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.

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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?





Angry Green Girl sexualizes women for a good cause

3 09 2009

via Sociological Images

You may already know that I have some serious issues with the way that PETA uses women’s bodies to promote vegetarianism (along with PETA’s other offenses which we have blogged about here and here and here and here and here).  Well, here’s another example of a similar situation.

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Angry Green Girl, according to her website is “shamelessly exploiting everything I got to save our world!”

The site has some mildly educational videos about environmental issues, all using scantily clad attractive women to attract heterosexual men to environmental causes.  Some of the videos include a fully clad man called “Can’t Get Laid Guy,” to whom the “hot” women are downright mean. By conforming to stereotypes of the shallow, ditzy, self-centered, and rude but attractive female, the site seems to attempt mainly to attract “geeky” heterosexual men.  With statements such as “As for you, think about turning off the lights before you leave your apartment and maybe some day a sober girl will give you her real phone number,” the site attempts to attract these men with the vague hope of one day being able to gain sexual access to beautiful women (as long as they go green).  The site also reinforces the stereotype of the smart but nerdy male who has absolutely no social life and no chance with the beautiful but cruel and shallow female.

Will watching attractive women parade around in bikinis really convince heterosexual men to care about environmental issues and change their lifestyles accordingly?  I highly doubt it.  In the videos, the environment seems less of a focus than heterosexual male access to beautiful female bodies.  Personality is treated as an unimportant factor on the site (the girls are downright mean and extremely shallow, but are still presented as the height of sexual desirability.)  So what is Angry Green Girl really selling?  Sex.  And it may be sad but true that “sex sells,” but sex sells Calvin Klein underwear and string bikinis, not causes like environmental activism.

But don’t take it from me.  Watch some of the videos from the site and decide for yourselves.

And here’s a video from an Angry Green Girl hybrid-only waterless bikini car wash.

Good cause?  Yes.  Good tactic?  In my opinion, not so much.  What do you think?





Cougar Town – more on why I hate the word cougar

2 09 2009

I’ve shared my thoughts about the cougar label before, so I’ve been really annoyed at all the ads I keep seeing on the New York subways for Cougar Town, a new ABC sitcom set to premiere on September 23rd, featuring Courteney Cox.

cougar town

Cox plays 40 or 40-something year old Jules Cobb, a newly divorced woman in Florida with a 17 year old son. She decides to get back in the dating scene to add excitement into her life. There’s an older post on Jezebel about why Cougar Town looks awful, and the first reason that they list is the use of the word “cougar”.

There is nothing liberating or transgressive about the cougar label when it applies to women.  As Rebecca Traister writes in Salon:

Cougars. Pussies. Foxes. Faster pussycat! Kill! Kill! Active, aggressive female sexuality is always talked about as feral, often feline. When it’s older, apparently, it develops sharper claws and teeth. Unless, that is, it’s exhibited by a primmer and more contained MILF. That’s just a lady with kids who men want to fuck. It’s impossible to tell, until we get closer to the specimen, whether she has any interest in doing the fucking herself.

The enthusiasm for the “Wild Kingdom” analogy is a sign of how strange and hysterically funny the idea of energetic female sexual desire is — whether it’s in the form of 34-year-old Drew Barrymore, who has cheerily referred to herself as a “pre-cougar” or “puma” because she’s dated men a couple of years younger than her, or 50-year-old Madonna, who recently dated 20-year-old Jesus Luz. How sad and backward that we have to give it a nickname, animalize it as if it’s outside the boundaries of civilized human behavior, make it a trend, pretend that Demi Moore invented it. That’s not progress, and it’s not a step forward for women.

Yes, must we animalize female sexuality and try to cutely conflate older single, attractive women who have sex with younger men with (the Wikipedia definition of a cougar) “large, solitary cats [with] the greatest range of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes of South America.”

If you go on Urban Dictionary to look up what a cougar is, you will find degrading definitions:

An older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man. The cougar can be anyone from an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim, to an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister, to a real hottie or milf [Mother I'd like to fuck, made popular by American Pie]. Cougars are gaining in popularity — particularly the true hotties — as young men find not only a sexual high, but many times a chick with her shit together.

“An overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim”, “an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister” or “a real hottie or milf “? Are those really the only ways that we can think of older women in society? Is that the only vocabulary that we have to describe older women? Ageist much? Misogynist much? And isn’t it demeaning to call an older, more sexually experienced woman a “chick with her shit together”?

The third definition listed says:

An attractive woman in her 30’s or 40’s who is on the hunt once again. She may be found in the usual hunting grounds: nightclubs, bars, beaches, etc. She will not play the usual B.S. games that women in their early twenties participate in. End state, she will be going for the kill, just like you. Associated with milfs.

