Crotchless Panties and GAP short-shorts

By now you've all heard about  the Colorado mall store "Kids and Teens" that was selling crotchless thong panties for 7-year-olds (in addition to everything else, how does a crotchless thong panty WORK, exactly, I mean engineering-wise? I don't get it). It's unfathomable that someone came up with that product. It's unfathomable that some buyer in Colorado thought it was, what, cute? A good idea to put in a store? And the store's abhorrent defense was that it somehow got in there because they also sell items to teens. As if it would be somehow understandable if they were marketing crotchless thong panties (heretofore known as CTP)  to your 13-year-old. Or your 15-year-old. Or your 16-year-old. And why should "kids" be shopping in the same store as "teens" to begin with? Is that appropriate? Obviously, this particular incidence of age compression was so far over the line that parents flipped out, the media got on board, and the product was pulled. So the story ended similarly to the Abercrombie push-up bikini episode or the J.C. Penney's "I'm to pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me" t-shirt debacle or the KIA kiddie-porn ad.

But you can bet there will be more of these scandals. They pop up nearly weekly, whether it's lingerie for 10-year-olds, the hyper-sexualized rendering of Dakota Fanning in a perfume ad, Botox for baby beauty queens or Walmart's makeup line for 8-12 year olds (don't worry, Mom, it's non-toxic!). When they do pop up, much hand-wringing and righteousindignation ensues and I'm all for that. But I'd urge you to remember these do not and can not happen in a vacuum. There is a continuum of  products and images marketed to girls and their parents that made these obviously over-the-line items POSSIBLE. The risk of focusing on the Big Bad is that we become desensitized to the every day.

Consider, for example, this outfit from the current GAP "North Star" girls' collection.

Under the amusing headline, "Gap Kids Recommends Little Girls Eschew Pants This Winter" a Jezebel blogger writes:

I'm not sure what's more WTF about it — the weird insistence on "sexiness" or its stunning lack of practicality. What's a kid supposed to do with an outfit like this? Not go sledding, snow angeling, or ice skating, that's for damn sure. The implied sweater-wearing also means that more high energy indoor activities, like discoing or, uh, present opening would render the wearer sweaty. This is just a recipe for un-fun times.

I suppose this is what happens when five-year-olds are allowed to dress themselves using only Bratz clothing.

Does this  fall into the CTP category? No. But it does fall into the nearly 25% of clothing for girls aged 6-12 that contains elements that are both childlike and sexualized. As I've written before, citing a study released last summer, only 4% of girls' clothing is fully, overtly sexualized (the CTP being a case in point). I don't know who, beyond Mickie Wood, is buying that stuff. And nearly 2/3 of girls' clothing is considered entirely childlike. It's this 25% (more in stores like Abercrombie Kids and Justice) that mixes the message that I consider most toxic. Those are the things, to my mind, we REALLY need to examine and protest--and the mash-up is what makes that so hard to do.

Must go. Dog is chewing my desk. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

Why Princesses Won't Be Presidents

Somehow I missed last spring's report from the commission on undergraduate women's leadership at Princeton. It seems one of the more important and damning pieces of research on gender to come out in a while. Was there a huge fuss and I was so busy with post-book publication that I missed it? Or maybe it came out during the two weeks I was out of the country. Anyway, here's the deal: over the last ten years, for the first time in the history of the university as a co-educational institution, there has been a significant decline in the number of  female students holding major campus leadership positions--something that, as the report's authors note, is not unique to Princeton. Plenty of elite colleges have taken their turn in the spotlight for their hostile environments towards women. (Yale, for instance, and MIT, which has undertaken a series of reports on the status of female faculty avaliable here.)

So, kudos to Princeton, first off, for having the courage to name and try to address the trend.  I suspect  the fact that the university has a female president made a difference in this respect. And that  is as good an argument as any for  diversity (of all sorts) among our leaders. Yet, apparently that urgency is not felt by the next generation. What gives?

One finding was  that female students (speaking generally, of course)  appear to value "high-impact" over "high-profile" roles. That may sound  superior --women rise above mere show-boating--but not when it forecloses opportunity. Women, according the commission found, don't put themselves out there. They also undersell their talents compared to men and are prone to making self-deprecating or dismissive remarks about their achievements. What's more,  they do much of the heavy lifting for the organizations to which they belong even as they eschew the credit.

Plus ca change, yes?

The commission also found  a renewed and growing confidence gap between women and men on campus (remember that one?). It was somewhat present among incoming freshman, then  widened as they moved forward  (I'm sure  parents paying $200K plus for their daughters' education were thrilled to hear THAT one).

But this wasn't just  a matter of psychology and self-sabotage. According to one news report the commission was disturbed to discover that, "both alumnae and current students told us that they had been actively discouraged from running for the most prominent roles, We heard that often enough to be sobered by it."

