Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Too Much Shopping...

I don't want this blog to only be about clothes - not least because I don't want to give the impression that I spend all my time shopping (even if it feels like that some days...)! But, it seems that every time I do have to go shopping, I run across some item of clothing that I find reason to object to.

I was at Target today.

I spend a lot of time there - it is one-stop-shopping for me, an important feature because I am either
a) out with three children under the age of five or
b) due home soon!

I remembered today the first time I saw children's items that really made me mad. I was at Target that day, too.

They were heels for children of 18 months. I know they'd fit an 18 month old because I had one at the time.

And I can't imagine, in any circumstance, feeling that heels would be appropriate footwear for her. It made me so angry, I sent a picture and a rant to my friends about it. At the time, I wondered if maybe I should start boycotting Target, but I knew that I'd be punishing myself more than Target by doing that. So, I contented myself with complaining to my friends about it.

Maybe I need to complain to some more people, because today, this is what I saw...

I've always seen this whole sexualization of childhood thing as two sides of the same coin.

Girls, of course, are painted as passive princesses. We've all seen the mini bikinis for 2 year olds, the low slung jeans for 4 year olds, the padded bras for 8 year olds. We've tsktsked over Dance Moms (seriously, though, wouldn't you have got up and said - "Whoa! There's a line and you've crossed it... c'mon kiddo, we're outta here!"? Of course you would have!) and Toddlers and Tiaras? ('nuf said)...

But, have we said enough about boys? Are boys being painted into a corner?

If girls must be passive, then boys have to be the opposite, right? And sometimes that's just 'active' - all kids are active. No problem there (except that girls are being left out, of course, but we're covering that...)

But sometimes, it's more than "just active" - sometimes it's aggressive. Predatory, even. Boys are being shown at younger and younger ages what is expected of them. And, it's not good.

A quiz - about rape.

Is it a straight line from the tee shirt to a rape quiz? No, of course not. But, the tee shirt contributes a culture that makes frat boys think that a rape quiz is acceptable. There are lots of steps along the way, and parents with boys older than my little guy know it. The recent remarks by rapper Too Short are an example. I'm not providing a link here, because I found them so offensive... you can Google it, if you need to.

There is an emphasis on toughness and all that encompasses. But, being tough cuts you out from so much. If you are "tough" what does that exclude you from? Musical expression? Tenderness towards others? Generosity of spirit on the sporting field? The sentiments expressed on this tee shirt exclude boys from big, important parts of life.

And, no, before anyone says it... I wouldn't buy it.
But that doesn't solve the problem.
I live, my husband lives, our children live, in a society that feels that the sentiment expressed on this tee shirt is OK. It's a joke.

But, it's more than a joke.

It's a choice. A choice to tacitly accept a life where our daughters are preyed on and our sons are the predators.

No. My children are more than that. And so are yours.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How did I get myself into this?

I've been meaning to set down my reasons (I'm starting to sound like Jane Austen's Mr. Collins, now) for starting this blog, for espousing the opinions I set out in it, and for why I think that the things I write about are 'more than' what they seem at first glance.

Before my kids were born, I didn't think too much about media and its influence on children. I noticed that the children I taught who didn't watch tv seemed more creative, more old fashioned. I thought that some of the heavy tv watchers were old before their time. I didn't like some of the "books" available to them - Captain Underpants really bugged me, as did the Goosebumps series. But, I didn't think it was a really big deal.

And then.

And then, I was having a child. A long awaited, much wished for child. In the nine months I waited for her, I read everything I could about little children. I bought child rearing guides as talismans ... if they were in the house, it would be enough. She would nurse, she would sleep, we would be in perfect, organic harmony. Well.

If you have kids, you've likely been there - the problem with baby books is that the babies haven't read them. Where do they get off having their own opinions so gosh-darned early?! Some of my ideals stayed polished and gleaming - nothing to do with me, likely! Others fell by the wayside.

One thing that stuck was the horror I had of all the pink. I didn't know if we were having a daughter or son, so I bought "gender neutral" clothes to start out with. On my first trip to the baby store, I couldn't believe how segregated it all was - blue and pink and nothing in between, at least, not once you were out of the newborn section.

And then my daughter was old enough for some other clothes and I discovered that there are low cut jeans for toddlers, 'high heels' for babies and real high heels for toddlers (toddlers!! They toddle! Why make it harder on them than it already is?). And before long, I'd discovered the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. .

