Subscribe

Subscribe to our Newsletter
New Products

Now Available!

The first in the Super Tool Lula Story Book Series is hot off the press and ready for you to add to your child's collection.

Price: $14.95

 

Previously on PFZ

Princess Free Zone is a National Bullying Center Partner

Sunday
Mar012015

My conversation with a little girl about the color pink.

by Michele Yulo

Yesterday I was in Sports Authority looking for protective gear for my nine-year-old daughter who plays baseball. As we were wandering through the department, I happened to overhear a young girl, who was with her dad and older brother, say that she wished the girls stuff came in colors other than pink. Of course, this made my ears perk and I looked over to see a young, blonde girl wearing a bright pink baseball helmet carrying a pink bat. I heard her say to her dad wearily, "Everything for girls is pink," as the three walked away from the "boy" bat section where her brother had been looking. She was wearing a pink v-necked t-shirt that said "I'm Trouble" and a fuschia hoodie.

I couldn't help myself. I looked over at her and said, "Yeah, it would be nice if there were more options for girls, huh?" She said, "Yeah." I then noted her pink attire to which she responded sheepishly, "Well...I...like pink. But what about blue? Or green?" It amazed me that she was so aware of the color limitation for girls. Her father joined us and seemed to agree. "Yeah," he said nodding. I pointed over to Gabi, my daughter, and told the girl that she played baseball. I added, "She never really liked pink so we have always shopped in boys sections." It seemed to me that, while her father agreed that there was little else available for girls, they never went into the boy aisle to shop.

The little girl's name was Allie--she was eight. I asked her if she liked playing baseball to which her father said, "She grew up playing in our backyard with her brother Jack. She can hit a ball like nobody's business." I found out that Allie's brother played baseball at the same park as my daughter only in the next age group up. Allie was going to start playing in the local girls softball league--hence the reason they were shopping. I told her that I had a company called Princess Free Zone that was trying to offer girls more than pink and that I made t-shirts that had designs with things like dinosaurs and tools. She smiled and said, "That's cool." Hesitating for a second, she added, "You should go on that tv show...Shark Tank!" Needless to say, that gave me a good chuckle! We chatted a bit more. I wished her good luck and told her father we'd probably see them around the ball fields.

As they walked away, I couldn't help but wonder how many little girls feel like Allie. They may like pink, but they like a lot of other colors too. And maybe the reason they're wearing all pink is because that's what they see when they walk into girls departments and are taught not to look past those gender boundaries marked "boy" and "girl." So how do we know if they like the color pink because they're programmed to or because they actually chose it? We don't. What I do know is that other colors do exist and girls deserve to see them all. And some personal advice to the young girl wearing a tee that said, "I'M TROUBLE": You're NOT TROUBLE! Keep questioning. Keep playing ball. You are AWESOME!"

[Picture of my character, TooLula, breaking down the pink aisle.]

Thursday
Feb262015

Sports Illustrated - Chelsea Baker and Mo'ne Davis (and all female athletes) deserve your apology.

 by Michele Yulo

An article in Sports Illustrated caught my eye. Entitled "Chelsea Baker dreams of pitching in college and MLB. Can she do it?" Howard Megdal writes about the high school knuckleballer Chelsea Baker. You might have heard of her. She's an incredible baseball player whose passion, skill and attitude have continued to propel her into places few girls are able to venture. As a little girl, Chelsea was taught by MLB player Joe Niekro to throw the unique knuckleball pitch that eludes many. By all accounts, she is one of the toughest to face on the mound and her stats prove it. Currently, she plays high school baseball in Plant City, Florida which, according to the article, is an epicenter for serious scouting and, yet, with all of her accomplishments, Chelsea (who is seventeen) has yet to receive any college offers to play. Megdal explores, not just the idea of a woman playing in the Major Leagues someday against overwhelming odds, but how difficult it is for a girl who has the stats to overcome the undeniable sexism (BUT SHE'S A GIRL!) which underlies the conversation at all levels.

Having said that, there is an element of hope throughout the piece. Indeed, there seems to be a feeling that a lot of people, including a supportive coach, are not just rooting for her, but for the school/coach/team out there who will see past her femaleness to give her a shot. I've seen other articles explore the same question and address the obvious obstacles. As the mom of a girl who plays baseball, I have a special interest to see how far the likes of girls such as Chelsea Baker and Mo'ne Davis will go.

