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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.

Thursday
Nov212013

Integrity Matters: Offering Girls Real Choice

Yesterday, the blogosphere blew up with talk about a new video from the company GoldieBlox that has gone beyond viral. It shows three little girls breaking out of the "princess" duldrums to construct a massive Rube Goldberg machine. I received countless messages and emails about the ad with most asking me, "Isn't this great!?" Undoubtedly, I agreed that the ad was indeed a good one and sent a wondefully positive message: Girls can build. 

However, some of the responses to the commercial noted that the actual product behind the ad wasn't groundbreaking at all. Instead, the company's building toy for girls is laden with all the things it says it's breaking free from: pink, pastel, princess. On GoldieBlox's website--the latest toy features a princess pageant and a parade float along with the narrative: "In this much-anticipated sequel, Goldie's friends Ruby and Katinka compete in a princess pageant with the hopes of riding in the town parade. When Katinka loses the crown, Ruby and Goldie build something great together, teaching their friends that creativity and friendship are more important than any pageant."

In other words, the toy itself isn't doing much in terms of breaking from the norm--and, I have to agree with Emily Rosenbaum in her post on Ms. Magazine's website, "Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t we already have a construction toy made out of pink, lavender and baby blue plastic that’s marketed to girls? It’s called LEGO Friends." Great--just what the world needs, another ultra-girly, princess-themed toy. It's not like we don't have enough of those already. Just recently, LEGO Friends introduced their Disney Princess version and, if you don't like that, you can choose the Barbie Build 'n Play Super Star Stage from Mattel and Mega Bloks. They are both building toys "for girls" with a princess or fashion doll theme.

This is all about what I call "girl-centric" marketing--not to be confused with "girl empowering" products/marketing. There is a difference. Girl-centric brands stay within the realm of hyper femininity lumping girls into a very fixed version of girlhood. An example of this would be this Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven commercial. Girl-empowering, on the other hand, sends the message that girls are capable beyond this realm--that they are unique individuals who can't be grouped into a single version of femininity. This Nike ad nails it:

Albeit, it was easy to see why the GoldieBlox video became so popular so quickly--it utlized girl empowerment. But the product is girl-centric. It still focuses on those things that keep girls in a constant mythological state of princess euphoria. My friend and colleague Melissa Wardy over at Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies said it best in her post "Stop Using Stereotypes to Sell STEM to Girls": "Stop believing the hype, 'Well, if it gets girls building that is all I care about.' No. Just no. Have more faith in girls that they don’t need products dripping in the pink syrup and exhausted princess stories. Be brave enough to tell new, more daring stories. If you go there, the girls will come. They don’t need pink bread crumbs leading the way. Have the strength of your convictions."

My character, TooLula

Yes. We need to stick to our convictions--otherwise, the addiction will continue and companies will continue to pull the pink wool over our eyes. Integrity matters. At least it does to me. And itegrity means that your mission and product match up. It seems to me Branding 101.You can't keep repeating you want girls to be "more than a princess" and then include princess in your product--it just doesn't work that way and people will call you out on it. It should matter whether a company's advertising aligns with the real product. Shouldn't it? I don't know about you, but if I were to purchase an item that sold itself as one thing and it was something completely different--I'd be pissed.

However, the great disappointment that some felt after seeing the "princess pageant parade float" behind GoldieBlox's ad only tells me that there is a tremendous desire for something that isn't the same-old, been-there-done-that concept. A market does exist for a toy and narrative that offers both girls and boys an option and recognizes that they each bring something unique to a toy--it doesn't have to be the other way around. I received this comment on my Princess Free Zone FB page in response to a NY Times article by Peggy Orenstein that discussed how highly gendered toys do have an effect on the lives and perceptions of children, "Why is not possible to accept that boys and girls are individuals who will play in their own preferred ways, with the same toys, with each other?" I, for one, believe it is possible and that we can change the tide of extreme gendered marketing that limits girls opportunites and distances boys and girls from each other in the process. But someone has to be the first to take the plunge. 

My daughter ready to build!

Almost five years ago, I created a tool girl and wrote a children's book not only to encourage girls to build, but to show all kids that a girl can enjoy wearing a tool belt (that isn't pink) and swinging a hammer like anyone else (please note, there are already TWO male animated builder characters). My belief is that if girls actually SEE a variety of options, besides princess and pink, they might actually choose something different. When they are given more of the same--they won't. It seems ridiculously logical to me. How do I know? Not one girl who has read or heard my book has complained that Lula wasn't wearing pink or a tiara. In fact, mothers have told me their daughters wanted to go out and get a tool belt so they could be like TooLula. In fact, TooLula is based on my own daughter who prefers pants to skirts, cars to castles, and a tool belt to a tiara. She and her friends (girls and boys) somehow always find the middle ground to play and even build together which is why I found it important to include boys in the narrative.

