the rest get  vegetables because, as Rebecca notes, “princesses are meant to be gazed on; they are delicate beauties...”  Too bad for  boys who will now doubtless be expected to reject the flower patch.

Meanwhile, Rebecca points out that while regular seeds cost about a buck a pack, The DP ones weigh in at $1.99.  That's quite the royalty tax Disney's levying ! Then there's the mark-up accompanying Disney Princess plant labels which cost a whopping $2.97 for 6 while the regular labels are a mere $1.99 for twenty.

 

 

 

 

Rebecca concludes so beautifully and succinctly:

The Disney Princess marketing machine is SO huge, so far-reaching, that it’s hard to avoid and even harder to resist. Parents sometimes blame themselves for their daughters’ princess obsessions, but who’s really to blame–the parents, or the billion-dollar industry that is invested in profiting by shaping little girls’ dreams?

I think the answer is clear. In this kind of context, it’s hard to choose freely–and that’s something to think critically about.

Actually, it's not a "billion dollar industry." It's a FOUR billion dollar industry (if you're only counting Disney). One that is about to get bigger. Because yesterday kicked off—wait for it—the first annual National Princess Week!! Yes, Disney has teamed up with Target to create a brand new holiday celebrating….Well, it’s unclear what they’re celebrating, but who cares! It's a week of festivities that allow—nay require—us to buy more newly introduced princess products!!!

The companies are positioning this "holiday" as embedded in other nationally-created occasions such as Mother’s Day. I suppose they have a point, especially when you recall that the woman who created that holiday died bitterly regretting its achievement, feeling that her "day to honor mothers" had devolved into little more than a consumerist "Hallmark Holiday."

But at least Mother's Day originally had some larger purpose behind it (actually its roots go as far back as 1870,when Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist and composer of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” issued a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” urging women, in the wake of the Civil War's bloodbath, to call for disarmament). The purpose of National Princess week, according to Disney, is to:  "showcase a variety of products designed to engage every princess," especially the 10th anniversary re-release of  the Princess Diaries movies on DVD, a book calle A Very Fairy Princess: Here Comes The Flower Girl and "an array of themed merchandise at Target stores....Blu-rays, books, toys, bedroom decor, games and more, inspired by Disney’s classic animated films, including Beauty and the BeastThe Princess and the Frog, and Tangled, starting at just $5." The Disney site also helpfully directs celebrants to the Target web site where you can make these purchases.

Well, if that isn't cause for national celebration, I don't know what is!

What’s most painful to me is that they’ve enlisted Mary Poppins, aka Julie Andrews (who stars in Princess Diaries and, with her daughter, penned the above-mentioned Fairy Princess book), as the holiday's putative Santa.

Everyone loves Julie Andrews. It’s churlish not to. I love Julie Andrews. Yet, as horrifying as it is, I must call her out. She betrays our trust and adoration when she disingenuously chirps:  "Joining Disney and Target to create National Princess Week is an extension of my work—a moment in time for children to celebrate their individuality and let their inner sparkle shine."

Because buying zillions of identical licensed products is always a good way to show your individuality?  Because narcissism is the highest form of self-expression? Maybe something went whack with Ms. Andrews' integrity after her most recent face lift (was that a low blow? Seriously--look at her! She can't close her mouth!) but does she really expect us to (literally) buy it when she's responds to  an interview question on "why playing princess is really okay" by saying:

My personal take on it is that they may be trying on for size what it feels like to be, say, a real lady [emphasis mine]. [It] perhaps, in some way, helps them find their own identity later in life. I do think fantasy and play of this kind — whatever it is, if you want to play at being a nurse, or if you want to play at being a florist — it's all important and should be allowed, because it would be an awfully sad place if we didn't try on those airs and have fun doing it.

It's an even sadder place when Julie Andrews has become  little more than a cog in the Disney Princess marketing machine, her Poppins-esque authority used to convince us that bombarding girls with billions of dollars worth of crap that bulldozes all other forms of play is the same thing as choosing to put on your mom's cast-off tiara and an old bedspread and flounce around the house on a rainy afternoon. In fact, that's kind of like cloaking a sales-gimmick as a  "holiday" in order to shove it down our throats.

I hate to say it, Mary, but sugar is not what's on that spoonful.

 

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.

