gender: children/youth

Chen and Kristyn both sent in examples of gendered chemistry sets.

Chen found this example at Nemo, a science museum in Amsterdam.  Notice that the kit with boys on it a boy in the foreground and a girl in the background is “Disgusting Science” and the kits with only girls on it are “Perfumery” and “Spa Science”:

Meanwhile Kristyn spotted these Cosmetic Science kits in Auckland, NZ.  There were apparently at least four different kits aimed at making beauty products for girls.

Cleansing Pack 2, featuring Pearly Shampoos and Face and Body Cleanser:

Rejuvenation Pack 3, featuring Soothing Cream and Body Mist:

Enhancing Pack 4, featuring Glitter Hair Gel and Silvery Shimmer Lotion:

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Amanda M. and Lisa C. both submitted a recent Toy Story 3-themed commercial for Visa, pointing out how nice it is to see the Buzz Lightyear character advertised to girls.

I won’t disagree that it’s nice that girls are being included in the marketing for Toy Story 3 (especially as the movie appears to be as boy-centric as most), but I don’t see it as revolutionary. In fact, because we largely value masculine characteristics and pursuits, the idea that girls would be interested in boy things (like space travel) is generally regarded as cute, neat, or even awesome (this is why I like to order bourbon neat on a first date — impresses the men every time). The problem is that the reverse is not true. Because we devalue feminine characteristics and pursuits, we rarely respond to boys’ experimentation with girly things in the same way. In that case, it’s worrisome, strange, or even grotesque. We call the valuing of masculinity over femininity “androcentrism.”

So I would argue that this particular advertisement actually fits nicely with the source of gender inequality today: a devaluation of feminine things at the same time that women are required to perform some degree of femininity (the girl in the commercial is still girly, wearing baby blue, a skirt, and hugging Buzz delightedly before she blasts him off). Of course, this means that men’s life options are narrower than women’s because they have to avoid the stigma of femininity (and that must suck, truly), but at least the things men are restricted to doing and being are valued (both abstractly and with money).

More posts on androcentrism: “woman” as an insult, good god don’t let men wear make up or long hair, don’t forget to hug like a dude, saving men from their (feminine) selves, men must eschew femininity, dinosaurs can’t be for girls, and sissy men are so uncool.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Women spend their young and young adult lives dreaming of their wedding day, or so the stereotype goes.  Where might girls get the idea that weddings are a particularly important day in a woman’s life?

SociologicalMe sent in a wedding day toy for girls found at a Pathmark grocery store in Delaware:

And Mary, who blogs at Disney Princess Recovery, collected these examples of Disney Princess-themed wedding books for little girls:

So maybe it isn’t part of having two XX chromosomes.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Diego Costa recently pointed out to us the sexualization of Jaden Smith. In that post, I wondered if race played much of a part in this process; while non-White boys are often adultified, it wasn’t clear to me that it was a major factor in this case. Diego followed up by sending along some photos of White teen heartthrob/pop star Justin Bieber, who you may know better as that kid on the cover of magazines whose hair you desperately want to brush out of his eyes. He’s a bit older than Jaden, so the idea of him dating or talking about girls isn’t surprising, but the specific example Diego sent in is.

Apparently Justin Bieber, who is 16, met Kim Kardashian, the 29-year-old reality-TV personality and model, earlier this year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner (and no, I didn’t know teen pop stars go to the Correspondents’ Dinner, either). Apparently after she Tweeted that she had “Bieber fever” and he joked about her being his “girlfriend,” Bieber fans flipped out and sent her death threats and such.

Following this, the two recently posed together for a fashion shoot for Elle, presumably making fun of and capitalizing on the earlier frenzy and publicity regarding their friendship. The photo shoot had them walking on the beach, in the water, holding hands, and in other ways hinting at romance; in some cases, Bieber’s light-colored shirt is wet and you can see his entire chest through it:

Diego asks how this would go over if the roles were reversed: if Elle had images of a 16-year-old female teen star in a see-through shirt walking on the beach with, or getting a flower from, a 29-year-old male celebrity “mostly known for…posing nude several times and making money off of his condom-free sex tape…” (after a sex tape of Kardashian with her ex-boyfriend appeared, she sued and settled with the company distributing it for $5 million).

I’m not trying to stigmatize Kardashian; I’m not interested in her, or why she’s famous, here. But I think Diego has a very good point: it’s unlikely many people will think this is an inappropriate sexualization of Bieber (though perhaps Kardashian will need some extra security guards when Bieber’s fans see these). As the reaction to Jayden Smith indicates, we accept the idea of boys being sexual, or sexually interested, at younger ages than girls, and any interest they show in older girls or women is a sign of their sexual precocity — and, of course, heterosexuality — not a sign that they are either in danger of being preyed upon or that they are tempting Lolitas (and thus dangerous to men). We simply don’t worry as much about a 16-year-old teen boy shown in a photo like this because we don’t think of sexuality being dangerous for them in the way we think it is for girls.

UPDATE: Sorry comments were previously turned off — some type of glitch.

