What’s the problem with pink and princess? The marketing, not the moms.

This week, New York and Slate published pieces asking why so many moms have a problem with pink and with princesses.

“What’s the problem with pink, anyway?” griped Yael Kohen in New York. Then, building upon Kohen’s piece, Slate senior editor Allison Benedikt demanded: “What is it with you moms of girls? I have never met a single one of you who isn’t tortured about pink and princesses.” Her annoyance is palpable.

Both writers proceed to defend all things pink and princess. “We treat pink — and the girls who like it — with [...] condescension,” Kohen states, while Benedikt adds, “Moms of daughters need to chill out.”

Let’s take a step back, please. I am the author of a forthcoming book called The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, and Kohen and Benedikt’s arguments are wrong on several levels. By pontificating on the subject without actually talking to the moms they’re criticizing, they’ve missed the point. Having interviewed more than 50 parents about princess culture, and dozens of experts as well, I’d like to state this categorically: No one is blaming girls. To suggest otherwise is to make a straw man argument that distracts from the real issues at hand.

Furthermore: No one thinks that pink is inherently a problem. Pink is not the “color of oppression,” as Benedick charges sarcastically.

No, no—the problem is not with the girls or the color pink. It’s with the marketing, because that marketing is reducing girls’ choices.

The pink thing–It’s crazy!

As the mother of a young boy, Benedikt can’t understand why the mom of a little girl she knows spent her own daughter’s princess-themed birthday party apologizing for all the pink and saying things like, “The pink thing, I know—it’s crazy!”

Since Benedikt is a journalist, she would have been smart to ask the mom what, exactly, was “crazy” about “the pink thing.” But instead, Benedikt appears to have arrived at her own conclusion: The mom is the crazy one, because, as Benedikt noted incredulously, she was criticizing the very extravaganza that she herself had organized!

Now, if either writer had bothered to talk with moms of girls, like I did for my book—or, for that matter, to connect with the authors and activists who’ve been critiquing pink girly-girl culture for several years, like me, Peggy OrensteinMichele Yulo, Melissa Wardy,or the team behind Pinkstinks—they would have learned something important. In the marketplace, products that are pink and princessy now dominate the girls’ sections. The marketing is so insidious that the moms I interviewed complained that it is virtually inescapable—and to very young children, it implies that pink and princess are the ONLY good choices for girls.

In other words, it wasn’t that they didn’t want their daughters to like pink or princesses. Far from it. It was just that they didn’t want their daughters to only like pink or princess.

That, I’d wager, is what the mom who threw the princess-themed birthday party was fretting about. You know how the subtitle of my book includes the phrase “princess-obsessed years”? I’m not exaggerating when I say that there are many little girls out there who only want pink, only want princesses, and that the obsessiveness spills over into every aspect of their families’ lives.

In Kohen’s piece, she defends pink princess products and marketing because, she says, “plenty of girls seem to love it.” This is true—plenty of girls do love it. I would never tell a girl that she’s wrong to enjoy what she enjoys. Princess culture is full of pleasures for our little ones. It’s fun and sparkly and such a source of delight!

4359702274_8ebc8aea7aKohen is missing a critical piece of the puzzle, however. Pink princess marketing is so forceful, backed by so many billions of dollars, that it’s not really a choice anymore. It’s proscriptive, it’s coercive, and it takes deliberate advantage of a developmental phase that industrial psychologists are well aware of. Approximately two-thirds of preschool girls go through a phase in which they believe that their sex (the fact that they are girls) fully depends on external factors, like how they dress, because they don’t understand that sex is determined biologically. Fearful of losing their gender identities, and declaring their joy in being girls, they latch onto the most obvious stereotypical markers of their gender.

This developmental phase used to manifest in girls as a refusal to wear anything but dresses. (In contrast, in boys, it manifests as an avoidance of all things girlish.) Now, it manifests in girls as a refusal to associate with anything but pink and princess—a full-blown obsession.

Perhaps that casts a more sympathetic light on the mom Benedikt slammed for planning a pink princess party despite feeling conflicted about it. The mom probably thought the “pink thing” was “crazy” because of its intensity, its grip on her daughter, and its inescapability in the marketplace. And for a mom who wants her daughter to have a delightful birthday experience but is worried about the consequences of all this pink princess stuff overrunning her daughter’s life, it’s a no-win situation.

Think about it. That is crazy.

Also a problem: The minority of girls who actively reject things that are stereotypically girly because they are gender-nonconforming (approximately 1 in 10 children, according to a recent Harvard study) are left out, treated by peers and even adults as somehow defective. The Harvard study suggests that such children leave childhood with PTSD! How shocking and saddening.