I have a treatment that is based on the book and character which I am currently looking to pitch to networks as an animated series. The world is ready for a girl builder who busts stereotypes by simply being herself, who can teach kids about accepting differences while encouraging skills like building and math. I am convinced that the world needs her, that kids are ready for her, and that parents are starving for this kind of option. A real option. I've been at this too long to simply accept the status quo when I know there is a groundswell of support simply waiting for it. Our girls deserve to know that we believe in their ability to go beyond a world of princess and pageantry. 

 Girls and boys in the Be Free Zone.

 

 

 

Tuesday
Oct152013

Why We Need to Keep Up the Fight

While in NYC with the Brave Girls Alliance making our debut on a Times Square Billboard--trying to fight the images of overtly sexualized images girls are exposed to and the gender stereotypes that limit all children--it was impossible not to notice these images everywhere. Here is an ad I saw on a bus stop for the video game Grand Theft Auto starkly juxtaposed against the BGA billboard with one of PFZ's tweets: Brave Girls Want more representation and diversity in video games. This is why we have to keep going.


Wednesday
Sep112013

Glamology: the "Science" of what companies think girls want

Folks--there's a new science in town. And it doesn't require a PhD. Nope! You just have to be at least eight-years-old and concerned about your "skin's needs." It is called the "WILD SCIENCE GLAMOLOGY REJUVENATION PACK":

On YoYo.com's website the description reads:

"A unique range of collectable kits that teach all the fundamentals of skin care, helping girls to create cosmetics unique to their skin’s needs, while having fun with the Rejuvenation Pack 3 - Soothing Cream and Body Mist."

It is recommended for ages 8 and up--you know because eight-year-olds really need to learn how best to take care of those soon-to-be laugh lines and crow's feet. Undoubtedly, girls should begin learning, as soon as possible, that they won't be young and beautiful forever and that it's never too early to "feel great about being you!" by pampering themselves with "the secrets of beauty." 

Forget busying themselves with things like actual science kits that might entail messy lab experiments or studying rock formation! This will teach them to always be aware of their flaws while providing an outlet for their creativity and curiosity. What more could a girl want?

I have an idea. More than Glamology. 

 

 

 

Sunday
Sep082013

Forget Sugar and Spice--Little Girls Sweat!

by Michele Yulo

Here's a news bulletin:  LITTLE GIRLS SWEAT! Oh--and sometimes they even stink. Yep--they play hard and get dirty. Now, this may not be a surprise to some, but given the way we raise girls in a delicate princess culture that teaches how "little ladies" are expected to behave, or one that models femininity as they grow and develop in very specific ways, it is no surprise that it is often at odds with the idea that girls are just as active as boys. 

I took this photo of my eight-year-old daughter taking a break after working hard at the batting cages. She plays baseball (loves to slide!) and would much rather be on a baseball diamond than almost anything else (...except maybe Minecraft!). But even though she is an accomplished athlete even at this young age and can hold her own on any boys team, she still faces a certain amount of bias. Last year, during recess when she would play tag football with a few boys, she'd come home upset saying, "Mom--the boys won't throw me the football! They think I can't catch!" Finally, she intercepted a pass, but even after that they still hesitated to throw her the ball. 

What I find so gnawingly sad about these moments is that I know they creep into her psyche and undoubtedly have an effect on her. I know that she will have to prove herself over and over again by being better--not just as good, but better. And while she seems to be up for the fight (at least for now)--I often wonder how many girls out there simply accept the stigma--that girls can't play as good as boys, or girls don't belong on a boys team--and give up.

My friend and colleague Justine Siegal, whose organization Baseball for All is all about making baseball accessible to girls from an early age and beyond, has a good deal to say about this as she has made her way from playing the game as a young girl, pitching batting practice to MLB teams, coaching, and now mentoring. In her TedX talk, she points out that, according to Little League statistics, "approximately one-hundred thousand girls play Little League baseball," and yet "only one thousand girls play high school baseball." She then asks the obvious question: "What happens to the other ninety-nine thousand girls?" Are all ninety-nine thousand simply not good enough to play high school baseball? Is there not one in that entire group who cannot play as good as the most average male on any high school team? I, for one, do not believe that's the case. 

But this is not just about baseball. Baseball is just a metaphor. It's about life--a girl's life. If we want girls to be and become leaders (which is central to Sheryl Sandberg's message in Lean In), to be assertive and confident in their ability to run a boardroom--shouldn't we lose the "little lady" talk? If we want boys to look at girls as equals--and not a princess that needs saving--shouldn't we show them that real girls are gritty and actually don't mind getting dirty? And, yes, that real girls sweat and sometimes it ain't pretty. But shouldn't life be about more than being pretty? Or sweet? Or hot? We can't expect girls to head into college or the corporate world and suddenly slough off everything that we, as a culture and society, have taught them--the message that we put out to girls from birth needs to change. Asking girls to always be clean, proper and pretty sets up an unrealistic expectation that hurts their ability to play side-by-side with the boys. Which is why I say it's okay to let 'em see ya sweat.