The Disney Princess Industrial Complex is coming for your soul!

Evil Belle

Or, at least it is if you’re a girl below the age of 12, anyway.

It’s come to my attention that toys and children’s merchandise in general has become heavily gendered. (Or at least, and this makes me feel like a serious old fogie, since I was last exposed to children’s merchandise.) I offer, as evidence, these anecdotes.

1. Last week, the husband and I are driving around running errands, toddler in the back seat. Knowing we won’t be able to feed the child at the usual time, we decide to stop for fast food, choosing McDonald’s (I know, I know). Upon ordering a Happy Meal, we are then asked if it’s for a girl or a boy. WTF? How long has this been happening for?

2. Several days later we made a trip to the local aquarium, and were perusing the gift shop to see if there was anything cool under the price of a kajillion dollars (there wasn’t). It slowly dawned on us that every plush toy had a regular version, and then a boy and a girl version. Like, regular black-and-white penguins, but also pink penguins and blue penguins. Ditto sea turtles and manta rays and jellyfish (although plush jellyfish – how cool is that?).

3. Nobody thinks my daughter is a girl. Now, I don’t really have a problem with this and don’t correct anyone when they make the mistake of saying “What a beautiful boy!” I just find it kind of interesting as a Cultural Anthropology nerd that unless she is wearing a dress (of which she has a few, as they tend to fit for a longer period of time than pants,) or is wearing something pink or frilly (of which she has exactly one item that she wears regularly, and only when there’s laundry to be done,) do people think she’s a girl.

Now, it’s not like I dress the kid in blue baseball uniforms or mini suits or anything. Typically she wears jeans or t-shirts from the girl’s aisle of Target. I try not to dress her in anything I wouldn’t wear myself. But it’s like, unless specifically designated as the “other,” all children must be boys.

4. Sesame Street, the last bastion of inclusiveness and equality, has a relatively new Muppet. And she’s the girliest girly girl ever. Her name is Abby Cadabby, and she has sparkly pigtails, a pretty fairy princess dress, likes George Clooney, and talks on a cell phone hidden in her magic wand. Now while that pretty much describes me every Saturday night from 1996 to 2004, it’s hardly a role model I’d want for my child. Especially when there are several really cool girl Muppets on Sesame Street already, namely furry orange Zoe and furry blue Rosita, who is a fruit bat, and that’s pretty cool.

(Although I have to add that I still pretty much love Sesame Street. I’ve seen children of all races, multiracial families, children wearing various religious paraphernalia, visually impaired and hearing impaired children, children who use wheelchairs or crutches, and even, by god, overweight children portrayed as normal on the show, as they should be. Love that.)

But all this stuff pales in comparison to whan looms on the horizon. The Disney Princess Industrial Complex is coming for my child’s soul, and I kind of feel like my husband and I are the only line of defense. How do we keep her from becoming brainwashed, but not ashamed of being girly if that’s what she really feels like being? How do I keep the corporate logos, not to mention the gender stereotypes, out of the house?

These are the things that keep feminist moms up at night. That, and fear that the kid will grow up voting Republican.


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79 comments for “The Disney Princess Industrial Complex is coming for your soul!

  1. July 27, 2007 at 1:37 am

    My advice is to give in. When I was a boy, I collected pencils that had the names of cars printed on them. Why? I wasn’t into pencils, or cars, or pencils with the names of cars printed on them.

    The truth is, I collected them because a kid named Tom Jenson collected them, and every boy in my Junior High seemed to share Tom’s interests. No doubt, most of my fellow pencil-collectors were also motivated by the same fear of being left out of the latest Tom Jenson-inspired trend. So we all collected the pencils, we all fit in with one another, and none of us were severely damaged by the experience.

  2. July 27, 2007 at 2:16 am

    Trust me, it keeps feminist dads (and dads-to-be) up, too. I don’t have the slightest idea what we’re going to do when we have kids. There’s so much merchandise and advertising out there that is completely out of whack with our values. I worry that if we have a daughter, telling her she can be anything she wants to be will sound like a punchline given what she’d be exposed to at school, on tv, etc.

    I’m sure whatever you’re doing in the home will be effective, though, even if the surrounding environment is scary. My folks seemed to get by ok — not letting us watch much tv and mostly PBS and family sitcoms (which, it seems to me, weren’t quite so sexist as the ones now?) when we did watch it, letting us have things like a toy kitchen when my brother and I asked for one and not worry about “undermining our masculinity” or whatever the MRAs might say. We even had matching My Buddies that we dressed up in yard-sale baby clothes (a friend of mine, a fellow feminist Independent Catholic, pointed out that these were essentially dolls for boys). I got exposed to plenty of society’s sexism, but the values my folks taught me seems to have stuck.

    BTW, I remember the “boy or girl?” question for Happy Meals from when I was a kid a couple decades ago. I think they only ask when they have a gender-specific promo going on (they usually paired Hot Wheels and Barbie when I was a kid). Most of the time there was only one toy for all kids.

  3. RachaelAnne
    July 27, 2007 at 2:25 am

    I have a little boy, and even though he wears fairly masculine clothes (I’m not dressing him in baseball uniforms either), up until he was two years old, strangers constantly assumed he was a girl. I think it’s because he’s so beautiful, and because his hair curls and I liked to leave it a little long. I was always interested how people changed their wording based on what sex they thought he was. “What a beautiful girl” would turn into “He’s very handsome.”

  4. Mnemosyne
    July 27, 2007 at 2:48 am

    Knowing we won’t be able to feed the child at the usual time, we decide to stop for fast food, choosing McDonald’s (I know, I know). Upon ordering a Happy Meal, we are then asked if it’s for a girl or a boy.

    I noticed that, too, and I was a little mean to the poor wage slave running the drive-thru. I said, “I don’t know, I want the ‘Wizard of Oz’ toy. Is that a girl’s toy or a boy’s toy?”

    There was a long silence before he said, “Um, I’m not sure. I think it’s the girl’s toy.”

    I said, “Well, I want the ‘Wizard of Oz’ toy, whichever one that is.”

    It’s not much, but at least I felt like I tried to resist. And it paid off, because I now have an adorable green-skinned witch doll for my desk.

    Oh, and I will defend Belle as the most feminist of the recent Disney heroines. Yes, yes, you could read the story as being about an abusive relationship if you strained, but at least she’s (a) brunette and (b) a serious bookworm whose happiest romantic moment is the day the Beast gives her free run of his library. Plus it has the last full set of Howard Ashman songs.

  5. Katie
    July 27, 2007 at 3:49 am

    It’s not that new, really. It was the same a decade ago, when I was nine years old and my sister and I got matching Barbie dolls for Christmas while our big brother got those cool Hot Wheels. (God forbid my parents get me books, like I wanted, instead of useless toys.) And I used to work at McDonald’s, maybe two years ago? We were told to ask “Boy or girl?” when we had two toys, even when one was Power Rangers and the other was Dora the Explorer. Makes no sense, really.

    As for parenting advice, if you want advice from a childless teenager, just listen to your child. Don’t let her watch, say, the Disney Channel (*shudder*) unless you plan on watching it with her and discussing how it’s sexist that the main characters obsess over how they HAVE to have boyfriends and she doesn’t need a boyfriend to be complete. Encourage her to pursue her interests, regardless of whether it’s a “girly” activity like ballet, or a “boy’s” activity like football. If she wants barbies, get her barbies with jobs like Doctor Barbie, or barbies based on strong, independent women like the Mulan Barbie (do they still have that one?).

    As long as you encourage her to think for herself and explore things because SHE wants to, rather than because people think she should, she ought to be okay. After all, both my parents are super-conservative and old-fashioned, and I turned out okay. :D

  6. orlando
    July 27, 2007 at 3:55 am

    The obsession with putting little girls in pink is so marked where I live (Dublin) that I find myself, when I’m out and about, actively trying to spot one in some other colour. What do their parents think is going to happen to them if they give them clothes in green or blue or purple? Will society cast them into darkness with wailing and gnashing of teeth?