So imagine my disgust when, as I am reading an article that discusses girls working their tails to the bone to try and break another massive glass ceiling, I see this:

I'm sorry. But I have to break here for a second: WTF?! There, lining the right side of the page next to an article about whether a talented and hard working girl should be able to be taken seriously in the male-dominated game of baseball, are a series (there are several) of ads (shame on you Dodge) that ask readers--obviously men--to vote for half naked, seductively posed women as "Rookie[s] of the Year." Kudos if they were trying to illustrate the real battle these girls face, but I'm sure that wasn't the point. One picture is literally right next to an amazing shot of a thirteen-year-old Mo'ne Davis! OMG! The irony could not be more of the "in-your-face" variety. The kind that is screaming at the highest volume that you should not, under any circumstances, take what is being said seriously and, furthermore, gives men little credit in being able to control their click-ability. It reminded me of the scene in the Disney movie "Up" in which the dog cannot help but be distracted by the squirrel in his peripheral line of sight. Only THAT was funny. THIS is not. 

Okay--crazy rant over. But let's talk seriously about how we are supposed to process this incredible split-screen mentality: on the one hand, you--the reader--are being spoken to as an intelligent human being. One who is seriously considering the topic of young girls who are on a path to make history. And suddenly...you are told to put all that aside while being asked to objectify a shallow image of a woman that is meant to seduce you into clicking on the picture which will take you way far away from the subject at hand. And, if like me, the reader is a woman, well--sucks for you. Seriously, I wanted to show my nine-year-old daughter the article, but felt it was inappropriate due to the ads.

(Please don't think I'm an idiot. I do realize we are talking about the same magazine whose yearly "Swimsuit" issue just sparked a huge debate after featuring a cover photo of a model that basically asked males everywhere to go as low as humanly possible within the legal limits of what the magazine could do.)

So what am I saying here? I'm saying we cannot continue to accept this false duality that pretends to ponder the notion that girls and women be taken seriously in the world of men only to flagrantly objectify them at the same time. Honestly, I find it incredibly depressing for both men and women and sadder for these tremendous athletes who just want to be taken seriously. Is it too much to ask, at the very least, that Sports Illustrated actually consider its advertising placement in conjunction with its content (television and radio seem to do this)? That it remove semi-pornographic photos of women from pages that feature young, talented female athletes such as Chelsea Baker because she, and others, deserve to be discussed in a forum that respects their skill and talent. How about an apology along with the removal of those ads on that page? May not seem like much, but it would be a start.

Saturday
Feb212015

My Open Letter to Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs

[Morgan Rielly, professional hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs, was caught in the crossfire yesterday after making a negative comment about girls to his teammates which I posted on my FB page yesterday. The following is an open letter to him.]

Dear Morgan—

I’m writing to you today because of the thoughtless statement you made that denigrated girls in order to motivate your male teammates. You said: "If you approach everyday like it's a chore to come to the rink that's the way it’s going to be, but you have to have put a positive outlook on it. You have to be able to put everything that's happening aside and just worry about doing your job...you're not here to be a girl about it.” As a mom of a nine-year-old girl who has been playing sports with the boys since the age of four, and as a business owner and activist tirelessly working to end gender stereotypes, I’d like to give you a reality check about what it really means to “be a girl about it.”

First, though, I’d like to say that it’s very telling when males speaks of girls in a derogatory way in order to somehow lift themselves up. You’re certainly not the first and won’t be the last to do it. Frankly, I don’t really blame you for saying it because the sad fact is that this is how boys are raised to think of girls: as weak, as less than, as fragile, as cry babies, as not having what it takes, as whiners, as silly, as sassy, as incapable, as helpless, as overtly emotional beings who cannot compete on the same level as their male counterparts. I’m sure you had heard this kind of anti-girl phrase many times in your young life and inevitably it would have stuck. That’s how stereotypes are formed, after all.

So, honestly, let me say that while it was an unfortunate choice of words, it certainly was not a complete shock because it’s obvious you didn’t so much choose the words, but more that they just fell right out of your mouth like the air you breathe. You didn’t even know it wasn’t an appropriate thing to say until others pointed it out and that alone says a lot. You have since apologized which I appreciate, but I believe more needs to be elaborated upon so that you truly understand the impact of your words enough to cause you to think twice next time.

