Archive for the ‘Toys & products’ Category

And now for my third blog on GoldieBlox…

The more I think about this one line describing the building toy created to appeal to girls, the more it gets to me. The Atlantic reports:

“Sterling’s basic conceit — that by playing to girls’ inclination to help and imbuing their designs with practical purpose she can get them designing and building.”

So the stereotype here is that girls are kind and sweet and just want to help people, or lambs, whatever; there is something uniquely feminine about “helping.” By the way, I would have absolutely no problem with this view of girls if it were true. My issue here, and my obsession with feminism in general, isn’t driven by a need for justice or even compassion for women. It’s that these stereotypes are bullshit. They are not true. And, personally, I don’t think basing entire civilizations on bullshit is, ultimately, good for anyone.

An “inclination to help” is a rescue fantasy. Different words, same thing. There is no gender split.

Rescue fantasies have existed in stories since the beginning of time. When stories are mostly written by males, it is often the case that females become the subject (or one could say, no doubt, object) to be rescued. What is brilliant about GoldieBlox is that instead of creating the story so that the female identifies with the little lambs who need saving, she gets to be the rescuer.

Ever heard of a prince with “an inclination to help” a maiden in distress? It sounds ridiculous, right?

There is no need, except for a sexist one, to use tamer words for narratives starring girls. All humans want to be actors, people who act, the main actors in our own lives; all humans have fantasies about being heroes. The gender difference is that far more often, males get to express and act on those fantasies.

Read Full Post »

A couple days ago, I posted about the cool, new building toy, GoldieBlox, created by engineer, Debbie Sterling, to help girls get interested early in the profession. Since my post, I’ve read more about the toy.

The Atlantic reports:

At the center of Sterling’s creation are several strategies for getting girls to build: engage them with a story, challenge them to build with a problem-solving purpose, use materials that are warm or soft to the touch (no metal) and have shapes with curved edges, and presented in colors that American girls in the year 2012 tend to be attracted to. The toy set includes the story of its heroine, “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine” (available as a book or iOS app), five character figurines (Goldie’s “friends”), and building kit that includes plastic elements and a ribbon…

Sterling’s basic conceit — that by playing to girls’ inclination to help and imbuing their designs with practical purpose she can get them designing and building — is echoed in the work of Christine Cunningham, a vice president of the Museum of Science in Boston and director of the Engineering is Elementary program. Like Sterling, Cunningham has found that if you embed an engineering dilemma in a story, girls will have more interest in figuring out the challenge. For example, she says, kids’ kits for electrical engineering, which is one of the most heavily male of the different kinds of engineering, tend to ask kids to build circuits to make a light turn on or a fan blow air. When Cunningham set about to redesign an electrical-engineering activity with girls in mind, she and her team embedded it in a story about a girl living on a ranch who needs to keep a trough filled with water for the baby lambs…

Does it somehow undermine the goals of gender equality and girls’ empowerment to engage them in engineering by buying into and relying on so many stereotypes about girls in the first place? Cunningham says we need to keep in mind, by the time they’ve reached the age of five (the youngest age GoldieBlox is recommended for), many girls will already have well developed gender identities, and oftentimes that identity will be quite, for lack of a better word, girly. “How can we take the places that girls are and develop the same kinds of innovative problem-solving skills? … We’re very much based in, ‘what is the reality of the now?’ And how do you work with that? Are there small ways you can push the meter to bring in these kinds of skills?”

I want to address the issue of gender stereotypes in more detail, because in my last post, I only made one reference in parentheses:

One thing I LOVE about this toy is that Sterling created a narrative with a female protagonist around the activity of building. While I don’t necessarily agree with her reason for this tactic (“Boys like to build, girls like to read”) I do think that there are not enough stories starring females that revolve around action, adventure, and building.

So to go further with this. The whole stereotype that girls are verbal and boys like math is bullshit. That is not to say it doesn’t exist, but that it is both culturally created and more myth than reality.

By the way, Sterling doesn’t dispute this. She doesn’t seem much concerned with why the gender gap exists. She just wants to bridge it.

A couple things I want to say about this female verbal/ male spatial skills. Number one: sexism is passed down generation to generation. I just had my parent-teacher conference. My daughter’s fourth grade teacher told me that her writing skills are great. “Now lets talk about her math,” she said. “I’m sure you’ve seen this.” She then pointed to a series of  questions about “mode” and “median” that my daughter had answered incorrectly. Actually, I hadn’t seen it. Not really. I went on to tell the teacher that I write, I like to write. I go over my daughter’s writing, I teach her about topic sentences and paragraph structure. When she writes a story, I tell her it’s got to have a problem, called the plot. I’ve taught her that her main character has to go through some kind of transition. But when it comes to math, all I do is see if she’s filled in the blank. I have no interest in math. I don’t like math. My first reaction when my daughter’s teacher showed us that she wasn’t “getting it” was to turn it over to my husband. He can do that. That’s what I did with soccer. And that’s not a bad option, but it’s not really overcoming the sexism.

