Earlier this week, I posted a link to an article on The Daily Dot to the Gallant Girls Facebook page. That article was about the Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer book that has caused a lot of controversy in the women’s rights and feminist communities, as well as many of our female-empowering sister sites. After posting this particular article, one of our participant Gallant Girls made some very thought-provoking comments in the post’s comment thread. Her incredibly valid argument was that Barbie is just a “fantasy toy” and “untruth”, and that it is OUR job as parents not to purchase these toys for our children, and to also proactively explain to them why. She expressed that as parents, it is our job to restrict the product(s) instead of blaming the companies that manufacture them or the publishers who distribute the books. I do not disagree in any form or fashion about not purchasing these items for your children, if that is how strongly you feel. I have definitely said a big, adamant, don’t-even-ask NO! to some things (like Cotillion, for example — my daughter won’t even touch that topic because she knows it will never happen under our roof, and she knows this because I explained that it represents all of the things I am NOT raising her to be; yet, she understands this is not the opinion of everyone and not to judge anyone who feels differently than me/her/us), so I completely respect this Gallant Mom who is taking a firm stand in what she believes in. Or better yet, what she doesn’t believe in at all!
However, she and I wrote back and forth on the topic, and as we did, I began to accumulate my thoughts in that thread, and when I went back and reread our tête-à-tête, I was delighted that she had completely prompted me to write the bare bones of an article just within two examinations of one topic. (So, thank you, Gallant Girl Maria! You were the sole inspiration for this op-ed(-ish) write-up. This is what I love about exploration in conversation with others!)
In response to the idea that we should not blame toy companies for how our children view a product (that is not based in reality) because it is our job to educate them, this is how *I* feel, in my most humble opinion:
If we don’t buy Barbie (Monster High, Bratz, and all the other fantasy fashion dolls that are out there on the market), we have to recognize WHAT toys are out there marketed to young girls beyond those. Sure, we can venture into the boys’ aisles to break free of the endless sea of pink and all the superficial shopping/fashion/make-up themed toys, but that is not the point I was attempting to make when sharing and featuring the aforementioned article from The Daily Dot. Our children still SEE the endless sea of pink and possibly compute, ‘This is how MY society thinks girls — a girl like me — should be.’ I agree that we, as parents, can enforce staying away from them and not purchasing them for our children (and I am not saying that I do because I actually don’t entirely (that’s a different Gallant Girls essay)), but what IF we lived in a world where there WERE positive, liberating toys (fantasy or not) that dominated the girls’ toy aisles? That would be wonderful! Yet, without speaking out about it, it will never change. Right now, it’s working for those toy manufacturers because, up until now, obviously not enough people were.
Realistically, I know we will never do away with Barbie for how long she’s been a staple, iconic toy. Likewise, I don’t, personally, believe in sheltering my child from such things, but educating her and keeping the lines of communication open about the unrealistic body image and stereotypes of girls and women that they perpetuate. Nonetheless, Gallant Girls is about empowering young girls – ALL girls, not just my own – and part of that is letting other people and toy companies know when they are being falsely categorized or pigeonholed. In essence, advocating for them while we are teaching them to find their own voices and their own convictions. And Gallant Girl Maria is so very right; if you give them the tools, they will one day be able to decide on their own just how important it is to them that no one tells them HOW or WHO they are or how to be. Better yet, they will be able to tell them to quit falsely representing them. Not all of us end an important conversation or a frustrating problem solved with a pillow fight. ::grumble::
I do, conversely, believe in forms of ethical and moral responsibility from corporations and companies to, at the very least, portray young girls as they should be portrayed, even if their products and “fantasy” toys are so obviously make-believe. For every parent who teaches their children the untruths, as Gallant Girl Maria does under her roof, there are households out there who do not. Gallant Girls’ aim is to speak up and out for those girls, as much as our own, on the chance that they need it and don’t know how to speak up because they have no one they feel comfortable going to.
We as Gallant Girls and Guys just can’t blindly trust that every child comprehends these fantasy toys are actually not what the world expects of them. We cannot gauge what seeps into our children’s subconscious and psyche, even if we ban or omit things in our own homes, because the frank reality is that it is seen, heard, and shared constantly by peers, advertisements, and other people in their lives when they are not with us (whether that be grandparents, blended family members, educators, siblings of friends or their friends’ parents). They are always looking and digesting, even when we’re there talking to them about all of these things. We’re never their *only* influence. So, we can do our best, but we can encourage others — even businesses — to try and do theirs too. As the founder of Gallant Girls, this is a moral obligation of all we stand (up) for and behind. It is not because we think our young Gallant Girls are weak or mindless in any way; it is because what is fundamentally so wrong with marketing empowering toys for them?!
What we need to realize is that as consumers, we dictate what sells. It starts at home, for sure; hence why we have to keep educating what is out there and what our children are being subjected to (and not just toy companies, but television, advertising for products, music, etcetera). It takes a village to raise a child, as the adage goes, and that village needs a say-so in what culture and society are feeding her/him. At the end of the day, we rule over them more than they rule over us, but without talking about it and raising awareness, it begins to grow like kudzu. Thankfully parents are taking a stand, and even though it is slow going, I see strides and progress made every day! We are finally learning that the more we speak out, petition, educate, spread awareness, and TELL these people what we want, over time progress is made. All small victories are great, big triumphs!
And once again, thank you to Gallant Girl Maria for being the muse who inspired me to write this. It’s always so fantastic when someone sparks a flame in you to write something you feel passionately about! Lately I have felt that all my thoughts have already been written by the overwhelmingly awesome amount of activists out there who are publishing articles and blogging every day, but there’s no better food or fuel than a healthy debate between two people behind the same cause.
— Heather Angelika
Founder/Owner of Gallant Girls
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