Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Revolt Against the Pony Army

We're in trouble, ladies. They're trying to destroy us. I'm not kidding -- and I’m not speaking only to women. If you care about a girl or know a girl, stay with me. And before I go any further, let me just say this: I am a girl. I even possess what some would call stereotypical or “girlie” qualities. I like lip gloss. I also like puppies, babies, and walks on the beach, okay? I don’t like romantic comedies, though, or weddings, and I don’t care about “Twilight.” If you do, that’s cool. No judgment here. All to say, I am not so rigid that I can’t appreciate feminine proclivities or individual inclination. But I’m talking about the big picture here, and in that framework our progress as a group has been dramatically halted.

This week, I had the honor of playing for hours with a brilliant, funny, independent, three year-old girl. In addition to about 7000 other toys, this kid has every single pony in Hasbro’s “My Little Pony” family. Her most recent acquisition is a pony called “Rainbow Dash.” Rainbow Dash came with a booklet that identifies and describes the other ponies in her posse. Their names are…wait for it…Toola Roola, Sweetie Belle, Starsong, Pinkie Pie, Scootaloo, and Cheerilee. Um, what? I mean, Scootaloo is actually a pretty rad name and I have no gripe with Starsong, but Pinkie Pie and Sweetie Belle are just horrible. Still, since I am prone to overreaction, I figured I’d investigate the herd before disparaging the whole lot based on nomenclature. Here’s what I found, on the back of Rainbow Dash’s box: “Rainbow Dash loves to look pretty. She shows off her brightly colored outfits when playing with her friends.” Wow. Rainbow Dash reminds girls how important it is to look pretty! Great! The other ponies’ interests are detailed in the booklet, too, and they include baking, pink balloons, dancing, cake decorating, butterflies, and hairdressing. Look, I like getting my hair done, too, and I’ve baked a few cakes in my day. But this is a little much. Girls do other things besides bake, braid, and buy.

During my marathon toddler-play session, we also watched “The Princess and the Frog.” Yeah, yeah, I know, TV is bad for kids. I hear you. Stay focused, people. Have you seen “The Princess and the Frog?” I chose this movie from the On Demand list because it looks progressive; the heroine is a hard-working, single girl who is busting her Disney-drawn butt to save money for the restaurant she wants to open, and the characters are not all white. It started out okay. Early in the film, the heroine, Tiana, tells her mother flat out that she doesn’t have time for “messing around” with men. Preach it, Tiana. But, um, spoiler alert: the movie ends with Tiana’s wedding. Oh, sure, Disney throws in a fast and gratuitous montage of Tiana opening her restaurant at the conclusion, but the message is that she was not really happy until she found true love. I’m not ragging on love, but children are the audience for this stuff. Usually girls. Young girls who think concretely and can't understand the complex psychological factors that may have led Tiana to avoid intimacy. All they will see is this: Tiana is sad; Tiana meets man; Tiana gets married; Tiana is happy. That's as lame a message as the one from Rainbow Dash and her pretty self. Certainly, parents can opt not to show the book or film to their girls, but Disney is an insidious presence in the big playground of childhood. Plus, whether or not parents can effectively censor what their kids see and hear isn’t the point. The point is, be pretty and get a man are popular goals being modeled for girls. We're dumbing them down, people. You know that whole "survival of the fittest" thing? We should help young girls develop fitter personas. Rainbow Dash and Tiana are not getting the job done.

Toy ponies and animated films are only the beginning. In adulthood women face a much more formidable foe -- each other. Exhibit A: Gisele Bundchen. You may know Gisele from her career as a supermodel, or maybe you know her as the girl who married football hero Tom Brady, America’s own Prince Charming. I know her as the woman who wants women to surrender control of their bodies. I read at least five articles this week about an interview with GBun that appears in Harper’s Bazaar UK. Gisele talks to the magazine about her experiences as a new mother to seven month-old Benjamin and says, “Some people here think they don’t have to breastfeed, and I think, ‘Are you going to give chemical food to your child when they are so little?’ There should be a worldwide law, in my opinion, that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months.” A law. A law telling women that they have no privacy in making decisions about their bodies. Yeah, we used to have one of those, Gisele, and we overturned it with a little decision called Roe V. Wade. I am not going to bore you with a long, outraged tirade over the very idea of a multimillionaire with a perfectly healthy baby and all the resources in the world suggesting that other women be mandated by law to breastfeed. And I know “breast is best.” I get that. Absolutely. But why would a woman tell another woman what to do with her life and her body? Does Gisele have that little empathy for less fortunate moms? The answers are I don't know and evidently yes. Of course, Gisele is feeling pretty confident, I imagine, given her stunning successes at the Rainbow Dash School of Pretty and Tiana's Academy of Prince Marriage.

Gisele seems to have forgotten the most important factor in group success, unity. Bundchen's approach is less about unity and more about "divide and conquer," a technique she might have learned from The Real Housewives, who have been well documented in this space for elevating in-fighting to an art form. Likewise, Hasbro and Disney have some pretty high-profile support in their attempts to devalue the female brain. Take Carly Fiorina, the politician who in June won the California Republican primary to run against Barbara Boxer for a senate seat. Shortly after her victory, which I like to think was based on hard work and some smidgen of smarts, Fiorina forgot her microphone was on during a TV spot and was caught saying about Boxer, “God, what is that hair? Soooo yesterday.” Her hair. She attacked her political rival’s hair. Why? Is that really what she is thinking about? Does she think that's a smart thing to say? What is going on? I don't know about you, but I blame Pinkie Pie.

I read about a lot of amazing women every day, and I know a lot of amazing women. But for all the progress these amazing women make, there are others who take the gender backwards, whether they know it or not. I tend to think Hasbro knows it. So, shame on them. Ditto for Carly Fiorina. As for Gisele, well, I’m not sure how much she knows. It’s not too late to learn, G.B. And it's time to bring the girl power, girls. We have to value and applaud the smarts we see in ourselves and in each other and tell the Hasbros of the world to **** off. Now, if that isn’t an eloquent call to arms, I don’t know what is.

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