Gwen- The Homeless American Girl Doll

1 10 2009

According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, one out of every 50 children in the US is homeless.  And the American Girl doll company seems to be trying to take a stand on this issue…by providing a new homeless American Girl doll named Gwen for the exorbitant price of $95 (talk about irony).  The doll, “Gwen,” has been quite controversial in the media lately.  Whereas some see this as a positive step towards promoting tolerance during the economic downturn, others see it as really poor taste.

Gwendollfull2.jpg

Let me point out that “Gwen” is not new news.  She is a limited edition doll who has been around for quite a while.  But, the media only seems to have picked up on the story quite recently.  Gwen’s biography on her Wiki page reads:

Gwen and her mother Janine fell on hard times when her father lost his job; they later lost the house as they were unable to keep up payments. Soon after, Gwen’s father left them and they became homeless the fall before the start of the book’s events. Initially, Gwen’s mother has them live in their car until the winter comes; she then takes them to Sunrise House, a place for homeless women and children. Sunrise House helps them get on their feet and eventually get a new apartment.

Gwen is presented as a companion doll to Chrissa, the first “Girl of the Year” doll.  Gwen is one of Chrissa’s friends, and Chrissa’s movie and books include scenes of her defending Gwen from school bullies.  Sonali, Chrissa’s other “friend” companion doll is also available for purchase.  Bitch Magazine asks:

Does the fact that homeless-shelter Gwen and “at least part South Asian” Sonali are sidekicks rather than Girl-of-the-Year themselves contribute to the other-ing and tokenizing of disenfranchised or non-white young girls? Or is it good that they’re getting the American Girl Doll treatment at all?

CBS sent a correspondent to an L.A. homeless shelter to get some reactions to the doll.  One woman in the shelter claimed that the doll touched her heart, but was disturbed to discover that the doll was not actually being used to raise money to help the homeless.  Others in the shelter found the creation of the doll in itself offensive.  The American Girl company claims the doll “offers valuable lessons about life.”  The company also notes that although no proceeds directly from the sale of Gwen dolls and related items go to help the homeless, the company has donated nearly $500,000 since 2006 to HomeAid, a national nonprofit group that seeks housing for homeless people.

Another concern about the doll is that instead of teaching tolerance, the doll is just promoting complacence.  Some fear that the doll sends the message that homelessness is an acceptable aspect of society, and that it is perfectly okay to have some children be homeless while others are privileged (and buying $95 dolls).

Andrea Peyser at The New York Post is especially upset by the doll.  She says:

What message is being sent with Gwen?

For starters, men are bad. Fathers abandon women without cause. She’s also telling me that women are helpless. And that children in this great country, where dolls sell for nearly 100 bucks a pop, are allowed to sleep in motor vehicles. But mothers don’t lose custody over this injustice. Because, you see, they are victims, too.

I am really very perturbed by Peyser’s implication that a woman should lose custody of her children if she is abandoned, loses her job, and is forced to be homeless.  And Gwen’s mom in the stories is not actually “helpless” at all, but is struggling nobly with Gwen to make ends meet and to survive.  There are women who are abandoned by their husbands (yes, Peyser, sometimes completely without “cause”), lose their jobs, and are thrown into poverty, and the fact that Peyser implies that these experiences are unheard-of is really ridiculous and offensive.

I can see where the company was trying to go with this doll, and I think as a child I would have really identified with this character, given my background.  In some ways, it is really nice to see a doll acknowledge other family experiences and it might have been comforting as a child for me to see that there are other families who struggle, and other children abandoned.  I remember having so many images of perfect families thrown at me that I really felt inadequate and abnormal in a lot of ways.  A lot of criticisms of the doll have focused on preserving children’s innocence, arguing that this doll is inappropriate for children.  But to assume that children live in a bubble is kind of ridiculous to me.  The truth is, a lot of children are feeling the impacts of the economy firsthand.  A lot of children struggle with family issues.  These problems exist, and it seems irresponsible to act as if they do not.

But $95 is ridiculous.  And perhaps, like Bitch Magazine points out, Sonali and  Gwen aren’t quite being given their due.  Do Gwen and Sonali’s position as “companion” dolls somehow make them seem “less-than” and other-ized?  Why must Gwen be the quiet insecure girl who is bullied and called names, but is then so nobly defended by her savior, “Girl of the Year” Chrissa?  Is “Gwen” actually a successful attempt at teaching children acceptance?  Or is it just another marketing ploy to make big bucks by exploiting other peoples’ misfortune?  Is the irony too much to bear?





Sexy reading

1 10 2009

Here are some good resources for people who are interested in sex, sexual politics, comprehensive sex education, or being a sex educator a sex therapist.

Books:

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science by Mary Roach

Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation by Leora Tanenbaum

Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex by Judith Levine

America’s War on Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust and Liberty (Sex, Love and Psychology) by Marty Klein

Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio

Sperm Wars: Infidelity, Sexual Conflict, and Other Bedroom Battles by Robin Baker

The Guide to Getting It On by Paul Joannides

Pornified: How Porn is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families by Pamela Paul

Websites:

Adult Video News

Carnal Nation

Feel free to add any other suggestions by leaving a comment!





Friday Blogaround

19 06 2009

Sorry posting has been slow lately, but here are some interesting reads.  Enjoy and happy Friday everyone!

Happy Juneteenth, Peeps!

Trigger Warning: A young trans woman in New York was tortured to death yesterday, via A.E. Brain

New College Alcohol/Assault Stats – What seems to be still missing from the discussion is prevention

This is depressing – UK Officials Assigned to Fight Rape Actually Promote Rape Myths

Racism Review has a round-up of links to stories on Race, Racism and White Supremacy

Fat and Fashionable AND happy? Impossible!

How the Recession Impacts Women: More Women Forced to Reduce Maternity Leave Under Stress of the Economy

Two great pieces from MoJo: Bush Officials Cash In as More Americans Lose Out and Obamanomics: The Good, the Bad, the Weak

I’ve heard a lot about the new movie, The Hangover and how it’s super hilarious and a must-see.  Here’s a more critical review of it, More White Men Behaving Badly: A “Brain-on” Look at The Hangover

Safer Sex PSAs Conflate the Penis with a Firearm (NSFW)

Wealth-Care Reform: Fixing our health-care system will make us more economically secure.  It won’t make us much healthier.

Jessica Valenti on The Virginity Movement, Rebranded

Depression in Action, or Why I’m Still a Radical Feminist Despite it All

A Study in Ableism

Advocate’s (And the Gayosphere’s) Jacked Up Reporting on Black Transwoman’s Marriages





The newest American Girl doll is a j00

30 05 2009

For those of you who aren’t familiar with American Girl, I’ll summarize.  American Girl is a collection of dolls, who all have an individual backstory and personality, and who are meant to help educate young girls about different significant historical periods.  Felicity was from the American Revolution, Kirsten was a Swedish immigrant from the 1850s, Addy was a run-away slave from the Civil War period, Samantha was Victorian-era, and Molly grew up during World War II; since I was little, they’ve added plenty of more historical dolls, and there are series of books about each one (including a book about the “holidays,” namely Christmas or similar).

The company also started releasing modern dolls, which could be personalized to look JUST like you (but in doll form, and they didn’t introduce curly hair for a while, those weirdos).  The clothing and accessories were modern, too.  I wanted one, but since I already had a doll (Kirsten, who, by the way, is the best), my parents wouldn’t buy me a second.  Boo.

One day, though, I was looking through the catalog, and I noticed that in the holiday section for the modern dolls, they now had a Chanukah outfit and accessories.  Maybe it was a sign that I would some day turn into a feminist or something, but I showed it to my parents and told them that it upset me.  “Why?” they asked.  “Because they’re only doing it just to look like they’re including Jewish people,” I said.  I pointed out how all of the accessories were ridiculously stereotypical (a dreidel and menorah), and the clothing was somewhat offensive; the clothing was white and blue, which I pointed out to my parents were the colors of the Israeli flag, but were only considered “Chanukah” colors because people think that if Christmas has colors, so do other, “Christmas-like” holidays.  I also didn’t understand why there was a Chanukah outfit, but nothing about the high holy days or Pesach.  My parents taught me the word “tokenism,” and I wrote a letter to the Pleasant Company, makers of the dolls, telling them that I, a young customer, was unhappy with the Chanukah outfit.

