Posts Tagged ‘sexism’
Despite the fact that Halloween is still three weeks away, a store based in my home state of Wisconsin had their much anticipated holiday toy catalog out in the paper today. I got my hopes up when I opened it and there was a 10 year old boy holding a baby and showing the baby a toy. The first several pages were mostly gender neutral toys labeled “Preschool”….
Then I came to page 18, the first in the “Girls” section. I was immediately knocked over by the pink, pink, and more pink splashed across a two page spread of kitchen and housecleaning tools all gender coded because domestic duties are a woman’s work, don’t you know. Turn the page to Monster Glam dress up kids, tiaras, high heels, and princess dresses. Then we move into the pet care play, fairies and scary-skinny sexy fashion dolls. The background on all of these pages is pink, natch.
The first page of the “Boys” section shows two boy models blasting something into smithereens with giant sized automatic guns, and seven more boys on packages taking aim with their guns. Because what five year old boy doesn’t need a Howitzer and endless rounds of ammo, right? Another page of guns, some power tools, space fantasy play, vehicles and rescue squads, and then farm equipment. The background for these pages is blue or green.
There is a somewhat gender neutral “Crafts and Entertainment”, but most of the craft kits feature girls on the box or are activities like “Princess Mosaic Tiara Activity Kit” or “Princess Glitter Domes”. In the “Books and Games” section most of the books and games are character-branded and therefore gendered. The “Sporting Goods” section is dominated by boys.
The only thing keeping me from losing my mind is that the science kits all look super awesome and are gender neutral (no Spa Science or Lipstick Lab kits, thank goodness). That is what I will be buying my children. From a different store, most likely, if I can find one that respectfully advertises to children.
In a 71 page catalog there are 9 images of boys and girls playing together. On the pages advertising the toys never once is a boy shown doing something caring or tender, nor is a girl shown doing something more adventurous than sledding. The predominant theme for girls was keeping up the house and looking pretty. The predominant theme for boys was killing and taking care of the farm. My we’ve come a long way since the 19th century.
These issues are not specific to this store. We know all too well every catalog we get is going to look like this unless we live in Sweden. This kind of marketing is everywhere, so much so that people believe these manufactured differences to be biological truth. I say: When we limit our children, we limit our children.
“Watch commercials that are targeted at little girls. A commercial for a toy or a game for a little girl always seems like it came from another world where feminism NEVER happened.” -Jared Logan
This video nails it, via Princess Free Zone.
A couple of days ago I was out shopping for a special t-shirt for my 4yo son to start pre-K with next week, just something simple to help ease his nerves. I was happy to find t-shirts with his favorite characters Jake and the Never Land Pirates, on sale to boot, at JC Penney. My enthusiasm last twenty seven seconds, at which point I realized NONE of the 2T-5T tees carried by JC Penney featured one of the shows main characters – the girl pirate named Izzy.
This show is really popular with the preschool and early elementary ages, and while it fits nicely into the Smurfette Principle and only a couple of episodes pass the Bechdel Test, for the most part I approve of it for my children. There are episodes when a pirate princess (of course she’s a princess!) and mermaids help to balance out the gender scale. I talk with my kids about why there are so few girls in the show, and what more girl pirates could be doing in the episodes if they were on the show.
The situation with the t-shirts made me really sad. Not one shirt featured Izzy on it. Not. One. She is an important cast member, and the only female. I then remembered that I was in the Boys section, and thought surely they would have girl designs. I walked across the room to the Girls section (because boys and girls have to be segregated, you know) to look for the girl version of the Jake and the Never Land Pirates. Nope. Nada. No Izzy, no girl pirate shirts.
What?! This show is super popular with boys AND girls right now, why would there be no shirts for girls, and no trace of Izzy on the shirts?
Your answer is: because of sexism and gender stereotypes. Did Disney and JC Penney think boys wouldn’t wear a shirt with a girl on it? When I showed Benny his new shirt, he got a huge smile on his face, immediately followed by a look of confusion. “Where’s Izzy?” he asked. I told him I guess she wasn’t on the shirts, and I thought it was the strangest thing. He got really mad, and said he didn’t want the shirt and to return it.
“I doun wanna wear a shirbt that doun has allub my frenz.” He didn’t want to wear a shirt that didn’t have all of his friends. He said Izzy’s feeling are probably hurt, and he wanted to be a friend to all of them and not make her sad. My 6yo daughter Amelia came in the room, and the first thing out of her mouth was, “Hey! Why is Izzy not on that shirt?”
Kids notices these things. Girls notice when they are missing, and so often they are missing.
What message does this send to little girls who love the show, saw the shirts, and realized there was no representation of Izzy? What does that teach these girls about the value a girl holds?
What message does that teach boys about girls?
Why is there only one girl character to choose from in the first place?
Why the ever-loving hell would a show built on cross-gender friendships and teamwork intentionally remove that element in its merchandise? Why only sell to boys? Why not market to girls, too? Why not market to children instead of sexes?
To be fair, there are selections exclusive to the Disney Store on their website that feature Izzy, and I’ve been told by several parents those shirts are sold out. No wonder.
But why does that not carry over to their licensed products to other retailers? The shirt selections I saw at JC Penney and Target had no Izzy on them.
While I was shopping, the discovery of the shirt above made my head explode. Apparently whoever licensed and produced these tees for JC Penney decided boys would absolutely not wear a shirt with a girl on it, so in this depiction of the cast, they replaced Izzy’s head with a gold doubloon. The gator and the coin get a spot over Izzy. We get it, Disney. We know where females rank.
Thankfully, I’ve taught my kids to reject this kind of thinking, and after viewing the t-shirt choices from the Disney store, both immediately went to the kitchen table to color Disney a very strong message of complaint. I asked Benny if he was sure he wanted to return his shirt and he said now he wanted to keep it but also wanted a shirt with just Izzy on it, like the one we just saw from the Disney store. But even the Disney store has their apparel selections notes “For Boys” or “For Girls”. Amelia said she wanted a shirt with everyone because you don’t exclude people when you are on a team. Benny then asked how to spell “Boss of Everything” and Amelia asked permission to use the word “jerks”.
