GoldieBlox – engineering for little girls

14 02 2014

Debbie Sterling, an engineer from Stanford, found few women in her university class and decided young girls needed more encouragement to experiment with engineering and innovative design concepts. Her research led to the revelation that 87% of the world’s engineers are males, and to the development of a combination storybook and toy building set designed specifically for little girls – Goldie Blox. Her original crowdfunding launch successfully reached its $150,000 target in less than 5 days (watch the launch video here: and GoldieBlox is now a series. The first building set, incorporating a belt drive, is available online and at select Target and ToysRUs stores along with #2  (wheel and axle) and #3 (hinge) in the series. goldieblox

For more about GoldieBlox, check out the web site:

Thanks, Debbie, for recognizing the need to cheer on young inventors, and for tapping into young female minds with something more than pink packaging.

Play On!

18 08 2013

Strong kids = Strong families = Strong nation. That simple but powerful mission is behind Canadian Tire’s new campaign to bring play back to childhood. It is an inspiring and  welcome partnership to get youngsters active again with the help of influential athletes and players of all types. It reminds us about our longtime “passion for play” while pointing out that “play doesn’t come out to play as much anymore”. Nostalgic and iconic images of children at play are appearing on the company’s TV commercials, and supporters of the campaign are posting their own videos and photos online showing how and where Canadians play.

-we-all-play-for-canada-Confidence. Creativity. Strength. These qualities, cited as goals of the campaign, are ones we can all encourage in children of all ages. “A country without strong children cannot stay strong”, says the campaign. No argument here.

Play on!

Happy International Women’s Day!

8 03 2013

Borrowing from another excellent message distributed today by Miss Representation (, here’s a reminder to think about change as we celebrate women and girls in all their potential…

toddlers and tiaras

Today is International Women’s Day, so let’s take this collective moment to pledge to end the oppression of women worldwide – in all its forms. Let’s pledge to end not only the overt violence directed at women daily, but the institutional sexism holding us back and the destructive representations of women in the media which contribute to that same culture of negating women and denying them their equal seat at the tables of power. After all, as long as the media hypersexualizes and objectifies women, they normalize treating women as second-class citizens and objects for the male gaze, which further contributes to violence against women.

Katy Couric

We encourage you to spend this special day not only supporting those organizations creating change in the treatment of women globally, but thinking personally about how you can make an impact on the lives of women and girls everywhere. Each of us can play a small part in transforming the way our culture views, values, and treats women and girls.

This Valentine’s Day, spread the love and spread the word

8 02 2013

www.missrepresentation.orgLast Sunday, during the biggest media event of the year, supporters of Miss Representation came together to put sexism in advertising in the spotlight and make it a topic of conversation. As a result, over 4 million people heard or saw their critiques of Super Bowl commercials and their message was picked up by numerous major news outlets, including CNN and National Public Radio (NPR). As a result, countless thousands have been inspired to be more aware of the representations of gender they consume daily. That’s what I love about Miss Representation – they’re continually bringing solid information to new audiences what are then able to decide for themselves about the values that are important to them.

Go Daddy alone received more than 7,500 tweets in just 5 hours concerning their stereotypical and demeaning Super Bowl ad. This was accomplished by thousands of individuals deciding to take a break from watching the big game to use their consumer voice to let advertisers know: when it comes to using sexism to sell, we’re #NotBuyingIt! (that’s the Miss Representation campaign, by the way).

And it works. After Teleflora’s highly offensive and degrading Super Bowl commercial, which implied that women would exchange sex with any man who could afford a few flowers, hundreds of folks took to Twitter to express their dismay and disgust. In a show of the increasing ability of social media to create real change, Harrod’s in London removed two children’s books from their children’s reading room after users on Twitter, with the help of the #NotBuyingIt hashtag, let the store know that the items promoted gender stereotypes.

Next Thursday, on Valentine’s Day, Miss Representation is helping to coordinate another effort aimed at showing what we’re capable of when we band together under a common cause. On February 14th, Eve Ensler’s V-Day organization is organizing one billion women, and those who love them, to rise up and demand an end to violence against women.obr_logo-web

“Today, on the planet, a billion women – one of every three women on the planet – will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION mothers, daughters, sisters, partners, and friends violated. V-Day REFUSES to stand by as more than a billion women experience violence.”

The worldwide event, One Billion Rising, is being held in cities and towns across the globe, and will feature performances, dances and women speaking out against violence in unity. To find out more, go to – and if you haven’t already become familiar with Miss Representation, visit their site at

The Valentine’s Day, spread the love and spread the word – 1 billion women violated is an atrocity. 1 billion women dancing is a revolution.

You can’t be what you can’t see

23 10 2011

Here’s an exciting and worthy project aimed at empowering young women and changing the portrayal of young girls in the media…MissRepresentation addresses this in several important ways. If you’ve looked closely at a young girl lately you may have noticed the jeans, the makeup, the hair…much of it a predictable response to perceieved expectations that, for many, go hand in hand with being young and female in our society. Too many young girls spend tremendous effort and money trying to live up to something they’ll never achieve — and who wants them to? The potential cost of these misguided priorities is substantial – their confidence, their time, and a distraction away from the other skills or hobbies or attributes they could be pursuing. In fact, some young girls are literally dying to live up to “an image.”

Driven by the message delivered in the film Miss Representation, a documentary that premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the project is “a call-to-action campaign that seeks to empower women and girls to challenge limiting labels in order to realize their potential”. Among its goals are the eradication of gender stereotypes and the creation of lasting cultural and sociological change. The project includes an educational curriculum, film screenings, and an action agenda with options for supporting the campaign.

Check out the details at


Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

8 04 2011

McDonald's ad, Austria

 Regular readers will know that I have talked about this topic often – the commercialization of childhood and the inappropriate (and damaging) marketing of everything under the sun to kids. More often than not the messages are highly sexualized, exploiting the very innocence that ought to be protected.

Here are two resources you may find interesting. It’s nice to share other voices and reassuring to know others are ranting about this too. their mission is “to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy”. Check out their Parents’ Bill of Rights and campaign to get salespeople out of schools.

Our nation is in the grips of a commercial hysteria. Sometimes it seems like everything is for sale. At Commercial Alert, we stand up for the idea that some things are too important to be for sale. Not our children. Not our health. Not our minds. Not our schools. Not our values. Not the integrity of our governments. Not for sale. Period. national organization (U.S.) devoted to limiting the impact of commercial culture on children – their mission is “to reclaim childhood from corporate marketers”. Good resources and attention to diverse issues (from obesity to violence) along with clout in their advocacy efforts – they have successfully battled Disney, Scholastic Inc. (Bratz), McDonald’s and Hasbro. 

The commercialization of childhood is the link between many of the most serious problems facing children, and society, today.  Childhood obesity, eating disorders, youth violence, sexualization, family stress, underage alcohol and tobacco use, rampant materialism, and the erosion of children’s creative play, are all exacerbated by advertising and marketing.  When children adopt the values that dominate commercial culture—dependence on the things we buy for life satisfaction, a “me first” attitude, conformity, impulse buying, and unthinking brand loyalty—the health of democracy and sustainability of our planet are threatened.  CCFC works for the rights of children to grow up—and the freedom for parents to raise them—without being undermined by commercial interests.

CCFC is active in the Toronto area where a recent campaign helped stop the installation of digital monitors in area highschools (along with their ad content)…anyone involved with CCFC in Hamilton???


Sad Day to be a Girl

18 03 2011

Maybe it’s the warmer weather, or the peek of colour from crocus blooms in my garden today, but I started off with such a cheery disposition…then the media barrage began. First I read that this coming Sunday, March 20th, is the first International Anti-Street Harassment Day. Apparently a day is needed to remind us that catcalls, leers, sexual innuendo and whistles (aka street harassment) are inappropriate. I would like to think offensive behaviour is just that, offensive. Should be out of bounds each and every day. Activists would likely say I’m naive. I can’t fault their efforts to educate, and I recognize that this offensive harassment is often trivialized. According to street harassment “includes sexually explicit comments, catcalls, groping, leering, stalking and assault, and more than 80 per cent of women have encountered it”. Learning that grim statistic makes me think a day set aside to expose the offenders isn’t such a bad idea (sad, but necessary).

Moving on with my day, I next discovered that Mattel Inc. has launched a new Barbie, called Clawdeen Wolf. This new doll’s purpose is…are you ready?…to help teach young girls about plucking and shaving. Now, I don’t want you to think I’m picking on Mattel here, but seriously…there are just too many issues here not to raise a few red flags. First, Clawdeen is clad in a micromini skirt, baring her navel, and is a ridiculous but no-longer-surprising size 2. It gets worse. The Globe & Mail reports that she boasts of being “a fierce fashionista with a confident no-nonsense attitude” and that shaving and plucking her “freaky flaws” is “a full-time job” (she’s a werewolf’s daughter, according to Mattel’s Monster High web site). Does Mattel think that the little girls who will actually play with this Barbie are in need of shaving guidance? More to the point, does Mattel see body hair as “a freaky flaw” and intend for young girls to see it that way too? Yes, Clawdeen is a toy. But she’s obviously marketed to young girls, and as toys go this is but another example of being off the mark in so many ways. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…manufacturers need to hear from us when they so blatantly target children with messages that are sexualized and age inappropriate. Parents will no doubt be the most influential censors where purchases are concerned, but in the spirit of “it takes a village” (and recognizing that parents need all the help they can get) we should be all be offended, and vocally so. The Globe & Mail reports that Clawdeen is already a big seller, quoting a Toys ‘R’ Us spokesperson saying that Clawdeen is “the most popular fashion doll that we have today” and a Mattel spokesperson (defending the doll), saying she is “all about celebrating your imperfections and accepting the imperfections of others.”

Yes, it started out as a nice (almost spring) day. But it has turned out to be a sad day to be a girl.

A few bad apples…

14 03 2011

March is Fraud Prevention Month, prompting a quiz sponsored by CanadaHelps and Capital One concerning charitable giving. To take the online quiz and see how much you know about charitable fraud, click here:

Charity fraud is rare in Canada despite media coverage that might suggest otherwise. In more than 20 years working in the charitable sector, with dozens and dozens of organizations, I have never once come across actual fraud. We have a reasonably strict system of monitoring and enforcement here in Canada, making it tough to scam donors or operate fraudulent charities. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) pulls the plug on those who try, resulting in loss of charitable status or revoked registration.

Mark Blumberg’s Canadian Charity Law List for this month includes examples of this enforcement in action. “CRA has revoked the registration of The Organ Donation & Transplant Association of Canada for excessive fundraising and administrative fees and for involvement in an ‘international donation arrangement'”. Apparently this organization ran into trouble for gifts in kind whose real value didn’t match their reported value. Then there’s Pediatric AIDS Canada/USA, whose registration was also revoked by CRA for high fundraising costs and involvement in an “international donation arrangement that artificially inflated expenditures on charitable activities”.

Both these organizations were included in a recent Toronto Star article about charity fraud (“Plug pulled on charity after audit reveals money misspent”, March 7, 2011). The article essentially deals with six organizations where cases of charitable spending or reporting breaches led to CRA intervention. I point this out because six organizations out of thousands who conduct themselves legitimately is a very small number. Even if there are other, as yet undiscovered, fraudsters out there they remain a very small percentage of Canada’s overall charitable sector. The damage they inflict, however, can be devastating to all.

Donor diligence is the best defense against making contributions to fraudulent causes. But donors should not become alarmed and think that fraud is rampant in Canadian charities. It is not. A very few bad apples make it extremely challenging for legitimate charities to maintain goodwill and donor trust (and often add to the costs of operating a bona fide charity). Volunteers, too, can be skeptical about supporting the sector if they don’t feel their efforts are aligned with legitimate and legal purposes. So there’s much at stake (donors, volunteers, public opinion) for the good apples.

Updated charity laws, aggressive prosecution of lawbreakers, and accessible information for donors and volunteers are all helping to keep fraud to an absolute minimum in Canada. One bad apple is one too many, but it’s important that the entire sector not be branded criminals by a very few examples of cheating, fraudulent fundraising, or illegal scams.

For more information, check these resources:

Old Spice?

9 11 2010

Marketing magazine recently reported that Canadians are fans of the current Old Spice advertising campaign (“You like the way I look. Of course you do.”). Not only was it the most recognized campaign, it was also the best liked in this country (least liked? The family chasing the Dairy Queen Blizzard truck).

Flash back for a moment to 1965 and imagine the likelihood of either of these marketing campaigns being successful. A naked guy taunting us from the shower? A family drive with Mom on the hood of the car trying to grab hold of an ice cream truck? Doubtful these would ever have been conceived, let alone aired and memorable. My point here is that things have changed considerably in the way marketing reaches us. More disturbing to me is the change in how it affects us, and what has become acceptable to so many of us.

The so-called “prime time” viewing slots on television have opened up to include programming that once was restricted to much later hours and intended for adults only. Shows like “Pimp My Ride” and “Desperate Housewives” are now airing when young kids are still in their living rooms. Not that long ago, Brooke Shields caused a tremendous uproar by exposing her navel and midrift in an advertising campaign. Bratz dolls have sexed up their wardrobes to the point that once-fashionable Barbie has now donned similar garb in order to stay “trendy” and competitive. The cast of Glee on the cover of GQ magazine has been in the news for its racy portrayal of highschool kids, and children have come to know firefighters in most communities as heroes and calendar pinups.

There’s only one common element in all this, and it’s money. Whatever sells goes. And we buy it. Every lowdown, inappropriate and disrespectful moment of it. Maybe our filters are so tired from trying to screen and distinguish among all this stuff that they just don’t work anymore. Or maybe we’ve just become numb to all the skin and sex and selling. Old Spice sales reportedly are up, and Bratz dolls are again being touted as a must-have item for the holidays this year. Trouble is, child abuse is up too. Domestic assaults are still a plague on families. Pornography still nets kids and ruins lives. The links are obvious. What we do about it is trickier.

Stop advertising? No. Censor more of this stuff? Governments won’t do it. Quit spending our money on the products and services that try to sell to kids with sex and violence? Now that just might work. I spoke to a mother the other day who had been trying to explain to her 8-year old why a particular mannequin’s outfit was inappropriate for school (mini skirt, lacy tights, spaghetti strap/sequin top). It’s not easy. I admire her taking a stand though, and she showed that it can be done (and done at any age) with patience and love. She told me she’d rather put up with a few tantrums than risk the alternative.

Can we find more ways to reinforce the appropriate, and gradually reduce the inappropriate, from our lives and the lives of young children? Can we do a better job of turning trashy TV into teachable moments for kids? I think so. And I tip my hat to all those parents out there who are trying to do just that every day. Their task is daunting, and they could use our help and reinforcement. Whether you have children or not, take opportunities to voice your disapproval when the merchandise in the next store you visit falls well short of the mark for appropriateness. As I often hear teachers and parents telling children, “use your voice”.


Changing our Sexually Toxic Environment

2 11 2010

Cordelia Anderson

If you read this blog regularly, you know that Cordelia Anderson recently spoke about our “sexually toxic environment” as part of a discussion here in Hamilton during Child Abuse Prevention Month (October). Her insights and revelations about “porn culture” and what we must do to reverse the hijacking of our sexuality fired up those who were fortunate enough to be present – and I hope that lasts! In the meantime, I took to heart Cordelia’s message about doing what we can, in our own circles of influence, to rid ourselves of the overly sexual (“hypersexualized”) danger zone in which we (and youngsters) live.

While traveling, I now request a “porn free” room when I make hotel reservations. This means insisting on a room that doesn’t have pay-per-view pornography or has blocked the availability of it during my stay. Families as well as individuals can do this easily…and the more who do, the more likely we are to find greater availability of these rooms.

While shopping, I no longer turn away and ignore inappropriate or offensive merchandise. I recently pointed out to a shopkeeper that a particularly sexual t-shirt had no place on display in a store selling children’s clothing. In another, I complained about a line of merchandise called “Porn for Women” that was prominently displayed in the gift shop of a heritage site (go figure). In both cases, I elected to shop elsewhere and let them know why this was my decision.

These individual efforts do pay off. After complaining about a rubber tag for sale in a local dollar store (“On Myspace I’m Legal”) – displayed next to Dora The Explorer and other kids’ items – the store not only removed it from their inventory but also invited me to write to their head office and explain why it’s unacceptable. Pointing out the inappropriateness of sexualized merchandise can lead to an “aha” moment for sales clerks, store managers, buyers and distributors. Community-minded corporations will often respond when made aware of merchandise that might otherwise have slipped through their radar.

There are a host of things we can do, each of us, to change our environment so that these hypersexualized examples are not considered “normal”. First and foremost, remember that money talks. Spend it strategically. If you don’t think dolls for young girls should be dressed in feather boas and miniskirts, don’t buy them. And let store staff know why you won’t spend your money on these items. If you don’t think the lyrics to certain songs are healthy for the sexuality of our young people, point that out to them. Explain what’s degrading or objectifying about the words, and offer empowering messages instead.

Simply starting a conversation can be enough to get the ball rolling. How do you feel about the mainstream TV line-up including shows like “Pimp My Ride”? What about the results you get when you search for “porn” on Google? For an interesting comparison, Cordelia Anderson suggests trying that search and then searching for “healthy sexuality” and seeing the difference in results (and the time it takes).

October was Child Abuse Prevention Month. November is the month set aside to talk about woman abuse and to raise awareness about the problem. If we only address these issues once a year, we can pretty much give up on making any inroads. If we continue to let media and merchandisers degrade and objectify women, we won’t get very far either. So speak up, engage others, and spend strategically. It will take all of us to make a difference in what “normal” consists of and whether messages about healthy sexuality are available to young people.

“The need for change bulldozed road down the center of my mind”.

Maya Angelou