That’s right, folks.  I got offended over something as a KID that today would offend the crap out of me now.  This is really impressive, considering that when I was little, I wanted nothing more than to be a Disney Princess.  Go figure.

For the record, a couple catalog seasons later, and for the rest of the time we subscribed, there was no Chanukah outfit.

So, why is this relevant?  Well, meet Rebecca Rubin.  She’s the first Jewish American Girl doll!

My feelings are conflicted.  On the one hand, I still find it pretty insulting that the Pleasant Company has to make such a big deal out of their cultural dolls (they did the same thing with Addy, Kaya, and Josefina).  I also need to wait and see exactly how they handle the doll’s story: are they JUST going to talk about Chanukah?  Are they going to make a huge deal about explaining all of the Jewish culture and faith that’s in the story?  Essentially, is Rebecca Rubin going to be “Jewish immigration for dummies?” or is it going to exist as a way for Jewish American Girl fans to connect better to the franchise?

The one thing I hope I’ll appreciate is that part of the character’s story is dealing with Christmas being celebrated in public schools.  I still have trouble dealing with the pervasive nature of Christian commercial holidays.

This’ll be the first time I’ve read American Girl books in a million years, so once I actually get my hands on them and see what’s in them, I’ll be updating.  American Girl, which is pretty famous for selling merchandise that costs more than a solid gold toilet, is also famous for teaching young girls American (and American immigrant) history through the historical dolls.  The history is from the point of view of women and girls, which to me will always make the franchise somewhat positive, even if the commercial aspects drive me abso-positively nuts.





Thoughts on masculinity…

27 05 2009

When I was a senior in high school, I took a Feminist Theory class and we watched Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity, an excellent film by Jackson Katz.  It was the first time I had really thought critically about social constructions masculinity and the normalization of violent masculinity.  Early in the film, Katz says:

The front that many men put up that’s based on an extreme notion of masculinity that emphasizes toughness and physical strength and gaining the respect and admiration of others through violence or the implicit threat of it.  Boys and young men learn early on that being a so-called “real man” means you have to take on the “tough guise,” in other words you have to show the world only certain parts of yourself that the dominant culture has defined as manly.

Masculinity is a topic that really interests and fascinates me.  People generally do not think or talk about masculinity, especially not cissexual, heterosexual men.  Cissexual, heterosexual men are taught from early on that they need to defend their masculinity so that it is never contested.  The greatest insult you can hurl at a man is that he isn’t man enough, that he’s a wuss, a pussy, a sissy, a fag, etc.  These insults are used as a mechanism of social control to maintain patriarchal gender norms.  Meanwhile, the masculinity of LGBTQ men have been, and still are, consistently attacked.

Masculinity is defined and constructed in such a narrow way and today on Yes Means Yes, Thomas writes about the need for cissexual, heterosexual men to start thinking and talking more about masculinity and male sexuality:

To refuse to talk about it, though, is to be a prisoner of the privilege. The common understanding of male sexuality is a stereotype, an ultra-narrow group of desires and activities oriented around PIV [penis in vagina], anal intercourse and blowjobs; oriented around cissexual women partners having certain very narrow groups of physical characteristics.

The dominant idea and representation of masculinity and male sexuality is that of cissexual, heterosexual, white, upper-middle/upper class masculinity – this also describes the main power holders in our patriarchal society.  And Thomas is absolutely right, refusing to examine these narrow, oppressive ideas of masculinity is to be imprisoned by privilege.  Masculinity is not natural – it is a sociocultural bind where boys and men feel like they need to posture as bad boys, as tough guys.





“What’s Good for the Bitch is Good for the Bastard”?