Sexism isn't pretty, is it? And speaking of pretty, here was another reason cited for women's reluctance to lead:

Undergraduate women at Princeton today sometimes feel that they are expected to measure up to an impossible standard. They are supposed to be smart, involved in many different activities (as are men) and ALSO "pretty sexy, thin, nice, and friendly,"

Or, as an alumna put it in a great Daily Beast article, "there is too much pressure to do everything, do it well & look hot while doing it."

Sounds more like Princess than Princeton doesn't it?

Again, I don't think this issue is unique to Princeton. Nor do I think  it's a coincidence that this decline began in 2000. That year marked the start of a profound shift  in the culture of girls, when a silent "as long as you look hot doing it" was grafted on to the mantra "you can do anything." That message has become more pervasive and skewed younger since then  (hey, someone should write a book about that--oh wait! I did!).

Ready for the double bind (or is it triple? Quadruple? I lose track). It appears that while  Princeton women don't feel they can  be taken seriously UNLESS they're hot, they  also  can't be taken seriously if they're too hot.  This fall, a freshman running for class president posted a campaign video on YouTube. Here's a description by one of his classmates in the school newspaper:

[He] is sitting in a leather armchair wearing a bathrobe and holding a drink. He addresses the camera and announces his candidacy. Then, a girl wearing only boxers and a men’s button down shirt enters — the boy shoots her a glance in annoyance. The girl seats herself on his armchair, flips her long, blonde hair and whines, “Come back,” to which he shakes her off, saying, “I’ll be back in a second.” She exits, and then he looks back at the camera, shakes his head and rolls his eyes as if to say, “That silly bitch.”

Incidentally, t only 1 of the  9 candidates for freshman class president was female; all the candidates for secretary were.

Consider this: two of the last three Supreme Court Justices appointed were Princeton women (the third was a Princeton man). Could the school produce an Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotormayor today?

On a related note I saw Miss Representation last night. Have you seen it? You must. Here's the extended trailer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5pM1fW6hNs

The Princeton report offered a few recommendations, including the importance of outreach and mentorship. You can read the summary  here. 

Disney Princess......Cancer?

According to a new report on bisphenol (BPA) in kids' canned food released today by the Breast Cancer Fund, Campbell's Disney Princess and Toy Story soups test highest for that toxin, which is typically used to harden plastic or make the linings of metal food cans. BPA has been linked to breast cancer, infertility and early puberty in girls, as well as prostate cancer in males and type-2 diabetes, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in both sexes.

Isn't that magic?

According to the report BPA exposure is of special concern in children "because this endocrine-disrupting chemical can affect children's hormonal systems during development and set the stage for later‐life diseases."

Campbell's wasn't the only offender, nor was Disney. Even organic brands contain BPA, though in far less parts per billion (ppb): Earth's Best Organic Elmo Noodlemania Soup had 38 ppb (the Princess pasta had 114) and Annie's Homegrown Cheesy Ravioli weighed in at 31 ppb. Campbell's Spaghettios (with meatballs!) fared better than both at 13 ppb. According to William Goodson, Senior Clinical Research Scientists at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, who just last week published a study showing that BPA causes non-cancerous cells to grow and survive like cancer cells, "We're all part of a big experiment to see what BPA will do to our kids and us."

Not me, baby.

As a mom--and, hell, as a human being--I'm more disgusted than ever that these products, which claim overtly or subtly to be healthy for our kids, not only are loaded with sugar, salt and, often, fat, but now with carcinogens. And since the exposure is cumulative, eating a can or two of kid chow won't hurt you, but a lifetime of canned goods may be another story. If Disney and Pixar and Sesame Workshop care about kids the way they SAY they do, they should immediately insist on safer packaging or pull their licenses.

You may recall BPA as the stuff that was in baby bottles and water bottles. Public outrage--especially from parents of infants--encouraged manufacturers to voluntarily change that (although it's not always clear what they're using instead). 10 states have restricted BPA in baby food containers, though not in canned food. Meanwhile, the Canadian government declared BPA toxic in 2010, though it had already banned the substance in baby bottles two years earlier.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. has authored a bill that, if it passes, would ban BPA from all food and beverage containers. Meanwhile, better safe than sorry. Get your food fresh. Get it in boxes. Get it frozen. Get Tetra Paks. And when you can: can the can....

Here are Breast Cancer Fund People discussing the findings.

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

And here, in case you're interested, is a refutation.

 

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!

Pretty Woman or Pretty Tricky?

I'm going to take August off of blogging and (if I can control myself) all electronic media. But before I go I wanted to direct you to someone else's blog--that of the excellent organization About Face, which "...equips women and girls with tools to understand and resist harmful media messages that affect their self-esteem and body image. We do this through our three programs: Education Into Action media-literacy workshops; Take Action, which enables girls and women to develop and execute their own actions; and About-Face.org, our web site." What's not to love?

