Dr. Rebecca Hains

5 Reasons NOT to Buy Barbie for Little Girls (It’s Not Just Body Image!)

When selecting children’s toys, balance is critically important. All kids should have a true diversity of toys to play with—dolls, construction toys, play food, craft supplies, vehicles, and so on—to encourage a richly imaginative play life.

Fashion dolls, however, have long been the sticking point in this plan. Fashion dolls can be really fun, but the most common fashion doll—Barbie—has become so riddled with problems that it’s a poor choice for little girls, even when balanced out by other toys. And I don’t just mean the body image issues everyone has heard about: many other problems pervade the brand, too.

Fortunately, many fun, healthy new fashion dolls have debuted in recent years. Thanks to these new offerings, there’s no longer a good reason to buy Barbies for little girls.

Here are five good reasons to avoid Barbie altogether:

1. Barbie’s beauty ideal is unhealthy and damaging.

Let’s begin with the reason everyone’s heard about. The best-known reason to avoid Barbie is crucial: The doll has an unrealistic body type and a rigid beauty ideal that studies show can be harmful to girls. As body image expert Marci Warhaft-Nadler, author of The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents, explains: “Barbie sends our girls one message, and it’s this: ‘You can do anything and you can be anything—as long as you look like this: very tall, very thin, very Caucasian, and very beautiful.'”

Barbie body imageThe scholarly research documents Barbie’s negative consequences on girls’ psyches. For example, a Developmental Psychology study reported that “girls aged five to six were more dissatisfied with their shape and wanted more extreme thinness after seeing Barbie doll images than after seeing other pictures”—and that among girls ages 6 and 7, “the negative effects were even stronger.” Another well-designed experimental study found that girls who played with Barbies were more likely to restrict their eating afterwards than girls who played with the fuller-figured (now discontinued) Emme dolls.

Autumn Leaves Lottie, modeled on the dimensions of an average 9-year-old girl

Autumn Leaves Lottie, modeled on the dimensions of an average 9-year-old girl

Studies like these influenced the creation of new fashion dolls designed with girls’ body images in mind: the Lottie dolls and the Lammily doll. According to Lottie’s creator Lucie Follett, she was inspired to create Lottie when she read a newspaper article about the Developmental Psychology study on girls’ body dissatisfaction after playing with Barbie. “This provided the inkling of an idea,” Follett explains. “We then went on to contact the researcher, Dr. Margaret Ashwell, OBE—formerly head of the British Nutrition Foundation—and her colleague Professor McCarthy. They helped us ensure that Lottie has a childlike, age appropriate body that is based on the scientific dimensions of a 9 year old girl.”

Barbie vs a Lammily prototype, using dimensions from an average 19-year-old girl

Barbie vs a Lammily prototype, using dimensions from an average 19-year-old girl

Educational psychologist Lori Day, author of Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More, urges parents to choose healthy fashion dolls. “There are so many better choices for girls than Barbie,” Day argues. “So many fashion dolls, products, and media constitute a tidal wave of unrealistic body types and needlessly sexualized imagery, which collectively do send a harmful message to girls.

“In contrast,” Day notes, “Lottie Dolls, Lammily, and others present girls with a much healthier and diverse image of the female face and form. If there are better choices out there—and there are—why not choose them?”

2. Barbie products portray girls as unintelligent.

In 1992, Mattel’s “Teen Talk Barbie” infamously chirped, “Math class is tough!” Mattel recalled this sexist toy reluctantly, after the American Association of University Women brought widespread awareness to the issue.

barbie_slide2_2.0You’d think Mattel would have learned its lesson from this gaffe, but apparently not. Just this year, Mattel had to recall its disastrous I Can Be a Computer Engineer! book featuring Barbie as a computer science student. Given our current widespread cultural attention to the importance of preparing girls for STEM careers, the topic sounds like a great choice—but I Can Be a Computer Engineer! portrayed Barbie as incompetent and constantly in need her male classmates’ help.

“‘I’m only creating the design ideas,’ Barbie says, laughing. ‘I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.’ ”

Not cool, Mattel. Not cool.

