Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sundays with Sarah (42)

To find out more about Sarah and this feature go here.

Hi everyone, welcome to another Sundays with Sarah.

Have you ever wondered how gender has changed in the way people are betrayed in society these days. I had an argument the other day with an old friend over how, Lego used to be more creative than it is today.

30 years ago, kids who played with Lego had the choices of: black, blue, red, yellow, white, grey, transparent, and green (more for the big landscape plates) for colors for Lego. Now a days Lego comes in over 80 colors and are now becoming very gender specific. The Lego designed for girls is very chauvinistic and stereotypical for the roles of girls showing that for the most part "girl" style Legos make them "mommies" at home, doing chores, shopping and sitting around all day doing nothing, and yet if you look at all the Lego designed and geared for boys it is all about fighting, adventures and action and there seems to be a gender split with Lego.

So why is that?

I speak from personal experience when I say that to be “media aware” is to open oneself up to the possibility of being infuriated every day. It’s actually a pretty invigorating experience, but I find that since I’m a pretty open minded person, I cannot allow every sexist or sexualizing thing to seriously bother me. Otherwise, I would be in a constant state of mental and/or verbal ranting.

When some new piece of media does come up that royally pisses me off, it’s interesting to think about what exactly about it struck a nerve. In the case of the announcement of the Lego Friends line, I’m pretty damn upset. And I know why. To summarize; Lego, which up until recently tended to rely on licensing from pre-existing franchises to furnish it’s more narrative oriented products, (Star Wars, Batman, and Harry Potter, to name a few), has recently embarked on a new direction for their toys. While they aren’t giving up on movie partnerships, they are looking to market more Lego exclusive characters and stories. As a part of this new direction, the brand has embarked on its greatest FAILURE from its previous MO with Lego Friends, a product line for girls, or as Lego CEO Jorgan Vig Knudstorp puts it, “We want to reach the other 50% of the world’s population.” The Lego figures look drastically different from the toy’s traditional “minifigures.” They are taller, skinnier and they have BREASTS!!!. They will be marketed to girls five and up. Like WTF!

Why? Because, referring to the blocky figure of old, the Lego executive VP of Marketing Mads Nipper said, “Let’s be honest; girls hate him.” Hmm…..I was unaware that the proper pronoun when referring to Princess Leia and Hermione Granger was “him.”

The whole thing really pisses me off for two pretty obvious reasons. First of all, there is the awkward Barbie-fixation at work here. I was always a Lego person and I used to play with the old style Legos a lot when I was a child and I didn't care. The only appeal I can personally see in Legos is the hilarious, boxy figures of its characters. They all look the same, with their only curves bizarrely situated below their pelvises. Sure, the minfigures are weird looking, but that’s the point. To beautify them is completely an abomination to the Lego brand.

It also sets the wrong stereotype and precedent for girls. Media is already doing such a bad job as is. Girls come in all shapes and sizes and to design a toy line where the figures are so out of proportion physically and psychologically is sending the wrong messages to girls.

And who is to say girls hate them? I’m guessing Lego arrived at that conclusion after some focus group fun. Which brings me to my next point of resentment. Marketers and ad execs and Hollywood and just about everyone else in the media are so busy insisting that women and girls, 50% as Lego puts it, are not interested in what they are selling unless it is "pink or cute" or a "romantic" comedy or on Lifetime. But they say this even as they refuse to market their products to the women and girls they are so certain will not like them! Who populates commercials for Legos? Boys! Where in the toy store can you find them? “The boy’s aisle.” So no wonder girls won’t buy your products!

Some stores are starting to separate the girls Legos into the girls isles. And don't get me started with how toys today are more geared to "preparing" girls for unrealistic futures.

As for being a parent and mentor to young girls, I can speak from personal experience and assure you, Lego, that girls do like minifigures. They also like Star Wars and Harry Potter, and they like being creative and making up stories that involve adventures with good and evil and things blowing up too. But if you keep on excluding them from your marketing vision, soon they will start to believe that they would rather have hot tubs and little plastic boobs, stay at home, mooch and not show any personal creative goals. Lego, If your research is correct, many of them already have. And if that happens, some girls might miss out on all the fantastic, adventurous imaginative play that only comes around once a childhood.

Now also don't get me started with some other toys geared specifically for boys and girls, but you can also see a definitive split in gender variant toys. Let's look for a minute at some of the gender split toys.

