TMF: White-washing Doc McStuffins right out of the underwear aisle

It’s been a while since I wrote a Tired Marketing Fail, but I think this may be my most outraged. The other day I was shopping for underwear for my four-year-old, a self-identified girl. My kid likes superheroes (which we’ve already parsed here), princesses, ponies, and yes, Doc McStuffins. And here is where we met with disappointment.

Perhaps because she already unconsciously benefits from white privilege or because of her developmental age, the draw for my kid these days is gender. She’s a girl and she likes to identify with other girls. She likes to hear stories about girls in book, TV, and movies — which is not always easy to find as cisgender male outnumber cisgender female characters three to one in family films while just 31 percent of central characters in children’s books are female. She likes to pretend to be different kinds of girls, whether they are princesses, firefighters, doctors, or Bat Girl Princess (Bat Girl mask and super powers with a princess dress, obviously).

So there we were in the children’s underwear aisle at Target and my kid spots the multi-pack featuring Doc McStuffins. But unlike the Frozen, Barbie, or Hello Kitty-themed packs, outside of the toddler section, poor Doc gets stuffed in with Sophia the First (is there a princess franchise more vacuous?) and Minnie Mouse. That’s right, in a sea of merchandising with white faces, the singularly female and black Doc McStuffins can’t even get her own package of panties — despite the fact that the character has mass cross-over appeal among different genders and races.

Copyright: The Tired Feminist

Is it just me or does it look like Doc McStuffins barely exists in this pack of girls’ underwear?

But as “DrMamaEsq” wrote on BlogHer last month:

People want to believe that young children do not see color. It seemingly provides us with the opportunity to intervene on young minds before racial stereotypes take hold. If young children do not see color, then we can provide multi-cultural materials to promote diversity, even when our personal lives—where we live, the conversations in which we participate, with whom we educate our kids—fail to reflect the racial equality and diversity we say we value.

What is true is that kids do “see” color because it is embedded into the very fabric of who we are as a nation. But kids, especially white children, are taught to ignore what they see, which is very different than not seeing color at all.

Indeed, I found myself in an unexpected teachable moment standing there in the underwear aisle. I could buy the multi-pack, which only had a couple of pairs of Doc panties mixed in with other non-Doc characters, or I could show my white child why this was messed up. Tired as I was — because when are we not tired, feminists? — I chose the latter. Because the fact that I can weigh this as an elective conversation is a manifestation of my own privilege. Let’s face it, parents of children of color are confronted with situations like these and worse (hello, Ferguson) on a daily basis. If I want to be something more than a suburban progressive with white-guilt, I need to be a part of the solution and that includes educating my kid about inequity and racism in our society. (Something parents of white kids need to be taking more seriously, because Ferguson.)

While I probably won’t be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for my explanation of the inherent inequality represented in that particular underwear aisle, I succeeded in pointing out that it wasn’t fair that Doc McStuffins did not get her own package, complete with multiple characters from the show, just like Frozen, My Little Ponies, Hello Kitty, Spiderman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Barbie. I told her it wasn’t right that Doc McStuffins wasn’t treated the same as the other popular characters and I tried to help her explore why it was that she might be treated differently. I’m not sure she completely understood the idea of race, but she very clearly could see that Doc McStuffins was not treated fairly in the world of the characters she loved. My kid was visibly saddened by this and she talked about it the rest of the night. She still points it out every time we see packs of undies, asking, “When will they make more Doc McStuffins panties?”

When, indeed, kid.

Copyright: The Tired Feminist

It doesn’t look like the Frozen characters are having any trouble getting their due.

Part of the blame must rest with children’s underwear manufacturer Handcraft, which has obviously chosen to offer mixed-character packs for older kids, while offering all-Doc packs for toddler sizes. So the designs exist. The market is there. And they are just willfully choosing to NOT give customers — KIDS — what they want.

Another portion of the blame has to land with the big-box retailers — Target, Walmart, and others — who do not push for more diversity from products offered by vendors. I guarantee that a company as large as Target or Walmart has the capitalistic muscle to nudge a vendor to offer whatever products customers are pining for. So once again, we the customers, have to put the pressure on retailers to give us what we actually want. (Something that’s been a trend of late, see: Target’s girls’ sizing problem.)

I’m so sick of having to do this!

But, as the Once-ler says in The Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

So if you agree that Doc McStuffins is getting the short end of the stick — that the character and the diversity it stands for is being marginalized in the marketplace despite product demand — then I encourage you to share those thoughts with underwear manufacturer Handcraft, and the two largest retailers selling Handcraft products Target and Walmart!

To make things easy, here are some sample tweets and messages you can send RIGHT NOW!

@Target Give girls an entire pack of Doc McStuffins panties! Tell Handcraft to give Doc her due! #docmcstuffins cc @Disney

@Target Stop white-washing the girls’ panty aisle! #DocMcStuffins should not have to share pack with Sophia and Minnie! cc @Disney

@Target Frozen, Barbie, Hello Kitty … all the white characters get a whole pack of undies, why not #DocMcstuffins ? #fem2

@Walmart Give girls an entire pack of Doc McStuffins panties! Tell Handcraft to give Doc her due! #docmcstuffins cc @Disney

@Walmart Stop white-washing the girls’ panty aisle! #DocMcStuffins should not have to share pack with Sophia and Minnie! cc @Disney

@Walmart Frozen, Barbie, Hello Kitty … all the white characters get a whole pack of undies, why not #DocMcstuffins ? #fem2

Handcraft does not appear to be on twitter but they do have a contact form on their website. Here’s a suggested message:

Despite the popularity of Disney’s Doc McStuffins’ characters across genders and races, parents are still left hunting for a full package of Doc McStuffins character underwear outside of the toddler aisle. Please start manufacturing girls’ and boys’ sized underwear in packages that are entirely Doc McStuffins — just as you do for Frozen, Barbie, and Hello Kitty. Kids like mine can’t wait to get them!

You can also leave messages on Facebook for Target and Walmart:

Despite the popularity of Disney’s Doc McStuffins’ characters across genders and races, parents are still left hunting for a full package of Doc McStuffins character underwear outside of the toddler aisle. Please ask Handcraft Manufacturing to start manufacturing girls’ and boys’ sized underwear in packages that are entirely Doc McStuffins — just as they do (and you offer) for Frozen, Barbie, Spiderman, and Hello Kitty. Kids like mine can’t wait to get them!

As always, I’ll be tweeting from @TheSinCitySiren and you can catch me on Facebook at The Tired Feminist!

‘Ponies are for girls’ … and so it begins …

Alright Tired Feminists, maybe you can help this mom out. I had a somewhat difficult conversation with my three-year-old last night. We were playing with some My Little Ponies and my kid told me that the ponies were all girls and that ponies were only for girls to play with. (Sigh) Are we really already at this conversation in my kid’s young life?

I’ve been sick for about 10 days straight (with a toddler who has also been sick for about 10 days straight), so my brain was not full-strength but it clicked into gear enough to think, “Oh, this is a teachable moment about gender.” I told my kiddo that ponies are for all people and that all people like to play with ponies. Dad chimed in, too, “I like ponies.”

The kid was adamant that I was absolutely wrong. “Ponies are for girls, mommy.” No matter how I tried to dice it, the kid was convinced that ponies were for girls only. I started to feel angry. Who has been telling my kid that some toys are for boys and some are for girls because that shit don’t fly in this Tired Feminist’s house? (Answer: Society, that’s who.) Finally, I remembered the “Brony” trend of men who love the My Little Pony show and ponies. I showed her the trailer for the documentary about said fan-culture. This seemed to (temporarily?) convince my kid that ponies can be for boys as well as girls.

This feels like winning the battle, not the war. After all, there will be other kinds of toys that will, unfortunately, elicit this sad conversation. And we didn’t even broach the idea that there are more than just (cisgender) “boys” and “girls.” Indeed, we go to church with several people who live their lives outside the gender binary and who are trusted adults in my kid’s life. Whether or not the kid has internalized this flexibility of gender identity is hard to tell but tonight’s conversation doesn’t fill me with confidence.

So, tell me what you’d do Tired Feminists? How do you approach the gender-binary conversation with your little ones? If we want to end the implicit misogyny of gender rules as well as issues like transphobia, we have to start by dismantling the harmful messages our kids get. It takes a village here, people, and I need some help from the village.

Goldie Blox FTW!

A while back I included Goldie Blox — a building toy created by a female engineer who was fed up with such things only being marketed to boys — on the Feminist Parent’s Gift Guide. This toy and the story behind it make my feminist parent heart go all aflutter!

I immediately ordered three — one each for all the little girls in my life. That was back in November, and it was back-ordered until MAY! Now, having just received my box full of Blox, the company has announced that they are infiltrating Toys R Us! But the store is skeptical of the appeal of engineering toys for girls. They have launched a viral video campaign and are urging parents and anyone who loves kids to support Goldie Blox and, more importantly, send a message to corporate America to STOP BOXING IN GIRLS! (And boxing in boys, for that matter.)

Please enjoy this amazing video that inspires even this 30-something kid-at-heart:

TMF: Apparel propaganda

Here we go again with another Tired Marketing Fail!

Exhibit A: “Daddy’s Cup Cake” pajamas sold in the girl’s section at Osh Kosh B’Gosh. Message: Girls need only be sweet and pretty!

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Exhibit B: From the same store. These toddler t-shirts were marketed to boys. While I think the little chick is cute, I wonder why toddlers would care about being chick magnets, as the obvious double-meaning is that chicks are girls. Toddlers, regardless of gender, have almost no sex hormones in their little bodies. That doesn’t kick in until puberty. So, this is just kind of a gross hyper-sexualization of boys, with an added layer of being sexist against girls (as the objects, aka “chicks”).

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We can do better!

Have you seen a TMF? Send ’em to me and maybe I’ll post yours in a future installment!

TMF: Spidey Sense tingling!

Copyright: The Tired Feminist

It doesn’t get more obviously gendered then the toddler underwear aisle.

Now this particular TMF: Tired Marketing Fail hits closer to home than most because Andrea Shindeldecker of Oak Park, Illinois is a mom after my own heart. You see, her five-year-old daughter LOVES Spiderman! Sure, other superheroes are great and all, but Spidey is tops. Sound like another little girl you’ve heard about on this blog before? Yep, as I’ve said before, my toddler is one of Spidey’s biggest fans. So, when this Change.org petition hit my inbox with the simple title Spiderman Underpants… well, you had me at Spiderman.

This TMF goes out to all the little girls who love superheroes and find no love at their local department stores. I’ll let Andrea explain:

Where to begin? My name is Andrea Shindeldecker and I’m many things, but as we say in the business, I am first and foremost, a mother. A mother to two amazing girls. I tell them every day that they are awesome and that they can accomplish whatever they strive for and that boys and girls, men and women are equal. The lessons they’re learning in the store aisles, reflect that my sincerest lesson, may hold a kernel of falsehood.

My first-born, Charlotte will be 5 in 2 days. She LOVES Spider-Man. All the superheros, but Spidey is her one, truest love. She has begged, since she was beginning to potty train, for Spidey undies. We even tried the boys. While buying out of the boys department works for t-shirts and pajamas, alas, not for underwear. Today, she got mad. She told me that it’s NOT FAIR. That she loves Spider-Man and knows more about him than lots of kids. It’s not fair that she can’t have the Spidey undies and it makes her SO MAD. If she’s not allowed to have something as silly as the underwear, what else can’t she have? A very good question indeed.

It’s not just Spider-Man that she can’t have. It happens with all the children’s characters. A boy who loves Dora or Cinderella, a little girl that wants both Thor and Foofa underwear. Every day, they’re told told that what they want is only for children of the opposite gender. It seems like such a small thing, but what we are telling small children, on their first MAJOR transition out of babyhood is that their favorite character is not for them. That they are wrong. What a terrible message. Kids can and do like whatever they want. Heroes and princesses alike, are for all children. And if a favored hero can be worn on a day they are nervous such as a recital or a first day at a new school; then why should we deny them that small comfort!? Why should we tell our kids they can only want the characters on one side of the store aisle?
It’s a big world, and we tell our kids they are free to be themselves and pursue their own paths. However, we tell them from a young age that they can’t be themselves, they can be pink or blue. I want my kids to feel free to embrace all their facets of their diamond personalities, to dream of being like strong heroes and courageous princesses, to be every color of the rainbow. I wish that for your kids too.

Let’s start with the underwear, and we’ll work our way out to the outermost layers of clothing.

This is a classic example of tired marketing failing our kids! Frankly, it’s a classic example of capitalism failing, if you get right down to it. I mean, isn’t the idea of capitalism all about supply and demand? Well, our little girls are demanding Spiderman underpants! Where are their Spiderman underpants?!

I must admit, when I first saw this email in my inbox, I got excited that maybe someone was finally making girl-style superhero underwear. Because my toddler is closing in on three-years-old and we’re right in the middle of the Age of Potty Training. And one of the things that delighted her was discovering she could have Spiderman underwear. I went ahead and bought her the boy-style briefs, but they proved uncomfortable for her and she would quickly take them off. And now, every time she looks at them, there’s a little disappointment on her cherubic face.

And just like that, my two-year-old has had her first experience with gender conformity. Society is telling her in not-so-subtle terms that Spidey is not for girls. Those underpants are not for you. And that fucking sucks!

And like Andrea, I have no desire to leave the boys out of this game because they are getting screwed here, too. If you’re little boy likes Dora the Explorer, Hello Kitty, princesses, or even just the color pink… fuggitaboutit. Not only will he face open mockery for his choice, but those girl-style panties won’t comfortably fit his needs anymore than the Spideys did for my daughter.

Honestly, we live in a time when comic book movies are enjoyed be people of all genders. I went to see Iron Man 2 one week before I gave birth to my daughter. That’s how much I wanted to see that movie! If you have ever been pregnant or known someone in the late-stages of pregnancy, you have to have some sense of the discomfort quotient I was willingly putting up with to see a comic book movie. (And I would do it again.)

So, if we all agree that girls and women can like comic books and watch comic book movies and be all up in the superhero business… then what’s the hold up on delivering what little girls want? And let’s not delivery this underpants-style equality in batches. Let’s de-segregate the underwear aisle!

And let’s not stop there… Because it ain’t any better in the diaper aisle:

Copyright: The Tired Feminist

Is there a reason why diapers are ONLY pink and blue in the major brands?

TMF: Bad Santa

So after all our hopes and dreams for a holiday season without gender traps disguised as gifts, my daughter got this:

Nooooo!

It is her first princess-themed item and I was equally dismayed that someone gave it to her as I was by her enthusiastic response to it. Clock it: At two-and-a-half years old, my daughter is indoctrinated in the princess culture of girlhood.

What to do? What to do?

I knew this day would come. And my plan is to not give it increased cache by banning it. I may lose pieces like this in then laundry from time to time, but I will only give it power if I villainize it.

In short: Bring on the age-appropriate talks about good female role models and that girls can do and be anything.

Distracting them with other entertainment helps. My daughter got two trains this Christmas and has already forgotten about this nightgown.

How about you? Get any lumps of coal in disguise?