Girls, strength, and the beauty ideal: A beach conversation

10464138_10102463534299393_3682031155194906082_nMy five-year-old son befriended an eleven-year-old girl at the beach last week. As they worked together to create a sand castle, her dad and I chatted about my work as a media studies professor and his work as a high school art teacher. 

“So, you said your research is about body image?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s something I’m really passionate about.”

“You know, my passion is figure drawing,” he said, “but it’s difficult to teach to high school students today. They just don’t have realistic ideas about the female body.”

“Oh, in what way?” I asked. 

“Teenagers don’t know what real bodies look like any more,” he lamented. “They have a preconceived idea in their heads—a bias that they can’t see past. I can see in their drawings that they’re not seeing. So they complain: ‘Hey, Mr. Richards, how come all your women have muscles? They look like men. That’s gross.'”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Your students think that women with muscles look like men?”

“Yup, that’s what they say. I tell them, ‘Women have muscles, too! Their limbs aren’t just empty tubes.’ But they insist that the classic, idealized female form looks masculine. I can’t seem to convince them otherwise.” 

As I thought for a moment, my son whooped with delight as the waves crashed over the ever-higher wall of sand that his new friend had built. 

“Well,” I said, “I always say that our society should value girls and women for what they can do, not just how they look. The question is, ‘Is it better to be seen as a decorative object, or as a person who can do things?'”

We were quiet for a moment as the kids ran just past us to higher ground, the surf nipping at their heels. His daughter shoveled sand as quickly as possible, creating the walls of a new sand castle as the waves obliterated the old one. She was strong and in charge, and my little boy was enthralled to see her doing hard work that he, at five, could not.

“I never thought about it that way before, but that’s right,” her father said, nodding. “I’ll have to remember that one.” 

——-

Related posts by Rebecca Hains: 

——

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.

Rebecca is on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoyed this post, you may follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at rebeccahains.wordpress.com

 

“Six Summer Beauty Tips” by Rebecca Hains

Fashion magazines love telling women that our bodies aren’t fit to be seen in public, unless we buy and use the beauty products they’re hawking. And in the summer months, when rising temperatures lead us to shed more clothing, their scrutiny intensifies, picking women’s bodies apart from head to toe. Well, forget them! I’ve penned the only list of beauty tips you need to enjoy the summer.

SIX SSUMMARY: Alice Maison in bathing suit, standing with one foot in ocean, muff on right hand and left hand raised. CALL NUMBER: SSF - Bathing Beauties--1918UMMER BEAUTY TIPS by Rebecca Hains

  1. How to get a bikini body: Put a bikini on your body.Your body is great!
  2. How to get your skin ready for summer: Use sunblock. Your skin is great!
  3. How to make your lashes pool-proof: Avoid mascara. Your lashes are great!
  4. How to find your happy hair color: Be happy with your hair color. It’s great!
  5. How to get summer-ready legs: Is it summer? Look down at your legs. They’re ready for use!
  6. How to choose a summer wardrobe: Pick out some clothing you like. You’re ready for summer!
"Splash!" by Zakwitnij!pl Ejdzej & Iric. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Splash!” by Zakwitnij!pl Ejdzej & Iric. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

As seen on FacebookWomen You Should KnowMom Meet Momand The Christian Science Monitor.

Dear readers: I was hoping to post a slideshow of women with many different looks enjoying summer—but wow, there are not many choices available on Creative Commons. The lack of diversity makes me really sad! If you have any photos I can share, please contact me via my facebook page (private message is fine). Thank you!

UPDATE:

Look at all these amazing women who responded to my request above. They are speaking back against magazines’ Photoshop standards of beauty: #ReadyForSummer and loving it!  

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thanks again for sharing your photos. Readers, feel free to send your additions if you’re inspired to do so!

For further reading, check out this great post: “I wore a bikini and nothing happened.”

—–

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.

Rebecca is on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoyed this post, you may follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at rebeccahains.wordpress.com

Homemade Disney Princess peg dolls: Tutorial and giveaway

Many little girls love playing with Disney Princess dolls. They make up stories with their dolls or reenact the films. They delight in dressing up the dolls and styling their hair. And sometimes, they just like to snuggle them.

Faced with the Disney Princess doll choices in the toy aisles, however, many parents feel hesitant and unsure about what to buy, if anything. Might some of the Disney Princess dolls’ body shapes have negative consequences on their daughters’ body images?

Parents who have these concerns are generally well-informed. They’ve heard of the research studies that show Barbies and Barbie-style fashion dolls—with body types that researchers classify as “extremely thin”—are unhealthy for girls. To offer but one example, an experiment found that when girls played with extremely thin dolls, they restricted their own eating afterwards—consuming less food than girls who played with dolls that had average body types.

Mattel has been trying to undercut these research findings for years. Most recently, they’ve launched a PR stunt called “The Barbie Project,” documenting girls playing with Barbies in ways that defy stereotypes. But in focusing on non-stereotypical play, the Barbie Project willfully ignores critics’ major concern about Barbie-type dolls: their body shape. We already know that girls’ doll play is inventive and imaginative! We just don’t see the need for inventive, imaginative, bright little girls to play with Mattel’s extremely thin dolls at all.

Because of these concerns, many parents whose daughters love the Disney Princesses turn to other options in stores, such as Animators’ Collection dolls and toddler dolls, which have child-like bodies. Like fashion dolls, these dolls can be dressed and undressed, and their hair can be styled, which are very satisfying play activities for many young girls. Many parents also appreciate the Disney Princess plush dolls, whose body shapes seem less exaggerated than their fashion doll counterparts. These dolls are great for cuddling.

The biggest gap in the Disney Princess doll marketplace seems to be in the smaller, hand-held types of dolls that girls might use in dollhouse-type pretend-play. Unfortunately, the majority of dolls in this category—such as the small plastic Disney Princess figurines and story sets and the Polly Pocket-type “MagiClip” Disney Princess dolls-–have proportions similar to Barbie-style fashion dolls. Their waists and wrists are incredibly small. The best option in this category might be the LEGO Duplo Disney Princess line--but as these are meant for toddlers, some preschool and kindergarten-aged girls might balk.

For reasons such as these, some DIY-inclined parents have taken matters into their own hands and begun crafting adorable Disney Princess-inspired dolls for their children. For example, wooden peg dolls are perfect for dollhouse play. They’re inexpensive to make (less than $1 for a doll, plus just a little paint), pretty easy to get the hang of, and can be customized to suit the child’s preferences.

Frozen-inspired peg dolls by Summer LangilleOne mom who has gone this route is Summer Langille. Summer likes providing her children with Waldorf-style toys and typically avoids mass-produced items for her family. But when her daughter was bitten by the Frozen bug, she decided to make her some Frozen-inspired peg dolls, honoring her interests.

I thought her dolls were adorable, so I was delighted when she agreed to write a tutorial for my blog. Below, she explains how it’s done. As a special bonus, she even offered to give away of a pair of her own Anna- and Elsa-inspired dolls to one of my readers! Read on for instructions on how to make your own peg dolls, and scroll down to enter the giveaway.

Frozen-Inspired Peg Doll Tutorial:
A guest post by Summer Langille

Like most young girls, my daughter has been bitten by the Frozen bug. She’s fallen in love with the movie, requests the music when we’re driving in the car and falls asleep to a reading of the adapted picture book. My daughter is still very young and as much as I enjoy Frozen, its characters and songs, I’m just not very fond of all the plastic, brightly colored costumes, dolls and toys that come along with these types of movies. In our home we try to eliminate toys that buzz and whirl, stay away from the cheap plastics and concentrate on toys that promote open-ended play and true imagination.

So to strike that balance when it came to Disney movies, I thought wooden Frozen-inspired peg dolls would be a much more open-ended and lovely thing to have in our home, versus the plastic Barbie-esque type dolls they sell in the stores. They were easy to make and so much fun and my daughter absolutely adores them. She carries them around, acts out bits of the movie with them and even takes them with her for naps. They have proven to be an excellent alternative to the mass commercialized toys and dolls.

I have put together a little tutorial for you on making your very own peg dolls.

Summer Langille's peg dolls - beforeMaterials Needed:
For ideas on where to buy these items, see the list of sources at end of this post.

