Well, the first day of preschool is already emotional.
I took my daughter to preschool earlier this morning. We’ve been explaining to her what it is for a while. How it’s like playgroup but without daddies & mummies. That a few of her friends will be there. And how daddy will take her, play for a little bit, go away for a bit, and then come back to take her home. She seemed ok with it.
So, the first day of preschool – all went as expected. Especially the ‘go away bit’ unfortunately.
10 mins after arriving, I gently backed away as she was occupied at the play-doh table, one of her favourite activities.
I watched from the kitchen. She was playing happily for a while, but then I could see it developing. The play-doh squishing slowed. Her head began to glance around. The lower lip began to quiver. Then the tears began to flow. Not sad tears, but utterly inconsolable distraught tears, with the barely discernible cries of “Daddy! I want my daddy!”.
I exchanged looks with her key worker, who indicated I should hang back while she tried to placate my daughter with a story. But it was to no avail, so she brought my daughter over to me.
My daughter held me tighter than she ever has, repeating over and over through the stream of tears “Daddy! I love my daddy!”. It was a scene reminiscent of the ending of The Railway Children.
Except, in this case the ‘Daddy’ (me) then abandoned said daughter when she was distracted by the outdoor play, as it was decided this was for the best in helping her adjust, but they would call me if she got too upset and couldn’t be calmed down.
So here I am at home, with a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich for emotional comfort, staring at the phone hoping it doesn’t ring.
The 2 1/2 hour preschool session, that I thought wouldn’t be long enough to get much done, now seems to be lasting an eternity.
LEGO’s new Fusion line may meld real & digital worlds, but it still divides our boys & girls.
I had high hopes when I was alerted to ‘LEGO Fusion’. It was the word ‘fusion’, the combining of two distinct entities into one, that piqued my interest.
LEGO have rightly had a lot of flack for creating and marketing their product separately to boys and girls in recent years, especially given their history of previously being a universal toy. So would this new fusion line finally reunify the divided markets and be aimed at both?
The word fusion also brings to mind various scientific processes and ideas, most notably nuclear fusion. Could this be a line linked specifically to STEM fields, in which female inclusion and engagement remains an ongoing issue.
Don’t be silly.
Turns out the ‘fusion’ aspect is the connection of physical building with virtual construction, in the form of smartphone & tablet apps and associated physical sets. The virtual aspect appears to be inspired partly by The Sims and Civilisation – but mostly by Minecraft, the open world virtual brick building phenomenon. LEGO have stated that they wish they had invented Minecraft. In fact, it was created by a games designer from the Danish toymaker’s Nordic neighbour Sweden. Minecraft also has a large number of female enthusiasts (though evidence suggests they may often not admit to being female, given how women are often treated in online & gaming circles – but that’s another issue!).
So LEGO Fusion may not be the revolutionary science based line I imagined (I actually have no idea what that could be, but I was waiting to be dazzled), but still – it’s an innovation for the company to move its core product – bricks – into virtual space. Good for them. And it’s a concept clearly able to be enjoyed by boys and girls.
But then I saw this promotional video for it. It effectively conveys the blending of virtual and actual space, focusing on a child exploring the worlds that the line consists of.
First there’s Town Master, where you get to be a town planner/ruler. That’s followed by Battle Towers, a virtual war space where your constructed ‘Battle Tower’ has to fend off an enemy invasion. Then there’s Create & Race, where you build cars and race them. As ideas, they all look and sound pretty cool. But, there’s something important missing from the marketing hyperbole. Girls.
And then it happens.
Two girls are shown playing on the other side of the table from the boy. What are they doing – planning a town? Creating a battle tower? Engineering their own race car?
The girls have their own app and set, within the gender ghetto of the LEGO Friends line. And what do the girls get to create in their fusion space? Their line is called Resort Designer, and they have to create… a dream beach resort.
So rather than fusion, we have division & limitation. Physicist, oceanographer and broadcaster Dr. Helen Czerski memorably responded on Twitter to the LEGO Fusion ad with “Ick”.
Dr. Czerski continued “Obviously, all girls are interested in is holiday resorts, while boys get on with building our cities.”
The whole reason advertising exists is that it works. If it can persuade us to part with our cash for a product, then it stands to reason that the reality it depicts is also convincing.
There’s nothing stopping you – or I – from countering these messages ourselves to our kids, but we’ll never be able to fend them off entirely. The seed will be planted, that will potentially grow into deep rooted conviction that may see a girl choosing very early on in life not to embark on a life in science, technology, engineering or manufacturing, and may lead to an adult male choosing not employ a woman in one of these fields, because from childhood, without even realising it, they have learned that these areas are inherently male.
I don’t think LEGO is evil, that it is trying to socially engineer a world where women are directed to a pastel coloured inconsequential cul-de-sac while the men take care of the important stuff. They’re just trying to sell their plastic bricks. But doing it by entrenching gender segregation, and limiting the life choices of our girls, is simply wrong. I can’t say it plainer than that.
Imagine, if instead of gender, LEGO based their marketing around race. Imagine if the Fusion ads showed white people (as they do) playing with the Town, Racing, and Battle lines – and then depicted stereotyped minorities in and using sets based on sports, hospitality, or a factory? Imagine if they produced market research that showed that this was what the minorities in question wanted. That they were just supplying demand. It would rightly be labelled as racism.
Oh god, I do hope I haven’t given them a new marketing angle to try out…
Back in the real world, my daughter will continue to play with her hand-me-down LEGO, that hails from the time when it was a universal toy. And maybe when LEGO pulls back on the gender based madness, we’ll hand over some real money for new LEGO.
As long as it remains backwards compatible with the concept of universal building.
Apparently, a new LEGO design must achieve sales of £106,000 to break even. At £15.99 a pop, this set needs to sell about 6,600 units – so the petition needs to reach at least that figure to show there’s a viable market for it (though the fact it achieved 10,000 public votes to get made in the first place should be enough!).
It seems a lot of us stay-at-home dads don’t like the term ‘Mr. Mom’ being applied to us. Well, when I say us, I don’t mean me – I’m fine with it. In fact, I encourage it.
I have fond memories of Mr. Mom, and I have no reason to believe it to be significantly better or worse than its 80’s comedic peers, such as Police Academy, Bachelor Party, and Stripes.
I read a nice piece by Nicole Shanklin called ‘Modern Parenting: Mr. Mom Style‘. Her husband was a stay-at-home dad to their daughter for 2 1/2 years. Lots of fellow (blogging) dads while complimentary about the post were less so about the inclusion of ‘Mr. Mom’ in the title (check the comments). So much so that it was changed to ‘Modern Parenting: Stay @ Home Dads Rock‘, which I think is a shame.
What are the arguments against calling a stay-at-home dad ‘Mr. Mom’?
Well, fairly valid ones: Working mothers are not called ‘Ms. Dad’; being a stay-at-home dad doesn’t make you a male mother; what’s wrong with just calling us dads?
And yet… When I became a stay-at-home dad in 2012, I relished the moniker of ‘Mr. Mom’, and I still do. While stay-at-home dad is a fair description of my role, as is the shorter at-home dad, they lack the wordplay of Mr. Mom, and honestly – they simply fail to conjure up that image of Michael Keaton holding up his baby’s bottom to a hand-dryer.
Perhaps this is a clue to why I like the term. Keaton’s expression in that image exudes confidence. Many stay-at-home dads will tell you of being judged – often borne out through experience – about our ability as primary caregiver, because we are dads. That we are perceived as less able parents because we are men, that our ‘male’ methods are inferior to ‘female’ ones – which from memory is also a theme of the movie.
Parenting Mr. Mom style
In some aspects, I do parent differently from my wife. Not better or worse, just different. Is this because we are male and female? I have no idea. My daughter wears a lot of superhero t-shirts, knew more Star Wars characters at age 2 than my wife does at age [REDACTED], and will respond to food made with scotch bonnet chillies with an enthusiastic ‘More!’. Have I introduced these things to her because I am a man? I’m sure all the chilli loving fangirl mothers out there would disagree with that notion (you know who you are…).
But for me, to feel confident about my way of parenting & to introduce my daughter to things I am passionate about is fundamentally important. I don’t want to second guess myself and be consumed with self doubt about whether this is really the right or wrong thing to do – or even worse, to change my behaviour because I am worried about how others might judge me. Is drying a baby’s bum on a hand-dryer unorthodox? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do (although I’m not advocating it).
So I like to channel the Mr. Mom in that poster, the confident dad parenting his way.
Perhaps the main reason that I don’t have a problem with it is this: I’m English. We don’t use the word ‘Mom’ – it’s ‘Mum’. To us, ‘Mom’ is basically an exotic word from a foreign culture, so when someone calls me ‘Mr. Mom’ (which people do) I simply think of Michael Keaton in that poster. It’s a pop culture reference that makes me smile, and I don’t think I’m being made to feel like any less of a dad.
However, if anyone asks me if I’m ‘babysitting’? Grrrr…
If the toy industry were at all sympathetic to our issues with the false idea that there are girls and boys 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 concept of girls and boys 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 about girls and boys toys.
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 and 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.
(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.
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.
If this is the attitude of the toy industry to our concerns with the notion of girls and boys toys 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 idea 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.
Oh, for another perspective on the issue of girls and boys toys, 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.
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.
Guardians 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.
Headed out for day one of a super secret job….I will send photo clues throughout the next 3 days! Clue #1 pic.twitter.com/1mVRmQKNmE
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.