When we talked about this with the PPBB Facebook Community, there was lots of folks upset and expressing frustration. So many parents are sick and tired of the gender divide in childhood.
Janessa Hall: “This conversation reminds me so much of looking for Dora outfits when my oldest was a little younger. He loved Dora, and they only came in pink, sparkles, bows, etc.”
Katt Mikaboshi: “My daughter loves Yo Gabba Gabba and saw a shirt in the “girls” section,but when she opened it up it only had the boy charters on it and no girls(?) I never encountered this before,but it hurts my head. My daughter asked me “why did they forget the girls?” “
I’ve had several parents write in to our Facebook page sharing their experiences with face painters at community events and children’s museums. One comment and photo came in, then another, and another. I took a step back to think about why this was important and why parents were sharing this with me. And then it clicked — this was more than the individual choices of these kids. Face painting is one of the few activities where a service for children is marketed directly to children in real time, and the child present picks the product directly in front of the marketer, with the marketer being able to immediately influence the choice.
Why does this matter?
How many thousands and thousands of kids do you think face painters come in contact with? What messages could and should those people be sending? Several parents have written to me saying their daughter was discouraged from getting a sports ball on her cheek, and instead got a yellow flower. Or the little boy who was discouraged from getting a butterfly, until his mom had to step in and defend his choice. When face painters say “Oh, that’s a girl color, you don’t want that” they are directly impacting the child’s imagination and reinforcing gender stereotypes. They are directly using sexism to change what your child thinks.
It seems pretty obvious how sexist the reactions steeped in gender stereotypes are and how they limit our kids. I would like to instead focus on a few fine artists and kiddos who got it right:
“I just need to give massive kudos to the lovely woman who painted my daughters face today at Adventure Aquarium. B asked to be a snake, the woman asked if she wanted to be a green snake or another color. B opted to be an orange tiger snake. But she never once suggested the bright pink or purple and told her an tiger snake was an awesome choice!” — Alicia, PPBB mama
“FULL OF AWESOME! I thought you might like to see who was totally full of awesome and getting her face painted as a baby jaguar in a sea of girls all getting their faces painted to be Hawaiian princesses at the local street fair on Sunday… (Tallie, in her Full of Awesome Shirt!)” — Roby, PPBB mama
“I thought I’d share my son’s photo from the recent Renaissance Faire. We had to fight with the artist to get him the painting he wanted, rather than the “Boy one” she was insisting he would like better. Check out this face, does he look unhappy???” — Morgan, PPBB mama
Natalie (7 yrs) to the face-painter: “I’d like to look like a tiger please.”
Artist: “Ohh, why that? You’re so cute, and you have such a pretty sparkly top on; wouldn’t you like some flowers or a rainbow instead? It would maaaaatch…”
Natalie: “No thank you. This outfit is for when I’m a dancer. The paint is for when I’m a predator. Tulips aren’t very good camouflage in the jungle.”
(You see that the frustrated artist couldn’t help herself and HAD to add some sparkle to Talie’s forehead and nose anyway. I hope it doesn’t glare and scare off all the prey.)” — Rachel, PPBB mama
Childhood is not a time for limitations. Childhood is a time for choices. We need adults to remember to respect and honor that, and pack away our preconceived notions of what boys and girls can and cannot do. In childhood, they should be able to do it all.
Dear Boy and Girls,
It was not so long ago, that I was a girl. I ran in the woods and played soccer and sailed and had dolls. I loved playing restaurant and school. But I loved pretending to be a spy even more. When I was little, like you are today, I had the freedom to be who I wanted to be.
I’m not so sure you have the same freedoms today, although technically we should be about 27 years more advanced than we were in 1985. It confuses me as to why we are moving backwards. Everywhere I look, I see messages called stereotypes that tell you how to be a boy and how to be a girl. These messages are unfair, and to be honest with you, there isn’t a lot of truth behind them. I see them in your toys and your clothes and your media, like the tv and movies. The problem is, your grown ups aren’t always aware of that. Sometimes grown ups believe these messages, and they think there is only one way to be a boy, and only one way to be a girl. Sometimes growns ups don’t even know how to think outside of these strereotypes, or they don’t consider questioning them. Sometimes grown ups are scared by these stereotypes, especially when kids try to break them down. I’m so glad that every day there seems to be kids like you that know better, and love art and cars and dolls and sports and mud and sparkles and all the colors of the rainbow.
Sometimes, grown ups take these stereotype messages too far. Sometimes, grown ups use these stereotypes to teach hate. Sometimes the grown ups will say their reasons are because of their religion. A man from North Carolina did last week, when he was advocating for his church congregation to ”beat the gay” out of their children who he feels stray too far out of the rigid gender roles he sets forth. Gender roles means only certain things for boys to do and certain things for girls, and you can’t break the rules. This man was saying that if a boy is acting too much like a girl, his parents should beat him. Or if a girl gets too dirty playing sports, she needs to quickly go inside and get clean and pretty and sweet smelling again. When this man talked about physically hurting children, it made my stomach sick like I was going to throw up. I’m not sure why the people sat there and listened to him. If I had been there, I would have stood up and said very loudly how out of line he was, and then walked out with my family. An important person to me taught me a long time ago that when you hear or see hate, you be not silent.
You need to be careful when you hear hateful words from people. There is never a time when it is okay for a grown up to hit, punch, or break the bones of a child. But this man from North Carolina said it was okay, because he thought his religion said so. Only small men tell people to hurt others. Even smaller men try to take away the rights of others. There isn’t any right way to be a kid, and I don’t think people should put limits on you, especially when you are playing and discovering. I don’t ever think an adult should ever physically hurt you.
What I really think is that adults need to get a little braver, and take a stand when they hear hateful words or see hateful actions. I read the story about the man from North Carolina, but I didn’t read anything about people getting up and leaving. They were not being careful about the words from a hateful man. They were wrong to have thought so highly of him. They certainly were not being brave.
