Friday, April 25, 2014

Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice

Do you ever wonder why nursery rhymes are practically eternal?  I do.  I ponder things like this a lot, actually.  I'm almost always in the thinking box shower, and I'll start thinking about "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" or whatever, and begin analyzing it like I'm going to have to write a report.
Who is saying 'baa baa'?  Is it the sheep?  Or is the sheep saying 'yes sir, yes sir'?  Is the sheep's name BaaBaa?  Maybe shepherds used to baa at their sheep to get them to give them wool.  I always thought black sheep were bad.  Maybe black sheep got a bad reputation because they never gave enough wool.  Are there even black sheep?  Well, there are albino humans, and albino rats, and albino dolphins, so maybe black sheep are like that.  Or maybe black sheep are dirty.  I wonder who wrote this rhyme.  Probably nobody did.  Probably someone said it to their daughter, and then she changed it a little to repeat to her kids, and it got changed over and over until someone wrote it down the way that their mom taught it to them, like the way my mom's Pat-a-cake version is different from the others, and then they got credit for it.  Is there a lesson in every nursery rhyme?  Like, even if you're dirty and rejected by your flock, you can still be a productive member of society?  Who is this 'little boy who lives down the lane' anyway?  Was the black sheep being charitable? 

But that's not what this is about.  This is about little girls, and society, and how disturbing it is that sex appeal is a marketing tool for selling things to children.

Oddly enough, it was an article in Allure magazine from October 2013 that made me-- you're not going to believe this-- think.  It was the only magazine in the exam room when I went for a check-up at the doctor a few weeks ago.  I usually wouldn't pick up a magazine like that, because all the beauty and celebrity worship is annoying, but you know how it is when you're waiting in a tiny, cold room without your Kindle.

The article was written by a mom, about dressing her 7 y.o. daughter for school.  The mom had painstakingly selected the daughter's wardrobe for all 7 years of her life, until one day, the daughter asked to choose her own clothes.  Dunh dunh dunh!  The mom was sleepless with anxiety over what her kid might decide to wear to school, and had discussions with her child about the importance of a sense of style and blah blah blah blarf blarf.  Spoiler alert!  The kid had good taste in clothes, and all was well down in Allure Author Alley.  I told Charming about the article that evening, and he readily shared my annoyance. My point was simple:  I've gone my entire life without a sense of style, and I turned out just fine.  I have never lost sleep over clothes!  The thought of placing so much value in material things (har har) is just mind-blowing to me.

There is a 'but' to this story, though.  The article's author talked a lot about how clothes for girls are so very much the same: Pink.  Purple.  Sparkly.  Princess-y.  It was important to her that her daughter find her own individuality, and not buy/wear just the things that every other little girl wears.  She chose to demonstrate the importance of individuality by taking her daughter to a vintage jewelry store and letting her select a brooch within her $13 budget.  I chose to lecture my 2 y.o. under my breath in Toys 'R' Us.  "No princesses.  You don't want to be a princess.  Smart is better than pretty, anyway.  Does this toy even teach you anything?  No.  It just sings about bows.  You know, in real life, not all princesses are pretty and sweet."  When it comes to clothing and toys designed for and marketed to girls, there are two adjectives that come immediately to mind:  Pink.  Alike.

You may have heard the stories about young girls recently protesting to big companies about gender stereotypes.  There's the teenager who convinced McDonald's to stop offering "girl" or "boy" toys, and the 7 y.o. who wrote to Lego about how lame the girl toys are.  I'm no activist.  I'm not even sure I know how to contact my Congressmanorwoman.  I can't say I don't care about women's rights or gender equality, because I do care.  I just never really considered doing anything about the problems until having a daughter of my own.
When 2-yr-old Cupcake looks at pictures like this, of her 8-day-old self, she squeals and says, "Aw!  Baby!  Cute!  Hugs!" and then tries desperately to hug the picture/computer screen/photo book.
For a couple of years, Rip Claw's favorite color was pink.  Not surprisingly, other kids eventually started questioning his choice.  When he asked me whether it was okay for boys to like pink, I said, "Of course it is.  Colors are colors.  They aren't for just boys or girls."  Eventually, pink moved down his list of favorites to second, then third, and now it's pretty far down the list, but I think it was a natural progression of changing preferences rather than peer pressure making him move green up and pink down.  Cupcake loves babies, and bunnies, and butterflies, and Minnie Mouse.  She also loves playing with Rip Claw's cars, putting stickers everywhere she can think of, throwing and catching any ball or object which looks like it may or may not be a ball, fweeping, fwimming, and fwinging (sweeping, swimming, and swinging).  "Look, Mommy!  Fwings!  I'll try it!"  She is particular about her clothes, and has been since before she turned one.  She likes when I fix her hair "pretty" so she 1. doesn't have her bangs in her eyes, 2. can "Show Daddy see mirror?" and 3. might get to see the "Picture?  See girl picture?"  She loves to sing, but her favorite song is not about bows, it's "Happy Birthday" with "Driving my Car" (her version pictured below) coming in a close second.

Don't ask me for the link to the song she's singing.  You'll be sorry if you do.
My point, which might be muddled by all the cute pictures and anecdotes, is simple.  I'm really sick of feeling forced to like/buy specific things for my girl and my boy.  I want options, and I want my kids to know that they have options.  Rip Claw doesn't have to look for toys in the "boy" section, and Cupcake shouldn't have to look just in the "girl" section.  Which brings me to another point, that "girl" stuff is. so. awful.  I mean, it's awful from a logical, realistic perspective, obviously.  It's cute stuff.  I remember loving the sound of dress-up plastic high-heeled princess shoes on the terrazzo floors of my childhood home, and I'm sure Cupcake would love it, too.  But why do we as a society think that we can tell our girls all their lives that they can be a Cheerleader- Popular! or a Princess- Pretty! or a Mom/Cleaning Lady- Look at how well this pooping, crying doll prepares you for real life!  Have a pink, practice vacuum cleaner! and then expect them to do well in science and math and go on to solve the world's problems?

I'm not the type to go looking for scapegoats, or to yell and shake my fist about Society!!! and expect things to change.  But give this a think, please.  Airplanes and cars are "boy" toys.  Only ~ 5% of pilots are females, and we all know how terrible I am women are at driving.  Female drivers are involved in over 68% of crashes and only, like 4 of those involved yours truly.  Boys are encouraged to build, perform experiments, save helpless girls, and fight for any or no reason with or without weapons.  Girls are encouraged to wear pink, look cute, get a boy, and rock out while wearing various hairpieces and tiny clothes.  Girls' creative toys are used to make jewelry or make-up.  Boys' creative toys are used to make other, useful, fun toys.  I can't be the only one who thinks this is a big problem.

Oh, and remember up there where I said this post was about sex appeal being used as a marketing tool?  Yeah.  Check out these then and now pictures of Strawberry Shortcake.

That isn't even the worst of it!  Have you seen these impossibly beautiful, completely unrealistically thin, large-breasted dolls that our girls are supposed to be able to dress for every situation?  I think they're called Barbie dolls.  What is this world coming to?

It's been happening for many years.  It's getting worse.  If we want anything to change, then we have to start doing things differently.  Don't buy anything pink or blue, ever.  Okay, maybe that's a bit too extreme.  If your son loves cars and construction trucks and making volcanoes, great!  But if he wants to make rubber band jewelry, play house in the kiddie kitchen, read Beverly Cleary's books about Ramona and Beezus, and watch "Cinderella," please support him in the same way.  There's nothing wrong with looking pretty, and there's nothing wrong with wanting your daughter to look pretty.  There is a problem when pretty trumps all, or anything else.  It isn't my place to tell you what toys or clothes to buy for your kids, but I would ask that you be aware of the advertisements, especially when they send the clear message that looks/sex appeal are so important, and why you're buying what you buy.  I, for one, don't want my daughter to dream of being a princess in a shining castle.  I want her to dream of ways she can change the world, and I want her to know that she doesn't need a Ken or a Kristoff (I'm telling you, I've been watching a lot of "Frozen" lately) or a unique fashion sense in order to fulfill her potential.  Girls can be rock stars without getting naked in public (seriously, Taylor Momsen) and girls can be pilots, architects, or builders while remaining sugary and nice.

If you decide not to buy a particular product because it reinforces restrictive gender stereotypes or is marketed in a way that you think is inappropriate, I hope you'll consider letting the manufacturer know why you chose to spend your money elsewhere.  With Twitter and Facebook, it's really easy to make your voice heard.  Plus, you can almost always find an email address on a company's website.  Send a short message saying, "I thought you should know that I decided not to buy xxxx for my daughter because I disagree with the limiting gender stereotype this product promotes.  I would like to see more products from your company that can be enjoyed by, and are marketed to, all children."  Or whatever.

What was your favorite childhood toy?

If I make up a nursery rhyme, can I count on you to repeat it to your kids and grandkids until it goes on until the end of time?


  1. I loved the fact that rip claw loved frozen as much as I did and sang the songs with me.

    1. He did! However, there's a little girl in his class who knows all the words to "Let it Go" and won't let him sing with her because she "doesn't like when boys sing it."

  2. Many great I furthering the stereotype by planning a princess theme for S's 1st bday party? ;-) I like your connection esp. Between toys and careers. I could write a whole post on how we need to help Improve career choices in general.

    1. You know, Cupcake has princess shoes, a princess potty seat, a princess's so hard to avoid! She has a lot of pink stuff, too, and she wears dresses much of the time. I hope that offering her other options will help her to make up her own mind, eventually, and choose things that she likes rather than just the obvious "girl" choices. At least both our girls have older brothers and smart parents! ;-)