Gender Defying Halloween PSA Gives Us All the Feels

The PSA tells children (and their parents) that it is OK to dress as anyone you want for Halloween, but the twist at the end has social media buzzing.

The two-minute PSA is simply titled “My Heroes.” It shows a family celebrating Halloween together. They buy costumes for their little boy and girl: Batman and Wonder Woman; carve Jack-o-Lanterns and excitedly speculate about the candy they will get.

Although they are having a good time, obvious expressions of concern and worry show on the parents faces when the kids aren’t looking. After a night of trick or treating, both kids are in candy-and-television induced comas. The mom and dad each grab a kid and tuck them into bed.

It is only as the camera pulls away that we realize that after they put on their costumes, we never saw the kids’ faces. It was the boy who was Wonder Woman, and the girl had chosen Batman.

The video ends as the dad looks back on his sleeping children and whispers, “My heroes,” before turning off the lights.

This 2-minute digital PSA was written by Alexander Day and Brian Carufe, directed by Almog Avidan Antonir, and produced by the team at Landwirth Legacy Productions, as means to challenge gender stereotypes when it comes to children’s Halloween costumes

Landwirth Legacy Productions aims to create entertaining and educational visual content and stories that seek to enrich, empower, and inspire audiences. Compassion is at the root of every project and relationship that Landwirth Legacy cultivates.

Say Goodbye to Gender-Specific “Toys of the Year”

A consumer walking into any toy store in America is guaranteed to notice two things.

First, the boys and girls sections are completely divided, sometimes even in opposite corners of the store. Second, one is smattered with dark blues and greens, holding sets of legos and remote-control cars on its shelves, while the other is blindingly pink and purple, stocked full of dresses and makeup kits and My Little Ponies.

The part that’s disconcerting about this scenario is that this is the norm for this consumer; they’ve walked into dozens of toy shops throughout many years and have always known that blue means boy and pink means girl.

And there’s no one person or organization to place blame for the unequivocal separation of the toys. The problem has been looking us straight in the face for years, but it is so entrenched in our society that it failed to be acknowledged. Until now.

Earlier this month, the Toy IndustryAssociation (TIA) announced the categories for the 2016 Toy of the Year Awards. The difference between 2016 and 2015? They’ve finally done away with the gender specific categories. Instead of “Girl Toy of the Year” and “Boy Toy of the Year” being separate awards, they’ve dropped the gender and renamed the category “Toy of the Year”.

They’re a bit behind the curve, considering Target stopped separating toys and bedding into girls’ and boys’ sections in August of 2015. President Obama also notably sorted traditionally male toys into the girls’ boxes and the traditionally female toys into boys’ boxes, stating “I’m just trying to break down gender stereotypes.” This was at a Toys for Tots event…in 2014.

The fact that the TIA finally pulled its head out of the clouds and followed suit is thanks in large part to two websites that advocated ceaselessly for gender-neutral categories. DadDoes and Let Toys Be Toys both demanded a change from the TIA. DadDoes posted a petition for the change in January, asking questions such as “Shouldn’t the awards be based on the merit of the toys, not who the TIA thinks should play with them?

Let Toys be Toys offered a resolution to the issue, stating on its campaignwe’re asking retailers, booksellers and manufacturers to sort and label toys and books by theme or function, rather than by gender, and let the children decide which toys they enjoy best.”

Their voices, along with hundreds of supporters, were finally heard and acknowledged by the TIA. With questions like “Do we have awards for Best Car for Women and Best Car for Men? How about Best Smartphone for Women and Best Smartphone for Men? making it loud and clear that if we aren’t going to separate the products used daily by adults, it would be wise to stop making the separation for our impressionable youth.

Thankfully, the TIA decided to stand on the right side of history and do away with past protocol. And good riddance, because girls like Legos and boys like Easy Bake Ovens and it’s well past time to stop telling them that they shouldn’t.

Children Demonstrate the Deep-Rooted Nature of Gender Bias

When I was a child, there was a riddle:

A father and a son are in a horrible accident. The father dies, and the son is rushed to the hospital. The surgeon rushes in, but suddenly stops, saying, “I can’t operate on this boy, he’s my son.” How is this possible?

30 years ago, this routinely stumped children, because they could not imagine a world where a woman was an accomplished surgeon. It served as both a parlour trick and a cultural marker the showed how far we still had to go in the quest for gender equality.

The premise of that riddle has been brilliantly updated by the MullenLowe Group, in the above video, an ad for Inspiring the Future, a nonprofit that connects people from the business world with public schools and universities. I was hoping that by now, gender barriers had fallen in the  minds of children.

Sadly, the new riddle seems to be, “Will we ever be able to protect our children from these damaging stereotypes?”

Toy Fair Awards Highlight Gender Divide

The American Toy Fair is the largest toy trade show in the Western hemisphere. The annual event is held in New York City by the Toy Industry Association, whose more than 900 members account for approximately 90-percent of the annual U.S. domestic toy market of $22 billion.

So it’s kind of a big deal.

One of the highlights of the show are the awards. They give out awards for best educational toy, most innovative toy, and best toy for infants  and toddlers.

The Best Toy for Boys is defined as “The best toy developed specifically for boys of any age.” So what toy is it that was “developed specifically for boys?”

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Millenium Falcon
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Millenium Falcon

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Millenium Falcon by The LEGO Group

That’s right girls, forget that the main character of the film is a woman. Forget that she spends more time piloting it than Han Solo or that she actually inherits the Falcon at the end of the movie. Forget that she comes with the set and is shown on the box piloting the spaceship.

Star Wars is for boys.

Other nominated toys “made specifically for boys” included the Air Hogs Millennium Falcon and Star Wars Bladebuilders Jedi Master Lightsaber — got the message yet, girls?

Shopkins Scoops Ice Cream Truck
Shopkins Scoops Ice Cream Truck

On the other hand, the Best Toy for Girls winner was the consumer-culture driven Shopkins Scoops Ice Cream Truck followed by an assortment of other pink, purple and pastel items. (Notable exceptions included the “Girl Scouts Cookie Oven” and “Zoomer Kitty.”)

To what purpose do we divide toys by gender? What good does it do to tell girls they are only allowed to play with something if it is pink, purple and covered in flowers? Why do we tell a boy interested in nurturing pets or in role-playing owning an ice-cream shop that his interests are wrong? Where are the toys for those children?

It just goes to show you that despite what I believe are truly good intentions and lots of ink and timid steps towards progress, the industry is hopelessly mired in incredibly rigid and antiquated gender norms that should have died generations ago.

Before next year’s Toy Fair, I’d like to give the industry an opportunity to re-examine this flow chart, which I hope will make it easier for them to determine if a toy is “specifically made” for a girl or a boy.


Any questions?

Barbie for Boys: Progress or Gimmick?

This one is complicated. Mattel’s Barbie has entered into a partnership with Italian luxury goods designer Moschino to make exclusive Moschino-themed dolls. To announce the launch of the limited edition dolls, Moschino put out a commercial. In that commercial, they show a boy playing with Barbie right along side the girls.

I think this doesn’t do much for the majority of boys who are still likely to be uninterested in playing with ultra-feminine Barbie. The commercial relies almost exclusively on rigid gender stereotypes. Rather than moving towards more gender neutral imagery, they just included a boy that also embraces girl stereotypes. We also have some questions about whether it is a good idea to expose young girls (or boys) to the high-end consumerism of Italian fashion houses. While it does nothing to help the majority of girls and boys look beyond traditional gender roles, I suppose this commercial might mean a huge amount to a boy who identifies as female or just has a strong interest in fashion.

We remain highly suspicious of Barbie, but their recent wonderful girl-power commercial combined with this new attempt to break down gender barriers shows that they are at least exploring ideas in the right direction.

The Trouble with Barbie

I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with Barbie. As a male, she represented the “pink” aisle — a literal “no man’s land” in the toy department where most boys fear to tread. As a father, she epitomized a package of narrow, rigid gender stereotypes that I was afraid would limit my girls’ choices rather than broaden their horizons.

The record of how Barbie has been merchandised to girls is spotty at best. From her unrealistic body image, to the book “How to Lose Weight” that was included in the 1963 version. (The advice given? “Don’t eat.” It also came with a scale permanently set at 110 lbs.) Or the 1992 version that perkily exclaimed, “Math is hard!” Or the 2009 “Totally Tattoo Barbie” that came with two tramp stamps — one for Barbie, and one for the little girl who bought her.

Over and over again, Barbie has stuck a bubble-gum-pink high-heel in her mouth, sending bad messages to little girls wrapped in a cheerful “girl power” package. Sure, she showed girls that they could be doctors or astronauts — but only if they were also 5’9″ blonde Amazons with flawless makeup and breasts the size of volleyballs.

Psychology professors Aurora Sherman of Oregon State and Eileen Zubriggen of UC Santa Cruz shared many of the same reservations about Barbie. The wanted to investigate how playing with sexualized dolls affected young girls. But rather than focusing on how it affected their body image, as many studies have done before, Sherman and Zubriggen studied how the dolls affected their career aspirations.

From the press release regarding the study:

Thirty-seven girls between four to seven years old from an Oregon college town were randomly assigned to play for five minutes with either a sexualized Doctor Barbie or Fashion Barbie doll, or with more a more neutral Mrs. Potato Head doll. The girls were then shown photographs of 10 occupations and asked how many they themselves or boys could do in the future.

The girls who played with a Barbie doll – irrespective of whether it was dressed as a fashion model or a doctor – saw themselves in fewer occupations than are possible for boys. Those girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly as many career options available for themselves as for boys.

The two Barbie dolls were identical except for clothing, with unrealistic bodies, extremely youthful and attractive faces, and long full hair. The researchers believe that the doll itself trumps the role or career aspirations suggested by its costume.

“It’s sobering that a few minutes of play with Barbie had an immediate impact on the number of careers that girls saw as possible for themselves” Zurbriggen said. “And it didn’t matter whether Barbie was dressed as a model or as a pediatrician, suggesting that the doll’s sexualized shape and appearance might trump whatever accessories are packaged with her.”

“Perhaps Barbie can ‘Be Anything’ as the advertising for this doll suggests,” said Sherman. “But girls who play with her may not apply these possibilities to themselves.”