In her latest blog post, inspired by the banning in Britain of two adds by L'Oreal for an anti-aging foundation which depicted heavily airbrushed portraits of Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington, Jennifer Berger, the Exec Director of About-Face, discusses how "we — everyday women and girls — can help ourselves out of this body-hatred spiral without totally disconnecting from culture altogether."

Among her suggestions:

"Pass the  Healthy Media for Youth Act (H.R. 2513). H.R. 2513 would authorize grants to promote media literacy and youth empowerment programs, to authorize research on the role and impact of depictions of girls and women in the media, to provide for the establishment of a National Task Force on Girls and Women in the Media. Shall we all get behind this legislation? Yes, let’s do it!"

"Educate ourselves with some solid media-literacy skills instead of just 'turning off the TV' and closing the magazines, and never using the Web. The media coverage of this issue makes women sound like naive victims who can’t think for themselves. So, we need to work hard to make these images less powerful in our own psyches by understanding the insidious nature of photo-retouching and how it affects the way we look at our own, sometimes-bumpy, skin. And we need to reject what we see."

"Person-by-person resistance: Celebrities! Help your sisters out! We need actresses’, celebrities’, and models’ help as our allies. They need to understand that a) we’re not against them and b) more women than they know would see their movies/buy their stuff even more if they seemed to be on our side. Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron, Portia de Rossi, and Cindy Crawford have done a great job of criticizing insane photo retouching, and we need more celebrities to demand minimal retouching instead of full Photoshop makeovers so as not to mislead young women." [Note: as a post-40 woman, I'd like to give a big shout-out to Jamie Lee Curtis on this one, too!!!]

And finally:

"What really bugs the crap out of me — and what girl advocates should watch for — is the response from L’Oreal. Their PR machine is calling the Julia Roberts image an “aspirational picture”. This just speaks volumes about how ad agencies and advertisers talk about and think about images of women.

'Aspirational.' Meaning that we should keep aspiring (and aspiring, and aspiring, while buying more L’Oreal products) to skin that is literally as perfect-looking as a Photoshopped image. And we wonder why microdermabrasion and facelifts, and Botox injections are so popular. We are Photoshopping our own flesh.

In short: Watch the words used by the beauty industry carefully. They can make “fear of being ugly” sound like “hope of being beautiful!” pretty easily.

So let’s put our blame in the two places it belongs: corporate interests that need squashing, and our own, sub-par critical-thinking skills that we should improve.

Aspirational, incidentally, is what Disney says about Princesses....Never too early to tell girls they aren't good enough as they are, is it?

I don't know how I feel about an outright ban on airbrushed ads--haven't mulled it enough to comment. What about you guys? What would it look like if air-brushing was no longer allowed in advertisements? Or if, at the very least, there were warnings on cosmetic ads that "the results achieved aren't typical"--something akin to what's on weight loss products? We do have truth in advertising regulations, don't we?

Just so you know what we're talking about: here's Julia Roberts in real life and in the ad, for instance:

And Christy Turlington

 

Go Jennifer. Go About-Face. Go read more about them!

And now...have a great month. See you in September!

 

 

 

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

For the 4th: Who are Your Heroines From US History?

People always ask me what girls could pretend if they weren't playing princess. That lack of imagination saddens me. How about some historic American girls or women (preferably with cool costumes)? Of course, we don't learn much about them ourselves, so why don't you tell readers: who ELSE could our girls pretend to be besides a princess (preferably with a cool costume...)? How about Laura Ingalls?

Or Sacagawea?

Or Marian Anderson?

This is the age of the internet--it's easy to educate yourself and expand your daughter's imagination.

And what could be more American than fighting for independence from (Disney) royalty?

"The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world."

 

 

For July 4th: Instead of Cinderella, How About Dressing as Lady Liberty?

I love this article  about Princess culture and patriotism from the El Paso Times by Kate Feuille. It starts with the author mulling over her abandoned  application for the Daughters of the American Revolution after spying a t-shirt on a girl that said, ""Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists." Turns out the quote is from a speech Franklin Delano Roosevelt made before the DAR in 1938 (though the First Lady resigned her membership from the group a year later when it refused to allow  Marian Anderson, who is African American, to sing at Constitution Hall). Feuille goes on to write that she was struck not only by the t-shirt but by how odd it was to see it at all:

I've grown so used to seeing girls in head-to-toe glitter that seeing one bearing a political message startled me. I have been fuming over the princess-ization of our daughters ever since the arrival of 14 princess-themed birthday invitations in one week.

And then:

In America, we don't have princesses, I lecture, when my daughter asked to decorate her bedroom in Disney. Your ancestors came to this country to escape the oppression of divine right, primogeniture, and other accidents of birth.

At Ella's kindergarten graduation the kids were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. It befuddled me that the girl who replied "cat" got uproarious laughter while the "princess" response was met with abject approval.

When I'm calmer, I can take the time to tell Ella what we have in America in lieu of the princess. We have heroines like Sacajawea,

and Margaret Corbin, who defended Fort Washington alongside her husband and became the first woman to receive a military pension, and Francita Alavez, "The Angel of Goliad," whose actions saved many lives during the Texas Revolution. Not to mention the countless women, whose names are lost to all but their own kin, who quilted and cooked and doctored their families in harsh conditions across the country. Women whose skills ensured the survival of settlements that have grown into the shining cities we have today.

I understand that the princess story is appealing to the little girl in all of us. I got up early and watched Kate Middleton walk down the aisle and into the history books, too. ("She's wearing flats under that dress," I whispered to my daughter. "Real princesses don't wear slutty shoes.")

So it doesn't really matter what you put on the walls or if your daughter is carrying a "Sleeping Beauty" lunchbox to school. What matters is what we tell them about America, about women, about their history, and their future.

At our house we complement Grimm's Fairy Tales with "Little House on the Prairie" and Maud Hart Lovelace's "Betsy-Tacy" series, based on the author's childhood in the turn-of-the-century Midwest. I show my daughter fading photographs of her great-great-grandmothers and tell her stories about the one who stitched the fraying quilt on her bed.

I tell my daughter, this is America. We don't do princesses.

 

Enjoy your holiday.

 

Kia, Stop Right Now; Pixar, Looking "Brave."

Have you seen the new Kia Motors ad that promotes not only their cars' dual climate control but, whaddaya know, also promotes pedophilia and sexualization of girls? It won a prestigious Silver Press Lion award in Cannes. According to the Huffington Post:

The ad features a teacher lusting after his elementary school-aged student. On one side of the page, she appears as a young girl. On the other side, though, she becomes a scantily clad, buxom teen, seemingly as a product of the teacher's imagination.

It's clearly designed to shock, and is succeeding. The advertising blog Copyranter called it "one of the sleaziest car ads ever," and noted that it doesn't even visualize the benefits of dual climate control very well.

I say, arretez-vous, Kia in any language!

Here's the ad

Here's where you can tell Kia what you think--a petition by the wonder women and girls at SPARK, They're trying to gather 5,000 signatures so please pass the word.

Meanwhile, here's the Brave trailer that's playing with Cars 2. Thank goodness I didn't have to buy a ticket to that piece of garbage to see it! Looks good....but how about a female voice for the narrator?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=tYg0VgPy6Uk

 

Little Boys Fly; Little Girls Curtsey

Blogger Lainey Feingold pointed out a little tidbit on the front page article in the New York Times in an article titled, "Stores Emphasize Mannequins with Personalities?" The piece is  about how retailers are using unique  mannequins in unusual poses or bodies  to entice customers to part with money in hard times.

Nike has made its mannequins taller, and added about 35 athletic poses. Armani Exchange has ordered models that will lie down to help shoppers imagine wearing lingerie. A new accessories-only store by Guess features glossy black mannequins in model-like poses on an actual runway, while Ralph Lauren’s new women's store in Manhattan commissioned mannequins with the face of the model Yasmin Le Bon.

Whatever. But get this one:

The Disney Stores chain has added little-boy figurines that fly from the ceiling and little-girl ones that curtsey.

Seriously? Little boys that soar and little girls that CURTSEY?  Is that one going to play with parents?

 

Princess Daze in Elementary School

Love this post by Emily Rosenbaum about how "School Spirit Week" is celebrated in her children's elementary school. Each day has a theme including (wait for it)....Princess Day on which girls  are supposed to dress in glitter and tiaras. As are the boys, if they want to, are too--but not because it's okay for a boy to dress like a princess, exactly the opposite: it's clear the boys are supposed to be doing it as a goof, with a wink and a homophobic nudge.

"It’s making the point (rather strongly) that there are things for girls and things for boys and the only times we break through those barriers is to laugh about it.  In other words, rather than making a safe space in which the boys can express themselves, it’s laying down the gender norms even more clearly.  Sure, kid, dress as a princess; it’ll be a hoot.

It’s not a hoot.  Not for the boys who are uncomfortable with their sexuality or gender.  Not for the boys who lack self-confidence and can’t pull off a joke like that.  Not for the boys who, a few years from now, will find themselves in tears when their peers taunt them with “faggot.”  Not for the boys who don’t participate that day because they don’t feel comfortable with the joke or for the boys who participate only to fit in.  Not for the girls who are shoved into the role of flighty consumers."

And not for this boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, a 6th grader who hung himself in 2009 after being repeatedly taunted at his new school for being "gay." What would he have done on Princess Day?

As Emily pointed out, her children's school could have had  Royal Day, or a fantasy day, or a dress-like-a-character-from-a-book day. There are so many possibilities for fun, for creativity, for costume in an elementary school. But Princess day? Really?

What do you think? And any advice for Emily?

 

Why Won't Boys Won't Watch Movies About Girls?