  7. EoL
    July 27, 2007 at 6:46 am

    The Happy Meal toy thing is just a promo deal. I remember from when I was a kid and how tough it could be to get the toy I really wanted if the person behind the counter saw that I was female. Sometimes I did want the Barbie, but sometimes I wanted the Transformer. In those cases, I HAD to request it. But sometimes the cashier would pull out that week’s boy and girl selections and say, “Which do you want?”

    I think this is more common when the toy is “gendered,” though. Like, here in Japan they recently had Shrek toys, and those were for everyone (and must have sucked–they seemed to be gone really quickly) but before that there were One Piece toys for the boys and Cinna-Roll toys for the girls. If US McDonalds wants to tie in with a movie, of course they’re just going to have, say, Pirates of the Caribbean toys. But if they want something like Barbie or Hello Kitty, they’ll always offer a boy toy. (No jokes about “boy toys” being for girls.)

  8. shfree
    July 27, 2007 at 7:12 am

    My daughter is nearly nine now, and we avoided a lot of that crap by firmly insisting that no one gets her character-related presents, ALWAYS muting any commercials that were on any show we watched, and being picky about the videos, too. She went for YEARS without knowing that Disney princesses exist. But granted, I was a stay at home parent until she went to school, so we had full control of the media she was exposed to.

    I really think that is the key, and it is possible.

  9. Jay
    July 27, 2007 at 7:25 am

    My daughter is 7 and we own no Disney movies except for “Mary Poppins”. She knows we don’t like the princess stuff, although we’ve permitted her to dress as a Disney princess for Halloween a few years running, and she sees princess stuff at school and every else’s house. I try to walk the fine line between mindlessly embracing it and making it even more attractive by forbidding it completely.

    We also counterprogram her with lots of different princess stuff. Among my favorites are “The Enchanted Forest Chronicles”, by Patricia Crede, and “The Undone Fairy Tale”, by Ian Lendler, both of which my daughter loves. The main characters are kick-ass princesses who turn many of the conventions upside-down.

    I don’t bother worrying about how much pink she wears. Last year it was all pink and purple; this year it’s blue and brown.

  10. Blunderbuss
    July 27, 2007 at 7:39 am

    How do we keep her from becoming brainwashed, but not ashamed of being girly if that’s what she really feels like being?

    I don’t really have any authority on this at all, so feel free to ignore me, but I would suggest finding a few good female role-models and showing them to her. Biggest one would be Miss Piggy from the Muppet Show. She was a big girl but knew she was totally gorgeous, feminine but not taking crap from anyone, had complete confidence in herself, didn’t need any assistance from Kermit, kicked ass if she needed to, and was sure as hell not a damsel in distress. Good gravy, I miss her.

  11. Karen
    July 27, 2007 at 8:09 am

    RachelAnne, I had exactly the same experience with my older son, whom I DID dress in baseball uniforms, T-shirts with construction equipment, that sort of thing. Andy had the most beautiful blonde ringlets as a baby and toddler, and I couldn’t bear to cut them. Because his hair was so curly, it never really looked all that long, but apparently “curly hair” = “girl” to tons of people. We were out with my parents in my hometown, and some dumbass redneck complimented my “daughter.” My father puffed up like an angry cat, and my husband told him, “they all think he’s a girl because he’s the only kid around here that’s not burr-headed and butt ugly.” It did shut Daddy up quite effectively.

    Oh, and when I finally did have to get his hair cut, because it started covering his eyes, I cried. My friends cried. The heavens cried, and showed by the fact that his hair is now straight as a board. It’s also brown, but I don’t care about that.

  12. Rhiannon
    July 27, 2007 at 8:25 am

    Usually I just take my daughter into the building so she can see the display and decide which toy she wants. Sometimes she actually thinks the “boytoys” are kewler than the “girltoys” (Movie promotions are pretty non-gender specific – like when McD’s was doing Shrek and now they’re doing The Simpsons. So at least there’s that.) Then it’s between me and the cashier. I haven’t had to call a manager yet so I try not to worry about it too much.

  13. AG
    July 27, 2007 at 8:31 am

    Excellent post, Vanessa! You know… my S.O. and I have dreaded this issue as well when we think about the type of parents we want to be, when we have kids. Damn, everything on earth is gender-typed — your example at McDonalds takes the cake (What next? pink colored french fries and blue colored burger buns?). My brother and I were raised in another side of the world and had a fairly gender-independent childhood (till we got to when we were about 10 when it all changed to the gender-typed world we’ve come to expect). As some of you have mentioned, it’s also scary to think if we try to avoid all kinds of gender-types without being careful, then the kids could turn up exactly the way we don’t want them to be (when they grow up)!

    Anyway, L or I still have not figured out too much how we’ll deal with gender-types but hopefully the combination of our reasonably (self-presumed) smart brains will help :-) And of course, real life examples and advice from other folks who think this is actually an issue!

  14. July 27, 2007 at 8:44 am
  15. Jodie
    July 27, 2007 at 8:50 am

    It’s pretty important to discuss these gender issues with your child from a very young age.

    My daughter went through a huge girly girl stage but she and I talked about gender roles, gender stereotyping, etc. At 22, she is a tough kickass feminist who doesn’t take crap off anyone. Sometimes she still likes to be girly, though.

    Keep communication lines open. In the end, your attitudes are more important than what society will do to her.

  16. Rhiannon
    July 27, 2007 at 8:54 am

    Re: Cruella

    Hmmm… yeah… only ONE out of 8 Disney Princesses is a mom (Ariel in movie 2), so I don’t think motherhood is on the Disney Agenda.

  17. human
    July 27, 2007 at 9:15 am

    I worry that if we have a daughter, telling her she can be anything she wants to be will sound like a punchline given what she’d be exposed to at school, on tv, etc.

    It would be a lie. I was lied to in this way and I still resent it. Sometimes adults fall into the habit of telling children that the world is the way they think it ought to be; this is easier and less complicated than explaining ugly things like sexism and racism, but it leaves them unequipped to deal with those realities.

    I don’t have kids, but my housemates do: two girls, six and four. I told the elder one last year, in the course of a conversation about girls playing sports, that there were some people out there who would try to tell her she couldn’t do things, or stop her from doing them, because she is a girl. I told her that if this happened to her, she ought to go ahead and do whatever it was she wanted to anyway – and if she needed any help to be able to do that, she should come to me or her parents, and we would help her.

  18. July 27, 2007 at 9:25 am

    Hmmm… yeah… only ONE out of 8 Disney Princesses is a mom (Ariel in movie 2), so I don’t think motherhood is on the Disney Agenda.

    Ariel had a baby?

    I think it’s because baby = having had teh sex, and that doesn’t seem to fit into the chaste, plucky maiden with a wasp waist and nice boobs model the Disney Princesses have going.

  19. July 27, 2007 at 9:32 am

    #18 — I certainly plan to teach my kids the truth about sexism; there’s no other way to arm them against it. But I also plan on telling my daughters they can be whatever they want — because becoming whatever they’re called to be is their right as a human being. Your second paragraph sounds like what I’m trying to get across — they should only hear the realistic stuff in the context of very strong support to fight sexist conventions and sexist people (with their parents’ support and work alongside them).

  20. July 27, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Oh, and to all mentioning the boy/girl toy thing at McDonald’s is probably just a promo thing, that’s kind of a relief. We were kind of flummoxed by the question and chose the girl toy without thinking, which turned out to be a “Hello Kitty Hair Makeover Set.” It consisted of hairclips and a comb in a little Hello Kitty-shaped container.

    And that’s not even a toy! Plus, she doesn’t even really have that much hair anyway!