Meanwhile, parents whose daughters are inextricably caught up in pink princess culture have legitimate concerns about its effects. For one thing, princess culture focuses so strongly on physical appearance that it teaches girls that how they look is incredibly important. It teaches little girls to seek praise for their appearance—which is why so many little girls insist on wearing their princess playclothes out of the house. People gush over them. This upsets parents who know that it’s what’s inside that counts, and who want their daughters’ sense of self-worth to come from within.

Also, as far as storylines go, the princess script is limiting. Parents I interviewed told me stories about their daughters lying around helplessly waiting for their princes to come rescue them—marking dramatic changes in their previously active and energetic play patterns.

Furthermore, even though Kohen notes that princess products “reflect subtle, but profound changes in the way our society views its girls and their girlyness,” with princesses who are “more dynamic,” she’s missing something: girls may adore their Brave and Frozen DVDs, but in many homes—indeed, across the Disney Princess franchise—Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty still reign supreme. And although princesses on screen have indeed become more dynamic in our post-girl-power world, many of the toys—especially the dolls that preschool girls cherish—all seem to regress to the mean. Strong princess characters like Merida get reduced down to sparkly fashion objects in ways that completely undercut the empowering messages from their films (as my previous posts here and here point out).

Here’s what’s happening: In the marketplace, products that are pink and purple are “for girls,” while everything else is “for boys.” As a mom, I see this playing out time and again. Anything with a hint of pink on it, my 5-year-old son rejects. “That’s too girly,” he’ll argue, even if there’s only the tiniest hint of pink on a product. Where did he pick up on this? Not from me! He’s absorbed this lesson from the culture we’re immersed in—from the marketing that relies on stereotypes to segregate our children, maximizing profits at the expense of children’s healthy gender identity development and well-being.

The moms of girls who are fretting about pink princess culture don’t need to be slammed by Benedikt, Kohen, and others. Jumping to conclusions doesn’t help anybody, and pink and princess really doesn’t need to be the latest installment of the Mommy Wars. If we can understand and address the root of the problem together, we can foster a healthier world for all of our children—boys and girls alike.


Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Her book, The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, is now available for pre-order from Amazon.

If you liked this post, please follow Rebecca on Facebook and TwitterYou may also follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at the top left of your screen at rebeccahains.wordpress.com. Thank you.

Can girls be doctors? Preschool art project says “no.”

Why are we still teaching our children that DOCTOR = MALE in 2014? There’s no good reason.

A guest post by Julie Danahy Hebeisen

My friend Julie is a non-profit event planner in the Boston area and a married first-time mother to 2-year-old Vivian. When she told me that pulled an infuriating “art project” out of her daughter’s preschool backpack, I invited her to write about her experience. Here’s Julie’s story. 

I have a couple of friends who are medical doctors. Those friends are female. Their strength and intellect has always impressed me, not because they are female, but because the work they do is awe inspiring.

At 2.7 years old, my daughter began the transition into preschool. She is a sponge, eyes wide open.

When she was born, they plopped her on my chest (ready, set, LIFE!) and she quite literally locked eyes with me in a penetrating stare, as if to say, “Ok Mom, it’s on!” I was not the only one that noticed; the nurses had a laugh. That moment was a not-so-quiet indicator of the kind of child she would grow to be: wildly observant, challenging, and completely open to learning from the world around her.

Yesterday, as I do three days per week, I opened her knapsack to reap the treasures of the day. Sometimes a notice, a dirty shirt, a half-eaten something, but also ART! The art projects are my favorite–a little window into what she is learning, and how her mind embraces it creatively. Most days, I smooth out the wrinkles and find a spot for it on the fridge or the on the door to her play cave.

Today was different.

Today, I pulled out a mystery.

I knew the lesson for the week was about going to visit the doctor, but it puzzled me. The objective appeared to be take a white lab coat, and adhere the doctor’s tools of the trade; stethoscope, pen in pocket, name tag (Doctor Vivian), and then, drumroll please…a neck tie!

A neck tie?

The project took a nose dive for me, fast. There was her little name, next to a boldly male indicator. The message was this: your male classmates will be doctors, but this exercise for you is one of fantasy. She was being taught that being a doctor is a male profession. Her school environment is typically pretty progressive, but I worry about small messages like this one piling up in the early learning years and becoming reinforced truths.

I can reassure myself and remember: She has seen Doc McStuffins on television, so some of her playtime includes routine check-ups of myself and her father. Her own pediatrician is female, so she knows in reality, women are medical doctors.

But there is a little extra credibility in the lessons that happen at school. She will happily correct the way we do things at home in favor of adopting her school’s way. “Sit on your bottom please, Vivian.” And she will happily tell me, “Tell me to sit Criss Cross Applesauce, that is the right way!”