A very little boy doesn’t put on a dress because he is gay, he puts on a dress because he is playing. He does not need to be punched. We need to give our sons the space to be human.
A young girl does not ”butch it up” on the soccer field because she is gay, she is dirty and sweaty because she is an athlete. She does not need a beating. It is not our daughter’s responsibility to be pretty and sweet smelling for the world.
A young boy’s love of art or enjoyment caring for a doll or beloved stuffed animal is not a result of his “limp wrist” and implied impending gayness, he loves these because at a young age he sees beauty and loves creating things and caring for things. My guess is, this boy will grow up to be five times the man that this fella from North Carolina claims to be. Real men do not hurt children.
A young girl who wears shorty short hair or loves bugs or dinosaurs or sports is not necessarily gay, she simply finds things interesting that lay outside of the sparkling pink box she is maybe being told to stay in. My guess is, this girl will grow up to be a smart student who loves science and has all kinds of friends because she knows there is no right way to be — you just be you. You do how you do.
Girly girls and tomboys and geeky girls and sporty boys and princess boys and nerdy boys and and and ……. It doesn’t really matter to me what kind of kid your are. Maybe you’re a mix of all kinds. I think grown ups should just get back to calling you “children”, and get out of your way as you explore our world and discover all that you can be in it.
Now go outside and play.
Melissa (mom to Ben and Amelia)
There’s a post going around that seems popular, a letter from a mother to a daughter telling the little girl that the world hates her because of her sex, and to just, and I quote - “fuck ‘em”.
I’d like to offer a different perspective.
I don’t know the person who wrote this post, neither as a blogger nor as a mom. I’m sure she’s very good at both. I’m not going to judge her words, but I’d like to offer my own.
I’m not going to teach my daughter that the world hates her. I’m going to teach her that she will face challenges and obstacles and unfairness and she will encounter people with different, often stubborn, opinions and she will need to rise above them. She will need to rise. The world doesn’t hate its girls, the world is still trying to figure out what to do with the power that lies inside of its daughters. A different perspective.
The post talks about the world hating its girls, from the moment they are born. I remember the very moment my daughter was born, after hours and hours and hours of an agonizing labor and pushing, the child was laid on my chest. My first touch to my newborn was on her back, and she felt like warm, wet, velvet. She was covered in my blood and I stared into her face and I loved her. Fiercely and instantly. Her father loved her, and wiped away tears as he leaned down to kiss his newborn daughter as she took in her first breaths. Her father cut the cord, separating her body from mine, and never left her side as the nurses measured and weighed and bathed her. He wept the entire time, because the man knew no other way to express the amount of love he felt for this tiny creature. My husband, this brand new girl’s father, called our extended family and friends, who rejoiced over the announcement of her healthy birth. Her father and little brother and grandfather and uncles and male cousins all love and cherish her. A different perspective.
Yes, she cried when she took her first breaths. Not because the world is a cold, uncaring, and frustrating place that hates her. She cried because she was announcing she was here, and the world would never be the same. She cried out because newborn babies do not yet know how to holler “Hey! I am full of awesome!”. A different perspective.
I’m not going to teach my daughter that “there is nothing worse than being a girl”. I am going to teach my daughter to Redefine Girly. There are people in the world who do not value girls, especially as much as they value boys. But how much power and attention do those folks really deserve? There are also thousands and thousands of people in the world who do value and cherish girls, and I choose to focus on them. I will teach my daughter not to give her energy or attention to people who don’t deserve it. I believe the author of the post was trying to say the same thing, but where you put your energy in life is important. I will teach my daughter to see and give importance to the people who, by the thousands and millions, do value girls. A different perspective.
I also am a former-girl, and I have never felt hated. I have felt challenged. I have been teased for throwing like a girl, and I have picked up the ball and thrown harder and straighter. I have been told I couldn’t do something or other because I was a girl, and I have set about and done it. I have faced barriers, and I have climbed right over the top of them. I have face ignorance, and I have relied on my beliefs and education to maneuver around it. I have faced sexism, and I have proven myself time and again. I haven’t felt the need to “f*ck ‘em”. I have felt the need to exceed people’s expectations of me, all the while acting with respect, compassion, and class. This is what I will teach my daughter so that when she does face the unjust way the world can sometimes treat its girls, she will have treasure trove of stories and skills to draw from. I’m not going to raise my daughter as a victim of the world. I’m going to raise her as a force to be reckoned with. A different perspective.
Our daughters cannot cancel out nor hide from the world. They cannot go through life with a “eff you” attitude and be angry at the world. It is wrong to assume all men and boys hate and disrespect women and girls. It is hard to teach people and change perspective when they, or you, have been backed into a corner. I will teach my daughter to meet people in the middle. She’ll have a smart mind and a firm handshake and a chin held high. She’ll practice the art of sisterhood. She’ll have class, and be grounded in the idea of who she is. I will teach my daughter that instead of approaching people with a “f*ck ‘em” attitude, I will ask her to learn from them and guide her actions from the knowledge gained from the very people who would keep her down. The rest of the world cannot be damned, because my daughter is just one in a cast of millions. All people have worth. I will teach her people can sometimes be very wrong, and I will teach her to rise. A different perspective.
The world can be a very difficult place to be a girl. The world can be a difficult place to be anybody. The world can also be an amazing, bright, loving, vibrant place to be alive. The world doesn’t hate my daughter. That’s what my daughter and I will focus on. I do agree with the other mother on several points, the most important of which, our daughters absolutely can fly. In fact, they can soar. We just need to teach them how.
As a parent and a business owner, I believe that when my name, whether it be my family name or my business name, is attached to something that is found offensive it is my responsibility to do two things: try to correct or amend the offense, and issue a sincere apology. It is simply the right thing to do.
I’m not sure why consumers give large businesses a free pass on that, but we seem to, time after time. I’m told they are just trying to make money. I’m told I don’t have to buy it. ”Free speech” and “open market” are things I hear quite a bit, but I have yet to accept that. Specifically when these instances of “free speech” are actually instances of objectifying females or outright misogyny.
As Ryan S. said on our facebook page, “Free speech ends when it promotes violence against others. That’s where the line is drawn.”
Take, for instance, Sears (also owns Lands’ End) – our 126 year old American cornerstone, selling child-sized t-shirts on their online marketplace that read:
“Nice Girls Don’t Use Pepper Spray”
“Don’t Make Me Kick You In The Fallopian Tubes”
“Don’t Make Me Kick You in the Birth Canal”
I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in, because the condoning of rape culture and misogynistic violence against women and girls directed at their genitals sounds like we’re describing a third world country. We are, in fact, talking about Sears and their third party vendor, 99 VOLTS. These shirts have since been pulled from Sears’ online marketplace. They are still for sale at 99 VOLTS. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.
These shirts are offensive in adult sizes, but in children’s sizes it is outright appalling. Nice girls, bad girls, any girls have the right to protect their bodies from rape. Men and boys do not have the privilege to rape, specifically by shaming a girl into “taking it” at the risk of losing her patronizing “nice girl” status. The “Don’t Make Me Kick You” shirts, with the act of aggression specifically aimed at the female reproductive parts is hateful to the point of being misogynistic. We have a lot of that going around these days, but to have it offered in a Youth Small is just too much. What does it say about our society when we openly teach our children to hate, for the bargain price of $15.99?
When this story broke, it somehow flew under my radar. Then I started getting emails from parents asking if I’d heard that Sears was selling a baby t-shirt that read “Hung Like Daddy”. This shirt that sexualizes little boys has also been pulled by Sears, but if you search “Hung Like Daddy” on sears.com you will find a cache of tongue-in-cheek horse cock Halloween costumes. You know, because Sears is all sorts of classy.
From the Zimbio post linked above, it is reported: “A Sears spokesperson responded to an AdAge query about these offensive T-Shirts with the following: Thank you for bringing this to our attention. While products like this may appear on Sears.com marketplace through a third party seller, Sears does not sell them. We are removing these products from the site.”
Well now hold on a minute, Sears. You are, in fact, the seller. The items were not carried in your store, but I see the Sears logo at the top of the web page, and the BBC accreditation with your contact info at the bottom. I can even earn “Shop Your Way Points” from your store when I shop your woman-hating way.You process my payment. Your third party vendor holds the inventory and does the order fulfillment, but you are indeed the seller. See, just like this, when I go to sears.com to buy the “JC Penney Banned T-Shirt I’m Too Pretty To Do Homework So My Brother Does it For Me”, it looks just like this….
I’m not sure if you got the memo, but that didn’t go well for JC Penney. And when JC Penney got busted for it on their online marketplace, they issued a rather acceptable apology. They didn’t pass the buck.
Your Public Relations department wasn’t polite enough to return my phone messages, despite the recording I heard from a woman who sounded like Phyllis Diller telling me you’d return my call within the hour. I sent two emails to the person your fully-automated Public Relations line told me to, but those went unanswered. For posterity’s sake I just sent off a third email, here’s what I asked:
I received a reply email from the Division VP of Public Relations this morning. Why am I left feeling like I am the one who has to police Sears’ website for them, and they’ll only stop selling garbage if they get caught. And why does it feel like I have to apologize when I’m offended? “Sorry you were offended” isn’t the same thing as saying “We deeply apologize our website was offensive to you, violence against women is offensive to us as a brand and as individuals.”
Sears has asked their third party vendor to remove the shirts, and I have confirmed this with that vendor. But this vendor DID NOT lose their approval to sell. When you pile up all of the items mentioned in the post, seems like Sears is doing a pretty crappy job of “policing their marketplace”. What I’d like to hear from Sears, much like we did from Amazon after they finally got the apology correct for selling a how-to-groom-and-rape guide for pedophiles, and much like we did from JC Penney after T-shirt Gate 2011, is a sincere apology. (Hint: Don’t take notes from Chap Stick) Something about Sears respects all of it’s customers, does not condone violence against women and children, and that they are reviewing the vetting process for their third party vendors because maintaining a family brand is important to the people who work for our all-American staple, Sears. They feel very badly this shirts caused distress to their customers and the general public, and moving forward will take appropriate steps to ensure a safe and responsible shopping experience.
Because, call me crazy, I think it would rather be a smart investment on the part of Sears, if they are going to go the third party route, to pay some out-of-work college kids living at home with their parents $9/hour to go through their massive online marketplace to make sure their brand isn’t tied to sexualizing, pedophilic, racist garbage like this:
Not to mention, that image looks like something from an Eastern European human traffiking website. Really, Sears? And contrary to Tom’s message, I can earn “Shop Your Way Points” on this and the Homework tee. I won’t be shopping Sears way anytime soon. Or, ever.
If you’d like to contact Sears about any of this troubling information, you can call the Sears National Customer Service Line at 1-800-549-4505to file a complaint. When I did, the woman I spoke with was completely aghast and thanked me for calling in. So be polite to whomever to speak with, because they are people too, and let them know why you want Sears to take some corporate responsibility over it’s marketplace. You could also take a crack at emailing Tom Aiello, asking for an apology that leans a tish more towards accepting some responsibility for the Marketplace they have created, with the Sears name at the top and bottom of every page. Tom’s email address is in the message above.
I might also encourage you to contact the small businesses in your area, or favorite online business, like Pigtail Pals, who operate with integrity and offer respectable apparel for your family. Tell the folks who are doing it right why you appreciate them. We work really hard at what we do, we don’t sell out to make a quick buck, and we put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into building our brands.
You might ask why I’m not doing a change.org petition. Because what happens is that generates a TON of media buzz for the ill-behaved retailer when news channels cherry pick the story off of my blog, and the story becomes an “Oh how could they!?” morning bit with a psychologist inserted for credibility, instead of a story on the company that is doing it right. I’m just tired of it all. Focus on who’s got it right, and parents would know there are much better, more responsible small businesses out there working really hard to bring great products to their families. When people know better, they can do better.