Foot Binding 2012: Of Princess Shoes, Parents, & Outdoor Play

I can't get this new study on preschoolers and outdoor play out of my mind. Initially brought to my attention by KJ Dell'Antonia at Motherlode, it found that roughly half of parents of preschoolers did not take their children outside to play regularly--suggesting that those children are not getting the level of physical activity they need (see KJ's post for important caveats). But here's the kicker: parents were 16% more likely to take preschool boys outside than preschool girls. Why? Researchers theorized it was ingrained (and probably unconscious) stereotypes about how much exercise girls need. This sets the stage for sedentariness in adolescence and beyond. Which, I'm guessing,  plays into distorted body image and unhealthy dieting. Great for the 60.9 billion dollar diet industry (with its 95% failure rate); not so great for girls. So you know I'm going to loop this back to the Princess Industrial Complex, right? Girls don't  seem to "need"--or even want-- to play outside when they're flouncing around in their princess dresses. What's more, you can't run, jump and get dirty  when you're wearing your  miniature high heels (or even your sparkly flats) or worried about chipping your nail polish.

Think that’s a stretch?  Melissa Wardy over at Pigtail Pals recently wrote about an exchange that she overheard between her daughter Amelia, and a friend:

“Your shoes are ugly,” said Amelia's kindergarten classmate.

“No they are not,” replied the 6yo Original Pigtail Pal, Amelia.

“They are. Look how pretty mine are,” the classmate taps her toes for emphasis.

“They are the same pair of shoes. Like the exact same,” explains Amelia.

“They aren’t the same. Mine still have all of the pretty sparkles. I didn’t get them messed up,” boasted the girl.

“Listen, who cares about pretty? All I care about is playing,” retorts Amelia.

"...Amelia, you should care a little bit about being pretty or you won’t get a boyfriend,” says the classmate.

On her girls' studies blog Rebecca Hains broadened the lens of that exchange  with pictures from her local Stride Rite store. You remember Stride Rite, don’t you? They used to sell cute, sturdy footwear for little ones? Like these saddle shoes (which I had and loved ever so much) from an ad in the 1970s?

No more. Rebecca reports that girls are now instructed to “Sparkle with Every Step”..... like Cinderella, whose glass-slipper shod likeness graces the display.

 

 

As for boys? They get …Spiderman!

Rebecca went to Stride Rite's web site and found more of the same: "Girls are meant to be looked at, so their play shoes are a route to prettiness, while boys are meant to be active, so their play shoes are made for play." Her excerpts from Stride Rite's gallery below:

Cinderella sneakers “transport your little princess to a world of fantasy”

Hello Kitty Keds are “the cutest sneakers on the block”

Glitzy Pets sneakers help girls “to really shine and steal the show”

Spiderman sneakers offer “light-up powers,” “no matter what kind of web he spins”

Star Wars sneakers with “lighted technology” are good for “your little adventurer’s feet”

Lightning McQueen sneakers, also with “lighted technology,” let boys “be as fast as the legendary Cars Lightning McQueen on-and-off the track”

Rebecca connects this to Colette Dowling’s Frailty Myth which holds:

Boys learn “to use their bodies in skilled ways, and this gives them a good sense of their physical capacities and limits.... Girls hold themselves back from full, complete movement, Although it’s usually something girls are unaware of, they actually learn to hamper their movements, developing a ‘body timidity that increases with age.’”

So. we may not be stunting our girls' piggies' by wrapping them in cloth bandages, but we seem to be binding their feet--or binding them through their feet--all the same.

My personal blow against the Princess footwear industry (which, mark my words is priming girls for a lifetime of painful, sky-high—in both price and scale-- heels that will leave them be-bunioned and miserable) was to allow Daisy to pick out a pair of classic Van’s slip-ons. Her choice of flame skater shoes became her “trademark” from preschool through first grade, one that her classmates, male and female, admired and even copied. Remember my fight-fun-with-fun philosophy? There it is in practice. D got to wear fabulous shoes that were comfortable, cool, and broadened her notion of femininity. She also got a tacit lesson in the benefits of individuality over following the crowd. Beat that Cinderella.

As a culture (based on box office receipts) we are currently obsessed with one of the most radical and self-determining female  characters ever to appear on screen: The Hunger Games' Katinss Everdeen.  Check out her shoes.

“Exceptional” girls and women  like Katniss  crop up periodically in the culture, female warriors who transcend stereotypes and gender norms.  Ripley of the Alien franchise is one. The girls in  Mirror, Mirror, as well as the upcoming  Snow White and the Huntsman  and Pixar's Brave appear to be as well.  And, of course, there was Buffy, who took a glorious stand against the "chosen" girl in the series' last episode with this speech:

From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?

I recalled  those lines as I read the end of Pigtail Pal's sparkle-shoes post:

Amelia tells her friend: “You should care less about being pretty and more about playing with us. My mom says there’s lots of different ways to be a girl,”

“I don’t want to mess up my shoes,” says the classmate, which is met by an audible sigh from Amelia, who sprints off to play in her busted up not-so-sparkly-anymore shoes.
I'd like to see a world in which girls like Amelia--girls who play hard and often, who live fully--are not  the exception.

