Dr. Rebecca Hains

VIDEO: Rebecca Hains discusses “Let Toys Be Toys” on Fox & Friends

LetToysBeToys-Fox+Friends

Is getting rid of stereotypical aisles of “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys” a good idea?

20130908-133214.jpgSabrina Schaeffer of the Independent Women’s Forum and I appeared live on Fox & Friends to debate that very question. I spoke in favor of de-gendering the toy aisles, while Sabrina argued in favor of the current system.

The impetus for this discussion: A new organization called Let Toys Be Toys recently convinced several major toy retailers in the UK and Ireland, including Toys R Us, to stop organizing their aisles by gender. The stores have pledged to reorganize their toys based on theme and function, instead–a major accomplishment.

The Fox & Friends video and a transcript are below. Read More

LISTEN: Rebecca Hains discusses “FYI (If you’re a teenage girl)” on The Shift with Mike Eckford

UPDATED Sept. 6, 2013 at 9:40 a.m.:

Last night, I was a guest on CKNW AM Vancouver’s The Shift with Mike Eckford, chatting about my response to Mrs. Hall, raising compassionate sons, and the sexualization of teenage girls.

My segment is embedded below; just click on the 8:22 mark to find it.

Thanks for listening! Read More

A response to Mrs. Hall: Teaching our boys respect and self-control

FYI (if you’re a teenage girl)“* came up in my facebook news feed a lot yesterday. It’s being shared with such enthusiasm that I was eager to read it. I hoped its advice for teenage girls about their facebook activities would live up to the hype.

But instead, when I read it, my heart sank. Although the post is well-intended, the author, Kimberly Hall, makes a tremendous error: She places the responsibility for her teenage boys’ sexual desires on teenage girls, rather than on the boys themselves.

For example, addressing her sons’ female friends, she writes: “Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it?  You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?”

Well, no. I’m sure that her sons’ female friends don’t want to be thought of only in a sexual way, considering that they are complex human beings with a range of feelings, ideas and interests. So why ask these questions? Doing so places the blame for her sons’ thoughts and desires squarely on the shoulders of the teenage girls they know–dodging the fact that boys are responsible for how they choose (yes, choose) to think of the girls in their lives.

I suspect that Hall’s post has gone viral because so many people are concerned with teenage girls’ self-presentation on facebook. We’ve all seen it: teenage girls trying to mimic the scantily-clad celebrities and models plastered on billboards and magazine covers. And naturally, people want to do something about it. After all, the implications of our media culture’s sexualization of girls is serious: As the American Psychological Association has noted, when girls learn that our culture values their appearances above all else about them, they may in turn learn to sexualize themselves–and the impact of self-sexualization on girls’ self-esteem and self-image is devastating. The damage of thinking of oneself first and foremost as an object can take a lifetime to undo.

Furthermore, once a photograph is online, it’s essentially impossible to remove it from the internet. So when girls place sexually provocative “selfies” of themselves to facebook, it’s a huge issue. For example, the photos can be used by bullies to shame the girls–and they can resurface years later, too, causing myriad problems in their lives.

But these are not problems that would affect Mrs. Hall’s sons. They would affect the girls themselves. Furthermore, the sexual double-standard in our society is so pervasive that any “sexy” photos the boys may post of themselves are unlikely to cause them similar harm.

We are living in a post-Steubenville world (which I wrote about here). We have seen graphic evidence of the results of the sexual objectification of young girls, and of the victim-blaming mindset–that a girl who presents herself in a sexy way “deserves it.”

Therefore, for parents like Mrs. Hall who are concerned about their sons’ well-being, their best course is not to focus on shaming girls and controlling their behavior.

Instead, we must teach our sons compassion. Help them understand that girls’ self-sexualization is prompted by a toxic culture.

We must teach our sons to always respect girls. Help them see them girls as complex human beings, like themselvesnever simply as sex objects.

Our boys MUST be taught these lessons. They must know that when a girl engages in sexually provocative behavior, her behavior does not give boys a “pass” to dwell exclusively on the girls’ sexuality. Nor does it entitle them to expect sexual favors from girls, or to pressure them sexually in any way.

Contrary to popular opinion, boys are not animals. They can practice self-control. And yes, it takes practice. But if we focus on raising our sons, rather than chastising other people’s daughters, it’s possible.

