Sexism by the Slice

I’ve posted about my struggles with raising a daughter in a girly girl world before. The book that really opened my eyes about many, many things, including the influx of unhealthy messages girls receive on a daily basis, was “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” by Peggy Orenstein.

Last week, my book club finally met to discuss this book — a book I’ve been boring them telling them about for months. I honestly expected most people would say they found Peggy to be a bit extreme and perhaps even too much of a worrywort about these issues, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that everyone else had similar feelings on the book — we were all terrified.

Even the moms who only have sons said the book really opened their eyes about a lot of issues they hadn’t considered before — like the fact that Pixar movies never have female lead characters or the sheer over-saturation of pink products aimed at girls from birth. Sure, I like pink as much as the next girl (um, hello, look left and right) but I’ve never understood why EVERYTHING must be pink, particularly products that are aimed at both boys and girls. I remember someone bought E. a pink pull-along telephone for her 1st birthday.

I loved that phone as a child and E. did, too. It’s a classic toy that has always been blue and red. So why must there be a “girl” version and a “boy” version now?

This gender v. gender indoctrination begins so young now, and Orenstein makes a really strong case in the book that this is responsible for many, many future battle of the sexes.

One of my biggest takeaways from the book is focusing less on separating the sexes. I haven’t quite gotten brave enough to broach the subject with E.’s school (Orenstein quotes studies that show when teachers divide students into two mixed gender groups rather than girls v. boys, it has a big impact on their overall inner-gender relationships), but I’ve been implementing some of her tips in our life. For example, I try not to simply praise E. as a “good girl,” especially when she’s playing with some of her boy friends. And I make sure there’s a mix of “boy toys” and “girl toys,” and I’ve noticed that to kids — toys are toys, at least until a certain age.

So, even if I do my best and E’s school does her best, there’s another stumbling block out there — the rest of the world. Case in point. This weekend, we ate at Flipper’s, one of our favorite pizza places. They have this really great chicken, pesto, spinach and artichoke flatbread that I love to get.

When we sat down at the table, the waitress brought over a cup of crayons and an activity placement for E. I wasn’t really paying attention at first until E says to me, “Mommy, do you want to color this purse with me?”

“This what?”

In case you missed all the super awesome cool things that my 3-year-old daughter got to color, the placemat includes: two purses (you know, day and evening wear), a cell phone, nail polish, a shoe, a hat, a CD, a CREDIT CARD (gah!) and, of course, nail polish.

But wait, there’s more! Look at these brain-boosting words she got to search for:

Why, yes, how did they know that my toddler is a mall queen diva who was born to shop, party and makes purchases, preferably when there are sales? Give me a freaking break.

And just in case the accessories messaging wasn’t clear enough, there were two more chances to drive the point home — a word scramble and a maze.

This placemat right here represents everything that is wrong with the way our girls are treated today. I don’t mean to sound dramatic but how can this constant barrage of marketing focused on beauty not have an impact on our daughters?

And it’s exactly why books like Peggy’s are so important. Without people like her or Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals fighting the good fight, the rest of us are screwed!

I’ll sure miss those flatbreads now that I’m boycotting Flipper’s.

So, even though I may not battle E. on her on-again, off-again love for the princesses or even object when she wants to play dress-up by putting on a little bit of play make-up from time to time, I will NEVER, ever stop trying to shield her from the blatant sexist marketing that permeates our world.

It’s the least I can do for my incredible, smart, funny, brave, and yes, beautiful, daughter.

What’s the most egregious example of “girl” products you’ve seen? And what could have been a worse word to search for on the placement? I’m thinking “boy crazy” would have taken it to a whole new, awful level.


  1. says

    Eeek! Nothing like brainwashing them when they are practically babies. But the scary thing is–I know many Moms who would think that is absolutely adorable. Then again, they also buy their girls everthing in pepto-pink, let 3-yr-olds wear heels and make-up, and feed them every sexist stereotype and think it’s “cute.” One even had the gall to say “Oh, I’m not worried about what they learn in school. They just need to know the absolute basics. That way after school they can decide what they want to do–they might get married or go to college–who knows?” I nearly choked. Seriously.