3. Barbie has a race problem.

Mattel struggles to present Barbies of color in ways that surpass tokenism—in ways that are equal to the brand’s presentation of the iconic, Caucasian, blonde Barbie. Mattel’s advertisements and the dolls’ arrangement in toy stores (which Mattel cannot control, but does influence) both have a problem with this.

Unlike Bratz dolls, which competed with Barbie so successfully in part because of the dolls’ racial diversity, kids know that there is only one “real” Barbie—and that Barbie is blonde and white.

barbie-racist-pricingEven very young children notice this inequality, with heartbreaking results. For example, one mom writes:

Several weeks ago my daughter Boogie (who just turned 5) had a Barbie doll eaten by one of our dogs. Normally this would lead to a meltdown of epic proportions. This time, however, she shrugged nonchalantly and said, “She’s just the Black one.” Keeping my voice calm (while internally freaking out) I asked her if that made the Barbie less important. She said yes. YES. What? Black children, especially girls, need to be told that they are important. It isn’t something they just assume. The racial bias is simply out in the ether.

Boogie is African American/Caucasian with very light skin and bright red hair. She has hazel eyes. Her little brother Bear is African American. He is very dark. So I then asked if she thought Bear was less important than a white boy. She said yes again.

She couldn’t remember why she thought that or where she heard it. I was completely heartbroken.

mcdonalds_barbie_happy-meal-ad-coco-cremeBoogie’s mom is right to be concerned about her daughter’s perception that her black Barbie was less important than her white ones, as well as Boogie’s extension of this logic to her own baby brother. According to critic Ann DuCille, author of Skin Tradedolls help children figure out who they are in relation to the surrounding world, and when multicultural Barbies are basically merely “dye-dipped” white Barbies—dolls “modified only by a dash of color and a change of costume” in inauthentic and unfair ways—the consequences for children are serious.

For black children, “Dreaming white is the natural response to what the child sees and does not see in society’s looking glass,” DuCille writes. Meanwhile, for white parents striving to raise anti-racist children, racial hierarchies in the toy aisle can hinder their efforts.

The young African-American girls I interviewed for my book Growing Up With Girl Power: Girlhood On Screen and in Everyday Life could readily see these inequities in the Barbie brand, as well. For example, Rhea, age 9, lamented that Mattel doesn’t treat the Barbies of color fairly. “For the black Barbie dolls, they give ‘em, like, orange [outfits] and everything before the white, and [for the white] one, they give her, like, pink and blue or something,” she observed. “A lot of black people hate orange!”

Madison (age 9) agreed with Rhea’s assessment. She told me how these politics informed her shopping choices: “I buy Bratz dolls because all of them—all the Bratz dolls are treated right.” After all, all Bratz dolls wore equally trendy fashions, and all of them shared the stage in MGA’s advertisements—whereas groups of Barbies are usually presented in a hierarchical fashion in Mattel’s ads, with white Barbie at the front, top, or center.

In addition to these problems, children also deduce that black Barbies are less important and less valuable than white Barbies when they see their disparate pricing in stores. Retailers have a pattern of pricing black Barbies lower than or higher than their equivalent white Barbies, with negative implications either way. (This is beyond Mattel’s direct control, but it indubitably exacerbates existing problems with the Barbie brand’s handling of race.) Retailers admit that these otherwise comparable dolls really should be priced identically—but all too often, they’re not. Sadly, disparate pricing of any kind sends a subtle message of inequality to shoppers perusing the toy aisle and should quite simply be against corporate policies.

Branksea Festival Lottie

Branksea Festival Lottie has rich, dark skin and beautiful clothing with kid appeal

For fashion dolls representing girls of color, check out the beautiful dark-skinned Branksea Festival Lottie and Kawaii Karate Lottie, as well as Butterfly Protector Lottie, who’s got medium skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. In the plush doll category, consider Go! Go! Sports Girls’ Basketball Taye and Soccer Anna. And in the Disney Princess lineup, the Toddler Tiana dolls are a favorite. (As I explain in The Princess Problem, I really appreciate Disney’s toddler dolls’ healthy body shape).

4. Barbie dolls are not age-appropriate for young girls.

Barbie dolls were originally meant for girls 9 to 12 years old. At the time of Barbie’s debut in the late 1950s, the doll was controversial because it presented such young girls with a sexy female form, and many parents objected. But the exciting new concept of the “teenager” (created by marketers of that era, akin to the invention of the “tween” category by marketers in more recent years) appealed to pre-teens, who enjoyed having a mature, aspirational doll to play with. Compared with the baby dolls that had previously dominated the girls’ doll market, Barbie and her career-oriented activities presented a whole new world.

With every new generation of children, however, the toy industry has increasingly felt the squeeze of age compression. Marketers have pursued revenue growth by targeting ever-younger children with their products, but in consequence, items embraced by little kids have fallen out of favor with the older children who originally enjoyed them. After all, no self-respecting child wants to play with a “baby” toy!

Therefore, in the aftermath of the successful release of Mattel’s  “My First Barbie” in 1981—a simple, inexpensive Barbie doll meant for a new audience of preschool girls—Barbie has gradually lost its 9- to 12-year-old demographic. Mattel therefore abandoned the marketing of Barbie products to girls this age. To reach and captivate “tween” girls, Mattel execs realized they would have to create a new toy line–leading to the release of the Monster High line a few years ago. (Note that Mattel’s loss of the 9- to 12-year-old audience was accelerated by the success of the Bratz brand, whose edginess and diversity made Barbie seem hopelessly dated in young girls’ eyes.)

According to a recent article in Advertising Age:

For all her purported business sense, Barbie’s sales are falling. For the most recent quarter ending in June [2014], worldwide Barbie sales dropped 15% year over year, the third consecutive quarter of double-digit losses. Barbie’s brand sales have decreased in eight of the last 10 quarters.

Toy analyst Reyne Rice said age compression, with Barbie dolls now appealing to a smaller age range of girls, is partly to blame, along with increased competition from edgier and more contemporary dolls like Monster High (which Mattel also owns) and Disney’s “Frozen” characters.

Mattel now targets girls ages 3 to 7 with Barbie dolls—but there’s no doubt that these girls would be better served by dolls without the problems outlined above, notes educational psychologist Lori Day, author of Her Next Chapter.

“I know a lot of women my age who played with Barbie and comment that it did not hurt them, and it’s true,” Day explains. “But I have to point out that the context for playing with Barbie has changed, and context matters. When I was a child, older girls played with Barbies, not preschoolers—and those girls were not barraged with sexualized dolls and hyper-feminine products set against a backdrop of pinkwashed girlhood. Barbie was naturally balanced out by so many other options for girls that have since disappeared from the market or are now labeled ‘boy toys.’”

5. Barbie buys its way into pro-girl spaces, appropriating girl empowerment to sell more dolls.

Mattel is the 5th-ranked global licensor worldwide, with $7 billion dollars behind it—giving it a value greater than many countries’ entire GDP. With such deep pockets, Mattel has a long history of insidiously buying Barbie’s way into pro-girl spaces, in an effort to “goodwash” Barbie’s problems away by its association with credible girl empowerment brands.

Examples of this corporate practice abound in minor and major girl empowerment brands and communities alike, but the most prominent examples are Barbie’s 2010 sponsorship of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day and Barbie’s partnership with the Girl Scouts, announced in March 2014. This new partnership involves the release of a Girl Scout-themed Barbie doll and a Barbie uniform patch for Girl Scouts to work to earn. Mattel paid the Girl Scouts a cool $2 million for this association in an effort to improve their brand image. Unfortunately, the deal damaged the Girl Scouts’ image and dinged their credibility, but given the organization’s financial problems, it’s understandable that they would make such a compromise in order to continue their service to girls.

Mattel’s affiliation with the Girl Scouts caused as much or more incredulity and controversy as the essay “Barbie” wrote when Mattel placed images of the doll in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition just a month beforehand, in February 2014. In the essay, Mattel appropriated feminist ideas to justify placing Barbie in Sports Illustrated, a publication known for reducing women to sex objects…despite having claimed for years that Barbie is a career woman who is a good role model for girls.

In machinations such as these, it’s clear that Mattel is not actually promoting girls’ empowerment—just Barbie. Barbie’s empowerment discourse is a marketing strategy, nothing more. For this reason, when I see blog posts trying to convince the world of Barbie’s empowering potential, I’m suspicious of the underlying motivations.

Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), agrees.”Mattel markets girls on the illusions of choice, telling them they can ‘be anything,’ but really, of course, the goal is to limit choices to the Barbie brand,” says Golin. “The Girl Scout sponsorship epitomizes Mattel’s attempt to make it virtually impossible for girls to make the choice to be something other than a version of Barbie. Traditionally, the Girl Scouts have represented everything Barbie is not: Girl Scouts’ mission is to build ‘girls of courage, confidence, and character,’ while Barbie teaches girls to focus on appearance, outfits, and shopping.”

For this reason, Golin explains, the CCFC has spoken out against the Mattel-Girl Scout alliance. “Coopting what had been the quintessential ‘anti-Barbie’ organization is quite a coup for Mattel,” he notes, “and a heartbreaking loss of Barbie-free space for girls.”

In conclusion, when you’re selecting gifts for the little girls in your life, don’t give Barbie a second glance. With just a little time and care, you can find a perfectly fun, appealing, and healthy fashion doll that the child will love and cherish.

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Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters. 

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

VIDEO: Rebecca Hains on #NoGenderDecember, FOX & Friends

#NoGenderDecember is an Australian campaign to end the gendered marketing of toys to children. Its goal is to desegregate the toy aisles, organizing them by interest instead of by stereotype-laden “boys” and “girls” sections.

The campaign went viral earlier this week, after The Guardian reported that Australian prime minister Tony Abbott criticized the campaign. “Let boys be boys, let girls be girls,” he said—“that’s always been my philosophy.”

When I read Abbott’s quote, I thought: What an odd remark! Rearranging toy aisles according to children’s interests won’t magically turn boys into girls and girls into boys, or all children into eerily androgynous unisex beings. Abbott’s remarks seemed ignorant of the campaign’s goals and uninformed on how gender stereotyping limits young children.

The fact is that toy stores’ gender-based arrangement of toys shames children who want products that have been arbitrarily assigned to the opposite sex—like boys who want kitchen sets that are found in the girls’ aisle, and girls who want dinosaurs placed in the boys’ aisle.

Gender-stereotyped toy marketing has real implications for young children. As Maria Montessori famously remarked, play is the work of the child, and open-ended, unrestricted play is crucial to children’s development. Therefore, just as we don’t assign careers to adults based on their sex, we should never tell a child what they should or shouldn’t play with on the basis of sex. Every child should have a full range of choices available to him or her, so that the toys might broaden children’s horizons and imaginations—not box them in.

After all, whom would it hurt for, say, all the LEGO sets to be grouped together in an aisle marked “building toys,” instead of segregated in to “boys'” and “girls'” aisles?

No one. No one at all.

Yet when FOX & Friends touched on the #NoGenderDecember campaign immediately after The Guardian piece debuted, they presented the campaign in a negative light. “New movement calls for a ban on toy favorites like GI Joe for boys and Barbie for girls,” FOX & Friends reported—sending their twitter followers into a frenzy:

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 2.03.51 PM Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 2.04.11 PM Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 2.04.24 PM

FOX & Friends got so much viewer attention for this short and erroneous mention of #NoGenderDecember that they decided to program a full segment on it, and asked me if I’d like to join them for another debate on the matter—a follow-up to our discussion last year of the similar “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign in the UK.

In my email accepting the invitation, I noted: “Their point seems to be not that we should get rid of any particular type of toy, but rather the gender-based marketing of toys. I agree with this perspective. When toys are categorized according to marketers’ stereotypical ideas about the gender of the child that will play with them, it limits children’s imaginations, aspirations, and identities”—adding on twitter:

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 2.04.43 PM

Finally, Penny Nance of the Concerned Women for America and I appeared live on FOX & Friends to discuss the matter. Below, please find a video of the segment, followed by a full transcript.

What do you think? Is desegregating our children’s gendered toy aisles and advertisements a good thing? Would you like to see the toy stores in your area reorganize in this way?