I wondered what she had taken away from doctor art project, so I had a casual conversation about it with her. It went like this:

That's-a-boy-doctorMe: Wow, today you were a doctor!

V: That’s not me, Mama!

Me: Are you sure? I see a nametag that reads, “Vivian.”

V: That is a boy doctor!

She had worked hard to place the tools appropriately on the cut-out, so I left the moment and congratulated her on a nice piece of artwork… a nice piece that would not make it to our posted hall of fame. It went straight in the trash.

I am not one to over analyze every moment. I don’t need a name for every social ill, or a constant cause to rally against, but I care pretty seriously that my daughter sees her world as approachable. I want her to feel she can stand shoulder to shoulder with her peers, male or female. I want her to feel, at a base minimum, that all professions are there for her choosing. Same way I want her to feel that all clothes, toys and play are safe for her to try on and enjoy.

My daughter is smarter than I am, so I am not terrified that this moment changed her. But it stopped me in my tracks. It was the cold water in the face I needed to remind me to stay closer to the ground and catch the messages from her level. I am privileged to be able to counter the negative messages she receives with my own messages about fairness and opportunity.

As I obsess, kindly fast forward 25 years, and listen to the faint echo in the hallway, “Paging Dr. Vivian.” Sounds about right.

Note: I asked Julie if she could share a photo of Vivian’s art project, and she said: “GONE! Sorry, I never even thought to keep it. I was very pleased with its new home in the can!” Ha, I completely understand. 


Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. If you liked this post, please follow Rebecca on Facebook and TwitterYou may also follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at the top left of your screen at rebeccahains.wordpress.com.  

Review: “Prison Baby” by Deborah Jiang Stein

In a system that treats drug addicts as criminals—that incarcerates people struggling with addiction, instead of recognizing addiction as a complex disease and providing treatment— injustice piles upon injustice. The war on drugs has destroyed families, tearing parents and children apart. To what end?


Prison Baby is the memoir of Deborah Jiang Stein, a woman born in prison. Her mother was an incarcerated heroin addict. Jiang Stein’s memoir documents a difficult journey. She begins with her childhood discovery of the circumstances of her birth—a dark secret she was never meant to know. She then details the devastation and trauma that stemmed from her early, state-imposed separation from her mother—which was compounded by the insufficient resources available to her and her well-meaning adoptive family during her childhood.

Discovering the secret of her birthplace sent Jiang Stein into a near-deadly cycle of self-abuse that is painful to read about but important to understand. We are often so quick to judge and condemn others when we don’t understanding the context for another person’s actions—but context is everything. The context Jiang Stein offers helps the reader make sense of her early life’s senselessness—the terrible decisions and choices she made, despite the love and support of her adoptive family, all painful reactions to her circumstances; her feelings of being an outsider, an “other” in our society in so many ways; and the weight of her secret about her prison system origins upon her young psyche, stunting her psychological and emotional development.

Ultimately, however, Jiang Stein’s story is one of hope. Her research into her history, her recovery from self-abuse, her peacemaking with herself and her family, her service to others, and her personal healing all prove to matter very much. They show that whatever our beginnings—whatever our flaws and our burdens—we can find contentment in life. We can give up the “If onlys” and “What ifs” that break our hearts and crush our souls, instead coming to terms with our pasts and forging a new future. Even for those who are so-called hopeless cases, Jiang Stein implies, hope is possible.

Prison Baby is also a call for change. Although much has improved about our penitentiary system since Jiang Stein spent her infancy within prison walls and was wrenched away from her devastated mother, there is still much work to be done. It is heartening to see that Jiang Stein herself is engaged in crucial work with incarcerated women and girls. But this work doesn’t fix the system, either. As such, her story shines a light on the fact that we still need better solutions to our society’s problems with drug addiction and better ways of serving incarcerated women and girls.

Massachusetts declares upskirt photos legal; outrage ensues

This week, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that upskirt photographs are legal, sparking outrage across Massachusetts and beyond.

Upskirt photos are photographs taken from beneath a woman’s skirt to capture an image of her crotch area and underwear without her consent. They are a gross violation of privacy—but the court has decided that, as state law currently stands, women wearing skirts in public do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Man taking an upskirt photo on a train

Okay to upskirt? Surreptitiously taking photographs up women’s skirts is now legal in Massachusetts.

This decision came about when the state’s highest court ruled on the case of a man who secretly snapped photographs up women’s skirts and dresses on public transit in 2010. The court argued that because of the way the law (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272. sec. 105: Photographing, videotaping, or electronically surveilling partially nude or nude person; exceptions; punishment) is written, the man in question did not break the law, because 1) women do not have a reasonable assumption to privacy on public transit and 2) the law protects nude women, and women wearing skirts are not nude.