And the example they give of how to use cougar in context: I bagged a cougar last night at the club.

Sigh. I don’t even know what to make of this.





Thoughts on Sex and the City

30 08 2009

satc

I’ve wanted to blog about this for quite some time now since I’ve had so many conversations with friends about the Sex and the City show (SATC). Is it a feminist show? Can you like SATC and still be a feminist?

I’ve heard plenty of reasons why people consider SATC to be a feminist show:

- the four protagonists (Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha) are all women and the show really foregrounds the relationship among these four women. It celebrates and centers around their strong and enduring friendships – although the men in their lives are always changing, the four remain close friends and are always there for each other.

- the four protagonists are all well educated women who are over 30 and career oriented, not solely wives and/or mothers (although some of them do become wives and mothers later on).

- it makes it acceptable and even normal for women to express and pursue sexual desire. Several episodes of SATC talk about female masturbation and different kinds of sex toys, which was revolutionary at the time.

In spite of these points, I do not think that SATC is a feminist show. This isn’t to say that I dislike the show – I definitely enjoy it and there have been times where my girlfriends and I would have SATC marathons. But there are aspects of SATC that make it fundamentally not feminist:

- there is no race/class analysis. Feminism is about recognizing the intersectional nature of oppression and seeing that gender oppression does not stand alone – it is tied to racial oppression, class oppression, and other forms of oppression. All four of the main characters on the show are wealthy, white, (cis-gendered, heterosexual) women. They live extremely comfortable lives that do not reflect the reality of most working women.

- the portrayal of gay men is very neoliberal and whitewashing. Gay identity is co-opted and commodified by mainstream capitalist narratives that equate gayness with fashion and consumerism. The two gay supporting characters: Stanford Blatch and Anthony Marentino (especially Stanford) are portrayed more as accessories to one of the female leads, fulfilling the stereotype of the “gay best friend”, to help every straight girl with fashion, guys, etc. The only representation of the LGBTQ community that SATC offers is the privileged gay elite – wealthy white cisgender men, which is a very limiting and narrow portrayal.

- it is essentially a celebration of capitalism, consumerism and acquisition. And according to Marxist and socialist feminist schools of thought, capitalism is the source of oppression for all women. The SATC characters are always going on shopping sprees especially when it comes to shoes. Manolo Blahniks became a household name because of Carrie and her obsession with them.

- yes the four protagonists are female, and they are well-educated and (for the most part) successful in their careers, but most of their conversations tend to be about men, shopping and/or sex. In one episode when the four are at a diner, Miranda says something along the lines of “We are all well-educated, successful women; why can’t we talk about anything other than men?!” She storms out on her friends and they just continue talking about men.

- it doesn’t challenge the patriarchal gender binary and in some ways even reinforces it. Samantha is known for having sex “like a man”. Because she has casual sex and doesn’t really do relationships, she defies stereotypes of femininity, but instead of being more of an empowered woman, she’s “like a man”. And then, in one episode, Charlotte goes on two separate dates with two separate men in the same night. Her doing so made her “become a man”. But then, she worried about how she’d manage to eat two meals in a row, which made her “become a woman again”.





Caster Semenya to undergo sex determination

29 08 2009

In case you haven’t heard, there has been some serious bullshit going on about Caster Semenya, an 18-year-old world champion runner from South Africa, whose privacy is being invaded beyond belief in a controversy over whether the runner has too many male characteristics to compete as a woman.  On Tuesday, Semenya won the 800-meters race at the track and field world championships, just hours after it was determined by track officials that she would need to undergo sex testing to determine her further eligibility to compete as a woman.  Many people globally are rightfully angered about the public invasion of the young woman’s privacy.

Lamine Diack, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations, (the organization who ordered the investigation) has admitted that the confidentiality of the investigation was breached, called this “regrettable,” and asked for an inquiry.  However, these words are little comfort to those who are outraged by the implicit sexism, heteronormativity and racism in the investigation.  Controversy and finger-pointing has also arisen over who was the one to raise the question about Semenya’s sex to the I.A.A.F.  It has also been noted that white South Africans seem to be conspicuously absent as Semenya’s supporters.

Leonard Chuene, President of Athletics South Africa, said to The New York Times:   “We are not going to allow Europeans to define and describe our children…The only scientists I believe in are the parents of this child.”

According to a test three years ago, Semenya’s testosterone levels were in the normal range for women, and she was judged to be definitely female.  But regardless of the results, these investigations emphasize how global society continues to denigrate, mock, and intimidate those who do not conform to a rigid binary of gender stereotypes.