 

Fat is a Preschool Issue

Yesterday I posted a link on my facebook page  to an article on CNN.com called “Fat is the New Ugly on the Playground,”  which featured a few nice quotes by yours truly. In response to the post were comments including the following:

Excuse me in my experience fat has always equalled ugly on the playground, ain't nuthin new here, take it from a former fat kid.

'Fat' has always been ugly on the playground, or any where else for that matter!

I'm not sure why this is all of a sudden breaking news.

Absolutely true. Fat kids—boys as well as girls—have long been tormented, demonized and excluded by their schoolmates. In CAMD I talk about the history of American attitudes towards fat—the reasons it came to be seen as a moral issue, a character flaw;  how it became particularly taboo for women whose avoirdupois was once considered sexy. Check out an exotic dancer in the 1800s:

 

I struggle openly in CAMD  and elsewhere  over how to imbue a daughter with a healthy body image. In fact, I've been writing about women and weight since the late 1980s, so it's not like any of this is a surprise.

What’s new, however, is the ever-earlier age at which children—girls particularly-- become conscious of weight. In  Schoolgirls I cited  a study revealing  that 50% of  9-year-old girls were dieting (check this  Wall Street Journal article  by a reporter who, to see for himself, interviewed  a group of girls  when that study came out; he talked to them again recently as adults).  But now, it appears, by age three girls equate thinness with beauty, sweetness, niceness and popularity; they associate "fat" meanwhile with laziness,  stupidity and friendlessness.

Yes, I said three. In a 2010 study researchers engaged 3-5 year old girls in games of Candyland and Chutes & Ladders asking them to choose among three game pieces--a thin one, an average-sized one and a fat one--to represent themselves. While in the past children that age showed little ability to distinguish between average and thin weights, today's wee ones  grabbed thin pieces at higher rates not only than fat ones but than those of "normal" weight. When asked by researchers to swap a thin figure for a fat one, the girls not only recoiled but some refused to even touch  the  chubbier game piece making comments such as, “I hate her, she has a fat stomach," or "She is fat. I don't want to be that one."

Again: preschoolers.

As  I’ve written before on this blog, toy manufacturers have lately classic toys on a diet, claiming (apparently rightly) that “Girls won’t play with childlike dolls any more.” So take a look:

 

 

 

Our friends at  Pigtail Pals, in a recent blog about this baby-fear-of-fat phenomenon posted a photo of how Barbie--whose figure has reflected the idealized female physique for decades--has also whittled her waist and hiked her heinie. Meanwhile, the doll's demographic has dropped: she's now marketed at 3-6 year olds (her original audience was 8-12).

 

There's no more grace period. From the get-go girls are bombarded with images of women whose bodies range from unattainable to implausible (Disney Princesses, anyone?). Even  G-rated films and educational TV present thinness not as healthier (which it may or not be, depending on how you get there)  but morally superior.

Given the mental health vulnerabilities an ever-narrowing standard of beauty creates in our girls--not to mention the negative impact fat-shaming has on overweight kids--are we really okay with letting this slide?

 

 

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.

C*O*N*T*E*S*T* W*I*N*N*E*R*S!!

Last week my publisher ran a contest on my facebook author page  in which readers posted examples of the "princess industrial complex" run amok.

I could not POSSIBLY choose only three from the bounty posted. So I wheedled an extra couple of books out of my publisher. I wish I could put a winner's wreath (NOT a crown!) on everyone because each entry illustrated the reach and impact of princess/diva culture on younger and younger girls. You can see all entries by scrolling down the facebook page and hitting "older posts."
Meanwhile, would the winners  please email your addresses to my publisher at: Erica.Barmash AT harpercollins.com to claim your prizes!Now, drum roll:GRAND PRIZE (signed copy of CAMD; a copy of Girls Like Us  and a Harpercollins book tote): For Illustrating How Bombardment By Princess Products has Undermined Little Girls' Imaginations and Flattened their Individuality: 

Beth Tischler Becker. When the children in her daughter’s class "disguised" a flock of paper turkeys for Thanksgiving, the boys came up with a range of ideas—turkeys dressed as baseball players, Spiderman, grass(!). Every. Single. Girl (with the exception of Beth's own) decorated her bird as a princess. 4 out of 6 chose Disney Princesses. Limited, much? Beth also posted the Charlotte La Bouff doll— she's the white girl from "Princess and the Frog," who has, unlike secondary characters in any other Princess movie, apparently been elevated to princess status; the pending Eden Wood fashion line (so your daughter, too, can dress like the "Toddlers & Tiaras" star!!); and the Disney Princess "pop art toaster," which imprints crowns etc. onto your daughter’s bread). Beth, seems like you could've written "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" yourself!