The court agrees that it should not be legal to take upskirt photos. Therefore, the justices have stated that the law needs to be revised in order to adequately protect women.

In the meantime, women who are victims of upskirting—which is clearly a form of sexual assault and a gross violation of privacy—have no recourse. It’s a sickening situation. In comments online, women’s outrage is palpable. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Women wear skirts or dresses to cover themselves. Women have a right to expect privacy anytime in public. I’m a daughter and a mom. Shame on the court ruling this is in any way legal!!! I’m outraged!!!”
  • “It is absurd that someone can take a picture like this and it’s not a violation of any sort. This law must be changed and NOW.”
  • “It is unjust to have a law legalizing discrimination against women and girls based on clothing.”
  • “It is just plain stupid to legally let pictures be taken up someone’s skirt ! What ARE you people in MA thinking?????”
  • “This atrocious legalization should be rewritten, because invasion of personal space and privacy, especially involving social media, should never be legalized. As it stands, it’s also acceptable to upskirt photograph little girls, and presumably post said photos on the internet. In any other scenario, this would be considered soft porn. This is a legal can of worms that won’t serve anyone but perverts.”
  • “The decision in this case paves the way for vile treatment of women. It sets a horrible statutory precedent!”
  • “I’m absolutely enraged by the fact that current law does not protect our rights to privacy any better than this!”

Despite the justices’ argument that they had no choice but to rule as they did, however, the blame for this situation does not entirely lie with the way the law is written. “This is definitely a bad law,” agrees Dr. Jody Madeira, associate professor of law at Indiana University – Bloomington, “but I think it was also a bad interpretation.  I think that there could have been a much better way of interpreting it that would still have fit within legal precedent.”

Madeira explains that the upskirter took advantage of women by using his camera a way that renders them partially nude, essentially making them naked.  “In an analogous situation,” Madeira argues, “the law would apply. Say that a man forces a woman to take off her clothes at gunpoint, then takes cell phone pictures of her and circulates them without her consent.  That would be punishable under this law, surely.  And he is responsible for her nudity.”

By deciding that the upskirter’s actions are not in fact illegal, however, the court has, de facto, made upskirting legal in Massachusetts—at least until the law can be amended. This is patently absurd. It’s so absurd, in fact, that the justices could have cited the absurdity of the situation to refuse to render a decision making upskirting legal.

“Often, courts refuse to interpret a statute in a way that would lead to an absurd result,” Madeira explains. “Under the absurdity limit to the ‘plain meaning’ rule, one of the canons of statutory interpretation, a statute should not be interpreted literally if doing so would produce an absurd result. American courts find all the time that the intent of a law is more important than its text”—and, Madeira notes, several recent cases in Massachusetts have found the absurdity exception to apply, so this practice is alive and well in the Commonwealth state.

“There is no doubt that the legislature intended that law to apply to people who took advantage of others’ ‘indisposition’ by photographing them partially or fully nude without their permission and then distributing those images,” Madeira argues. “When technology allows a perpetrator to render his victim nude, why should this not be included?

“Judges should not make law, but neither should they be complicit in its ignorance.”

Unfortunately, the court has made its decision; what’s done is done. Women in Massachusetts now face no legal recourse if a stranger takes photographs up their skirts, and people are furious. The Massachusetts legislature needs to rewrite the current law as quickly as possible.

To show that you support making surreptitious upskirt photos illegal throughout Massachusetts, please sign the petition that my colleague Lori Day and I launched. If you are a Massachusetts resident, please also contact your legislators and ask them to take swift action on this issue. Thank you.


Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and TwitterYou may also follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at the top left of your screen at rebeccahains.wordpress.com

Loving Your Body for your Kids’ Sakes, Too: The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents [Giveaway]

At Valentine’s Day, we talk a lot about loving other people. But what about loving ourselves?


As Marci Warhaft-Nadler, body image expert and the author of The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents: Helping Toddlers, Tweens and Teens Thrive, points out: “Moms need to love themselves so their kids will know it’s okay to do the same.” It’s such an important message to remember.

“Kids as young as 5 and 6 years old are already feeling like being themselves is just not good enough,” Warhaft-Nadler explains. “This is leading them down some pretty dangerous paths. Instead of waiting until we see a problem starting, we need to act now. I’m teaching parents how to empower their kids to love who they are and believe in everything can they be, instead of feeling like they don’t measure up to who they think society expects them to be.”

Warhaft-Nadler understands that feeling firsthand. “I lost 20 years of my life to body image and eating disorder issues,” she says, “and now, I’m determined to help kids and their parents avoid the trauma I couldn’t. I know what it’s like to battle with body image. I know what it’s like to watch my mother see me in pain and feel completely powerless about how to help me. I know that this is an issue that is confusing and complicated and incredibly hard to understand. But armed with the right tools and information, parents are not powerless.”

