When race and gender intersect: What I want my daughter to know about beauty
On a trip to Walgreens, my daughter found some Doc McStuffins stickers—a Disney television series featuring an African-American girl who wants to be a doctor.
I had purchased Doc McStuffins playing cards for my daughter a few months before and my husband immediately lamented the pinkness of the cards. I agreed that marketing pink to girls is a strategy signals to girls which toys are intended for them, often reinforcing gender stereotypes like “girls play with kitchens.” (For more information on gendered toys, see the following links: 5 reasons not to buy your daughter pink legos, Does stripping gender from toys really make sense?, and No Gender December.)
“But,” I countered his lament, “the positive of the image of a Black girl who is an aspiring doctor outweighs the reinforcement of ‘pink is for girls.’”
Back at Walgreens, “Look, Mama, the doctor!” she said to me, pointing at the stickers.
“You’re right,” I said to her. “There is the little girl who is a doctor.”
Nearby, in the toy aisle, my daughter saw the cartoon faces for various Disney princesses on the packaging for a toy.
“Look, Mama,” she exclaimed, “More girls” and pointed to a slew of Whites faces on the packaging. Then, she asked, “The doctor, no?” My daughter confirmed the doctor’s absense, searching the packaging for her friend, Doc McStuffins.
“No, the doctor isn’t on the packaging for this toy, “ I affirmed.
There in the toy aisle, I had a moment of pause. “Do I have to point out the Whiteness that is presented here as ‘neutral’ on this toy carton?” I wondered. I started to hurry my daughter on to the next aisle when the insidiousness of it all got to me.
This year’s NYC subway ads for the Rockettes featured a “diverse” cast of White, Black, Latina, and Asian women. The fact that the Rockettes (or at least the advertisements) feature a diverse cast of women is a positive thing…but it isn’t the whole picture. The Rockettes famously conform to the same (White) mold of beauty: tall, slender, symmetrical faces, etc. Despite the racial and ethnic diversity, they all look strikingly the same.
It was the same thing in the toy aisle at Walgreens. No wonder my daughter expected to see Doc McStuffins’ face on the packaging for the Disney princesses. To support my daughter’s development of a healthy self image, I don’t want her to associate beauty with White culture’s image of a pale-skinned, long, blonde haired, blue-eyed, thin girl. I want her to know that beauty comes in many different sizes, shapes, and shades. I also want her to know that she should challenges the images she sees, particularly on advertisements.
I brought her back to the stickers: “Doc McStuffins has brown skin and these girls all have pale skin or White skin. But you’re right about two things. The girls do look similar to one another. And there should be girls with brown skin on this box, too.”
“Like Beba,” she reminded me (her baby doll who has brown skin).
“Exactly,” I told her.
For related reading:
Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops/webinars and small group workshop series on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn.