2-D Girls in a 3-D World

This week at Twisty’s joint, commenters have been contemplating the meaning of femininity. Twisty’s take:

Central to today’s fun’n’sassy Empowerful Woman narrative, femininity is that set of self-absorbed, self-defeating behaviors required of women by the dominant culture to ensure a ready-steady supply of submissive sexbot availability.

Because there was never so hideous an abomination as a woman who can’t prove, through word, deed, and sportcorset, that she has successfully internalized the patriarchal message and is conversant in fulfilling male fantasy.

Femininity is the antithesis of humanity.

Sarah sums it up in only fourteen words: “Femininity is the culturally defined yet individually rendered personal expression of willingness to submit.”

And do read anuna’s take – I can’t bear to extract a subquote, it’s perfect just as it is.

As I was leafing through the comments thread, impressed at their perspicacity and contemplating the differences between femininity, femaleness, and womanhood, I was also cruising some online toy stores. (My partner is active on our local toy library committee, and was looking for a particular set of castle gear.)

And I stumbled across this hideous example of feminine ghettoisation, Peedee Toys. Just in case it is promptly changed under the weight of protest letters from my friends, there’s a screenshot here.

I’m referring specifically to the left sidebar menu, which has a list of the categories of toys stocked in the store. One of the 17 non-infant categories (that’s 5.88%) is “Girls Toys”.

No, there is no “Boys Toys” category. Regular kids – you know, the ones without vaginas – get a choice of Action Figures, Arts & Crafts, Books, Cars Trucks & Racing, Collectibles, Construction, Games & Puzzles, Greeting Cards, Hobbies, Learning Toys, Let’s Pretend, Manchester, Novelties, Outdoor, Soft Toys and Trains. What a great range! There are active toys, swimmin-pool toys, fast-moving things, superheroes, lots of gear to stimulate and broaden the mind, models to build, magic sets, and equipment to get the creative juices flowing.

So what’s in the pink and sparkly girl ghetto? Femininity training tools!

First, body maintenance. Girls are trained from their preschool years that femininity is thinness, bodily hairlessness, face paint, hobbled sexual availability, and hours of effort and pots of cash put into being sparkly and “attractive”. As Claire (“yankee transplant) observes:

“Femininity is total subjugation to the patriarchal definition of what a woman should be: available for sex and mandatory breeding.”

The plastic role models and the pink glittery tools are marketed by big business to little girls, for their mandatory bodily grooming education and the proper instillation of body image dysfunction and low self esteem.

Swimsuit BarbieBratz logobarbieheelsNail Art kit

Girls are told all their lives that domestic servitude is their lot (whether they have paid work or not), and this taxing role takes a lot of training. As does, apparently, the burger-flipping role that girls are relegated to by the “My Fast Food Kitchen” that complements the imitation home-kitchen.

Kiki reminds us: “Femininity is a set of inane distractions that divert our attention, drain our energy and squander our resources.”

Even more difficult than the job itself is maintaing the rictus-like grin necessary to convince others that “No, I love this! It’s my life!” Yet these first-grader models seem to have it down pat already – I guess starting early has its own rewards.

toy washing machinetoy kitchenMy Fast Food Kitchen

As LMYC says,

“I said it elsewhere, but it does belong here: femininity is the ability to step with two bare feet straight into a pile of dog shit, smile, take a deep breath, and say, ‘Wow! Just like roses!'”

Next in the logical progression of femininity: motherhood. wiljago links femininity to the mother-role:

“Gentleness, delighting in decorating oneself, willingness to yield to others, nurturing, being affectionate, showing love, and all of the various and sundry characteristics associated with “femininity” are quite natural to humans, as they tend to be the characteristics associated with raising children.”

And, of course, there is no lack of maternalist training tools in the Girls Toys ghetto, from surrogate babies to the paraphernalia that go with them.

Cabbage Patch logotoy strollermicro babies

I did enjoy one brief glimmer of hope. Down the bottom left of the pink section, without a pretty logo, I spotted “Electronic toys”! Cool! Girls get computers and robots and stuff, too? Nope. But there’s an enormous range of hip mama training tools.

There are furbies and other talking pet baby surrogates, password-protected diaries, pink pretend cellphones – and “pixel chix”. Pixel chix? I haven’t heard of those before. The picture looks like it’s a tutu-bedecked LCD woman trapped, zoo-like, in a vomitously pink plastic cage.

As Frigga’s Own says:

“Femininity is the pink box. Some women and men will walk in willingly, and any woman who doesn’t will spend her life trying to escape.”

I check the description.

“To interact with your Pixel Chix pal just “push her buttons” literally! Using the input buttons on the fashionable, handheld house, help your Pixel Chix pal decide all kinds of things, like what to do – play guitar or go rollerblading? Where to go tonight – on a date or to a concert? What to wear – a skirt or a bathing suit?”

This is our menu. These are our choices.

“Pixel Chix pal is a 2-D girl living in a 3-D world.”

No kidding.



Categories: gender & feminism

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9 replies

  1. I’m so glad that the tigling is old enough to have moved out of the pink consumer ghetto. Ugh.
    I hate the pink aisle in toy sections of department stores. Everything just looks so fake. Which I guess is the point – femininity is a fake shell women are expected to wear to cover our natural womanliness.

  2. They still make Cabbage Patch Dolls? Yech.

  3. A friend just pointed out to me this site, Demockratees, which sells lefty T-shirts, including a Remove The Glass Ceiling shirt.
    The sizing on most shirts is divided into “Women’s” and “Adult”.

  4. At the risk of sounding like a bad feminist, I don’t think we can blame being feminine completely on the patriarchy. Some aspects of it yes, but I think that there is a little bit of me that likes to dress up and look nice (only on special occassions) that has nothing to do with men. I think it’s an essential part of who we are. Mostly I have found that it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing people either notice me or they don’t. Some of the most interested glances I have received have been when I have been wearing something pulled out of the cupboard at random and thrown on in a hurry. I should point out that the last time I wore makeup was about three years ago and I rarely iron anything I wear.

  5. I do think casting the enjoyment of dressing up for special occasions as especially feminine is patriarchal, though.
    Look at the dandies of Beau Brummel’s time, the phrase “peacocking around”, and the glam rockers of the 70s. Men like a bit of fancy costume just as much as women when it’s considered socially acceptable.

  6. Further to tigtog’s comment, there are also immense differences in the way grooming is marketed to children.
    Girls have thoroughly-equipped Barbie hair and nail salons, massive palettes of face paint, evening gowns, jewellery, plastic furry high heels to totter about on.
    Do boys have dress-up mini-tuxes, play razors, and let’s-pretend anti-balding creams? No, they have superhero costumes.

  7. Ahh, I think I may have missed something in my reading then Tigtog, thank you.
    Lauredhel I agree. My son loves dressing up in pink sparkly things and I think he looks gorgeous and the fact that he is happy is more important than what society thinks he should be playing with. Although when tidying up the toys for the umpteenth time the other day I did realise that he has a lot of toy cars. But his sister likes to play with them too so I encourage that.
    My biggest problem has been finding brightly coloured clothing for him, and clothing that isn’t uniformly pink for her.

  8. Oh, Mindy, don’t get me started on children’s clothing. I don’t have a daughter, but I can see the pink and mauve glittery princess section from a mile away. And even toddler and preschooler boys seem to have a choice of olive, grey, brown, camouflage or navy, with prints of graffiti and motorcycles and guns, and logos like “Troublemaker”. Bob the Builder is actually a welcome relief.
    I’m finding much more interesting things in cottage industry. A hand-painted sealife shirt, a dragon shirt with gossamer wings, hand-dyed lime and aqua hemp trousers, a brightly rainbow-striped cotton jumper. We buy less clothing (and most of his everyday clothes are hand-me-downs), but it’s much more cheerful than the cheap MIC chain-store offerings.

  9. I thought this comment from Sylvanite in Twisty’s thread was on the money:

    Femininity is the arbitrary designation of human traits deemed “weak”, such as compassion, sadness, and empathy, to the female half of the species. Like all psychological projections, it is done to place emotions deemed “unacceptable” to an external vessel to be hated without threatening the self. The strict gender-coding of fashion and behavior is meant to identify who is a veesel for these projections.

    I’d add that the construct of “femininity” also designates traits and desires deemed “trivial” to the female half of the species, as an extension of what is considered “weak”. Thus you get the stereotypical emptyheaded female, mired in learned helplessness.
    Of course very few women embrace the artificial femininity stereotype entirely, even those who make their living at it like models and starlets. They all have pockets of internal empowerment where they transcend the “weak” and “trivial” characterisations, otherwise they’d all go mad with the limitations. But part of constructed femininity is hiding that internal life and pretending that it doesn’t really matter compared to the prime importance of being approved by men.

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