  21. Shinobi
    July 27, 2007 at 9:32 am

    You can only protect her from the gender bias of the universe for so long, and by protecting her you may actually make things harder for her. I think the best thing you can do is talk to her about it as much as you can, and let her make her own choices. There may be a time in her life where “fitting in” is more important than being herself, and you may just have to let that happen. She just needs to know she has your love and support, and your encouragement to be independant and do what she loves. From there she will make her own choices.

    I know one of the major things that made me such a huge feminist is my Mom telling me about how hard she had to fight her father to go to college and get a job. All he ever wanted was for her to get married. Since I have always been so fortunate and been able to chose my path in life, I think if I didn’t hear about women who had to fight for their rights I might take them for granted. Maybe if you share some stories about your experiences with gender bias it will help her to relate to it more personally and understand that life isn’t always fair, but that she can fight back.

    Also, Tamora Peirce has some really great pro girl fantasy novels for young adults if she is at all interested in sword fighting or magic.

  22. FashionablyEvil
    July 27, 2007 at 9:34 am

    One of the more traumatizing experiences in my recent memory was a friend’s baby shower. She was expecting a girl and there was just pink EVERYWHERE–decorations, presents, food. That and the conversation about how fathers think they want sons, but they really want to have a “daddy’s little girl” and love being wrapped around their daughter’s finger. *Shudders*

    On a practical note, my mother always bought “neutral” baby clothes when my siblings and I were little (yellow, green, blue, red, etc., i.e., no pink) because it would be wasteful to have clothes that couldn’t be handed down to the younger siblings.

    I was also frightened by mothers who had their infant daughter’s ears pierced because they were afraid “people won’t know she’s a girl.”

    One more note: I went to the grocery store with my dad when I was about 7, wearing my soccer uniform (I had short hair at the time), and the cashier asked my dad how his “son’s” soccer game had gone (we laughed). I guess even in 1987 girls didn’t play sports.

  23. newslang
    July 27, 2007 at 9:39 am

    I hated when they would do the “boy or girl” toy thing at McDonalds. I remember a lot of times the boy toy would do something cool (make noise, the car would have some sort of launcher, etc etc) and then for the girl toy it would just be doll…who did nothing. I’m all for imagination but really! I feel like they put the effort in on the boy toys but not on the girl ones. I always made sure my parents got me the boy toys.

  24. July 27, 2007 at 9:43 am

    When my youngest daughter was very little people kept giving her Barbie stuff, assuming that because she is a girl that Barbie is exactly her heart’s desire. And pink and purple stuff, too.

    Daughter, being basically polite, said thank you and played with Barbie stuff briefly, then eventually went back to her Hot Wheels.

    (Although she did go through a serious My Little Pony obsessive phase.)

    Nowadays, if anybody tries to give her anything vaguely pink, or even with pink components, including clothing, she gets very offended. Her favorite colors and green and orange, none of that “girly-girl” stuff for her, thank you very much.

    And she’s started to mutilate her once-beloved Ponys. I just found one with safety pins sticking out of its cheeks.

  25. July 27, 2007 at 9:59 am

    My son went to daycare with his toenails painted purple.
    The boy in the princess dress scoffed, and called my son girly.

  26. Louise
    July 27, 2007 at 10:09 am

    I agree with Jodie regarding communication and IMO, just relax… kids who are informed and encouraged to talk and THINK will do so quite well. Our daughters have gone through stages of both liking the princess stuff and sneering at the “Aisle of PINK”. They much prefer going fishing or throwing rocks, and both are rabid readers and artists- McD’s is a once a month treat at most and we usually just get the food sans toys.

    And just to completely brag: my only female cousin graduated from paramedic training ( a 2 year process) the other day! She was her town’s EMT of the Year last year and has also been fire captain for same town… she so totally ROCKS!!! She’s 5 years younger and like a little sister; I’m so PROUD of her! (Her fave show growing up was “Emergency”…)

  27. Louise
    July 27, 2007 at 10:12 am

    I understand the color thing, Kactus- older daughter’s favorite color is yellow (like sunshine and because it’s her gramma’s fave) and younger’s is red. Mine is blue… none of us really like pink at all.

  28. Hector B.
    July 27, 2007 at 10:15 am

    I was also frightened by mothers who had their infant daughter’s ears pierced because they were afraid “people won’t know she’s a girl.

    Exactly. I saw this while standing in the checkout line of a discount store in Chicago. I agreed that the infant looking at me over her mother’s shoulder looked completely androgenous otherwise but come on.

    My daughter went through a huge girly girl stage.

    When my niece was little she suddenly insisted on wearing nothing but dresses. So when I was on vacation in SoCal I bowed to her will, and bought her a white embroidered Mexi-dress for Christmas. She was ECSTATIC.

  29. Irfon-Kim Ahmad
    July 27, 2007 at 10:16 am

    Once recently I was at the mall picking up a gift card for my sister-in-law as a Christmas present. When I asked for it, they asked me if it was for a boy or a girl. (???) I was kind of incredulous, so I asked them: “Why do you need to know?” It turns out that if it’s for a “girl” (which seems to encompass both girl and woman), you get a fancy cardboard thingy which folds into a gift box to put the card in. If it’s for a “boy” (which seems to emcompass both boy and man), you don’t. Yup, it’s not that they have two different boxes, one for females and one for males — if you’re female you get a box, if you’re male, no box. WTF?

  30. Aeryl
    July 27, 2007 at 10:23 am

    My daughter loves the Disney Princesses. Loves, loves, loves. She picked the horrid pink color her room is painted in, and the Dora the Explorer bedding.

    She also loves T-Ball, toy cars, and “Karate”(spongebob style) sparring with Daddy.

    The best you can do, is while your daughter may see all her friends with the typical “girlie” interests, and try to copy them, is to encourage them into interests that don’t necessarily fit into gender norms. I got my fiance “The Most Dangerous Book for Boys” for Dad’s day, and he and our daughter have a great time with it. And to counteract the insipid programming of the Disney frilly mafia, I try to expose her to more empowering Princess characters, like Buttercup from The Princess Bride. I also avoid the Disney channel like a plague, and watch PBS or Nickelodeon, who seem to have more mature child stars and also feature characters who don’t conform to “typical” heteronormative roles, or even traditional concepts of beauty.

    Oh, and she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up.

  31. SoE
    July 27, 2007 at 10:34 am

    This is a topic that really freaks me out. My parents managed to raise me “gender-neutral” and I’ll definitely do that with my kids. Being a child is supposed to be fun so why are they constantly told that some fun is boys-only and the rest for the girls? It’s like a cinema where women get the chips and men the nachos. Only selling beer to men and reserve the sparkling wine for the women.

    Oh and all this stuff like girls are supposed to have long hair and cannot cut it because they will regret it. Getting their ears pierced when they’re a baby (talk about mutilation) and then not allowing them to paint their nails because that probably makes them little sluts. Hgertijyxerijwe!

  32. July 27, 2007 at 10:42 am

    oh, i would totally freak out if i had a daughter go through a girly girl phase, but would probably end up encouraging a son to! Actually, who knows, I’m not opposed to castles, long hair, or barbies but the kid will have to play on it’s own damn it.

  33. Roy
    July 27, 2007 at 10:57 am

    I have a young niece and I’m constantly worried about what kinds of things I should get for her, for the same reasons. In my case, the other problem is that I know her father is… erm… less than progressive. He buys her pink stuff, and toy brooms and dishes and crap like that, and it drives me up the wall.

    Obviously, I don’t have as much influence as her parents do, but I can see that I’m having minor effects. I gave her a box of toys I found from my childhood, including a bunch of cars and toy soldiers, and she loved that for a while. I buy her things like lincoln logs and building blocks for her birthday, and I’ve got her interested in video games. She looks forward to my visits because we play Mario Party and Mario Kart together. She loves “the purple guy” and “Big Monkey” right now.

    Are toys really more gendered now than they were in the 80s, though (when I was a kid)? I remember the gender divide on toys being really sharp. There were Boy Cartoons, and Girl Cartoons, and the toys made from them didn’t cross genders, but when I’m hanging out with my niece, I notice that it seems like a lot of the cartoons she watches seem less specifically gendered. I freely admit, that could be my misperception, though.

  34. Ledasmom
    July 27, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Any time I’m at the McDonald’s drive-through (and I’ve just realized that it’s been a year or more) I tell them to leave the toy out. We have way too much plasticrap around here already. Mostly the kids don’t play with those toys; I take ’em along to Thursday trivia night to give the boyfriend of my teammate something to do.
    As for the gendered toy/gendered clothes thing, search me; it puzzled me as a child and it puzzles me today.

  35. July 27, 2007 at 10:59 am

    Louise — congrats to your cousin! My folks were both firefighters when I was younger. It was a tough road for my mother for a while, getting respect from the men in the department. It was huge for me as a kid to see her making that sacrifice — in order to have the privilege to sacrifice some more! I’m sure your cousin will be a great role model to another generation of young women and men. :-)

  36. July 27, 2007 at 11:02 am

    as a former McDonald’s employee, technically, if it’s a corporate store and not a franchise, they’re not supposed to ask girl toy or boy toy, they’re ‘sposed to ask Barbie or Hot Wheels (or whatever the choices are) – the registers have a button for it, and it’s coded CAR and DOLL because that’s the most common brand pairing – because they don’t want anyone feeling uncomfortable if they want the ‘other’ one, though parents get weird about it when they come through. I had a parent with their kid standing in front of me, old enough to ID gender (though I don’t remember which it was) and they got huffy with me when I asked which one they wanted, as if it should’ve been obvious since i could see their kid.

    and yes, it’s an occasional promo thing.

  37. Kyra
    July 27, 2007 at 11:07 am

    It would be a lie. I was lied to in this way and I still resent it. Sometimes adults fall into the habit of telling children that the world is the way they think it ought to be; this is easier and less complicated than explaining ugly things like sexism and racism, but it leaves them unequipped to deal with those realities.

    I managed to read it (“you can be anything”) as, there was nothing wrong with or inferior about me that prevented me from being whatever I want. It became quickly apparent that there was plenty wrong with the world; but the thing that stuck out to me, even in preschool, was that the line was “girls can be anything (now)”—boys’ abilities to be anything were taken for granted, obvious, eternal. Even when I was that young it seemed like the people who said it were trying to make it so by force of will, trying to psyche us up into dealing with a hostile world. That opposing force was there, and it was highlighted by this feeling of “they doth protest too much.” Girls’ abilities to do anything were news, rather than status quo.

  38. Barbara P
    July 27, 2007 at 11:18 am

    “The boy in the princess dress scoffed, and called my son girly.”

    I love that line, not just because it’s so funny and random, but it has a poetic cadence to it.

  39. human
    July 27, 2007 at 11:21 am

    Haha Kyra, good one, I guess I just wasn’t as quick on the uptake as I thought I was, when I was a kid. :-) Now that you mention the protesting-too-much aspect of it I think I probably did sense that. The main cause of my resentment too is that when push came to shove, my father didn’t support me when I was denied the opportunity to do what I wanted (play soccer after junior high). It does no good to tell girls they can be/do anything and then just watch when other people inform them that Oh No They Cannot.

    Fr Chris: sounds like we are in agreement, you need both the encouragement to dream big and the acknowledgment of the truth.

  40. ashleyw
    July 27, 2007 at 11:29 am

    When I was younger and there would be gender specific toys at fast food places (usually McDonald’s), my mother would usually let them give me the girl toy if I didn’t speak up about it. A little bothersome that she didn’t ask, but if I did mention that I liked the boy toys better then that’s what I would get.

    And of course my parents would get me girl toys, and of course I would enjoy them. I didn’t stay in the baby dolls stage very long because I began to have other interests due to characters I would see on cartoons. My baby dolls were left in their beds while I went on many adventures with Buster Bunny, Donatello (TMNT), and Sonic the Hedgehog. Being “girly” seemed to be a short stage in my childhood.

    Interest in things that “were for boys” never seemed to irk my parents and they didn’t try to prevent it. I’m really thankful that they’ve never tried to discourage any of my interests over the years.

  41. July 27, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Since the 70s, the toy industry has been hopelessly caught in a marketing-driven gender spiral that seems to get worse and worse every year.

    See, way back when, even though there were gendered toys like Barbie and cowboy action figures and whatnot, toy makers also believed it was totally possible to have gender-neutral toys too. For instance, Lego bricks. They used to be pretty much gender-free, right? Then the 80s came along, and a bunch of studies were published about how boys’ & girls’ play patterns are different, followed by conclusions about how toys and activities really ought to be geared towards kids’ divergent interests.

    This was partly dressed up in the idea that children are unique and we shouldn’t treat them as if they’re all alike, and partly driven by the explosion of “target marketing” — where marketers try and solve the dilemma of trying to figure out if a product is going to be successful by finding a tiny slice of the market and attempting to make a product exactly, precisely what that particular kind of person wants. If you can’t tell, I despise target marketing with a fierce kind of loathing normally reserved for a villain who has burned your family’s village to the ground and consider it responsible for an awful lot of mediocre mass-marketed products in the last few decades. And of course, part of target marketing is separating out the boys from the girls and trying to figure exactly what each group wants, which of course is going to be “different,” right?

    So ever since the 80s… Lego, as just one example, has been rejecting the idea that little plastic bricks can be a toy for both boys and girls, and started separating their marketing and product design into a boys section (much larger) and a girls section (smaller, and a nightmare of pink bows, basically) and a baby section, which is thankfully much less gendered. Can you tell I used to work there? I worked very occasionally with the product design department for girls, and remember trying to convince them on a couple of occasions that girls are really into kick-ass heroines who fight monsters and stuff these days. But they didn’t really buy it.

  42. July 27, 2007 at 11:46 am

    My worry with my daughter is that in rejecting all things “girly girl” she is implicitly rejecting girls, too. She honestly doesn’t like other girls very much, gets along with boys much better, and I’m afraid that she is being pushed into viewing girls as this one-dimensional, pink&purple cabal, with no personalities of their own.

    Hopefully as she gets older she’ll become more aware of just how much pressure girls are under to conform to these gender stereotypes. Until then, all I can do is try to inform her, and remind her of how much pressure she was under, too, as a young girl to be all into the Disney princesses.

  43. CBrachyrhynchos
    July 27, 2007 at 11:46 am

    The good news it that my nieces live in a somewhat anti-Disney family.

    The bad news is that their parents are fundamentalist Christians.

    I was lucky in that my parents generally let me play with whatever I wanted, as long as my gender role ambiguity was quiet and didn’t draw too much attention.

  44. Hector B.
    July 27, 2007 at 11:50 am

    So ever since the 80s… Lego, as just one example, has been rejecting the idea that little plastic bricks can be a toy for both boys and girls.

    Lego started out as just a box of bricks; sales took off when they started making playsets; gender segmentation followed.

  45. July 27, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    And to counteract the insipid programming of the Disney frilly mafia, I try to expose her to more empowering Princess characters, like Buttercup from The Princess Bride.

    Although I agree with most of your statement, I have to take exception to this. To me, the one thing that made The Princess Bride less than perfect was how very passive Buttercup was. She got kidnapped by bandits…oh well. She got kidnapped again by Westly…oh well. She protested a bit, but that was it. In fact, the only time she really showed any gumption was when she jumped off the boat, but then she had to promptly get rescued–by the guys. She sat back passively and let Westly get attacked in the swamp, and only started to fight back when the monster-thingy started attacking her, even though she had plenty of opportunities to rescue Westly.

    Sorry, but every time I watch that movie I get mad at how she just kind of let things happen to her. Although, to be fair, that was one of the points the crone was trying to make, when she kept calling her the “Queen of Refuse” or some such–like, why don’t you fight back? Get some gumption, girl!