My second point about this gender dichotomy is that it only exists, like all feminine skills, when it’s relegated to low status. Girls are artsy when it’s about construction paper and Elmer’s glue. But what about art as an occupation? Making big money, shows at the MOMA? Suddenly, art is for men. “Great” literature is predominantly by men and prizes awarded to writers are won by men. So how is that possible if women are the verbal ones? The same gender split is true with cooking, a girly activity for a child, but give it some status– a great restaurant in France, master chef on a TV show, males dominate again. My theory: calling girls artsy and readers is just another way we reinforce well-behaved, quiet girls.

Now for those little lambs girls want to save. Girls are no more kind-hearted or sweet than boys are. Girls do need a purpose and a narrative but boys do too. The gender difference is that boys pick up that narrative from the world around them, everywhere they look, males solve problems, save the world, act, and get to be heroes. Girls don’t see that story.

The reason I love Goldieblox is not the soft toys or the little lambs, but that Sterling creates a narrative with a female protagonist around a building toy. All of us– boys and girls, children and adults– frame our actions in stories.

I once took a class on forgiveness at Stanford, and the teacher, Fred Luskin, told us that in order to forgive, we must rewrite our story so that we are the heroes. Holding grudges happens when you are the victim in the story, and you repeat and repeat that same narrative in your head.

We are all creating narratives in our heads all the time, constantly. Unfortunately, way too many stories out there show females as victims and stuck on the sidelines. Thank you to Debbie Sterling for being innovative and changing the narrative.

Read Full Post »

Stanford educated engineer, Debbie Sterling, was always bothered by how few women were in her program. (Of 181 students in her program, she was the lone female.) It’s not that she didn’t understand why the gender gap existed. She related. As a child, her parents didn’t play LEGO or Lincoln Logs with her. It never occurred to them– or to her– to encourage exploration in building toys. Sterling didn’t get interested in engineering until high school. Now, she’s found a way to get more girls into building earlier. And guess what? Her tactic doesn’t involve turning  a toy pink.

Sterling created Goldieblox. She describes it as “a book and a construction toy combined. It stars Goldie, the girl inventor and her motley crew of friends who go on adventures and solve problems by building simple machines.”

One thing I LOVE about this toy is that Sterling created a narrative with a female protagonist around the activity of building. While I don’t necessarily agree with her reason for this tactic (“Boys like to build, girls like to read”) I do think that there are not enough stories starring females that revolve around action, adventure, and building. Most action toys– Batman, Star Wars figures, Superman on and on– have stories that go with them. If you gave a kid a Darth Vader figure without a billion dollar marketing movie machine, let’s just say that toy wouldn’t sell so well. While there is no Goldieblox blockbuster in theaters, helping children to create a story around a character is key to inciting interest and play. I create stories in order to get my kids dressed in the morning or into the bath. Narratives are the most powerful tools we have. Sterling uses narrative brilliantly to sell her toy, not only in the product itself but in the video she created to raise the money she needed to get it in production.

Here’s the video she made for Kickstarter. Please watch, it’s so inspiring.

After this went around the web, Sterling surpassed her goal of 5,000 orders. Goldieblox is in production. Not only that, the company has already started receiving orders from toystores. Goldieblox.com was just launched and you can order your toys there.

Sterling says, “The thing is 89% of engineers are male, so we literally live in a man’s world. Yet 50% of the population is female. So if we want to live in a better world, we need girls building these things too, We need girls solving these problems.”

I started Reel Girl just after Christmas almost three years ago, so freaked out by the pile of pink toys my three daughters received, most involving some form of dressing dolls: paper, wooden, plastic, magnetic, tiny, large, soft, and hard. I have to say, this year, with sites like A Mighty Girl’s and Toward the Stars, new toys like Goldieblox, books and DVDs I’ve sought out (Reel Girl recommends) this is the first year since I had children that I am actually excited about Christmas shopping.

Read Full Post »

A couple days ago, I posted about how excited I was to buy some female action figures. Some of the new toys have arrived, including one of my all time favorites EVER, Serafina Pekkala from The Golden Compass. I love her.

I can’t wait until Christmas and my kids get Serafina together with Merida and Katniss, there will be an army of archers.

But, I’m kind of bummed about Hawkgirl.