So…..who ARE these third party vendors? Most of them are small businesses, just like Pigtail Pals. The company selling the pepper spray and birth canal tees is 99 VOLTS, located in Florida. I had a long conversation with their manager on Tuesday. It was interesting, to say the least. He did confirm for me that Sears emailed him and instructed him to remove the offensive tees described above, which he did. We then had a very interesting conversation.
**I’m going to apologize ahead of time for the language about to follow, but I think it is really important that you understand where this is all coming from.**
My phone call yesterday with 99 VOLTS manager Emery was, ahem, colorful. He was very polite and took about 30 minutes to answer every single one of my questions. I really appreciated that.
I begin the convo by saying I want to talk to the guy responsible for the “Don’t Make Me Kick You In The Birth Canal” tee. I hear a chuckle on the other end of the phone. I say rather directly the reason for my call is that I don’t find the violence against women’s genitalia to be funny. Funny Haha or funny ironic. The guy clears his throat and asks how he can help me.
Emery, the manager at 99 VOLTS, confirms for me they are a third party vendor on the Sears marketplace and upload items in bulk. I ask of there are Terms and Conditions or a Code of Conduct for such an agreement, and he says they are. I question if those tees fall within those stipulations, he says he guesses not because Sears emailed him to remove those items. I ask why they were produced in children’s sizes to begin with, and I get an answer about last time Emery checked, kids cannot buy online unless they are 18 years old, so if a parent buys one of those tees for a kid, they must think it is okay. I then delicately remind Emery that a lot of people who probably shouldn’t procreate, and that what role does 99 VOLTS play in supplying those families with misogynistic and potentially dangerous and desensitizing apparel. Emery says it is a free market, and they appeal to all different kinds of people. Indeed. By the by, 99 VOLTS also sells high brow tees like “Got Farts” and “Jesus is Coming….Hide the Sex Toys”.
So I tell Emery that I understand they have a niche, which seems to be the bar/beach/biker/rock band/frat boy niche. I tell him that I get they want to be edgy and sarcastic and irreverent. I’m fine with all of that. But I ask if violence against women and rape is funny to him. Because it isn’t funny to me, and to most of society. Emery says that 99 VOLTS prides themselves on being sassy. He says someone at 99 VOLTS came up with the t-shirt slogans, they thought it was funny and would sell so they turned it into a t-shirt. I ask Emery how many women are on his design team. He says it is just him and another guy, so zero. I should have asked Emery if he’d ever been raped, and if he giggled his way through it since it is so freaking hysterical to him. I didn’t do that, I played nice.
Next I ask Emery if they have plans for a “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Dick” tee. No he says, that would be offensive. I ask why, and he says they can’t use vulgar words like dick, cock, or pussy. He says they could say anatomical words like penis or testes, but Sears would consider “dick” to be profane. Gasp! I ask him isn’t that just playing semantics, he doesn’t really answer that one. So I ask him if they are developing a “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Testes” tee….and wouldn’t you know it, they are. He explains they couldn’t sell a shirt that says “Eat Shit”, but they apparently thought they could get away with the one about pepper spray that normalizes rape. I think we need to scrub up on our morals, 99 VOLTS.
Emery then tells me the “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Birth Canal” and “Don’t Make Me Kick You In the Fallopian Tubes” is really a spin off the idea that when guys are whiny and annoying they get called pussies. So the tee is supposed to be like a warning telling guys to not act effeminate or they’ll get kicked in the pussies they don’t have. But they can’t put the word pussy on a shirt and sell it at Sears, so they went with birth canal. Clever. I tell Emery that all of that back story is kind of lost when you see the tee on it’s own, and maybe they should rethink the phrase. He then tells me that the most popular tee style they sell that in is baby doll tee. Know what that means? WOMEN are buying it. Good. God.
So we chat a little more about violence against women. This conversation is fascinating to me because for three years I’ve railed against crap sold to kids, but never had the chance to talk to the person who developed it. They have all hidden, and I gotta say, I respect that 99 VOLTS stayed on the phone with me and talked. And even though Emery was certainly smart enough to get that I strongly disagreed with him, we had a really nice conversation. He seemed really open to talking about this. He tells me Sears didn’t have a problem or boot the shirts until people complained. He says Amazon doesn’t have a problem selling it. I remind him Amazon defended the selling of a book written for pedophiles on how to rape children, and maybe Amazon shouldn’t be our gold standard of online commerce.
Then he said some things that makes it so clear to me why stuff like this exists on the market — because people who think it up want to make money, and they don’t really care if they devalue females in order to do it, because they don’t even see it as devaluing females. They don’t seem to see any wrong in what they are doing. Emery said to me, “I do see your point about violence against women, but that is all kind of a gray area.” I tell him I’m going to need to him expand on that. He says that all through human history, it was acceptable to beat your woman or even kill her if she gets out of line. We (99 VOLTS) do not condone violence against women, or against anyone, but it wasn’t until recently with the feminist movement that it became unacceptable to beat a woman.
Through gritted teeth I tell Emery it has always been wrong to beat or kill a woman, feminists just made sure it was also illegal. He then tells me they offer some nice choices for the ladies, like “Well behaved women rarely make history”. Meh.
But here’s the thing – I ask Emery if he and the other development guy would be willing to have a couple more conversations with me about what they are creating. He says sure. He gives me the number for Chuck, the guy who owns the joint and tells me to call him on Monday. I’m going to do that.
Here’s what I’d like you to do — write to 99 VOLT and ask them to stop making these misogynistic and hateful tees. Emery is one half of the development team, and he seemed open to reason. He’s actually a pretty clever guy and cracked me up a couple of times on the phone. I have an inkling that if 99 VOLTS were enlightened to do better, they just might.
Or not. And then we can use that idea tossed out on the facebook page and see if they’ll make the “Misogynists are Assholes” tee.99 VOLTS PO BOX 272 Oneco FL 34264
Hey Kiddies! Step right up! We’ve got some delicious candy covered milk chocolate here! We’ve got candy for White Kids and candy for Black Kids! Different candy for different kinds of kids! Use the correct side and step right up!