For girls:
Dolls that promote how to breastfeed,
Dolls that prepare children at a younger age to be moms
Monster High and dolls that portray images of "slut"
My Little Pet Shop
Little Bake Over
Heck, Dolls in general.

For Boys:
Hot Wheels (Cars)
Action Figures: Marvel, DC and such
Toy guns
GI Joe
Most Console video Games

Anyways okay the lists are very broad but there is one exception...

My Little Pony. Although this toy line was more geared to girls than boys, there are more boys and MEN (aka Bronies), who populate this genre of toy more than girls. Almost 63% of fans of My Little Pony are males who make up the most of the fans for this toy line. This is attributed to the fact that the new release provides beneficial morals and teaches the appropriate values for young kids. My Little Pony is becoming the "IN" toy for both boys and girls. It's easy to forget that My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a kids show. After all, it's mostly adults -- known as Bronies and Pegasisters -- that we see dressed as Rainbow Dash at conventions.

But even this line (and the show itself) is not completely "pure of heart".

Contrary to popular belief, the animated TV series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was not created to provide freaky fetish material for adult men. Its intended purpose is to impart empowering life lessons to young girls. A nice goal to have, and one the show usually meets.

But sometimes it falls short. Way short. Not just missing the bar, but burrowing into the ground under the bar.

#1: The Ticket Master (episode 103)
Princess Celestia (god-queen of the ponies) gives Twilight Sparkle (protagonist) two tickets to a fancy party. Problem: Twilight Sparkle has six friends, and freaks out at the prospect of having to choose between them.
The first two friends she meets after receiving the tickets are Rainbow Dash and Applejack. Rainbow Dash wants to go to the party so she can impress her favorite sports team. Applejack wants to go to the party so she can sell refreshments and earn enough money to pay for a new roof for her borderline-condemned barn, a new plow to replace her currently rusty one, and hip replacement surgery for her grandmother.
Sounds like an easy choice, right? Not for Twilight. Her response?
“Oh my. Those are all pretty good reasons, aren’t they?”
Then all of Twilight’s other friends chime in with their own reasons to want to go to the ball, including a general love of parties, the wish to meet a handsome prince, and the desire to hang out with lots of cute fuzzy animals. And yet, somehow, getting money to pay for hip replacement surgery doesn’t strike anyone as the obvious choice for “best reason to go.”
Twilight spends the rest of the episode unable to decide who to give her spare ticket to. At last she chooses to return the two tickets rather than pick between her friends. This earns her seven tickets––enough for everyone to go to the party!
“Celebrity worship is every bit as important as providing healthcare for the elderly.”

#2: A Friend in Deed (episode 218)
Pinkie Pie is a very loud, extroverted, high-energy pony.
Cranky Doodle Donkey (yes, really) is new in town, and doesn’t take kindly to being ambushed by Pinkie Pie’s personal party wagon.
Finally, after Pinkie Pie’s fits of cheeriness destroy one of Cranky’s prized possessions, he tells her to gtfo.
Pinkie Pie is not only unable to take a hint, but unable to take a definitive NO for an answer. So instead of leaving the poor guy alone, she hunts him down so she can apologize and feel better. (In the real world, we call that “being an asshole.”)
Of course, this isn’t the real world. This is Ponyville, and Pinkie Pie is this episode’s protagonist. Which means her actions don’t earn her a restraining order. What does happen is she luckily runs across Cranky’s actual friend, who he’s been wandering the world in search of for the last few decades. Reunited with his friend, Cranky’s attitude does a 180 and he agrees to be Pinkie Pie’s friend as well.
“If someone hates you, harass them until they like you.”

#3: Bridle Gossip (episode 109)
All the ponies in Ponyville have an irrational fear/hatred of their zebra neighbor, Zecora. After some wacky miscommunication and misadventure, they learn not to judge a book by its cover.
So what’s the problem? While Zecora does speak English (only in rhyme for some reason), she also says some lines in another language. When a fan asked what other language Zecora was speaking and what she was saying, show creator Lauren Faust gave this response:
We did not have the time or resources to have authentic Swahili, so we asked the voice actress to ad-lib some African sounding gibberish.
I was a bit disappointed, but I just imagine it’s not Swahili, it’s Zebra.
“Foreign languages are literally nonsense.”

