Pink Attack!

I don't think I really recognized how much stuff I've avoided dealing with by only having boys until I read _Cinderella Ate My Daughter_ by Peggy Orenstein.  You see, despite the fact that I joke about living in the testosterone house, or being the only female in a house of guys (until C. and K. recently returned to their family, there were 8 males and me - now we're down to a mellow six males), my boys are growing up in a household without much in the way of rigid gender roles, or their toys.    Given the combination of no girls and no tv, I am only vaguely aware of phenomena like Miley Cyrus or Disney Princesses.  I had no idea that the Princess dresses were color coded, or that Princesses were a thing in and of themselves.  I do have nieces, but I'm insulated from the day-to-day girl thing.

Still, sooner or later, taking big sibling groups, I'm bound to get a girl or two, and the few I've had have provided an education of sorts.  Three year old K. came with a "Barbie' (actually one of those pouty Bratz knock offs), and didn't understand why I have no Barbies - it was a big deal, she was having a REALLY BAD DAY when she came to me, and dammit, she needed to play some Barbies.  I don't love Barbie, but when a child arrives with belt marks and hysterical fear that you too will beat her, Barbies are the least of my worries - in fact, if a Disney Princess or a Barbie can make a child feel that this is a pleasant and safe place to be, heck, I'm for it.

Since then, I've actually been keeping an eye out for used Barbie dolls, especially non-white ones (will barter books for your old ones, btw, please drop me a line), because while I don't love Barbie, I don't feel that addressing gender stereotypes is my first priority with foster kids - usually we have to deal with food, safety, trauma and other things first.  There's time enough later on for me to talk about the limited merits of bazongas the size of Tahiti.   So I am slowingly accumulating nice dolls and clothes for them, Barbies and glittery dress up clothes - things in short supply previously at my home (I will barter books for any of these items if you have old ones in good shape that you'd like to get rid of - I am particularly interested in non-white dolls).

Because I have no actual daughters, and the kids who come to me are pretty traumatized, I have a sort of peripheral relationship to the question of princessiness - by the time they get to me, life is so hard for them that I don't actually care very much about what subtle messages about body image and self-worth that may be sent to the kids - I'm too busy taping them back together from the big destruction of their self-worth - neglect, abuse, separation from their families.  First we have to get to "you are a person who doesn't deserve to be hurt" before we can approach "you are a person whose self-worth should not be focused on appearance."

That does not, however, mean those issues aren't real, or don't have a real place in my future thoughts about daughters.  In fact, kids who have been traumatized are more vulnerable to consumer culture that tells them they are valueless except what they wear/have/own.  Girls who have been in foster care have demonstrably worse relationships to body image and self worth, and are prone to all the bad outcomes.  But that's for the long term, and at this point I've had no girls for more than 5 days, so all I can do is put band-aids on and send them home with some toys and clothes.  The rest comes over time - hopefully I'll have the opportunity to get there someday with kids who stay.

What was revealing to me about _Cinderella Ate my Daughter_ was not just how gendered and commercialized girlhood has become (I had no idea, since we almost never buy any toy new, that there were pink versions of just about every toy and game), but the degree to which, in my single-gendered household, we never worry about girl-boy markers.  Even with foster children who grew up in very different family cultures than mine, there is rarely more than a quick question - for example, the bedroom that most of our kids have lived in includes a toy kitchen.  Asher, C. and K. spent a lot of time preparing plastic sushi and wooden salads for me.  C. did ask whether the kitchen was only for girls, but when I pointed out that there aren't any here, he was happy to play with it.  In a home where there are specific markers for boy and girl, that might have been harder to get him to do so.  And that would have been a pity.

In fact, we have a lot of "girl" toys and always have.  Both Isaiah and Asher went through phases of loving the color pink (for a while when I would say "Asher likes pink" Asher would correct me - he'd say "Mooooom...I don't LIKE pink, I AM pink." ) I loved that , and was sorry to see them age out of it.  Before they did, however, we had a large collection of pink pajamas, a pink Fisher-Price castle, a pink bat and ball, a pink soccer ball, a pink-and-purple bike and a bunch of pink bedding.

We also have boys who love and collect stuffed animals (and play with them), and a  son who went through a stage of addiction to the American Girl books (only the books, he was never interested in the dolls, sadly, but we own almost all the books).  My oldest doesn't care about or recognize gender difference at all due to his autism, the other three only barely do (Simon's response when I had to explain why even though his friend pulled up his shirt, he couldn't do the same to her, because of the differences between boy flat chests and girl flat chests..."Seriously?  That's really stupid, Mom, but ok.")  When foster children have asserted gender differences to my kids, they have generally been dismissive, (No, that's not for girls, boys can play with anything they want) and it comes out very differently when it is kids talking to other kids, rather than an attempt by adults to lecture.  The combination of homeschooling and never having any reason to say "Oh, that's because he's a boy" means that we've just managed to skip over a certain amount of gendered stuff.

Despite the pink phase, we never had princesses, and I didn't realize how ubiquitous they were.  I don't have any princessy memories of my own childhood at all.  I was a classic tomboy in many respects but I liked dolls and dresses, but I just don't remember being obsessed with pink, with sparkling and dressing up like a princess.  I honestly don't remember identifying with princess characters in movies I saw, either.  Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, yes, the heroine in _East of the Sun, West of the Moon_, sure, but princesses?  It just doesn't ring a bell.  I remember not liking the color pink very much as a kid either - I liked bright green and orange (I still do), and as a preteen, black (of course), but pink?

There isn't much that doesn't come in pink now.  I had noticed this vaguely as I built up a collection of girl clothes - I instinctively prefer colors other than pastels, and pink is not a fave, but an awful lot of the clothes I found were pink.  I noticed it most when I found an occasional item in a primary color that I loved - a size four green and black shirt with bird designs, a bright red and purple sweater, a yellow and cream jacket...that is, I would notice how little color choice there was mostly when I saw something that wasn't pink or purple.  Now there might be more out there - I don't shop new, but you couldn't tell from my stash.

I also noticed the ummm..hootchie factor.  Looking at a size six girl's shirt and a size six boy's shirt, there is only about half as much fabric in the former as the latter.  While a lot of friends and readers who sent me clothes for my foster stash clearly had taste similar to mine, I got some truly horrifying stuff - short-shorts with the name of a store on the butt (for a four year old!), midriff cut shirts that said "bad girl," even a set of girl's winter boots for a six year old that had high heels.  When receiving bags of outgrown clothing I've always had a "over my dead body" bag, but for the most part it was limited to a few commercial tie ins, NASCAR and militaristic stuff for my boys.  With girl stuff the bag got full fast and the language go stronger "over my dead and rotting corpse" was more like it.  Some kids in foster care have been sexually abused and the last thing they need to deal with is a lack of bodily privacy and commodification at too young an age.  Sometimes as much stuff went as came in - no matter how badly I might need clothes, I have my limits.

Peggy Orenstein documents how everything is pink, talks about the messages all that princessy stuff and the adjuncts send, etc...and the problem of consumer culture and its pinkization of everything.  It is a brilliant marketing scheme, because, of course, a family that has a daughter and buys a pink baseball bat will inevitably buy a regular one when they have a son - if girls have to have everything pink, you can sell twice as much.  She does a laudable job showing how even the better options, in that they are less sexualized, (American Girl, for example) really create a commodified girlhood in which mothers and daughters don't so much do together as buy together.

Where I think Orenstein doesn't quite go far enough is in her fundamental critique of consumer culture, although she does go a fair ways, back and forth, always with analysis and self-doubt.  Women are the primary drivers of American consumer culture, influencing or directly making almost 80% of all purchases.  Orenstein gets that consumer culture is a big part of the problem, but she doesn't see it as a soluble problem - the answer is to make better stuff for girls that isn't so sexist or sexualized - to make a truly less frou-frou legos like this (from 1981):

Ultimately I'm not convinced you can have any kind of functional relationship with consumer culture - even though, of course, I have one.  I live in large measure off the waste of industrial society, a waste that will probably dry up some day.  Orenstein quotes a an industry exec at a toy marketing conference as saying, to her question "Do you have to have all this pink?": "Only if you want to make money."  She points out that the constant fragmentation of children into ever-smaller groups that require different clothes, toys, etc... is part unlikely to stop - she observes that "toddlerhood" was not initially a psychological concept, but a marketing one to get people to buy gendered clothing earlier.  Psychologists took it up, but it was based on marketing - a similar phenomenon to the emergence of "tweens" and (ugh) "pre-tweens."  The more you divide, the more you buy.  The more different boys and girls and boys and girls of different ages are markered out to be, the more you sell.