You see, at the very core of your words is a much, much deeper problem that is being continually perpetuated even as I write this. Your casual dismissal of what it means to be a girl is a flagrant testament to how these cultural stereotypes about gender are embedded in our collective societal psyche. Have you heard of Eve Ensler? She is an amazing playwright (“The Vagina Monologues”), activist and performer. She said:

"I think the whole world has essentially been brought up not to be a girl. How do we bring up boys? What does it mean to be a boy? To be a boy really means not to be a girl. To be a man means not to be a girl. To be a woman means not to be a girl. To be strong means not to be a girl. To be a leader means not to be a girl. I actually think that being a girl is so powerful that we've had to train everyone not to be that."

I want you to think hard about this, as well as just how potent the stereotype must be for someone to flippantly make a comment such as yours. Think about all the times in your life that you might have absorbed this message unknowingly. Think about the many ways you would have been exposed to these messages. It might have been in the locker room or on the ice, on the playground, in the classroom, or just hanging out with your friends. It might have been while watching a television show, commercials, flipping through a magazine, or overheard in someone else’s conversation. Who knows? But this kind of group think has been out there a long time for you and others to simply grab and reuse at will.

I also want you to think about all the girls and women you’ve known in your life and ask yourself: Would I have made this kind of statement in front of them? Do I really believe that females are not capable of having a “positive outlook” or putting “everything that's happening aside and just worry about doing [their] job?” Most importantly, ask yourself why. Why was that the way in which you attempted to motivate your teammates?

Here’s a picture of my own daughter who plays triple AAA baseball (she plays basketball as well). She is not just a talented athlete, but a kid who works hard at her craft.  She doesn’t give a mere 100%. She gives 200%. You know why? Because, as the only girl on her teams, she has to constantly prove herself. She can’t be as good as the average boy on her team. She has to be better, otherwise she is at risk of being placed at the bottom or having people say she doesn’t cut it. Of course, she’s not the only one. There are countless girls who constantly give it their all and then some, and who do maintain positive outlooks even as they are having to simultaneously see past the suspicious or disparaging look in the eyes of others.

But this goes beyond female athletes. This is about all girls—half the population--who may or may not choose to play sports. It doesn’t matter whether they appear to be strong in your eyes because I can guarantee that each girl or woman you encounter is strong in her own way and has capabilities that you certainly don’t know about, and has probably fought battles that you couldn’t possibly imagine or endure even being the powerful athlete you are.

This is not about making you feel badly as much as hoping that you, and others, will obtain some perspective and perhaps see that these stereotypes are just as harmful to boys and men as they are to girls and women. And you are in a unique position to be able to create positive change and be a voice for equality.

My sincerest hope is that you will think about all of this the next time you are giving your team a pep talk. Maybe you might even use a girl as an example of strength and perseverance instead of how not to be. Perhaps with an understanding that we are all human first and foremost. You are still young yet, and maybe with maturity you will learn that achieving success or winning shouldn't mean belittling or demeaning others to to get there.

Most sincerely,

 

Michele Yulo

Monday
Nov032014

What Toy Commercials Are Really Selling Your Children [hint: it's not toys]

When was the last time you sat and watched cartoons on a Saturday morning? Recently, I snuggled in bed with my husband and nine-year-old daughter to watch some 'toons. I'm sure most of us can recall waking up on Saturday mornings to the sudden realization there was no school, while our parents got some rare extra shut-eye, then clicking on the television set (that's what we used to call it) to tune in to our favorite shows. I am a child of the 70's, so my go-tos were shows like "Sigmund & the Sea Monster," "Land of the Lost," "School of Rock" and "Josie & the Pussycats" to name a few. And remember the commercials? For me, it meant mentally storing my proposed Christmas list. After all, marketers have been at work like drug pushers pedaling their wares from inside their overcoats to kids as long as I can remember.

But marketing to children has changed a lot since I was a kid. To absorb just how much, I urge everyone to sit down in front of any cartoon cable station these days (doesn't have to be on a Saturday morning) and witness the litany of ridiculously gendered ads. Honestly, this is the best way to educate yourself and your children as you witness the very blatant use of stereotypes that not only serve to entice your child as a consumer, but also to really sear those stereotypes into the mindset. All the while companies like Mattel and Hasbro rake in the big bucks showing little regard for how your child might be effected.

My husband, who had not seen the toy commercials that are aired throughout kids programming, was completely dumbfounded. As we watched one after another, he looked at me and said, "I never knew." To illustrate some of the more egregioius offenders, I'll let the ads speak for themselves. The first two Crayola ads provide insight on how companies market and limit the same product to girls and boys. 

Crayola's Virtual Design Pro "Car Collection" for boys:

 

Crayola's Virtual Design Pro "Fashion Collection" for girls:

Lalaloopsy's Baking Oven for girls:

Hasbro's Construct-Bots for boys: note the language which includes using the words "build" and "construct" multiple times:

Lego Friends "Sunshine Ranch" which is supposedly "building for girls," but NEVER ONCE uses the word "build":

Barbie "Glam" Camper for girls? Because we all know how glamorous camping can be:

First of all, can't we all admit how utterly shameful and ridiculous these are? Obviously, there are marked differences visually (the color pink is vomited all over everything in the girls' renditions), but you really don't even have to be watching to know which is which. You just need to be listening. In the commercials for girls there is often a lot of giggling narrated by a high-pitched female whose tone usually borders on squeaky and flowery. The music is typically bouncy and light. Commercials featuring boy products are laden with heavy metal guitar rhythms and hard, rhythmic sounds in the background along with a male narrator who has a deep, sometimes dark gritty voice. The language used in each is completely different. These ads would have us believe that all girls are happy and love sunshine and cupcakes while the boys are active and busy building and smashing things. 

The thing is, I could post videos all day which prove beyond a reasonable doubt how over-saturated and dripping with gender stereotypes kids toy ads are. These commercials are played in almost rapid-fire succession while your child is glued not just to the television, but to the messages being sent (think of it as a kid's version of The Manchurian Candidate). There is no time for them to think or consider what is really being sold which is a world in which girls and boys don't play together, and femininity and masculinity are just as cartoonish as the cartoons themselves. It's a perversion of childhood and yet seems to be not just tolerated, but swallowed whole.

As my non-girly daughter has grown up, I hate the fact that she cannot place herself in either of these scenarios. She does not fit into the mold of femininity that a majority of companies sell. And since there are no girls present in any of the ads for boys--she is being told she doesn't belong there either. There is absolutely no room for in-between. There is no room for a girl who might like to bake and play with cars. Or a boy who might think about designing clothes and is also interested in building sets. When either sex is alienated from playing with certain toys, it leads to being alienated in the real world. It leads to things like bullying and intolerance. Think about this: everything a girl is taught to be from birth, every message spewing from these commercials that tells her to dress or act a certain way or be interested in certain things is turned against her as she gets older. The same for boys. So why are we allowing this to happen?

And if you think it doesn't matter or has little effect, think again. The one thing we can be sure of is that companies don't spend billions of dollars on marketing and advertising because it doesn't work. But what can we do to change an industry that relies so heavily on brainwashing children for profit and has the power to keep doing it? It's truly a dilemma to which some of us have devoted our blood, sweat and tears. For one, we must continue to be vigilant about bringing awareness while also offering and promoting alternatives. The very minimum we can do is to educate ourselves and our children by taking the opportunity to point out the differences between what is offered girls and what is offered boys. Ask your kids questions about whether they think these are authentic depictions of the kids they know. Ask them if only girls like to bake and then point out that a majority of professional chefs are male. And, last but not least, explain that these companies really don't care about them as human beings. Let's raise media literate children who understand that what is being sold to them is much more than a toy. 

Tuesday
Oct072014

What "Science With A Sparkle" Says to Girls and Boys

"You [girls] can like science without transgressing the boundaries of acceptable femininity — but those boundaries are very important, and you would do well to learn where they are and stay within them. Maybe they will convince some girls that science is cool, but if they also convince those girls that they have to perform femininity in such a narrow way, is this a net win?" Janet Stemwedel **

 

Recently a debate was ignited as a result of the Carnegie Science Center offering workshops through the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in which each organization offered their own brand of science. Now, from what I know about science, it is a very broad subject that includes many sub-categories for the taking. When we think of science we might think of things like astronomy, physics, botany, chemistry, biology, geology. Well, cast your eyes on this and take a moment to let it sink in:

 

These were the workshops offered to boys and girls. Let's break it down: boys got to choose between EIGHT DAYS of a variety of different classes while girls didn't get a choice. Their sole offering was THREE HOURS of something called "Science with a Sparkle" which is categorized as science related to cosmetics (or "glamology" as it has been sometimes called) and certainly does not sound like something to be taken seriously, especially when listed adjacent to the likes of chemistry, robotics, engineering and astronomy. Note that none of the terms for the boys were changed (astronomy could also be named "Science With a Sparkle"). 