  • Wooden peg dolls
  • Watercolors or acrylic paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Beeswax and oil rub to seal your finished peg dolls (or another non toxic sealant, like Mod Podge or Shellac spray).

Note: I like using pan watercolors, but non-toxic acrylics or tube watercolors are fine. Milk paint is another very good option. You can get wooden peg people from the store I mention below in the supplies list or, often your local craft and hobby store will carry some type of peg person in the wood hobby department.

Directions:
Once you have all of your materials, you can begin to paint your peg dolls.

Summer Langille begins painting an Anna-inspired dollHere I started with an Anna-style doll, painting her dress first, then her hair, and last her eyes.

Summer Langille painting an Anna-inspired doll

I prefer painting just eyes and no mouth to keep the expressions and personality up to the child’s imagination, but you may add a nose, mouth or whatever else you would like. That’s the fun of these dolls, they are really yours for the making!

After the dolls are completely painted and dry, you can give them a rub down with your beeswax and oil blend, or coat them with shellac. I use beeswax from the link below, but you can find beeswax many places and even make your own if you are so inclined.

Summer Langille sealing Anna-inspired doll

The beeswax will darken the peg doll up some. Rub a thick layer into the doll and let it soak in over night. The next day you can rub your doll down with a cloth. It will be smooth and it should have a nice coat of beeswax to seal it from moisture. These dolls are not water resistant though. The beeswax will protect it some, but if a doll goes into a young child’s mouth, be warned, you may end up with a mouth full of pinks and blues from the dolls’ outfits. You can use Shellac to give it a stronger seal. This will give the dolls a shiny hue as well.

After you have sealed your dolls with your choice of beeswax or another sealant, your dolls are ready to be played with. Enjoy the fantastic play these homemade goodies will bring to a child!

Sources: Where to buy peg doll craft supplies

Beeswax polish

Other sealants (note: prices in local stores may be better than online):

Wooden Peg Dolls

—-

Many thanks to Summer for providing this great tutorial! I followed her instructions and made some peg dolls, too, and I think the results were great:

Rebecca's Frozen-style peg dolls, frontRebecca's Frozen-style peg dolls, back

 

My five-year-old has been playing with them nonstop for several days, mixing them in with some of our other wooden toys. (You’ll notice I wound up painting little smiles on them per his request. And look, I made the guys, too! Cute, right?)

Rebecca's Frozen-style peg dolls at play

This is a flexible project that’s definitely worth trying. I think my 5-year-old and I will make a set of ninjas next. So many fun possibilities!

GIVEAWAY

Summer Langille is giving away a pair of her Frozen-inspired dolls to one lucky reader in the continental US! Just click here to enter by midnight on Monday, July 7, 2014.

—–

Summer Langille was an early child educator for nearly 15 years and holds a masters degree in Early Childhood Education. She now stays home with her young daughter Eloise and enjoys making peg dolls and play mats among other crafty things.

Summer sells her handmade treasures at www.etsy.com/theknotholetree and blogs about her crafty life and living near the California coast with husband, daughter and two spunky dogs at www.summerplayshouse.com.

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.

Rebecca is on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoyed this post, you may follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at rebeccahains.wordpress.com

The College Rape Crisis: Four Ways to End to Rape Culture

This week, as colleges across the nation hold commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2014, Time Magazine’s cover story takes on a topic relevant to college students nationwide: the campus rape crisis. Approximately 20% of college women in the U.S. are victims of an attempted or completed sexual assault, making college campuses one of the most dangerous places for 18- to 21-year-old women.

The fact that one in five college women are sexTime.Coverually assaulted is both devastating and a call to action. If 1 in 5 college students were routinely the victims of some other crime—ranging from violent muggings to “white-collar” crimes like identity theft—we would find a way to end it; and yet campus sexual assault is an epidemic that rages on unchecked.

I believe campus rape is an epidemic first and foremost because the U.S. is infested by rape culture. In rape culture, sexual violence against women is seen as normal and easily excused. In media and in everyday life, rape culture teaches our young men—smart men, college-bound men, men who should know better—that they will face few consequences for sexual predation.