Getting over-excited about all the fab comments on my last post re: why bringing up  Jessie in Toy Story is not an adequate comeback for "why hasn't  Pixar made any movies about women?" Thank you guys for such a wonderful conversation. One commenter (in fact the one who inspired the post--so double thank you!) asked about the idea that boys won't watch movies about girls. And added it's not like 5 year old boys are taking themselves to the movies (though they do have OPINIONS, believe me). But yes, conventional Hollywood wisdom is that boys won't watch girl protagonists. And every time a movie about a woman or girl fails or under-performs at the box office that is reinforcement. While if a movie about a woman succeeds it tends to be regarded as a fluke. Going  to movies with female leads becomes a sort of political statement--hence the hubbub around the first Sex & the City movie as well as about the current film, Bridesmaids.

 

In CAMD I talk about how that boys-won't-watch girls was disproved on TV by Nickelodeon, first with "Clarissa Explains it All" and later with "The Amanda Show" and iCarly. I'm not endorsing those shows, I'm just saying. They have had a fairly equal number of male and female viewers. So when left to their own devices at home on TV, boys apparently WILL watch girls.

And yet. Hollywood retains this belief, this core tenet. And for good reason, I guess.Take Bridesmaids which its first weekend in release made $26.2 million in 2,918 theaters--an average of $8,995 per screen.

 

Meanwhile, Hangover 2 made $85.9 million its first weekend on 3,615 screens--an average of $23,775 per screen.

Sigh. (Though congratulations to fellow Oberlin alum Ed Helms!)

Not that it's entirely Hollywood's fault. We condition boys from the earliest ages AGAINST seeing female experience as equally universal or relevant to them as males'. Even when we're well-intentioned. Years ago, I was asked to write a  jacket quote for a book for parents that listed children's books with strong, adventurous complex female protagonists for girls. It was a fine compendium, but I hesitated to endorse it. Why should  great books about female characters be only for GIRLS? Shouldn't we be encouraging boys from an early age to read books with female protagonists too? Didn't this just add to the idea that male experience is universal but female experience is specific?

We teach our boys from the earliest ages that anything associated with the feminine is not for them and even "bad." Hello homophobia, misogyny etc etc. I mean, remember the insanity around that J. Crew catalog with the photo of the boy in pink nail polish? Puh-leeze!

In CAMD I cite the work of Isabelle Cherney who found that nearly half of boys ages 5-13 when ushered into a room and told they could play with anything chose "girl" toys as often as "boys" toys--provided they believed no one would find out. Particularly their fathers. The youngest boys said said their daddies would think it was "bad" if they played with "girls'" toys, even something as innocuous as miniature dishes. Boys were also more likelty to sort playthings based on how they perceived gender roles (such as "Dad uses tools, so hammers are for boys"), whereas girls figured that if they themselves enjoyed a toy--any toy--it was, ipso facto, for girls.

I take heart in thinking about a birthday party Daisy attended a few months back. The host was a boy, as were all the other guests aside from her. For an hour or so, they ran around the birthday boy's yard, shooting one another with nerf guns. Then they all jumped in the family van and headed off to see....Tangled. Maybe there is hope after all.

 

 

Pixar's Female Problem: Please Stop Asking Me, "What About Jessie?"

Awhile ago I posted some art for Pixar's upcoming film Brave, its first with a female protagonist. And, naturally, I pointed out that Pixar has seemed almost perversely incapable of creating a female protagonist and how utterly offensive that is since they've made films about Anyway, among the comments someone inevitably asked "What about Jessie?

What about Sally in Cars?"

 

I started to answer and then realized this deserved its own entire post. So here goes.

Let me begin with this: if a studio as innovative as Pixar made 12--that's TWELVE-- films with female protagonists and a few had perhaps 1 or 2 strong tertiary characters were who were male and maybe 1 in 10 male characters with ANY speaking parts at ALL  wouldn't you think that was a teensy-weensy bit disproportionate, minimally a failure of imagination and maximally openly hostile  in its dismissal of boys and men?

Would it feel an adequate comeback if I shrugged and said, well, there were kick-ass guy side characters who was love interests in one or two films. Jessie is great, yes she is. But guess what: THE FILM IS NOT ABOUT JESSIE. It's about Woody. And Cars is not about what the comment referred to as the "Spunky Attorney Car" (Jeez, does she even have a name)? It's about Lightening McQueen. It is NOT the same thing, and to even intimate that it is shows how inured you have become to the fact that  female characters so rarely play the central role. We are happy with the crumbs of being "strong" but completely unnecessary (really) side characters.

In Pixar's films, maleness has consistently been presented as "universal" as neutral. while femaleness is singular, and--even when a character is "strong"--she is  inevitably imbued with those particular stereotypically female characteristics: she is a love interest or a helper. She is caring. She checks out her butt in the mirror. It has never once been HER experience, HER feelings, HER complexity or crisis that drives the narrative. If it were the opposite and Pixar had NEVER made a film in which a male character's quest drove  the story wouldn't you find that a smidge odd?