As is often the case, social media and other outlets caught wind of this and a conflagration ensued. Many were appalled at the lack of options for girls. One of the main reasons cited for the blatant imbalance was that girls just don't seem to be interested in the more traditional sciences. The goal was to draw girls in with "real word problems" they can relate to so building a workshop dealing with those pesky cosmetics and makeup (sometimes lipgloss is just too glossy and needs to be toned down) was the obvious choice for girls 8-12.

In response to all of the public blowback, Carnegie attempted to assuage critics by saying things like “any child – boy or girl, Scout or not – is welcome to join in on those programs.” But take a look at their website where it clearly says NO BOYS ALLOWED - GIRLS ONLY WORKSHOPS" on the "Science with a Sparkle" page. And, while perhaps the Boy Scout page doesn't specifically say "BOYS ONLY," I sincerely doubt girls/parents will hop on over there to sign up. You know, because it's for "BOY Scouts." Nowhere does it say, "GIRLS ARE WELCOME."

Some say it's benign--that there's nothing wrong with "sparkly science" if it lures girls into STEM. The argument being that if that's where girls are right now, we have to meet them there. To be honest, I don't think there's anything wrong with recognizing a category that could be deemed more appealing to some girls and maybe even boys (and there is science involved in cosmetics), but there is a deeper reality here that some are missing, which is that by continuing to act as if this is the way all girls are, we are actually pushing them further away from STEM by creating seemingly separate but [not] equal paths to things like science and technology. Is there room for the feminine in science? Of course. Is this the way to go about achieving equity? I don't think so. Invariably, the broader question that must be answered is why we are willing to set such low expectations when it comes to girls. Why do girls need ploys and special terms and boys don't?

Let's take a second to break this down in terms of what offering "Sparkly Science" for girls is really saying to both boys and girls:

  • Girls need words like "shiny" and "sparkle" to be interested in things like science.
  • Science for girls is relegated to those industries, like cosmetics, that perpetuate the idea that their worth is tied to their looks.
  • Girls are very different intellectually from boys.
  • Girls' options are limited; therefore, so is their potential.
  • Boys have a multitude of choices.
  • Girls wouldn't make it in "real" science.
  • All girls are the same.
  • There is no space for the non-girly girl who is shut out of both options.
  • There is no space for the boy who might be interested in the cosmetic industry.

Here is a simple fix that the Carnegie Science Center could have done to remedy the obvious split between boys and girls: they could have simply combined both scout organizations workshops listed together and included the October 11th "Science with a Sparkle." That way nobody would have been excluded and girls and boys would have been free to take whichever appealed to them (it wouldn't have looked so ridiculous either). Perhaps mostly girls would have gone for the makeup science, but maybe some would have been interested in weather. (Maybe they could have called that "Hair Elements." You know, because weather determines if they have a good hair day or a bad hair day.)

For the record, I am two hundred percent against the notion of "separate but [not] equal" messaging and marketing to kids and don't believe that girls will suddenly start swarming STEM subjects because they took ONE workshop about makeup. I simply can't and won't accept the status quo that says "sparkly science" is what girls want and that boys are better suited for the traditional engineering and science tracks. After all, there is a reason for the predicament we find ourselves in. It's not hardwired. It is spoon-fed. Boys are confident in areas of STEM because they're not discouraged from it--they're not told from birth that it might be better if they go another route. It's a vicious cycle that must be broken--we can't just continue to say, "girls just aren't interested." I don't believe that for a second. What I do believe is that they don't even know they could be interested. Throwing our hands up in the air saying "it is what it is" is not the answer. 

If what I am saying seems extreme to some--then so be it. If extreme means treating girls like they have the intellectual capacity to be interested in more than cosmetics, call me radical. It just seems to me that with the recent surge in girl empowerment messaging (for instance the "Like a girl" campaign by Always), we still continue to understimate the real power and ability of girls and that makes me angry enough to sound like a broken record. 

To those who defend "sparkly science" (while admitting that separating science by gender is probably not a good idea) I say we don't need to defend sparkly science. We don't need to defend a culture that sets such low expectations for girls. We don't need to defend huge corporations whose sole goal is to make money from marketing separately to kids. No, we don't need to defend any of that. We only need to defend girls. Not just girls who like sparkly science. All girls. And we need to start doing it now.