The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents is a book that will help parents succeed in that goal. It’s full of concrete, practical advice for parents, and it features many fun ways to encourage healthy body image in kids while strengthening parents’ own body images at the same time: games, projects, resources and cheat sheets for when your kids ask difficult questions and you need strong answers. “The negative messages our kids hear from the media and society are loud,” Warhaft-Nadler explains, “so the positive messages we give them as their parents need to be even louder.”

This week, Warhaft-Nadler is giving away copies of her book to four readers of my blog. Just click here to enter.


Also, don’t miss the Twitter party I’m hosting on behalf of the Brave Girls Alliance tonight (Feb 13, 2014), in which Marci will answer your questions about body image and parenting.


Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and TwitterYou may also follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at the top left of your screen at rebeccahains.wordpress.com

Why the Daily Beast article about Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen is dangerously irresponsible

In recent days, the long-forgotten allegations that Woody Allen sexually abused his stepdaughter Dylan Farrow have resurfaced. Now, in a 5,636-word article in The Daily Beast, Robert B. Weide—producer of the PBS special Woody Allen: A Documentary—has come out swinging.

In so doing, Weide has proven himself to be an irresponsible, arrogant man.

The crux of his argument is this: Mia Farrow is a liar and a cheat who probably planted false memories in Dylan’s mind. How does Weide know this? Well, he explains, he produced a whole documentary about Woody Allen. A two-part documentary! So, you see, he knows things.

Some of the things he says he knows:

  • That the public has the facts wrong about Woody Allen’s relationship with Mia Farrow’s daughter Soon-Yi Previn. (In other words, Weide knows more than the public does about Allen’s private life.)
  • That Mia Farrow may have been cheating on Woody Allen during their relationship. (In other words, Weide knows Mia Farrow is not to be trusted.)
  • That Woody Allen is a claustrophobe, making it unlikely that he would have preyed upon a young Dylan Farrow in an attic, of all places. (In other words, Weide knows Dylan Farrow’s allegations just don’t sound right.)
  • That the evidentiary videotape Mia Farrow made of young Dylan explaining what Allen did to her in that attic contains several starts and stops—so Weide asserts it’s possible that Mia was coaching her daughter’s words off-camera between segments. (Again, Weide knows Mia Farrow is not to be trusted.)

Perhaps most importantly, Weide knows that he’s engaging in victim-blaming—but he’s doing it anyway. He states: “I know I’m treading a delicate path here, and opening myself up to accusations of ‘blaming the victim.’ However, I’m merely floating scenarios to consider, and you can think what you will.”

One does not merely "float scenarios" about sexual assault victims, Mr. Weide.The hubris behind this statement is staggering. Floating alternative scenarios to contradict the testimony of a survivor of sexual abuse is not something one “merely” does. It’s actually a big deal—and a dangerously irresponsible thing to do.

Weide needs to understand that his words on this matter have real-world consequences. Not just for Dylan Farrow, who is being told yet again that her experiences don’t count, don’t matter, don’t have weight; no. His words also have consequences for those who are currently victims of sexual abuse, and for all those who are survivors. He is sending a clear message:

Victims are liars.
Victims are not to be trusted.
Don’t bother telling—no one will believe you.
Your words are worthless.
You are worthless.

Weide’s article and his attitude are part and parcel of a culture that silences victims of sexual abuse every day, out of fear that no one will believe them.

They’re not just harmless words on a screen, Mr. Weide. They matter.


Read Dylan Farrow’s open letter in which she testifies about her experiences here.


Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. You can follow her on Facebook and TwitterYou may also follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at the top left of your screen. 

“Is my son smart?” “Is my daughter skinny?” Google Searches Reveal Parents’ Gender Biases

According to a recent New York Times op-ed, “Google, Tell Me, Is My Son a Genius?”, parents’ Google search trends teach us a lot about parents’ biases towards their sons and daughters. Specifically, parents tend to search the internet for information affirming their sons’ brilliance, but when it comes to their daughters, they focus on physical appearances—revealing our deeply held cultural beliefs that boys should be smart and girls should be pretty.

Internalized sexism is alive and well in America today, embedded in the subconscious of well-intended parents.

Now, because I’m a professor with an interest in girls’ media culture, I read a lot of scholarly studies about girls’ socialization. So when I read this op-ed, I immediately thought of studies that show how parents’ unspoken biases can harm their daughters. Specifically, researchers have found that when mothers feel critical about their daughters’ bodies, their daughters are significantly more likely to have poor body esteem—even if the mothers have kept those critical feelings to themselves! Our kids are savvy and attuned to us; they can pick up on our unstated feelings.

Therefore, if Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s op-ed is right—if parents across the U.S. are asking Google if their daughters are thin and pretty—daughters across the nation must be feeling pretty badly about their bodies, even if they never catch wind of their parents’ search strings.

How heartbreaking.

When I posted to my facebook page about this, my colleague friend Melissa Atkins Wardy responded: “I’m not sure why, but this article shocked me a bit. I have never in eight years of raising a daughter searched anything about her appearance. I’ve searched health and development stuff on both kids, but the difference shown in this article feels like a canyon in my heart right now. And how,” she added, “are we supposed to teach parents to do better when it comes to the media when they are such a huge part of the problem themselves?”

It’s a good question. If we parents are trying to do right by our kids, and trying to teach our kids to resist the stereotypes found in our culture–but, paradoxically, we’re part of the same culture we want our kids to resist—what can we do?

First, we can take stock of what we already know about media stereotypes in kids lives. For example, we know that media portrayals of boys and girls mirror cultural attitudes.

For example, studies show that kids feel it’s really important for boy characters in the media to be smart and for girl characters to be pretty—mirroring their parents’ search strings. Girls identify with female characters they consider attractive, whereas boys identify with male characters they consider intelligent. This is probably because of the biases they they pick up on at home, at school, and from other media.

When television shows and toys show girls in stereotypical roles, with stereotypical traits (boys who are valued for being smart and girls who are valued for being pretty), they’re reflecting widespread cultural ideas about girlhood and boyhood. But those stereotypical representations also reinforce those attitudes—making it cyclical. This means we need to break the cycle.

Therefore, my take is this. Effecting change requires three things:

  1. Consciousness-raising (helping us all to see our own biases, so that we can overcome them);
  2. Media literacy work (to help parents and kids break down and resist the biases they see on screen); and
  3. Activism, to hold media producers accountable when they perpetuate these biases.

There’s so much work to be done, it’s overwhelming. But it’s important, and it’s time.

Here are a few resources in each of these areas:

On raising consciousness:

On media literacy for parents:

Activist organizations to support:


Note 1: Do you have any additional resources to suggest? Please post them in the comments below so that I might add them here.

Note 2: Deborah Siegel of Girl w/ Pen, did a great job pulling together some excerpts from our conversation on my facebook page to share on her blog. Check it out here.


Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. You may also follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at the top left of your screen. Thanks for reading.

Disney Princess Lingerie Goes Viral

This weekend, no fewer than a dozen people sent me links to this Jezebel article about Disney Princess lingerie being sold by a Japanese retailer. The images were also all over my facebook feed. Check them out:Belle & Cinderella lingerie Aurora / Sleeping Beauty & Rapunzel Lingerie

Although this line is Japanese and is not available here in the States, it’s yet another example of Disney Princess lifestyle branding — an extension of the Disney Princess brand into ever-more-personal realms. The goal of such marketing is to encourage consumers to have a deep identification with the brand—to make the brand central to one’ own identity.

Some people (including the author of the piece at Jezebel) questioned whether these could possibly be licensed products that have the blessing of Disney. One commenter was doubtful, noting that princesses don’t even look right—perhaps they’re knock-offs? But, no—these are actually the most current versions of the Princesses available in Disney Consumer Products Division merchandise, as found on disneyprincess.com.

So, I chatted with my friend Satomi about the ads. She lives in Japan and was already familiar with the company selling these items. “These are sold at ‘Belle Maison,’ a pretty big mail order company,” Satomi explained. “I actually have its wish book right in front of me. It was from a project that people could apply to and if their designs were chosen, they were commercialized.”

“These were for the 20th anniversary project of it’s ‘Disney Fantasy Shop,’” she noted. “I’m sure it’s licensed. They usually deal with original stuff, such as t-shirts, accessories, and furniture. They also carry Mickey t-shirts designed by famous designers.” She sent me these snapshots of their other Disney-licensed products from her copy of Belle Maison’s wish book:

1457467_10202259923194552_177711580_n 1507041_10202259919434458_19787915_n
1525022_10202259924354581_2143035014_n 1525510_10202259920194477_2118227551_n

Here’s her approximate translation of the ad copy (she said it’s full of jargon, making the translation tricky):

The highest prize: [Two people's names---people who won the design contest]
Lingerie like princesses’ dresses

Belle: “In the image of the Belle’s dress, which is airy texture and elegant, it is made pouffy with gather. The rose at the front of bra makes it noble, gorgeous, and classy.” (She added, “It’s sad that they misspelled ‘Belle’ in the ad, even though the company’s name is ‘Belle Maison.’”)