Well now wait a minute. That’s incredibly offensive.
Hey Kiddies! Step right up! We’ve got some delicious candy covered milk chocolate here! We’ve got candy for Christian Kids on the left, Jews and Mormons on the right! Grab your quarter and don’t mix it up! Different candy for different kinds of kids!
Stop right there. We don’t work like that in this country anymore. People aren’t so different that they need separate machines from which to get their candy. That is really offensive.
STILL OFFENSIVE !!
Could you imagine a side for White Kids and a side for Black Kids, like the drinking fountains from the 1950′s? Different sides because the two groups are so unequal, so different they cannot live as one? That is so offensive, it makes my face feel hot. Our old Jim Crow ways have shifted from black and white, to pink and blue.
Despite every marketer in the United States telling us otherwise, boys and girls actually are not that different, and do not necessitate different vending machines nor color of candy to enjoy a sweet treat. They do not need to be reminded of their gender every single time they touch a product.
If everywhere we turn, our boys and girls get the message that their sex makes them inherently different species, they will start to accept that as the norm.
If everywhere boys and girls turn, they see children categorized and boxed and labeled, they will lose the ability to see themselves outside of those parameters. They will lose the ability to see each as equals, as friends, as playmates, as fellow schoolmates, and eventually as co-workers and colleagues and partners in life.
Boys Rocks and Girls Rule, and don’t fall off your chairs in surprise….but what if that all went IN THE SAME BOX!?
If you arent’ mad, you aren’t paying attention. We need to change the way we think about our kids.
This image was spotted by our Body Image Workshop co-leader Marci Warhaft-Nadler and her family while in Las Vegas this weekend. Her sons quickly told her to get out the camera and take a picture for Pigtail Pals. Once your eyes are open to it, you cannot unsee it.
Marci’s 10yo son Logan asks, “So what happens if you eat the wrong ones?”
Great question, Logan. Great question.
This just in from a Pigtail Pals Parent after a weekend trip to Legoland:
“After being there I realized the problem is far bigger than their friends line. The shows we saw have not one respectable female character (they manage to portray even cleopat…ra like a kardashian sister). Their kids meals and collectible cups come in pink or blue. The blue ones have several lego characters (ninjas, pirates, etc) on one side and a huge pirate ship scene on the other. The pink ones have 3 “sassy” looking girls (not lego figures) on both sides. They’re not doing anything, or supposed to be anything. They’re just standing there with big doey eyes being,……I don’t know……..”cool” girls, I guess? And then there’s still this. In fun town (which was pretty fun before I saw this), there are two life size characters built entirely from legos. there’s a male police officer and a female firefighter. Cool, right? Except the man is talking into his walkie talkie, while the woman is………wait for it…….not putting out a fire, but……….putting on lipstick!!! WTH???” -Sarah L.
Next, check out the second installment of this fantastic video series by our colleague Feminist Frequency.
(Skip to 8:30 if you are short on time, but the whole thing is well worth it!)
I know we’ve been talking about Lego quite a bit.
What I find so fascinating about this story is how it is the perfect microcosm of all things girlhood these days. Corporate pink-washing, relegating girls to all things pretty and sweet, beauty over brains, using sexism to defend sexism, make-up on 8 year olds in a Lego tv commercial, and the list goes on.
So while this is about Lego, this is about so much more. Lego is just a symptom of ginormous problems staring down our girls. I just hope we are raising them to be tough enough to take it on and squash it.
Lowest Common Denominator
To be fair, the new Lego Friends isn’t all bad. It is just that it isn’t all that good, from a brand parents go to as an amazing brain-boosting toy. This new line leaves many parents wondering how Lego sees their girls’ brains, as the girl’s line is heavy on the cute, light on construction (I don’t count putting flower petals on stems or bows on dogs as building). I do like the science lab and tree house, and even the cafe (a little bit) and vet clinic. Olivia’s big house looks like it would be fun to build. Amelia, my almost-6-year-old would like them, but we would both be left wishing the majority of the sets required more actual construction. And challenging construction at that. There are so few building pieces, it would be hard to take them apart and build your own creation. That is the kind of stuff that breaks my Lego-loving heart.
The other part that breaks my heart is how segregated by gender Lego has become. Amelia received and loved the Lego City Marina for Christmas. For her birthday next week, my mom and dad got her another section of Lego City. I bought her a tub of primary colored bricks and a green and blue building board. But I wonder in a couple of years how my kids will view Lego, with the boy-dominated licensed sets and the all-girl Heartlake City. Lego has drawn a rather thick pink and blue line in the sand. Try as I might, I don’t know how much longer I will be able to keep Lego gender-equal in my home. As it stands, Lego seems to have some pretty sexist messages jumping off their boxes at kids, and I’m not a huge fan of teaching my kids sexist messages. Lyn Mikel Brown says,“The human brain is “fantastically plastic” and the best thing we can do for our children is to give them a full range of opportunities and experiences, especially in the early years. We don’t know at five how little Tierra’s or Tommy’s passions and talents will surface, so why pay good money to limit their options to the pink and blue aisles of toy stores?”
Lego is in the spot they are in not because girls changed, but because Lego changed on girls. To boost sales in the early 2000′s they focused on licensing deals with boys square in their sights. Girls stopped playing with Lego because Leg0 stopped including them. You’ve all seen the 1981 “What it is, is beautiful” ad circulating….1981 was 31 years ago. 31 years is a long time, Lego. Lego’s own marketing told girls that Lego wasn’t for girls. You can kinda see how girls went they way they did on this one.
Lego used the lowest common denominator in girlhood to design their line. Lego says the end result is after four years of $4 million in global research and this is what girls and moms want. For reals, Lego? I guess they didn’t interview the several thousands of moms (and dads and aunts and uncles and grandmas and caring adults) who voiced their opinion on the Lego Facebook page, several thousand more from the Pigtail Pals Facebook page (and other rad groups like Powered By Girl, SPARK, New Moon Girls, Princess Free Zone, Reel Girl; and the formidable girl culture expert, one Peggy Orenstein). A change.org petition calling for Lego to try harder for our girls has a couple thousand signatures. Lego says their research revealed girls play in the first person, are interested in beauty, and want to get to their role playing more quickly than boys. This fascinates me, as I have spent the past two weeks watching my female child play HOURS of Lego and not once tell herself to hurry it up so her Lego self can get her plastic hair done at the beauty salon.
Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth asks, “How (and why) are we missing profound opportunities to leverage neuroscience breakthroughs for positive change, wellness and play? How can we finally be tossing aside ‘hardwired corpus calossum theories’ on differences in boys/girls, acknowledging brain plasticity and realizing this play pattern/edu deficit stuff is NOT ‘set in stone’ and yet simultaneously standby to see Lego spend $40 million in mega-marketing bucks to proceed to SET it in stone.” Read the entire amazing post HERE.
You know how I always say, “I’m not anti-pink. I’m not anti-princess. I am anti-limitation. When we limit our children, we limit our children.”? Well, that pithy Amy Jussel says it this way and I like it:
I AM against stacking the deck of ‘learned behavior’ with pervasively marketed signals of stereotyped imagery embedding into the brain with stiflingly narrowcast assembly-line rote mimickry. I far prefer pure, imaginative, problem-solving free form fun.
I encourage you to watch the Lego Friends tv commercials, with the make-up clad third graders in the opener making a heart with their hands (awww, somewhere Taylor Swift just did one back) and the music sparkles and we are introduced to Heartlake City, the pinky-purple enclave where the Lego Friends live. With hearts on sky scrapers not a male in sight. Weird.
Watch as the saccharine-sweet narrator talks about the Friends partying at the cafe with the girls (only after they’ve been styled at the salon) because they need to chill after decorating their houses. It is important to note the commercial doesn’t show the girls finishing up a surgery at the clinic and then heading over to the science lab to help Lego Friend Olivia with her latest experiment. Lego shows the girls get coiffed at the salon and then go party. I think Lego needs to Redefine Girly just a tish.
I think the commercial speaks loudly as to how Lego sees girls, what Lego thinks girls are interested in, and how highly Lego holds girls’ capacity for spacial reasoning and construction play. Will this attract our girly-girls out there who think Lego is only for boys, or will only play with pink and pretty things? Maybe. I am yet unconvinced the ends justify the means. Being a girly-girl doesn’t make one incapable of building and planning and designing and reasoning, but Lego doesn’t seem to see it that way. Lego has a very clear idea of what “girly” means to them.
I am left wondering, in the age of childhood obesity, why Lego could not have created a juice bar/farmer’s stand with fresh produce and flowers? The all-female residents of Heartlake City are shown in the commercials rolling down to the cafe for burgers, shakes, and cupcakes. Instead of a cupcake baker, couldn’t Lego Friend Andrea be an organic farmer and we could build her a barn and big Chevy farm truck? And she could have a little laptop where she tracks weather systems and soil conditions and Skypes with other organic farmers around the world? No? Too much?
I also wonder, why can’t a single one of the girls work in downtown Heartlake in one of those skyscrapers? Maybe as, oh I don’t know…an engineer or architect? Is that just crazy talk? Why are they in the burbs decorating houses and cupcakes? Did I miss the Lego Friends Time Machine that zapped us back to 1952? Were you to lay a track of the Lego Friends commercial over one for Barbie Charm School or Lelli Kelly sparkle toe shoes or anything Disney Princess, they all sound exactly the same. Somehow Lego and other marketers decided the way to attract XX-chromosome customers you need a syrupy-sweet female voice with blue birds singing in the background to sell girls on the notion their role in this world is to be pretty and sweet. Way to STEM it up, Lego.
As Daniel Sinker says in his post, “Legos are still held up as a gateway to engineering and science, and despite my misgivings about the current state of their kits, I still believe they are. But if they’ve become toys marketed to a single gender, then we’re just reproducing the already awful gender imbalance in STEM education and employment.”
If girls are playing in the first person, as Lego says their research found, why is Lego not making people that are amazing role models for girls? Why is Lego not taking this opportunity to promote STEM to girls? In addition to a cafe owner, where is the calculus teacher or surgeon or CEO or scientific explorer or rescue worker or geologist or…..anything but what they gave us that sells girls short. Mireya Mayor is a famous National Geographic wildlife explorer, author, and a total girly-girl, even when treking across the world discovering new animal species. Lego, the king of licensing, couldn’t send her an email? I’d buy Mireya Mayor or Bindi Irwin Lego by the bucket. I like the vet (short skirt-wearing vet, this was questioned by a vet on our Facebook page) and the invention lab, but instead Lego morphed Polly Pockets and Barbie into brick form. Lego had such an amazing opportunity here to break away from the pack at the quarter pole and be a champion for girls. They didn’t take it. It is still out there, Mega Bloks, in case your listening.
Somebody please have the guts to show our girls how strong and smart and incredible and powerful they can be. I do it with my shirts and I sell them by the thousands. Let’s put that into a little plastic toy form. I’ve got ideas, who wants to listen? Mattel, wanna talk? Manhattan Toy Company? Is there ANYONE out there who has not drank the pink Kool-Aid?? I think I’m going to make myself cry.
Let’s move on…..
NBC’s TODAY Show Uses Sexism and Stereotypes to Promote Sexism and Stereotypes
On Tuesday morning many of us watched incredulously (jump to 5:01 in the video) as Matt Lauer interviewed Star Jones, Donny Deutsch, and Dr. Nancy Snyderman. One of the topics discussed was Lego Friends, and the two minute discussion was a master’s class in using ingrained cultural sexism to defend sexism. The interview left many of us furious and offended. As was brilliantly said on the Pigtail Facebook page: “Having people with such a reach not GET IT is overwhelming.”
Margot Magowan of Reel Girl transcribed the segment:
Matt Lauer:Star Jones: And they give you little electric mixers and brushes and combs and purses.
Donnie Deutsch: Perfect, perfect.
Matt Lauer: You’re sounding down on this.