 

**From "Some reasons gendered science kits may be counterproductive" published in Scientific American.

Tuesday
Aug052014

Back-to-school Shopping: It's Time to Change Gender-limiting Choices

It's that time again--millions of people have already begun their annual "back-to-school" shopping trip. I just finished up ours with my nine-year-old daughter. We headed to one of those massive outlet malls and ventured into the usual major retail outlets and, true to form, my girl wasn't having any of the typical girl fare. Old Navy was one of our first stops. As I flipped through jean options--in the girl's department which was mobbed with girls of varying ages and their mothers--Gabi was already over at the boys' section. Here's what she picked out: 

Of course, none of these kinds of tees were in the girls' section. I've noticed these in other stores as well...always separated by gender. My daughter is an athlete--and a damn good one--so she loves these. But is she the only girl who would? Are these messages only for boys? Plenty of girls play sports who I believe would love a tee that says, "I MAKE THIS LOOK EASY." There were other cool t-shirts for boys as well--like this one:

Now, as a family that has three dachshunds, this tee was a must-have! But, again, why designs like this only in the boys' department? Does this hilarious design only appeal to boys? When I got home, I just happened to notice this dog tee in the Lands End catalog:

The copy reads: "Simply adorable! This soft, all-cotton knit tee is finished with the details girls love." Yes, because all girls love pink, a tiara and a tutu--especially on a dog. This is the dog that girls get. Forget the skateboard and punny humor--for boys only.

To give Lands End some credit they did just recently add a couple of "science-y" tees to their girl collection after a mother wrote a letter asking why there were tees with things like planets for boys only. [I had actually tweeted to Lands End about a week before asking why the sharp contrast bewteen boy and girl tees.] Lands End responded pretty quickly to design TWO new "science" tees for girls which are sandwiched between all the still very girly choices. Desparate for better options, people went crazy commenting that they were going to purchase a tee for their daughter and hoped for more. While I think it's great that a big company like Lands End listened and actually did something--it's still not enough. I REPEAT--IT'S NOT ENOUGH. Boys and girls don't need companies to tell them who they are, what "details" they like, and which aisle to shop in. We are putting blinders on children by not allowing them to see past an invisible line in a store and perpetuating gender stereotypes in the process.

As one mom who has attempted to offer other more diverse, options for girls, I have been trying to bridge this gap for five years and am about to launch a new website (end of August) and brand called Be Free Zone that will, hopefully, offer a way for girls and boys to join each other virtually in the same aisle. I am calling it "gender-equal' (an updated term to replace "gender neutral" or "unisex") apparel and gear which I think conveys a more positive message that moves us forward in terms of how we market to kids. Imagine that: girls and boys equally can simply choose what they like without being corralled like cattle into "separate but equal" paths. Here are some of my new designs which will not be categorized by gender and have a variety of color options:

 

 

But of course, I'm just one mom trying to make a dent in an already highly corporatized, gender-situated world. I know some will say--"If your child likes boy (or girl) things--then what's the problem with shopping in those sections?" But when Gabi and I were in the boys section of Old Navy--there was not a single other girl there. Not one (of course, no boys in the girls' department, God forbid). And I honestly don't think that's because my daughter is the only girl who would enjoy these tees. Let's face it--it's not a matter of simply letting kids shop in those sections--because most kids will never be able to cross over into a section that they have been taught is not for them. In addition, there is a level of discomfort a child/parent has to experience to make that jump. Meanwhile, I've heard parents expressly tell a child who wandered into the "other" aisle: "Come back here--that's not for you." That's how girls learn that they are not allowed to own a tee that says, "GAME CHANGER," or a boy learns that he cannot, under any circumstances, wear pink.

This is not going to change by throwing a couple of science designs into the girls' section or providing one pink option for boys. It's only going to change when we remove the very real boundaries that exist between pink and blue, princesses and super heroes, cupcakes and soccer balls. It's about finding the common threads that exist between girls and boys so they do not grow up alien to each other. It's about raising children to know they are inherently equal human beings with equal opportunities. I fully believe that the trend is moving in that direction, but we still have a long way to go.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Feb192014

Michele Yulo on HLN - Barbie and Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue

Wednesday
Jan152014

What does being beautiful have to do with building? According to LEGO--everything.