    • says

      That statement makes me so crazy. Who are these parents? How can they set the bar so low for their daughters?!? How does she think her daughter is going to go to college anyway? AHHHHHH! People, wake up!

  2. Suzi says

    Pink has now also come to stand for breast cancer. My baby niece says “Gwam, bweast cancuh” when she sees pink. So I think we need to quit making girl things all pink.

    And, yes, a placemat with a credit card is a poor choice regardless of the sexism. Though there is clearly that.

  3. says

    WOW! that placemat is just all sorts of crazy! I’m pretty oblivious to this stuff because I only have boys but my boys have asked why I don’t wear pink. (“because you are a girl mommy and that’s what they like”) I never really thought about it until your post but there must be some influence at school/friends that is telling them girls should be wearing pink? Hmmm….

    • says

      The amount of messaging that gets passed back and forth between kids is really amazing. They’re picking up on things that you’d never realize. A friend of mine hasn’t shown her preschool daughter any of the Disney princess movies yet, but somehow her daughter knows the plotline to all the films because they act them out at school all the time.

      And I’m not surprised that they think that — EVERYTHING targeted at girls is pink. There’s no escaping it.

  4. MelissaMangs says

    Those placemats are outrageous! I really need to read Orenstein’s book. As a mom of a 3 year old girl I struggle with this and have done similar things that you have – offered all kinds of toys, buy clothes of all colors and not focus on gender specific comments (etc) but it is hard. My daughter loves her “babies” and the other day at a party she gravitated towards the dress up clothes and put on heels and loved walking around. I am sure she has seen me in my heels heading to work so I get why she does that and while I don’t encourage it I also don’t want to discourage it because she has fun playing dress up. I guess like everything you do the best you can with your kid, control what things you can and hope for the best!

    • says

      You have a Kindle right? I think I can share the book with you. We’ll try to figure that out this weekend!

      And I hear you. My daughter also loves to dress-up, put on some makeup sometimes and wear my shoes everywhere. I think all of that is healthy and natural. But it’s this crap like “too pretty to x” or Born to Shop that kills me. My daughter is not Cher in Clueless. But if society keeps telling her that that’s all she can aspire to, I worry that she’ll eventually lower her own bar.

  5. says

    Wow. I am insulted that companies thing so little of girls and women that they thing those are the things we should be associated with. Diva? Born to Shop? Wow. The only worse thing I can think of would have been “Sugar Daddy”

    You know what? I like pink (and obviously you do too because it is part of your blog theme) but that doesn’t mean I think there needs to be a pink version of EVERYTHING. Even BodyGlide makes a pink version! Seriously BodyGlide? PINK? You really think I care if the stuff I rub on my feet and crotch to make sure I don’t chafe is “pretty in pink?”

    Definitely time to start speaking with our consumer dollars!

    • says

      Oooh, “sugar daddy” is a good (by good I mean awful) one I didn’t think of. I think I saw someone tweet or blog recently about seeing a onesie somewhere recently that had something like Future Gold Digger on it. The marketing aimed at our daughters is disgusted and every time I think I’ve seen the worst, I’m slapped in the face by a placemat. Before my daughter, I never thought of myself as anti-princess or anti-girly, but the way things are now, that’s exactly who I’m becoming.

      Pink BodyGlide? Oh brother. Although I guess it shouldn’t surprise. I couldn’t get over all the overly feminine and girly girl items I saw at the last running expo I was at. Again, I like pretty things too but I don’t think my running shirts need Swarovski crystals either.

      • says

        I may have come across something even worse this afternoon…I was looking for a baby card. Under “it’s a girl” there was a card with a baby girl spelling words with blocks. The final product said “Charge it”. The text inside the card said something along the line of “Sounds about right…congratulations on your baby girl.”
        A whole lot of ridiculous!

  6. Jen says

    When we go to a restaurant that has a toy in a kids meal and they ask me girl or boy, I ask what the toys are first. And they always look at me and then at my daughter who loves wearing pink and flowers in her hair and a crown on occasion, then they look back at me like i’m crazy. Just bc she’s a girly girl doesn’t mean she doesn’t like an action toy or a scary monster. So when we have to choose btw a toy shoe to play with or a big green monster, we’ll choose the monster anyday. Who wants to play with a shoe?

    • says

      We deal with the same issue, Jen. A couple months ago McD’s had Star Wars toys and my daughter is Star Wars OBSESSED. We went a couple times (shhh! don’t tell the food police. It was a busy month), we had the same cashier conversation over and over: “Boys or girls toy?” “We want the Star Wars toy.” “But that’s the boys toy.” “I know. We still want it.” “Are you sure she doesn’t want the girls toy instead?” “Yes, we’re quite sure.”

      It happens EVERYWHERE. The same day as the pizza parlor placemat incident, E. went to the dentist and after her cleaning, they offered her Barbie and Dora stickers, which she wasn’t too excited about. Then I noticed the Star Wars ones behind the counter and she got really excited. They looked at both of us like we were crazy.

      And seriously, what the heck are you supposed to do with a shoe? Throw it?

      • says

        Btw – You can go to McD’s and just buy the toy (without buying the happy meal). They usually charge like a $1 for the toy without someone calling the food police on you.

        I also have a daughter who loves the action toys that are normally targeted at boys. So far she is a 5 yr old who likes to play dress up, wear my heels, fix her hair and “play” with make-up AND she thinks she is a martial arts master, has her own toy tool set (NOT PINK) and plays cars with her 2 yr old brother. I think having a boy and a girl helps keep things a little more gender neutral in our house, as the kids just play together with each other’s toys.

  7. Natalie Bojesen says

    I once saw bibs that said similar things “diva” etc. I remember it was so offensive I wrote to the company but never received a response. The bibs are still out there, I know. When I was in my early 20s (before I had two daughters of my own) I saw newborn plushie toys for boy and girl. Girl: a purse with pretend cosmetics Boy: a tool box. Even then, I knew that wasn’t right. I still need to read Orenstein’s book as well but I love Pigtail Pails and that’s how I found this site. Thank you for a great post!

  8. says

    MomJovi, those placemats are absolutely unacceptable.
    But, what I need to know: did you contacted a manager/general manager, etc. to make sure that other little girls aren’t subjected to the same garbage?
    What was their response?
    And, I do appreciate that you’re boycotting the restaurant.

    • says

      You know, Kristen, you’re absolutely right. I should have gone up to a manager. But I didn’t. The place was slammed with a lunchtime crowd, my daughter was not being a great restaurant kid that day (I’m blaming it on the placemat!) and my husband had to get back to work (we’d picked him up for lunch). All of that is an excuse-laden way of saying, you’re right — I should have voiced my concerns.

      But in a way, that’s why I included the restaurant’s name in this blog. I’m sure they have Google alerts and I’m sure (hoping!) someone in the organization will see it. It’s got to reach higher levels than that store’s branch (it’s a chain). I originally considered not naming the restaurant but since I was feeling guilty that I didn’t say anything at the time, I included it here.

      Thanks for your comment. If I hear from the restaurant, I will certainly post their response here.

  9. Paul says

    Wow, that’s almost some “THEY LIVE” shit… “Purchase” “Shop” “Consume”… I guess the conditioning starts early.

  10. SoFloBabyMama says

    How about

    Trophy Wife
    Diamond Ring
    Nose Job

    I have 3 boys and was heartbroken that I wasn’t able to have any girls, because as I told my husband through tears the day of the ultrasound (the 2nd and 3rd time around), I thought I had so much to offer a daughter. My husband wisely told me I have so much to offer my sons as well.

    It’s true. As all these brilliant little girls grow up with their super minds and opinions and fearlessness, they will surely appreciate boys like mine who can filter out the mind-numbing trash and find the true, beautiful treasures!

  11. says

    As the future momma of a little girl, I absolutely loved this post, MomJovi. I am shocked at the sheer volume of “girl-only” and “boy-only” products I see on the shelves as I prepare our little girl’s nursery and shop for clothing. It irritates me to no end that if I wish to purchase something for her, I really have little choice other than to buy the blankets emblazoned with “Princess” or the car seats decked out with sparkles.

    Why do we have to push a particular style and gender on our children from birth? Why do I have little choice in the mass market on what colors my daughter will wear? Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to creating as much as I can for her on my own so that we have some freedom from purses, princess gear, and Barbie dolls.

    And the placemat your daughter got? Seriously ridiculous. I naively thought the 1950’s were over.

  12. Alicia says

    About the passing of information at school, my 7 yr. old daughter, who loves all kinds of things including princesses, animals, and Pokemon, takes a Spider-Man lunchbox to school. Not because she loves Spider-Man, but because we’re cheap (poor, whatever) and we have two Spider-Man lunchboxes given to us when our son started school. She told me the other day that some girls kind of teased her about having it and asked why she had a boys’ lunchbox. She said it kind of hurt her feelings but she just told them the truth. “We have two Spider-Man lunchboxes so I have to take this one, or the other one.”
    It’s hard to know how to empower her. She gets easily hurt when she feels someone doesn’t like her or if it’s implied that she is not nice, and this morning she just couldn’t “..go to picture day with plain hair, Mom! {insert pouty face here}.” Sigh.
    This book is on my goodreads list.

    • Julie says

      My 6 year old daughter is going through the same thing with her Star Wars lunch box and folder. She is infatuated with it. I refused to buy her a bookbag, too, because I know how kids are, and I’m cheap, and expect the bookbag to last several years. She doesn’t want to stop taking her lunch box, but she also wants the girls to stop whispering about her. I told her that maybe the girls don’t know there is a princess in Star Wars, and cuddly bears called Ewoks, and then maybe they would drop it. They didn’t. So, I told her that there are all kinds of princesses. Some who wait to be rescued by prince charming, and some who rescue themselves. Leia is smart and tough, like my daughter, and I told her that. But I do wish other parents would teach their children that you can like a lot of different things, and still be friends with someone.

  13. Rebekah says

    Hi! My husband just sent me this link and I have to say, thank you for writing this. It is something I am passionate about and it scares me to death to raise a little girl in today’s world (we only have one, a son.) I have to also add a caveat to the whole article though, while focused on the disgusting marketing for girls, the boys is pretty horrible too. According to the companies who make the toys, clothes and accessories for boys, I am supposed to raise what my husband and I call “dude-bros.” You know- the sports obsessed, monochromatic, apes walking around in various bar districts and frat houses around the country. Why isn’t there a onesie in a color other than blue (light or navy), army green, gray, white or brown? If you get lucky you might find an orange one. My son has a lot of little girl clothes- anything I can find that isn’t pink or purple or says stuff like “Mommy’s little princess.” Speaking of, why do all baby clothes say stuff? “Mommy’s little man.” “Daddy’s Rockerstar.” “Future All Star Quarterback.” Or my personal favorites “Daddy’s Little All Star,” “Daddy’s Quarterback,” “Daddy’s Soccer Star.” Apparently neither I nor my future daughters are supposed to play sports. WTF?

    My fear is that my inadequacies about math will someday rub off on my daughter. Or my son will not think it is okay to talk about his feelings because he is supposed to be stoic and hard. Gah! Makes you terrified to have kids doesn’t it!

    • says

      Thank you for your comment Rebekah! You’re right — things are just as bad for boys, too. I’m with you, I HATED all those “Mommy’s Little xx” or “Daddy’s Angel” etc. Has creativity dried up that much in the clothing industry?

      I was also talking to my friend with three sons about the lack of TV shows for boys once they get out of the preschool shows other than Phineas and Ferb. All the shows on Nick and Disney seem to focus on girl leads (iCarly, Wizards of Waverly Place), etc. Now, I haven’t watched any of those shows yet, so I can’t give on an opinion on how I think those shows portray either sex .

      It just seems we’re living in a society of extremes — everything from clothing to toys to entertainment is either super girly or super masculine. What’s so wrong with the middle? It worked for Goldilocks!

  14. says

    In our country, Iceland, it is very common to see the opposite. Toys that in other countries are advertised for girls, like the classic small plastic kitchen, the toy vacuum cleaner, the ironing board often depict MALE kids playing with them on their box.

    • says

      Thank you so much for offering your international perspective, Harry! That’s really interesting about the toys. Are these toys marketed to both boys and girls or is the emphasis primarily on boys? I would love if toys in the States were marketed primarily to kids — not boys, not girls, but KIDS!

  15. says

    What a fantastic post. I’m about to be a first time father to a baby girl and found this extremely informative. In prepping for the nursery I’m discovering that pink seems to be a central theme in design for girls. We’ve done the fine art of balancing pink and non-pink decor, but you have to make an effort to do so. Kudos for the post.

    • says

      That is such an interesting perspective — I love hearing that dads are just as proactive in trying to shield kids from this kind of blatant sexism as moms are. There’s nothing wrong with being girly, or being encouraged to be comfortable in our female bodies, but geez…can’t we find our way without these placemats?

    • says

      Thanks for the comment (and the tweet!). Yes, the revelations you make when you have a daughter are stunning. Like I said, I happen to like pink but even I’m about ODed on it now. It’s inescapable.

      Having said that, I can live with the pink. I can even live with some of the princess stuff (in moderation). But I can’t live with these terrible messages that are being thrust upon our girls that they’re somehow inadequate and vapid.

      Now I have to go because I just noticed your previous post — Star Wars Marathon! We’re huge Star War fans, too. Our new boxed set just arrived yesterday and E. (and her Daddy) are so anxious for the weekend so they can start watching it!

  16. Lina Diaz says

    I would love to see the placemat they give out to boys. I bet is full of active, creative adjectives. Wouldn’t be easier (and cheaper) to have just one single type of placemat for all kids?

    • says

      I’m kicking myself that I didn’t request a boys placemat, too! My husband promises he’s going to try and head over there for lunch tomorrow for a secret spy mission to get me one! I’ll let you know what I discover! Thanks for your comment!

  17. says

    I so agree! I am undecided on the issue of having my own children, but shopping for my niece is so hard. She just turned 2 and I was looking at different websites (Target and Disney Store) and they both wanted me to narrow down my search to boy or girl items. I was getting so frustrated! Why can’t toys just be toys? I hope more and more parents like you start discussing this issue and that manufacturers catch on and change things for the better. Keep fighting the good fight!

  18. says

    Sadly, I think stuff like this exists because people buy into it. I’m all for pink – it’s one of Braeden’s favorite colors :) but I think the excessiveness is just…odd.

    On the flip side – my mother-in-law made a good point on my Cinderella Ate My Daughter post — what is this doing to the boys? It skews their perspective too, right? We didn’t really go into that last week, but it would be an interesting follow up!

  19. says

    Those placemats must be mass-produced, because my favorite brunch place gave one to my 2-year-old a few weeks ago. I was similarly disgusted, but also didn’t say anything (and am not brave enough to boycott because damn, their blueberry-white chocolate pancakes are awesome). But I won’t ask for a coloring page again.

    • says

      I think it would take ALOT to get me to give up something like blueberry-white chocolate pancakes, too! Skipping the coloring page seems like a good alternative to me, too. After all, we all have to live in the world. It’s just about how we react to it that matters.

      Thanks for the comment!

  20. Laura says

    Yikes! What a horrible placemat!
    I have a 4 year old daughter who loves to wear heels and play with make-up, but she also loves to roar like a dinosaur and play in her rocketship. I think it is odd that so many parents, when they see her in her cute dresses and skirts that she loves to wear, assume she is a girly-girl. Why would she have to be one-dimmensional? (BTW, several of her male buddies also love to wear the high heels and pink wings when they come over to play. And, they want to know why they are never invited to the princess parties — it is kind of unfair!)
    The sexism example that shocked me was at her pre-school. She wanted a truck or a train sticker before she left for the day and was told, “no that’s a boy sticker.” (The girl stickers were all Disney princesses.) When I picked my jaw up off the ground, I asked, “Why is it a boy sticker? Does it have a penis?” The teacher was so shocked by my language that I don’t think my message got through. We changed pre-schools, the next week.

    • says

      I LOVE your comeback! That’s awesome. It’s funny because on the same day as the pizza incident, E. went to the dentist and we dealt with the very same issue for her sticker at the end of the cleaning. She had no interest in the Barbie or Dora stickers they were trying to give her. Thankfully I spotted the Star Wars ones, which made her day.

      You’re absolutely right that marketers put our children in these itty bitty boxes. I think most kids are like our daughters — they love their babies and dress-up clothes, but they also love their dinosaurs and train sets just as much. Shouldn’t we all be encouraging a wide range of interests?

      Thanks for your comment!

    • says

      Apparently my favourite toy when I was 5 was my Tonka Dump Truck. I brought it for show and tell in kindergarten. When I was show and telling said truck, some kid said “that’s a BOY toy not a girl toy.” I guess I turned to him and said “you don’t need a penis to play with a dump truck”
      I’m going to use that line again one day…

  21. Julie says

    My mother says I’ve been a feminist since I was about five years old, which would have been 1969. I was appalled then, and I’m appalled now at the sexism that’s foisted on children of both genders at all ages. But, as a professional marketer, I can tell you that the reason manufacturers make these items, and the reason that stores stock them is because they sell. If you (people who buy for children that is, not just parents) tell manufacturers and stores what you will and will not buy, and enough of you actually stick with it, I promise that you’ll get what you want.

    This isn’t some vast right-wing conspiracy, it’s business. Consumers are in charge, always and everywhere. So if a restaurant gives out inappropriate placemats, tell them what’s wrong and tell them that you’ll be back when there are other choices available. Don’t just boycott them without telling them why and hope that they’ll figure it out. Are you the empowered role model you want your children to emulate, or not?

  22. says

    It is infuriating that 50% of children are presumed interested in apparel and shopping. It leaves me frustrated and speechless. Kids would be happy to color in so many wonderful things- to see that abandoned in favor of shoes credit cards and handbags is appalling. (I have a son-I am no less appalled.)

  23. says

    You’re right on, mama. I loved Cinderella (Peggy’s book, not the movie), too, and wish this idea of protecting our girls (and boys, too, really) from the onslaught of pigeonholing and expectations weren’t such a novel idea to so many people. I told my 3-year-old’s preschool teacher the other day how she loves cars and trucks, because I was worried about her being sort of peer pressured to spend time in the dress up corner, and her very nice teacher “reassured” me that she’s never seen my SK play with cars. Ack! Not the response I was going for…

    Keep up the good work, and getting the word out there. As a friend of mine said, we have to spread the gospel to the ignorant masses, and it looks like you’re one big step closer to getting there.

  24. says

    Oh my gosh…I LOOOOVE you. (in a, “finally someone understands me sort of way!) Found your blog via Caitlin at Healthy tipping point. I have a 6 year old (eek, that’s the first time I’ve written that since she’s turned 6) and I deal with this all…the…time! JUST this weekend I went looking for a t-ball setup, so she could play in the yard. EVERY SINGLE one I found had little boys playing the fun game. She looked at them all and asked, “am I SUPPOSED to play t-ball mom? There are no girls on these toys.” I had NO idea how to explain to her that, YES, girls play t-ball and that it’s STUPID that there’s just boys on all the packaging. (MULTIPLE brands..I checked) I told her that really cool, smart girls LOVE t-ball and we’ll take lots of pictures of the girls in our lives playing t-ball and send them to the toy company. She liked that idea.

    I could go on and on and on…but for now, I’ll just pick up a copy of the book.

    Great work you’re doing…keep it up!

  25. Stephanie says

    That placemat is seriously gross. Clicked over here from your post today about Disenchanted. Most surprising part of the whole post was that this book club discussion was two years ago. Two years ago?!? It was like 6 months ago. Time friggin flies.

  26. says

    for whatever reason i only just now stumbled on this entry. as a parent whose 15 month old has proudly cross-dressed for halloween, i also struggle with the gender lines in toys. i have to say, looking at that placemat, my jaw HIT. THE. GROUND. unreal!!


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