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.


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?

Feminist Reader

19 09 2009

Here’s some stuff that’s out there on the interwebs right now.  Check it out.

A piece by Ann at Feministing about the Hofstra case and rape culture.

All female trains in India.

Rush Limbaugh once again being a jackass, says that we should return to racially segregated buses.

Cara at The Curvature does an excellent job explaining why we should not pressure rape survivors into naming their attackers.

Stuff white people do-  feel entitled to touch black women’s hair.

Marvel writer has rape in storyline, then responds to criticism with rape-culture apologism.

Katrina’s lessons are as important as 9/11’s.

In upcoming stuff:  “Sex, Lies, and Gender” will appear on the National Geographic channel Tuesday Sept. 22 at 6 PM.  Check out the airing times near you.  I have seen it.  I will watch it again.  You should definitely watch it too.

ACORN pimp sting, child prostitution, and accountability” by Atlasien at Racialicious

Tenured Radical goes to Washington D.C., offers some thoughts on the Tea Party rally.

How NOT to write about Africa

19 09 2009

This is really well done and totally worth watching.

Join Mass. NOW in Counter-Protesting Citizens for Life March!

19 09 2009

Got this in an email from Boston Now.  I know I will be there.  Will you?

“It’s time to once again gather our pro-choice posters, t-shirts, and rally cries to show that they’re not the only voice and that women must have a CHOICE – and we need YOU there!

Every year, Massachusetts Citizens for Life holds an anti-choice march.

Every year, Boston NOW organizes a counter-protest to represent a pro-choice voice and message to the public.

Please join us in showing your pro-choice pride. It is very important that all pro-choice people and organizations are out voicing their opposition to this march – especially now – as it becomes clear that reproductive freedom is being used as a bargaining chip in the national health care debate. We encourage you to invite colleagues, friends, and members, and to place this event on your organization’s calendar!

Date: Sunday, October 4, 2009

Time: 1:30 pm

Where: Meet on the corner of Charles St. and Beacon St.

(in front of Starbucks, across from Boston Common)

walk to the meeting spot from public transportation the Red line (Park St./Charles/MGH), Green line (Park St.), or Orange line (Downtown Crossing)

Who: Boston NOW, pro-choice supporters, and YOU!

Please email Boston NOW at to RSVP or for more information.”

Coalition for Choice Lobby Day 2009

16 09 2009

Got this info from NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts and from Planned Parenthood.

On October 6, the Mass Coalition for Choice is having a lobby day in support of the Comprehensive Health Education Bill and the Repeal Bill.  Come out and demonstrate your support for real health ed. and repeal of archaic public health laws!

You can help out by urging legislators to support:

1.  An Act Relative to Providing Health Education in Schools (Senate Bill 218/House Bill 3434)–  requires that schools provide age appropriate health ed grades K-12.

2)  An Act Relative to Updating the Public Health Laws (Senate Bill 1610/ House Bill 1745)–  would repeal archaic, unconstitutional abortion and contraceptive restrictions still on the books in Mass.

The lobby day is Oct 6th from 9 am to noon, starting in the Great Hall at the State House in Boston.

NARAL is also offering a lobby day training, which they are willing to come to the classroom and conduct.  Contact to sign up for lobby day or training.  You can also contact Planned Parenthood to sign up at

*Also, Planned Parenthood’s Plan is having an open house Saturday, Oct. 3rd, 11AM-4PM in front of Plan in Davis Square-  260 Elm St.  There will be games, raffle, prizes, info, giveaways, and a 3 for $30 birth control promotion.  The rain date is Oct. 7th.

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.


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?

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.

“I’m not saying that…” and “No offense, but…”

14 07 2009

If you have to follow up or preface a statement with either of these statements, you are probably saying something stupid.

The other day, the head chef at the restaurant I work at delivered a lecture to the staff about women’s clothing.  He said something to this effect.

I want you all to come in here fully in uniform…

Well, that makes sense!  It certainly looks unprofessional for servers to come into work half in uniform, shirt un-tucked, and with their hair messy.  But instead of focusing on the obvious, he went on to single out the female waitstaff as the problem, following up his comment with this:

If you girls come in here in tank tops and shorts and one of my cooks makes some sort of comment, then I have to fire one of my guys.  You can avoid the whole thing by just wearing your uniform.  …I’m not saying that you deserve those comments because of what you were wearing, but you can just avoid the whole problem in the first place.

Having not lived one day as a female waitress (and given the offensive, sexist comments that he spews constantly), I was not the least bit surprised by his mentality.  This particular chef feels completely comfortable arriving at and leaving work in his street clothes with no fear of harassment or insulting comments.  It is troubling that he sees it as an inconvenience that he has to fire one of his staff for sexual harassment, when in fact the ones who should feel inconvenienced are the people on the staff who endure such remarks.  Also, I have heard plenty of offensive comments, threats, and inappropriate and unwanted grabbing by employees and even managers, but never in my year of employment at this restaurant have I seen anyone fired for sexual harassment.

Of course, clothing has nothing to do with the problem of harassment at the restaurant.  My uniform consists of a hideous combination of a man’s dress shirt, tie, dress pants, and a long black apron.  However, women on the staff are sexually harassed and treated inappropriately not only by some male staff, but by some managers and chefs as well.

It’s also sad that among the people in the room (probably about twenty), nobody (including myself) challenged him.  Heaped on top of his hetero male privilege, this chef is my boss, and thus I am caught in a tedious position.  Do I confront stupidity when I hear it, even at the risk of my job?  Or do I let the moment pass, and thus let this person maintain their power at the expense of my beliefs?  Strange that he would champion uniforms as our defense against sexual harassment.  I left the situation feeling even more powerless.

