My Little Pony– and alternative gift suggestions

UPDATE: The comments on this post contain some pretty decisive criticisms of what Ms says below. Do have a look.

According to Ms,

…these are the lessons My Little Pony teaches girls:

* Magical white ponies are suited for leadership; black ponies are suited to be servants.
* Stop learning! You will overcome any obstacle by resorting to strength in numbers (of friends).
* Girls that wear rainbows are butch.
* You need the government (ideally a monarch invested with supreme ultimate power and a phallic symbol strapped to her forehead) to tell you what to do with your life.

Perhaps not a good seasonal gift idea, then. How about people put some good alternative suggestions in comments?

(Thanks, Jender-Parents!)

13 thoughts on “My Little Pony– and alternative gift suggestions

  1. Unless there is a whole bunch of analysis here that is going over my head, I challenge half of these points.

    The race thing is there. That’s messed up.

    The anti-reading thing is there. That’s messed up.

    The rainbow butch thing, I’m not sure about, since Ms. says right after, “”Rainbow Dash” is “capable and athletic,” “lives for adventure,” “brave and bold” and proves “time and time again that she is a true hero!” This positive portrayal made me wonder if perhaps the company was not providing a caricature but allowing for a positive account of gender-bending.” Ms. never follows up on commenting further.

    And the government phallic thing? Unless I’m missing something, I don’t see threat of invasive gov’t officials being an issue in our culture; invasive gov’t spying, on the other hand, is another issue. Also, I’m not sure if Ms. is talking about the horn of a unicorn or a crown. Maybe Ms. meant this one as tongue and cheek, but I don’t why one would include it in a list of serious offenses. (The racism, in particular, is really disturbing.)

    As for alternative gifts, I haven’t come across any show or toy that isn’t somehow steeped in gender stereotypes. Legos maybe come close. Or Dora the Explorer, but that even has it’s own set of issues.

    I’ve boughten My Little Ponies for my cousin who likes them since they were one of the few gifts where I could buy her something not pink and since most of the premises of the shows I seen is them going on adventures and being active. (True, the amount of time they spend on how they look is worrisome.) [Ok, yes, and because I had a barrel of them when I was a kid and they were my absolute favorite toy. This was before they got their ‘plastic surgery makeover.’]

    tl;dr: Legos? Books?

  2. Logoskaieros has brought up some points that another commenter at the Ms. site expanded upon:

    As to the original question –

    Personally, I give my nieces and nephews gifts for things they enjoy doing, like art or sports. I find that toys connected to television shows and lots of other merchandise are the ones with the most sociological problems, not to mention they’re often made of gross plastic. So I have given wooden trains and cars, paint and drawing kits, etc. Purchasing a series of classes for the kids, like youth dance, or events they can go to with their parents, is another option.

  3. two things:

    (1) alternative gifts: I’d think of a telescope for astronomy. I’ve been looking at and in general the comments make me think that one should get some trustworthy professional advice. But if you can, or if you can spend enough to buy a safe bet, it might be a good gift. As far as I can see, there are several big questions about the less expensive ones – e.g., under $100 and even under $200. One of them is whether the planets and then even more distant objects will be more than simply dots. Another is durability and stability.

    (2) in the discussion on the Ms blog’s post about ponies linked to above, someone has presented good arguments for saying that the criticisms misrepresent the ponies if they are seen in the context of the program. For example, there’s a magical black pony which is seen as equal to the magical white one. The point about making friends and not reading is that there is a practical problem and the pony needs to get experience and help in solving it. I have never seen the show so I can’t possibly say what’s right, but I wouldn’t shun the ponies without more investigation.

  4. I have recently gifted the Perplexus maze to both boys and girls in the 5-7 age range and it has been a big hit. The “Think Fun” games (particularly Rush Hour) are quite good. For craft projects, the My Sticky Factory Mosaic Jungle Animal kit can be good for both girls and boys. (Some of their other sets might be gender-stereotype reinforcing.) My son is also a fan of the series “The Greatest Dot to Dot Books”. They keep him occupied for long stretches. For slightly more expensive gifts, I love Superstructs building sets or K-Nex zoo buddies (for 3-5 year olds). Hope some of this helps.

  5. Hmm… I don’t know enough about My Little Pony to judge these issues.

    But Jender-Son adores Curious George. And I’ve been really pleased to find how much I like recent Curious George stuff (new books and TV show, not so much the movies or the older books): the mayor’s Black, the professor’s an Asian woman, girls dress up as astronauts, etc etc.

  6. Shun the ponies! Here’s a random awful episode: (Baby pony “Heart Throb” and her girl friends go wandering, stumble into the trailer of a male singer-star pony, practically beg to sing backup, and are kidnapped. No mixing of the genders. Mind-numbingly homogenous. The females are gullible and the males are evil. Pathetic and painful to watch.)

    Most little girls who play with My Little Pony are using them for make-believe games. And there is something about the pastel colors and flowers that tends to attract girls in the 3 to 6ish age range. There are of course tons of lots of great games, books, puzzles, and other toys for this age, but I guess the question is whether there are make-believe toys or characters which are made in the colors many girls prefer, but which promote diversity and don’t promote unhealthy behaviors (needing to be rescued, playing love games that are not age-appropriate, etc).