26 05 2009

While I was wandering around in a bookstore the other day, I saw this:

skinny_bastard

It’s by the two women who brought us the Skinny Bitch books (Skinny Bitch, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven and Skinny Bitchin’), which proclaims “sugar is the Devil” and “soda is like liquid Satan” (Yes, it’s probably not a bad idea to consume less sugar and soda, but is shaming women the best way to go about doing that?).  Skinny Bitch has been a best seller on The New York Times Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous Paperback Best-Seller list for 92 weeks, and has sold  a whopping 1.1 million copies nationwide, according to Nielsen BookScan.  It’s shameful that a book that tells women to “Stop being a moron and start getting skinny” would be successful…It goes to show how much society idolizes and values thinness.

When Skinny Bitch first came out, a lot of my female friends raved about it.  I wasn’t too excited about it, and reading the first few pages was enough to make me put the book down.  It begins with “Healthy = skinny. Unhealthy = fat”.  Not only is that incorrect (healthy can come in different shapes and sizes.  Weight (and BMI) is a misguiding measure of one’s health.)  Being skinny is the desired beauty/body norm, but it does not always mean healthy.  “Fat” is also a subjective term and a social construct.) but it is also very fat shaming.

Skinny Bitch is a vegan manifesto that is very misogynist, fat-shaming, condescending to women, and just terribly misguided in their approach to promoting veganism.  Why can’t women want to try veganism or vegetarianism because they wanted to do so for personal beliefs, their health, the environment, etc. instead of because they were shamed into it?  Why can’t women just feel good about themselves and want to be healthier instead of being shamed by a stupid, condescending book?  But of course, the self-help industry (as does capitalism) thrives on people feeling badly about themselves and the way they look, so the idea of telling someone that they look good, that they are already good enough is simply unfathomable!

And now we have Skinny Bastard which hit bookstores at the end of April.  It is geared towards men and tells them, “Eating well isn’t some ‘girlie’ thing—these Bitches will whip your ass into shape with their straight talk, sound guidance, and locker room language…if you’re man enough to take it.”  This plays right into gender stereotypes – that men are completely independent and individualistic and can’t take/don’t need advice from anyone, especially women.  And it implies that men who can’t get through Skinny Bastard are not man enough.  Here we go with the shaming again – now men are being shamed and their masculinity is being challenged.

Read the rest of this entry »





Activism is easier than you think

18 05 2009

Renee wrote a post recently about activism and what fighting for social justice is all about.  Many people equate activism with attending protests or rallies, going to conferences, or large gestures as such.  However, the small steps we take and the small things we do add up and can amount to significant change as well.  The personal is political and what we do in our daily lives does have an impact.

This is what micro activism is – the decisions we make and the actions we take in our daily lives that may not necessarily be grand gestures but certainly make a statement about our personal beliefs/values, and reflects our opposition to social institutions and systems that are oppressive and damaging.  It includes blogging, being conscious about where we shop, mentoring someone younger than us, calling someone out on disrespectful and offensive jokes or comments, etc.

Like Renee says, micro activism isn’t about what everyone around you is doing.  It’s about what you are doing, or what you can do:

Small everyday acts disturb the norm…Each person we touch is an opportunity to make change.   One need not lobby on Capitol Hill to take on the label of activist, you simply need to live your stated beliefs to the best of your abilities.

Keeping all of this in mind, I recently bought and read 50 ways to improve women’s lives: the essential women’s guide to achieving equality, health, and success.

50 waysIt was put together by the National Council of Women’s Organizations and features fifty short, easy to read essays by different feminist activists on various issues to care about and take action on along with easy ways to get involved.  Contributors include Helen Blank, the director of leadership and public policy at the National Women’s Law Center; Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior senator, the first female president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the first female mayor of San Francisco, and the first woman elected senator of California; Gloria Feldt, the president of Planned Parenthood; Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of Women, and Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State.

This book is very informative and inspiring.  It’s broken up into seven comprehensive sections: Do It for Your Health; Practice Real Family Values; Grow Your Money, Grow Your Mind; Lead the Way; Forge a Path for the Next Generation; Build the Community You Want to Live In; and Reach for the World.  The essays/primers on important issues and guides to activism cover a diverse range of topics including supporting prenatal care across the globe, creating community media, promoting financial literacy, combating human trafficking, ending sexual harassment, and teaching honest sex ed.

This is a book that I highly recommend to everyone.  Many people often wonder, but what could I possibly do?!  Well, this book certainly has some answers to guide you along.








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