I have a theory about the pinkization myself.  Femininity used to be commodified by giving children the cultural markers of feminine WORK - little girls got toy kitchens, baby dolls, toy brooms, toy houses.  Domestic labor was what marked out womanhood.  This definitely sucked in some ways, if instead of the erector set you got a toy wash basin, and you really wanted the erector set, but the cool thing about it was that you told little girls that in some measure they were being defined by their competence.  Yes, it was a limited sphere.  No, the "you can't have an erector set because you are a girl" is wrong.  But in trying to end the "the only work you can do is girl work" we replaced it with "girls don't do anything different, so you have to define yourself in other measures - by how you look and what color you wear."

Now it is color, certain categories of uber-femme stuff (glitter, dresses, fairy wings, etc...).  As Orenstein rightly points out, there are periods in girlhood when gender is an extremely rigid concept for children, because they are just emerging from an idea that it might be fluid, that they might actually change gender by trying out other-gendered stuff.  But because we have so systematically devalued women's work of all kinds, and domestic labor, categorizing it as largely worthless, we've had to invent a new category of "female" - she's pretty in pink.  That's how you tell you are a female.

Now as we all know, I think domestic labor should be shared across genders - and I live that conviction, as does my husband and sons.  But I also think traditional women's work has tremendous cultural value and impact - that the externalization and loss of domestic labor has been an economic and ecological disaster for the planet.  While domestic work shouldn't only be feminine, if you ask me whether I'd rather my daughter have a shirt that says "little hottie" on it and a makeover birthday party at 7. or a toy kitchen and a baby doll to rock, well, I don't find that too tough a question.  When we threw out and devalued domestic labor, we set the stage for the uber-pink world in which a girl's cuteness is all.

That's why I so loathe the category of children's book that begins "Our heroine Fuffynooners is a spirited girl who despite growing up in the Colonial/Medieval/whatever era, hates to sew and knit, but really likes to rescue slaves on horseback from the underground railroad."  Besides the unbelievable picture of history they paint, I find it repulsive that in a culture where not knowing how to sew a seam is the norm, sewing is still being used as a metaphor for "oppression."  Female domestic labor could be and often was liberating for women - a way of expressing themselves, a place they could succeed.  While it sucks to be tied to a thimble only at the cost of education, and it is worth teaching children about that history, do we really need to convince young women that being spunky and spirited mostly means being cute and refusing to learn to take care of domestic life?

In the end, we devalued and sexualized girls to make money.  We also devalued and erased domestic labor to make money - that is, it is much more profitable for the larger economy to have you eat out than to cook, to have you throw out those ripped jeans than repair them, and to buy a pink and a blue scrabble set.  By tying domestic labor, rather than social attitudes to gender repression, and making one the marker of the other, we made sure that plenty of money would be made both on girls who have no real work, no valuable skills to attach to their identity as girls (other than making themselves pretty), and that their mothers too would be set free to earn the money in the formal economy to buy them their tiaras.

The irony of this is that I still am looking for non-white Barbie dolls, I still need a couple of glittery tiaras, and I am keeping an eye on Craigslist for used American girl dolls.  If I gave birth to a girl (not bloody gonna happen), I might have a chance of avoiding the princess thing entirely, but the kids who come to me have pasts, and as I said, Barbie is way down on the list of things to worry about.  But to my mind, what kids need is not the absence of that pink stuff, but something affirmative that they can do that identifies them as girls - that doesn't mean it has to be the exclusive territory of girls, but even historical categories of women's work give kids something to do, rather than buy.  Making doll clothes for  tarty 9 inch fashion dolls was my earliest sewing project, recognizing that as Orenstein notes, Princesses don't really DO anything, but women, well, not only do we do all sorts of non-gendered things, but there are cool historical categories like fiber arts and home cooking, that while not exclusively female, were pioneered by women and that can mark you as the inheritor of a kind of important femininity.

