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.

 

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.

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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.

 

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?

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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.

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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

“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:

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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.

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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.

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.

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

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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.

 

Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies: A Brand That Honors All Children (Giveaway!)

Today, I want to introduce you to the Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies shop. PPBB was created by Melissa Wardy, a mom who wanted better messages for her kids than what was being sold to them by mainstream retailers. So she took matters into her own hands and launched her own indie company, selling apparel, accessories, and other items.

There are two key things I love about PPBB’s messages. One is that their products honor all the different ways of being boys and girls, as shown by these designs:

Girls will be girls, boys will be boys PPBB designs

The other is that PPBB is against gender segregation. Like Let Toys Be Toys in the UK, the brand is very supportive of the ways that girls and boys can play together—disrupting the myth that girls and boys are opposites, that they need completely different, gender-tailored things. Like these designs:

Cannonball for PPBB boys and girls together

The shop has more than fifty designs that honor childhood, and they can all be customized to any color tee, hoodie, or tote. So the images above, and the 46 others in the shop? You can specify what color you want them placed on, to get the perfect item for your child.

PPBB colors

In the years since Wardy first launched PPBB, the company has maintained its indie status, but it’s gone global. As Wardy explained, “People come to PPBB because they know they create something special for the Full of Awesome kids in their life.” And it’s worth noting that they’ve done all of this in a socially responsible way; PPBB products are sweatshop-free, use local materials whenever possible, and are conscious of the materials they use for marketing and shipping.

Note that Wardy’s passion for improving what’s available to kids is not limited to her shop. She’s a co-founder of the Brave Girls Alliance, and her new book, Redefining Girly, is due out on January 1. I am such a fan of Wardy’s writing (don’t miss her blog at blog.pigtailpals.com) that I preordered my copy of her book all the way back on April 26, and I really can’t wait to read it.

SUMMARY: Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies is the perfect alternative to mainstream children’s apparel. It breaks stereotypes in ways that support all children, making it a brand I believe in.

GIVEAWAY: Would you like a $25 gift certificate to spend however you’d like in the Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies shop? Enter below to win by 11:59 p.m. EST, Monday, December 2! One winner will be selected. This raffle is open to residents of the U.S.A., Canada, UK, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Click Here to Enter the Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies Giveaway

Note: I will post a giveaway from another brand I believe in next week. Be sure to check back!

DISCLOSURE: All opinions expressed here are my own and have not been previewed by Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies.

An Open Letter to Justin Lookadoo

By Jennifer Shewmaker and Dae Sheridan 

Dear Mr. Lookadoo,

We (along with most of the internet) recently heard about your presentation at Richardson High School.  The students’ outrage shed light on your views of the “dateability” of children and how rigid, harmful notions of gender roles are supposedly espoused by God.

As mothers, university professors, specialists in the field of psychology, mental health, sexuality and gender for almost 20 years, and yes, Christians, we are taken aback by and incredibly disappointed in your message.

You say on your Facebook page that you spent “a lot of time” studying and you are “always researching and finding the edge that will make (your) programs current and relevant.”  That seems strange because what you teach about “how gender differences impact the development of the human brain” doesn’t seem to be supported by any of the most recent research in either psychology or neuroscience. Hmmm. Don’t believe us? Check out Dr. Lise Eliot’s and Dr. Janet Shibley Hyde’s research. It’s all there, Justin, just waiting to be discovered. Ever read Illusions of Gender by Dr. Cordelia Fine? You might want to look into that as well.

In your speech at Richardson High, it has been reported by a young woman in the audience that you emphasized gender stereotypes that are harmful to both men and women and made negative comments about girls in general.  For example, you are quoted as saying, “Ladies, I’m going to say this in the nicest way possible….you are the most horrible, awful, vindictive creatures this planet has ever seen.” You then go on to detail the differences between girls and guys as males being there to lift each other up while females “spend the rest of your life trying to kick every other girl down.”  If you said this in an assembly where one of our 14-year-old daughters attends school, we hope and pray that she would get up and walk out or call you out for spewing blatant, archaic, shame-inducing, misogynistic, hate filled rhetoric. (Just like the daughter and friends of Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles.)

Listen, Justin, we not only have daughters, we have also worked with adolescent girls and young women in a variety of educational and clinical settings for many years.  We can say with utter confidence that your assessment of them is glib, superficial and dead wrong.  Since you show a complete lack of understanding of child development, we wanted to offer you a lesson.  Both boys and girls have to develop conflict resolution strategies, learn to navigate difficult relationships and adopt more effective ways to handle disagreements as they get older.  It’s part of the process of maturing.  You know, where you sidestep the juvenile reflex to make grandiose, sweeping generalizations of others under the guise of humor or in order to shroud your own insecurities.

On your website’s “R U Dateable” quiz, as long as a girl provides answers that keep her silent, dishonest, and malleable to the whim of boys, she’s dateable. Well, we took the quiz, and much to our dismay… in your eyes, we are completely (gasp!) undateable!  How will we break it to our husbands?

You say that your message has “reached over 1,000,000 students across the nation” through your “thousands” of speeches and “#1 best-selling” books.  We need you to know that your version of things serves to perpetuate grave misogyny and rape culture.  There are too many examples to list, but here is a select sampling:

“Please, please don’t tease us. To show us your hot little body … and then tell us we can’t touch it is being a tease. You can’t look that sexy and then tell us to be on our best behavior”

“Men of God are wild, not domesticated. Dateable guys aren’t tamed”

“Every little girl wants to know that she’s beautiful, and a woman can’t convince her of that. It takes a male figure to convince her of that.”

“Dateable girls know how to shut up. They don’t monopolize the conversation. They don’t tell everyone everything about themselves. They save some for later. They listen more than they gab.”

“Dateable guys know they aren’t as sensitive as girls and that’s okay. They know they are stronger, more dangerous, and more adventurous and that’s okay.”

As professors who write and teach about adolescent development, gender stereotypes, and sexuality, we are flabbergasted by the messages you’re sharing with both boys and girls about who they were created to be. Your opinions are damaging to our youth.

Rather than encouraging all adolescents to become strong, caring, compassionate people who make this world a better place, you focus on “dateability.” That is no different than the sexualized, sexist, objectifying messages that girls and boys get every single day from the mass media that tells them that a girl’s power and worth lies in her looks and her sexuality and that a boy’s job is to work with all his might to squash his animalistic, uncontrollable urges.

Justin, we believe you mean well and you want to help.  Our hope is that the reason for taking down your YouTube videos, removing the co-author of your book from your website and deleting pictures and hundreds of comments off of your Facebook page is because you have “seen the light”.  We weren’t able to check out your MySpace page yet simply because our Commodore 64’s weren’t fired up, but anyway, moving forward, here are some suggestions we have for you:

  • Try reaching kids by espousing a message of human mutuality.  Encourage adolescents to see each other as equals, hold each other in high regard and show mutual respect for one another.
  • Stop focusing so heavily on adolescents being “dateable” and start focusing on helping them become the best individuals they can be.
  • Stop touting rigid gender stereotypes as fact. It is not true that men and women are “hard wired” differently. It is true, however, that our culture teaches boys and girls that they should have different interests and behaviors. Some kids naturally fall into these, but others don’t. There is a place in this world for sensitive, nurturing men and strong, adventurous women.
  • Allow kids to be themselves, let’s help them cultivate their individual personalities and unique strengths rather than trying to force and box them into some version of roles you think men and women should play.

And most of all, instead of encouraging girls to be mysterious, girly, silent, needy, and sexy and for boys to be bold, wild, insensitive, controlled and dangerous, how about encouraging all adolescents to seek to be world changers?  What if, instead of telling kids how to be in inequitable romantic relationships, you taught them how to make the world a better place? Now there’s a message we could buy into.

Sincerely,

Jennifer W. Shewmaker, Ph.D., NCSP
Associate Professor of Psychology
Abilene Christian University

Dae C. Sheridan, Ph.D., LMHC, CRC
Licensed Psychotherapist
Professor of Human Sexuality
University of South Florida

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Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Jennifer Shewmaker and Dae Sheridan are Rebecca’s colleagues from the Brave Girls Alliance.