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Tag: Barbie

Barbie’s not an issue if girls can think for themselves

Just like the all-knowing, ominous voices in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, every festive season concerned commentators apparate to warn us about the imminent dangers of Christmas shopping for children- especially for little girls. Lego releases a new range of pink blocks for girls? Beware of buying into limiting gender stereotypes. Disney has launched a new pint-sized princess? Girls are doomed to a future of passivity and reliance on male rescuing. Your daughter wants a Bratz doll? Well you might as well give up right now.

Of course there are numerous toy ranges that are unarguably sexualised and adultified- everything from Baby Bratz in lingerie to scantily clad Vampire – wannabees courtesy of Monster High. Then there is the “tyranny” of pink; to peruse the girls’ aisles in the toy shop you would be forgiven for thinking little girls were cognitively unable able to respond to any colour that is not associated with sugar, spice and all things nice.

But while there are legitimate concerns, is the extent of the worrying all that proportionate? And is it actually productive?

Reinventing "Pink Princess" play.

As educators who work with young women, we know it is vital to give girls the skills to deconstruct the gender messages they receive along with their much-loved dolls. Cultural goods are not “values free” and there are certainly some questionable toys being marketed to our girls.

And yet, to listen to the rhetoric of how “toys are corrupting our children and destroying their innocence”, you would be forgiven for thinking that the toys had come to life- Toy Story style- and were now fiendishly plotting to hurt vulnerable, passive children. It is as though we have begun to think of the children as lifeless objects, being acted upon by toys, rather than the other way around.

As adult women, we have both admitted to each other (almost tentatively for fear of losing some feminist credibility) that as little girls we were bower-bird like in our pursuit for all that was shiny, pretty and pink. We adored our Barbies, were besotted by anything princess-like and suspect that were they around back then- we would have sold our little glittered-up souls for a Bratz. And yet like most women who ever played with Barbie, we somehow managed to turn out just fine.

So, instead of merely asking “what are toys doing to our children?”, we look at what children actually do with their toys.

The reality is that many children play in delightfully creative and often highly subversive ways. If you watch how girls actually play with Barbie they may well quite literally deconstruct her by pulling her arms off, chopping at her hair, or as we did, ignore the pretty pink Barbie Kitchen and instead drive her around in a makeshift car pretending she was building an empire.

Nor do little girls play at princesses by waiting poised for their prince to come and rescue them. Rather, girls use princess and fairy themed props to play at power. They order around servants. Right wrongs within their kingdom. Grant wishes. Four year old Snow White devotee Teyah was known as the “Gum-boot Princess” by her pre-school mates for under her princess gown she always wore sensible boots – all the better for stomping about to create order.

This is not to say, however, the toy aisles couldn’t do with an overhaul. But little girls we speak to say rather than give girls fewer options, we should be giving them more options by opening up the entire toy shop to all – regardless of gender.

“When you look in the girl’s aisle it’s all just pink, princess stuff…but the boys get fun building stuff, and puzzles and cars. I still don’t know why marbles, puzzles and mighty beans are in the boys aisles [and not the girls]” says nine year old Lucinda. “And you might think that black, blue and all dark colours are for boys but to me they are girl’s colours too. There are just things in this world called ‘colours’ and they don’t belong to anybody.”

It seems that raising healthy, well adjusted kids has less to do with the toys they play with and more to do with the values we instill them with. By teaching our children to think critically about cultural goods and by equipping them with skills to navigate complex cultural messages we will be empowering them for life.

Education-not panic- enables girls to see clearly, think critically, and reinvent their worlds.

What a fabulous gift to give to them.

 

This post was co-written with Nina Funnell. Nina is a social commentator and freelance opinion writer. She works as an anti–sexual assault and domestic violence campaigner and is also currently completing her first book on “sexting”, teen girls and moral panics. The post was first published by the Sydney Morning Herald 23/12/11

“Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out.”


This is the product description for a Girls size 7-16 long sleeved t-shirt that American chain JC Penney was offering for sale on its website – under the “Self-Esteem” category (oh please). But wait, it gets worse: the t-shirt slogan reads, “I’m too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me.”