In a marvelous post on this subject which I have only just now found, the blog Vast Public Indifference , written by a former elementary school teacher, asks: Why did Remy HAVE to be a male rat? Couldn't  Linguini have been female? What if Wall-E were a female robot? Or had no sex?

This blogger goes through every Pixar film, cleverly breaking it down for you so I don't have to. In fact,  I'm just going to repost her rundown here (it's from 2008. so before Up and Toy Story 3) I wish I knew her name, but I hope that posting this with her blog linked above counts as giving her credit where it is amply due. She says:

Toy Story: This buddy movie revolves around the rivalry/friendship between two male characters, Woody and Buzz. Female characters: Andy's Mom, Bo Peep, Mrs. Potato Head, Sid's sister Hannah, Baby Molly (we're scraping the bottom of the barrel here).

Grrl Power score: 0/10. The women in this story are almost entirely irrelevant.

A Bug's Life: This adventure story concerns the efforts of a male ant (Flik) who sets out on an adventure to save the colony from the wrath of a grasshopper gang. Interestingly enough, real male ants do nothing but eat and fertilize eggs, so Pixar had to go out on a limb to make this character male. [note from me (Peggy)-I point this out ALL THE TIME. Any ant you see out in the world is female. Same with Bees. So that Jerry Seinfeld Bee Movie? All those bees would beeeee female. Not in this man's Hollywood, though. Transgender bees! What next?] Female characters: Dot, Princess Atta, The Queen, Gypsy, Rosie.

Gender Equity score: 1/10. This film gets points for having more than three female characters (out of a main cast of 17). Unfortunately, I had to deduct points for the writers' going out of their way to turn a female-dominated community into a male-dominated movie. To what end?

Toy Story 2: More Woody and Buzz. But now we have Jessie! Jessie is awesome and we love her. Too bad the story is still about Woody's existential crisis. Female characters: Jessie, minor toys (Tour Guide Barbie, Mrs. Potato Head, etc.), Andy's Mom.

Girls Rock score: 3/10. Jessie scores three points all by herself for being present, having a personality, and kicking ass. But the movie isn't about her.

Monsters, Inc.: Another buddy movie about two dudes, Mike and Sully. Female characters: Boo, Celia, Roz.

Feminist Statement score: 1/10. Boo is adorable and Roz turns out to be Agent 001 of the CDC. But seriously, what little kid loves to play with her Roz action figure? Finding Nemo: Father/son bonding film featuring a male clownfish (Marlin) and his son (Nemo). I'm all for movies about fathers and sons and, in fact, this is my favorite of all Pixar movies. Still, Nemo doesn't put female characters front and center, and it probably shouldn't, considering the subject matter. If it were only one male-dominated movie in a well-balanced oeuvre, I wouldn't have a problem. Female characters: Nemo's dead mom (Coral), Dory, Peach, Deb, Darla.

Ally score: 2/10. Points for having an important female character. Not too many, though, since she is squarely in the selfless helper/moral center role. Should I give points for making 2 of the 8 fish in Nemo's tank female? Should I just be happy that any are female and not quibble on the 25% issue? Also, the elementary school teacher fish is male. Maybe because he's a science teacher.

The Incredibles: The story of Bob Parr's midlife crisis and how his family deals with it. Perhaps that's a little unfair — the whole family has problems that they work through in this film. Still, Bob's story drives the action. It's called The Incredibles, not Elastigirl Saves Your Whiny Ass. Female characters: Elastigirl/Helen, Violet, Mirage, Edna, Frozone's wife's disembodied voice.

Womanpower score: 5/10. Helen is a developed character with feelings and motivations. That gets us halfway there, even though almost all of the other superheroes are male (for no good reason). Cars: Douchebag hotshot (male) racecar Lightning McQueen reenacts Doc Hollywood. I hated this movie. Female characters: Sally Carrera, Flo, Lizzie.

Girls Are Not Just Objects of Male Desire score: 0/10. Honestly, Wikipedia lists 15 residents of Radiator Springs. Three are female. Also, girls can't be on Lightning's pit crew, but they can be his silly, preening fans. Ye Gods.

Ratatouille: Male rat (Remy) dreams of becoming chef and achieves his goal even though movie sidetracks to cover ludicrous and unnecessary romance between humans part way through. This is the kind of shit that bothers me: Why is it important that the rat have a penis? Couldn't Remy have been written for a female lead? Why not? Collette's right — the restaurant business is tough for women, especially when even the fictional rat-as-chef barrier can only be broken by a male character. Female characters: Colette, that old lady with the gun, um . . . maybe some patrons?

More than a Token score: 1/10. ZOMG, we have one female character. We'd better make her fall inexplicably in love with the bumbling Linguini, stat!

