Posts Tagged ‘girls’

Dress-up wedding collections for your little “bride-to-be.” Pretty LEGOs to help her build beauty shops. Dolls skinnier than Barbie and sexier than Bratz. Pink vacuum cleaners and cleaning trolleys, makeup kits and kitchen sets.

"Intent" image courtesy of whatnot on Flickr Creative Commons

I spoke with Jennifer Pozner, founder and executive director of Women in Media and News, about the effects of toy gendering on young girls. Even beyond their frills and (seeming) frivolity, hyperfeminine and highly gendered products like Barbie and Bratz are far from harmless, said Pozner. Instead, they serve as “didactic tools to teach girls what they will be valued for and what is expected of them.” In this framework, toys like tiaras, purses, and play ovens represent more than fun and games: They’re instruments that help socialize girls for roles as caretakers and trophy wives. And while cooking and cleaning are undoubtedly important skills to teach the young, it becomes concerning when the more educationally driven toys are overwhelmingly targeted to boys.

“It’s almost impossible to overstate the level of misogyny and hypersexualization present in the marketing of products to girls,” said Pozner, “and the problem is getting worse.” Indeed, many experts argue that toy marketing has become increasingly gendered over the last decade, leaving little room for boys who like nail polish or girls who like science.

So what can you do if you don’t want give your daughter a pink apron for Christmas? With Pozner’s help, I’ve compiled a list of fun, empowering, and educational gifts for young people that do more than dictate sex and gender roles.

Ages 2–5

  • I Got Shoes and other children’s CDs, Sweet Honey in the Rock
    I first learned of this all-women, African American a cappella ensemble in a women’s studies class during my freshman year. The Grammy Award-winning troupe boasts several children’s records that use song and dance to address issues of motherhood, spirituality, freedom, and civil rights. Great for burgeoning toddler activists!
  • MindWare toys
    This educational toy line has received awards from Parents’ Choice, Creative Child magazine, iParenting Media, and others for its engaging products, which include puzzles, mazes, and arts and crafts.

Ages 5–10

  • Genderific Coloring Books, Jacinta Bunnell
    Bunnell’s coloring books, including Girls Are Not Chicks and Sometimes the Spoon Runs away with Another Spoon, encourage positive sex and gender roles, such as celebrating girls who climb fences and boys who bake pies.
  • GoldieBloxGoldiblox, a new construction toy for girls, was created in response to the lack of women in engineering.
    A female engineer created this innovative construction toy for girls in response to the fact that nearly 90 percent of all engineers are men. The toy teaches basic math and science concepts as girls build a belt drive for Goldie and her friends.
  • Call Me Madame President, Sue Pyatt
    Even after record-breaking wins in the recent election, women still hold only 20 percent of seats in the U.S. Senate. Help fix the problem by inspiring a young girl with this tale of 8-year-old Amanda, who becomes president of the United States!
  • Roominate
    This gender-neutral engineering toy lets children build miniature rooms and houses. Best of all, there is no set way to build a space, allowing for constructive problem solving and creative thinking.

Ages 11–13

  • New Moon magazine
    Pozner recommends this bimonthly magazine for young girls, which is free of advertising and diet advice and rich in stories on young female activists, adventurers, and athletes.
  • Hummingbird Robotics Kit
    A spin-off from a similar kit by Carnegie Mellon University, the kit comes with everything a girl needs to build the robot of her dreams, from a dragon with flapping wings to a replica of R2-D2.
  • Help her become a rock star.
    Why buy Rock Band when you can give your daughter the real thing, asks Pozner. Set her up with a guitar and music lessons, or better yet, sign her up for a week at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, a nonprofit music and mentoring program dedicated to the empowerment of girls and women.

Ages 13 and Up

  • Our Bodies, Ourselves
    First published in 1971, this canonical book teaches crucial information on women’s health and sexuality, with topics including menstruation, childbirth, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health, and general well-being.
  • Arduino Cookbook
    This “cookbook” teaches readers to program an open-source microcontroller, a tiny circuit board that serves as the basis for arts and robotics projects. Kids can use it to create their own toys, remote controllers, alarms, detectors, robots, and more.
  • A month of tutoring on graphic design or video editing
    “Getting girls involved in creating their own media can be a great skill and empowering tool,” said Pozner. Girls interested in media literacy can use software programs like Apple’s Final Cut Pro to make their own movies, memes, infographics, and more.
  • Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV, Jennifer Pozner
    Pozner herself wrote this 2010 book, which analyzes biases promoted by reality TV, especially regarding sexism, and arms readers with tools to understand and challenge media stereotypes. According to AAUW fellow and MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, the book “should be required reading for every American girl and woman.”

Pozner conducts media literacy lectures and trainings at schools and colleges. You can e-mail her or visit www.wimnonline.org for more information.

This post was written by AAUW Media Relations Intern Renee Davidson.

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Last weekend at the AAUW of Florida state convention in Gainesville, more than 30 AAUW women built green homes with nontraditional materials. Graham crackers with frosting mortar formed the main structure, green sprinkles stood in for native plants on a green roof, and a stack of small marshmallows on a toothpick represented a cistern to catch storm water. Others placed solar panels on the roof or built native plants in the yard with toothpicks and gum drops.

Anyone can do hands-on activities like these with girls to show them how much fun science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) can be. The aim is to expand girls’ minds about science and engage them in designing and creating an edible green home. The parts may be edible, but the concepts are sound: in the course of the fun activity, girls learn about the science and engineering that go into building a green home, as well as principles of water and energy conservation. In Gainesville, the ladies took it one step further and discussed hosting a green conference for girls to encourage them to care for our environment.

Activities like the workshop in Gainesville are essential for spreading the message to young girls that STEM is a viable career path. Out of the more than 3.25 million Americans employed in math and computer science, only 27 percent are women (U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the U.S., 2007). We need more women in STEM fields, and you can make a difference. The most important thing you can do is spread the message that STEM is fun and that it provides opportunities for ingenuity, invention, and innovation — exciting, coolstuff that can transform life as we know it. Start early by encouraging the girls in your life to do puzzles, play with Legos, or take things apart and put them back together again. Plan a trip to the science museum, talk about how things work, and encourage participation in science fairs. Parent and adult encouragement really works, and Earth Day is a great time to show girls how much fun science and math can be.

This post was written by Jennifer McDaniel, AAUW National Girls Collaborative Project South Atlantic regional liaison to the Florida Girls Collaborative Project.

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The Year of Science 2009, a national grassroots celebration, launched earlier this month in Boston, Massachusetts. In its honor, museums, federal agencies, schools, scientific societies, and other nonprofit and for-profit organizations will host events in all 50 states and in 13 countries. The celebration is the brainchild of the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), a collaborative that represents more than 500 organizations interested in promoting the importance of science to the public.

COPUS participants are bringing science to their communities in innovative ways through lectures, workshops, blogs, and videos. Members of AAUW of New Hampshire, for example, are using the COPUS network to advertise their half-day program “Educational Opportunity – Myth or Reality? Equity is Still an Issue,” at which speakers plan to address gender equity in educational policy and practice. National Girls Collaborative Project regional liaisons are also using the network to reach out to local organizations working on STEM-related projects. Using her branch connection to COPUS, liaison Kimberly Edgar was able to bring the Northeastern Girls Collaborative together with a similar organization focused on ocean science and increase the number of people who heard about the collaboratives’ grant opportunities.

Despite these highlights, organizations or events accenting girl-serving programs in STEM remain woefully underrepresented. A search of the directory revealed just a few organizations whose mission is to increase the representation of women in science or address best practices for improving women’s understanding and engagement with science throughout their lifetime. In light of COPUS’ mission “To make science more accessible to everyone” and my own position working with the National Girls Collaborative Project, I found the situation disheartening, especially considering recent research from the Association of American Colleges and Universities that shows a pattern of reduced participation by women from undergraduate to doctoral level across a majority of STEM fields.

Similar to COPUS, the National Girls Collaborative Project was founded to leverage the power of a network to create the tipping point for women in STEM. Numerous programs and initiatives to create gender equity in STEM have been implemented only to lose effectiveness or fade away. Had these programs had the benefit of collaboration with other girl-serving projects, organizations, and institutions, along with the tools to assess their efforts, their capacity for broader impact could have been substantially increased.

Today the NGCP has successfully built a directory of more than 1000 girl-serving programs reaching more than 2.4 million girls. Fourteen active regional collaboratives are on the rise thanks to leadership teams representing 63 different organizations. The ability of this network to grow and sustain itself is an exciting prospect that I dedicate myself to everyday, but until we are able to strongly connect this specialized hub with the broader STEM community, I fear we may have a long way to go before we see gender equity in science.

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In an advertising supplement to the Sunday newspaper for April 20, 2008, the JCPenney advertising flyer contained the following ad for “Girls’ Self Esteem® Screen Tees.” The logos in the ad read:

I Want Everything Fabulous!
I Love Being a Daddy’s Girl
Daddy’s Expensive Little Princess
Girls' Self Esteem Tees

That may be JCPenney’s idea of a girls’ self-esteem message, but it is not mine. JCPenney invites customers and others to comment on both their advertising and JCPenney’s Commitment to Social Responsibility: “Built on the legacy of founder James Cash Penney, who believed in doing what is ‘right and just,’ JCPenney is committed to being a good corporate citizen through the support of environmental, social and ethical initiatives.”

I passed along this information to AAUW members and other friends all around the country. I wrote to JCPenney’s immediately via their website. This was JCPenney’s reply to my e-mail on Monday, April 21:


We welcome comments and suggestions from our customers that call matters
to our attention and enable us to address each issue. Customer concerns
are always forwarded to the proper areas responsible for the issue. Your
comments are a great help toward increasing satisfaction of all JCPenney

At JCPenney customers really are our Number One Priority. Thank you for
giving us the opportunity to address your concerns. You are a valued
JCPenney customer and we appreciate your patronage.

Thank you for shopping with JCPenney.

A friend from Virginia also commented in much the same tenor and tone that I had used. She received this reply on Tuesday, April 22:

Thank you for contacting us online.

Thank you for contacting us regarding the apparel that we sell. We understand your concern and sincerely regret the distress this has caused you. The JCPenney Company was founded on the philosophy of bringing high quality, good value merchandise to every customer while at the same time providing the selection of fashionable apparel and products they desire. We would not be serving customers well if we disregarded their needs. However, you too are a valued customer and your opinions and needs are equally important to us.

While we cannot tell you at this time that we will never offer these again, we can tell you that our merchandising department will carefully review your comments. As one of the country’s major retailers, we will continue to be responsive to our customers’ needs as well as their concerns.

Thank you for writing and please continue to share your opinions with us. We value your input and continued patronage.

Thank you for shopping with JCPenney.

Clearly they are beginning to respond to the e-mails. Of course, neither of us has any intention of shopping there again as long as they merchandise anything like this to girls sizes 7–16 (read ages 8–15)! You can help in this effort by contacting JCPenney’s (select “Advertising” in the topic box) about this matter. Thanks.

NOTE: This post is by guest blogger Donna Seymour, Communications Chair, AAUW St. Lawrence County (NY) Branch.

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Girls don’t want to be leaders. That’s what the first sentences of a Washington Post article on a newly released survey from the Girl Scouts USA leave you with. Girls are more interested in “fitting in,” “making a lot of money,” and “helping animals or the environment.” Let that sink in for a moment. But then you begin to wonder, Who was surveyed? How did the respondents define leadership? Were the girls much different from the boys?

Covering youth ages 8–17, the survey goes on to say that it’s not that girls don’t want to be leaders; they want to be a different kind of leader. They reject traditional top-down approaches to leadership. (Really … who likes being told what to do?) According to Judy Schoenberg, director of research and outreach at the Girl Scout Research Institute and lead author of the study, “Girls today appear to be redefining leadership in terms of being more inclusive and serving a larger purpose.”

These results point to why it is critical to invest in experiences for girls and young women that help them begin to envision themselves as leaders. Girls are faced with a variety of mixed messages in their lives on what will garner acceptance among peers and the greater world. (Take the recent example of Miss Bimbo, the newly infamous online game.) Gaining the identity of a leader takes time, just as gaining confidence and learning leadership skills take time.

AAUW has invested in younger women’s leadership for years, focusing most recently on empowering college women at our National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. The conference tackles contemporary leadership issues, with speakers, workshops, and plenty of time to dialogue and network, because both peer support and role models can help demonstrate the many ways young women can be leaders in their communities.

We also look to invest in activities that women are engaged in on their own college campuses with our Campus Action Projects. This year seven campuses are implementing activities that highlight the gender pay gap. AAUW, along with Girl Scouts USA, is also a partner on the National Girls Collaborative Project, which focuses on building collaboration among girl-serving STEM organizations.

One might question whether this survey’s findings would be the same in previous generations of 8- to 17-year-olds. Would you have said you wanted to be a “leader” when you were a teenager? What influenced you to identify as a leader?

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