*Note: I link to the cached version of Kimberly Hall’s article instead of the current version because several days after my post was published, she edited her blog post. One of her edits was to the sentences I quoted. A full discussion with more details may be found on my facebook page.

UPDATE, Sept. 6, 2013 at 9:40 a.m.:

Last night, I was a guest on CKNW AM Vancouver’s The Shift with Mike Eckford, chatting about my response to Mrs. Hall, raising compassionate sons, and the sexualization of teenage girls.

My segment is embedded below; just click on the 8:22 mark to find it.

Thanks for listening!

For further reading: 

  • The APA’s report on the sexualization of girls may be found here.

Rebecca Hains is a professor at Salem State University. Follow her on facebook and twitter.

“Princess park rangers” and “Space princesses”: Because gender stereotypes are inescapable, even on vacation.

The school year is starting. Families are returning home from their vacation travels with souvenirs and many fond memories; children are eager to tell their classmates what they did on their summer vacations.

But unfortunately, many families’ travels brought them face-to-face with the hyper-gendered marketing that now targets children so relentlessly: Princess culture is infiltrating educational, historic sites–even though it has no business there.

For example, last week, Lauren visited Pearl Harbor with her family. She sent me snapshots from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center of “Princess Park Ranger” vests for girls, and “Junior Ranger” vests for boys:

Princess vs Junior Ranger vests

Pink “Princess Park Ranger” vests for the girls; neutral “Junior Ranger” vests for the boys. Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. Photo by Lauren Huntoon – @laurenhuntoon

"Princess Ranger" vests. Photo by Lauren Huntoon - @laurenhuntoon

“Princess Ranger” vests. Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. Photo by Lauren Huntoon – @laurenhuntoon

Lauren asked a clerk for more information about the vests, which retail for $30 and come in children’s sizes XS – L. She learned that the visitor center began stocking these vests about three months ago. Since then, they have been really popular: “Little girls love them,” the clerk told Lauren. “They put them on and they think they are princesses.”

But–what the heck is a princess park ranger, and why do marketers believe little girls need to feel like they are princesses at all times?

There is no need for gift shops attached to educational and historic sites to capitalize on little girls’ princess fantasies. It’s a safe bet that none of the park rangers at Pearl Harbor wear bright pink vests and tiaras. Here’s a thought: Instead of engaging girls in the shallowest possible way, with pink princess kitsch that has nothing to do with the site or its history, why not engage them authentically, with products reflecting the history of the site or the region? (Queen Liliuokalani shirts, perhaps?)

Sadly, the princessification underway at the Pearl Harbor Visitor’s Center is not unusual. Last summer, I wrote about how the Boston Museum of Science’s gift shop had recoated the gender-neutral concept of science with sparkly, pink, purple nonsense about princesses and other stereotypically girly traits. Soon afterwards, I heard from another vacationer whose family encountered an entire wall of pink princessy souvenirs at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex, under the label of “NASAGIRL.” A glance around the area was informative for its emphasis on the pink, the pretty, and the sparkly:

NASAGIRL at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex. Photo by Kyle Barger - @kebarger

NASAGIRL at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex. Photo by Kyle Barger – @kebarger

NASAGIRL section at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex. Photo by Kyle Barger - @kebarger

NASAGIRL section at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex. Photo by Kyle Barger – @kebarger

And what do NASAGIRLs aspire to be? Are there science-oriented toys for them to purchase? T-shirts boasting about their intellect and prowess?

No–NASA apparently isn’t invested in products that would boost girls’ self-esteem while they learn about science. Instead, they deliver up “Space Princess” merchandise–which is so odd, really, as I still really don’t understand what that moniker even means. (If someone called me a space princess, wouldn’t it be an insult–a way of saying I’m a girly space-shot?)

"Space Princess" mugs at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex. Photo by Kyle Barger - @kebarger

“Space Princess” mugs at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex. Photo by Kyle Barger – @kebarger

We can glean some information about what makes a “space princess” by considering the other merchandise available. Apparently, space princesses like Hello Kitty–an adorable, pink-loving, girly-girl icon–for Kitty gets an entire section of the NASAGIRL area:

An entire wall of Hello Kitty merch at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex. Photo by Kyle Barger - @kebarger

An entire wall of Hello Kitty merch at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex. Photo by Kyle Barger – @kebarger

20120718-DSC_0057

Hello Kitty needs her space. Just like a moody tween. Photo by Kyle Barger – @kebarger

Below Hello Kitty is the NASA Space Crew Barbie. As far as dolls go, I have to say that this one is pretty cool–I would definitely give one of these to the girls in my life rather than so many of the other dolls on the market! I also am pleased to see that her crew uniform is in a realistic blue, not bright pink. (Thank goodness.)