The New York Times notes that Semenya has been subjected to harassment about her sex before.  “Boys used to tease her all the time…Sometimes she’d have to beat them up,” said Semenya’s great aunt, Martina Mpati.  Semenya’s high school principal told South African newspaper “The Star” that at some track meets, the other team would demand proof of her sex identity, but after they returned from the toilets, “she would be cleared and the competition would resume.”

But as if physical exams and taunting weren’t enough, her sex has become an item of global attention and speculation, simply because of the way that she looks and speaks.  Semenya should not be subjected to this blatant gender discrimination.  But sadly, Semenya is forced to deal with this discrimination on both a private and public level, and she is being further taunted and humiliated globally because this most recent investigation was made public.

Dave Zirin calls out the “twisted, sexist, racist, and heteronormative” history of track and field in this MSNBC video on the subject.  Check it out.

Zirin also wrote an excellent piece on the subject in which he points out that:

fifty years ago, Olympic official Norman Cox proposed that in the case of black women, “the International Olympic Committee should create a special category of competition for them — the unfairly advantaged ‘hermaphrodites.'”

But it seems that we have remained relatively stagnant on this issue, and it still seems all too often that the athletic success of women (especially non-white women) causes their sex identity or honesty (or both) to be questioned.  The possibility of an endless spectrum of genders, even sexes, seems to be thought of as entirely impossible in a global athletics culture which values only a clear-cut gender binary in which male is the more athletically successful of the two categories.  We must resist this urge to define what is acceptable by these stereotypes of what it means to be male or female, masculine or feminine.  Perhaps only with the erasure of these stereotypes and this rigid gender/sex binary will we be able to stop the further humiliation and degradation of innocent people like Semenya.





Call it what it really is: rape

25 08 2009

One way that rape culture functions and continues to thrive is through invisibility. The mainstream media poorly covers sexual violence (if they cover it at all). Often times sexual assault and rape get erased from the picture – instead of using the words sexual assault or rape, mainstream news sources will just use sex. So instead of saying that Person X raped Person Y, headlines or articles will say things along the lines of Person X had sex with Person Y. Case in point:

From NBC: A police officer in Connecticut is being charged with first degree sexual assault and criminal impersonation after police say he posed as his twin brother to have sex with a woman.

Okay, so at least they explicitly state that the officer is charged with first degree sexual assault. But then they go on to say “he posed as his twin brother to have sex with a woman”. Wrong, he did not have sex with a woman, he raped a woman. There was no consent. She did not have consented to having sex with him because he was impersonating his twin brother and fooling her so that he could rape her.

Here’s another one describing the same violation from The Telegraph UK:

Jared Rohrig, 25, pretended to be his brother Joe to trick the woman into bed.

Again, the words sexual assault or rape are entirely omitted from the story. The language used here is extremely trivializing and makes it seem more like some kind of soap opera story or some ridiculous drama you’d see on television.

By continuing to unidentify and unexamine rape, we are enabling it to persist without taking notice of its heinous criminal nature.  Failing to name rape as rape simply bolsters rape culture and belittles the severity of the crime.  We need to call it what it is: rape.

H/t Womanist Musings.





This article is an EPIC FAIL

4 08 2009

The Los Angeles Times had an article out on July 27th in their Health section titled, Tough love for fat people: Tax their food to pay for health care.  I kid you not, that is what the actual article is called.

Tax their food?  Because fat people just gorge themselves off junk food all day.  You know, chips, cookies, ice cream, soda.  So taxing “fat people food” would mean taxing junk food, assuming that only fat people eat junk food (that’s why they’re so fat, duh).  Not a sound assumption because being thin does not necessarily equal being healthy.  And being fat does not necessarily equal being unhealthy.

Also, what is this fat tax supposed to do?  Taxing and increasing the price of cigarettes has done little to make people quit smoking.  Is the logic something like, if fat people have to pay more to eat their fatty foods they’ll stop buying it, therefore stop eating it and magically become skinny?

The article stupidly tries to argue that fat people are putting an immense strain on the health care system, so if we tax their food then they’ll stop dragging the rest of us down along with them.  It also demonizes and further shames fat people – yes, there are some fat people who eat a lot of junk food, but there are also lots of skinny people who eat a lot of junk food but don’t get fat.  And there are also a lot of fat people who exercise regularly and eat healthy yet do not lose weight.

So fat = unhealthy, unmoral and disordered is not necessarily true. A significant amount of the dialogue around fat and obesity is very fat-shaming.  And saying that the health care system is strained because of all these fatties pits fat people against thin people, which is ridiculous and not at all a constructive way to discuss the health care system.








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