Thomas S. sent in this photo of the toy options for kids meals available from Burger King as part of their tie-in with the Marmaduke movie. The dogs are helpfully divided, as in most kids’ meals at fast-food chains, into those for girls and boys:

Notice the gendering of the dogs. Both girls and boys have the option of a Marmaduke figurine, though they are posed in different ways: the girl version is lying down, while the boy version seems posed to run or jump. The other girls’ options are passive in their poses, the descriptive words in their names (cuddly, loungin’, comb ‘n’ style), and what they do:

  • Comb ‘n’ Style Jezebel: you can comb her hair
  • Bone Catchin’ Marmaduke: his tail wags when you move the bone
  • Loungin’ Giuseppe: he just sits on the tassled cushion
  • Cuddly Raisin: he’s soft

On the other hand, the boys’ options are given active descriptive names and different types of actions:

  • Pouncin’ Marmaduke: leaps in the air
  • Darting Lightning: you wind him up and he moves
  • Stick ‘n’ Move Bosco: you attach his leash and he walks
  • Turn ‘n’ roll Mazie: you wind up her tail and she rolls over

So the boys get the option of a doberman (or maybe a Rottweiler?) and what looks like an Australian shepherd, while the girls get a toy dog (a papillon, I think) and a collie, which is also a herding dog but here is presented as something to groom.

Obviously, the breeds and names (Bosco, Giuseppe, etc.) come from the movie, so Burger King didn’t create that part. But in creating the tie-in toys, different dogs from the movie were defined as girls’ or boys’ toys, and were designed accordingly.

It’s a great example of the feminine = passive, masculine = active gender dichotomy and the way children are socialized into it. Toys aimed at girls emphasize posing and appearance/grooming, while boys’ toys are usually more active and rarely involve grooming or dressing up (unless you count changing out the weapons G.I. Joe dolls action figures carry).

Of course, this doesn’t mean that kids and their parents will request the gender-intended toy. My sisters and I didn’t get kids’ meals often, but when we did, my mom almost always requested boys’ toys because they were usually more fun and did something, whereas the girls’ toys often just sat there. I’ve heard similar stories from lots of women. Given that men are discouraged from crossing gender lines more than women are, though, I wonder if parents are as willing to get their sons the girls’ toys if the son asks for it. And if we found the girls’ toys boring and wanted the boys’ versions, it seems likely that boys would generally reject them too.

Chloe Angyal (from Feministing) sent me a link to an interesting, if disheartening, segment of her from GRITtv with Laura Flanders about women’s willingness to suffer as they try to meet beauty ideals. Seems that if you want to discourage women women from using tanning beds, don’t warn them about skin cancer. Just tell them it’ll make them ugly. For instance:

The women in the study were more concerned about avoiding ugliness than about avoiding potentially deadly cancer.

UPDATE: Be sure and check out the comments to the video over at YouTube. Really fascinating: lots of comments about Angyal’s appearance and statements like, “chole looks like a feminist, very ugly.” For an interesting discussion of the “feminists are ugly” reaction, read this post at Yes Means Yes.

Thanks to Raluca-Elena, I am now disturbed to discover that the makers of heelarious, fake high heels for infant girls, are now selling teethers in the shape of a credit card with the name “Ima Spender.” Get it?

Let’s train those girls to consume above their means before they even get their first teeth!

Okay okay, infants aren’t going to get the joke. But why is it so funny to encourage infant girls to grow up to be shallow, gold digging, divas?  Or is this me stereotyping the high-fashion-conscious?

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Love Isn’t Enough.

Diego Costa sent in an image of Jaden Smith, star of the remake of The Karate Kid, at a recent promotional event in China. In it, 11-year-old Jaden has lifted his shirt to show off his abs, while co-star Jackie Chan and a man I presume is the event host marvel at them:

What struck Diego is how this image was received differently than a similar image of an 11-year-old girl pulling up her shirt to show off her abs might be seen. For instance, The Huffington Post showed the image without any comment about its content. We might compare that to the public outcry over the images of Miley Cyrus wrapped in a sheet that came out two years ago. I also suspect The Huffington Post article might say something about the adult men in the above photo if it were a girl rather than a boy they were touching/ogling.

Apparently when he went on The View, Jaden said he’s “already a great kisser” and the audience cheered, though I can’t find a video of it.

Diego says,

Why is the exposure of boy bodies deemed appropriate whilst the revealing of girls’ bodies must always accompany relentless probing, judging and outrage? If we agree that we shouldn’t sexualize children, then let’s not do it to any child. And, while we are at it, let’s also not assume infantile heterosexuality by asking if boys already have “a girlfriend.”

Excellent points. I suspect if an 11-year-old girl went on The View and said she was a good kisser already, she and her parents would be attacked in the press, people would express horror, and rumors would circulate about whether she’s been sexually abused, is already sexually active, etc. etc. But when an 11-year-old boy does it? That’s cute! He’s on his way to being a smooth-talking ladies’ man!

I can’t decide if, or to what degree, race might be at play here. There is certainly a tendency to adultify non-White children — that is, to treat them as mini-adults rather than children at much earlier ages than White kids are. This includes sexuality (for instance, teachers often assume Black girls are sexually active at younger ages than White girls). My recent post on the hypersexualization of a 13-year-old Latino boy discussed this topic.

But I’m not sure if that’s playing a major role here, or if gender assumptions and him being the son of a much-beloved celebrity couple are the more important factors. Thoughts?

For another example, see our post on the Rolling Stone cover with Taylor Lautner.