Rebecca Hains, best be known these days as the woman who got busted by the TSA for trying to take a red velvet cupcake through airport security, is, in her real life a media studies professor at Salem State University and author of Growing Up With Girl Power; Girlhood on Screen and in Every Day Life. She is also mother to a little boy who loves “My Little Pony,” a show, Rebecca says on her blog, that, like the beloved Powerpuff Girls, appeals equally to both sexes, defying the notion that boys/men won’t watch stories about girls/women.
I have to admit I’m not a “My Little Pony” aficianado — my daughter was never into them and I recalled the old show as being inane, and largely about selling toys (the fact that the ponies were revived for the Hub, a TV station owned by Hasbro, and are skinnier and “prettier” in their new incarnation only reinforced those impressions). Creator Lauren Faust writes on the Ms. Magazine blog that she was not initially a fan, either:
[Shows based on girls’ toys] did not reflect the way I played … I assigned my ponies and my Strawberry Shortcake dolls distinctive personalities and sent them on epic adventures to save the world. On TV, though, I couldn’t tell one girl character from another and they just had endless tea parties, giggled over nothing and defeated villains by either sharing with them or crying – which miraculously inspired the villain to turn nice.
With her new My Little Pony, Faust claims she wanted to challenge “the perception that ‘girly’ equals lame or “for girls” equals crappy,” to show:
there are lots of different ways to be a girl. You can be sweet and shy, or bold and physical. You can be silly and friendly, or reserved and studious. You can be strong and hard working, or artistic and beautiful. This show is wonderfully free of “token girl” syndrome, so there is no pressure to shove all the ideals of what we want our daughters to be into one package. There is a diversity of personalities, ambitions, talents, strengths and even flaws in our characters–it’s not an army of cookie-cutter nice-girls or cookie-cutter beauty queens like you see in most shows for girls.
Whether you agree or not, I wonder how Faust feels how her attempt was distorted on the way to the toy shelves, turned into the very thing she once despised. Consider Talking Princess Celestia, whom you’ll notice in the link is advertised as a toy that will “encourage your child’s imagination.” On the show Celestia is a white horse who rules the ponies wisely and well. But — uh oh! — in the toy store she’s turned pink! And what does pink usually mean? Well, Rebecca pressed Celestia’s “cutie” button (gag gag) to find out.
Let’s recap: five of Celesita’s 12 comments are about appearance (“I love when you comb my hair!” “Oh, my hair looks beautiful.” “My wings are so pretty!” “My barrettes look so pretty!” “You’re beautiful”); two are about princesses; two are about friendship; two relate to activity (“Let’s fly to the castle!” “I will light the way!”) and one is the word “Spectacular!”
As Rebecca points out, that means when a child plays with this Princess Celestia toy, he or she will be bombarded with self-absorbed, pretty princess vanity — the kind, she says, the show is happily free of.
Why’d Hasbro do it? The same reason Nick makes the bizarrely-named Magic Hair Fairytale Princess Dora doll: they think they’ll make a buck.
Only we parents can prove them wrong.
Incidentally, Celestia was originally supposed to be a QUEEN, not a princess, but according to Faust:
I was told [by Hasbro] that because of Disney movies, girls assume that queens are evil (although I only remember one evil queen) and princesses are good. I was also told that the perceived youth of a princess is preferable to consumers.
She does not have parents that outrank her. I brought the weirdness of that situation to my bosses, but it did not seem to be a continuity concern to them, so I’m letting it alone. I always wanted her to be the highest authority, and so she remains so. And I certainly don’t want marriage to be what would escalate her. (Bad messages to girls and what not.)
[...] I put up a bit of a fight when her title changed, but you win some, you loose some.
Rebecca suggests a few substitutions for the doll’s script. How about:
- I’m a princess! I rule my country with wisdom.
- I love teaching my students. Do you love school?
- You’re so smart!
- You remind me of Twilight Sparkle, my best student.
- You’re beautiful outside and in
- Together, we can do anything!
A propos of that last phrase: if you’re interested in letting Hasbro know we want our girls to think, play and be something beyond pretty, pink princess, here’s Rebecca’s petition at Change.org.
This piece was reprinted with permission from PeggyOrenstein.com.
Peggy Orenstein is the author, most recently, of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. Her previous books include The New York Times best-selling memoir,Waiting for Daisy; Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Kids, Love and Life in a Half-Changed World; and the best-selling School Girls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap. A contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, Peggy has also written for such publications as The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Vogue, Elle, Discover, More, Mother Jones, Salon, O: The Oprah Magazine, and The New Yorker, and has contributed commentaries to NPR’s All Things Considered.