It’s been a while since I wrote a Tired Marketing Fail, but I think this may be my most outraged. The other day I was shopping for underwear for my four-year-old, a self-identified girl. My kid likes superheroes (which we’ve already parsed here), princesses, ponies, and yes, Doc McStuffins. And here is where we met with disappointment.
Perhaps because she already unconsciously benefits from white privilege or because of her developmental age, the draw for my kid these days is gender. She’s a girl and she likes to identify with other girls. She likes to hear stories about girls in book, TV, and movies — which is not always easy to find as cisgender male outnumber cisgender female characters three to one in family films while just 31 percent of central characters in children’s books are female. She likes to pretend to be different kinds of girls, whether they are princesses, firefighters, doctors, or Bat Girl Princess (Bat Girl mask and super powers with a princess dress, obviously).
So there we were in the children’s underwear aisle at Target and my kid spots the multi-pack featuring Doc McStuffins. But unlike the Frozen, Barbie, or Hello Kitty-themed packs, outside of the toddler section, poor Doc gets stuffed in with Sophia the First (is there a princess franchise more vacuous?) and Minnie Mouse. That’s right, in a sea of merchandising with white faces, the singularly female and black Doc McStuffins can’t even get her own package of panties — despite the fact that the character has mass cross-over appeal among different genders and races.
But as “DrMamaEsq” wrote on BlogHer last month:
People want to believe that young children do not see color. It seemingly provides us with the opportunity to intervene on young minds before racial stereotypes take hold. If young children do not see color, then we can provide multi-cultural materials to promote diversity, even when our personal lives—where we live, the conversations in which we participate, with whom we educate our kids—fail to reflect the racial equality and diversity we say we value.
What is true is that kids do “see” color because it is embedded into the very fabric of who we are as a nation. But kids, especially white children, are taught to ignore what they see, which is very different than not seeing color at all.
Indeed, I found myself in an unexpected teachable moment standing there in the underwear aisle. I could buy the multi-pack, which only had a couple of pairs of Doc panties mixed in with other non-Doc characters, or I could show my white child why this was messed up. Tired as I was — because when are we not tired, feminists? — I chose the latter. Because the fact that I can weigh this as an elective conversation is a manifestation of my own privilege. Let’s face it, parents of children of color are confronted with situations like these and worse (hello, Ferguson) on a daily basis. If I want to be something more than a suburban progressive with white-guilt, I need to be a part of the solution and that includes educating my kid about inequity and racism in our society. (Something parents of white kids need to be taking more seriously, because Ferguson.)
While I probably won’t be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for my explanation of the inherent inequality represented in that particular underwear aisle, I succeeded in pointing out that it wasn’t fair that Doc McStuffins did not get her own package, complete with multiple characters from the show, just like Frozen, My Little Ponies, Hello Kitty, Spiderman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Barbie. I told her it wasn’t right that Doc McStuffins wasn’t treated the same as the other popular characters and I tried to help her explore why it was that she might be treated differently. I’m not sure she completely understood the idea of race, but she very clearly could see that Doc McStuffins was not treated fairly in the world of the characters she loved. My kid was visibly saddened by this and she talked about it the rest of the night. She still points it out every time we see packs of undies, asking, “When will they make more Doc McStuffins panties?”
When, indeed, kid.
Part of the blame must rest with children’s underwear manufacturer Handcraft, which has obviously chosen to offer mixed-character packs for older kids, while offering all-Doc packs for toddler sizes. So the designs exist. The market is there. And they are just willfully choosing to NOT give customers — KIDS — what they want.
Another portion of the blame has to land with the big-box retailers — Target, Walmart, and others — who do not push for more diversity from products offered by vendors. I guarantee that a company as large as Target or Walmart has the capitalistic muscle to nudge a vendor to offer whatever products customers are pining for. So once again, we the customers, have to put the pressure on retailers to give us what we actually want. (Something that’s been a trend of late, see: Target’s girls’ sizing problem.)
I’m so sick of having to do this!
But, as the Once-ler says in The Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
So if you agree that Doc McStuffins is getting the short end of the stick — that the character and the diversity it stands for is being marginalized in the marketplace despite product demand — then I encourage you to share those thoughts with underwear manufacturer Handcraft, and the two largest retailers selling Handcraft products Target and Walmart!
To make things easy, here are some sample tweets and messages you can send RIGHT NOW!
@Target Give girls an entire pack of Doc McStuffins panties! Tell Handcraft to give Doc her due! #docmcstuffins cc @Disney
@Target Stop white-washing the girls’ panty aisle! #DocMcStuffins should not have to share pack with Sophia and Minnie! cc @Disney
@Target Frozen, Barbie, Hello Kitty … all the white characters get a whole pack of undies, why not #DocMcstuffins ? #fem2
@Walmart Give girls an entire pack of Doc McStuffins panties! Tell Handcraft to give Doc her due! #docmcstuffins cc @Disney
@Walmart Stop white-washing the girls’ panty aisle! #DocMcStuffins should not have to share pack with Sophia and Minnie! cc @Disney
@Walmart Frozen, Barbie, Hello Kitty … all the white characters get a whole pack of undies, why not #DocMcstuffins ? #fem2
Handcraft does not appear to be on twitter but they do have a contact form on their website. Here’s a suggested message:
Despite the popularity of Disney’s Doc McStuffins’ characters across genders and races, parents are still left hunting for a full package of Doc McStuffins character underwear outside of the toddler aisle. Please start manufacturing girls’ and boys’ sized underwear in packages that are entirely Doc McStuffins — just as you do for Frozen, Barbie, and Hello Kitty. Kids like mine can’t wait to get them!
Despite the popularity of Disney’s Doc McStuffins’ characters across genders and races, parents are still left hunting for a full package of Doc McStuffins character underwear outside of the toddler aisle. Please ask Handcraft Manufacturing to start manufacturing girls’ and boys’ sized underwear in packages that are entirely Doc McStuffins — just as they do (and you offer) for Frozen, Barbie, Spiderman, and Hello Kitty. Kids like mine can’t wait to get them!