Cinderella: “So that it would have the nuance of a glass slipper, we used delicate glazed chiffon. The color lace makes it like a lily, holding the image of the choker that decorates Cinderella’s neck.”

“The princess’s world you can enjoy secretly”

Aurora: “Describing princess Aurora’s sharp-line dress with tucks and pleats. We put the rose with lace and ribbon in a careful manner, which evokes Aurora’s story.”

Rapunzel: “‘Reproducing’ Rapunzel’s dress with lace-up ribbon. Besides holding lily turn of Rapunzel, we put neat and classy vanilla-colored lace and flowers.”

So, there you have it: Disney Princess apparel for your most intimate moments, meant to help you secretly enjoy the princess world. I suppose you could also wear them under your Disney Princess wedding gown or prom dress, with your Disney Princess shoes, in your home painted with Disney Princess paints or on your Disney Princess honeymoon. You can always slip into your Disney Princess New Balance sneakers afterwards—which will be great when you run the Disney Princess Half Marathon. Or when you play Princess-Opoly with the little girls in your life or read to them from the Princess Devotional Bible. Because in today’s world of gender segmentation and gendered marketing, there’s nothing better than all princess, all the time, right?

Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Does the “War on Pink” need to stop for boys’ sakes? No, and here’s why.

In a recent blog post on Girl w/Pen, professors CJ Pascoe and Tristan Bridges—sociologists whose work focuses on masculinity—make a strange request of their fellow feminist scholars and activists. “Stop the war on pink,” their headline pleads; “let’s take a look at toys for boys.”

Pascoe and Bridges claim that boys’ toys’ problems have been overlooked too long. Boy culture is too violent, too “gunnified.” Now, they say, we need “at least a pause” in critiquing girls’ toys and their “pinkification,” so that we can give boys’ toys our full attention.

As the mother of two little boys, I fully agree with their concerns about boys’ toys. Countless boys’ toys function to socialize our sons into stereotypical masculinity, and that is unfair. Boys deserve expanded play offerings every bit as much as our girls do—which is why I already support the Let Toys Be Toys campaign they mention. It’s why my gift-buying guide for children is gender-neutral. It’s why I’ve even read the book My Princess Boy to groups of preschool children: ALL toys, whether pink or blue, princess or superhero, should be socially acceptable for both girls and boys to play with. Full stop.

Unfortunately, Pascoe and Bridges’ ultimate assertion perplexes me. “Stop,” they say–”stop the war on pink.” This makes no sense.

Why? Why must we stop critiquing girl culture to address boy culture’s problems? After all, both problems coexist. Addressing them is not an either/or proposition. The dichotomy Pascoe and Bridges suggest—that we need to stop the war on pink to focus on boys’ toys—is as false as the dichotomy the toy industry presents to boys and girls. It’s not right.

Near their post’s conclusion, Pascoe and Bridges backpeddle a bit; rather than stopping our critiques of girl culture, they wonder if maybe we just “need to add to it a focus on the toys that we market to boys.” As an alternative to the “pause” they argued for, they suggest that girl-centric scholars and activists could just address both boys’ toys and girls’ toys simultaneously. You know—do all the work at once.

Well, I take issue with this assertion, too. Individual scholars and activists who work on girls’ issues have no obligation to “add to it a focus” on boys. It’s valid for girls’ toys and media to be the “project” that some of us choose to focus on. And that choice in no way detracts from the attention available to boys’ toys—a project that many activists and scholars are already engaged in (though Pascoe and Bridges’ post would lead readers to believe otherwise).

For this reason, Melissa Wardy, author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualization of Girlhood, From Birth to Tween, also found the Girl w/Pen piece baffling. “This is not a zero-sum game,” Wardy told me. “Some of us have passions or research interests that vary but all compliment each other in the same result: a healthier childhood for kids.”

Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker, an associate professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University, agreed. “There are groups of scholars and activists who focus on different issues,” she explained, offering Crystal Smith and The Achilles Effect as an example. “Focusing on one does not negate the validity of the other.”

“The info in this article feels like old news,” Wardy added, noting that her company and blog—Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies—addresses the stereotypes in both girls’ and boys culture. So do the thousands of people who support Let Toys Be Toys and similar initiatives.

In short, if Pascoe and Bridges feel there is not yet enough work on boys’ toys, it’s fair for them to call for further research and activism in that area. They can even seek out like-minded scholars and activists, and band together to make a positive impact on boys’ popular culture—just as my colleagues and I are working to do with our Brave Girls Alliance. After all, when you’re trying to sustain a cultural conversation, there’s strength in numbers.

But to suggest that the rest of us should “pause” in our work on girl culture while they work on boy culture—or shift our attention to boy culture ourselves—is preposterous.