20120718-DSC_0056

NASA Space Crew Barbie, encased in pink packaging. Photo by Kyle Barger – @kebarger

Despite the “win” for Barbie, the section as a whole is depressing, limiting girls to shallow pink-loving princesses–who, likely being stereotypically moody tweens, “need their space.”

What can we make of all this princess marketing? From a marketing perspective, this is true laziness: Marketers, unsure of how to engage with girls in authentic terms, are using “princess” as shorthand. It means, “Hey, girls–over here! This is for you. Buy this.” Therefore, “Space” + “princess” = space stuff for girls.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. For example, during my family’s trip to San Francisco last week, we did not encounter princess marketing at The Exploratorium: Their gift shop categorized items by age and interest, not by gender.(Even the Exploratorium’s online gift shop is set up in a similarly gender-neutral way: their major product categories include “make,” “play,” “read,” “see and hear,” and “wear,” rather than the ubiquitous “boys” and “girls” segregation by sex.)

And, guess what? The Exploratorium gift shop was filled with children who were excited by its offerings. No one seemed confused by the lack of gender-based directives. I didn’t see any children scratching their heads, wondering which products were meant for them. It was clear: like the exhibits at the Exploratorium, these products were for everybody.

But clearly, our experience is in danger of becoming the exception to the rule. Why is it so hard for gift shops, ESPECIALLY those attached to educational institutions, to wrap their heads around the idea that kids are kids–not diametrically opposed “opposite sexes”? Boys and girls have more similarities than differences between them. If an institution’s mission is to educate and inform children, they should reach out to all kids with their souvenir offerings. Engaging in the divide-and-conquer tactics used by mainstream retailers is unnecessary–and insulting.

Tell the gift shops what you think:

—-
Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University in Salem, Mass. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Stride Rite’s gendered marketing persists. But why, and what can we do about it?

Last April, I posted about how Stride Rite positions girls as pretty and boys as active. After seeing their in-store advertisements and reviewing their product descriptions online, I concluded that according to Stride Rite,

girls are meant to be looked at, so their play shoes are a route to prettiness, while boys are meant to be active, so their play shoes are made for play.

Last week, while doing some back-to-school shopping with her young daughters, Margot Magowan of Reel Girl encountered similar advertising at her local Stride Rite store in San Francisco. She was deeply disappointed in how the brand perpetuated the idea that girls are dramatically different from boys–sparkling princesses versus powerful fighters. And she linked back to my post from last year to offer context, showing that Stride Right’s hyper-gendered marketing is business as usual for the brand.

Her blog post about it struck quite the chord: The Daily Mail, the Huffington Post, and Jezebel all picked up the story, quoting Margot and myself on the topic. Margot also was interviewed by Fox and Friends.

As Margot put it on Fox and Friends: “Feet are not that different. Boys and girls, especially four-year-olds, have basically the same shoes and basically the same feet.” So why such a strong and stereotypical gender segregation?

The Daily Mail connected Stride Rite’s marketing to broader trends; for example, they cited research by Elizabeth Sweet, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, whose research suggests that gender segregating and stereotyping of toys is becoming worse with time–so much so that “the world of toys looks a lot more like 1952 than 2012.”

Meanwhile, Jezebel offered a characteristically entertaining approach to the subject, writing:

This just in: being a child and taking steps to propel you from one area to another is a gendered act. Boys walk; girls sparkle and twirl and make princess wishes. Boys also crouch and pretend to shoot webs out of their hands, because that sort of thing is fun when you are a boy. (The only time that girls crouch is when they are picking up face-up pennies in their never ending quest to make a lot of wishes.)

On the other hand, the Huffington Post coverage offered a fairly straightforward summary of our blog posts, but the comment thread was often infuriating:

  • Some commenters were defensive, arguing that there’s nothing wrong with being a girly-girl who likes princess products. This is true, but the argument misses the point: The problem is when girls are ONLY offered girly-girl/princess items. There are so many ways to be a girl, and marketing like Stride Rite’s reduces girls to ONE form of girlishness only.
  • Other commenters defended corporations like Stride Rite and blamed parents for the gender stereotyping of childhood, claiming it is the parents’ job to raise their children properly. This, too, is true, but also misses the point: even the most devoted parents are hard-pressed to fight back against the billion-dollar marketing machine that is so invested in separating the boys from the girls. (After all, fostering a separation between the sexes is a great way to sell twice as many products.)

