I am always pissed off when I go to McDonald’s and get a happy meal. (For the record, I do this probably 2-3 times a year, when I get one of those cravings for their fries, and I figure a kid-sized dose will not harm me much.) They ask if I want a “girl toy” or a “boy toy.” So I have taken to saying into the drive through lane “I want a boy toy” in a very ironic voice. Usually people don’t get the joke… But it always annoys me. I never wanted the fairy tale princess! I want the damn transformer!! Seriously, I can’t believe they still “gender” the toys!
Halloween season always reminds me how incredibly annoying it is that costumes marketed to girls still title heavily toward princesses and “cutesy” things. Meanwhile boys costumes get all the cool weaponry and usually involve super-heroes or characters that out saving the world. When I heard Christopher Bell’s Ted Talk: bring on the female superheroes a year ago it had a big impact on me. Toward the end (the last 3 minutes) his story still brings tears to my eyes. Well worth the watch if you are concerned about the impact of media on our gender constructions in this society.
The disparity in the types of toys that are marketed to boys versus girls starts a long process of determining the types of activities which are expected and encouraged. Companies such as the Walt Disney company, which has made a tremendous amount of money since 1937 selling princess “gear” to girls. Princess Leia does not fit with the public pedagogy of the other princess stories, so there are zero pieces of merchandise with Princess Leia. I am curious about Rey, who is undoubtedly an up-and-coming woman superhero. Will she be more available as this Target display suggests?
While there are female characters in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, still the merchandise available is for the male superheroes, not the female ones like Gamora. What message does this send to girls? And what message does it send to boys? When t-shirts that show a scene from the movie that were originally featuring Leia against the Dark Lord are replaced with an image of Luke, we have to wonder: why is she always erased?
In the board rooms and the places where decisions are being made, women are still very much in the minority. When I am in meetings with other leadership at my company, typically the ratio is 5 or 6 to 1, or sometimes if we are lucky, it is 4 to 1. The pipeline for STEM careers, especially in science and engineering are not as large as for men (I am sure to write more about this in the future). But in leadership, it is even harder to scale those steep walls. When the brave and courageous images we receive and consume in our media-oriented society are all men, I believe this hurts women and girls. We do not have as many role models of ass-kicking, confident, and steady leadership to help us conceptualize our own possibilities as leaders.
I was really excited to go to the Wonder Woman movie this year, and for the most part I was not disappointed. While a number of feminist critiques have been lodged against the movie, I still think the fact that it was made and wildly popular underscores our need for more female images of strength and power. I know for sure that is a “product” I will buy. And I believe if we transcend the “princess” images and open up more possibilities for girls and women, they will begin to claim their corresponding roles in leading in this world. We cannot afford to leave behind half of the wisdom of this world by suggesting they are any less capable than men. The challenges and problems of this planet depend on valuing and fully utilizing all of the talent we can muster.