Friday, April 29, 2011

Walking Billboards

I give up. It's time to admit it. Time for a confession.

I am a crazy mom.

I had so many ideas of what motherhood would look like before I actually became a mother. I knew I would care about the things my kids ate and the things they played with but I had no idea I would care this much. It's intense.

The fuel for my fire today:

I checked this book out from the library yesterday and I finished it yesterday.

Orenstein puts into writing so many of the things I've been saying for the last 2 years.

The thing that's been running through my mind this morning is her question of when does choice hop the fence into coercion?

Do my daughters really get to choose the kinds of things they want to play with? Because that's the culture we live in today, right? Have it your way, pick and choose, manufacturing products cheaply in order to have more stuff to choose from... but if that's true why do we have clearly marked aisles and shelves in stores that pimp (Orenstein's word, not mine) pink to my girls and ensconce Lego's and trucks in blue for the boys? Why is it so hard to find blue or yellow or green clothes for my daughter's baby dolls. And in that line of thought why is it so hard to find a male baby doll in the first place!

If I allow Zola to watch Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella or Snow White or The Little Mermaid, does she have a choice but to love them? That's all she sees on her eye level at Target at Walmart at she has already internalized this idea that if you are a girl then these things are for you. So why would I perpetuate that idea by encouraging it at home?

Grant and I purposely try to avoid clothing that advertises the store from which it came. No white t-shirts boldly labeled, OLD NAVY or GAP across the front. Do we hate these stores? No. Do we shop there? Yes. But we pay them for their goods and we do not pay them so that we can be their walking billboards. I think they (and other businesses we use) do enough advertising without writing on us.

So why would we choose to do that with our children? Why would we bedeck them in Disney so that they can be walking advertisements?

This is a rant... I'm feeling feisty today so I'm bleching it all out right now. But I do know there is plenty of gray area. Murky waters... Zola has an E.T. shirt. She LOVES this shirt. I know it is essentially an ad for the movie. She wore it to school this week in fact. But the only people there who understood were her teachers. She also took her new E.T. stuffy to school and when she saw the other kids looking at it in confusion she stuffed it in her school bag rather than explain. Before the school year started her favorite color was blue or black... At home she still loves black but invariably if someone outside of our house asks her favorite color she says purple or pink. At age 3 my daughter my daughter already understands there are some things that are culturally innapropriate for her because she's a girl. (Seriously, WTF?)

I'm okay with her wearing E.T. though. It is a good story- about human (or humanized I guess since E.T. is an alien..) connection, about family taking care of each other. And it's not a brand. It's not a merchandise franchise just trying to get my kid to buy their things. In fact the t-shirt and the doll are it. There are no 3-year-old sized high heels or make-up kits with E.T.'s face on it.

A top Disney executive actualy told Orenstein that part of their Princess brand requirements is that when multiple princesses are pictured together they are not allowed to look at each other. Now that I know I'm watching and I'm with Orenstein, it's freaky! So why are we supposed to encourage them to role-play a princess who doesn't even have any friends? If one girl is Cinderella and one girl is Ariel, how do they play together? What are we doing to group-imagination? to group-play?

I don't believe that my girls came out of the womb demanding only the toys with pink sparkles. So why is that what I'm being told when I walk into a store, watch a toy commercial or check out Halloween costumes online?

I am not anti-princess. I am anti- the idea of princess being used as a brand to lure girls (read: any female consumer) into the land of over-consumption in the name of "I should" or "I have to in order to fit in."

I have some more thoughts on this book that will probably surface in the next few days...and not all of them are actually in her favor.


Anonymous said...

Ah ha! The irony of our dinner continues! :o) I find it amazing that our neighbor across the street that gets into all the tv/princess paraphernalia is already more persuasive on my daughter than I am. I started out RC's life in gender neutral and I know I've steered here somewhat into a feminine role but c'mon. It drives me nuts too that it isn't necessarily coming from my daughter's interests but from other peers/stores who've coerced her into thinking that's what she wants.

Anonymous said...

Great post, btw

beckim82 said...

I just finished the book this hour. I can't wait to discuss it with you at book club! I feel like I should write down some comments/questions, because I thought of many while I was reading and I know I'll forget if we don't meet soon.

I think the big unanswered question in her book -- and in our culture -- is what it means to be a girl (or a boy). There are so many situations where she, as a mother, wondered if it was more "empowering" to buy in or opt out. It is surely a dilemma, and one that I think every little girl and her parents need to work on on their own terms. But I agree with you that that process becomes extremely skewed and artificial when you let marketing influences in -- which is unavoidable.

So much more to say, I can't wait!