Inspired by that comment thread, Lori Day of the Huffington Post wrote a terrific piece about the media’s shameless peddling of gender stereotypes to children. Answering the question of why this kind pf marketing persists, she explains:

A lot of adults are laughing all the way to the bank as our kids pass under the bus. The strategy is simple: convince kids of both genders that they are very different from each other and that they need completely different products with different colors and different labels, and they will naturally only want what they’ve been told is “for” them and what has been spoon fed to them since birth. Parents will then dole out double the money buying separate products for their sons and daughters, ensuring that the retailers and marketers double their profits and double down on the stereotyped messaging. And why wouldn’t they? It’s brilliant. It’s lucrative. It’s also a breathtaking act of psychological vandalism against our children. Media shapes perception, and perception becomes reality.

This point about the psychological effects of stereotyped marketing is important. There’s only so much we as parents can do to counteract the sea of stereotypes in which our children are swimming. How can we call for change in the way marketers and media approach our children? What can we do to say, “Enough”?

Well, the Brave Girls Alliance (I’m on their advisory board) plans to speak back to marketers by taking out a billboard in Times Square:

Image

On that billboard, we will broadcast messages about what we want for our children for marketers and media execs to see. Those who donate will be able to include their own messages.

You can support the campaign and talk back about gender stereotypes and other issues by visiting the Brave Girls Want Indiegogo page.
——

Rebecca Hains is a professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and twitter.

Royal Baby, Royal Body Watch: Fat-shaming post-partum celebrities

Today, CNN published a photo to Facebook of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, leaving the hospital with their newborn baby boy. When it came up in my news feed, I was aghast–not at anything in the photo, but at the comments visible beneath it.

“Why is she so fat?”

“I’m sorry, but thats a BIG post partum tummy.”

“i think they forgot anther baby.”

“is she expecting twins?Its like something still breathing in her belly”

“is she pregnant again?”

“Kate still looks pregnant. is the a second baby?”

“Why she still look prego?”

“Whose kid is he holding? It’s obvious that skank is still pregnant.”

How classy.

Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly), Twitter featured more of the same:

“She’s still fat. #KateMiddleTON”

“OMG Kate middleton is fat still!”

“Why is Kate Middleton still fat? What’s left in there?”

“Kate Middleton still looks pregnant. Is that normal? I know there’s ‘baby fat’ after bt it lks like she’s got anthr1 in there.”

As was the case with the criticisms of Marion Bartoli’s looks when she won Wimbledon, these comments about Kate Middleton’s body demonstrate our culture’s misogyny. If a woman doesn’t live up to Western society’s near-impossible beauty ideals–even if she just had a baby the day before–it’s open season on her. Let the potshots commence.

(Even the royal website remarked upon Kate’s body in a post today, mentioning in passing that she “still had a bump under her summer dress“–because, apparently, it’s incongruous enough with her usual appearance to be worth mentioning.)

Considering how many celebrities hide post-partum until they can “flaunt their weight loss,” and because many people seem to have no idea what a post-partum body looks like, it’s terrific that Kate appeared publicly. Her public appearance can be read as an act of self-confidence. But how sad is it that simply appearing in public with her new baby would require self-confidence in the first place? It should be such a simple thing–and yet it isn’t.

Instead, I am continuously disappointed that women’s bodies are under surveillance, endlessly policed, subjected to the harshest scrutiny.

As a friend pointed out in a reply to me on facebook: “Remarking on Kate’s body is unnecessary not only at this time, but ever.”

Rebecca Hains is a professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood fights to save Tooth Fairy from corporate makeover

For children, losing one’s baby teeth is an important rite of passage. It marks a child’s departure from early childhood and entry into middle childhood–a time when, among other milestones, a child’s belief in magic begins to recede.

Because of this, there’s something precious about the myth of the tooth fairy. Our children’s belief that the tooth fairy is real is a sign that they are still little, that they’re not growing up too quickly, that they’re still innocent. Children love the strange idea that a tooth will be whisked away in the night by a fairy, with money or a small token left in exchange: It’s a fun, harmless fantasy.

Unlike the holidays of Christmas and Easter, which also have their own beloved fantasy figures attached to them, there is no predicting when an individual tooth will fall out. Waiting for a loose tooth to wiggle its way out takes patience–and once it’s out, it can be nerve-wracking for a child to keep it safe until the tooth fairy can collect it.

Perhaps because losing a tooth is such a personal, individual event, it has not been commercialized in the way that collective holidays and their fantasy figures have been. In the U.S., for example, millions of Christian families spend months gearing up for Christmas, anticipating the joy and the gifts it will bring. Marketers do everything they can to encourage people to spend a lot on the holidays; sales and specials encouraging purchases seem to begin earlier every year, and a fairly uniform image of Santa Claus is widely used in these promotions.

But with children’s teeth on their own individual timetables, marketers have never tried to monetize this milestone… Until now.

Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood reports that The Real Tooth Fairies, LLC is working hard to colonize the tooth fairy myth. Founded in 2011 by seasoned toy industry executives, The Real Tooth Fairies takes the open-ended, family-centered tooth fairy tradition and subjects it to a heavy-handed marketing makeover.

The way its marketing team sees it, “Each tooth is really a holiday moment”–in the same way that Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day and Halloween are holiday moments: moments that can be commercialized, packaged, and sold to consumers. In fact, they explain, “It’s just a massive opportunity.”

In the world of the Real Tooth Fairies, there is not just one tooth fairy; there are six tooth fairies who have been coronated by a tooth fairy queen. Why six? The brand is copying the formula for success experienced by other popular girls’ brands, such as Disney Princess, the Disney Fairies, Bratz Dolls, and the Spice Girls. Like the characters from those marketing success stories, each fairy has a different look: their hair color and skin tones vary–but not their body types; they all fit the Barbie mold. They also have different interests, ranging from animals to math to rock music–though without fail, each one of them has a handsome boyfriend. And a tiara.

Follow Rebecca Hains on Twitter or Facebook

In addition to these seven characters, the brand also serves up a short, stout, eyeglass-wearing, hairy-legged “wannabe” tooth fairy called “Stepella” who, like Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, is clearly meant as a counterpoint to the tall, pretty, real fairies. Unfortunately, her existence perpetuates a negative stereotype that (like so much about this brand) is not age appropriate, and which our girls don’t need: She suggests that any girl who doesn’t achieve a stereotypically beautiful appearance is unworthy of love and acceptance–unwanted. Although the brand claims to promote kindness, Stepella is excluded from the group.

Real girls, called “Earthies” on the Real Fairies site, are expected to identify with one specific “real fairy” from the main group of six, and then make requests on the web site for things that their parents will have to pay for — everything from personalized letters from a favorite fairy (starting at $0.99) to birthday party packages (costing $379).

So much for the tooth fairy myth’s innocent simplicity.

In fact, the brand grafts together components from nearly every popular girls’ brand: fashion (Barbie and Bratz), music (Hannah Montana), fairies (Tinkerbell and friends), royalty and romance (Disney Princesses), a pro-social “kindness” message (Monster High), and so on. It’s a transparent effort to push every button possible in hopes the brand would sell.

Susan Linn agrees with this assessment. “It’s like an amalgam of the worst trends in the toy industry,” she said. “It contains every known money-making ploy in a pseudo-sweet ambiance, but it’s full of gender stereotyping and sexualization.”

Although the brand was launched in December 2011, it has recently grown dramatically in popularity: in April 2013, it boasted 7.1 million unique viewers. It has already been funded with $3.9 million. With these promising viewing trends, the owners want to raise an additional $4 million to expand it; they’re seeking to add a boys’ section to the site (with time-traveling action-adventure elves, because apparently fairies are too “girly” for boys) and get licensed products into stores–so they created a pitch video for potential investors.

The company’s pitch video recently came to the attention of CCFC. Upon seeing it Linn, was disgusted. “The pitch to investors epitomizes the worst of the toy industry,” Linn said. “They’re cloaking themselves as doing something good for children, when really it’s about making money.”

Watch the pitch:

[Edited to add: The Real Tooth Fairies, LLC filed a copyright claim so that YouTube would pull the video. In response, the CCFC made a transcript available here.]