Read More

Raising White Children to be Anti-Racist Allies

In recent days, the nation has been riveted and repulsed by the grand juries’ decisions to indict neither Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, nor New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. In the ensuing national conversation, many white people are staring down the stark reality of ongoing systemic racism in the United States for the first time. The inequities exposed by Wilson and Pantaleo’s impunity in Brown and Pantaleo’s respective deaths have served as a rude awakening for countless white people, whose experiences with the U.S. justice system have been nothing like their African-American peers’.

As a result, concerned white parents are now asking: “How can we raise our children to be allies to people of color, to help put an end to racism in the United States?”

This is a crucial goal, and it’s a goal that’s within reach—but families can only achieve it by being intentional in their parenting. For decades, white families have been hesitant to discuss race with their children, fearful that they might misspeak or be misunderstood and inadvertently foster prejudice in their own children.

In fact, according to a 2007 study at Vanderbilt University of 18,950 families with kindergarteners, 75 percent of white families never or almost never discuss race with their children. This is a major problem. When white parents don’t discuss race with their children, studies show, peer and media influences fill in the gaps—often with terrible consequences. Children are not colorblind; they begin noticing race at as young as six months of age. Even though they lack racial vocabulary, they quickly begin to categorize people by color—drawing upon the most obvious of stereotypes.

"Group of friends smiling." A photo by hepingting. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

“Group of friends smiling.” A photo by hepingting. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

This means it’s important for white parents who wish to raise anti-racist children to begin talking with their kids about race from an early age.

Here are a few suggestions, backed by the research in this area, on how white parents can raise children who are allies to people of color and who can think critically about race relations, race representations, and racism. Read More

VIDEO: Meredith Vieira features Rebecca Hains & “The Princess Problem”

Rebecca Hains on Meredith Vieira 1The Meredith Vieira Show recently asked: What is the “princess problem,” and how can we fight it? I joined Meredith Vieira and a panel of three parents for a double segment dedicated to the topic. Together, we explored how princess culture creates problems in young girls’ lives, and I shared advice on how parents can help their girls progress past these princess problems.

The Meredith Vieira Show segments and a transcript are below.

Transcript: Read More

Empower Your Princess-Obsessed Preschooler with Media Literacy in Four Easy Steps! (No, Really.)

Photo © Disney | ABC Television Group. Published under Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 2.0.

Photo © Disney | ABC Television Group. Published under Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 2.0.

When little girls become princess-obsessed, parents react with a mix of “aww” and shock. Seeing a toddler in a princess gown is enough to make even the most cynical adult swoon and praise her for her adorable beauty.

But when that same little princess refuses to get dressed for preschool in mid-winter because, she tantrums in a heap of tears, “Princesses don’t wear sleeeeeeeeves!”—well, some parents wish their girls would have a feminist awakening, and fast.

Sadly, Gloria Steinem is too busy to serve as fairy godmother to our nation’s 10 million preschool girls—so what’s a concerned parent to do? The situation often seems hopeless, as Devorah Blachor’s satirical-prescription-gone-viral for creating a feminist toddler—“Turn Your Princess-Obsessed Toddler Into a Feminist in Eight Easy Steps“—suggests.

The author as Cinderella.  ©Rebecca Hains.

The author as Cinderella. ©Rebecca Hains.

So many parents are so frustrated by the grip that princess culture has on their daughters that, as a professor and researcher of girls’ media culture, I decided to research what could be done. I spent two years immersed in the literature and in fieldwork, interviewing more than 40 parents about what worked for their families. I even went undercover à la Ms. Steinem’s “Playboy Bunny” days, getting a job as a birthday party princess and partying with little girls while dressed as Cinderella and The Little Mermaid on weekends. It was incredibly fun and also yielded a lot of insights (despite having to fend of off the occasional drunken uncle leering down my clamshells, eww). Read More

Co-opting the Christmas season: Christmas Creep and retailers’ countdown to consumer spending

Counting down the days to Christmas is a fun activity for many families. Marking the Advent season with traditions like Advent calendars, Advent wreaths, and Advent rings offer an opportunity to reflect on the true meaning of the season and to build anticipation for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Advent begins on November 30, 25 days before Christmas. The Christmas season then runs from December 25 to January 5—the twelve days sung about in the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and alluded to in the title of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”

In modern U.S. society, however, many people consider the day after Thanksgiving—a.k.a. “Black Friday”—to mark the start of the Christmas season. Many people put up their Christmas trees and other decorations that weekend, and begin their Christmas shopping in earnest the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers run heavily publicized discount sales on Christmas gifts.

But Black Friday is losing its dominance as the start of the Christmas season in the retail landscape from a retail and merchandising perspective. As such, many people who find joy in Advent and the Christmas season have been lamenting the rise of “Christmas Creep”—the practice of retailers running Christmas promotions on ever-earlier dates in an attempt to compete with one another for customers’ Christmas season purchases.

Studies show that consumers find Christmas Creep obnoxious. According to the Chicago Times, a recent survey found that 71 percent of respondents were “annoyed” or “very annoyed” to find holiday items in stores before Halloween, and 42 percent said they were less likely to buy from those retailers as a result.

Despite consumers’ annoyance, retailers and merchandizers have no desire to put an end to Christmas Creep. In fact, Wharton marketing professor Stephen Hoch characterizes it as a “mini arms race” that aren’t going anywhere—even though it really doesn’t benefit retailers.

“Once one of these sales happens, it will happen forever,” Hoch explained in an article on Knowledge@Wharton. “If you had a sale last year, you pretty much have to have the same sale again this year to see if you exceeded what you sold last year. This may be why retailers are putting up Christmas decorations and displays earlier and earlier. They’re looking not just at the quarter or month but every week and every day.”

Meanwhile, Amazon has appropriated the countdown to Christmas—a cherished Advent tradition—and is running a “Countdown to Black Friday Deals Week,” as I recently discovered on their home page:

Countdown to Black FridayThere’s something sad and offensive about this co-optation of the Advent countdown. Why would anyone count down to Black Friday instead of Christmas? Doing so is crassly commercial. This kind of advertisement simply reminds us that what retailers love most about the season isn’t Christmas. Rather, it’s the fact that Christmas shopping accounts for 20% to 30% their annual sales.

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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 from retailers including 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.com. 

Are you “part of the problem”? Yes, if you treat social justice as a zero-sum game.

This weekend, a facebook meme by Cop Block—a Facebook page calling for police accountability—went viral, receiving nearly 70,000 “likes” and 18,000 shares in 20 hours. The image responded to the now-famous video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” arguing that anyone who found the “10 hours” video more troubling than videos of police brutality is “part of the problem.”...then you are part of the problem

We’ve been seeing a lot of this type of discourse in social media lately. The viral FCKH8 advertisement “F-Bombs for Feminism” is a recent example: The FCKH8 video stated that those who felt outrage at their provocative decision to have young girls say “fuck” repeatedly should redirect their concern to the sexism and structural inequality girls and women still face in our society.

I find this kind of juxtaposition incredibly problematic. It creates false dichotomies—and false choices—while completely ignoring the fact that people can be concerned about multiple issues simultaneously. It reminds me of how some people react to my work on girls’ media and princess culture: “Why are you so concerned about girl culture when we have bigger things to worry about, like [insert other cause here]?”

When memes, viral videos, and words like these are bandied about, everyone needs to remember: The battle for social justice is neither a contest nor a zero-sum game. The problems in society do not need to compete against one another for popularity. The USA has a population of 316 million people! We really can work on more than one problem at a time, and individuals should feel free to working on the problem that best fits their experiences, skills, and expertise.

There’s no need to shame those who work on issues other than your own. They’re not detracting from your social justice work. If anything, they’re helping to raise the consciousness of more people, inspiring more political engagement—and that’s crucial. We’re all in this together. Don’t buy into people’s underhanded attempts to divide and conquer those who crusade for social justice!

As far as the Cop Block meme goes, my response is this: If you think the second scenario depicted somehow negates the legitimacy of the first, then you are part of the problem. Both of these problems should bother people, and both need to be addressed. Let’s bring a “win-win” mindset to social justice movements. Remember: improvements on one societal ill often pave the way for improvements on others.

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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 from retailers including 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.com. 

Happy Sexualize-Our-Daughters Season! ….Er, Halloween.