So outraged was American mother and activist Melissa Wardy, that she took to Twitter and Facebook to begin a social network campaign to get the product pulled – and she won. This isn’t the first time Melissa has taken action though. In fact, she is so committed to ensuring we “change the way people think about girls” and recognise that girls are “smart, daring and adventurous” that she started her own clothing line for girls with the aim of redefining “girly”.

The Pigtail Pals-Redefine Girly product range includes my personal favourite – a shirt depicting a female carpenter with the slogan: ” I broke a nail…”

There’s also a shirt depicting a female Doctor with the slogan “Call me in the morning.” Compare that to Nurse Barbie’s message for girls as seen in a toy shop near you right now: “Get new shoes and call me in the morning!”(on the box of the current vintage Barbie range). Me thinks Nurse B may end up with a medical negligence law suit on her hands if she gives out that kind of advice to her patients. The dolls may date from 1961, but so too does the message which is a recent addition to the newly packaged Babs.

These are by no means isolated examples of products and campaigns that would have girls believe “Math class is tough!” (talking Barbie’s first words to girls in 1992) or that our daughters should be more preoccupied with bling than brains: “Don’t theorise, accessorise!” (slogan courtesy of the Bratz dolls). Shine reports that earlier this year the Internet was  a buzz over David & Goliath T-Shirt that read, in pink bubble letters, “I’m too pretty to do math.” Then there was the one with “Future Trophy Wife” written on it. There’s also reality shows like Australia’s Beauty and the Geek, and a plethora of television programmes and films aimed at teens that send clear messages about what defines desirable – and it ain’t the bespecled “brainiac” who hangs alone at the library and only finds love and popularity once she ditches the books and gets a make-over. For every smart, savvy Hermione, there seem to be at least 5 genuinely clueless-yet-cute Gossip Girls.

I have noted some big girls playing the “dumbing down” game in social situations too and laughed out loud at this cartoon featured in an opinion piece by Liz Jones at the Daily Mail:

I thought it fitting this week to hand my blog over to Melissa to allow her to explain why we should all be working towards offering girls far more empowering, inspiring messages than those that would have our girls pass on their homework to the lads…

Pretty’s Got Nothing To Do With It

Tomorrow I send my child to her first day of school. Her first day of kindergarten. Her first day of formal education in a public school with years and years and years of learning to follow.

So I’ll ask you kindly to get out of her way, JC Penney. You too, Orbeez and Skechers. Mattel and your Monster High, we’ve already had words.

My daughter will not be sent to school with the message from her parents that she is inadequate. She will not be taught hat she is incapable of learning, and mastering, what is taught to her at school. She will not be treated as though she were delicate. Tea cups are delicate, girls are not…

Despite the direct contradiction to their charity Pennies From Heaven, this shirt teaches girls to expect very little from themselves, that their looks supercede their intellect, and that ‘being pretty’ will get you by. Pretty’s got nothing to do with school. Oh, and that little notion that the academic work should be left to the boys. In 2011, we are teaching the grand daughters of the Women’s Lib movement to forsake their education and have their looks be their main focus.

So don’t buy it, right? It is just one shirt. Right?

Wrong. WRONG.

It is the culture of consumer beauty and self-objectified sex surrounding our girls that drips right off a script page from a Kardashian-esque reality tv show. The message that beauty and sexiness measure a woman’s worth, and that one can never be too young to focus on these things.

Exhibit B: Orbeez Soothing Spa with magic rainbow de-stressing beads, for that stressed-out 11yo in your life. Because, OMG, school is just like soooooo freaking hard! You can watch the commercial HERE.

Orbeez wants you to know that school is hard!
Orbeez wants you to know that foot spas help your hurting brain from all that learning!

Who needs hard things, like learning, when you can relax at the spa and work on being pretty. How I went through my entire girlhood in the absense of spa products and services usually reserved for adult women of a certain income and lifestyle, I’ll never know.

Learning hurts! Pretty is fun!
My response? To do what I do best and offer girls a different message:

Melissa’s inspiring designs for girls, including this latest response to JC Penney, may be ordered at her site: www.pigtailapals.com. Items may be shipped to Australia.

Toddlers & Tiaras? Pull the Pin Now!

The type of child beauty pageant made infamous by the reality TV show Toddlers & Tiaras is coming to Australia. We’ve all been outraged by what we’ve seen of these totally inappropriate, hypersexualized competitions.

Enlighten’s own Catherine Manning, one of our stellar Melbourne presenters, is putting her outrage to good use. She’s started Pull the Pin, a group that’s organising public rallies around the country to send a message to politicians and pageant organisers: we don’t want child beauty pageants in Australia.

This week I’m handing over to Catherine so she can talk about Pull the Pin and how you can get involved. Catherine, you have a heart of gold—but more than that, you are a woman of action!

I also had a great in-depth discussion about why child beauty pageants are so damaging to girls’ self-esteem and body image on Adelaide radio, which you can listen to here.


When the news hit that an American child beauty pageant company, Universal Royalty, is holding a pageant in Melbourne in July, I was amongst the many thousands of people who felt sickened—not just by the images of little girls being blatantly adultified and sexualised in these pageants but also by the fact that such a beauty competition for children would even have a market here in Australia.

It’s one thing for little girls to play dress-ups, donning frocks and heels, putting on some lippy and parading around the lounge room—but when adults come along and turn it into a fierce competition for money and prizes, complete with professional make-up artists, hairdressers and photographers, that’s just creepy and every kind of wrong.

I feel compelled to take action, so I have started the Pull the Pin campaign, which is coordinating public rallies on Tuesday, 3 May, at 12:00 p.m. on the steps of Parliament House in capital cities around the country. The aim is to make our voices heard in a way that is sensitive to pageant participants but sends a clear message to politicians and the community that we don’t want child beauty pageants in Australia. The reason I have chosen that day is that parliament will be in session in Melbourne, so it’s a great opportunity to send a message to the politicians in the city where the pageant is planned to take place.

I will be arranging for some engaging speakers in each state to articulate our concerns, and some peaceful protest “action” on the steps of parliament, such as bubble blowing, skipping, face painting, hopscotch—ordinary things that children really like to do and should be doing.

I have been encouraged by the many people who have contacted me expressing an interest in participating in the rally action, and am now looking to you to help me organise the rally in your state or territory.

If you would like to get involved and help coordinate things on the day, please email me at info@sayno4kids.com. It would be great to have a diversity of people involved to show that this issue is one a wide range of Australians feel very strongly about. I want to thank my friends at Australians Against Child Beauty Pageants and Collective Shout for their support on this issue.

Some discussions in the media and online about the pageant and rally have suggested a “catfight” between those parents who are for pageants and those who are against. I certainly don’t condone anyone personally attacking pageant parents. But I also don’t think it’s acceptable for parents to have girls as young as 3 years old coiffed, waxed and primped, then paraded in a competition against other little girls. As Dr Karen Brooks writes in The Courier-Mail, “For years, experts have stated how damaging it can be to introduce children at such an early age to this kind of subjective and superficial evaluation.” Responsibility does need to be taken by parents, and also by governments that allow these competitions to be run. Ideally, I’d like to see a worldwide ban on child beauty pageants.

Some of the adult cosmetic practices inflicted on little girls competing in these pageants, such as waxing and spray tanning, should also be illegal for children, in my view. We used to be able to rely on common sense—who’d have ever thought we’d have to protect young girls from their parents actively sexualising them for prize money? (Anyone who doubts that these girls are being sexualised didn’t see the episode of Toddlers & Tiaras in which “a mother screeches ‘Flirt! You’re not flirting!’ as her six-year-old daughter practices her routine,” as Nina Funnell describes over on Melinda Tankard-Reist’s site.)

I’m tired of hearing pageant parents and organisers compare beauty competitions to sport. If a child engages in a sporting activity, when they lose they know they can go home to practice and hone their skills for next time—but when they compete in a beauty competition and lose, they can only feel unworthy and unable to do anything about it.

Girls are already constantly bombarded with narrow beauty ideals in our culture, from Disney princesses and Barbies and Bratz dolls, to music video clips telling them they should look and behave like grown women. We should be combatting the message society sends our girls that they’re “not enough”—not foisting beauty competition culture upon them.

Pull the Pin is motivated by our care for children and their rights. My hope is that the little girls who compete in pageants will be pleased to see that someone else is saying “no” on their behalf. Anyone who’s watched Toddlers & Tiaras knows that often the little girls’ pleas of “stop” fall on deaf ears in pageant land. The rallies and our peaceful protests may just give them the courage to say “See Mummy, those people are having fun with their little girls just doing normal, healthy things. I want to do that too.”

We want to send a really strong message that Australians don’t want this type of exploitative beauty competition here. And we want to encourage  parents considering entering their children to think twice and act in the best interests of the children, not their own or the pageant organisers’ pockets.

Catherine Manning is an Enlighten Education presenter in Victoria. She is also the director of the children’s rights advocacy group Say No 4 Kids, which campaigns to end children’s exposure to highly sexualised material in the media and public domain.

Embracing her inner mathematician

I was really interested in the findings of a study conducted by Janet Hyde, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of psychology, and Janet Mertz, a UW-Madison professor of oncology, on girls and mathematics. They analysed studies from around the world on mathematics performance along with gender inequality as measured by the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index. Their conclusion? Girls do understand mathematics, but we don’t want them to.

Their research showed that the widely held belief that most women aren’t hard-wired for careers in science and technology is erroneous. Rather, the researchers provide several possible cultural factors keeping females from excelling in maths, including classroom dynamics in which teachers pay more attention to boys, while failing to nurture even mathematically gifted girls. In addition, they found stereotypes may drive guidance counsellors and others to discourage girls from taking engineering courses. The lack of female role models in maths-intensive careers was also identified as a possible reason why girls may steer clear of these paths.

I confess that I once said to my daughter when she was struggling with maths, “You’re just like your mummy. We both love reading and writing but find maths and science tough.” Way to go, Danni. What kind of message was I sending Teyah? The same message Mattel’s Barbie gave girls when she spoke her first words in 1992: “Math class is tough!” How limiting. Throughout history there have been accomplished women across all fields of learning. We need to take every opportunity to remind our daughters of the many women who have achieved academically.

The following websites may be worth encouraging your budding maths star to explore:

Girlstart – American site created to empower girls to excel in mathematics, science and technology. They have an interesting blog and a related website where girls can complete maths-based puzzles, etc.

Nerd Girls – American site celebrating smart-girl individuality. Their beliefs: “Brains are beautiful. Geek is Chic. Smart is sexy. Not either/or.”

An extensive list of general maths sites is also offered at the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services site: http://www.millnthps.sa.edu.au/websites/mathematics/general_maths.htm

Even the most simple empowering messages we give girls can have a lasting effect on them. Fifteen years ago, Rachel, who is now a grown woman, was in a class I taught at high school. She recently emailed me to share the following: “I still remember the first thing I noticed when I walked into your classroom in Year 10: a sticker on the top of the board that said ‘Girls can be engineers too.’ Yours was one of the few classrooms where I believed that I could achieve something.”

I’d love to hear how you have been encouraging girls to move beyond all sorts of limiting stereotypes.

Sisterhood – performance poem by Kate Wilson

The poem featured in this YouTube clip is written and performed by Kate Wilson.

Have your girls produced poems, songs or art that explores women’s issues? If so, I’d love to see these.

P.S As promised – big shout out to the hundreds of shiny teen girls I have worked with this past fortnight. I have been to Canberra, New Zealand, Wagga Wagga, Strathfield and Perth! A few of my fave snaps below.

LOVE, LIGHT AND LAUGHTER to all my Sisters!

NZ: Our girls…”Barbie Bitches”?

I am really enjoying sharing some guest posts written by various members of my amazing Enlighten team with you all! A warm “Butterfly Effect” welcome to New Zealand’s Program Manager Kelly Valder…

 

Guest post by Kelly Valder – newzealand@enlighteneducation.com

“Barbie Bitches” – what a term huh? For many it brings to mind platinum blonde hair extensions and lots of cleavage combined with skimpy pink clothing and an attitude that dictates that pretty and thin is everything and those who don’t shape up are clearly “losers”. And of course this term is used in the US (where Paris Hilton and co. are idolised) and sometimes in Australia ( Big Brother’s Bridgette leads the pack there at present) but not really in NZ…

Well, believe it or not, this term – and others like it – is now being thrown around here. Who would have thought? How did we get to this? In order to look for answers we firstly need to look at what’s happening around the globe.

A simple internet search under ‘teenage girls’ through international newspapers and educational journals exposes a variety of issues that are all alarming. In the U.S.A. it is reported that more than one in four teenage girls has at one time carried at least one sexually transmitted disease. A recent study of 25,000 European teenagers found that girls were three times more likely to commit acts of self harm than boys. Earlier this year in Australia, we learnt about Club 21, a group of teen school girls who encouraged their members to be ranked between 1 and 21 based on their thinness, good looks, binge drinking escapades and popularity with boys. And this is just a snapshot of some of the issues… scary!

So what’s happening here in Aotearoa?

• A New Zealand study found that 80% of females were within normal weight limits, but only 18% of them thought their weight was normal; 1
• 1 in 4 NZ teenage girls may suffer from the symptoms of an eating disorder; 1
• Dieting is a $100 million industry in NZ; 1
• The prevalence of emotional health problems, including depression, eating issues and suicidal behaviours, are alarmingly high amongst female students. The rates of these problems in NZ youth are up to twice those found in a recent national mental health survey of young people in Australia; 2

Not surprisingly, it seems then that our Kiwi girls are becoming just as obsessed with their looks as other teens around the globe.

What links may be emerging between the pressures girls are feeling to be beautiful and thin, and their behaviour?

Girls are no longer just silently imploding – they are also acting out. In March, two scantily clad teenage girls were found unconscious on an Auckland pavement, supposedly from an overdose of booze, party pills and ‘P’ (methamphetamine or crystal meth). Earlier this year a Napier family had their house targeted by aggressive and violent teenage girls. Education Ministry figures show a 41 per cent increase in girls being stood down, suspended or kicked out of school for assaults between 2002 and 2006. The way violence is dished out is changing too. Experts point to a new gang-like mentality among schoolgirls where a popular “queen bee” uses friends to bully or hurt to cement her position of power. The term “Barbie Bitches” became a frightening new part of our vernacular.

A few weeks ago the Good Morning programme featured a story on “Barbie Bitches” in our NZ schools. School principals reported that reality television has played a major role in creating these gangs of “Barbie Bitches” who are bullying either physically or through the cyber world. A quick look at television programs such as “Living Lohan” and “Americas Next Top Model” point to the fact that our educators may be right; these type of shows encourage girls to be ultra competitive and to play unfair in order to win. Don’t like someone? Just vote them out! Behave badly? Doesn’t matter as long as you look gorgeous doing it!

I can’t help but think that our NZ girls are crying out for positive role models and we need to step up and take action to provide them with some real alternatives right now!

Is it all doom and gloom? No. Not if we get on board and make our young women a priority. Our schools and the MoE are addressing  these issues with a low tolerance approach plus other more general initiatives including the ‘Team-Up’ site with information for parents and caregivers, new anti-bullying resources for schools released this month and ‘Ka Hikitia‘ an initiative aiming at improving educational outcomes for Maori students.

Thankfully, Enlighten Education, whose award winning programs I am proud to bring to NZ, is not the only organisation to realise that our girls are in crisis. There are fabulous resources, such as headspace.org.nz, that have been established to support our young people, their families and schools. However, Enlighten’s focus is unique as its programs have been specifically designed to cater to the particular needs, and the learning styles, of teen girls.

The Enlighten Education workshops are about celebrating all the things girls love about themselves, challenging them to rethink negative and destructive behaviours, and changing the way they respond to their environment and each other. It gives them the tools they need to “unpack” the images and messages they are bombarded with by the media as well as looking at strong, intelligent female role models who can inspire them to be all they can be. The CEO and co-founder of Enlighten Education, Dannielle Miller, summed up our wish for all girls beautifully in her recent post:  

“She’ll be a teen who will set boundaries, deconstruct all the mixed messages she will be presented with, and make choices she is truly comfortable with. She will not allow her sexuality to be shaped by misogynist music, plastic Paris-wannabe dolls, or the contemporary media environment that would have her believe that everyone is up for anything, all the time, and that to be hot she will have to get more make up and less clothes. She’ll grow up on her own terms. That is my wish for her. That’s my wish for all girls. That is what I will continue working towards.”

Barbie Bitches? No thanks!

1 Scary Statistics from around the world, article from www.nzhealth.net.nz taken from the BBC, Time, NewsWeek and research from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
2 A health profile of New Zealand youth who attend secondary school, Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 04 April 2003, Vol 116, No 1171.
3 The health of New Zealand youth, Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 04 April 2003, Vol 116, No 1171.

 

 

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