Here are a few things we do wrong in the lead-up to the college years (and beyond), which we must change to put an end to rape culture:

  1. When we caution young girls that they need to dress modestly to keep boys’ thoughts pure, that wrongly teaches all our children that boys can’t control themselves—which fosters rape culture.
  2. When we excuse high school boys’ sexual aggression by saying “boys will be boys,” we wrongly suggest that boys’ behaviors are inevitable, rather than something they can take responsibility for. In so doing, we perpetuate rape culture.
  3. When we focus rape prevention efforts on policing girls’ behaviors—advising them on where to go, with whom, when and how—we are throwing our hands in the air and saying, “Ah, yes, rape is an inevitable part of our culture. Pity, that,” rather than taking action to end it. This, too, perpetuates rape culture.
  4. When we place the onus of responsibility on girls not to be raped, we bolster a social and legal system in which rape victims’ actions are wrongfully scrutinized to determine whether the rapist is truly guilty—something that rarely happens with other crimes. Think of the usual questions: Was the girl wearing something provocative? Did she dance provocatively? Did she drink alcohol? Has she (gasp) slept with other boys before? These inquisitions into a victim’s background and actions imply that it’s sometimes understandable that a man would rape. They suggest if a girl is deemed to have been “asking for it,” the man was utterly helpless. It’s as though no red-blooded American man has the wherewithal to tell himself, “Hm, I think she’s asking for it, but as she hasn’t consented to sex, I guess I’m going to have to tell myself ‘No.'” The fact that rape can be seen as a reasonable consequence for a woman’s choices is, in fact, the foundation of rape culture.

In short, we don’t expect enough of boys and men regarding their self-control and their personal responsibility for their actions towards women. Using the four items above as a starting point, we can shift our attention and efforts away from policing girls’ behaviors (which some call “rape prevention,” though it’s a complete misnomer to do so) and instead raise the bar for boys.

By putting an end to the normalization of rape culture once and for all, we will be better poised to end sexual assault on college campuses and beyond.

—-

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 rebeccahains.wordpress.com. Thank you.

Customers: Stop abusing Disney Store clerks. It’s not their fault Frozen merch is sold out.

Disney’s film Frozen was released in theaters five months ago, but merchandise based on the film is still sold out at Disney Stores nationwide. It’s clear that Disney Consumer Products Division had no inkling that Frozen would become the most successful animated movie of all time—even though parents and members of the girl empowerment community have been clamoring for years for girl-centric animated films that go beyond romance.

Limited Edition Anna and Elsa dollsAs a result, Disney has missed out on millions of dollars in potential revenue in Q1 of the current fiscal year alone, and Q2 will be more of the same, as Frozen merchandise will not be fully stocked in Disney Stores until July or August. Meanwhile, children across the nation are upset that they cannot have toys based on their new favorite characters. It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone.

Disconcertingly, one unanticipated consequence of Disney’s merchandise production oversight is that Disney Store clerks are enduring unprecedented verbal abuse from their customers, according to my sources. One young woman even told me that a woman called her the c-word on the phone last week. The reason? She apologetically told the customer that she wasn’t allowed to tell her by phone what they had in stock—per her manager’s orders.

Now, I understand that consumers are distressed that they cannot find Frozen products available at retail prices. After all, most people can’t afford to spend $200 on Ebay for $18 Anna and Elsa dolls, or $50 for a $15 pair of Frozen boots from a Craigslist seller (as a friend of mine did for her 5-year-old daughter), or $1,000 on eBay for a $150 Elsa costume.

But harassing retail employees is never acceptable. Disney executives are responsible for the difficult task of gauging a film’s anticipated popularity—not Disney Store clerks, who work hard, often for minimum wage, and in my experience are among some of the nicest employees you’ll ever encounter in a retail establishment.

So, here’s my advice. If you’re looking for Frozen merchandise at reasonable prices and have been frustrated in your search, consider having a conversation with Disney representatives about it via email or on their blog. You might wish to state that while you understand Disney is doing everything they can to get Frozen merchandise on shelves, you hope that they take a long-term view and recognize that what’s good for girls is good for business. Encourage them to develop more stories about girls that go beyond romance, and to continue featuring more than one dynamic girl per film. You might note that it would be preferable for them to encompass a wider range of body types, as well.

Please, let’s give the Disney Store clerks a break. Let’s take our concerns to with upper management, instead, where our feedback can make a difference.


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 rebeccahains.wordpress.com. Thank you.

 

Black girls are missing, in Nigeria and at home. #BringBackOurGirls

Two weeks ago, a Nigerian high school was raided by armed militants from the terrifying Islamist group Boko Haram. These terrorists kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian girls—allegedly to sell them as brides for about $12 USD each. It’s a devastating case of human trafficking, but the girls’ distraught families say their pleas for governmental assistance in recovering their stolen daughters have fallen on deaf ears.

Nigerian families grieveAfter a failed attempt to rescue their daughters themselves, the families went public with their story. Disturbingly, the story did not gain the instant traction with the news media that it should have—another reminder of the fact that the media tends to overlook cases of abducted girls of color. Studies have found that white girls who are stolen in “stereotypical” abduction scenarios (such as that endured by Elizabeth Smart) receive disproportionate media attention: Nearly 800,000 children are reported missing every year in the U.S. alone, of which only about 115 are stereotypical. Yet black girls’ stories—and those of other girls of color—are rarely reported on.

But now, finally, in the case of Nigeria, the world is listening. The girls’ dead-of-night kidnapping has made mainstream international news, and public outcry is visible across social media channels. For example, a Change.org petition has gathered nearly 150,000 signatures calling upon the Nigerian government to stop their political posturing and bring these girls home.

Simultaneously, I can’t help but think of their case in the context of another situation, which I learned about this week at the White House Research Conference on Girls, held by the White House Council on Women and Girls. At a discussion during the conference, several attendees spoke to the need for increased national attention to the plight of black girls in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, where reports indicate that about 200 girls go missing every month—victims of human trafficking who are essentially sold, like the Nigerian high school girls, into sexual slavery. Yet this crisis in Atlanta is also flying below the national radar.

We have a moral obligation to defend all people’s basic human rights of life, liberty, and security. For any child to be trafficked, for anyone to be sold into slavery, is unfathomable—and yet it happens every day, all around the world, and yes, even at home in the U.S.

200 black girls disappeared from their high school in Nigeria two weeks ago; 200 black girls in Atlanta, Georgia, go missing every month. How many others are out there, victims of child trafficking, out of sight and out of mind? According to Unicef, the answer is devastatingly large: 5.5 million. 

This is a staggering problem, making it one we must tackle it together. Here are a few things you can do:

Do you have other suggestions or resources to recommend? Please share them in the comments below. Thank you.

——

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 rebeccahains.wordpress.com. Thank you.

FOX43 legitimizes KKK activities with reprehensible Facebook post

In response to a series of local break-ins in central Pennsylvaina, a local organization has formed a neighborhood watch group. On the surface, that sounds like a great idea: Neighborhood watch groups can be an effective crime deterrent. They encourage community members to keep an eye out for one another and to contact law enforcement if there’s any trouble.

But what if the neighborhood watch group is being planned by the Ku Klux Klan? The KKK is widely known as a white supremacy organization, and it has a long history of practicing hate crimes under the guise of vigilante justice. For this reason, people of color might feel that neighborhoods are better off without a neighborhood watch if the KKK is in charge. Racial profiling might be a greater threat to their health and well-being than the break-ins that have been going on.

That’s why it’s preposterous that Central Pennsylvania station FOX43 posed the following question on an image of the KKK’s local neighborhood watch flyer to their facebook page:

FOX43's facebook status update

“Members of the KKK distributed this flyer to neighbors living along Ridge Road, in Fairview Twp. Do you think police should be the only people to look out for your neighborhood? What are your thoughts?”

Well, my thoughts are as follows: A white supremacy group isn’t your average group of people. Therefore, FOX43’s facebook post is obtuse, problematic, and betraying an ugly undercurrent of racism. A more appropriate question would have been something along these lines: “Do you think it’s appropriate for a white supremacy organization to patrol your neighborhood at night? Could their activities cause harm to our communities?”

Instead, by taking racism out of the picture, FOX43’s social media team is essentially legitimizing the KKK’s activities—and that’s not acceptable. Not now, and not ever.

—–

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 rebeccahains.wordpress.com. Thank you.

 

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?

20140307-122057.jpg

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.