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The New York Times piece on gender-fluid kids reinforces so many stereotypes, I’ve got to go through them.

Let’s start with sentence #1:

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”

Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped binary/ boy-girl opposites: soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas, lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows. I waited for her to explore any reasons why our culture promotes this symbology. Unfortunately, I waited for the whole article.

Why are princesses considered to be the epitome of femininity? Could it, perhaps, have little do with with genes and everything to do with the fact that perpetuating the image of a passive, “pretty” female  is popular in a patriarchal culture? Just maybe?

A few more sentences down:

Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man.

Most kids on Planet Earth would paint their fingernails if they weren’t told and shown by grown-ups that it’s a “girl thing.” Nail polish has nothing to do with penises or vulvas or genes, or even anything as deep and profound as “”gender fluidity.” To kids, nail polish is art play, brushes and paint. That’s it. Oh, right, art is for girls. Unless you’re a famous artist whose paintings sell for the most possible amount of money. Then art is for boys.

On an email that Alex’s parents sent to his school:

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.

What? Does this writer have young daughters? Has Padawer heard about the boy’s baseball team from Our Lady of Sorrows that recently forfeited rather than play a girl? Or what about Katie, the girl who was bullied just because she brought her Star Wars lunch box, a “boy thing,” to school?  Does Padawer know Katie’s experience isn’t unusual? How rare it is to find a girl today who isn’t concerned that a Spider-Man shirt (or any superhero shirt or outfit) is boyish and that she’ll be teased if she wears it? My whole blog, Reel Girl, is about that “raised eyebrow.” Has Padawer seen summer’s blockbuster movie “The Avengers” with just one female to five male superheroes? The typical female/ male ratio? Or how “The Avengers” movie poster features the female’s ass? Think that might have something to do with why females care more than males about how their asses are going to look?  You can see the poster here along with the pantless Wonder Woman. Does Padawer get or care that our kids are surrounded by these kinds of images in movies and toys and diapers and posters every day? How can Padawer practically leave sexism out of a New York Times piece 8 pages long on gender?

First sentence of paragraph 3: (Yes, we’re only there.)

There have always been people who defy gender norms.

No way! You’re kidding me. Like women who wanted to vote? Women who didn’t faint in the street?

Moving on to page 2:

Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted.

Um, wrong again. Been to a clothing store for little kids recently? Ever tried to buy a onesie for a girl with a female pilot on it? Or a female doing anything adventurous? Check out Pigtail Pals, one of the few companies that dares to stray from “pervasive and accepted” femininity. One of the few. And we’re talking toddlers here.

The studies that do exist indicate that tomboys are somewhat more likely than gender-typical girls to become bisexual, lesbian or male-identified, but most become heterosexual women.

Is the writer really writing a piece on gender fluid kids and using the word “tomboy” without irony?

Next page:

Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?

Hard not to wonder. Exactly! Finally, the writer wonders. But, not for long. Here’s the next sentence:

Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical?

Once again, I’ve got to ask: Does Padawer have a young daughter? Legions of young girls “insist on dresses” because like all kids, they want attention. Sadly, girls get a tremendous amount of attention from grown-ups for how they look. Today, my three year old daughter wanted to wear a princess dress to preschool, because she knew that if she did, the parents and teachers would say, “Wow, you’re so pretty! I love your dress.” And if it’s not a girl’s dress everyone focuses on, it could be her hair, or perhaps her shoes which are probably glittery or shiny or have giant flowers on them because that’s what they sell at Target and Stride Rite. Unfortunately, focusing on appearance is how most adults today make small talk with three year old girls.

The next two graphs are the best in the article so I will paste them in full, though notice the use of “tomboy” again with no irony.

Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.

Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.

The piece is riddled with more gender assumptions that aren’t questioned.

When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.”

But why is beauty shop feminine? We all know beauty toys and products are marketed to girls, but why? Here’s that Avengers ass poster again. In a male dominated world, women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are taught to focus on how they look and that if they do so they can get power and prestige. Appearance is the area where girls are trained to channel their ambition and competition. Oh, sorry, girls aren’t competitive or ambitious. That’s a boy thing.

On gender fluid child, P.J., the author writes:

Most of the time, he chooses pants that are pink or purple.

Wait a minute, didn’t she write a few pages back about Jo Poletti’s book Pink and Blue? Remember, pink used to be a “boy” color; it’s only recently that it’s perceived as a “girl” color?

Here might be the most fucked up quote:

When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?

When Miss Representation posted that on its Facebook page  above the link to the the article, angry commenters immediately began to respond:

i am NOT the lesser gender!
why can’t people see how insulting that is? i mean, who would *openly* call a race or ability or sexual orientation “lesser” and not largely be considered a bigot?

It was that comment that inspired me to write this post, because the whole piece is insulting to girls and women. I hope it’s insulting to boys and men as well.

Read my email to the New York Times editor here.

Read my response to comments on this post here.

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You will not believe what the New York Times is reporting today!

“Girls’ toys are often about beauty and the home, while toys for boys are mostly about being active, building things and having adventures,” said Laura Nelson, a neuroscientist who led the campaign against Hamleys last year and runs Breakthrough, a project combating stereotyping in schools. “Gender-specific color-coding influences the activities children choose, the skills they build and ultimately the roles they take in society.”

The post goes into stats about pay equity and gender segregation in the professions. Right here is basically the whole reason why I started Reel Girl: the sexism in kidworld is so blatant, so offensive, so pernicious and yet, happily accepted and celebrated by smart, educated, progressive parents who carefully teach their kids how to separate garbage.

I would go on, but I’m really trying (REALLY TRYING) not to blog for one more month, and I have a couple more links I need to tell you about.

Another tale of misled parenting: a bullied teen is receiving free plastic surgery from a non-profit.

Think there’s a non-profit out there to help teen girls with low self-esteem by providing free breast enhancements?

The problem is the bully, not the kid! The bully, not the kid.

One more for you on the Jonah Lehrer plagarism scandal. In my opinion, The New Yorker is being silly-indignant by getting on Lehrer for “self-plagarism” (is that even a real term?)

All blogs are repetitive; they are more like speaking than print writing.

That said, making up and cutting and splicing Bob Dylan quotes in a digital age, when they can be fact-checked by anyone in 2 seconds, is kind of amazing.

Salon.com has a great piece on how the Lehrer phenomenon was allowed to happen, how it has in the past and will again, largely because of the role the media plays in creating and perpetuating the “boy-genius” myth.

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Ha ha ha. M & Ms is so hilarious. Doesn’t the picture on this package just crack you up?

It’s been a while since I blogged about the intensely sexist marketing of M & Ms candy. But then, someone posted about the new Coconut M & Ms on my Facebook page, and I was so disgusted by what I saw.

By now, we’re all familiar with Ms. Green, her high heeled white go-go boots and spidery eyelashes. Now she’s got a pink flower pasted on her head. And there is Yellow (Mr. Yellow?) above her, falling out of a tree while trying to catch his binoculars.

In this picture-narrative we also see John’s Berger’s classic analysis of historical sexism in art-life: Men watch; women watch themselves being watched.

It’s M & Ms, you say. Who gives a shit?

First of all, these cartoon images appeal to kids. Why sexualize them? Why sexualize candy? Secondly, the images promote gender stereotypes that are insidious, ubiquitous, and in this particular scene, actually dangerous.

The first anti-stalking law wasn’t passed until 1990 and the crime is still only slowly gaining recognition and credibility as a serious infraction. Obviously, M & Ms thinks it’s a joke. Do you think there could be a correlation between people not taking the crime seriously and that it’s women who are the victims in disproportionate numbers? (Source: National Center For Victims of Crime)

Parents, do you really want your daughters and sons to see a ‘sexy’ female getting stalked on an M & Ms package as if it’s funny? As if it’s normal?

And why does M & Ms persist in a sexist marketing strategy that continually degrades, humiliates, or stereotypes its female characters? If M & Ms promoted racial stereotypes, would that be okay?

Luckily, Coconut M & Ms is a limited edition. I wonder what they’ll come up with next. Any guesses?

Here’s a brief retrospective that may give you some ideas:

Miss Green as the S & M/ M & M:

The naked Ms. Green, coyly dangling her stripped off her skin, I mean shell, on the back cover of the 2012 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue:

To those of you who argue that sexualized M & Ms appear only in adult spaces (kind of like the cartoon camel that marketed cigarettes to kids?) the stalking M & Ms image is right there on the package.

(Sadly, today’s post reminds me that I need to create a “food” category on this blog.)

Please go to M & Ms Facebook page and tell them to stop promoting gender stereotypes.

Most importantly, educate M & Ms: tell them that stalking isn’t funny, it’s dangerous. Cut and paste this info from the National Center For Victims of Crime:

While the impact of stalking is commonly minimized by society, the actions of stalkers can be extremely threatening and dangerous to their victims. Stalking can escalate to violence. Stalking victims frequently live in fear and terror. Often they are forced to alter their lives significantly in attempts to find safety and freedom from the harassing behavior of former spouses, ex-partners or strangers.

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I spent the last two days in Disneyland, and to my surprise, I didn’t even feel like I was in another world. I thought I would take lots of photos of pinkification and gender-stereotyped-marketing, come back and post them on my blog, and you’d all be shocked and appalled. But I didn’t see much in Disneyland that I don’t see every single time I go to Target or Safeway or turn on my TV.

Disneyland’s “magic” has completely infiltrated our everyday life. In Disneyland, wherever we went, everyone called my daughter “Princess” and handed her free stickers of girls in poofy dresses just like they do here when we visit her doctor’s office.

The significant difference that I kept noticing between Disneyland and San Francisco is that various signs and people kept telling me to have a magical time, that this was a place for my imagination to run free.

Yet, as I strapped myself into my eighteenth car or rocket or clam shell, it occurred to me there are few times in my life that I am encouraged to be this thoughtless. I sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride while I am handed the same fantasies, images, and narratives repeatedly. That’s when I realized that the passivity and homogeneity that Disneyland perpetuates in my mind and body, with all of its highly controlled thrills, is as deadening to actual imagination as pornography is to sex. Too much exposure (and we all have way too much exposure) messes with our brains and puts humans in danger of losing the ability to be stimulated by the real thing.

One of my favorite books ever is called Can Love Last: The Fate of Romance Over Time. Author Stephen Mitchell proposes that contrary to popular belief, romance doesn’t fade naturally in long term relationships. We kill it. And we kill it because it’s terrifying to lust for and depend on the same person. The more you need your partner, the more courage is required to risk perpetually experiencing the roller coaster highs and lows that come with being desperately attracted to him. Mitchell argues that instead of committing to that dangerous ride, for a lifetime, no less, we flatten our romantic partners into something more stable.

Here’s what Mitchell writes about pornography:

Rather than being a measure and consequence of the power of naturally occurring sexual desire, pornography is a measure of the extent to which people tend to prefer controlling desire through contrivance rather than being surprised by desire that spontaneously arises. Do not underestimate the power of contrivance. If I desire you, a real person, and if I long for not just sexual contact but a romantic response, I may be in big trouble. In fact, there is no way to escape big trouble! Because what I want from you makes me dependent upon you, makes me hostage to your feeling towards me, I naturally want some control over my fate. What I want is for you to love me, to find me attractive and exciting, precisely when I want you…This is what makes the contrivance of pornography so useful. Pornography operates on the “what if?” principle. What if I found myself desiring someone, and what if it happened to be this very person in this picture? on this videotape? on this computer screen? Guess what? I can have him or her. A close cousin of the oldest profession, prostitution, pornography offers the wonderful combination of stimulation in the context of simulation–risk-free desire. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. You can’t miss.

Porn is often considered exciting, daring, risky, or imaginative, but it’s just the opposite: a safe roller coaster instead of a real one.

Disneyland, of course, operates on that very principle. Controlled thrills– “stimulation in the context of simulation”– manufactured, repetitive images that don’t inspire individual creativity but paralyze real imagination. Disneyland is like porn for kids.

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After gathering 55,000 signatures of people disgusted by LEGO’s sexist Friends sets for girls, SPARK representatives finally met with LEGO execs last Friday.

SPARK brought three main requests to LEGO:

First, we want to see more girls and women characters across all LEGO lines. My report to LEGO showed that 86.6% of characters are men, which is a major gender gap, and one reason that girls may no longer feel welcomed by LEGO products. A failure to include better representation of girls and people of color in prominent and non-stereotyped roles makes it harder for kids to see themselves in the product, and less likely to want to play with it. By increasing the number of visible women throughout the product lines, LEGO can more easily welcome girls to the building experience beyond the Friends.

Second, we want to see girls featured in more LEGO ads, and we want to see boys featured in ads for the LEGO Friends. If LEGO’s intention with the creation of the Friends line is to bring girls into the LEGO experience fully, they need to show girls engaged with toys aside from the Friends – and if they want boys to be comfortable playing with the Friends line, they need to show that, too. LEGO’s marketing has been very gendered over the last couple of decades, and research has shown that 76% of kids who see boys and girls in commercials are likely to think that toy is for everyone, compared to 40% of kids shown an ad featuring only boys or only girls. Simply making an effort to balance gender representation in ads is an easy way to make kids feel welcome.

And finally, as LEGO expands the Friends line, we want to see the inclusion of sets designed around non-stereotyped activities for girls: spaceships, politics, firefighting, architecture, teaching and business. Making the Friends line a truly representative line of options for girls and boys will diminish the stereotype threat we see in it now, as well as help keep girls engaged in the cognitive development offered by LEGO products. While the initial offerings in the LEGO Friends line are stereotyped and problematic, they do have the potential to get girls back into the LEGO brand – but LEGO also needs to make sure they have offerings for girls whose interests aren’t as focused on beauty. We also want to see more focus on and celebration of Olivia’s inventor’s set and treehouse – while these are great products in the current Friends line, they receive no commercial attention.

Let’s keep an eye out at as new LEGO sets come out on how many females are featured in the sets and how many girls and moms are pictured on boxes and in TV ads. Hopefully LEGO will be making some changes.

Great job, SPARK. Thank you for being such a great advocate for girls. Read SPARK’s full report of the meeting with LEGO here.

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Can you name these characters?

Girls gone missing AGAIN.

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My daughter is home sick today and she’s in my bed, playing with my ipad. She pushed a button, showed me this app (RacePenguin) and asked me to get her the one that flies. She’s only three and hopefully cannot recognize the awful male/ female distinction in this game yet.

Can you see these options for kids to choose from?

If not, here they are:

(1) Kids mode: Flying becomes easier No bear behind you

(2) Super Penguin: Go Higher, Go faster, Have more control

(3) Penguinette: Unlock a cute penguin girl

(4) Magic penguin: Teleport uphill: Get a magic boost for every perfect slide.

Who in God’s name is going to want to be Penguinette? Look at her! Her blonde hair and red bow? WTF? While the other penguins go higher, faster, and have more control, she gets to be cute? This is a fucking game for little kids and “cute” is what the female does? Do you think she’s going to win the race? Does she even care about winning it?

This kind of sexism is programmed and marketed to kids everywhere, constantly, through games, toys, TV and movies. (I let my eight year old download this game because it was free. Free sexism, what a bargain!)

Gender stereotyping in kidworld is so ubiquitous that, ironically, it’s become practically invisible. It’s so normal that too many parents have stopped noticing it at all.

Parents, please be aware of this kind of sexism aimed at children; it’s not fair to our kids and their growing brains.

Reel Girl rates Race Penguin ***SSS*** for triple gender stereotyping, not suitable for children.


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Melissa Silverstein, founder and editor of one of my favorite blogs Women and Hollywood is pissed off about the Katniss Everdeen Barbie doll. She hates Barbie.

Silverstein writes:

There are many Barbie fans in the world.  I am not one of them.  Yes, Barbie does have many aspirational dolls.  There even is President Barbie.  There is also TV newscaster; vet; Soccer player; doctor.  There is even an Angela Merkel Barbie doll.

But for every aspirational Barbie there is Ballerina Barbie; Barbie Tea Party Princess Doll; Barbie Royal Dress Up Doll; Beautiful Fairy Barbie Doll;  Princess Bride Doll; Beach Doll.

I hate Barbie too, and I get where Silverstein is coming from. I attended a conference of female architects when Architect Barbie came out and they all talked about how stupid looking she was. I couldn’t agree more. With her A line dress, ever present smile, and pink house, she looks like any other Barbie. She looks like she wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the white hard hat that sits at her feet.

I’ve also blogged about these idiotic “aspirational” Barbies that come with McDonald’s Happy Meals. All I see here are hair and smiles. I can’t tell these Barbies apart. Their “aspirations” also look like props.

Here’s Katniss Everdeen. Yesterday, I blogged about how much I like her.

Mattel could have put the Katniss doll in any of the dresses or outfits that Cinna, her stylist, made for her. One thing I loved about “The Hunger Games” movie was how well Jennifer Lawrence portrayed Katniss’s discomfort and awkwardness when traditional femininity was forced on her. Lawrence played this disconnect so well that when critics noticed it, they mislabeled her too fat to play the part.

Remember Mulan, the most feminist of the Disney princesses? In the movie, Mulan like Katniss, hated being dressed in ceremonial “princess” wear. Yet, almost every single Mulan doll, or image in a coloring book or on a T shirt or diaper, she is wearing the dress that she hated in the movie. And she’s smiling while wearing it.

One thing I love about the Katniss Barbie is that she is not smiling.

But Silverstein makes a great point: why should we be grateful that Katniss actually looks like Katniss?

It’s like when I complain about a LEGO minifig and people say, “At least its not a Bratz doll.”

So those are my choices?

I wish girls had many more options of brave and heroic females to play with. I wonder if Katniss has curled feet under those boots. But mostly, when I look at this doll, I’m thinking: What is she about to DO? That’s a great question to ask my three daughters. I’m grateful that she’s out there for all kids, boys included, to play with.

Here’s where I disagree with Silverstein. She writes:

“I hate that we need dolls for aspiration.”

But most kids use dolls for “aspiration,” that is imaginary play. If boys play with dolls we may call them something different: “LEGO minifigs” or “action figures” or “robots,” but a doll is a doll is a doll.

Dolls are tools that kids use to make up stories. Kids need tools to make up stories. I’ve seen my kids make up narratives using their fingers or sticks or cheerios, so those tools don’t absolutely have to be humanish, but it helps. It helps me, as a mom. I’ve complained to places like Pepperidge Farm about its male characters and sexist narratives: give me something more to work with, people. I’m creative, but help me out. Also, I’m better with a humanish tool than a finger or a stick. I know I can make up stories with this doll, exciting adventures. I know my kids can. She’s a tool I want. I’ll just call her an action figure.

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And I am getting reports that it is deleting them. Please let me know if this is true. Post a link to my post, take a screen shot, and post the screen shot on Reel Girl. I am technically challenged and took a photo with my camera. THANK YOU

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to show she’s naked? That’s what commenters are saying. What do you think? She’s holding her skin? This has got to be the worst ad campaign EVER. I have seriously lost my appetite for M & Ms. So gross. Yuk.

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