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Posts tagged ‘girls’

Sanrio: Friendship Characters

Ah, Sanrio. The company behind Hello Kitty and all those other Japanese kawaii characters. Everyone knows who Hello Kitty is, however I may have had a slightly different experience with Sanrio characters because I spent every summer of my childhood in Hawaii. Hawaii has a very large Japanese population, and Sanrio is a very Japanese phenomenon which became wildly popular among children in America, but especially children in Hawaii. I, like all other children in Hawaii, owned numerous items covered with images of these characters. I remember loving my Keroppi lunch container and taking it to school with me every day, using my Hello Kitty chopsticks and plastic-ware often at dinner, wearing my Pochacco shirt to summer camp, writing in my Little Twin Stars notebook, and drinking out of my Chococat mug. Every drugstore in Hawaii has an entire aisle devoted to Sanrio characters. I remember whenever I would go with my mom to the store, I would spend the entire time walking down the Sanrio aisle and begging my mom to buy me a toy or some new item with a Sanrio character printed on it. There was an entire Sanrio store in every mall and I would visit it with every mall excursion. Even when I got older, I still looked upon the Sanrio characters with a smile because they reminded me of summer and my childhood.

Sanrio products similar to ones I owned in the 90's

According to Sanrio’s website, the company “was founded in 1960’s Japan by Shintaro Tsuji, whose simple dream of bringing smiles to people’s faces, grew into the brand’s ‘small gift, big smile’ philosophy”. An online company history of Sanrio states that the company launched the Hello Kitty character in 1974, originally aimed toward girls too young for barbies or similar toys. This spread beyond the intended age group partially because it tapped into the Japanese ‘kawaii’ trend, the obsession with cuteness. They sell anything from tiny toys, erasers, and candies to big things like suitcases, golf clubs and TVs, all with an image of a character and the brand-name pasted on each item. In 1976 the company set up a base in San Jose CA as a result of growing popularity in the U.S. and set up licensing agreements which brought Sanrio characters into toys included in McDonalds children’s meals. In 1988 Sanrio came out with its first boy character, Keroppi the frog, whose success caused the creation of new gender-neutral characters to bring boys into the market. In the early 90’s, two theme parks were built to keep up with the craze: Puroland and Harmonyland. Sanrio also created TV shows in the 90’s based on Hello Kitty and friends.

I never knew the friendship stories behind the characters, and I never watched the TV shows that accompanied them, but I still loved the characters anyhow. Sanrio characters play into the idea of the PLC, or “program-length commercial” mentioned in the Spinning Out of Control (Gary Cross) reading. Cross says, “These programs were ‘originally conceived as a vehicle from providing product exposure to the child audience’” (295). by providing an extensive story and extra characters around the Hello Kitty trend, the TV series surrounding Sanrio characters served just to market more toys and items with the brand to children. Cross also talks about the problem this causes for parents: “PLCs stacked the deck against parents by manipulating young children into wanting a particular toy while ostensibly entertaining them” (296). The Sanrio characters also show the idea of how toymakers “also shaped little girls’ play around licensed characters and fairytale story lines” (299).  In these characters and storylines, most of the time characters “worked together for the common good and did so in a world largely free of adult authority” (300). The Sanrio characters seem to follow the trend of Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Herself the Elf, and other ‘friendship’ characters of this kind of formula.

Smile! You’re on Barbie camera!

Toys, were the staple of childhood. Whether you played with Transformers, Hot Wheels, action figures, Barbie or GI-Joe’s, the toy required that you use your imagination to create a scenario or plot, with a particular goal in mind that you and your toy could achieve. I am purposely using past tense for this description because kids have become so absorbed with today’s technology that toys no longer require the extensive thinking and imagination that they one did.

The New York Times wrote an article on how toys have changed, and once MSNBC.com caught ahold of it, Stephanie Clifford wrote an update version of the article. “Classic toys are becoming much less classic because of upgrades meant to entertain technology-obsessed children.” Stephanie explains that the reason for children growing up with the desire to be more technological is because they see all the gadgets that their parents are playing with and operating. The main attraction that they are writing about is the new Barbie. The new Barbie has become a digital camera, her camera lens in behind her and the picture then appears on her t-shirt. The photo can then be uploaded to a phone or a computer. In my opinion this takes away the whole point of Barbie, all that she will be now is a camera, little girls won’t know how to make up a story and have their dolls act it out.

There are a lot of people, myself being one of them, that feel toys and technology should not mix and that children should still have to utilize their imagination. I feel that this new technological advance could cause something similar, just not as extreme, as the moral panic that our society experienced when children became obsessed with comic books. Perhaps this new technological craze that is taking over the toys could stand to resemble how comic books were seen taking over children’s innocense.

A picture showing how Barbie is now becoming a digital camera.

The Barbie doll

Barbie representing the traditional Venezuelan dance of Joropo. Source: Barbie de Sonho (blogspot.com)

When I was younger, one of my favorite toys was the Barbie doll. Barbie was created by Ruth Handler, one of the founders of the very successful toy company Mattel. With a modest selling price of $3, Barbie was debuted on March 9, 1959 at the American International Toy Fair in New York City. Just a few months later, Barbie was flying off the shelves, as parents rushed to buy them for their daughters.

Ruth Handler designed Barbie with the goal of inspiring American girls to imagine “their lives as adults” (page 173). This is what Chudacoff refers to when he says that the Barbie doll exemplified the role of adult domestication in children’s play (page 173). More importantly, Barbie has always been a very innovative toy in terms of gender stereotypes. Throughout the years Barbie  has held over 125 careers, including those that have traditionally been held by men, such as astronaut, surgeon, CEO, Air force soldier, and countless others. Most recently, Mattel began the I Can Be… campaign, which shows Barbie as a computer engineer, a doctor, race car driver, and even an architect. This serves the very important purpose of broadening the scope of careers choices for girls and inspiring them to be anything they set their minds to. An article in Vogue magazine quotes Ruth Handler as saying:

“Barbie has always represented that a woman has choices. Even in her early years, Barbie did not have to settle for only being Ken’s girlfriend or an inveterate shopper,” creator Ruth Handler said. “I believe the choices Barbie represents helped the doll catch on initially, not just with daughters – who would one day make up the first major wave of women in management and professionals – but also with mothers.”

Despite Handler’s best intentions, Barbie has always had a problem with being culturally diverse. This is made obvious by Barbie’s predominantly Caucasian features. This might send the unfortunate message that a girl can be anything she wants, as long as she is white. The first effort to make Barbie more diverse came in the shape of “Colored Francie” in 1967. Colored Francie, however, proved to be a huge failure because she lacked any African American features and was essentially a white doll painted black. In recent years, however, Mattel has made a greater effort to make the Barbie doll more inclusive in terms of race, culture and ethnicity. As can be seen by the Dolls of the World collection,  Barbie is now a lot easier to relate to for white and colored girls all over the world. In fact, when I traveled to Venezuela over the summer, I was very happy to see a Venezuelan Barbie. I only wished I would have her when I was a little girl.

Mulan

My childhood was largely centered around Disney movies. My parents loved (the majority) of these films because they felt Disney often had a moral or teaching hidden within the story line. I loved them because my parents allowed my sisters and I to watch them religiously. When I was young, I would go through phases where I just watched a movie on repeat; Mulan was one of these.

The movie Mulan is centered around Fa Mulan, a young women and only child of the Fa Family, who has failed to fulfill the traditional Chinese duty of becoming a desirable bride. However, when the Huns begin to invade, the empire calls one man from every family to arms. Because the only male in the Fa Family is Mulan’s father, who is elderly and cannot walk properly, Mulan disguises herself and takes her father’s spot in battle against the Huns, sacrificing her life if she is to be caught. Mulan was produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released on June 19, 1998, by Walt Disney Pictures. The film grossed over $304 million and received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations.

Mulan is an interesting character because, unlike other Disney princesses, her actions are centered around bettering her family to where other Disney princesses focus their actions around winning over their Prince Charming. This relates to our multiple class discussions on gender roles. Often, the women (especially princesses) in Disney movies focus around winning over a guy by whatever means necessary. For example, Ariel in The Little Mermaid sacrifices her voice. However, many Disney movies centered around men do not focus on the male making major sacrifices for love. Therefore, Mulan is a special and unique Disney character because she sacrificed her life in order to save her family rather than to fulfill her own selfish desires of finding love.


Official Mulan Trailer, youtube.com

 

 

Barbies, Bratz & Upbringings

Toys for children serve multiple purposes, some of the ideas behind toys revolve around inspiration and building dreams. I was the only girl in a house of boys, I have an older brother and a younger brother. I learned how to play with Street Sharks, Beast War and when PlayStation came out I knew how to dominate at Marvel Super Heroes. So hopefully this makes it easier to understand why there was not much room for My Pretty Pony and Cabbage Patch Kids in our toy box. These were just a few of the popular girls toys of the 90s; when I received my first Barbie, she was so beautiful and everything I knew I wanted to be. It was easy to start a collection, at approximately $25 a doll. Christmas and birthday wishes became easy to guess. Barbie possessed the perfect hour glass shaped body, with long legs. She had big colorful eyes, with long hair. Every outfit she ever had always fit perfectly, and looking back now I know that I grew up with that image in my head of what girls were supposed to look like. As I grew older and grew out of my Barbie phase, I noticed that Bratz dolls quickly began to become the new “it” toy for young girls. With my new maturity and perspective on dolls like these, I was quick to notice that the Bratz dolls wore twice as much make-up as Barbie, their facial features were much more pronounced as plastic surgery began to grow in popularity amongst celebrities. Their outfits became more revealing and Bratz portrayed as overall much more “trashier” appearance than Barbie. In Gary Cross’ article about “Modern Children, Modern Toys”, he explains about Locke’s theory that “children should have a variety of toys.” (page 46) However he also goes onto explain that toys should be used to “…guide the child’s “progress” or training.” By training he was referring to how girls should be taught how to be exemplary caretakers and housewives. While Barbie stood for everything feminist, she did not emphasize learning those types of lessons. I appreciate the fact that she didn’t teach this, because as our society grew, women started to devote more time away from the house and more on their jobs and careers.

Barbie, featured in the center, with her two friends.

 

Some of the Bratz dolls featured together.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The “American Girl” Franchise

The original line of historical "American Girl" dolls.

When I was little, one of my favorite book series was the American Girl series. This collection of chapter books followed the lives of several young girls from different time periods and classes in American history – all hinging upon the common denominator of their titular national identity and exploring the story directly through the girls’ viewpoints. These books were created chiefly to advertise to children (more specifically girls) the line of character dolls upon which the American Girl company was originally built, in the same vein of such toy lines as Transformers and My Little Pony. Selling for upwards of a hundred dollars (and initially only available by mail-order) when you factor in toy accessories and doll dress-up, the American Girl dolls were expensive enough to require additional persuasion in the form of books, movies, and even games. After all,  parental resistance in the face of cost to satisfying a child’s preference for a particular character or story tends to wane the more enamored the child becomes with the pageantry of  a full product line.

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The New Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley

The New Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley, The Case of the Dog Camp Mystery (2001) book cover (click for source)

When we were discussing our favorite female protagonists from childhood literature, somehow it slipped my mind- I used to be obsessed with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. I had almost every book from their series, The New Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley, and I read them over and over, entertained by each mystery they undertook. I would look forward to the next release on the shelves at grocery stores. I remember each book had cards with pictures to be torn out. I had a large stack of them that I would flip through, admiring my idols.

Written by various authors, the series ran from 1998 to 2005 and was published by Harper Entertainment. While most of books in the series can now be purchased on Amazon for a penny used, their suggested retail price was $4.50.

These were girls’ books. The few boys who did venture to read the series risked looking feminine. This loss of masculinity is what keeps boys away from books and activities considered “girly,” as we discussed in class. While some of the individual titles like The Case of the Cheerleading Camp Mystery have an obvious appeal to girls, some of the titles like The Case of the Weird Science Mystery have a non-gender-specific appeal. Titles like the latter could have appealed to boys had the series not been based on two of young girls’ biggest icons. This supports Elizabeth Segel’s conclusion in “As the Twig Is Bent”

“…Many boys are missing out on one of fiction’s greatest gifts, the chance to experience life from a perspective other than the one we were born to—in this case, from the female vantage point.” (p. 76)

In contrast to the earlier books discussed in the Segel reading, the series doesn’t prescribe roles of domesticity and obedience to its adolescent girl audience. Instead, they are the heroes. They go on adventures. They solve crimes. They get the bad guy. And all before dinnertime.