As many of you know, there is a huge movement to get girls more involved in areas of STEM--to encourage them to build and take an early interest in the foundations of engineering and science. And yet companies that claim to be supporting this movement continue to do things that seriously undermine it. 

Remember when LEGO Friends, which was supposed to be about getting girls interested in building, launched and they insisted that the line wasn't only for girls? Right. Not only did they actually SAY it was for girls, but all the subsequent advertising, marketing and product proved and continues to prove otherwise. In addition, at this point, there seems to be little focus on bringing the building aspect to the forefront. The debate continues as to whether specific building toys "for girls" is truly a serious option or just a way to sell product.

I came across this LEGO Friends t-shirt recently that appears to be yet another way children (girls and boys) are taught that "beauty" for girls is more than skin deep. It reads: "Beauty of Building" and pictures the faces of five "beauties." I ask you--where is the "building" they are referring to? This t-shirt sends one message: girls must be beautiful, meaning physically attractive and pretty, in all aspects of their lives, at all times, including when doing things like building. Yes, that's because things like carpentry or engineering or science are all about how you look while you are doing it.

 

We can only assume this is true because how would we know that this is supposed to encourage girls to build? Are any of the girls illustrated DOING anything? Are they being shown actually building anything? Of course not. This is what current marketing to girls is all about. I can tell you that this doesn't encourage girls to learn about how to put something together--it encourages girls to be passive and look good in a pose. To make sure they look pretty and their hair and makeup are perfect. Associating "beauty" with "building" in this case has nothing to do with any skill or activity--it has exactly the opposite effect of its supposed intention--and we wonder why there aren't more women in engineering? 

Hey LEGO! Here is what a real girl looks like who builds:

 

Maybe they might want to consider using a girl on their tees and in their ads who looks like this. Who appear to be ACTUALLY building something! Whose hair is realistically pulled back and not coiffed, away from her face which is hiding behind required safety goggles. A girl who is strong enough to carry a heavy tool belt loaded with the things she'll need for the job. Now, I would say that this girl is beautiful--but not in the same way the girls on the LEGO tee are beautiful, but in the same way LEGO's 1981 ad for Universal Building Sets was beautiful. 

 

Clearly, the word "beautiful" possessed another meaning in this 1981 ad--one that is incongruent with how "beauty" is being represented on the t-shirt. What irony that LEGO once seemed to embrace a girl who could build while recognizing that's what was beautiful but now only sees girls for how they look. My, how times have changed.

It makes me sad and angry that so many companies have shortchanged girls in this way. This is not the way to encourage girls to build or teach them that they are intelligent beings capable of doing anything. As I have said before, there is a huge difference between marketing that is girl empowering versus girl-centric which is what we see here in the LEGO tee. Inevitably, this kind of shortsighted marketing only pushes girls further away from the intended goal while sending the message to boys that building is not really a serious activity for girls. We need to change this. In children's marketing, we need to harken back to the days when the word "beautiful" was used to describe what a girl did, not what she looked like.

Tuesday
Dec032013

Michele Yulo on HLN Speaking to the Marketing of Princess Culture

In case you  missed it, Michele Yulo appeared on HLN with Natasha Curry after a flurry of media attention about princess culture and how children are marketed to.
Tuesday
Nov262013

GUEST BLOG: "Is Separate Really Equal When It Comes To Gender Assigned Toys?" by Elizabeth Sweet

Picture a five-year-old girl, bright and imaginative, who likes building sand castles, collecting bugs, drawing, learning about dinosaurs, and putting together puzzles. She also loves princesses.

Unfortunately, only one of her many interests is represented among the toys and products marketed to her. She can easily find clothing and shoes with princess characters on them; eat princess-themed snack foods; brush her teeth with a princess toothbrush; carry her lunch in a princess lunchbox; and drink from a princess water bottle. She can have a princess themed birthday party and if she does, her guests will inevitably give her princess related gifts. In fact, her room can easily become filled with so much princess paraphernalia that it becomes a sea of pink and taffeta. And in the toy aisles, she can find a plethora of pink princess options to choose from, but little else. Now, more than ever before, it is possible for a young girl to be fully immersed in a corporate created princess experience in every moment of daily life. 

Children’s toys haven’t always looked as they do today, however.  In my research on gender and toys in Sears catalog advertisements over the 20th century, I found that gender-neutral toys were actually the norm versus the exception at the turn of the century and again in the 1970s, and similar trends have been found in research on historical children’s clothing. Additionally, it wasn’t until the 1990s that I found instances of the pink princess-themed toys for girls so ubiquitous today. Even then, in 1995 only 7% of the toys marketed to girls in the Sears holiday catalog were related to princesses, a small fraction compared with what we see today. It is simply not the case that girls have always clamored for pink and dreamed of being princesses. These are relatively recent phenomena that reflect contemporary marketing strategies and changing social beliefs about gender.

The profusion of passive princesses in the toy aisles has reached such an extreme that the media and parents are finally taking note. As a result, several companies have introduced new lines of toys for girls in an effort to “disrupt the pink aisles” and encourage girls into building. These toys—including the Lego Friends line and the GoldieBlox building toys—employ the same stereotypically feminine pink and pastel colors and relational themes found in standard pink aisle fare, but they do offer a somewhat broader range of activities and the potential for skill development. Many are excited about these toy lines, claiming that they have the potential to appeal to girls and parents who might normally reject building toys. However, as a sociologist who studies gender inequality, I am not as enthusiastic.

There are a mountain of studies which find that the same gender stereotypes which are heavily infused into these new girly building toys are at the core of many inequities in the adult world, such as the persistent gender gap in science, technology, and engineering (STEM) fields. By definition, stereotypes are broad, categorical generalizations centered upon difference (e.g. “boys like building and girls like reading”) and they carry implicit status assumptions (e.g. girls aren’t naturally inclined toward or as good at building as boys are). Research has found that these kinds of implicit assumptions operate in multiple subtle ways to inhibit such things as task performance and future career aspirations. They also form the basis of numerous processes of discrimination—for example, stereotypes that women are less capable in science can cause them to be evaluated more harshly than equally qualified men.

The truth is there is no gene that gives boys special building talents and girls unique relationship skills, just as there is no princess gene. Rather, there are a set of widely-held cultural beliefs and stereotypes about boys and girls which shape and reinforce gendered patterns of behavior. These same stereotypes led the toy industry to take building sets like Lego, initially designed to be gender-neutral, and begin marketing them exclusively to boys in the late 1980s.  After systematically ignoring girls for two decades, sending the not-so-subtle message that building toys are for boys, toy makers now wish to bring girls back into the fold. But to do so by suggesting that they must be enticed into building with cutesy pink themes only reinforces the idea that girls have fundamentally different (read less valuable) capacities, skills, and interests than boys. In essence, this tactic only reinforces the very problem it hopes to solve.

If we truly want to disrupt stereotypes in the toy aisles, we need to stop pandering to them. We need to stop reinforcing the idea that girls are somehow innately driven to love pink and princesses and will only play with something if it is hyper-feminine. Historically, this hasn’t been the case and it need not be the case today. As a society, it is time we challenge the idea that boys and girls have fundamentally different play needs and interests that are determined by gender. While some girls do like princesses and relational play, many—like my own daughter—do not. And while some boys do enjoy building sets with aggressive themes, many would enjoy toys with relational or domestic themes if they were given the opportunity to play with them. The fact is, there is a tremendous diversity in interests among boys and among girls, and this diversity is far greater than the small differences between them.

Instead of more pink building sets, we need more toys that include a broad spectrum of colors (including pink) and diverse themes and which are marketed inclusively to both boys and girls. In the 1975 Sears catalog, ads for both science kits and kitchen sets showed boys and girls working together. We need to ask ourselves: Why does this concept seem so foreign today? As a society, we should hope to expand rather than constrain the range of options available to our children. As parents, we should not find it so difficult to allow our children to explore and develop their many interests, from bug collecting to dinosaurs to dress-up.

I’m grateful for the work of grass-roots companies who offer innovative products and resources that truly challenge gender stereotypes and offer alternatives to princess culture. I’m also heartened by the successes of parents and advocates in the UK, Sweden, and now in Australia who are using their collective voices to challenge gender segregated and stereotyped toys. I believe it is through these kinds of efforts that we can actually begin to dismantle the limitations of the pink and blue aisles. It’s well past time.

Elizabeth Sweet recently earned her PhD is Sociology at UC Davis. Her dissertation research focuses on the role of gender in children’s toys over the 20th century. She is the proud mother of an 11-year old daughter.