Is it me or are her breasts seriously distracting?

Her head is cool, her wings are cool, but I don’t know if I can get past that bright yellow cleavage.  The whole point of buying these toys is to give kids an alternative so why the torpedo breasts? I get that my kids were not foremost in the toy designer or comic book artist’s mind, but I wish they were. They should be, right? I have 3 girls, but I don’t think I’d be psyched to give this toy to my son either.

But tell me what you think. And what you think a kid would think. Just don’t compare big breasts to big muscles. If you feel tempted, read this post.

Update: So I showed Hawkgirl to my husband: “What do you think of her?” He said: “First she blinds them with her boobs, then she attacks!”

Basically, he thinks she’s fine as long as she’s one of many, diversity is key. He reminded me of a castle the girls had filled with all kinds of magical creatures. Barbie was there, but she was just one of so many different figures. I think I agree. So at this point, it looks like Hawgirl will make it under the tree. I’ll update you on the post-Xmas reaction.

Read Full Post »

Look what my six year old daughter and I saw for sale at the place for kids where she got her hair cut.  Who can tell me: is she an eraser herself or just lost in a pile of erasers? Either way, gross.

Read Full Post »

The monster in Elmo

A couple weeks before the creepy news broke that Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo, was accused of having a sexual relationship with a sixteen year old, I received this email from my daughter’s after school program:

 A man dressed in an Elmo costume was seen in Rossi Playground on Saturday attempting to approach and hug neighborhood children. In addition to approaching children, he yelled obscenities and derogatory remarks. This man was also spotted at parks in New York City.

My first thought was: Elmo, for goodness sake. Holy shit. What is the world coming to?

But my second thought was this. The disturbing story attests to a thesis of my blog, Reel Girl, that is often disputed or questioned: “Lovable” characters created to appeal to children can also be dangerously manipulative of those children. In many cases, that’s why they were created, right? To sell products or push an agenda. Just because a character has oversized pupils doesn’t mean he’s good for kids. Maybe that sounds paranoid or trivial, but children are malleable and vulnerable. Parents should be aware of who they let in their home, even under the badge of PBS (which has a cast of characters just as male dominated as Disney.) G-rated movies can be more sexist, racist, or classist than R movies. That’s why parents should trust their own instincts, be aware, and make careful, informed decisions. There’s a potential monster side to every Elmo

Update: From the NYT

Andreozzi & Associates, a law firm that said it represented the anonymous accuser, said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon that “he wants it to be known that his sexual relationship with Mr. Clash was an adult consensual relationship.” The statement added, “He will have no further comment on the matter”…“We are pleased that this matter has been brought to a close, and we are happy that Kevin can move on from this unfortunate episode,” said Sesame Workshop, the organization that produces “Sesame Street.”

The organization did not say when — or even whether — Mr. Clash would return to work at “Sesame Street.” On Sunday, he took a leave of absence when it became clear that TMZ was going to publish an article about the accusation of inappropriate and possibly illegal conduct.

Update: Jezebel reports: “Well, turns out our collective sigh of relief was short-lived. Though puppeteer Kevin Clash’s first accuser recanted his claims one week ago, Clash officially resigned from Sesame Street today. Though it’s not mentioned in Clash’s official resignation, his departure coincides with new allegations from a second accuser, who claims Clash began a sexual relationship with him when the accuser was just 15.”

Read Full Post »

I think I just bought half of the “dolls/ action figures” compiled and recommended by A Mighty Girl, and I don’t even feel guilty about my spree.  I am hoping that I can hold on to the Wonder Woman in her invisible airplane until Christmas, but it is so cool, I don’t know… Toys are so key to imaginary play. When kids are given these kind of tools, instead of plastic hairbrushes, make-up, and dolls to dress, so aggressively marketed to girls, their narratives go wild. You’ve got to check these products out. Some, like the Jane Austen doll, are not available. (BOO-HOO) Several, when you click on them, say that only a few are left. It really makes me get how much of this is about MARKETING. Who knew about these toys? Yes, Wonder Woman remains in her underwear. Baby steps, here. We are desperate for MORE stories featuring female heroes. A much wider variety of costumes and poses are needed in the toys of kidworld. (Does this image show the importance of a pose or what?) But for what’s available out there, A Mighty Girl’s new resource is unmatched.

Read Full Post »

Whose kids are obsessed with bandaids?

Look what I saw while shopping at Walgreen’s: 6 boxes feature male characters, 2 boxes feature female characters.

It’s bandaids, you say, who cares?

These images matter because they normalize the lack of females for little kids. Girls gone missing seems normal, and you know where  this lack of females, half of our population, is normal? Congress, the Supreme Court, boardrooms, and top levels of most professions all across America.

