‘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.

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?

Girl, you’ll be a woman soon

HuffPost Women has a new campaign called “The Moment I Knew I Was a Woman, Not a Girl” in which users submit videos chronicling their exile from Girlville. It’s an interesting question, especially considering how dangerous it feels to be Living While Female these days. And it strikes to the core of gender, really. Because it begs the question: If puberty and sex organs are not what make you a woman (and I would argue that they are not), then what does? What act, what experience, what emotional moment is it that turns a person into a woman?

In her book, Bossypants, Tina Fey offers a hilarious, and disturbingly on-point anecdote of when many realize they are, indeed, a woman:

When I was writing the movie Mean Girls—which hopefully is playing on TBS right now!—I went to a workshop taught by Rosalind Wiseman … [who] conducted a lot of self-esteem and bullying workshops with women and girls around the country. She did this particular exercise … with about two hundred grown women, asking them to write down the moment they first “knew they were a woman.” … The group of women was racially and economically diverse, but the answers had a very similar theme. Almost everyone first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude did something nasty to them. “I was walking home from ballet and a guy in a car yelled, ‘Lick me!’” “I was babysitting my younger cousins when a guy drove by and yelled, ‘Nice ass.’” There were pretty much zero examples like “I first knew I was a woman when my mother and father took me out to dinner to celebrate my success on the debate team.” It was mostly men yelling shit from cars. Are they a patrol sent out to let girls know they’ve crossed into puberty? If so, it’s working.

I experienced car creepery at thirteen. … I was walking home alone from school and I was wearing a dress. A dude drove by and yelled, “Nice tits.” Embarrassed and enraged, I screamed after him, “Suck my dick.” Sure, it didn’t make any sense, but at least I don’t hold in my anger.

Indeed, pop culture, like so many of our lived experiences, offers little in the way of a clear message — other than “nice tits,” of course. By the time a girl (I’m just going to say girl/woman from here on out, but please know I am not trying to exclude other gender identities or experiences) reaches puberty, you’ve already been introduced to the choose-your-own-adventure nature of the female experience:

  • Choose this door: Oh no! You’ve developed breasts before any of your female classmates! Boys (and probably some girls) notice you and the attention causes jealousy (and perhaps fear) amongst your female classmates. Now you’re branded a slut for the rest of your academic experience, regardless of your sexual history or interest! Therapy to fix scars for life, optional.
  • Or this door: Get ogled by your chemistry teacher and hit-on in front of the entire class. Spend the rest of the year carrying an over-sized sweatshirt to class and dodging “extra credit.” (True story.)
  • Try the fire exit: Spend your adolescence learning the proper way to ridicule your body and self-worth in front of any reflective surface or in any social situation where any authority figure offers you a compliment or praises your efforts. Well, anyone who compliments you really.
  • Oops, dead-end: Fail math. On purpose. Because boys don’t like nerds. (See also: Don’t try in gym class to avoid perspiring/getting muscular/looking like a lesbian.)
  • There’s always cheerleading: To avoid looking like a lesbian/athlete/nerd/ or other non-conforming person subject to intense ridicule and bullying, practice the art of leading a double-life. Pay special attention to pronouns, which celebrities/musicians you publicly endorse, consuming the “appropriate” pop culture for your strategy to work (i.e. disavow any knowledge of Star Wars and make sure to know everything about, say, American Idol), and be sure to wear as much pink and push your tits out as much as possible. Remember: a girl who’s sexually attractive to boys is a popular girl!

Then there’s always the strange universe of feminine product commercials/ads. Be sure to be hairless (because you must erase all evidence that you are a mammal, except for your tits, of course), odorless (because you smell disgusting, obviously), wash and properly scent every orifice (au natural is NOT on the menu, duh), and above all… wear white and jump around (or off stuff like diving boards) when you’re on your period. I’m not really sure what jumping around has to do with being a woman, but I guess it means that periods make you jump for joy? Also, lately I’ve noticed that a lot of period-related products have put a focus on the cuteness of their packaging. We’re supposed to care about how cute our tampon is now, too? This is exhausting!

And it’s gotten me no closer to any kind of universal symbol of womanhood.

Maybe I should delve deeper. Surely, I can unlock the code somewhere in my own experience. (It’s probably somewhere next to the G-spot.) Like the poem says, “Ain’t I a woman?” Well, I was born biologically female and identify as a woman so… oh, right, that’s not a very fun answer. I am a woman, damn it! (Better?)

Well, here’s the thing. When I look back at my own experience and ask myself, “When did you feel like you were a woman, and not a girl?” I don’t really like the answer very much. And not just because of the car creepery (which for me was more like, guys in bleachers at a football game, but same difference). When I think about when I transitioned from girlhood to womanhood, my answer is all tangled up by my experience as a survivor of sexual abuse.

I experienced sexual abuse, off and on, from the age of five through 14. So that meant that in the pre-pubescent years, I was introduced to sexual experiences and thoughts and feelings about my body and other people’s bodies way, way before I was developmentally mature enough or prepared to handle them. In essence, I was hyper-sexualized in childhood. So, by the time I went through puberty, those things that might have seemed new or interesting to many were old and, in fact, highly emotionally charged with negative feelings that I had yet to process. Sex, sexual organs, being objectified by the male gaze, being reduced as a person to simply body parts… these were old news to me. So, by the time someone yelled “nice tits” to me, it just felt expected and dangerously frightening to me. It felt like the terrible experiences that had been only in a private space for years were suddenly possible anywhere by any post-pubescent male (creepy Chemistry teachers, included). It felt like I had grown bullseyes on my chest, rather than breasts. It felt like there was no safe place in the world anymore. And for the life of me, I could not understand how all the other girls could be excited by the attention and possibility. And I did my best to pretend that I liked it when a boy grabbed my ass in the hallway or made some lewd comment. Because I knew if I said I didn’t, it wouldn’t take long before I was called a dyke. And every adolescent girl knows that is one of the worst things to be called — even if you don’t know what it means, yet. (I feel I should clarify here that I am accepting and an ally to lesbians and any other GBTQ person. I’m just trying to highlight the lesbian-baiting in adolescence.)

So, I guess for me, I knew I was a woman when I could successfully pretend that I wanted the male gaze. And even more so when I learned how to deflect it, without looking like a man-hating lesbian, of course. Although, I’m beginning to see from Tina Fey’s story and others that even non-survivors felt threatened by this kind of creepy male interest.

But rather than leave this on a sour note … because right now it’s shaping up to look like the transition from girlhood to womanhood really sucks, from unwanted objectification to the arrival of menses. I think what we should do is re-frame the question. Because, let’s face it, I don’t think what marks manhood is all that much more glamorous or interesting than what marks womanhood.

I think a better question is: When did you finally feel at home in your skin as a woman? (Or man, or cisgender, or what-have-you.) Because my answer to that is much more positive and affirming as an experience and to who I am today. I finally felt at home in my skin as a woman when I was pregnant. Please don’t misconstrue this statement. It’s not a pitch that pregnancy or having kids makes you a woman or even a happy woman. But for me, as a survivor of sexual abuse, it was a time of deep personal healing. At first, it was difficult because I felt very publicly on display in terms of my femaleness. But as I lived in that experience longer and longer, it became more and more healing. It was the first time — maybe in my entire life — when being female and having female body parts did not feel threatening or dangerous or sexual in a way that was uncomfortable. The bigger my belly got, the more in command of my own body I felt (which is ironic, because you become less and less in command of your body the bigger you get!). I finally felt like my body was my space. And it felt like as the fetus grew inside me, that it was somehow healing for me that I could choose for that to happen. I could choose to become pregnant. I could choose to share my body with a fetus (we’ll leave reproductive politics out of this for today).

The funny thing about pregnancy was that it was probably the single most “womanly” I have appeared, in terms of outward appearance. The breasts grow. The belly grows. The hips widen. And even as I gained weight, it’s all a kind of glowing, fertile roundness that is so symbolic of womanhood. And considering that pregnancy is one of the most obvious signs that a woman has sex, it was a kind of display of my sexuality, too. (Albeit, a society approved way.) Somehow, by the end of my pregnancy, I just felt a peace with all my parts and all my womanhood. Finally, I am comfortable being a woman.

That is a much more interesting question and process to me. Maybe we don’t get “nice” stories about the introduction to adulthood. But with any luck, we find our way to peace in our bodies and our lived experiences. And that’s worth sharing. (So please feel free to share yours in the comments.)

Cross-posted on The Sin City Siren.

This International Women’s Day, let’s connect and inspire girls!

Happy International Women’s Day!

What, you didn’t know it was International Women’s Day? Wait, you did know that March is Women’s History Month, right?

Okay, okay. Maybe International Women’s Day is not at the top of your annual holiday calendar. But there’s good reason to be thinking about this 101-year-old tradition. So what is IWD?

IWD provides a common day for globally recognising and applauding women’s achievements as well as for observing and highlighting gender inequalities and issues. But not just on IWD, but all year round, many organizations and individuals work tirelessly to support gender equality through a multitude of initiatives, causes and actions.

Sounds good, right? Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Here in America, we are in the middle of the thrashing vortex that is the War on Women (cue: Rush Limbaugh, et al). But compared to what women in many developing countries are dealing with on a day-to-day basis just to survive, it makes us look like a bunch of whiny, privileged assholes.

Yesterday, during a #sheparty tweet chat hosted by the Women’s Media Center, people from across the world (yes, I was tweeted by someone in Germany — in German — luckily that’s the language I took in college) talked about what the issues are facing women around the world and what we can do about it. In particular, there was a focus on how to connect with girls and raise up their voices.

And that’s a great question: How do we connect and inspire girls? I want to hear from you!

Here are some IWD posts to get your idea machine cranking:

And there’s this video, which even with its little ad at the end is still a pretty nifty highlight reel of some amazing accomplishments by women:

Cross-posted on The Sin City Siren.

TMF: Different rules for girls

Let’s take a look at a couple of toddler shirts I found on a recent shopping trip to Old Navy for this installment of TMF: Tired Marketing FAIL!

First we have a shirt in the boys section:

Then we have a shirt from the girl’s section:

Notice anything? I mean, besides the pink and blue gender-coding? Just like in past TMFs, we see that the “boy” shirt is all about action and having an autonomous identity while the “girl” shirt is all about being an object, which in this case means making sure to be “Daddy’s little Treasure.” Now, I think it’s wonderful if fathers and daughters have warm and loving relationships. But I hope my daughter wants more out of life than to ONLY aspire to be the apple of her father’s eye. And I don’t know if we can get more overt about the difference in how we treat boys and girls than making shirts that proudly proclaim that rules don’t apply to a boy.

And before I go I wanted to share this pic, sent in by my friend (and reader) Barbara:

Have you spotted at TMF? Send ’em my way and maybe I’ll be posting yours up soon!

TMF: Girl Power!

Just a quick TMF: Tired Marketing FAIL! today… I snapped this pic as I was walking past the girl’s department at a major big-box store. I think it’s rather awesome (all unintentional Charlie Sheen references aside):

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Throwing like a girl: 40 years of Title IX

I like to think there's a next-gen Serena Williams on a court somewhere in one of these right now.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Title IX, today is National Women and Girls in Sports Day. Wow… 40 years. And what a legacy!

While it’s true that Title IX is best known for the legal requirement that academic spending benefit girls and boys equally — which has most notably opened the door to a variety of sports opportunities for girls and women — the 1972 anti-discrimination law also is used to protect students from bullying, protect pregnant women from harassment, and even to require college campuses to maintain a safe space free of sexual violence.

Indeed, thanks to Title IX girls can do a lot more than cheerleading (not that there’s anything wrong with cheerleading). But now girls and women can choose from a whole host of sports. In 2006-07 school year, 41% of high school athletes were girls. That’s amazing!

Now comes the not-so-great news: We’ve still got a lot of work to do.

For evidence, we need look no further than the news that for the first time, female boxers are going to be able to compete in the Olympics later this year. That’s the good news. The bad news? The International Amateur Boxing Association is debating making female fighters wear skirts to participate. What an insult! In fact, you can tell them what you think of that idea here.

All this comes back to that fragile balance between allowing women to fully participate in all aspects of society — including sports — and maintaining the gender status-quo. It’s threatening to some people that women will be boxing in the Olympics. Boxing is for men, right? So the solution is to put the women in skirts — just so we’re all clear who has the mammary glands. Well, I’m no boxer, but I don’t think the women in the ring have any trouble remembering that they are women as well as boxers. And if anyone in the audience has trouble discerning what gender the fighters are, well, who cares?

We’ve come a long way in 40 years, but we still have a lot of work to do. I hope by the time my daughter is my age, she will be laughing at this controversy because it’s so antiquated compared to the equality that girls and women have in sports at that time.

This is cross-posted on The Sin City Siren and is a part of the national blog carnival celebrating Title IX and is in partnership with the National Women’s Law Center and National Women and Girls in Sports Day.