Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Are the sexes equal? The world says, No.

Bratz. Libby Lu. Sweet and Sassy. Abercrombie. Glamor Shots. Justice for Girls. Barbie.

How can I let my daughters believe that women should have equal rights as men, and then throw them to the wolves with the things listed above? How can I let my daughters see that our society says one thing about women, and actually has an opposite attitude? How can I explain to them that when a marketer uses the term "girl power," they actually mean the opposite? How can women be seen as equals when the world wants them to grow up to be infantile consumers?

Barbie has been around for a long time. I have my classes do a brainstorm on the word "Barbie" when we start talking about advertising. Everyone in class has several qualities in mind when it comes to the doll. Everyone has an idea of who she is. She has penetrated generation after generation, influencing how millions upon millions of girls have grown up.

And she's doing it wrong.

When girls play with Barbie, they are role playing. They make Barbie their avatar. She is their avatar to the world of grown-ups. This is where they begin to mold their knowledge of what is expected of them when they grow up. And what is Barbie's main function? To shop.

She has a credit card. She has a mall. She had a college once, and at her college, there wasn't a single classroom; all stores and hangouts. That's right girls, you go to college to find "your style" and a husband. She has a "dream house," as if every girls should embrace the same dream, a three-story house with an elevator (one of the floors she can't even stand up in, poor girl).

These girls learn early on that power in this world comes from being able to buy. That meaning for a girl comes from attracting and holding onto the right man.

But she's not alone.

Bratz shows the pleasures of slut-hood when trying to attract attention. Libby Lu shows that a girl is never too young to worry about what size she fits into. Sweet and Sassy teaches girls that being pampered is much better than actually, say, doing something, like they do at boys' birthday parties. Abercrombie sells thong panties to girls as young as four. Glamor Shots has a sign in the window right now that show a woman looking all frumpy and junky, and next to her, the after shot shows her looking all rich and slutty, saying "From Mom to Wow!" That's right girls, the last thing you want to be in this world is a mom--they totally suck. Justice for girls sells a type of short-short to girls ages 4-12 called "the pork chop."

This is a hostile environment. This is a poisonous culture. How can I teach my girls about personal freedom when all the world wants to do is teach them now about what mold a girl should fit into?

I'm afraid. I'm very afraid. I never had to deal with this as a kid. Boys have always been encouraged to be free spirits. They're always told the world is theirs and that they can be anything they want to be. Not girls.

You don't believe me?

Go to Click on costumes for kids. Split things up by gender. Go to the category marked "occupation." Hell, I'll do it for you.

For boys, they offer 73 occupations.

Girls get 9. And three of them are nurses.

Our society teaches boys the pleasures of the world. It teaches girls the limitations.

How do I navigate this?


jennifer chernoff said...

Ignore when the halloween costumes are separated by gender. By the boys costumes for the girls. It is a little passive aggressive and doesn't solve anything really... but we'll all laugh maniacally on the inside.... bwah hahaahaha!

We should start a protest for Halloween this year. ;D

Hot Flashin' Momma said...

My 3 year old daughter was playing with the trains at the book store. The book clerk walked by and sneered (yes-sneered!) at me saying "oh, you let her play with the boy toys."

She walked away before I had a chance to get myself arrested for assault.

On a brighter note topping her future career choices are Fireman and Race car driver.

octavialuna said...

Very thought-provoking.

Arcadia said...

A wonderful post :-)

Don't worry - the fact that your girls have a Daddy who believes in equality puts them in a far better position than most children. Encourage them to choose their own toys and outfits, mix boys toys in with their girl toys and give open access to a toy box so they can decide for themselves what they want to play with - without being subjected to gender stereotypes by other people.

For the record, I think you're doing a wonderful job already, and your girls are very lucky to have such a forward thinking father. I wish I saw more Dads' like you!

ellen said...

this is a great post - mind if i link?

the costumes being separated like that almost shocks me. i mean that things are that bad.

i noticed that the magician costume listed under "girls" seemed a little out of place - clicked the photo and i think it might be a boy (basing that purely on short hair and the fact that the costume is "default" rather than "female", basically)

also, being a nurse and therefore always alert to the sexualization of nurses in halloween costumes, etc, i took a close up peek at a couple of things - the boys and the girls both have scrubs outfits, but the girls' one is pink. it's not supposed to be a nurse, however - it's labelled as a resident and the costume says "future med school grad." apparently even among the female medical professionals the caretaking ones have to wear something fetishy and the future docs keep chaste.

Sol Smith said...


Yes, by all means, link away!

I know what you mean about the sexualization of nurses. Especially around Halloween (and let me just say now that I don't really get it; I would hope my nurse were more reliable and not really care how she is on the eyes). Last year that had "French Maid" under the female costumes. This brought their count up to 10 but did very little, really, for the promotion of equality in my mind.

sjg said...

It's a victory that you and others are at least aware and being thoughtful about this. Those are important steps. I'm finding that making informed and thoughtful choices (that may differ from what the magazines tell you) are important to parenting and set good examples for your kids.

I think the lesson here (and unfortunately just about everywhere else in terms of parenting) is that we can't look to buy our way to becoming good parents. In fact, I'm learning that the opposite is true. So many of the items we purchase send bad messages to our children. Start with the Halloween costumes. It would be nice to see more gender equality here but should we be buying Halloween costumes at all? I know that sounds like heresy in a country where dressing your kid up in a store-bought costume is considered, not just good, but essential parenting. But what are we teaching our kids? Make a big deal and spend your money on what is essentially a disposable item. Don't waste effort and creativity to think about making up your own costume. Buy yet another item with your favorite character on it. Get yourself hooked on another over-hyped and over-marketed holiday that, at it's most innocent, involves begging for candy and evolves into opportunities to be violent, get drunk and dress like a slut.

I don't want to be a complete downer here but my point is that, even if we went out and bought my daughter and son the same Spiderman or Dora costumes, we still wouldn't be in the clear. As parents, we cannot find good parenting opportunities in our malls and at online retailers. We must be vigilant to strike a balance that allows us to raise good, decent, thoughtful children in a world dominated by consumerism and all the problems that come with it.

Sol Smith said...


I totally agree. I told my wife that this should be the last year we buy Halloween costumes--one of us needs to learn how to sew before next year.

And yes, we can't make good parenting choices through retail purchases, yet the commercial media would have us believe that all our wants and desires can be resolved through purchasing. Hell, our government would have us believe that. It is a very frustrating reality that so many of our basic instincts are being channeled through buying these days.

Katharos said...

My husband and I are currently struggling with how to channel our 3yo daughter's princess phase. She is sent into a cascade of tears if we don't let her wear a dress because she thinks she can't be a princess without a dress - all the while my inner tomboy mom just laughs because she had to MAKE me wear dresses, I even swore I would wear pants in my wedding (which I didn't, I caved to tradition).

Luckily our daughter would gladly take on the role of Diego or Spiderman, but you are right, that still doesn't address the issue of consumerism and our society's insistence that we purchase everything ready-made for our convenience.

Frankly, I think living that way stifles the imagination. I have noticed that when my daughter has watched a show or movie, her imaginative play invariably includes either the plot or the characters from that show/movie. How scary to think that I am dulling her imagination by supplying ready-made characters and plotlines, thus discouraging her from making up her own!

Sahara said...

@ Katharos - try introducing princesses that don't wear a dress - most notably Jasmine (I could have sworn as a tomboy kid that I remember there being one or two I liked)

Not that Jasmine is exactly the model of modesty you want to promote...

EddieDuckling said...

This might be a little late now but I have only just begun to explore these wonderful posts here on Badass Dad - my favorite parenting blogger so far!
About the princess thing - I think the best thing is just to give in to her wish to be a princess. I am closing in on 30 and about to be a mother for the first time but I grew up with a wonderful dad who got me into Lego and doing handy work. But at the same time I wasn't a tomboy - I played with barbies too and was often a princess.
But if you can get her to stay clear of the ready made pink/barbie princess stuff your fine. You could make a wonderful princess dress with her or I always found sheets are really good for making a quick and easy puffy princess dress.