If you can’t imagine it, you can’t be it. It’s as simple as that. How sad that our imaginary/ fantasy world is so sexist that females go missing, get stereotyped, sidelined, or show up as a minority. It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s the fantasy world, anything should be possible. So why is the imaginary world as sexist as reality? What does that sexism teach little kids?

Consider the variety of roles that males are shown that they can play. Compare that to the limited roles that females are shown that they can play.

One reason that it is so hurtful to show females in a minority all the time is because that limitation makes it easy to stereotype them. The more females you have, the more narratives you’ve got to come up with.

By the way, if you’re wondering about Angry Birds, 5 Angry Birds are female: Female Red Bird, Female White Bird, Jewel (Angry Birds Rio only), White Bird and Pink Bird.) Here are a couple descriptions:

Unlike the other birds, the Female Red Bird isn’t an actual species that is used in the game, rather it only serves as a background character used in various materials to promote the game, and is also seen in the ending sequence upon completing Hogs and Kisses, alongside a solo Red Bird. A plush toy version of her was released along with a plush toy version of the Female White Bird.

The Female White Bird is a bird only seen in Angry Birds Seasons. She is a female bird like the White Bird. She only serves as a background character and only appears on wallpapers in Hogs and Kisses, and her existence has led to many beliefs that the basic White Bird is male. She has a naive, maybe nervous expression.

Where the Female Red Bird is approximately the same size as the Red Bird, one image implies that the Female White Bird is significantly smaller than both the White Bird as well as the Female Red Bird. She has the same face as the White Bird, but only with makeup, a bow, and lipstick.

Read Full Post »

I’ve blogged about games before: Sexist apps for little kids and the card games Slamwich and Sleeping Queens. But now Reel Girl has a whole new category. My family has started a weekend ritual of evening board games during quiet time instead of reading, so I’m looking at lots of games.  The switch in routine is a struggle for me, because I love reading and kind of dislike board games. It’s not that I hate them, I just didn’t get the point. I’d rather be reading. But according to my kids’ teachers, there is a point: math and verbal skills, art skills, rule following, winning and losing, and together time. The teachers are also right that my kids are at such different reading levels, that it is fun (when they’re not cheating or fighting) to do something together.

My first rec is Hedbanz. This game is super fun. All my kids, ages 3 – 9, can play this game and feel challenged at different levels. One kid holds a card with a picture up to her forehead (actually, most people place them there in headbands, thus the name of the game, but we lost our bands.) She asks yes or no questions (Am I alive, am I an animal etc) Because of the simple pictures, it’s easy for the three year old to feel like she’s a part of it. The older kids, obviously, like to guess the answer faster.

Needless to say, I love that the box that features two girls and one boy playing together and no sexist pictures.

Please send me your game recs!
Reel Girl rates Hedbanz ***HHH***

Read Full Post »

I emailed this to the editor of the New York Times piece “What’s So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress” today, though so far the New York Times email isn’t working for me and the one I made up, last name @nytimes.com isn’t working for me either. I emailed something similar to the “corrections” department yesterday, which you send in the same way you post a comment.

Dear Ms. Titunik,

In the New York Times post “What’s So Bad About A Boy Who Wants To Wear A Dress,” journalist Ruth Padawer writes:

“Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.”

Kids and adults do much more than “raise an eyebrow” when young girls stray from gender norms. Stories that received a great deal of media attention about pressuring  girls include Katie, the girl who was bullied for bringing her beloved Star Wars lunch box to school, “a boy thing;” and more recently, Our Lady of Sorrows baseball team forfeited a championship rather than play a girl. You can find the links to those stories on my blog Reel Girl which I created, as the mom of three young daughters, in response to that “raised eyebrow.”

As in those two stories above, the pressure for girls to conform often comes through bullying, but it can also be more subtle as well. That subtlety makes the sexism more insidious and harder to call out and change. For the New York Times to print “no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt,” in a story about gender no less, is untrue and irresponsible.

Margot Magowan
Reel Girl

The reason this is so important to me is because the gendering of childhood is everywhere.

Just today A Mighty Girl posted about boy and girl magnets/ words:

All we can say to this one is WOW — in case girls and boys had any confusion as to what their appropriate interests should be, these gender-divided magnet sets will help clarify matters. According to this toy manufacturer, “boy words” include bike, swinging, forest, caterpillar and swimming while “girl worlds” include lipstick, jewels, clothes, glitter and dancing. How very limiting for both girls and boys!

Children are segregated; without recognizing the Jim Crow in kidworld, it’s impossible to have a real discussion about gender.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: