What’s the opposite of a Troll? I reckon it’s an Emily…

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The ways in which strangers comment and connect online usually gets a bad rap. Perhaps because it’s so easy to take on another identity – or remain anonymous – in order to be vile to another person. A ‘troll’ used to be a goat eating creature that lived under a bridge in the minds of children. Sadly that monster has been usurped by an all too human counterpart.

But what of the wonderful instances of selfless acts of generosity and human kindness that also occur online? Well, here’s one for you.

"#WeWant Leia" by Yakface.com

I recently blogged about the Disney Store’s lack of Princess Leia products, and their absense of interest making any. As the dad of a Star Wars loving daughter, I hoped for some meaningful response from Disney, and there was a muted assurance that they will produce Leia merchandise in the future.

But the post also elicited this response from a lady called Emily:

“I don’t know if it would interest you, but I have a Leia doll and several of the Episode 1 Amidala dolls (all still in boxes because that’s how I was). It’s not the iconic Leia w/ buns, but they’re just sitting in storage and I’d be happy to dust them off and send them to you to share with your daughter. I may have some action figures but I think I gave those away already.”

Well yes, of course I was interested, so I followed up with Emily via email. The back and forth conversation basically went like this.

Me: I’m certainly interested, but how much do you want for them?

Emily:   Oh I don’t need anything in return. I know how it was growing up a girl in a Star Wars world, so I’ll gladly share what I have

Wow, that’s really generous. But hang on, there’s a problem – it’s not like I can just pop round and pick them up. We don’t live very near each other. In fact, we’re very far from each other. Emily lives in the US and we live in the UK. She replied:

Emily: I have no problem sending them across the ocean – they’re just collecting dust in storage right now and I’m happy to send them off to a better home.

Once again, wow.

Special international delivery

True to her word, some days later, we had a large package arrive in the post from America, which contained three boxed 12″ Queen Amidala dolls, a boxed 12″ Princess Leia doll, and a bonus item of a large Queen Amidala towel. It also came with the following handwritten note from Emily:

 

Simon,

I hope your daughter enjoys these dolls. I’m happy to share my love of Star Wars with your daughter and your family. Hopefully these will help fill the gap until some new official merchandise surfaces.

I only have one Leia doll, but Amidala/Padmé was marketed a fair bit, with her many dresses and hairstyles. Like many overzealous fans, I snapped up what I could, but already being in high school, I never played with them – just had them on a shelf in my Star Wars covered room until another interest came along and they got put into storage for 10 or so years. Now they can leave their boxes for some proper playtime.

Enjoy! And may the force be with you, always!

Sincerely,

Emily

Emily then signed off with these delightful Princess Leia illustrations.

Emily's Leia doodles

So it was with great relish – and Emily’s permission – that my daughter and I finally liberated these toys from the packaging they had been in for the best part of the past 15 years. It would be a sight to horrify many a Star Wars collector, but delight anyone who gains any happiness from the pure joy of a child.

My daugher loves these dolls. She is already swapping shoes and outfits between them. Ceremonial Leia looks pretty good wearing Padme’s large brown boots. ‘Royal Elegance Queen Amidala’s red shoes are a popular interchangeable item as well. There’s also some toddler hairstyling and tea parties happening.

“You never forget kids like Emily”

In 1999, the year that The Phantom Menace was out and Emily purchased all these dolls, another eagerly anticipated movie was released. Eerily, it features a young lady called Emily who parted company with her childhood playthings.

In Toy Story 2 we are introduced to Jessie, a once beloved doll who has been abandoned at a roadside when her ‘Emily’ outgrew her. In reality, perfectly normal behaviour, but in the story it was a source of great sadness and emotional trauma for Jessie, who mournfully states: “You never forget kids like Emily…but they forget you.”

Well, this real life Emily didn’t forget about her toys. They may not have been played with, but they were bought out of love (of Star Wars), and passed on for the same reason.

According to Buzz Lightyear “(a toy’s) life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid”. Well thanks to their Emily these toys will be well loved by our kid. They are out of their boxes and never going back in!

The Emilys of the real world should be celebrated. She reached out to a father and daughter she has never met, with whom she had only had the briefest of online interaction with, and made the great effort to not just simply give us these toys she purchased, but to ship them across the world to us at her expense.

It also reminded me of the end of Toy Story 3, when…***SPOILERS*** …Andy hands over his childhood toys to the little girl family friend.

IMG_1855That brought a tear to my eye, and I have to admit, this did too.

So thank you Emily. As well as giving us these awesome dolls, you have also given me renewed optimism about the world I am raising my daughter in.

And Disney take note. There IS a girls market for Star Wars, and there always has been.

(Oh, while I immensely appreciate Emily’s generosity in giving these dolls to my daughter, at my insistence we have reimbursed Emily for the shipping. She also has a big credit in the favour bank)

 

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Girls & boys toys: Is the toy biz being demonised for just supplying demand?

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Our X-Men Barbie: If she was an actual toy (as opposed to Beach Barbie wearing a Storm circa ’96 outfit), would she be categorised as a boy’s or girl’s one?

If the toy industry were at all sympathetic to the issue of their gender division of toys, we wouldn’t have to keep complaining. But is it fair to criticise them?

Recently, kids brand consultant – and father of 2 girls – Steve Reece (@nevetseceer) wrote this piece on it. Let’s just say it lost me at labelling those like myself, who disagree with the gender categorisation of toys, as ‘bandwagon jumping opportunists’ – and it went downhill from there. I shared it on Twitter, tagging Steve, and he & others responded.

Rarely does anything useful or constructive result from people with entrenched opposing opinions debating online. This was no exception.

As the twitter back & forth ensued, there were many of his points I failed to adequately address or respond to. Other people, notably scholar Elizabeth Sweet, had a more meaningful contribution. Here’s my tweet, followed by a sub-edited version of the ensuing conversation.

Carrie Proctor: Does Steve Reece not see that children pick certain toys because they’re taught to do so by society?

Steve Reece: I agree with you…kids choose toys based on societal influence…majority of parents see boys & girls toys still

Carrie Proctor: That’s why we try to get toys for our daughter in bright primary colours. She’ll pick her own favourite one day. :-) (Favourited by SR)

Enter Dr. Elizabeth Sweet, a Postdoctoral Scholar whose current research focuses on gender and children’s toys. So far more qualified than me/most in this area.

Dr. Elizabeth Sweet: My research finds that toys are far more gender segregated and stereotyped now than ever before. Simply not true that toys have always been so gender defined nor that they have to be.

My initial tweet also provoked this response from freelance writer Lisa Granshaw.

I then noticed that Steve had tweeted a response to those criticising his article, and the conversation shifted over to that thread.

(ICYMI – Steve’s hashtag reads: Reflecting current reality, not saying it should be that way, just that it is)

Elizabeth Sweet initially responded (before I butted in).

Elizabeth Sweet: Actually, not a reflection of current reality if you look at demographic & attitudinal measures in re: to gender. I would revise this piece I wrote in 2012 to say that gendering today is far more extreme than in ’50s.

Steve Reece: Really…? Difference between what people say hypothetically versus Behaviour measured by what sells…?

Elizabeth Sweet: When you only offer people one choice (e.g. highly gendered toys), is it surprising that they choose it?

Me: (To Steve) Chicken/Egg. They buy what you sell. I’d buy more female Star Wars & superhero toys if sold.

Steve Reece: You may buy, but are there enough like minded to justify tooling etc? Toy companies supply to demand.

Me: How do you know girls won’t buy/play Star Wars/Marvel, when they’re labeled as ‘boys’ brands?

Elizabeth Sweet: Toy companies are actively shaping demand by offering few and narrow choices vs. responding to it.

Steve Reece: Are there no female characters in those films? Male character sell by far most toys…

Me: Black Widow practically airbrushed from most Avengers merchandise; same with Leia and Star Wars. And both clearly defined as ‘boys’ brands by licensees and retailers, therefore excluding girls

Steve Reece: Commercial reality = if paying major license fees toy companies want every product that will sell.

Me: In the meantime, risk averse toy companies are excluding girls. Where’s the child development in that?

Steve Reece: Hard to stay in biz if don’t sell products made…no child development then?

Me: ICYMI – “Opportunist commentators have jumped on this bandwagon to blow their own trumpets, and… advance their own ends.” Nice Steve Reece.

Steve Reece: Demonising toy industry which positively contributes to development of billions of kids globally, for supplying demand. Also nice.

Me: What’s positive for girls who think science sets, doctors kits, or toolboxes are for boys – because they’re not pink? Not just toy industry – clothes, books, magazines, it’s a problem with most things being sold to kids.

Elizabeth Sweet: Clearly there is a demand for something different…this sold out immediately.

Me: (to Steve) I will never buy into your argument that sexism is justified to sell toys. Is racism too? The removal of Gamora from so much Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise is appalling. But you think that’s ok?

And there the conversation ended, and I’m glad it did as there was nowhere new I was able to take it.

Pretty depressing.

If this is the attitude of the toy biz then we have a long way to go, no matter what lip service they pay to our issues with their gender categorisation, and screening of licensed characters by gender – such as the aforementioned cases of Princess Leia, Black Widow, and Gamora being absent from a large chunk of movie tie-ins.

The citing of market research and of responding to consumer demand – without acknowledging the industry’s role in skewing those results through their marketing, or creating that demand – is frustrating.

These companies choose to create products for children, which as far as I’m concerned means they have a responsibility to not only make a profit, but – at the very least – to not negatively impact our children’s lives. It’s not much to ask, and the two things are not mutually exclusive.

And frankly, the notion that the likes of Hasbro, Mattel, or Disney might go out of business if they and retailers sorted and labelled toys by type or function instead of gender, is laughable.

But these industry behemoths do need to evolve their offering, for their own sake. Take Barbie, the queen of the pink aisle. Her global sales have significantly dropped in four of the last five quarters, and for an even longer period in the US (about 2 years). Some of Mattel’s initiatives, like the Barbie Project are interesting. Others, like putting her on the cover of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, are troubling.

However, if the choice really is as Steve Reece claims, between these companies survival or our children’s positive development, then I’ll happily wave bye bye to Optimus, Mickey, and Barbie.

The toy industry’s ability to generate profit does not supersede our children’s rights to grow up without having profit-motivated limits placed on their imaginations, aspirations, and ambitions. But there is no reason the removal of these limits and the industry’s profits cannot happily co-exist. If anything, it will become necessary for both parties to flourish.

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Oh, for another perspective on this issue, please read this excellent post from someone who is at the frontline of all this – working at a toy shop! His point is a very perceptive one that has lead me to question how I would shop as a parent in this situation.

 

 

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Geek Girl Toys Aren’t Just For Girls

Man Vs Pink:

“The logic presumably goes like this: Comic book & genre movies are for boys, so we only put the male characters on the toys for boys, and only provide male characters for the boys to play with, because boys don’t like anything having to do with female characters. As the mom of a little boy, I have to point out that this simply is not true.” – @dani_ketch with her thoughts on #WheresGamora

Originally posted on Legion of Leia:

Earlier this week, Amy Ratcliffe over at Geek with Curves delivered a pretty comprehensive post about the lack of Gamora in the new outpouring of Guardians of the Galaxy toys and merchandising. Over at the Mary Sue, they’re bringing more awareness to the public outcry among fans who want the opportunity to spend their hard-earned cash on some licensed stuff that features our favorite green assassin along with the rest of the Guardians.

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Image from Marvel

We support these sites and initiatives, because we are also women who like to wear and collect our fandom, and loved Guardians of the Galaxy. The idea that there aren’t enough women or girls to generate demand for this sort of merchandise has gotten so old and played out it’s frankly almost boring. Of course we want it and would spend money on it. Of course she should be there.

The point that…

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The Guardians have conquered the galaxy – now it’s time for a female superhero to do the same

If Marvel can turn their obscure cosmic superteam into a must-see movie, then there’s no excuse for them not to break the mould again to finally give us a great female superhero movie.

Captain_Marvel_Vol_8_1_TextlessGuardians of the Galaxy, adapted by Marvel from their post-millennial revamp of their 60’s cosmic superteam, has opened to glowing reviews, a $160 worldwide weekend box office gross, and delighted audiences (including this excited English at-home dad). It featured a couple of strong female roles, and while the lack of damsels in distress is great, we need more than empowered women in these flicks – we need female protagonists.

Well, are we seeing the beginning of that? The most likely candidate for a movie has long been mooted to be another cosmic character – Captain Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel,  who like the galactic guardians also had a successful makeover and relaunch in the comics – and is now Captain Marvel. But who could play the smart, confident, kick ass blonde space captain? Many names have been bandied about over the past few years, with a few firm favourites.

Joss Whedon, Avengers director and the self proclaimed Tom Hagen of the Marvel cinematic universe, offered a great hint recently, in response to the recent publicity stunt news that Thor was going to become a woman in the comics.

ICYMI, that’s Katee Sackhoff as ‘Captain’ Starbuck from the revamped version of Battlestar Galactica, of which Whedon is a big fan. Frankly, she would be awesome casting, and would likely get everyone from feminists to misanthropic geeks onside.

Well just to add to the intrigue, Sackhoff herself posted the following cryptic tweets over the weekend.

Even by the time I hit ‘publish’ this will probably be debunked. But #1 could be a face casting for a mask; #2 a close up detail of her red & gold costume, and #3 – a veil = Mar-VEL?!

Clutching at straws? Probably (yes). But we need really a decent female superhero movie, so I am latching on to any nuggets of hope that I can. Selfishly speaking, I need a decent female superhero movie in the next few years. My daughter is 2 1/2. By the time she is 8, I want to be able to take her to see an awesome superhero flick with a fantastic female protagonist.

5 years ago, I would NEVER have predicted there would be a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, much less one as faithful yet mass market as this one. I hope that within 5 years Marvel can do something far less bold – female led fantasy movies are doing great box office – yet far more important.

And in case you’re in any doubt, here’s how awesome Katee Sackhoff would look as Captain Marvel.

**UPDATE**

Katee Sackhoff post the following tweet regarding the ‘secret project’.

Arse.

But a) doesn’t mean she won’t be cast in it, and b) we still need a Captain Marvel movie soon.

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LEGO Adds New Female Scientist Toys After Fans Demand Them

Man Vs Pink:

As someone who was heavily involved in the campaign to raise awareness of this project, I’m stoked that they’re finally a reality. :D

Originally posted on TIME:

Young girls interested in science finally have some encouragement from LEGO.

The toy company is selling a new kit, the Research Institute, which features women in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs: a paleontologist, an astronomer and a chemist.

According to LEGO, the set was conceived by geoscientist Ellen Kooijman as a part of the LEGO Ideas series, sets that “are based on fans’ ideas voted up by the community, and have been chosen for release.”

As i09 notes, the addition comes a few months after a letter from a 7-year-old girl complaining about the opportunities for female figurines went viral.

“All the [LEGO] girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs,” Charlotte wrote, “but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks.”

Unfortunately for Charlotte, there are no sharks…

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Of Mums and Men: Playground politics, stranger danger, and the ‘mum-hub’.

20140803-084823-31703044.jpgCalling myself a stay-at-home dad is a bit disingenuous. We rarely stay at home, especially when the weather is this good. Today we pay a typical mid-week, mid-morning visit to our nearby playground to meet some friends for a playdate.

We arrive before them. I ask my daughter what she’d like to go on. As she considers her answer (she’s a bit of a ponderer), a mother ushers her crying child past us. “I’ll go and see if anyone has any plasters.” I call out to her to say I have plasters if she needs any.

She enthusiastically answers yes, and she comes over with her crying daughter who has a pair of grazed knees. I tell them I hope Spider-Man ones are ok, and the mother tells her how lucky she is the nice man helped us, and that her brother will be so jealous of the plasters (he comes over and does indeed look on jealously).

With great plasters comes great responsibility.

With great plasters comes great responsibility.

I notice the girl has a snotty nose, the kind that often accompanies such bouts of crying. I offer a tissue. The mother’s eyes widen, and she tells me & her daughter how amazing I am, how great the Spider-Man plasters are, and again how lucky they are the nice man was here – because mummy forgot to bring anything. The mother laughs when I compare my daughter’s nappy bag to a secret agents ‘go bag’, that’s always packed with necessities so we can just grab it on the way out. Plasters applied, nose wiped, the mother thanks me again and wishes us a great summer.

Moments later, I am cleaning something unsavoury from the bottom of my daughters shoe. A little girl comes up to us, intrigued about what I’m doing. Aged about 3 or 4, the girl starts asking me questions, such as what’s that picture on my daughter’s shoes “Turtles.” I reply. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” It was a nice conversation.

Suddenly, her mother strides over and pulls the girl away from us without looking at me or saying anything until they stop beneath a nearby tree, where the little girl is admonished for talking to a “strange man”. The girl looks perplexed. Her mother then drags her back to a huddle of other parents in the centre of the playground – a collective I call the mum-hub.

This is an elusive and distant group. I have never been invited into its confines. The other week, I spotted a mum who I had met before, who I had been chatting to at a pre-school visit we had both attended, whom I had since exchanged hellos with on the street and in the supermarket. She seemed nice, and I was looking forward to chatting to her again. I made eye contact and smiled, hoping to get at least a smile in return, and she immediately looked away. She spent the afternoon laughing enthusiastically with her fellow mum-hubbers, ignoring me even when nearby.

I have never seen any dads in the mum-hub. Not even partners. The mum-hub is usually a child-free zone too, a place of adult conversation while their children fend for themselves – laughing, playing, fighting, falling, getting stuck, getting bullied, crying. Today, there was lots of crying and distressed pre-school children that needed the attention of strangers before their parent in the hub noticed. Yet, the reaction was swift when a little girl decided to talk to me, the strange man.

None of the other mums I know – actually know as opposed to one I chatted to once – are ever in the hub either, nor was the friendly mother who I offered the Spider-Man plasters to. I can only assume they think nothing of a dad playing with his daughter.