They cover a range of topics - the attempts the media makes to suck children in, the sexualization of childhood, the lack of imaginative play. They have successfully campaigned against huge adversaries - Disney, for example. They've weathered big storms.

In April 2010, I went to their conference. It was my first time away from Big Girl over night. I sat in coffee shops, read books, went to the bathroom BY. MY. SELF. Oh, yeas, and I participated in some fantastic, inspiring lectures and workshops.

I saw that I was not the only one who thought that there was too much media aimed at little, little children and I began to understand why. I met other mothers who didn't think it was OK for their 5 year old daughters to dress in outfits they wouldn't let a 15 year old daughter out of the house in! I read - I bought books by all sorts of authors - many of them presenters at the conference.

So, I was very excited to see that CCFC has another conference coming up, next September. I really hope I can make it!

Because being a parent is more than just having a child - it is joining a community.
Finding other people who think that, OK, maybe you are a little crazy, but you are the nice kind of crazy. Like them.
So, I hope you can make it, too. We can be crazy together.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I have more to say on this... but I need to go and eat supper now

So, here's a quick overview.

I was tagged by a friend on Facebook today.
She'd read this article and was on the fence about it. So, (and this was her first mistake - but she's sleep deprived) she asked me what I thought.

And I'm never short of opinions...
As you know.

Anyway - here's what I said:

I think she kind of misses the point (why people object to princess culture).
The influence of princesses and princess culture on our daughters today is much more ubiquitous than it was "in our day". There aren't many choices out there, apart from princesses.
And princesses are, in many ways, a 'gateway drug'.

OK - in a home with strictly controlled media access, really level headed parents and lots of fun options for play, princess play could be one part of a child's life. But, in reality, that first film, dress, toothbrush, whatever, seems to lead to a life of all princess, all the time.
That's where we start getting to salon parties and pedicures for three year olds.

That's where we start getting to games like "Waiting for the Prince" (seriously - the girls at Big Girl's preschool play it).

Princess stuff has taken over as the 'go-to' toy for girls and princess stuff is big at an age when children are starting to feel the need to identify with their gender roles in society -
a) IF girls do this.
b) AND I am a girl.
c) THEN I must do this.

Having so much princess stuff, and so little else, and having it marketed to girls so pervasively, limits their choices.

This week, at Toys R Us, I saw two microscopes for sale. One was normal - you know, microscope colored. One was pink.

Does a girl have to get a pink one? No, but try having that conversation with your four-year-old daughter, who sees all around her that "girls like pink" (even if her favorite color is blue). And that lessens her experience somehow... she wants the pink one. She doesn't want the normal one.

Now, expand that to every choice. Princess culture limits girls.

It's one choice, but it's so pervasive that it is choking out all the other choices.
Girls are drowning in pink.
They are being marketed to - brainwashed - to see that they don't have a choice. If they are girls - they like this.

I'm the parent, but I'm up against a billion dollar industry that wants my daughter to want the stuff it is peddling.

It's not about the beauty and magic of fairy tales.
It's not about the wonder of dreaming of one's future life (after one has finished university!!)
It's about making children older, younger.
It's about presenting sexualised images and characters to children at an age when they are too young to separate reality from fantasy ... which happens around 8. See this article - footnote 20
It's about marketing companies that have people who specialize in grabbing kids - through one screen or another - as young as possible. It's about more than a pretty dress.
It's about movies and books scripting our children's play - and limiting it.

So, no. I guess I'm not on the fence.

In fact, I think I'm in the next field!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

So calm, so articulate.... I really need to work on that!

Here http://www.feministfrequency.com/2012/01/lego-gender-part-1-lego-friends/ is a calm, reasoned, erudite, articulate examination of the problem with Lego's new line for girls.

I know some people are nervous about clicking on links with "Feminist" in the title - it's a word that covers a lot of different approaches to understanding life. This one is very watchable - I cannot imagine how anyone could take exception to anything the presenter says. It's a few minutes long and very interesting.

I know I tend to get pretty worked up about things that I think are wrong with the world - and there's nothing wrong with having "big feelings" (as my daughter's preschool teacher puts it!). But, there's a lot more to be said for expressing opinions this way - in a calm and reasoned manner. I must work on that ;-) !

Monday, January 30, 2012

In which I am totally judge-y...

I saw these shirts at Old Navy the other day, while trying to find coats for Little Boy and Little Girl.
Of course, in New England, in January, there are no coats available.
Bathing suits, yes.
Flip flops, sure.
But coats? Not a chance.
That is a tale for another time, however, because what I really noticed were the two shirts (pictured above)...

I'm going to be totally judge-y here, because I can't imagine why anyone would buy these shirts for their kids.

Both of them reinforce the same message - you need to look good.
If you look good - you have a bright future. You'll get "picked up".
(Don't even get me started on the inappropriateness of little kids talking about 'picking people up'!)

I hate it when people tell my kids that they are cute, or beautiful. I actually heard someone tell my four-year-old "You're too pretty to be upset". REALLY?! Attractive people aren't entitled to feel anything negative? Clearly not a message that's trickled down to reality TV participants.

Check out Peggy Orenstein's comments on how the emphasis in little girls' (and boys') lives on their looks leads them to think that how they look is who they are
Her own website

So - why do I think that it is more than just a tee shirt?

I don't want my kids to go around looking a mess or odd. I enjoy buying clothes for them - and Big Girl enjoys putting outfits together. So, I have to be careful what I buy, because I don't always get much say in what is chosen. When I buy clothes, I buy ones that will let my kids look neat, let them play and wash well, and that are age appropriate.

No little girl needs low cut skinny jeans, or a tee shirt that tells her life will be easy if she's pretty - but it seems more and more that clothes "like that" - I've heard them called "prostitot" clothes - are what's readily available.
Sure, there are great companies like Polarn O Pyret that have clothes for kids - not just girls and boys, but kids in general, but they tend (in my experience) to be expensive and hard to find.

These tee shirts are a message to kids and to other people that it is OK - expected, even - to judge people by their looks.
Not to go any further that what you see on the surface.

And where does that leave the (ahem) slightly odd, fairly unfashionable, but really interesting kid?
If this attitude had been as prevalent in my school days as is it now, I'd have had a really tough time. (If you didn't know me then, I regularly went to school dressed as Laura Ingalls. Bonnet and all.)

Telling kids, long before they are capable of forming opinions to the contrary, that looks are what matter teaches them to judge themselves and others on how they look - not on "the content of their character", but on accidents of genetics and good fortune.

I'm trying to teach my children that their actions add up to make them who they are.

What they do, they become.

And messages like this don't help.

So, these tee shirts are more than unsavory.
They are bad.
Bad for the kids who wear them, bad for the kids who see them, bad for anyone who believes them.
Strong words - big feelings - important stuff.

Is that too strong? I warned you I was going to be judge-y....

Friday, January 6, 2012

Stickers - More than just a mess in the washer

So, the last time I took Big Girl to the doctor she was really sick - maybe rotavirus?
Not a happy lady.

When we were 'checking out' the receptionist - who I know to be a really nice lady - offered her a sticker.

I'll bet you know what's coming now...

As usual - it was a princess sticker.
"I'd bet you'd love a princess sticker! She's pretty just like you!"
Sorry - I'm the one who has to puke now.

Yesterday, Little Girl and Little Boy had their 6 month check up and I thought I'd bring the whole 'sticker issue' up with the doctor. He's a great family doctor, with kids the same age as ours - including a set of twins - and I figured he might not really know what was up with the sticker-handing-out-situation. How often does he collect a sticker on his way out?

I hope I didn't fall too deeply into the lovely soft chair of rhetoric I like so much...

"If you have a minute," I said after discussing the twins' health (just fine, thanks!), "I just wanted to ask you about stickers at check out, because the last time we were here..."

And, he was really receptive.
Offered to talk to the (really, she's lovely) receptionist and encourage her to hold out a few stickers - not gender specific, "licensed character" ones, and let the child choose.

I did let him know that there were some great stickers out there (I don't suppose he orders the stickers for his office) - medical, scientific ones! I'd like to see some more of those - and fewer stickers designed to suck money from my pocket into Disney's coffers.

On that topic - let me share with you (my loyal reader) a proud mummy moment:
Big Girl was complaining about having to clear her plate to the kitchen.

"I have to do EVERYTHING!"

"Oh yes," I said, "It's tough to be Cinderella."

Pause while plate was put in dishwasher and then...

"Who is Cinderella?"

OK - that made me feel like I might, maybe, possibly, be doing something right.

Because, stickers are more than just a mess in the washer. They are a message, especially at the doctor's office, or school or church - a place of authority. They let our little ones know that someone important thinks that the person, or scene, on the sticker is good or enjoyable. Something they should know or like.

And - we are trying to raise polite kids, after all - they thank the person for this little bit of brainwashing coming their way.

As you know (if you do the washing at your house) - once a sticker is stuck on, it isn't easy to get off.

Here is a link to a great post on the same topic:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lego - it's more than just a toy...

A Lego Ad from the early 1980's with the tag line "What it is is beautiful"

I don't know why the new Lego Friends set "for girls" bothers me so much. It makes me feel better, though, that it bothers a lot of people - you can read about some of them here...

Shaping Youth
Pigtail Pals
The world that has been pulled over your eyes
Business Week

This quote is from the Businessweek article:
"Among the “10 characteristics for Lego” set forth in 1963 by the founder’s son, Godtfred, is: “For girls and for boys.” Today, girls and boys play equally with Duplo, Lego’s bigger bricks for toddlers. But starting at the princess phase, Lego’s smaller, more intricate kits skew “boy.”"

One thing that crops up and bothers me are the "Lego phase" and "Princess phase" that are mentioned - as if they are phases like babbling, rolling over, etc., that happen to all children, everywhere. Kids like Legos (or princesses for that matter) because we buy the stuff for them, promote it as "really, really fun" and play with it.

Or maybe, because a peer or sibling has already been introduced to them and then shares them with an uninitiated child - what could be more engaging for our child than playing with the same toy as their older sibling, or loving the same thing that their newest best friend loves?

It isn't born in boys to love Lego and girls to love princesses - and I speak from experience here.

By wrapping marketing in psycho-babble, toy companies are trying to convince us that all kids do (or should do) the same thing at the same time - without saying why. Why should my daughter (or anyone's daughter) like to play with curvy, pink figurines? Because she's a girl? If all that is offered to girls, all that is marketed to them, is pink and curvy, then they'll start to think that is what they should like. That's what girls play with - I'm a girl, so I should play with it. It's a tautological approach - and it has more than just kids going around in circles... did you catch the Today Show coverage of the Lego friends?

It's not that pink things are bad - or that activities traditionally associated with girls and women are bad - I see no virtue in choosing to play with a toy truck over a toy doll, for a little girl or a little boy. It's the thinking that is behind the gender apartheid that we see in virtually every big toy shop - except maybe for Hamley's in London ( Hamley's ).

It's confining children to predetermined interested based on their gender - and how many of our preschoolers are strong enough in their sense of self to not want to choose the toy that they see as identifying them as a boy or a girl?

Especially when there is no in between - you have to choose.
It's a vicious choice and sometimes it seems that everyone has drunk the pink Kool-Aid - it's only a toy.
It's only a color.
Calm down.

Last night, I posted on Lego's Facebook wall - there hadn't been much mention of the new Friends (girls) Lego lately and I was wondering if anyone out there was still as angry about it as I am. Of course, I had some people responding to my post with defensive comments along the lines that the toy companies use: if you don't like it, don't buy it. What's the big deal? IT'S ONLY A TOY!

And that's just it. No. No, it's not Only A Toy. It's an attempt from a huge toy company to reach into my child's life and convince her that the normal Legos she's been loving for a while now aren't good enough. She needs to have "Stephanie's Cool Convertible" - I just hope she doesn't share a cocktail with curvy Ladyfig Emma at her splash pool first! (And while we on the topic of figures... Why do Lego figurines aimed at preschool girls need to have breasts? It seems to me that unless they are going to be breastfeeding Lego babies, they don't!)

It's not enough for me to "just not buy it" - someone out there is teaching children that girls play with pink things and boys don't. Then I, as a parent, have to deal with the suggestion that some toys are better (all toys are equal but some are more equal than others?) The question: do girls "trade up" when they play with "boy toys" - raises a disturbing corollary (especially looking ahead to the time that our sons will be husbands and fathers themselves) do boys "trade down" with they concede to play with "girl toys"? Lessons are being taught with every toy - and the kids are learning them.

It's more than just a toy - it is clicking another brick in the wall of stereotypes that our kids already face. And you know how hard it is to unclick those little Lego bricks.