#4: Too Many Pinkie Pies (episode 303)
Ok As a fan of the show too this episode ROCKED! It was funny and awesome but, well you will see what else I mean.
Pinkie Pie has five friends and not enough hours in the day to hang out with all of them. Solution? Clone herself!
The clones end up making more clones and long story short, the original Pinkie Pie gets lost in the shuffle. Her friends find a magic spell to send back the clones, but the method they use to determine the clones from the real deal is a little weird: they herded all the Pinkie Pies into one room and tell them to watch paint dry.
Whoever stays still and shut-up longest gets to live. Those who can’t keep quiet are systematically destroyed.
Pinkie Pie, as mentioned earlier, bears the defining personality trait of mania. Fortunately, she keeps a lid on her ADHD long enough to not get killed by her friends and becomes the last Pinkie Pie standing. And they all live happily ever after!
“If you don’t want your friends to erase you from existence, you should act as unlike yourself as possible.”
(source: Ken Sirken and Hasbro)

Now although My Little Pony is an exception it isn't the only show.

We are seeing an increase in more gender divisible toys amongst girls and boys.

But Does it really Matter?

Walk into any home with toddlers, and you will no doubt be able to tell whether the child is a boy or a girl by a quick peek into the playroom. Trucks, trains, planes, and baseballs will scream boy; while a room full of pink and frilly dolls and stuffed animals have little girl written all over it. Interestingly, toys have become as gender specific as clothes, and many parents are uncomfortable when their little boy chooses a doll over a truck or their little girl opts for cowboys over princesses. The truth is that it doesn’t matter, and the reality of gender specific programming is not something a toddler knows; it is something that is learned from the parents and is something the parents, create for their child. Although it's becoming more and more common for transgendered and trans-variant children in society to swing their views, likes, needs, and ideations to the opposite gender or "how they feel".

What your toddler knows is that he or she enjoys doing certain activities. These activities, whether sorting, role-playing, or building – can be done equally well with toys that are pink or blue, and few children (unless prompted by siblings or adults) see toys as gender specific. In today’s world where gender specific roles of men and women are becoming less of a factor in families, it is only natural that a little boy may choose to play with a doll. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with a girl pushing a toy lawnmower through the yard emulating her own mother who does the same.

Imaginative play is an integral part of childhood development. In a medical thesis by Dr. Carter Bruce, Cognitive Aspects of Sex-Role Development, clinical research proved that gender specific toys played a significant role in socialization that led to recognized principles of sex role development later in life. In other words, the mother or father who gasps or becomes uncomfortable upon seeing their little boy cook or play with dolls is simply passing on outdated schools of thought about what is acceptable for males and females. This same method of thinking would serve to stymie a male child as an artist or musician and, likewise, thwart a female from becoming a professional athlete. Although most parents do not gasp or gawk to intentionally divert their child’s attention, many parents harbor secret anxieties about their child being perceived as ‘normal’, as well as fears of their child becoming or being seen as a ‘homosexual.’

Let’s face it, kids are just kids, who really cares about gender. They love to play with other children and often can spend lengthy amounts of time playing with simple toys using their imagination as a guide. While a parent may feel that pointing a child in a certain direction at a young age will heighten their interest, potential, or talent, chances are, if it isn’t something they are passionate about as they get older, it will fall by the wayside regardless.

The other important consideration about gender specific toys is that toddlers need to be raised with the awareness that whether they are male or female, they can pursue anything of interest to them. When they approach pre-school, other children being schooled under gender specific thought patterns will no doubt call your son a sissy if he plays with dolls or other girls instead of the other boys. Similarly, girls are perceived as tomboys if they are good at sports and disinterested in bows, ribbons, and fancy dresses. But it doesn’t really matter. The role of a parent is to remain supportive of our children, regardless of what they are passionate about and despite what we think they should be doing.

As parents, if we send a shameful message to our children, even one void of words – we are setting them up to feel insecure and ashamed of themselves. We are also taking away their opportunity to use their imagination, develop cognitively, and learn about the equality of the sexes.

Perhaps most importantly for parents to realize, is the fact that regardless of what kind of toy your son or daughter likes to play with, there is absolutely no sustenance to the thinking that allowing a boy to play with girl toys, or vice-versa, causes any type of social or sexual damage later in life. In fact, there is more proof to the contrary. Your toddler is just a young child and is able to enjoy many venues and environments, seeing the sheer delight that each brings. The same is true for their toys.

So for Lego, or other toy companies, like that, toys shouldn't limit out kids, and in fact, they should be there to help with their creative outlet. By telling or marketing toys for specific gender and roles, in my opinion is wrong and teaches the wrong values for children today.

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