While corporations often feign that their product is meant to do something good for children–e.g., Monster High’s claim that it teaches kindness, which The Real Tooth Fairies, LLC has also copied–there’s something particularly problematic about the way it is playing out here. Linn points out that the tooth fairy has always been in the public domain, and beliefs about the tooth fairy have been very diverse. Families have enjoyed devising their own tooth fairy rituals for generations–and, Linn fears, The Real Tooth Fairy, LLC hopes to put an end to that.

“This is a major assault on an area of childhood that has been unbranded,” Linn explained. “It’s an assault on the imagination. Families have always made up their own tooth fairy rituals, and it’s egregious to stultify children’s imaginations in that way.”

To help CCFC save the tooth fairy, visit their web page or sign their petition.

—-
Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University in Salem, Mass. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

When women look strong: The sexism at Wimbledon

“Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘you’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight?'”

These words were uttered by the BBC’s John Inverdale on Radio Five Live when Marion Bartoli won Wimbledon 2013. Bartoli had just proven herself one of the top tennis players in the world–a woman of strength, skill, and athleticism. But instead of comparing Bartoli’s win with other female tennis players’, Inverdale took stock of whether she was as beautiful as other tennis players.

Reducing women to their physical appearances, no matter their accomplishments, is misogyny. It undercuts women’s achievements and suggests that if you are female, nothing is more important than your sex appeal.

Unfortunately, this misogyny is everywhere: As the media spotlight focused on Bartoli, hoards of viewers took to social media to complain about Bartoli’s appearance. The twitter stream about Bartoli was truly ugly and filled with obscenities.

The tamest of the twitter comments said that she “didn’t deserve to win because she is ugly,” that she is a “pig,” and that she “looks like she’s a cross between a man and an ape.” Why did so many comments fixate on suggesting Bartoli was an animal and/or a man? Well, as Judith Butler argues, femininity is not naturally occurring; it is a performance. It requires artifice and careful planning: pretty makeup, coiffed hair, stylish clothing, and a body that is controlled–slim and slight but curvy. In today’s world, people expect that any self-respecting woman will make being feminine a priority at all times. (Think about how many women won’t leave the house without makeup on, lest people judge them negatively.)

Bartoli, on the tennis court without makeup, was not performing femininity. She was being athletic: running, sweating, driving her body to function at its peak. She looked strong because she is strong–and because our culture associates strength with masculinity, it’s really hard to appear strong and feminine at the same time. Hence, the ape/pig/man comments.

Apparently, then, Bartoli’s appearance was an affront to countless people because a woman in the spotlight who does not perform femininity is shocking. It’s a sad commentary on our culture that when a woman is confident in her natural appearance, she is regarded as unnatural, unfeminine, masculine.

This is why the spectacle of Bartoli’s body in its natural state, devoid of artifice, was judged and roundly condemned. We’ve become so used to female public figures being heavily styled, and always dramatically retouched when appearing in print media, that we have deluded ourselves. We believe that they–not the rest of the women in our world–are the normal ones. Unlike fictional strong women (think Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Charlie’s Angels), whose physiques are so slight they might blow away in a strong gale, Bartoli’s physical strength is evident. She, herself, is a force of nature.

We need more women like Bartoli in the public eye. Bartoli is a perfectly normal looking woman, but she is exceptional. Her body is a tool. It is strong. It is powerful. It is not decorative. She uses it to do tennis, and there is no reason for her to be apologetic about that. She proves that women’s bodies have tremendous value even when they are not primarily decorative. Women can brim with strength and athleticism, and look unapologetically human, and win events on the global stage.

I’d like to see posters of Marion Bartoli on every little girl’s wall. She’s exactly the kind of role model that we need.

For further reading: #Bartoli and #Sexualization

—-
Rebecca Hains is a media studies professor at Salem State University in Salem, Mass. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Redesigned Merida? #NotBuyingIt

Dog holding a pencil and redesigned Merida admits: "I have no idea what I'm doing"

Just my little contribution to the “I have no idea what I’m doing” meme … enjoy!

P.S. Many thanks to Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss for including me in her Boston.comment piece here. My statement:

Disney executives’ response to the Merida petition was tone deaf: They stated that because the character’s redesign is only temporary, people shouldn’t be concerned. But the changes to Merida completely undercut a character who serves as a role model, a counterpoint to the pretty princess trope–selling girls short in the process. Disney has failed to acknowledge that Merida means something special to parents and their daughters. (And their argument that Merida herself wanted to “dress up” for the coronation is simply insulting.)