As we all know, the planet cannot support a world where every kid has to have their own colored toys, and four billion of them.  All frou-frou is not bad (I'm not an especially frou-frou person, but even I like it sometimes) but no kid needs an all pink and glitter world.  More importantly, the things we threw out in redefining girlhood and womanhood are things we're going to need - and scramble to get back.

How will this actually play out?  Who knows, and if they keep sending me more boys, well, I may never know.  I'll keep you all updated.


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My daughter got me a Barbie when i announced my transition; she's standing on the dresser, issues and all. Raise her arm and she makes tinkly sounds, so she's not for obsessive-soundmaker-sensitive households. Kid (now 27) would be proud to see her donated to such a cause, so if she fits the need, message/mail me a mailing address (I've lost it, I'm sure) and she will be on her way.

I don't have Barbies of color here right now, but I'll be on the lookout for you. I can, however, send off some Barbie outfits for your kiddos. Please send me an email with shipping info!

Regarding clothing for toddlers and preschoolers, Chad Orzel of Uncertain Principles has noted on multiple occasions that he normally buys boys' clothes for his daughter, "SteelyKid". The reason is not so much the princessification of the girls' clothes (although he and his wife do not much care for that, either) as his observation that boys' clothes tend to be better constructed and more durable. That's an important consideration for active children, so you shouldn't be afraid to offer girls of that age boys' clothes (whether they would be willing to wear those clothes is a separate question).

Chad isn't too far from where you are (he is also in the Capital Region of New York), so it might be worth your while to get in touch. It's probably too soon to ask him for castoffs, though, because SteelyKid has a younger brother, "The Pip". (The kids' pseudonyms come from his calling his house Chateau Steelypips; you'll have to ask him about the origin of that name.)

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 09 Aug 2012 #permalink

Fascinating post! I'm new mom to a baby daughter and while I was concerned about some of these issues before, now they've taken on sudden meaning for me. I will have to be dealing with the pinkness and cuteness and (sigh) hawtness for years! I think I might look that book up on interlibrary loan... but I especially love the insight you pointed out, into the connection between devaluing domestic work and devaluing/commercializing/sexing up femininity. I might have to think on that one for a while. How am I going to foster the awesome kind of femininity while avoiding the commercialized kind? Well, by buying a lot less stuff, obviously, and maybe I'll teach her to knit just like my grandma taught me. If I have a boy in future, I'll teach him to knit too.

Side note: the overwhelming pink/purpleness of girl clothing has not gotten any better. It really annoyed my husband particularly, so we have gotten in the habit of buying any non-pink and non-purple clothing for her we see at garage sales. There's a green and blue dress with whales I particularly like. Blue was MY favorite color when I was small and I was always annoyed that it was supposed to be a "boy color."

By Katharine T (not verified) on 09 Aug 2012 #permalink

Raising two boys, I’ve also been able to view the pink bizarro universe from a safer distance. And while some days I thank the chromosome gods that they didn’t give me girls, I have tried to take a close look at the impacts of gender stereotyping on my own sons – though they both seem pretty oblivious.

At the risk of over-generalizing, it seems to me that girl gender-stereotyping tends toward the “be this!” (e.g. pink; princessy; friend-obsessed and shoppy) whereas boy gender-stereotyping tends toward the “don’t be that!” That is, most boys (and mine seem to fall into this camp) don’t notice impacts of gender stereotyping, because most of (or at least enough of) their interests or habits don’t fall into the categories that send up those red flags. (The boys who want to dress up in pink or obsess about who their best friends are, are almost certainly going to run into some serious conflict – they certainly did in my day.) I suspect that girls are more likely to feel the impacts, just because there is so much more terrain that falls outside the norm of girliness, and so much more potential to “get it wrong.”

I think gender stereotyping is destructive to people who don’t “fit the stereotype” regardless of whether they are boys or girls, but in pure numerical terms it means a lot more girls than boys are facing serious pressure to contort themselves.

Consumerism is built on the twin pillars of desire and anxiety, and the only mystery is why they haven’t done a better job of traumatizing little boys’ childhoods as an engine for sales.

By Andy Brown (not verified) on 09 Aug 2012 #permalink

Preach it, Sharon!

Eric's observation that boy's clothes are built better than girl's clothes is unfortunately not limited to children's clothing. Women's clothing is typically twice as expensive and less well constructed than even bargain basement mens clothing. It's rather obscene. If I could get away with fitting into mens clothes I would.