WALL-E: Robot somehow acquires human gender characteristics, strives to clean up earth, goes on adventure to space. Why does WALL-E need to be male? Why does EVE need to be female? Couldn't they both be gender ambiguous and still fall in love? That would have been a bold move, but I think it's safe to say that Pixar is less than bold on the gender front. "Hey, guys, we have this robot with no inherent gender identity. We want to give it an arbitrary gender. Maybe we could make it female. Yeah, no, that would just just be ridiculous." Female characters: EVE, Mary, maybe some of the dead ex-captains of the Axiom

Challenging Gender Stereotypes score: 2/10. EVE is the competent scientist-bot. Still, making something that is inherently genderless male because male=neutral is bullshit.

This is where the blog post becomes out of date. She surmises (correctly) that Up will be "another buddy movie about two guys. See: Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc." What she did not realize, of course, was that the only female character in the film died after the first 10 minutes. Nice.  And of course there was Toy Story 3. Jessie is back, this time more actively girlie. And Barbie, though amusing, is Barbie. I imagine her score would hover around 3/10.

And that brings us up to Brave (I am ignoring Cars 2 for obvious reasons. I talk about Brave in CAMD. Maybe it will be a great film--it probably will be--but it still irritates me that a team as creative as Pixar's, which has imagined so many extraordinary male characters, can't imagine a female protagonist unless she's a bloody princess. On this one,  Vast Public Indifference says:

OOOOOH! Somebody told Pixar that they needed to make a movie with a girl as the main character! So, duh, it's going to be 'Pixar's first fairy tale!!!' The main character will be, get this, a PRINCESS! But, since the Pixar people are probably good Bay Area liberals, I'm sure the princess will want to defy her parents'/society's expectations. Where have we seen that before, I wonder? No cookies for rehashing the same old shit. If we're super lucky, she won't marry the prince, which will allow us to cover the same ground that Robert Munsch and Free to Be You and Me covered in the goddamn '70s. Maybe it will be good, but no matter how good it is, it still PISSES ME OFF that girls get to be main characters only when they are princess (or marrying up the social ladder a la Belle and Mulan) in fairy tale worlds. Boys can be main characters anywhere, but if a girl is the main character, you can bet your ass it's a fantasy world. (Side note, as of 6/28/2008, the Wikipedia entry for this movie's premise begins, "In mythical Scotland . . ." Damn. I wanted to go to Scotland next summer.)

Please Don't Be Awful score: unknown, though the girl=fairy tale princess thing means they've got to work their way up from below zero in my book.

I suppose what makes me so mad is not that Pixar makes movies about male characters but that they seem to go out of their way to make sure that this remains the case...On several occasions (A Bug's Life, WALL-E), they have defied logic in order to make sure that the protagonist of their tale was male. When good female characters are part of the story (Elastigirl/Helen Parr, Jessie), they still focus on the male character's plotline and development. They make infuriating choices (female main character = princess in fairy tale). It's not just the stories they choose to tell, it's how they choose to tell them: in a way that always relegates female characters to the periphery, where they can serve and encourage male characters, but are never, ever important enough to carry a whole movie on their own shoulders. Unless they're, you know, princesses.

I love this woman.

Pageants, Princesses, Primping Parties?

As Toddlers & Tiaras revs up for its next season (and another post on that later) and the parental outrage machine gets cranking, I'd like to just redirect for a moment with this little game. Guess which of these photos is from that program, which is from the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Disneyworld (where for a mere $189 your 2-year-old can have a makeover that "magically transforms her into a Princess," which I guess is one word for what they turn your daughter into....) and which were taken at birthday parties from the Sweet and Sassy "a cutting-edge children's salon, trend-setting retail store and the perfect celebration place: that is  popping up in mall stores around the country.

 

 

So tell me, why are parents up in arms about Toddlers & Tiaras but think the Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boutique and Sweet and Sassy are cute?

(answers: pic one is from Toddlers & Tiaras; 2 is from Disneyworld; 3 is from Sweet & Sassy; 4 is from Disneyworld; 5 is from Sweet & Sassy).

Sneak Peek at Pixar's FIRST Female Protagonist

In case you haven't heard, Pixar's 13th movie will have a female heroine. They say that like they should be proud of themselves. As if it isn't a HUGE EMBARRASSMENT that they have done a DOZEN films without a single woman in a starring role? That in Toy Story I there were no females at all (except Bo Peep) and they didn't even notice? I'm just saying. Also, just to gripe a little more, after waiting patiently (and sometimes not so much) through 12 genre-busting films about male robots, male superheroes, male cowboys, male rats, male cars, male ugs, male fish and a small male mailman, it would have been nice if the movie was NOT about a princess, even a kick-ass princess. But there it is. It may well be great, but honestly, that was a huge failure of imagination. It will also be interesting to see if, as the Geena Davis Institute Reported, the movie despite its female lead sticks to the fewer than one-in-three speaking parts are female and fewer than one-in-five characters in crowd scenes. I noticed that was the case in "Rio" even though there were two female leads. I actually counted in the credits (counting young Linda and old Linda as one voice, to be fair, since they were the same character).

All that said, here is a picture of Merida, the film's kick-ass princess hero. What do you think?

 

 

Pop, Storm and the Gender-Free Child

Okay, so everyone is asking me what I think about Storm, the latest child whose parents have announced they are raising (oh God I need a pronoun--him? Her? It?--this is so hard without a pronoun) gender free. I have so many thoughts on the subject, I'm just going to put them all down in a jumble. I get that Storm's parents are disgusted by the current hyper-gender segmentation of childhood. They're right about that. A hundred years ago babies were not so maniacally and relentlessly gender-coded. In an earlier  blog post I point out that all babies and toddlers used to be dressed in white, frilly gowns with long flowing hair, ideally in curls. Check out the picture of a cutie pie FDR in his dress and patent leather shoes. And that sweet little dress on Ronald Reagan. Apparently, boys in dresses grow up to be President (though not girls in dresses--boo!).

Back in the day, according to my guru Jo Paoletti at pink is for boys, women's magazines used to also have contests: people would send in pictures of their babies and readers would guess whether they were boys or girls. That was considered great fun and no one expected anyone would REALLY be able to tell the difference. Babies were considered sort of gender neutral until they were 2 or 3 when boys were "breeched": their hair cut and the dresses exchanged for short pants.

I've also written before--in CAMD and on this blog--that signifiers of gender are subjective and about fashion. That pink and blue (for instance) were originally introduced around 1900 as "nursery colors." When they were gender coded, pink was for boys, blue for girls. If you look back at classic Disney movies you'll find that Sleeping Beauty, Alice (in Wonderland), Mary Poppins, Wendy (Peter Pan) and, yes, Cinderella are dressed in shades of azure. Meanwhile, Wendy's little brother Michael is wearing pink pjs. That's because pink was viewed as a pastel shade of red, which connoted strength and masculinity, while blue was associated with constancy, faith and the Virgin Mary. Check these photos out:

Wendy:

Michael:

 

Sleeping Beauty (Aurora) in blue, Prince in Pink (Disney changed Aurora's gown color in the Disney Princess line allegedly to distinguish her from Cinderella)

 

Among its many problems the current fixation on polarization of gender discourages cross-sex friendships, which are critical to kids psychological, cognitive and emotional well-being as well as to their future professional and romantic relationships.

So I totally understand having a strong--even reactionary--response to the ways the media and marketers have amplified gender differences and invented them where they don't need to exist.  For instance, do we really need pink tinker toys?

 

Maybe that meets girls where they're at, letting them know that building is for them. But when they're instructed to build "a butterfly, a flower and a microphone" (what's with the microphone???? Another blog post at some point....) it just seems like more fuel on the princess-to-diva fire. And discourages cross-sex play. And woe to the boy who likes pink.

At the same time, kids do really need to assert their gender from the ages of about 3-6. STRONGLY. Because they don't understand it the same way we do. They don't get the whole penis-vagina thing (I will not put hyperlinks on those words--you know what they are). They base judgement on externals--hair length, dress length (this is why you can't stuff your three-year-old girl into pants: she doesn't want to turn into a boy) etc. They think you can switch sexes if you change clothes. You can grow up to be a boy OR a girl, a mommy OR a daddy. It's called gender impermanence. And so they gravitate towards whatever tools our culture gives them that most strongly assert BOY or GIRL.

For that reason, I think it's fine to have a unisex baby or a unisex 1-year-old. Most of the time older kids, too, should just be "kids" and their sex should be de-emphasized in school and at home. AND they also need to have tools through which to assert it. When I was a child, girls played mommy and had baby dolls and buggies and doll houses and such. Now they have lipstick and sparkles and Bratz dolls and pink. So rather than try to neutralize gender, my advice would be to try to help your child--male or female--cultivate a healthy, resilient, self-determining sense of what being a girl or a boy means. Which is why I developed (and yes, yes, need to update) the fight fun with fun list. To give parents a place to start in finding images, playthings, books, movies, projects, resources and other ideas about how to raise a girl with a strong, powerful, connected feminine identity that wasn't perpetually linked to appearance, play-sexiness and defining yourself by how you believe you and your body are perceived by others.

Protesting the hyper-segmentation of gender is great and it's important. Protesting the ways girlhood has been insidiously sexualized is crucial. Opposing the marketing/media culture's attempts to raise our children to be little consumer-bots  is imperative. But the other piece, rather than ignoring gender, is finding ways to help our children embrace and delight in their identities as girls and boys--while recognizing that those identities vary as much or more within as between the sexes, that they are part of an individual and not his or her sum.  So I respect the motivation of Storm's parents (and those of the Swedish Pop, whom I wrote about in CAMD) and I have no doubt that, for instance, if they alter the pronoun they use with the baby they will get different results from people, but over the longterm, it's not really a workable strategy for change.