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Lynette Long, Ph.D., President of EVE

by Lynette Long, Ph.D., President of EVE
November 30, 2010 · Comments Off  

On November 24, the day before Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Lily Blau wrote an interesting commentary for the Huffington Post on the almost total lack of female character balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (And You Thought You Had Thanksgiving Off: Gender Inequality in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade). Only ten giant female character balloons have been built since the inception of the parade in 1924. Macy’s has built 112 giant character balloons, yet less 10 percent of the balloons created are of female characters.  A dismal record considering over half the United States population is women and Macy’s primary customer base is women. You could argue that the dearth of female balloons is due to the fact that it took decades for Macy’s to introduce its first female character (Olive Oyl, 1982), but an analysis of the giant helium balloons showcased in this year’s parade paints an equally dismal picture.

There were 15 giant character balloons in the 2010 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Buzz Lightyear, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Horton the Elephant, Kermit the Frog, Pikachu with Pokeball, Pillsbury Doughboy, Kung Fu Panda, Ronald McDonald, Sailor Mickey, Shrek, Smurf, Snoopy as Flying Ace, Spider-Man, Spongebob SquarePants and Super Cute Hello Kitty. Note that the only female character balloon in this year’s parade was Hello Kitty.  There were thirteen male character balloons and one sexually ambiguous balloon (Pikachu with Pokeball).  In terms of percentages only seven percent of this year’s giant balloon characters were female while eighty seven percent of the giant character balloons in this years parade were male.  That’s an eighty percent visibility gap (87% – 7% = 80%), not the kind of number anyone raising a daughter wants to see in 2010.   In addition to giant character balloons, this year’s Macy’s parade also included 43 smaller novelty balloons and balloonicles.  This year’s new additions included a balloonicle of  Kool-Aid Man,  and smaller balloons of Takashi Murakami’s sexually ambiguous Kiki and KaiKai,  and Yes, Virginia, modeled after nine year old Virginia O’Hanlon,  who wrote the editor of the New York Sun about the existence of Santa Claus.

What I find particularly disturbing in Macy’s selection of balloon subjects is Macy’s selection of “only half” of famous pairs.  Macy’s built its first balloon of Mickey Mouse in 1934 and has created a total of four giant Mickey balloons, the most recent being Sailor Mickey which appeared in this year’s parade.  Yet Macy’s has never built a balloon of Minnie Mouse, even though Disney currently presents Mickey and Minnie as a pair in their theme parks.  Similarly, Macy’s created a balloon of Donald Duck (1962), but never created a balloon of his sweetheart Daisy.  Fred Flintstone has his own balloon but his wife Wilma does not.  Macy’s has built three balloons of Superman (1939, 1966, 1982) and two balloons of Spiderman (1987, 2009), but Macy’s has never built a balloon of Wonder Woman or any other female super hero.  There’s a balloon of a Smurf (2008) but not of Smurfette.  Bart Simpson is represented by a giant helium balloon but his sister and counterpart, Lisa Simpson, was passed over.  Macy’s created a balloon of Charlie Brown (2002), and even built a giant balloon of the elusive football to accompany Charlie, but Macy’s forgot to build a balloon of girl who held the football, Lucy. Lots of famous cartoon characters and toys have their own balloon including Mr. Potato Head (2005) but Macy’s did not build a balloon of Mrs. Potato Head.  Macy’s also built two versions of Kermit the Frog (1977, 2002) but has not created a giant helium balloon of the colorful and beloved Miss Piggy.  Why does Macy’s ALWAYS pick the male part of a famous pair?

Who is the most re-introduced character in the Macy’s giant balloon line-up?  It’s Snoopy!  Macy’s has built six different versions of this male dog including Flying Ace Snoopy which appeared in this year’s parade.  Not a single female character has been introduced more than once.   It’s interesting to note that if you add the number of renditions of Mickey and Snoopy produced by Macy’s, it is equal to the total number of female character balloons created in the entire history of the parade.  Finally in the interest of patriotism, Macy’s has created a balloon of Uncle Sam in 1938 and then introduced a new version of Uncle Sam seventy years later but has never created a balloon of Lady Liberty.

As a psychologist, do I think the omission of giant female character balloons from the Macy’s parade is important?  You bet.  It reinforces in the minds of the millions of girls that watch the parade a message they receive in subtle and insidious ways every single day.  Girls don’t matter.

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