Disney responds to Merida petition, missing the point

Recently, Disney released a new, 2D image of Merida. This prompted outrage because the character’s design was altered, for no good reason. The new Merida has been “prettified”–made more conventionally attractive in a way that undercuts the character’s strengths, to the detriment of the children who view her as a role model.

In response, A Mighty Girl released a petition to Disney that outlines the reasons why the redesign is problematic. The petition culminates with a request: to pull the new 2D Merida and restore the character to her original form.

Yesterday, Disney executives went on record regarding the petition. They’re refusing to retract the new Merida, saying she’s only temporary–and their comments show they’ve missed the point.

The L.A. Times reports on the refusal to retract the new Merida:

Disney has no intention of abandoning its sexier version of the Scottish archer.

The modified Merida was created specifically to welcome the character into the company’s princess collection. And according to a Disney representative on Wednesday, the image of Merida that sparked this maelstrom is part of a limited run of products including backpacks and pajamas. But images of the original Merida will also be available on consumer products, the Disney representative said.

But no one ever doubted that the original Merida would still be available on products; the objection is to the new Merida redesign. Full stop. The fact that it’s “part of a limited run” doesn’t make it any less problematic.

A Disney representative expanded on their stance in an exclusive interview with fan site Inside the Magic, calling the controversy “blown out of proportion.” This makes clear that Disney execs either don’t truly understand the objections, or are willfully ignoring them. According to Inside the Magic:

[Disney] had no intention of changing who Merida is. The artwork that has circulated online depicting the new 2D rendering of Merida was intended to be used only on a “limited line of products” as a “one-time stylized version.” They noted Disney uses different styles of art on characters regularly, changing them to fit their needs at the time.

And in this case, that time was the coronation. Noting that Merida wanted to “dress up” for her coronation ceremony, the new 2D artwork was created, first debuting on the official invitation that was sent out to the media.

So, Disney’s justification for making the change is that Merida herself wanted to dress up for her coronation ceremony. This seems disingenuous: Merida is a fictional character who doesn’t want anything; arguing that it was her choice is pretty insulting. Besides, at the actual coronation in the Magic Kingdom, Merida was dressed in attire more closely resembling her outfit from the film than from the new 2D art–so this really isn’t about the coronation.

And where is this “limited line of products” to be sold? At Target, according to Inside the Magic (which Amy Jussel points is hardly “limited.” Have a look at Target’s main page for the Disney Princesses:Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 12.04.24 PM

It’s all about the new Merida, and it features rather frightening products, like this doll with spindly space alien arms (h/t Elizabeth Sweet):14329579_121213163000

Ugh.

In their exclusive piece about Disney’s response, Inside the Magic concludes:

Looking forward, [Disney execs] could not say exactly how she would be depicted alongside the other Disney Princesses other than to again repeat that this “one-time stylized version” was only intended for the coronation and some products, hoping to create some calm in the communities who are up in arms over the matter.

This brings us to the crux of the matter: If Disney hopes that the girl empowerment community and our allies will be placated because 2D Merida is only temporary, they’re missing the point. People are up in arms because the changes to Merida — even if temporary in nature — completely undercut the character, selling girls short.

Let’s review the chief problems:

– They took a strong character and weakened her.

– They took a natural beauty and glamorized her.

– They took a youthful 16-year-old and made her look like she’s 22.

– They disrespected the fact that Merida is a princess who goes against the grain, eschewing the trappings of being a princess in favor of being an individual.

By squeezing a character so widely regarded as a barrier-breaking role model into a cookie cutter mold, Disney’s Consumer Products Division sent the message that in the end, looks are all that matter.

In short, if Disney’s response is, “Don’t worry, folks; this new Merida is only temporary!”, they’ve missed the point. Let’s call on Disney to address their poor decision to redesign Merida in the first place–however temporary and “limited” that change might be–and reassure us that they will treat this character with integrity in the future.

Sign the Change.org petition here. And sign the MoveOn.org petition here.

—–

P.S. I hope A Mighty Girl will consider updating the petition to a) include Target, which is apparently to be the main retailer of products featuring the new 2D Merida; and b) respond to Disney’s response, outlined above.

—–

To read my previous posts on Merida, click here.

To read my previous posts on the Disney Princess brand, click here.

——

Do you like this post? Follow Rebecca Hains on facebook or twitter.

About the author: Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is an associate professor of communications at Salem State University, where she teaches advertising and media studies. Her new book, Confronting Cinderella: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, will be released by Source Books next year.