RUNNER UP (signed copy of CAMD): Start 'em Early:  Katie Miller for submitting Fisher Price's "Brilliant Basics" girls' and boys' teething ring/rattles which highlight both gender hyper-segmenting and the downward creep of Kardashianization: The set for your "darling baby girl" features a purse, diamond ring and charm bracelet; your  boy gets a saw, hammer and wrenches.
RUNNER UP (signed copy of CAMD): Princesses Need to be White and Blonde Melissa Pantel-Ku for the Melissa & Doug hand mirror surrounded by (straight) blonde hair topped by a tiara. Note, that Melissa & Doug, with its old-fashioned, wooden toy ethos purports to be the more wholesome alternative to Disney and Mattel. RUNNER UP (signed copy of CAMD): Girls Will Only Like Math if They Think it's Pretty: Terri Wiley for the Princess Math app. (For more on this issue see my post "Science Sans Sexism")
RUNNER UP (signed copy of CAMD): Product that Only the Parents of an ACTUAL Princess Could Afford:  Hyphen Dorothy HP for the $47,000 pink princess Fantasy Coach bed.
RUNNER UP (signed copy of CAMD): For Making My Jaw Hit the Floor Sarah Lozoff for her photo of a female firefighter at Legoland (built out of LEGOS) who is putting on lipstick rather than battling blazes (the male police officer next to her is speaking into a walkie talkie).

Say "Nay!" to "My Little Pony" Talking Princess Celestia Doll!

Rebecca Hains,  best be known these days as the woman who got busted by the TSA for trying to take a red velvet cupcake through airport security, is, in her real life a media studies professor at Salem State University and author of Growing Up With Girl Power; Girlhood on Screen and in Every Day Life. She is also mother to a little boy who loves “My Little Pony,” a show, Rebecca says on her blog, that, like the beloved Powerpuff Girls, appeals equally to both sexes, defying the notion that boys/men won’t watch stories about girls/women. I have to admit I’m not a “My Little Pony” aficianado—my daughter was never  into them and I recalled the old show as being inane, and largely about  selling toys (the fact that the ponies were revived for the Hub, a TV station owned by Hasbro, and are skinnier and "prettier" in their new incarnation only reinforced those impressions). Creator Lauren Faust writes  on the Ms. Magazine blog that she was not initially a fan, either:

[Shows based on girls’ toys] did not reflect the way I played...I assigned my ponies and my Strawberry Shortcake dolls distinctive personalities and sent them on epic adventures to save the world. On TV, though, I couldn’t tell one girl character from another and they just had endless tea parties, giggled over nothing and defeated villains by either sharing with them or crying–which miraculously inspired the villain to turn nice.

With her new MLP, Faust claims she wanted to challenge "the perception that ‘girly’ equals lame or  “for girls” equals crappy," to show:

there are lots of different ways to be a girl. You can be sweet and shy, or bold and physical. You can be silly and friendly, or reserved and studious. You can be strong and hard working, or artistic and beautiful. This show is wonderfully free of “token girl” syndrome, so there is no pressure to shove all the ideals of what we want our daughters to be into one package. There is a diversity of personalities, ambitions, talents, strengths and even flaws in our characters–it’s not an army of cookie-cutter nice-girls or cookie-cutter beauty queens like you see in most shows for girls.

 

Whether you agree or not, I wonder  how Faust feels how her attempt  was distorted on the way to the toy shelves, turned into the very thing she once despised. Consider Talking Princess Celestia, whom you'll notice in the link is advertised as a toy that will "encourage your child's imagination." On the show Celestia is a white horse who rules the ponies wisely and well. But--uh-oh!--in the toy store she's turned pink! And what does pink usually mean? Well, Rebecca pressed Celestia's “cutie” button (gag gag) to find out: Let's recap: FIVE of Celesita’s  twelve comments are about appearance (“I love when you comb my hair!” “Oh, my hair looks beautiful.” “My wings are so pretty!” “My barrettes look so pretty!” “You’re beautiful”); two are about princesses; two are about friendship; two relate to activity (“Let’s fly to the castle!” “I will light the way!”) and one is the word “Spectacular!”

As Rebecca points out, that means when a child plays with this Princess Celestia toy, he or she will be bombarded with self-absorbed, pretty princess vanity, the kind, she says, the show is, happily, free of.

Why’d Hasbro do it? The same reason Nick makes the bizarrely-named Magic Hair Fairytale Princess Dora doll: they think they'll make a buck. only we parents can prove them wrong.