  46. Dauphine
    July 27, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    I’ve always been somewhat confused by the inclusion of Mulan as a Disney princess, since she’s…like…not. She’s the daughter of a farmer. She doesn’t even marry a prince. Still, I’d definitely say she’s the most inspiring of the princesses so I can’t complain too much.

    When I was little I always wanted to play with boys’ toys more than girls’ toys. I was always stealing my brother’s video games (an obsession that persists to this day, only now I have my own systems and games). I had the Barbies but I had the Legos as well, and I did basically the same thing with both toys–built habitats and made up stories about them.

    If I have a daughter, I don’t think I’ll put many limitations on her use of toys as long as she’s getting some creativity and imagination out of them. I played with Barbies, loved most of the Disney movies (still do), and have a lasting affinity for the color pink, and somehow (despite my mother’s best efforts, mwa ha) ended up a feminist.

  47. Alara Rogers
    July 27, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    I disagree that the toy section for girls is smaller. All of the crafts have now been gendered for girls. Are you a boy who would like to grow crystals? I hope you’re secure in your masculinity, son, because you have to go through the aisle that’s full of frilly fonts and pastel colors to get a crystal growing kit at Target.

    I cannot get too exercised about toys because when I was a small child, I was the frilliest girliest girl you ever saw. Okay, my mom wouldn’t let me have Barbies and I hated horses, but other than that. I wouldn’t wear pants because they were boyish. I wore pretty lacy dresses. When I played cars with my brother it was all about the soap opera personalities of the drivers, one of whom was a very fancy doll I owned (no, she didn’t fit in the car — the idea was that if I wanted to play with her without her career as a racecar driver coming in to it, she would be on a different scale.) I dressed up in my mom’s makeup. I liked sparkly things, I wore fake jewelry and painful earclip earrings.

    And then overnight I turned into an androgyne when I hit my teens. I *wouldn’t* wear dresses, or makeup, unless my mom forced me to do it. I wouldn’t watch shows aimed at girls or read books marketed to girls — I was all about science fiction and superheroes. Whereas as a child I had despised gym class, I actually developed a very small interest in athletics in my teens precisely because most of the girls weren’t interested. (Not enough of an interest to counter 10 years of being told I sucked and not being picked for any teams, but enough to recognize that with the proper encouragement I could have been decent at it.) I gave up the frillies and the lace and the jewelry completely and lost interest in dolls and became very much the geek equivalent of a tomboy, hangin’ with my geek guy friends discussing computers.

    So I think that parents who encourage their daughters to be anything they want to be are really all a girl needs to escape the girly-girl pressures, and I am not going to get upset that my daughter wants to play with Bratz or watches crappy shows for pre-teens. She has a strong interest in science, is currently attending a science camp in fact, and wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. I don’t think the Bratz dolls or the crappy teen sitcoms are going to make her think she’s less than what she is or that there’s anything she can’t achieve just because she’s a girl.

  48. July 27, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Lego started out as just a box of bricks; sales took off when they started making playsets; gender segmentation followed.

    And early playsets, for the most part (especially town themes) were just as popular with girls that liked plastic blocks as boys that liked plastic blocks. (Although there have always been more of those boys than girls, for reasons that probably go way further back into child-gender-roles.) The gender segmentation really started to accelerate and more thoroughly infest product development later in the 80s and into the 90s, with “Zach the Lego maniac’ here in the US. Now it’s pretty much out of control. The “girl line,” unlike the slightly-girl-tinged Paradisa playsets of the 80s, is utterly pink and Barbie-influenced. The “boy lines” are covered with such Xtreme and dark and jagged and combative theming and artwork that they might as well have “NO GIRLZ ALLOWED” spraypainted on them. Which really is the intention, speaking as someone who worked on this stuff from the inside. This is typical across the whole toy industry, Lego has just become more intent on matching their competition (mostly Hasbro and Mattel) but it’s disappointing.

  49. Matthew
    July 27, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    I hated the fact that once my daughter was born and her sex was known, we got the flood of pink. All her clothing is pink these days, as that’s what we were given. As soon as she’s too big for that, hopefully things will change.

    My parents are pretty big on non-gendered toys, so are my wife’s mother, step-father (who insists he’s going to teach our daughter to hunt and fish), and father. The only dangerous one is the step-mother. She’s very nice, has a good high-power job, but does like pink. She’s also thrilled to be a grandmother, even though she’s no biological relation, so she buys a lot of clothes for the little one.

    My wife and her sister were both raised no differently than if they’d been boys, despite her father’s self-professed conservative views. I did get a lot of gendered toys when I was growing up, but because I asked for them. Everything they chose for me was pretty non-gendered, and they saved my old wooden blocks, train set, and lego. As soon as my daughter is old enough, we’re reclaiming those.

    Other than that, probably the best thing to do is lead by example as much as we can.

  50. Aeryl
    July 27, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    kactus,

    I agree with you, and then again don’t. She did run a farm by herself, and and I think in a typical “princess” would have had a nervous breakdown, while Buttercup maintained a haughty and angry demeanor at her treatment. She doesn’t necessarily represent an empowered woman, but she was a woman who attempted to wield what little power she had(like threatening Vezzini & Wesley with Humperdink).

    IMO, the Disney princesses aren’t too bad. I like how they are portrayed as women who will fight and face adversity for what they want. I hate that what they want is always “true love”,(except in the case of Mulan, but that’s why she kicks ass) but love is a universal concept that children begin to understand at a very early age. The important thing is to impress on your children that the same determined attitude is to be applied to all aspects of your life.

  51. Ron O.
    July 27, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    I’m a parent ot a 2 yo boy ad 5 week girl. I worry about both of them buying into gender sterotypes too much also. Yet my parents, who had pretty gendered separation of responsibilities, still managed to raise some smart, kick-ass women (2 sisters are biologists, one is a chemistry teacher, and a fouth is I’m not really sure what, but it has to do with cancer research at a huge hospital). One of the ways they did this was to teach both the boys and girls their skills. We all learned to cook, clean and do laundry, change the oil, fix a flat tire , mow the grass, paint a wall, re-wire a lamp, etc. It has served us well.

    I think I actually helps a bit that we have a boy and a girl. I played a lot with my sisters a a kid and we just shared toys. Sometimes we wanted cake, so we played with the easy-bake oven. Often we made extensive lego/playschool hybrid towns and made up stories about living here. We also played archeology, ’cause we were such nerds. Thankfuly mom & dad really didn’t care when we dug holes in the yard.

  52. Matthew
    July 27, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    It was interesting. A co-worker of mine has two children, both of whom are in the karate class that my school teaches (we go to various elementary schools as an after-school programme). The older one, a girl, recently came to the office with her mother.

    She was leaving, and out of bemusement I pointed her out to my co-workers. “See that kid in front? Girl.” They didn’t believe me, and were horrified that when she wanted to get a short haircut just recently, her mom didn’t care. And when shopping for clothes, she wanted them from the boy’s section. Her mother mentioned this to me with a shrug.

    I thought it was awesome that this girl’s mother would just go ahead and buy her the clothes she wanted without too much fuss, and I thought it was cool that she was wearing what she wanted to rather than what she thought she should (definitely wouldn’t know she was a girl just by looking, but at that age it really doesn’t make much difference anyway). My co-workers were horrified, which I found saddening. But then, they also hate cats, so what can you expect?

  53. TinaH
    July 27, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    My 3 year old son loves my bracelets, earrings and other jewelry. I let him wear most of the costume stuff whenever he wants. He also wears necklaces with Thomas the Train or Bob the Builder tee-shirts. It’s a bit jarring at first, but you get used to it.

  54. July 27, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    When I was about 8, for a long while I insisted that my parents let me grow my hair long. Quite why I was so adamant, I don’t remember, but I clearly felt it was very important.