Growing up I never saw any of this. The only princess around was Snow White, and she doesn't do much and I still to this day haven't seen the whole movie. I wore my brother's hand-me-downs, mostly. We did the same chores other than he always had to mow the lawn and I never did, and I think I did a lot more canning and cooking although he helped some. It was absolutely not a progressive household, but never was there anything explicit about the value of those chores. (Other than my brother could mow lawns for cash and I couldn't.) The only instance I recall was some fuss at school when I demanded to take shop and they couldn't come up with a reason why not.

As a middle aged woman, I'm glad that my brain wasn't filled with messages about what I could or could not be due to my sex, but from puberty to about 35 it was very hard not being savvy to the culture everyone else was. In some ways being acculturated and exposed to the mainstream is important... even if the mainstream is, well, wrong.

Oh, I hate heroines that reject cooking and sewing, too. That is why I do not make a fuss about the occasional pink toy or princess play. I don't want my daughter to feel that there are things she isn't supposed to be, or allowed to be, interested in.

I've got one princess obsessed lover of pink...although in her case I think she's really held on to the pink princessy thing because her brother thinks it's awful and never misses an opportunity to say so. On the other hand, she doesn't want everything pink...just a few items we color code for convenience (our blue, yellow, orange, pink, and purple toothbrushes, for example). In fant, now that I think about it, she claims a lot of fondness for pink to rub the older brother's face in it, but when she's actually selecting clothes from her extensive collection of extended family hand me downs, she tends to select bright greenish blues and red. I worry about girls for whom the princess thing is the only obsession. Rose's love for cephalopods and spiders makes me feel better.

As much as I do think that all this pinkness is horrible, I don't think it's entirely the work of marketing. My parents (who had three boys and me, the female) say they did their best not to conform to gender stereotypes and that, in a lot of ways, my brothers were easier. They had a boy doll and all of that. I was the one who instantly loved ballet and all things sparkly. Although I still played with Legos aplenty. :) I think the trick is to introduce the toys without the stigma of "boy" or "girl" toys. Challenge them to build something with Legos. And seeing your boys play with "girl" toys might help take some of the stigma away.
Also, the Princesses can have some teachable moments. Belle was always my favorite because, like me, she enjoyed reading. I knew basically no other girls growing up who read like I do, so having that role model reinforcing the behavior was excellent.

Belle was my favorite when I was younger because of the book thing, but I've kind of fallen for Tiana and her restaurant.

Never read "Rescuing Ophelia" and "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" back to back unless you want to utterly despair of any positive future for little girls - utterly harrowing.

Even as a non-parent, I've noticed the intense sexualization of even very young girls, and keep thinking, WTF?! It's very disturbing.
Growing up, I don't think my parents ever thought we had a gender-typed household ... but somehow, I had three times as many chores as my (two) brothers shared between them ... and I wonder why decades later I'm still trying to be everyone's mother, and general domestic servant, despite sometimes really resenting the role. Yeesh, it's hard to break ingrained behavioral and thought patterns.
If they still make such things, or the old ones are still around -- they must be, it was only the 70s -- look for the Sunshine Family dolls. African American family of mother, father and baby, slightly smaller than Barbies. And refreshingly non-over-endowed. I believe they came dressed in rainbow-hues. It being the 70s.
Used to have a set, not sure if it's still floating around somewhere. Will have a look.
And if you just want to fall over laughing at something truly absurd (for you, not the kids), look for -- damn, I've forgotten the name. There was a teen-age Barbie whose, what was the word? bazongas, grew (and shrank) if you twisted her arms. Although as I recall, this was highly entertaining for a 10-year-old.

You might find the source a bit suspect, but this provides ample links to show that "pink" == "girl" is a relatively recent marketing invention. In fact, less than 100 years ago many people considered it to the the most appropriate color for boys while blue, being cool and passive, was for girls.

I'm not keen on the princess movement, and skanky clothes for ten year olds are horrible. My friend's teenage sons refer to the tweens so dressed as "prostitots and kinderhoes". Hardly the reaction either the children or their parents hope for.

I can understand though, why girl's toys have moved away from little stoves and ironing boards. A lot of play is mimicry of adult behavior and many children do not see their parents doing domestic chores When my children were young housework began only after they fell asleep. The short time between daycare and bed was for stories and games.