Incidentally, Celestia was originally supposed to be a QUEEN, not a princess, but according to Faust:

I was told [by Hasbro] that because of Disney movies, girls assume that Queens are evil (although I only remember 1 evil queen) and Princesses are good. I was also told that the perceived youth of a Princess is preferable to consumers.

She does not have parents that outrank her. I brought the weirdness of that situation to my bosses, but it did not seem to be a continuity concern to them, so I’m letting it alone. I always wanted her to be the highest authority, and so she remains so. And I certainly don’t want marriage to be what would escalate her. (Bad messages to girls and what not.)

[...]  I put up a bit of a fight when her title changed, but you win some, you loose some.

Indeed.

Rebecca suggests a few substitutions for the doll’s script. How about:

I’m a princess! I rule my country with wisdom. I love teaching my students. Do you love school? You’re so smart! You remind me of Twilight Sparkle, my best student. You’re beautiful outside and in Together, we can do anything!

A propos of that last phrase:  if you're interested in letting Hasbro know we want our girls to think, play and be something beyond pretty, pink princess, here’s Rebecca’s petition at change.org.

Disney Agrees: Princesses are Unhealthy for Girls!

Did Disney blink in releasing its new "age-appropriate" Sofia the First princess character and TV show?  If  Sofia is deemed "just right" for preschoolers, after all, wouldn’t that mean the now re-labeled "adult" princesses…aren’t? Yet for the past ten years, the Princess concept has been sold (and sold and sold) to the exact same demographic with the Disney assurance that they are “developmentally appropriate,”  "safe," and imparting good values. No more. Sofia, they assure us, won't be about romantic fantasy. She won't need a prince to make her happy, a message that, according to one report Disney recognizes as a "legitimate worry" for parents and a "bad message for little girls." Yet when I spoke with Disney execs while reporting Cinderella Ate My Daughter, they poo-pooed my concern, insisting that the romantic story lines and passive heroines of "Cinderella," "Snow White," "Little Mermaid" etc.--which, again, they were shilling to the very same preschool girls they now say need rescuing from that message--were harmless fun. Can they have it both ways? At the time, execs also told me that Princess was  not I repeat not only about the dresses, makeup, bling and Kardashian-sized materialism. Or the $4 billion annually Princess pulls in for the company. No.  Disney Princesses were  about kindness and compassion and values.

Hey, guess what they’re saying about Sofia? She will, according to a Disney Jr. exec, have “plenty of pretty dresses and sparkly shoes,” but her REALY purpose is to teach  viewers that “what makes a real princess is what’s inside, not what’s outside.” Unlike, say, what the other princesses have been teaching viewers for all these years?

So I wonder, does that mean Disney won't be selling any of Sofia dresses, crowns, ways or other merch, so they can reinforce the idea that she's all about the inside?

Not hardly.Disney is nothing if not cynical. And greedy.

Obviously Sofia is all about the dresses and the shoes. If not, they could have made her an astronaut or, I know….an explorer!!! Oh, wait, we have that already.I wonder whether Dora would have been possible in today’s princess-obsessed culture. Especially given that Dora herself has both gone princess and undergone a makeover.

 

 

Maybe if Disney (or Nick, or Sesame Street Workshop or, gosh, anyone)  had 10 other “age appropriate” female characters who were not princesses; maybe if they had a female character whose appeal did not depend on her prettiness (because make no mistake—Sofia is very pretty and weirdly coy and, not for nothing, totally white and that is part of the package); maybe if they didn’t continually reinforce to girls at ever-younger ages that how you look is who you are while claiming to do just the opposite (witness the Tangled Escape From the Tower Lip & Nail Set! and the Princess with a Loving Heart Make-Up Kit.); maybe if they didn't prime them for premature sexualization while claiming to protect them from it; maybe if they didn’t exploit little girls’ fantasies and turn imagination into something to be scripted and sold; maybe if they didn’t provide the first entrée for so many of the issues I write about on this blog (and in Cinderella Ate My Daughter); maybe then I would feel less disgusted by this latest move. Instead, it just feels like the latest predatory example of Disney reaching for the crib.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the company to come out with a Snow White coffin. They’re missing a major womb-to-tomb  branding opportunity.

o

Wait! Wait! One more thing--you want a great princess story? I'll give you one. Just in time for the holidays. The Princess and the Pig. It looks hysterical--and right on. And you can bet it won't be used to sell your 3-year-old lip gloss!

Disney Princesses: The Gateway Drug

I just received a press release (excerpted below) below from the Disney Store. Those  pseudo-empowering" Rapunzels and Belles are just  bait-and-switch for trusting parents. The big money--the REAL money (the $5 BILLION a year) is creating and selling to what here is called the "Princess Fashionista" and then keeping her business and loyalty as she reaches the high-spending tweens and beyond. Interesting  that girls here are no longer encouraged by Disney to live HAPPILY ever after but STYLISHLY ever after. Hence my theory that really, the thing to be concerned about these days is NOT the rescued-by-the-prince fantasy  so much as the way today's Princess culture  girls to a of femininity that is  sexualized, narcissistic, self-objectifying, vain, commercialized, self-objectifying....and need I say UNHEALTHY?

 

Fashionistas receive the royal treatment with an enchanted evening of pampering and accessorizing, Disney-style

PASADENA, Calif., September 7, 2011–Disney Store will celebrate New York City’s Fashion’s Night Out with an event fit for royalty, inspiring its guests to live ‘stylish ever after’. Disney Store Times Square will host an array of fashionably fun festivities on September 8, 2011 from 4 p.m.-11 p.m., highlighting the newest Disney-inspired lifestyle product lines. Guests will be treated to a magical evening including free mini-manicures with the new runway-inspired Disney Princess Designer Collection nail polish, featuring hues ranging from Snow White's luscious apple red to Belle's gleaming gold. Guests will be able to customize their very own bracelet at the Kidada for Disney Store charm bar, and be the first to get a sneak preview of the latest Disney Store fragrance inspired by Tinker Bell—Pixie Dust.

“We’ve created products that tell Disney stories with a fashion-forward spin with the goal to keep our guests excited and looking forward to what is coming up next,” said Robin Beuthin, vice president of creative for Disney Store North America.

Disney Store’s new Pixie Dust fragrance...captures Tinker Bell's personality perfectly – it charms with a subtle sweetness yet it also has a hint of sassiness that we love about the beloved Disney character.  Pixie Dust comes as a range of personal products including Eau de Toilette, Body Mist and Body Lotion, available in all Disney Store locations in fall 2011. Gift sets with body glitter, a roll on Eau de Toilette and lip gloss will also be available.

Here are some of the new products:

 

Yes, this is for your preschooler.

 

No that is not the new OPI line. It is, again, for your preschooler .

And, oh no, look what they've done to poor Mulan!!!

 

 

Sigh. Honestly, do you WANT your 3-year-old to be "fashion forward?" Do you want her even to know what that phrase means? And by the by, why does a preschooler need perfume, let alone one with a "sassy" edge?  Don't children  smell perfectly delicious as they are (assuming they are potty trained)?

Oh, and in other Mouse House news, Andy Mooney, creator of the Disney Princess line and head of consumer licensing for the past 12 years, resigned yesterday. Unclear where he will go but in an email to  his staff and colleagues he wrote, Together, we have radically changed the licensing business." Damn. You can say that again.

It's Really Not the Underwear

I'm still on vacation, but while I've been gone people have been sending me various outrageous items they've come across that, again and again, illustrate  of increasingly sexualized, commodified ideas about femininity being foisted on our daughters at an ever-younger age. To me, some of them are the equivalent of the toddler beauty pageants--they are so out there that they become perversely reassuring: whatever the rest of us  may be doing it's not THAT bad. Ultimately, I fear, they  discourage us from truly examining mainstream culture, desensitizing us to the less extreme but relentless creep  (and I mean that in every sense of the word) of sexualization and consumerism. So to me, while despicable the French company Jours Apres Lune's  totally pedo lingerie for 10-year-olds ( see below) that was all over ABC and Time, risks taking our eye off the true problem.

Similarly, the same outlets' alarm over  the 10-year-old  model, again in France, styled like Pretty Baby in that country's Vogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And on our home turf, while one hopes that the company Baby Bangs that is, essentially, selling WIGS FOR YOUR BALD BABY GIRL will never get off the ground, it is also the equivalent of focusing on a brush fire when the forest is burning.

Baby without wig

Okay, I can't resist posting the company's "philosophy":

At Baby Bangs! we believe in the beauty of childhood. Our unique designs are sprinkled with MAGIC! ~inspiring a world of whimsical wonder and mystical magical memorable moments for you and your baby girl to cherish Forever! For she is, and always will be, Your LiTTLe PRINCESS! [boldface and capitalization original]

I'm not saying these things aren't worth our attention. And I still TOTALLY appreciate people sending me emails and facebook updates on what they're seeing out there (more on the diet book for girls another time. Sigh). But the real problem is not any single item but that these products and images are  CONSTANT and have created a truly toxic culture for girls.

Meanwhile, girls are commodified in  every day, garden-variety, banal ways  that we barely even notice. By trusted companies like Disney and Mattel. And trusted retailers like...JC Penney. Take this t-shirt.

Yes, it  does indeed say, "Too Pretty to Do Homework, So My Brother has to Do it for Me." And it really is intended for 7-16 year old girls. And the description really does read:

Who has time for homework when there's a new Justin Bieber album out? She'll love this tee that's just as cute and sassy as she is.

Must I comment on this?  First I will have to reattach my jaw which hit the floor and then broke through to the next level down. The fact that a TEAM of people had to have okayed this, that they thought it was appropriate, attractive and that parents and girls (who should be INSULTED by it) would dig it is so horrifying  I'd say the message was a throw-back to the 50s, but it's not. The propaganda for girls and women back then was about taking pride in housework and child-rearing which, yeah, was a touch limiting. This, however, is arguably worse:  taking pride in being a narcissistic, willfully ignorant, spoiled, superficial, self-objectifying, helpless (save for the ability to manipulate) PRINCESS. So not funny.

You want to protest? Here you go, folks. Click to send an email. Or call 1-800-322-1189. Or post on their facebook page. Or tweet @jcpenney.

(thanks to Johanna Cohen for alerting me to this one).

 

POST SCRIPT: Apparently J.C. Penney got the message and according to today's Daily Beast is pulling the T-shirt. Good going parents!

Jennifer Lawrence--The Anti-Bella?

The first "Hunger Games" movie is set to hit theaters in March. The next one was just announced as well, set for November 2013. Both will star Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. She's a little old for the part, true, but I A*D*O*R*E*D* her in Winter's Bone which was one of the best movies I've seen in years (MUST SEE MUST SEE MUST SEE). So I am crossing my fingers that she will be the anti-Bella......  

A Break in My Break

Quick break to post a photo of this week's most egregious Princess product. Trying to imagine the parents who would drop $2k on this one....  

Yes, it's a Princess Bathtub. An ugly one. From the folks at American Standard. Boys can get a fire truck!

Well, the economy should make THIS go away, no?

Thanks to the inimitable Marjorie Ingall who alerted me to this via a post on the blog daddytypes.

Marjorie also pointed me to this great essay in the UK Guardian about how Hermione Granger's bookish, brainy persona was made less threatening and girlie-d up over the course of the Harry Potter movies. It starts out questioning the glaring "I can't" our girl uttered when faced with destroying a horcrux. I do recall sitting in the theater and thinking, "Whaaaaaat??????"As the essayist writes:

Did Hermione Granger really say "I can't" during the climactic battle in the final chapter of the Harry Potter film saga? Presented with her chance to destroy one of the horcruxes she had put her life on the line to hunt, she backs away and needs her almost-boyfriend Ron to insist that of course she can. Sorry, filmmakers, that quavering girly-girl is not Hermione.

She continues:

There's almost a direct correlation with actress Emma Watson's growing prettiness through the course of the films and Hermione's decreased bookishness and pragmatism. Screenwriter Steve Kloves may have liked Hermione best when he was first given the job of adapting the books but as she became an adolescent, something shifted. It's one thing for a girl to be the brains of an operation when everyone is prepubescent. But an adult woman who is brainy and takes charge is "domineering". A very scary witch indeed. Presumably Kloves didn't want any young male filmgoers sneering (or crossing their legs nervously) when Hermione was on screen.

And:

It's also discouraging. Hermione is a great role model who doesn't care if her bookishness or activism (absent in the films) are laughed at. She knows the power of books.

Hermione steadily became blonder and sexier in Deathly Hallows, wearing jeans so tight you'd think her legs would break if she tried to run. When it comes to film, something about a smart, fearless woman who doesn't care about her looks makes Hollywood leery; even if, in this instance, she commands a loyal and loving built-in audience before the film begins.

Why is it so difficult for proudly brainy, bookish, outspoken girls of any age to see themselves on screen, especially in major studio films? Where are the girls who don't make an effort to fit the "feminine" stereotype and are still admired and even loved anyway?

And where will girls learn and be validated in their belief that they don't have to compromise fundamental aspects of their personalities to prosper? That there is never any reason to say "I can't"? Books, for a start.

 

Thoughts?

 

Being Part of the Solution for Girls AND Boys

Let's take a break from chronicling the problems today and--hey. in honor of women's soccer (woot!)--be a little solution-oriented. I just spoke with the magnificent Diane Levin and she mentioned an organization she's founded: TRUCE, which stands for Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment.

Our mission is to raise public awareness about the harmful influence of unhealthy children's entertainment and to provide information about toys and activities that promote healthy play. We are working to eliminate marketing aimed at exploiting children and to reduce the sale of toys and entertainment that promotes violence.

This is not specifically about girls--it's about the unhealthy messages beamed at both sexes. On their web site they have a fabulous set of action guides teachers and parents can download on play, toys and media for infants, toddlers and young children. They're totally grass roots, so if you do it and like it PASS THE INFORMATION ALONG!

I'll put this on my resources list, too!

Happy Friday!

 

 

Polly Pockets Then and Now (and Monster High Again....)

I used to sort of enjoy Polly Pockets when Daisy was into them.  I think it was  their size. And they had some cool gear. And sometimes I'm a hypocrite, so sue me. Of course, Pollys, like most toys for girls,  had aged down: initially, for instance,  Barbie was aimed at a 9-12 demographic, but little girls, trying to be cool like their older sisters, start wanting them too and then they became anathema to the older girls. So now rather than starting with Barbies at 9, girls are done with them by 6. I write a lot about age compression in Cinderella Ate My Daughter and also how it's affected the nature of the Barbie fantasy. Anyway, the thing with the Pollys is that they are now marketed (according to Amazon) to girls ages 2-5. And those little rubber clothes and shoes are really impossible for girls that age to manipulate on their own. Resulting, in our house at least, in a lot of tears of frustration and many "dead Pollys" (dolls whose limbs had all been permanently broken off when clothing was forced on). Though we did get the occasional really cool art project out of it (using aforementioned limbs). So they had to be disappeared. They were too fuss-provoking, even beyond any premature sexualization or fetishized consumerism  they communicated.

While playing Polly with Daisy I remembered that I used to play it with my nieces, who are 10+ years older than she. And I was sure that we hadn't had these problems. So I did a little googling and it turns out Pollys started out COMPLETELY different than they are today and are yet another example of the way girls' toys have changed and narrowed in scope. Polly came on the market in 1989, created  by a dad who wanted to make a toy for his daughter that would  fit into her pocket. So he used a powder compact to create a teensy home for a teensy doll named Polly. The result was distributed through a company called Bluebird Toys and looked like this:

 

 

I'm not saying original Pollys were  stereotype-free or entirely anti-consumerist, but they were more along the lines of Fisher-Price "Little People." They look like children. And they were self-contained (though you could collect them). There was a cute cafe version and a classroom version and...well, they were all-in-all, even if just COMPARATIVELY, sweet.

Ten years later Mattel bought Bluebird and permanently replaced original Polly with "Fashion Polly," a taller, skinnier, curvy doll who looked more like this:

These Pollys were all about having the most accessories and clothing (which you could buy and buy and buy and buy). Not to mention the wildest parties. They had  more than one limo

There was  something called a "race to the mall" play set ("Polly and her friend can race through the big city and win the flag at the finish line, or dine, shop and stop for the view at the high observation deck") in addition to her REGULAR three story mall play set.

 

There's also the World Rockin' Magic Fashion Stage and, of course,  the Ultimate Party Boat Play Set (let's hope those Pollys stick to apple juice on the high seas). My favorite, though is the Ultimate Polly What Happens in Vegas set. Okay, just kidding. It doesn't exist, but you believed me for a second, didn't you?

I can't totally hate on Polly--I liked surfer Polly circa 2006. I dig some of her cars. The snow boards are fun. But more and more she has become just a tiny, hard to dress Barbie who is all girl power as the power to shop.

Speaking of age compression, I recently saw this interesting post on yahoo answers regarding Monster High. The dolls, you may recall, are supposed to be for older girls (those who had outgrown Barbie and Bratz) but they're drifting downwards rapidly.

"Okay so i'm going to middle school in the fall and will have a locker i want to print put som MH stickers (the cleo de nile and ghoulia yelps ones but i dont want to be the loser who likes MH!! HELP?"
Best Answer Chosen by Asker:
"my 5 year old girl loves monster high, but my 12 year old girl thinks that it is lame. you might be getting a bit too old to have 'characters' on your locker."
Asker's Comment:
"Thanks i will not be putting those on my locker i guess i will put a poster of johney depp on the inside
Thank you for saving me from the biggest mistake of my life!!!"
Voila! Monster High is now for 5-year-olds. Victoria Secret references and all.

Meanwhile, I continue to get feedback on the post I wrote ages ago on the dolls. Now the comments seemingly from girls themselves who understandably have a hard time seeing the bigger picture. I answered one this way:

"It would be ridiculous to claim that Disney Princesses or Hannah Montana or Bratz dolls or Monster High or  Twilight or whatever is inherently harmful. But each one is part of the round-the-clock, all-pervasive media machine aimed at girls from womb to tomb; one that, again and again, presents femininity as performance, sexuality as performance, identity as performance, and each of those traits as available for a price."

As readers scroll through this blog or read CAMD, I hope that's the point they get. Because once you see those connections, you can start working to combat them