Perhaps the mum-hub is in my imagination, but it represents those collections of mothers that are off limits to at-home dads like me. They exist in playgrounds, playgroups, and cafes.  They are cliques of (usually) at-home mums whose exclusively female daytime community is by design not accident, that prefer their women only social-parenting life. Who find it odd that a man might want to be at home with their children, perhaps even suspicious. Mothers like Loose Women’s Nadia Sawalha, who stated “I don’t really want to talk to them. I don’t want them to be there.”

I obviously find it sad that this is the case. I’m not going to confront them about it. There’s a bit of live and let live, but mainly because it’s pretty ugly in front of children. What I can do is continue to be the engaged father I am, take my daughter to the playground, and hopefully little girls will see that there is nothing weird, or anything to be afraid of, about a man with his child in the playground. Little boys too.

I also hope all kids will see there’s nothing weird about a girl wearing Spider-Man plasters. Or t-shirts. Or outfits.

 

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7 ways for Hasbro to sell more Star Wars toys (hint: girls)

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My daughter giving her Hasbro Leia doll (courtesy Emily) a blow-dry

Hasbro, the primary Star Wars toys licensee, has a brand developer vacancy for their Star Wars line.

Like Disney, they still see Star Wars as a boys brand – but using Hasbro’s job ad as a guide, here are 7 ways the new Brand Manager can impress their new employer by improving sales, decreasing costs, and ultimately raising profits – as well as addressing the gendered marketing issue.

In fact, it’s the solution:

The primary Duties & Responsibilities of the Star Wars Brand Development role:

1. Finding innovative ways to grow higher margin businesses.
A: An innovative way to grow higher margin businesses would focus on marketing Star Wars to girls as well as boys. This will increase sales with minimal additional costs.

2. Drive product innovations to better meet consumer demands.
A: Innovate by creating Star Wars products with girls in mind, meeting their additional consumer demand. Also market the entire brand to both girls and boys – girls will also buy existing products that are currently (but erroneously) deemed as ‘boys’ toys, and boys will purchase many products you might think of as being for ‘girls’.

3. Develop overall go-to-market product strategy.
A: The strategy needs to focus on the fact that Star Wars is a brand that appeals to both boys and girls, as well as their Star Wars fan parents. Create product for, and market the brand to all of them.

4. Find ways to decrease development costs and gain efficiencies.
Decrease development costs by marketing current products to girls as well as boys. Efficiencies would be gained by selling an already existing product to a new market with minimal additional cost.

5. Keep up to date on modern manufacturing trends, technologies and competitive practices.
A: Be competitive – and modern – by marketing Star Wars to girls as well as boys.

6. Work with global brand strategy & marketing team to develop special and exclusive products.
A: The global brand strategy for the development of all special and exclusive products must include marketing the Star Wars brand to girls as well as boys, to increase sales.

7. Become the global insights expert and leverage learning across product lines.
A: An insight that Hasbro must learn – the Star Wars brand is in an almost unique position as, despite Hasbro’s insistence that it’s a ‘boys’ brand, it actually appeals to girls too. Additional product made with girls in mind can certainly be produced, but the overall brand is unisex. In addition, today’s parents would have grown up with Star Wars, back when it had overt cross gender appeal, so parents of boys and/or girls will be be primed to purchase product for the daughters as well as their sons. Hasbro should be including, rather than excluding girls from the Star wars brand, as it will lead to increased sales for the entire line. 

OK, it’s not really 7 ways – they all have basically the same answer: Girls.

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‘I am the way’

But you have to admit, the plan has a singular clarity to it.

The successful applicant can now arrive as saviour, with a bold game changing strategy that benefits all.

Or to put it another way, the Chosen One can finally fulfil the prophecy of bringing (gender) balance to the Force.

 

I posted an earlier version of this piece here.

 

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Dust if you must… a poem on the perils of housework.

Man Vs Pink:

This mirrors my approach to keeping the house clean…

Originally posted on Campari and Sofa:

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This sweet poem was first published on September 15th 1998 in the 21st edition of The Lady (“in continuous publication since 1885 and widely respected as England’s longest running weekly magazine for women”).

‘Dust if you Must’ was written by Mrs Rose Milligan from Lancaster in Lancashire. Whose name we love too. It being a combination of the classic English bloom and that brilliant comedian, the most excellent Spike Milligan.

We discovered at Tidings and Things on tumblr. Where one of the comments read: “I know my house is perfectly kept when I can write ‘I love you’ with my fingertip in the dust on the furniture.”

A reminder, at the end of a long and dusty week: that not everything always needs to be in it’s place.

(Thanks for the introduction to our great and much loved pal: Mr Edward Clarke of Clapham, London.)

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