An essay I wrote … about gendered toys and consequences

Recently I took a class on writing essays in the typical “American” style (normally not a skill taught over here a lot) and as an assignment we had to write an essay on any topic related either to our field of studies, or to personal interests, as long as it could be of interest for the teacher. I decided to go back to the topic of gendered toys, princess cult, and the likes (c.f. the book by Peggy Orenstein and the last few paragraphs of my post from January). This is  a version of the essay which has been corrected by the teacher, but there are still some very long sentences in it which are my own fault.

Maybe a mild trigger warning in advance: I’ll be mentioning some topics related to abuse/rape and body image, but no graphic details.




From Gendered Toys to Early Sexualisation and Rape Culture?

Recently in Berlin, Germany, the opening of the “Barbie Dreamhouse” caused huge
controversy. Part of this was an uproar of mothers opposing the idea that being like a princess is a good objective for girls, and pinkification in general. Pinkification is a term for this “princess cult”, gendered toys with pink signalling “for girls” and related phenomena. Girls start to wear make-up and sexualised clothing at ever earlier ages, and, especially in the USA, the tag word “rape culture” is being discussed, because girls are often shamed if they were raped because allegedly they wore provocative clothes and signalled they wanted to get raped. But the question is, what links these phenomena? What is going on with young girls in modern western societies? A connection can be seen between gendered toys, princess cult, and the early sexualisation in girls, which is enforced by modern mass media and the fashion industry, and opens the door for abuse. This happens through colour coding, teaching girls passivity, stressing the importance of outer appearance, and the portrayal of feminine sexuality as being submissive and available.

First of all, the most obvious influence on children is the expanding colour coding of toys,
clothing, and recently even candy. Everything in shades of pink – and only these things – for girls, while other colours signify “ boys (only)”. As Peggy Orenstein (2011:38) points
out, at least in the USA it has come so far that five-year-olds point out to each other they are wearing the wrong colour. While this may only cause concern in a minority, the kind of toys and clothing being branded “for girls” by colour are different from boys’ toys. In the US as well as in Germany, the toys for girls in many cases are related to household chores, tea parties (or other “girly” kinds of get-together), and beauty. In contrast to this boys get drills, workbenches, and guns. An even scarier phenomenon in Germany are the pink Kinder Surprise Eggs marketed at girls only, containing pink accessories or little figurines of provocatively dressed fashion Barbies and the even more sexualised and overly thin fairy-like Winx. Of course, this kind of separation of chores and highlighting of feminine beauty are old, but since the advent of colour coding they are having a renaissance, and, at least in the case of the figurines, they are pushed to a higher level of sexualisation than ever.

Notably, even when the same kind of toy is marketed to girls and boys, the pink version is
usually less powerful. The  blog “The Society Pages” provides two examples of this, taken from an US catalogue:  among three different microscopes and three telescopes suitable for children the pink one has in both cases by far the lowest magnification, and among two otherwise nearly identical bikes the pink one has less gears than the non-pink counterpart. Together with the observations listed in the preceding paragraph this shows a trend to lead girls to passivity, and to the notion that outer appearance and house keeping – as shown by the activities like baking cupcakes and modeling in the Barbie Dreamhouse – are more important and suitable for a girl than rougher boys’ activities.

Furthermore, it seems that just playing with beauty related toys isn’t deemed enough
anymore. The homepage of Monaco Princesse, a real spa aimed at young girls, states that it is for princesses and girls who want to become one. So, to young girls being a princess nowadays means being beautiful, being pampered, being mostly interested in looks. From there, it is not a big step to needing the latest fashion, not taking part in activities which could destroy this outer beauty, nor focusing on intelligence and inner values. Recently a German online clothes store sold girls’ t-shirts with a slogan about only being decoration in math class (though they soon were convinced by a lot of angry people to get it out of their collection). But there is not only a spa for children now, there are also the phenomena of make-up for younger and younger children (now called pre-teens or tweens), and girl oriented school supplies with cartoon images of super thin, big eyed, and flawlessly skinned super-models from the show Germany’s Next Topmodel, wearing little clothing and taking a passive or sutbly sexual stance. Even most of the Disney Princesses on the respective homepage are displayed in a more grown up and sexualised way than they were in the original movies. In addition to all this even the clothing for young girls is becoming more adult. Recently a mother complained on the internet about clothes shops selling push-up bras for little girls. All of these beauty related influences nurture a feeling of imperfection, an apparent need for improvement, and self-esteem issues. A lot of surveys have shown that more than half of the children under 18 in western countries are uncomfortable with their look and weight, and many of them have already been on a diet before their teenage years.

However, in contrast to the mass media full of super-models, music videos, and
advertisements with sparsely-dressed, perfect young women, there is also a more
conservative movement in the USA. In the documentary video “The Purity Myth” by the
media education foundation, the practise of so called “Purity Balls” is explained. During these balls, teenage girls, and even girls as young as five in tiny ball gowns, pledge virginity until marriage, while their fathers pledge to protect them and their purity. First of all, why do only the girls have to stay “pure”? Why are they clad like small princesses? And why are the symbolic swords for protection given to their fathers and not to themselves, too? This is another step away from being in charge of one’s sexuality and towards passivity. Thus, the seemingly innocent world of conservative traditions is not so different from the “values” transported by the mass media, where women are often implicitly and also explicitly portrayed as passive, and in addition, available for sexual encounters. With both conservative thoughts and modern popular culture teaching girls and young women passivity, there is no escape from this part of the mainstream doctrine. This might not seem like such a big problem in itself, but boys are also educated by mass media and popular culture. They grow up with the idea that girls and women are supposed to be more passive, not intelligent enough to decide what is good for themselves, and taking pleasure in being available. As explained above, girls are “taught” to be overly insecure concerning their body, and thus seek affirmation. The media tells them this affirmation can be found through sexuality and the feeling of being wanted. Personal insecurities, the overall message of feminine passivity and the importance of beauty over brains  provide a ground for having sexual intercourse at an earlier age and/or becoming victims of rape and abusive relationships.

In conclusion, it can be observed that girls are lead to insecurity and passivity, mostly by
gendered toys and mass media; the latter is also showing them the apparent solution of
seeking affirmation by means of sexuality. Considering this, it will be important to work out
guidelines for mass media, e.g. for TV advertisements. Some countries have already banned commercials targeting pre-teens, so the US and Germany should definitely follow suit. In addition, there is a necessity to educate girls and boys towards thinking for themselves and not just following mainstream culture, and to respect a person without regard to their sex or gender, or their preference in colour and toys. And, most importantly, companies should not seek ever younger consumers of adult products like make-up.

Citation list
Monaco Princesse (2013) [09/06/2013]
Orenstein, Peggy (2011). Cinderella ate my daughter. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Update: Somehow the bike part disappeared from the blog or my memory fooled me and it was on a different blog. Does anyone out there know which blog had that?

trashing habits …

Today I noticed how deeply ingrained the habit to just throw away can be.

Last weekend after visiting Darling’s family we brought home their old popsicle molds. I filled them with smoothie and juice, and today I ate the last one. Then I went back into the kitchen to take care of the progress of the iced tea – and caught myself nearly chucking the reusable popsicle stick in the trash can! My mind was already busy with the thought of removing the teabags and putting them in the bin. I don’t use loose tea at the moment. But it shocked me a little how easily we get used to throwing away everything after just one use. We should trash some of our habits on trashing.

I like reusable items like popsicle or ice-cube molds, and repurposing things, e.g. using jam or sauce jars for storing kitchen supplies or even flash drives.

And I enjoy the fact that we have a somewhat decent recycling system in our country. There is a deposit on most bottles and nearly all soda/beer cans. In addition we have separate containers for waste paper (either collected at home, or you have to take it to a bigger public container some streets away, but at least within walking distance in bigger cities), there are public containers for glass bottles/jars without deposit, and many households have garbage cans for metal and plastic, so these materials can be recycled without trouble. While most households in my smaller home town have an additional garbage can for food waste / green waste this seems to be less common where I live now. I really should ask our apartment’s landlords (aka church people responsible for the house) if there is a chance to revive the compost stack in our small backyard. Or get an indoor worm compost box. Do compost worms eat teabags?

Favourite Friday: Scents

Hello again :) This one is a bit special one for me, as I can’t stand most artificial smells mixed into perfumes (ick, poison!) and scented lotions, deodorants etc. I want to introduce you to my wondrous world of natural and sometimes pretty ordinary scents.

Favourite scents: cedar wood and lemon grass essential oils, and lavender (both the plant and the essential oil, I like the scent because it is a childhood memory). I use them for adding a bit of fragrance to my homemade cosmetic products. Apart from that, I mostly enjoy the clean smell of a freshly showered human body without the addition of weird perfumed stuff (will write more about simple beauty/hygienic products and essential oils another day). I also really like some smells you can find in nature, for example the scent of rain on a hot, dusty path/street, the scent of the air directly before and after a thunderstorm, the aromatic fragrance of straw and hay – and the scents of late summer in general. Sometimes I enjoy the heavy scents of a forest, especially in autumn. Also, this special kind of winter air, when there is only dry snow or none, frosty temperatures, little to no wind, and this faint scent of fresh, crisp novelty and freedom. The kind of winter air that beckons me to run across the fields like a wolf, and once it really made me run through partly knee high snow at night! Some very nice everyday smells are the aroma of freshly brewed coffee in the morning (smelling it is nicer than drinking it imy opinion), freshly baked bread/buns, fresh bed linen, and of course clean morning air, especially after a rainy night.

Somehow I like all kinds of natural “fresh” smells, while things like scented air-fresheners give me headaches, big time! It is also unforgivable to spray me with a scented deodorant for fun. Not funny. You can take me for a walk in the forest or through fields instead.

I guess I’ll have to bake raisin buns today, writing this post made me hungry for fresh food (this, and the fact that I haven’t had breakfast yet).

What do you prefer, artificial blends of scents, or natural smells?

Favourite Friday: Summertime Activities

Hi everyone, I’m a little late because I haven’t been online yesterday. At the moment I’m out of town and enjoying the countryside for some days, so stay tuned for an update on my photoblog!

Just a short post today –

Favourite summertime activities: going for walks and taking pictures in the countryside (obviously, and today darling was tagging along, which was also fun), reading books, doing a bit of easy crafting (warmth = glue/paint/water dries faster), meeting friends outside – just being lazy and talking for hours, and if ice cream or a barbecue are involved, all the better. Somehow summertime makes me dream about places far away, different (more natural) ways of life, beautiful things of all kinds, and it makes me want to throw out some stuff to get a more airy feeling in the apartment.

wedding preparations: many phone calls and the wrong ribbons …

Less than two months until the big day … today I finally made the phone calls for beverages, hairdresser, and flowers for the church, and in between I went to another florist to talk about the prices for a package of bouquet, table and car decoration, head piece, and all of this. Happy to say we’re still well in our budget.

In the morning I bought food for the youth group barbecue this evening, and afterwards I wandered around in the mall for at least 15 minutes, waiting for the craft store to open – and then I bought the wrong organza ribbons. Which I noticed about 5 minutes ago. The thing is, we need to send out 4 more invitation cards, and somehow we lost the ribbons we already owned after putting together all the other cards over a month ago. It’s the same colour and all – but the new ribbons are broader, so I don’t know if I should use them or walk back to the mall. Le sigh. Did I mention we’re planning to spend the weekend out of town? Summertime in the countryside.

Desperately needed: cheap and romantic (not too cute) decoration ideas, especially for name tags …

a few days of summer

Thursday to Saturday we had warm and sunny days, and it was really nice to take off the jacket and just soak in the warmth! Friday I took some photos in the park (alas, I only had my old point and shoot camera with me, but some turned out okay), and today I got around to put them up on my photo-blog:

When I goP1270080t home I tried the first self made smoothie popsicle, yummy!

(And yes, that’s a tea spoon. I had no other substitute for a popsicle stick that would have been short enough to fit into the tiny freezer compartment  within our fridge.)

Saturday I found a big woven basket for a really low price at the flea market – I had been searching for one for some weeks, because 1) I like natural stuff, and woven baskets add to a cozy atmosphere, 2) a big basket is great for storing the extra blanket (used for cold nights, or on the sofa when relaxing) and the seat cushion not occuppying a chair anymore (but rather used on the floor or the stool). After walking around in the heat from approximately 1 to 2 pm I was pretty tired and dizzy, but it was a good idea to spend time outside, because today it was cold and jacket demanding weather again. Hopefully we’ll get more sunshine next week!

Wedding countdown: Today in two months!

Favourite Friday: Books and Ice Cream

Hi everyone,

summer is here, finally! What do we need? A good read! And ice cream. Because today was the last day of lectures in this term, now two months of term papers are lying ahead of me, but hey, I can write them in the morning (or at night) and spend the rest of my time crafting and reading … and planning the church wedding. Two months to go, and I haven’t ordered the cake yet.

Favourite books: The Threefold Garland – a young nun comes back home to be with her parents during the last stages of her mother’s terminal illness. Together with them she relives memories of family trips around the world, and their experiences as Polish people in their chosen home country. A meditation on living while dying, including beautiful and sometimes even comical moments, while being gentle but honest about the harsh reality of mind and body becoming disconnected slowly and painfully.  Another thing making this book lovely are the quotes from different languages – Latin liturgies, Italian words and French musings, … no need to understand every single world, you just the need to be open to the whole atmosphere and some poetry.

Other favourite books include Brave New World, The other Side of the Rainbow (autobiography of my favourite Irish singer, Moya Brennan), and currently the last chapters of Walden – Life in the Woods are waiting for me. This last book is quite interesting, by and about a minimalist who lived a long time ago and decided he was sick of consumerism and society, and moved into a tiny house in the woods. Sadly I only own a German translation.

I think I’ll need to do a second round of favourite books another day.

Favourite flavours of ice cream: Vanilla, classic and versatile, goes with about every kind of topping! Peppermint and chocolate, in combination they taste like After Eight (these fancy thin pieces of chocolate filled with minty stuff, no clue whether they are known overseas) – way more than the ready mixed After Eight ice cream does. Occasionally I also like fruity flavours like strawberry, lemon, and chestnut, and if available of course the candy bar flavoured ones. I can’t digest a lot of dairy products, so frozen juice is also great, and today I tried the first of the smoothie popsicles I came up with yesterday :)