EVE’s Parade Balloons: Great American Heroines


Americans love parades. And one of the things we love best about parades are those giant helium balloons: floating behemoths in the shape of popular characters like Uncle Sam, Spider Man, Smokey the Bear, Santa Claus, Garfield, and hundreds of others.

But have you noticed that very few parade balloons depict female characters? In fact, there have only been 10 female character balloons in the entire history of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade—which started in 1924.

It’s a similar story in parades all over the country. Male symbolism abounds and female role models are virtually absent. There are no heroines for girls to look up to, no famous American women being celebrated.

That’s why EVE is bringing women’s history right to the streets—and the skies! We’re launching a whole new line of parade balloons featuring Great American Heroines.

Our first balloon is famed aviator Amelia Earhart. The 45-foot balloon is a replica of the red Lockheed Vega that Amelia flew across the Atlantic in 1932, with an oversize Amelia looming out of the cockpit. The balloon had its first “test flight” in October 2010, and will be booked in parades across the country. You can track its progress in the map at right, and visit the Amelia Earhart Balloon project page to read about the building of the balloon.

Our goal is to introduce a new balloon every year. Watch our slide show to learn more about the project:

Balloon News and Updates

EVE’s Amelia Earhart balloon makes the news in Kansas

March 15, 2011 by EVE   · Comments Off

There was a terrific write-up about EVE in the Topeka Capital-Journal last weekend. Most of the article is about our Amelia Earhart statue project, but the reporter also devoted some space to our balloons:

Amelia Earhart balloon in IndianapolisThe Kansas statue is the second Earhart-related project for EVE. The organization has launched a line of giant parade balloons featuring famous American women — with Earhart leading the way.

The balloon, which depicts Earhart in her red Lockheed Vega, made its debut at the Circle City Parade on Oct. 2 in Indianapolis. Scoggins said the balloon, which has a 45-foot wing span, may make an appearance July 4 at the National Independence Day Parade in Washington.

The balloon likely will not make a stop in Earhart’s hometown. Pregont said she was unsure if Atchison has “the capability to get it down our streets.”

“But any publicity with Amelia Earhart is great for Atchison,” she added.

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Post Parade Analysis

November 30, 2010 by Lynette Long, Ph.D., President of EVE   · 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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Who do you want to see in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

UPDATE: Huffington Post has picked up the story! Yay!


Synergy! The folks over at Hardy Girls Healthy Women saw Lynette’s recent blog post about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and were stunned to learn that Macy’s has had only 10 female character balloons in its entire history. That’s only 8%. (Tell us about it.)

So now Hardy Girls Healthy Women and SPARK have launched a social media petition asking Macy’s CEO, Terry J. Lundgren, to commit to building an equal number of female characters balloons into the parade line-up. We are delighted to join with them in spreading the word. Click the Petition tab, sign it, and text PETITION to 61827.

We also thought it would be interesting to do a quick straw poll on which female character balloons people would like to see. The petition lists 10 possibilities, which we’ve included in our poll below. We’ve also added in 8 more possibilities with an eye towards the kind of thing we know Macy’s is looking for. Our own experience (see EVE’s Great American Heroines balloon project) has taught us that Macy’s balloons are almost always animated characters from major studios with big merchandise tie-ins. That’s because the fee to be in the Macy’s parade is astronomical. The popular characters we chose for the poll even include a couple of Disney princesses—and yes, I know a lot of people think Disney princesses are just about the worst possible role models for girls. They’re not all bad, though: many feminists of my acquaintance grew up loving Belle and are now happily introducing their daughters to Princess Tiana. And realistically, Disney has more money to put behind female characters than just about anybody.

You can select as many in the poll as you like (pictures of all are at the bottom), and tell us in the comments if you’d like to see others. …continue reading

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  • Support our Balloon Project!

    Amelia Earhart is aloft, but there are more balloons to come. We hope to introduce a new balloon every year: Annie Oakley, Harriet Tubman, Nellie Bly, Judith Resnik, Abigail Adams, Clara Barton, Dian Fossey, and many more. Your tax-deductible contribution will be earmarked especially for our Great American Heroines project: