I don’t eat Cap’n Crunch cereal and I don’t have little ones living with me anymore who might clamor for it, so I didn’t see these “trading cards” for kids on the back of the box until I read this post. At first glance they look innocuous; just silly cartoon characters made to appeal to little kids. But when you read the fine print, you discover that there’s a bit of gender indoctrination going on.
It’s not clear if Smedley is a boy or a girl, but it seems safe to assume that he’s male because of the information we’re given:
Age: 12 years
Weight: 2 1/2 tons
Hobbies: Jumping rope and riding bikes
Greatest adventures: Jumping 15 cars on roller skates; escaping elephant hunters
However, there’s no doubt that Magnolia Bulkhead is female. Here are her “stats”:
Name: Magnolia Bulkhead
Age: How old do you think I am?
Weight: A woman never tells her weight
Hobbies: Daydreaming of Cap’n Crunch and his delicious cereal
Greatest Adventures: Almost marrying Cap’n and having him all to herself
I’m not sure if little girls would identify with Magnolia, because she isn’t svelte or pretty. But they are still being sent subtle messages about womanhood: a woman spends her time mooning about a man, she is too vain to tell her age or her weight for fear that either might count against her, her only hobby is to daydream about the man she’s got her eyes on, and her greatest adventure in life would be to get married. Not only that, but a woman’s desire for marriage is portrayed as grasping and selfish (“having him all to herself”). This only reinforces the idea marriage is a trap that women set and men try to avoid.
But the other thing these cards teach boys and girls is that it’s a heck of a lot more fun to be a boy. Boys get to jump rope and ride bikes and skate and have adventures. All girls get to do is sit around and wait for boys to notice them. Oh, well, they can run, too—when they’re chasing boys!
I remember in grade school conferring with all my friends about which boys were the cutest and thinking up ways to get their attention. Even when I was in kindergarten I liked to dress up for a boy I had a crush on. (I even brought my purse to school one day, thinking that would impress him—make me seem more like a woman?— but he was home sick that day. I was so disappointed!). In the sixth grade my best friend and I would ride our bikes around the neighborhood all day, hoping to “accidentally” run into some boys. We never quite knew what we would do with them once we found them, but it seemed awfully important to try.
Meanwhile the boys were off playing sports or exploring the neighborhood, too busy having fun to pay attention to silly old girls.
What does it do to little girls when we tell them they’re supposed focus on boys instead of themselves?