    Anyway, it means I have first-hand experience of being the object in such gender-identity assessments.

    It was a very odd feeling having people who didn’t know me, talk to my parents and say, for instance, “And what would your little girl like?” (in a coffee shop or gift shop or whatever). Despite the fact that I was always wearing very “masculine” style clothes – clothes for doing active, clambering, fighting, running-around type games, with male superhero/role-model images and slogans on them. Looking back at the photos I have of myself at that time, I don’t think I looked particularly “girly” or feminine in terms of any other features, so the cue must have been the hair.

    I identified myself very strongly as male at that stage, with the exception of rejecting the “expected” male-ism of short hair. I recall feeling quite offended that they’d got it wrong. Eventually, my parents and the pressures from society around me won out over my insistence on having long hair, and I let my mother cut it all off. When I reached my teens, I reverted to my long-haired-ness and have generally kept that attribute ever since (these days, it’s also a part of my complicated sense of gender identity, a definite expression of my female side)

    Incidentally, I find the pink/blue = girl/boy identity quite confusing, because to me, pink is a masculine colour (I think it’s because I see pink as a variation on red, which in turn I associate with various archetypal “masculine” qualities) and blue is a feminine colour (again, I associate blue more often with the feminine than the masculine). Hmm, maybe I was also wearing pink things (thinking they were masculine) when I was a little boy with long hair, and that added to people’s confusion?

  55. Kat
    July 27, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    “Upon ordering a Happy Meal, we are then asked if it’s for a girl or a boy. WTF? How long has this been happening for?”

    Yeah… my son is 10, this has been going on for at least that long. The poor cashier at the register is just saying what they have been told to say. If you go to McDonald’s website, you can e-mail a comment to them about your service and suggest that instead of asking “girl toy or boy toy” that they ask “hot wheels or barbie?”. Enough of those comments may change their approach. And, my experience has been that if you send in a complaint/suggestion, you usually get a couple coupons for free value meals, so win-win ;)

  56. hp
    July 27, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    The obsession with putting little girls in pink is so marked where I live (Dublin) that I find myself, when I’m out and about, actively trying to spot one in some other colour. What do their parents think is going to happen to them if they give them clothes in green or blue or purple? Will society cast them into darkness with wailing and gnashing of teeth?

    As the parent of a young child: I have to wonder how many of them have just given up.

    Children’s clothing is extremely gendered–it’s HARD to find non-gendered clothing. Almost everything for boys is in shades of blue; almost everything for girls is pastel (generally pinks). I didn’t want gender-specific clothing, but I have piles upon piles of blue crap now. Because he needed clothing to wear and that was what was available.

    This is a particular problem with onsies, which le babe needs to wear because otherwise he removes his diaper. Cheap onsies come in packs of pink and packs of blue. Once in a while you can find packs of neutral, but only in smaller sizes (I presume, for purchase for those odd couples who don’t want to learn the sex before birth). When you get into more expensive shirt-like onsies, it’s stripes of blue or stripes of pink.

    And, at least in my experience, when you dress boy babies in yellow or green, people get offended. Apparently only parents of girls should want gender-neutral clothing.

  57. July 27, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Kat, they’re supposed to ask hot wheels or barbie, but not all managers emphasize it.

  58. Rhiannon
    July 27, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    “When I was little I always wanted to play with boys’ toys more than girls’ toys. I was always stealing my brother’s video games ”

    When I was little I always wanted to take apart my older brother’s toys to figure out how they worked… he got revenge by destroying my My Little Pony Castle…. sigh. I didn’t intend to break his toys, but he sure intended to break mine.. either way, that was quite a bit of money down the drain for my parents. (not to mention potentially collectible items lost – 1st gen G.I.Joes, Transformers and MLPs – including Megan, her house/stable, Firefly, etc).

    Other than that, the only thing that made me a “tom-boy” was my penchant for climbing, dirtplaying and rough-housing. The rough-housing stopped once I got boobs though. Like I suddenly had cooties or something!

  59. Lucy Gillam
    July 27, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    I’ll admit, I kind of counter-rebelled on the pink thing. My 4-week-old daughter looks great in pink, and I see no reason to shun the color because people equate girly with weak. It annoys me on the same level as people choosing masculine-sounding names for girls because they want “strong” names. Fie on that, I say!

    OTOH, I’m already saying things to her like “when someone tells you you can’t do something because you’re a girl, laugh at them and do it anyway,” and that when people call her “princess,” she should say, “I’m not a princess, I’m a gunslinger!” (long story, she shares the name of a Stephen King character, and yeah, I’m looking forward to the first call from daycare on that one).

    So yeah, it’s a fine line. I don’t like the idea that it’s somehow inherently better for her to play with stereotypically “boy” toys, but I also don’t like the way a lot of traditionally girl toys shape future expectations. (I also really, really don’t like the way “gender neutral” so often ends up meaning “masculine,” but of course, that’s because as soon as enough girls start wearing a color/using a name/doing an activity, boys stop wearing/using/doing it lest they be mistaken for girls.) I figure the best we can do is try to find some kind of balance, and focus on the things we think are really harmful versus the ones that really aren’t.

  60. SoE
    July 27, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    She honestly doesn’t like other girls very much, gets along with boys much better, and I’m afraid that she is being pushed into viewing girls as this one-dimensional, pink&purple cabal, with no personalities of their own.

    That could have been me. I used to play with the boys during elementary school breaks and yea, the other girls seemed to be boring and had no idea about dinosaurs. But I realized that there were quite a few girls out there who were into the same stuff I liked (Star Trek…) and even the girly girls can be fun to hang out with.

    She’s not gonna be pushed into thinking something unless someone does push her.

  61. Laurie
    July 27, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    Re: clothing in gendered colors

    I suggest getting really friendly with an old stock or canning pot that no one will ever use again and Rit dye. Specifically Rit, since it is MADE to dye cotton/poly blends, which a LOT of clothing is made from. You can gets lots of neat colors right out of the box/bottle, and they mix sort of like paint.* Get the kiddos to help if they are old enough. Experiment with tie-dying or other resist techniques. Fight the System! :) (Seriously, this is a great way to customize stuff for either gender. So is the color remover — you can do cool splatter techniques and stuff. Yeah, it’s messy, but it’s a great rainy weekend project.)

    Another thought would be to write politely worded letters of complaint and great *disappointment* that you can’t find clothing your child likes in store xyz. And let them know that you will be taking your business elsewhere. Yeah, I know. Drop in the bucket. But enough drops in the bucket might make a dent.

    FWIW, my favorite color has ALWAYS been blue, which makes it a shock to see baby pictures with me in pink. And a bow taped to my head since I had so little hair. “Because otherwise people thought you were a boy.” Whatever. I was raised pretty gender-neutral in the 1970s, had some dolls (that I hardly ever played with), had plenty of Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs (though no Legos) and BOOKS. I guess I just got lucky getting my childhood in before the Disney Princess Mafia (LOVE that!) got out of control.

    Best of luck to all of you parents. I don’t have kids and am appalled at the Aisle O’ Pink and the “Princess” t-shirts.

    *I suggest trying mixes out on garage sale or thrift store finds first. Ditto tie-dying/resist dying. But it’s LOADS of fun!

  62. July 27, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Laurie: that’s pretty much exactly what I did with the craptacular pink clothes we got. We actually got some really cool Onesies doing that, and found if you put the dye in a squirt bottle (like a ketchup bottle or something) you can do cool stripe type effects.

    Also, if you take a shallow cake pan or cookie sheet, you can drizzle dye in in swirly patterns, then lay the garment on top of it to soak in the color, and it comes out in a neat textured effect. (Which I’d show a picture of, but I can’t find a good one.)

    Ironically, now that she’s older, it’s easier to find clothes that don’t make me want to barf or give me cavities. I’ve found some genuinely attractive things on the clearance rack at both Wal-Mart and Target.

    (Also, I don’t know about any other parents, but I refuse to spend more than 5 bucks on any one article of clothing for our daughter. Not only will she outgrow them quickly, but they’re bound to wind up with various bodily fluids or smooshed food or mud or something on them.)

  63. Louise
    July 27, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Fr Chris, last night was our lil town’s annual “It’s Really Hot So Let’s Play With The Firehoses” evening for the volunteers. They brought all of the volunteers and every fire truck they could (all 3 of them) and set up the pumper truck at the small river/big stream that runs parallel to our road. Then when the pumper was full, they practiced shooting the water in a 50’+ high arc back into the pond at the end of our property- it confuses the hell out of the fish, frogs, turtles and birds! But it’s fun and really cool to watch.

    But this year, they had a 17 year old GIRL directing traffic (such as it is- we’re a town of maybe 4000); apparently, once you are 16 in our town, you can be a volunteer firefighter. Our 12 year old thought that was so cool… slowly, women are being more accepted in non-traditional roles even here in podunkia Maine.

  64. Louise
    July 27, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    And Vanessa, I agree re:cost of clothes- our kids love to shop at thrift stores for the variety and cost savings. My older daughter got 8 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of shorts and a few skirts for less than $30 in June! Practically brand new. Since she now wants to save up her money and buy her own school supplies etc, this was a great way to illustrate how to get the most out of your money.

  65. Lucy Gillam
    July 27, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    Incidentally, I find the pink/blue = girl/boy identity quite confusing, because to me, pink is a masculine colour (I think it’s because I see pink as a variation on red, which in turn I associate with various archetypal “masculine” qualities) and blue is a feminine colour (again, I associate blue more often with the feminine than the masculine).

    Actually, that’s the historical association. Red was a masculine color, and so the pink that came from later dye batches was masculine, too. Blue, meanwhile, was “softer” and thus more feminine.

  66. cats
    July 27, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    My brother and I seemed to avoid a lot of gender pressure. Honestly, I think it’s because our parents read to us, encouraged us to read, played with us, and we played with each other.

    They’ve been doing the boy/girl thing at McDonalds since I was a kid, and my parents simply asked us which toy we wanted, without really puttng any thought into who each toy “should” be for.

    My brother and I both played with ninja turtles, and my little ponies, and G.I. Joes. We both watched Rainbow Brite, and Jem, and Ghostbusters, and He-Man and She-Ra–and again with the G.I. Joe and Turtles. Watching old school turtles recently, I realized it was an incredibly sexist cartoon. Still, I turned out ok.

    Kids are just kids. They mostly just like to play, period. They look to you before they ever start feeling peer pressure from their friends or television or corporatoins. If they see that Mommy doesn’t feel like she HAS to wear make up everyday, daddy is interested in things other than just guns and sports, and both parents defend their kids choices to play with whatever the hell they want, they’ll get the message that they can play with whatever the hell they want.

    In my experience, kids are curious about everything in the world around them. Kids of any sex or gender are curious about cooking, fishing, building, bugs, make up, mom’s clothes, dad’s clothes, driving, animals, princesses, princes, pirates, superheroes, or whatever. It’s only when someone they look to as an example disapproves of something their curious about do they learn what they “should” or “shouldn’t” be interested in.

    If there’s anything I would think should actively be pushed on children, it’s books. Books books books books books books books books books. All kinds of books. As many books as you can pile in their rooms. Whatever they want to read. Read with them, read to them, read the books their reading, and tell them about the books you’re reading (in as much as you can). Everybody needs more books.

  67. cats
    July 27, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    *They’re reading, not their. Jesus.

  68. July 27, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    My daughter has been going through an extreme girly phase too. Loves pink, wants to wear dresses daily, and her favorite princess is Rapunzel. Can I say how happy I am that it’s not a Disney Princess, and no she has not seen the Barbie Rapunzel movie either. She just has an extreme fascination with long, long hair. She wants her Daddy to build her a tower when she grows up. Pink, of course.

    She also says she wants to be a Mommy when she grows up. No interest in any other job. Fortunately, since I work at home she has the impression that part of the Mommy job is working on the computer. 5 year olds aren’t exactly clear on what people do on computers. She just knows it’s a part of my job.

    My son is going through a girly phase too, pretty much in imitation of his sister. Plays dress up, loves pretty things. At 2-1/2, there’s no reason for him to be concerned about gender identity.

    They both play rough. I have a theory that if they don’t sometimes need an extra bath or have to be hosed down outside once in a while, they aren’t having enough fun.

    I heard that they’re coming out with a Daring Book for Girls around November. I’ve been thinking about getting a pair of books – the Dangerous and the Daring ones – and giving one to each kid for Christmas. Only question is who gets which?

    And as for ear piercing, my daughter may have her ears pierced when she asks for them, is old enough and will sit still enough to have it done. I used to work in a jewelry store and did ear piercings and I hated it when people brought in infants for ear piercings.

    The funniest was the day a young mother brought in her son for an ear piercing. She was tired of people thinking he was a girl and so she wanted to get one ear pierced so that people would quit asking. She was quite certain that it would help, just as we were sure that it would make everyone even more certain he was a girl. Who checks both ears, after all? We declined to pierce because the baby was younger than our policies allowed us to pierce, but I’m sure she had someone else do it.

  69. July 27, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    I was a Princessy little girl (now a Princessy feminist) and think that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a BAD thing. I mean… the Disney Princesses weren’t all terrible (though, sheesh, you’d think we’d have at least ONE token black by now). Belle was a bookworm, Ariel disregarded her father’s wishes in favor of her own, Jasmine refused an arranged marriage and Mulan fought bravely as a soldier. (Granted, Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty were pretty lame and mostly just danced around with birds, mice and tiny men. I always liked Maleficent and the Evil Queen though. And Ursula the sea witch? Love! Her!)

    I feel like telling little girls that it’s bad to be very feminine is essentially saying that women suck and should strive to be like men. (Because “gender neutral” always seems to mean being like guys, more than anything else.) It’s probably less about whether she’s into heels and makeup and more about figuring out how to make society not value her as less for it.

  70. Janis
    July 27, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    Hrm. I detest any gendering of any kind for stuff like this. If it’s supposedly so “natural,” they why does it need to be shoved down people’s throats?

    As a kid, and as a middle-aged adult, the only sorts of “toys” I like are ones that let you make stuff. Lego blocks, yarn, markers, toys frmo Edmunds Scientific … god I loved all of it. Boy stuff, girl stuff, I didn’t give a damn, as long as I could make stuff with it. I’m still like that — I literally cannot see why the hell knitting is female and taking apart one’s VCR to look at the fiddly bits is male. They’re the same damned thing — pursuit of the “How is that put together?” mania.

    Mystified by the association of short hair with masculinity, though. Possibly because my own hair is past my buttcheeks at this point and my mother is constantly on me to cut it and “do something with it,” some stylish, flippy, layered feminine short cut. Yeah, I’d much rather spend 45 minutes fighting with my hair with an endless supply of blow driers and product than whipping it into a bun on the back of my head in three seconds. Whoever said long hair is feminine and requires a ton of girly care never had to work a curling iron and a handful of mousse. Short hair is a pain in the backside — requires constant trimming and maintenance, and trips into the Pink-n-Fluffy Grand Central Station of Femininity, the hair salon.

    Cave-Chick hair rules. No trims, no maintenance, wash it once a week, and it’s ready in three seconds every morning, with no worries about “oh I slept on it wrong.” :-)

  71. July 27, 2007 at 8:09 pm

    I feel like telling little girls that it’s bad to be very feminine is essentially saying that women suck and should strive to be like men. (Because “gender neutral” always seems to mean being like guys, more than anything else.) It’s probably less about whether she’s into heels and makeup and more about figuring out how to make society not value her as less for it.

    Ay, there’s the rub…how to strike the balance between being yourself, should it be girly or no (and I’m fairly girly myself, Twisty Faster would probably call me ’empowerful’) and not being a brainwashed corporate whore.

    But to elaborate on why the Disney Princesses are the work of the devil (beyond the basic, Disney is an evil megacorp and I don’t want them to have my money aspect) every single one of them (besides Mulan – who I actually really like) find their fulfillment and their Happily-Ever-After through their relationship with a man.

    Belle may be a bookworm, but she willingly traps herself in an abusive relationship. IMO, she’s the creepiest. Ariel I have to dislike for the sappy tacked-on happy ending to her story. Jasmine is a damsel-in-distress. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are both like the ultimate damsels in distress, being woken with a kiss. And Cinderella – talk about the way to teach stereotypes. Ugly people are mean and bad! Pretty people are good! (I remember as a kid watching the scene where one of the Ugly Stepsister’s feet were too big to fit into Cinderella’s tiny, bound-foot glass slipper. Now I’ve always had huge feet, so you could imagine how I felt.) I’ve never seen Pocahontas, so honestly on that one I can’t tell you.

    Also, every last one of the Disney Princesses have huge perky tits and impossible wasp waists (again, except for Mulan – and Snow White, but that wasn’t the style at the time). Which disturbs me. And the whole ‘princess’ concept, as marketed to little girls…is just wrong. It’s so consumerist. I don’t want Abbie to think of herself as a princess. To me, princess is an insult you would fling at Paris Hilton. I certainly don’t want Abbie to grow up thinking that ‘princess’ is a thing you can buy at the store.

    There are Disney heroines that don’t fill me with loathing. Alice from Alice in Wonderland, for example. Or Pixar heroines like Dory. Or Elizabeth Swann from Pirates of the Caribbean. It isn’t the fact that the Disney Princesses are wearing girly dresses or whatever that peeves me off. It’s the fact that they’re all either helpless in the face of danger or slavishly waiting to be saved by their handsome knights in shining armor.

    To summon another pop culture example, think of Queen Amidala in the first two Star Wars prequels (in the third one, although the acting had improved, pretty much all she did was get pregnant and die). Which is a pretty geeky thing of me to say, but bear with me. Clearly a girly-girl, into big frilly dresses and makeup, but still a leader and a woman of action. To use another horrible movie as an example – Lara Croft in the second Tomb Raider movie vs. The Charlie’s Angels sequel that came out around the same time.

    Are craptacular movies the only examples of characters like this? If so, that’s kind of sad.

  72. Janis
    July 27, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    Oh Vanessa, don’t forget — pretty people are also only good insofar as they meekly tolerate abuse! Otherwise, they’re the stuck up bitch who needs to be taught a lesson.

    There are days when I want to put a bag over my head and tell people to frigging GUESS what I look like.

  73. July 27, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    I saw a few mentions of the sci-fi that saved me from not having a brain. I read so much as a kid, a teen, a young adult, and now I’m 21 and still go through books like kleenex. My progression was fairy tales (Big Red Fairy Book anyone? Hans Christian Andersen?), Greek myths, fantasy, and then as I was growing tired of the same ol comedic crap, I found all the Star Trek novels at my library. Life has been different ever since, and I’ve never looked back.

    There’s a lot more gender equality in sci-fi, and if nothing else, at least a lot more discussion of the differences between us all (humans, aliens, etc.) and how we should deal with them. Some of my favorite books for younger (elem & middle school, even high school) readers include books by Madeline L’Engle (Wind in the Door, Wrinkle in Time), Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising, I just saw they’re making a movie of it soon – nifty!), Roald Dahl (I loved Matilda, Boy, and the Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar) and Phillip Pullman (The Golden Compass was amazing, but the last one made me cry. A Lot.). And you know what’s kind of funny? I still have ALL of these on my bookshelves today. They were that important to me.

    As for TV, my whole family has watched CSI since it came on, and have always loved more grown-up stuff (I remember watching Star Trek Next Gen every Saturday night on my mom’s lap), and have fond memories of Mystery! on PBS, Murder She Wrote, Jeopardy, lots and lots of PBS and Discovery Channel, but also discovering even more stuff during the summer and cruising around the channels (I was the one that sat my mom down to watch Sex and The City with me – that was an experience! It got us talking a lot though, which was cool.)

    All I can say is encourage talent and interest everywhere. If she likes fashion, get her a sketch book and tell her to make up her own line of clothes. If it’s bugs, Parmesan cheese containers have those lids where half the lid pops off, and is good for keeping bugs in but air circulating. You can’t go wrong with books, just beware that there will be a lot of questions you may not have wanted to answer just yet. Do it. My thirst for knowledge started when I was a kid, and hasn’t stopped since. It’s awesome to know this much stuff! It’s so cool to feel this well-rounded at 21!

    I think you all will do fine.

  74. Scarlett
    July 28, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    If there’s anything I would think should actively be pushed on children, it’s books. Books books books books books books books books books.

    So strongly agreed!

    I’ve also just realised recently that, growing up in Australia in the 80s, I seem to have spent a lot of time around really good kids’ anime (Japanese cartoon) series. IMO, they provide a great source of entertainment for kids that, while it can sometimes be gendered, doesn’t seem to be actively hostile to girls in the way that some other cartoons can be. For example, I remember loving ‘Astro Boy‘ at around 5, when I wouldn’t watch the ‘He-Man’ or ‘Tranformers’ cartoons because they were ‘for boys’.

    There was also plenty of sparkliness and girliness to Princess Sapphire in Princess Knight… but after dressing up in her pretty gowns, she would then go upstairs and change into her armour and swordbelt and kick the villains’ backsides all around the kingdom. *So* much cooler than any Disney princess…

    Vanessa, when your daughter’s old enough to be innundated by the Disney Princess Industrial Complex (love the term!), why not let her try some of Hayao Miyazaki’s films as an alternative? ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ (two little girls meet a magical creature who helps them deal with their mother’s illness) and ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ (young apprentice witch learns to take control of her powers, and even manages to save the boy-in-distress!) are both really engaging stories with strong girl heroes (who actually look like real girls!), exciting adventures and, in the case of ‘Totoro’, a school bus shaped like a cat! Hard to go wrong!

    For older kids (10+), ‘Princess Mononoke’ (girl-raised-by-wolves joins forces with boy warrior to try and avert a catastrophe), and ‘Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind’ (princess who’s also an aviator and a scientist saves her people) are also excellent, if a bit scary for younger kids. They should all be available in English dubs from Amazon or your friendly local geek shop… :D

  75. Blunderbuss
    July 28, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    I have to agree with Scarlett – if American cartoons and merchandise isn’t working, have a look at things from other countries. Japanese anime can be very sexist, but some of them do have awesome female characters.

    And don’t forget Kimba the White Lion!

  76. July 28, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    Scarlett – I’ve actually been a fan of nearly all of those movies for ages. It’s kind of weird to think the movies I used to smoke weed and watch in my friend’s dorm rooms are ones I’d show my daughter. But duh – they’re kids movies!

  77. Dauphine
    July 28, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    I have found that the majority of Japanese animation is EXTREMELY gendered and tends to portray women in nauseatingly stereotypical ways, both in boys’ cartoons and girls’ cartoons–it’s merely somewhat subtler than in Western cartoons and thus isn’t always noticed on first glance. I’ve been watching anime for more than a decade and the more I see of it, the more the portrayals of women in both mainstream and not-so-mainstream shows disgust me. I would be hard-pressed to name more than five animated TV series with female characters that I genuinely admired.

    That said, there are indeed some notable exceptions, such as Miyazaki’s films. I have never seen more positive portrayals of animated female characters than in Spirited Away, Nausicaa, and My Neighbor Totoro. Pretty much all of Miyazaki’s films are really good at portraying interesting and often kick-ass women, but those three in particular stand out in my mind as having fantastic and very realistic female protagonists.

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