Dealing with my hate of advertising

This is so wrong on so many levels.

I am staunchly against "themed" toys. Anthony thinks I overreact to things like "pretty princesses" and our kiddie camping chair with Disney's Cars plastered all over it (I HATE it). But after years of studying advertising and its affects on a kid's perception of him- or herself and their world I think it's safe to say it skews things towards a marketer's world view. Not a realistic, humanistic view.

I think that McDonalds and the like, should not be allowed to include toys in their meals, or even cartoons. I think that Disney should stick to making movies and maybe a themed lunch box or two, maybe a pair of sheets, but not a whole suite of themed merchandise. We're just over saturated.

I remember having a set of Miss Piggy sheets and they were special. Is it special anymore to have a thousand things with a franchise plastered all over it??

Currently in our house it's not an issue, but I'm gearing up for it. I have to be prepared even though right now Hollis plays with a turkey baster and is happy. There will come a time when he might say, "Mommy, I want that Spiderman backpack" and I'll have to consider his little kid desires against my natural inclination to avoid brand-loyalty, consumerism, and sexism. Why won't he want the Wonder Woman bag?? Or the Cinderella bag?? (Although, maybe I'm not giving him credit and he may want one of those in which case I'll be thrilled he's following his own heart, but I'll still have to contend with the mass-branding of a money-making franchise...)

I was just at a good friend's house who has 2 1/2 year old twin girls and her living room was filled with "little girl" toys: mini high chairs and baby play pens for their dolls, all plastered with Disney princesses and in bright pink. I thought, "Will my living room one day be filled with a mini-garage set up in dark greens and blues?"

My friend is an opinionated, fiery feminist and plans fully on leading by example that women are equal to men, can do everything a man can do intellectually, and can do whatever their hearts desires, yet, her room was filled with stereotypically "girl" toys. Why was that?

"All this is from my mom," she explained with a laugh.

Aha! Exactly! And if I think to any stereotypically "boy" toys that Hollis might have it's usually from a friend or family member. Thankfully, no guns, yet. I think I'll just donate those outright (sorry, Granddad, if you had big plans on "shooting" things with your grandson).

I have another friend, again, another wickedly smart woman and feminist, whose 3 year old is obsessed with princesses. I laugh because of course she'd want to wear her tiaras and princess costumes all day every day. OF COURSE she would! And my friend lets her and it's wonderful and amazing and I know that this little girl will remember her childhood full of magic and fun even while she enters womanhood with a her mother's voice in her ear about how woman are powerful beings and can do anything they want in the whole wide world.

Will I have the presence of mind to be as kind with Hollis??

I've written countless papers on this stuff over the years, most notably I did research on the affects of advertising (images and otherwise) on girls relating to their body image and any eating disorders vs. the affects of their mother's views of their own bodies and a girl's body image and issues with eating. I wanted to know which had more weight in a girl's life: her mother or advertising.

In my research I found a stronger correlation between how a mother felt about her body and her daughter's body image than advertising's effects on a girls' ideas alone. Basically, a daughter will follow her mother's lead.

However, and this was very important, advertising could still be darkly superior in a girl's life if her relationship with her mother was not a good one.

Will commercials and movies dominate my child's choices if I am not a positively strong enough force in his life? Will he think he has to make everything into a gun? Will he think that men have to be masculine and never cry? Big and brawny? Tight-lipped?

I remember a study I read where given a stick, the boys would shoot with it or jab it; the girls would cradle it or coo to it. And all this with no former knowledge of stereotypes according to their parents who kept dolls and guns out of the home and only gave them gender neutral toys and books and they themselves considered their roles to be non-stereotypical (as in, they shared all chores and care giving). All this to say, Hollis has hard wiring in him that is totally foreign to me.

Right now Hollis loves his play kitchen and pots and pans, but he shows no interest in his doll, Lukas. He'll pick up sticks in the back yard and he pokes everything and swats at the cat. He doesn't cradle it or talk to it. He's started making motor noises for things and has them "drive" all over everything. I haven't seen any little girl do that at this age. And he's only ever watched a little Sesame St. on YouTube so where is he getting this?

I know he's a boy, but it's weird to see him shift from a gender neutral kind of little being into a more "boyish" figure.

What has been your biggest struggle in this department? Do you give in? Or do you draw the line at the brand-marketing and stereotyped toys??

I just hope I can keep up an intelligent dialogue with him on this stuff and not sweat the small stuff, like having a living room full of pink, princess toys.


  1. I went through a phase with my oldest, when everyone was buying 'boy' toys and it really bugged the shit out of me. So I bought him baby dolls, dressed in pink. And he played with them.

    Now, my youngest son (4) plays with baby dolls and cars and trucks along with most of my pots and pans and even my makeup a time or two. I despise the 'gender' rolls. There is nothing wrong with a boy playing with dolls or a girl playing with trucks. My girl is a tom-boy by admission, she loves all things boy but still loves her girl things too.

    I see no reason boys can't learn the girl rolls and boys can't learn the girl rolls. After all, in the real world boys do girl things and girls do boy things i.e. single dads, single moms, and don't even get me started on JOBS.

    For the record, I don't consider myself a feminist; I am just a chick who happens to know a thing or two and can do anything a man can (and probably better...HA)! I don't get into the whole 'theme' crap, but don't really shy away from it either. Just never really give it much thought, I guess.

  2. Great post, Jessica. Luckily, neither of my boys have an interest in anything 'themed' - like no love of Disney characters yet, they don't like or watch Dora/Diego, etc. While we do eat at McDonald's, i think that little picture you show above is wrong! I wouldn't buy that, ever. My almost 4 year old asked for a telescope for his birthday, so that's what we bought him. He has tons of Playmobil stuff, and I like that, 'cause it's great quality. We like to buy well made toys - wooden blocks, etc. Lots of craft materials, etc., so they can use their imagination with play. I think we're lucky that we don't have girls, because it would be harder to get away from the whole 'princess' thing, you know?

  3. My daughter has just become interested in dolls (at 2 and half) but that might have more to do with having a brother. She calls them her "babies".
    But, my son is so interested in balls. He will crawl across the park for a basketball someone has put down. My daugther never liked balls.
    I have tried to stay away from princess stuff with her. She does have a pink Disney princess tent that a friend of my MIL gave her but she doesn't know who the princesses are. She thinks they are mommies.
    A princess she is allowed to know about is Elizabeth from the Paper Bag Princess.

  4. We just had a throwdown with my MIL about her second Thomas the Tank Engine purchase. She really doesn't seem to understand the distinction between actual children's toys and books created by actual talented people versus "properties" specifically created for marketing and sales of merchandise.