For years, families struck a balance between store-bought and homemade Halloween costumes. But these days, DIY Halloween costumes are out. Store-bought costumes are an $2.87 billion business.

What does this mean for consumers? Well, for one thing, we’re seeing a lot of costumes that reproduce tired gender stereotypes. Sex sells, and in an $8 billion seasonal industry, it seems designers and retailers are maximizing profits by creating more and more “sexy” costumes for women and girls. In fact, at this point, if you’re female, “sexy” is hardly an option anymore. It’s practically a requirement.


Image
Cartoon by Andy Mariette, via Sociological Images


In today’s relatively new, hypercommercial Halloween, it’s become an expectation for females to dress in sexually provocative ways–even when costumed as, say, a children’s cartoon character, like Nemo from Finding Nemo.

sexynemo10-4-10slw

The same applies to mundanely macabre items like body bags. Are you a man? Your body bag Halloween costume will resemble an actual body bag. Are you a woman? The ladies’ version of a body bag costume will be (drum roll…) a skimpy dress with a hood that zips over your head. Ugh.

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Adding insult to injury, the definition of “sexy” applied to the majority of women’s Halloween costumes is appallingly narrow. Tiny dresses with a lot of revealed skin available in a very limited range of sizes make it clear: Mainstream, readily-available “sexy” costumes aren’t being made for the full-figured, despite the fact that a size 14 is the average American woman’s size.

The typical sexy Halloween costumes divide women and shortchange young girls by conveying the same old message: if you don’t fit our society’s narrow beauty ideal, this culture doesn’t want to think of you as being sexually desirable. So you’d better focus on your appearance above all else. Note that even the “sexy” costume for Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid is scaled down, available in tiny sizes, even though the original character from the film is a confident, full-figured woman–which seems really incongruous.

Sexy Ursula Costume

Unfortunately, as parents of young girls know, today’s girls’ Halloween costumes are highly sexualized, too. This reinforces the same unhealthy messages about what female bodies are considered desirable and undesirable in our culture.

For example, compare the “Little Leopard” costume for young girls to the adult “Sexy Leopard” costumes.

Read More

FCKH8’s “F-Bomb Princess” video isn’t offensive—it’s exploitative.

Yesterday, for-profit T-shirt company FCKH8.com released a video called “F-Bombs for Feminism: Potty-Mouthed Princesses Use Bad Word for Good Cause.” The video features five angry girls, ages 6 to 13, who express outrage at society’s sexist treatment of girls and women while decked out in princess attire.

F-Bombs for FeminismThe video opens with the girls sweetly cooing, “Pretty!” while posing in their gowns and tiaras. But three seconds later, they switch gears and shout: “What the fuck? I’m not some pretty fuckin’ helpless princess in distress. I’m pretty fuckin’ powerful and ready for success. So what is more offensive? A little girl saying ‘fuck,’ or the fucking unequal and sexist way society treats girls and women?”

As the video progresses, the girls review the ongoing issues of inequality, systematic discrimination, and sexual violence faced by women in the U.S. They pepper these facts with more f-bombs, of course.

This combination of pretty pink princesses and relentless use of the f-word is potent and clearly calculated to provoke. And provoke it has: For the shock value alone, everybody’s talking about this video.

But in all the conversation about whether the video is offensive, we need to also consider the ad from a media literate perspective and consider FCKH8’s corporate interests.Was it right for FCKH8 to script a slew of swear words into an advertisement featuring young children? Read More

WATCH: Rebecca Hains discusses THE PRINCESS PROBLEM on Fox News

On Monday, I had a great conversation with Shiri Spear of FOX 25 News about my new book, The Princess Problem.  I was glad to answer her questions about my book and to share a few tips on raising empowered girls, as well.

A link to the FOX News video and a transcript are below. Enjoy!

Rebecca Hains - Fox 25 - 10-6-14

VIDEO: Guiding Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years| FOX 25 Boston

Guiding Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years

SHIRI: From the movies they love to the fairy tales they read, a little girl’s love affair with princesses has been going on since, well—since once upon a time, a very long time ago, in a land far, far away. But some wonder if we are creating a little bit of a princess problem, so we’ve got Rebecca Hains here. She’s a professor at Salem State and also author of the new book The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years. Read More