    The only toy that comes to mind in this category is Littlest Pet Shop. Although there was an animated series of some kind in the 90s, the current LPS animals (the ones made in the last 5 years or so) are not based on any particular pre-set story, which leaves the girls free to create. Most of the little pets also don’t have any obvious gender, and they have a wide range of physical features. There are also lots of semi-educational accessories: puzzle books, Wii games, etc. It’s far from perfect: they come with purses instead of backpacks and I’ve only seen a couple of sets that don’t fall into the beauty and/or caring (beach chair & sunglasses, vetrinarian’s office, etc) category. But for the girls who really insist on pink ‘n pastel, this is a good option.

    For make-believe toys outside the land o’ pink, my daughters’ clear favorite was/is Playmobil, which is designed for both genders and has sets with girls riding mountain bikes or playing soccer and can easily be mixed and matched so that the boy figures are wrapped with the baby doll and the girls are dressed in the space suit.

  7. The Candyland website is pretty horrifying.
    I love the sound of Curious George. I’m definitely going to have to get my nephew a Curious George DVD for his next birthday.
    I have a big generally ‘traditional’ family who like to buy lots of gender appropriate toys, so I try and go for educational but fun gender-neutral toys for my nephew to balance it out. Plus, luckily, my sister couldn’t care less about what’s gender appropriate she just lets him play with and buys him what he wants. So she’s bought him a tea set and a doll and pram in the past and he loves them (he’s 2 years and 8 months old). I’ve bought him a lot of musical instruments or books. He loves the musical instruments (children just love making lots of noise don’t they). And my sister reads to him every night and sometimes during the day too so he likes the books too.
    I have actually nearly bought him a My Little Pony in the past, mostly just because I loved them as a child too, but again it was the old style ones. I haven’t seen the new cartoons of anything. So I’m not sure about the above claims. What stopped me getting one though was actually because I didn’t think my nephew would like it. They’re a bit boring aren’t they? Maybe if he watched the cartoons (though I don’t think he should if any of the above is true) he would like it because it was off TV but otherwise… He does have a set of farm animals that he plays with, so I suppose a My Little Pony is only a brightly coloured sparkly version of one of his farm animals so maybe he’d like it.
    This Christmas I’m getting him a Play-Doh Fun Factory: We had one when we were little and we loved it.

  8. Has anyone here actually seen the show?!?

    This show isn’t any of the things the person in Ms. Magazine said it was and it horrifies me to see that so many people are willing to judge the show and it’s toys before even seeing the damn show!

    Sometimes I feel like as feminists it’s our duty to hate everything that doesn’t market itself as “feminist.”

    FIRST, let me say that the “servant” ponies aren’t black at all. They’re purple. Race isn’t actually related to the show at all, unless you’re discussing the racial struggles between earth ponies and unicorns. (o.O????) There are VERY few characters which are portrayed as being African or have “black mannerisms” including a zebra, who is noted to come from a far away land, (IE Africa) that being said, the episode is about not judging someone based on their appearance or because they might be a little bit different from you.

    Secondly, there isn’t anything “book shaming” about MLP:FIM. The author related it to the infamous phrase “Math class is hard,” which I still think is a big joke that an idle comment about a class (that lots of people, male, female and otherwise find difficult) could cause so much controversy. No one ever says that Twilight Sparkle’s studies are bad, they just say that she studies a LOT. So much, that she’s an antisocial, socially awkward little stuck up pony at the beginning of the show. The point of this segment is that studying IS important, but if you only ever keep your head in your books you’ll never get to experience life through anything BUT said books. Now if this was another subject, like say – World of Warcraft (or other online games) or taking interest in your work I’m sure that the feelings about this subject would change. I will admit when I first saw that segment I was a little bit upset too, but I didn’t judge it based on that ONE LITTLE PART and now I’m hooked to this show, even though I originally watched it to condemn it like everyone else.

    Now, as for the “girls with rainbows are butch” comment – there is another pony in this show that is rather tomboyish named Apple Jack (who you might remember from Gs 1 and 3, if you’re a fan.) The only reason that the author of this article said that she was “butch” was because she has a rather ‘masculine’ expression in the promo poster.

    Finally the “phallic” symbol on Princess Celestia’s forehead is way too over analyzed. Twilight Sparkle is Princess Celestia’s STUDENT, and friend. She was given an assignment (you know, like homework. Homework is okay to do, right? Or is that too government related since the majority of students attend public school?) to take a journal about her experiences in Ponyville, which includes making a few friends because the damn pony makes such smart-ass judgments about ponies that she has difficulty making social contacts.

    Is that so bad? Are we really that committed to hating everything that we make judgments before we get to know what we’re judging? ISN’T THIS WHAT TWILIGHT SPARKLE IS LEARNING NOT TO DO?



  9. everypony, in partial defense, let me point out that comment 5 makes the point that there’s some evidence that the show makes the whole thing look different. I’m sorry I didn’t push this point more!

    It’s difficult, since it is hard to know when more research might change one’s opinion entirely. Maybe now with these comments people will look at the issue differently.

  10. Thanks for all these excellent criticisms. Looks like Ms really messed up on this one.

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