Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Disney Princess Industrial Complex is coming for your soul!

Or, at least it is if you're a girl below the age of 12, anyway.

It's come to my attention that toys and children's merchandise in general has become heavily gendered. (Or at least, and this makes me feel like a serious old fogie, since I was last exposed to children's merchandise.) I offer, as evidence, these anecdotes.

1. Last week, the husband and I are driving around running errands, toddler in the back seat. Knowing we won't be able to feed the child at the usual time, we decide to stop for fast food, choosing McDonald's (I know, I know). Upon ordering a Happy Meal, we are then asked if it's for a girl or a boy. WTF? How long has this been happening for?

2. Several days later we made a trip to the local aquarium, and were perusing the gift shop to see if there was anything cool under the price of a kajillion dollars (there wasn't). It slowly dawned on us that every plush toy had a regular version, and then a boy and a girl version. Like, regular black-and-white penguins, but also pink penguins and blue penguins. Ditto sea turtles and manta rays and jellyfish (although plush jellyfish - how cool is that?).

3. Nobody thinks my daughter is a girl. Now, I don't really have a problem with this and don't correct anyone when they make the mistake of saying "What a beautiful boy!" I just find it kind of interesting as a Cultural Anthropology nerd that unless she is wearing a dress (of which she has a few, as they tend to fit for a longer period of time than pants,) or is wearing something pink or frilly (of which she has exactly one item that she wears regularly, and only when there's laundry to be done,) do people think she's a girl.

Now, it's not like I dress the kid in blue baseball uniforms or mini suits or anything. Typically she wears jeans or t-shirts from the girl's aisle of Target. I try not to dress her in anything I wouldn't wear myself. But it's like, unless specifically designated as the "other," all children must be boys.

4. Sesame Street, the last bastion of inclusiveness and equality, has a relatively new Muppet. And she's the girliest girly girl ever. Her name is Abby Cadabby, and she has sparkly pigtails, a pretty fairy princess dress, likes George Clooney, and talks on a cell phone hidden in her magic wand. Now while that pretty much describes me every Saturday night from 1996 to 2004, it's hardly a role model I'd want for my child. Especially when there are several really cool girl Muppets on Sesame Street already, namely furry orange Zoe and furry blue Rosita, who is a fruit bat, and that's pretty cool.

(Although I have to add that I still pretty much love Sesame Street. I've seen children of all races, multiracial families, children wearing various religious paraphernalia, visually impaired and hearing impaired children, children who use wheelchairs or crutches, and even, by god, overweight children portrayed as normal on the show, as they should be. Love that.)

But all this stuff pales in comparison to whan looms on the horizon. The Disney Princess Industrial Complex is coming for my child's soul, and I kind of feel like my husband and I are the only line of defense. How do we keep her from becoming brainwashed, but not ashamed of being girly if that's what she really feels like being? How do I keep the corporate logos, not to mention the gender stereotypes, out of the house?

These are the things that keep feminist moms up at night. That, and fear that the kid will grow up voting Republican.

(Cross-posted from Feministe.

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