Dec. 10, 2012 What to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature “Hey!” and some REAL Christmas cheer! A Mighty Girl holiday story:
I’ve written about rampant sexualization and gendered absurdity narrowing choices in the toy aisle many times before, but my weekend trip to not one, but SIX mainstream mall stores left me Grinched and green, sickened by the massiveness of it all.
“Will the proliferation of this absurdity EVER end?” I said to myself as I visited the nearby Target, watching them restock shelves with sexualized Bratz, Winx, Monster High, NoviStars, and some gawdawful aberration called “La Dee Dah” with ‘runway vacay’ and ‘rowdy shouty chic’ snipes on the packaging that made Barbie look like a genteel throwback.
I popped online to find out where colleagues were sourcing cool stuff for kids, only to see princess pundit and renowned author Peggy Orenstein light a flaming match to Nick Jr. for heavily promoting the uber-sexualized fairy fodder of toothpick-thin Winx.
Peggy’s camaraderie in this sphere is always heartening, but I winced at the video she posted, as I had yet to see these Winx “in action,” flitting about in skimpy sexed up togs with an action-hero soundtrack of musical ‘empowerment.’ Ugh. Are we now selling ‘sex as a power tool’ for six year olds, complete with canted pose propaganda people? (yes, I’m well aware Winx are a Euro derivative with anime eyes/new to the US market blahdeblah but that’s missing the point that the cumulative saturation level seeping into young girls’ psyches at increasingly younger ages with body image+appearance=self-worth equations is enough to creep me out BEFORE layering in the message of empowerment)
But wait! Just as a disheartened face-palm was settling in…Beaming as bright as a bat signal, A Mighty Girl answered my plea to the universe with a new, extensively curated site offering instant access to an amazingly sophisticated selection of healthier, positive picks for girls, in ONE handy hub, updated daily.
Even A Mighty Girl’s logo exudes a knowing wink in “we’ve got you covered” style, like a refreshing antidote and exhale to the ‘Winx’ pop culture that’s proliferating.
Parents, chosen family, and beleaguered gift-givers grappling with the “Is this what sells…seriously? I can’t buy that!” dynamic, you’re about to get a welcome exhale using this proprietary database of smart, resourceful female characters and storylines, lovingly hand-selected into a sift-n-sort site with more layers than a spanakopita.
A Mighty Girl is a mighty positive pick for Shaping Youth.
Browse their 2012 holiday guide and just released “small but mighty” stocking stuffers or search for year-round role models, historic figures and storybook characters that star in their own stories with imaginative fare.
You can sort by age, interest topic, multi-cultural ethnicity, theme, category, product, or a whole slew of in-depth filters to get you where you want to be fast.
With hand-selected recommendations culled from countless research hours of curation, A Mighty Girl functions like a unique, special interest colander that leaves only the shiny objects you’re looking for, all neatly scrubbed, filtered, reviewed, refined and even commented upon in ‘pages for parents’ details by their own Mighty Girl staff of seven nationwide intern/volunteers (many who are parents themselves).
It has some of the functional familiarity and powerful punch of an Amazon engine, but the proprietary database is exclusively curated and easy to access without a firehose of ancillary items cobbing up the works.
In a ‘less is more’ world of too much information, I love this aspect of A Mighty Girl’s distillation into noteworthy data nuggets that appeal.
I found copious quantities of interesting and arcane indie products as well as mass produced hidden gems (e.g. over 2000 toys, 1200 books, music, movies and such already) but it’s clearly the curated quality A Mighty Girl brings to the process of unearthing the treasure that astounds.
There are about 200 subcategories in the book section alone for example…So if you’re looking for a ‘multi-cultural book starring a Hispanic girl dealing with complexities of bullying about body image’ or some such specific search strand, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if A Mighty Girl spews out some options for you. (I just made that up, so now go try it for yourself and see)
Here are just a few of MANY categories that appeal year-round:
To give an example of how the vast database works, they recently launched
A Mighty Girl Character Collection which is just one of many ways to index their close to 4000 items across multiple channels of positive messaging, leadership, anti-bullying and such…
I popped in the search term “Brave” for example, as the Brave to Bratz branding ratio in big box retailers is abysmal…I wanted to see what types of Merida red-headed heroines were floating around in the toy sphere (and whether they looked remotely like the original character or not) and was also curious what else would pop up for the search term “Brave.”
Out popped this list for “Brave” which included not just the Pixar labeled merchandising of wall decals, read-along storybook, learn to draw, stickers, adventure hero costume dress, bow and arrow toys, video game, film and such, but also childrens’ book titles that included Brave either in the title itself, or as a major aspect of the storyline…for example, it cross-referenced with “Anne Frank: The Whole Story,” and a total of about 106 items with ‘brave’ as the main gist of the media and marketing message. Impressive.
Hunting within the “character collection” is not just about mass media icons either, the taxonomy is neatly organized into subgroups where you can identify the types of characters you’re seeking by genre and subject (historical figures, main storybook characters, etc).
If you search for a character like Amelia Earhart, you find not only cool books and biopics, but products like a brown felt aviator hat, a toddler dressup costume, an American Girl Aviator Doll, Kit, and a famous women in American History card game. (They also have a separate section for clothing, so hopefully as they grow they’ll cross-reference their outside vendors into the mix too, as one of them I’ve written about, Pigtail Pals has a pilot tee captioned, “This is your Captain speaking” which would be great in this category)
Likewise, their newly launched “toys” section doesn’t just dump you into a ‘girlpower’ themed bin of positive picks that pass muster for non-sexualized imagery or strong, smart and bold over sassy and snide…
They’ve taken the time to sort through it all so you don’t have to, as their blog explains:
“If you mouse over the ‘Toys’ button on our main menu bar , you’ll see our six main toy categories of Toys & Games, Imaginative Play, Arts & Crafts, Outdoor Play, For Baby, and Kids’ Gear and an array of sub-categories below each one. Using this menu, you can browse the main categories or go directly to sub-categories such as Science / Math or Dolls / Action Figures. Once you’ve found a section that interests you, whether it’s Building Toys or Video Games, you can use the filters to further refine the toy options, sorting by age, award winners, price, video game platform type, and several special characteristics including empowerment theme, eco-friendly, and ethically made.”
Exploring each area within the site, I’ve observed that co-founders Carolyn Danckaert and Aaron Smith (a husband and wife team based in Washington D.C.) have taken their strong backgrounds in technology; public policy; women’s rights and environmental issues and parlayed them into a powerhouse database that floats the crème to the top, spotlighting positive offerings that are ‘already out there but unseen.’
Whether small manufacturers or large ones, they’re showcasing products missing from the sheer ‘shelf space’ problem of marketing magnitude eclipsing healthier merchandise that already exists but is rarely ‘promoted.’
They said they created A Mighty Girl to fill a gaping hole in the marketplace, distinctly noticeable since they spend considerable play time with four nieces and a nephew nearby and couldn’t find much suitable to offer when it came time for gifting. Their goal was to make their site an easily accessible shortcut for busy families to find what they needed without wading through the muck.
In their words: “Our site was founded on the belief that all children should have the opportunity to read books, play with toys, listen to music, and watch movies that offer positive messages about girls and honor their diverse capabilities.”
Rather than compete with the cacophony of noise in mainstream media, they’ve chosen to spread their positive messages by word of mouth to those who matter most…friends and families doing the purchasing.
They’ve just rolled out a shareable new “wish list” feature that functions internally on their own site (not Amazon’s) where users can browse through and bookmark items, make notes for birthdays or to grandparents and through social media channels (there’s also A Mighty Girl community on Facebook, a very visual display on Pinterest and a presence on Twitter.)
Will it sell?
It’s music to my ears in a marketplace where goods like ‘Winx and Bratz’ sell behavioral cues to kids that undermine developmental health and well-being.
Rumblings from increasingly frustrated parenting communities concerned about lack of corporate ethics (putting profit over public health, bods over brains, and cranking out soul eroding sexualization for wee ones) is also making me hum a little ‘happy dance’ tune…because that’s how cultural change starts to build and achieve positive momentum. (as the saying goes, people don’t change when they see the light, people change when they feel the heat.)
I’d like nothing more than the ‘big players’ (looking at you, Mattel, Lego, Disney et al) to adapt and adopt best practices accordingly. The commodification of kids backlash has already begun. (see: partial list of articles on sexualization of children I’ve written for Shaping Youth…) For corporate entities, I suppose the next question is…who will profit from it?
Those that argue gender typecasting and objectification is ‘much ado about nothing’ and ‘over covered’ in the press need to peruse those research-laden articles above, and perhaps these recent news clips too…
Also, when industry responds with the hackneyed excuse that ‘market forces’ are in play and ‘this is what people are buying’ (and mark my words they will) we as consumers need to wise up, and callout the financial underpinnings, as a sneak peek behind the Wizard of Oz curtain reveals how the R&D rolls, how new product development is fiscally funded and fueled, and look deeper into who chooses what gets the bucks to be merchandised to a farethewell through focus groups and feedback. (When I think of the $40 million effort to rollout the new Lego Friends line for example, it irks me to no end pondering what they *could* have done with those dollars to enhance brain plasticity creatively using neuroscience for good)
It’s not that the mass market mush ‘sells well,’ it’s simply become ‘all that’s out there’…Until choice starts surfacing in the form of sites like A Mighty Girl.
What can YOU do? Easy. Support ‘em.
Let the Winx of the world collect dust on the shelf and use your online purchasing power instead.
Personally, I think the ‘tipping point’ is ripe for A Mighty Girl to capitalize on a media/marketing movement towards healthier fare, rounding up a much more culturally savvy parenting posse ready and eager to enjoy the click through convenience of one-stop shopping, when they want, how they want, purchasing what they want.
So far, a quick glance at our list of positive picks provide a show-n-tell of bright minds converging, as niche sites carve out their own stake in redirecting dollars towards healthier media for both girls AND boys.
If three makes a trend, we’re waaaaaaaaaay past that. Now let’s support these sites and DO this. When the ‘market forces’ smell money, the momentum will start to shift in a flash.
“If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” –Malcolm X
A Few More Positive Picks Featured on Shaping Youth: Let’s Add to Them!
(Note: those in green denote SY ongoing affiliations)
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