Instead of playing "house" as I used to, they played "store" or "builder" or "museum". ( Yes, museum. It's easy to find fossils where we live.) The best games were long on imagination and short on store-bought props. They also seemed to be fairly gender-neutral - at least I remember both boys and girls joining in.

I can't imagine ever buying pink and glitter versions of the standard toys. My stuff is still in circulation when young children - both boys and girls - visit

My girls have played with their extensive collection of second hand Barbies incessantly, but only because they need adult dolls for their imaginative games. Our Barbies have descended from the balcony with parachutes, swung precariously between trees on a flying fox, been buried in coffins, sailed the pool in boats, and led very adventurous lives on the whole. They have also been princesses, wicked witches, orphans, beggars, farmers and archeologists.

Apart from obvious 'kinderhoe' clothes (love that tem!) I have never challenged any of the children on their clothes preferences, and they have all gone through the 'pink and glitter' phase, then moved on. I think my girls have very healthy senses of self, because we as parents have worked very hard to help with that, read them fabulous books, shown them great role models, let them experiment with anything they want to do. I do worry though, that there are many little girls out there who are defined and confined by popular culture, and who have no real purpose in life other than to be decorative.
My own however? Well yesterday the 7yo was dressed in a pink tutu, jeans and gumboots while building a volcano in the sandpit...

"girls don’t do anything different, so you have to define yourself in other measures "

What comes to my mind is the princess scene from one of the Shrek movies. A cell full of princesses and Fiona wants out, "All right ladies, assume the position!" as all the rest prepare to wait to be rescued.

That, to me, is the horrifying part of the princess thing. It puts girls on a pedestal, instead of introducing them to work, and appreciation for the work they do in chores and other projects.

We recognize that playing with baby dolls is a preparation for raising a family. But the rest of the preparation was at least as important, including sewing to *have* a wardrobe, cooking to *have* food, and *selecting* a mate (instead of a glamorous accessory to show offf/adore the princess).

Blessed be, to all.

Toys should be manufactured as an educational aide for children relative to their age even if it just involves a fluffy stimulant. I am of the self formed belief that a truly objective intellect is asexual and if we want to develop that most human of traits in children, toys ought to be non gender based. In contemporary human culture boys get threatened with teasing a lot if they want to play in the company of girls and girls are labelled with being masculine if they eschew the pink burqa. In a BBC documentary it was shown that male intra-sexual competitiveness increased in a group of young male skateboarders if two young females suddenly appeared so as to join their company. This was ascertained by the boys in recorded increased levels of testosterone a hormone largely responsible for aggressive fighting and competing. Married men, whether fathers or not, have much lower levels of testosterone than single men. Thus being the case perhaps educational bodies including toy makers should focus more on children of either sex doing activities together especially from an early age to avoid any sexual apartheid. The only foreseeable activity in which there will be a marked difference in performance will be in physical sport but surely there will be at least some overlapping.

By Andrew Planet (not verified) on 10 Aug 2012 #permalink

My (only child) son has a toy kitchen, and he plays with his 2yr old boy cousin with it. He asked me once if it was a girl toy, and I told him not really, men can cook, too, if they learn how. When I was in my 20's, I used to dye my hair pink, not because I love pink (my favorite color is actually blue), but as a sort of rebellion against pink itself. I stopped because I got tired of the looks, and I didn't want to have to explain my pink hair at IEP meetings :) I worked at a party store a few years ago and noticed the little girls' costumes were getting a bit out of control, and the womens' costumes are even worse-just try to find a Halloween costume that's fit to wear outside the bedroom these days! I took home economics 5 times from 8th grade through 12th, not because i was obsessed with sewing or cooking, but because i was transferred out of auto mechanics, wood shop, metal shop, and construction. I guess it worked out ok, because i landed a sweet job sewing costumes for a community theater while I was pregnant and couldn't really do anything else, and the job got me through a tough financial situation. I still wish I could change my own oil, or build a stable chicken coop, though. (sorry about the rambling writing style lol)

By Sandra Wilson (not verified) on 10 Aug 2012 #permalink

there's also a social class aspect to the pink explosion. Cheaper kids' clothes are all either covered in trucks or pink with sparkles, but more expensive kids' clothes aren't like that. Upscale shops have lots of non-pink clothes for girls and non-tractor clothes for boys. So if you want to avoid super gendered clothing, you still have to pay more, and if you don't, the kids get the double-whammy of being forced into gender stereotypes, and being labeled as lower-class by people who notice these things.
Luckily, for those of us who are either too old to have been put off sewing, or ignored the message that it's women's work so not a valuable skill, there's always the option of making the clothes yourself.