Jones: When you’re a little girl, you want to build bridges also. You want to put them on top of each other. You don’t want–
Lauer: So go out and buy the architectural Lego.
(Nancy Snyderman laughs.)
Jones: Which is exactly the way my three year old goddaughter does. She has the architectural one. The big yellow ones.
Nancy Snyderman: These are perfectly okay. The reality is there is a gender difference. Girls like playing with girl’s things, and you’re still constructing things. If the cupcake girl can still do calculus, I have no issue.
Then there’s this part, Italics mine because there was so much interupting at this point it is hard to follow:
Deutsch: You’re teaching them to build! (Not really, the sets require precious little challenging building.)
Snyderman: It gets girls into architecture and math and design, I’m all for it!
Jones: Give them some alternatives for goodness sake. (Visibly frustrated.)
Lauer: There’s no law that says they can’t go to the store and buy the Frank Lloyd Wright line. (No law, but a hell of a lot of marketing.)
Jones: They (don’t) put the Legos in the girls sections. (Star was interupted here and not able to finish her sentence.)
Deutsch: Little Girls do like princesses and things like that. I like princesses. (Categorical stereotype presented as fact. My little girl does not like princess. I know many others like her.)
Snyderman: And will parents buy this for boys? (Laughs loudly)
Deutsch: No they won’t. (Laughs loudly, with an “Oh my God, that’d be so gay” look on his face.)
Lauer: That’s probably not going to happen. (Gives Nancy a “Are you crazy” side glance because everyone knows boys don’t touch girls’ things.)
(Matt, Donny, and Nancy all laugh loudly as Star sits slumped and defeated in her chair.)
Well then. If that isn’t offensive, I don’t know what is. First, for a segment on marketing, no one but Star Jones seemed to understand marketing. How a product is packaged, and who is shown playing with it, matters. Where the product is placed in the store, specifically the pink and blue toy aisles, matters. The images and messages and color coding our kids see over and over and over again, matters. This is called marketing, and marketers know all of this matters. That is why they spend so much money doing it. Keep in mind, Donny Deutsch is an ad guy. A famous one. And he uses a cupcake and princess analogy presented as fact, when what he is doing is missing the point that girls are programmed and conditioned to like those things because so often, they have no other choices. They like what they have to choose from. It is like Henry Ford saying, “You can have any color you want so long as it is black.” Girls who are given a wider range to choose from demonstrate a variety of interests. If from that wide range they choose cupcakes and tutus, bless their little hearts. But sweet baby jeebus give them choices. Choices! 2012 could be the year of choices!!
Second, the bigger issue is the laughter over the idea of boys playing with this Lego Friends line. And not just a chuckle. Three of the four “professional” panelists had cracked themselves up over the idea of a boy playing with a toy so feminine. Clearly the panelists feel there is a definite distinction over what girls and boys should be playing with, and the idea of a boy being interested in Heartlake City is hilarious.
The Sanford Harmony Program said it best on the Pigtail Facebook page: “This was a tremendous missed opportunity for bringing boys and girls TOGETHER. If children are given more chances to establish some common ground, and work and play with one another, they will be more inclined to engage more often – learning from and about each other along the way. The messages and images polarizing our girls and boys contribute tremendously to the notion that boys and girls grow-up in “separate worlds.” In these single-gender peer groups, kids are honing their communication and problem solving skills in isolation of one another and socializing each other in different ways. The world is co-ed – let’s do something to help bring our kids together.”
Side by Side Gender Apartheid: A Visual Reference
I headed to YouTube to catch some Lego tv commercials, and see if maybe this all wasn’t just in my head. So I watched two Lego Friends commercials, and then created a wordle from the words in the used by the narrator in the commercial, and the colors most represented by the brick colors in the sets. I then did the same for a Lego Dino and Lego City commercial.
You be the judge.
Apartheid (n): From the Afrikaans word for “apartness”, a system of segregation.
Walk with me, now, and see the forest through the trees.
The JC Penney T-shirt Gate is actually not about a t-shirt. Kind of like the Holy Roman Empire being neither holy nor Roman. Confusing, I know.
This entire viral uproar is over parents and other concerned individuals being sick and tired of the pervasive message marketed everywhere to our daughters that being pretty and obsessed with boys and shopping (maybe cupcakes and puppies as Anderson Cooper points out) is what being a girl is all about. It has come to define girlhood, and nearly every product made for them. Walk through any clothing department or toy aisle — what messages do you see for girls? What messages do you see for boys? It is gender apartheid, and our daugthers ended up with the short end of the stick.
I call bullshit. While JC Penney took one shirt down, as I said on Tuesday night, they’ve got another dozen that continue to sell girls short. A JC Penney juniors buyer purchased these shirts, in dozens of styles, from a manufacturer; another employee wrote the offensive and sexist online product descriptions. This doesn’t seem to be a one-time mistake. This seems to be a pattern of selling girls short. I don’t see the funny.
Pigtail Pals has been here since 2009 fighting to put better products and messages in the marketplace for girls. We’ve been blogging and directing an amazing Parent Community to fight for our kids. And we’re not about to change our message.
We created a tee in direct response to the garbage at JC Penney. It is selling like wildfire. And it ought to, because pretty’s got nothing to do with it.
I’d like to see the media focus on THIS tee, instead of the one at JC Penney. We need to change the way we think about our girls.
I also want to set the the record straight for clothing label Self Esteem, owned by All Access Apparel, who unfortunately was brought into this by media and bloggers who did not check their facts. The LA clothing company Self Esteem is NOT the manufacturer of the tees in question.
Unfortunately, no one at Self Esteem was ever contacted to confirm that they indeed were the manufacturer of the T-shirt. The company was associated with the shirt because they were grouped on the JCPenney website where the ‘Too Pretty’ shirt was displayed.
“This huge oversight on the part of the media and concerned mothers has caused our company’s name to be defamed not only with one of our largest customers, JCPenney, but with our entire customer base,” said President of Self Esteem Richard Clareman. “We have always and will continue to promote positive messages to young girls.”