Why Representations of Women and Girls Can’t Be Slut-Shamed

Is it slut-shaming to dub Polly Pocket “Polly Prostitute“?

No, it isn’t. But many commenters on the internet think otherwise.

I’m here to tell you why they’re wrong.

About Slut-Shaming 

In recent months, the term “slut-shaming” has gone mainstream. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, it is used to describe the condemnation of a woman for her choices regarding her attire and appearance, and/or for acting with sexual agency.

Examples of slut-shaming include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The idea that a woman is wrong to choose dress in a sexually provocative way. E.g., “I can’t believe Morgan is wearing a skirt so short. She’s really asking for it.”
  • The idea that a woman who is on birth control is inherently sexually promiscuous. Key example: Rush Limbaugh’s commentary about Sandra Fluke.
  • The idea that a woman engaged in sexual behavior is wrong for doing so and should be stigmatized.

In other words, when we slut-shame women, we are policing their sexuality—and that’s wrong.

Furthermore, because it’s essentially impossible to shame men for these same behaviors, slut-shaming props up our society’s double standard for men and women. In so doing, it also perpetuates rape culture, in which victim-blaming is the norm. So, all in all, having the vocabulary to identify and call people out when they are policing women’s sexuality is a good thing. 

Slut-Shaming and Pop Culture

As a media critic, though, I want to make something clear: Criticizing the media’s representation of women and girls is not the same as slut-shaming. Lately, I’ve been perplexed that so many people seem to think it is.

To wit: When Margot Magowan of Reel Girl wrote an article exploring why toys like Polly Pocket are sexist, and shouldn’t be bought for kids, she felt it necessary to preface her analysis with this plea: “Before you get mad at me for “slut-shaming,” this is a doll marketed to little girls.”

She had to use this preface because lately, we media critics have been accused of slut-shaming fictional characters and toys. And it’s exasperating.

For example, when I wrote about the way Disney’s Consumer Products Division had redesigned and sexualized Merida, the heroine of Brave, some people told me that criticizing Merida for “wanting to dress up and look pretty,” and for “growing up and having a more mature body,” constituted slut-shaming.

Similarly, elsewhere, a commenter wrote about the criticisms of the redesigned Merida:

Isn’t this slut shaming? [...] Idg why this character can’t embrace her sexuality, curves, and newly thin body without fear of criticism?[...] I am honestly confused as to where the line is drawn in feminist theory between ‘slut shaming’ and valid criticism of invited objectification of women.

Here’s the thing:  Real women and girls have the right to make individual choices about their appearances and behaviors. They are autonomous human beings who have agency. Slamming them for these choices is slut-shaming.

But fictional characters do not have any agency. They are fictional, designed by corporations who are invested in the sexualization and objectification of females, as the APA has reported. Slamming critics for failing to support fictitious characters’ “choices” is conflating fantasy with reality.

After all, Merida didn’t choose to “embrace her sexuality, curves, and newly thin body.” Those things were invented for her by a corporation that wanted her physique and style to match the other products in its Disney Princess line. 

Likewise, Polly Pocket doesn’t choose to dress provocatively. Mattel dictates how she will dress and what options are available to her—because she is a toy

What might be a reasonable fashion choice for an adult female is not necessarily healthy in a toy meant for girls ages 4 to 8, who look at their toys as a window on the world and its expectations for females in our society. 

See the difference? 

Unfortunately, as Callie Beusman recently wrote on Jezebel, the term “slut-shaming” has been misused so much lately that it has begun to lose its meaning and its power. She explained:

The proliferation of “slut-shaming” has resulted in an inaccurate conflation of “being critical” and “prudishly or maliciously taking issue with female sexuality.” Not all criticisms of public displays of sexiness are meant to shame, which is something many people seem to have lost sight of. 

From what I’ve seen, “slut-shaming” has become watered down to mean “any criticism whatsoever about a female (real or fictional) for her appearance or attire, or for any behavior that can be interpreted as having sexual agency, or for being sexualized.”

And this is a real problem. When we’re applying the term “slut-shaming” to criticisms of fictional females that are sexualized, essentially reduced to sex objects by the corporations behind them, we’re using it incorrectly. And by using the term incorrectly, we’re robbing it of its meaning.

So, the next time you’re reading an article criticizing girls’ popular culture, or representations of women in pop culture, remember: Criticizing the appearance of a fictional character is very different than criticizing the appearance of a real person. It’s not slut-shaming to push back against, say, the sexualization of products intended for young girls.

In fact, it’s something I’d like to see more of.


The author would like to thank her colleagues Margot Magowan, Lori Day, Peggy Orenstein, and Melissa Wardy for their recent chat about this topic.


Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Did you enjoy this post? Please follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at the top left of your screen. Thanks.