In our house with 2 teenage girls, the favored dress among both sexes when they were young, was the black velveteen with the gold lame’ruffles. My older dd loved princess and bride dresses, was a princess for Halloween until second grade when she dressed as a scary, unisex vampire. My younger one preferred fake animal print accessories plus gold sequined belts and glittered shoes; actually they both liked those shoes. I think their friends who were boys, who loved our velvet dress and other sparkly apparel, did so because boys DON’T usually get to wear this kind of fun, glitterly clothing. Our older one briefly embraced the hoochie look (hand me downs, I would never buy them even used). They were somehow ‘disappeared’.

We remained Barbie free until older dd was 5, neither really liked them and preferred stuffed animals. They both took an awesome summer class that showed what Barbie would look like if you made her human sized: ie only room for one lung in that chest and tiny waist; they loved that class and so did we!

Thanks for bringing back my one and only princess-related memory from my childhood. I must have been about four, maybe younger. I remember having just gone to the bathroom and, as was my habit, turning around to watch the poop go down the drain when I flushed. Suddenly, a vivid thought popped into my head: "a princess wouldn't look at poop!" I was torn between wanting to look at the poop and wanting to act like a princess. I truly believed that if I could act like a princess at all times and never have an un-princessly thought, I would actually become a princess.

This was a short lives phase in my life, which ended, if I remember right, about the time we moved to a small farm and I became interested in animals and dirt.

I have a My American Girl at my mother's house, but it is not a doll of color. It's white, brown hair and grey eyes. My sister did have Josefina that she might no longer want...

The nice thing about those dolls is they are a large enough size that you can sew for them.

Aimee, you win best comment on a post!!! That's awesome!

Tegan, if you want to trade any American girl dolls for books, I'd be happy to - I particularly need non-white dolls, but white ones are fine as long as I have a good mix. I love that they are big enough to sew for - and I want to teach the boys to make them clothes. Risa, same here, I'll email both of you.


Hooray! Great post. Here in Australia a mother has just used social networking to blast the cheap department stores for selling really inappropriate clothes for little girls. I still can't get over seeing a girl of about six in a shopping mall a few years ago with the word 'slut' picked out in sparkles on her pink t-shirt. I can only hope her parents were not English-speaking.

And I can't agree more that we need to stop idea that feminism and domestic skills are mutually exclusive. I research textile history, so it's a personal mission ...

Oh, and I never got the princess thing, but then I think that was down to living in a country where we had a real one if only very occasionally - Princess Anne was very horsey and down to earth and not really about pink or glitz. 'Our Mary', aka the Australian Crown Princess of Denmark fits the bill a little better, but she's all about jogging and cycling too and she used to work in an office. I think that I understood from an early age that if you were a princess or a queen you spent all of your time opening hospitals.

Having successfully (I think) raised 2 daughters into their early 20's by the credo in an old Bob Dylan song "can you cook and sew make flowers grow" with the background belief that all people should know how to meet their own basic needs, your blog reallybresonats with me. I'm a primary teacher seeing so many of our kids growing up to be quite helpless; with parents clesting their every path for them and

By louise ney (not verified) on 21 Aug 2012 #permalink

(blast these small buttons)...clearing....and allowing themselves and their children to be led through life by marketing. I love Jo's image of her daughter making volcanoes in her tutu..the stuff my best memories of my own are made of!

By louise ney (not verified) on 21 Aug 2012 #permalink

If you get older barbies (from the 60s and 70s), they're shaped somewhat more realistically...

I was born in the mid-80s, and, when I reached Barbie-age and wanted one, my mom dug out her old ones, realized that the clothes were Utterly Unsuited to Anything of Value, and sewed/knit worksuits for Barbie because Barbie needed to be able to go out and earn a living.

And then my mom wonders where the feminism comes from. GEE, I wonder.