This is a subject that feminist2 and I have been discussing a lot lately.  When is the argument simply “not worth it?”  Is it always worth it?   How do we function when we must confront people in power?  Is there a way to work in a feminist way from within the power hierarchy, or must we live with the risks of upsetting the structure, even in our daily lives?  For more on a similar subject, refer back to feminist2’s post on how to have constructive feminist discussions with friends and family.

This is cute.

14 07 2009

Saw this on my friend’s facebook newsfeed.  Hope you don’t mind that I stole it from you!

This is pretty cute, even though it of course ignores any sexual aspect to marriage (it’s for the childrenz!) and reinforces ideals of spouses necessarily living together, seeing each other every day, etc.

The comments, however, became a huge nasty fight about religion and same-sex marriage.  Just by not specifying that marriage is “between a man and a woman,” and not mentioning reproduction, this sweet child seems to have greatly upset some people.  Sad.

Young Feminists + Blogging=Awesomeness

14 07 2009

I don’t think I even really defined myself as “feminist” until my freshman year of college.  But Julie Zeilinger is a teenage feminist who proudly wears the label, and she has created a blog for teenage feminists to share ideas about feminism and pop culture.  And I’ve got to say, this blog looks pretty freakin’ awesome.  Julie’s blog has everything from an interview with Gloria Steinem to celebrity gossip.

The “About” section for the blog reads:

The is a blog/community created for teenage girls who care about their rights as women and want to be heard. Young feminists who are just a little bit pissed off and very outspoken are more than welcome here.

In this case the “F Bomb” stands for “feminist.” However, the fact that the “F Bomb” usually refers to a certain swear word in popular culture is not coincidental. The is for girls who have enough social awareness to be angry and who want to verbalize that anger. The is loud, proud, aggressive, sarcastic…everything teenage feminists are today.

Julie Zeilinger is one of the proudest teenage feminists of all, who delivers every bitter social commentary with a smile. She’s from Pepper Pike, Ohio, and her own experiences with constant bad weather and a depressing city life have made her comfortable with (loudly) expressing her every complaint. She is a wary optimist who loves chocolate and hates people who speak two inches away from her face.  Queries, comments and bad jokes to be sent to:

Check the blog out here.  Rock on, Julie.

h/t  Feministing

Law Protecting 35-foot protest buffer zone around Massachusetts abortion clinics upheld

14 07 2009

On Friday, the US 1st Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a law requiring a 35-foot protest buffer zone outside abortion clinics.  In other words, this law bars anyone from entering a 35-foot zone around the clinics unless they are employed by the clinic, are entering or leaving the clinic, are public safety or municipal officials, or are simply passing through .  The 2007 law was created in an attempt to protect patients and staff from harassment.

Five anti-choice protesters filed the lawsuit originally because they claimed that the law violated their freedom of speech.  The judge, Judge Joseph Tauro, rejected their suit in 2008 and their most recent appeal was rejected on Friday.

It was ruled Friday that the law is “content neutral” (applies to all protesters no matter their viewpoints) and does not violate principles of free speech.

Some view this law as a direct attack on anti-choice protesters, creating a “censorship zone” specifically aimed at suppressing their rights of free speech.  Tim Chandler – legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which represented the plaintiffs, said:

The government cannot single them out for punishment simply because they want to share their message with people entering the clinic.  The government simply cannot create censorship zones where the First Amendment does not apply in order to silence a particular viewpoint.

But a patient or staff member should be able to walk into a clinic without being verbally attacked or fearing for their safety.  Since the law does not prohibit people from expressing their views, but rather redefines the space in which they may protest, many view this law as necessary for the protection of clinic patients and staff.

Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley said that she is “pleased that the First Circuit has upheld this important law, which enhances public safety and access to medical facilities, while preserving the right to engage in expressive activity on public ways and sidewalks near clinics.’’

h/t The Boston Globe and Feminist Daily News

More ageism and sexism in advertisements

8 07 2009

Saw this ad for Ripolin Paint on Sociological Images.  Sociological Images, in the post, also points out some more ads that criticize and mock older women.

The images are not necessarily safe for work or lecture, so they are below the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Raid on Fort Worth Gay Bar on the Anniversary of Stonewall

28 06 2009

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a 1969 riot in which patrons of the Stonewall Bar fought back against police brutality and harassment against gay people by the NYPD.  On this day 40 years ago, a raid of the Stonewall Bar by police turned into a riot and is widely considered to have been a major catalyst for the modern US gay rights movement.  Sarah.of.a.lesser.god has a good post about remembering Stonewall on The Pursuit of Harpyness blog.

Unfortunately, I have bad news to bear on the anniversary of Stonewall that reminds us that hate, violence, and homophobia are alive and well today and the fight against injustice must continue on with fervor and bravery.

Apparently, a Fort Worth bar, Rainbow Lounge, was raided by police early this morning.  Seven people were reportedly arrested there for “Public Intoxication.”

The Daily Kos has some info, and there is also a facebook group about the raid.

Witnesses report that police arrived at the club about 1 a.m. this morning and arrested seven people.  One of those arrested reportedly suffered a fractured skull and is at a local hospital.

Fort Worth police released a statement saying that the Rainbow Lounge was among several bars investigated, and that nine additional people were arrested at other bars.

At Rainbow Lounge, a police statement claimed, an “extremely intoxicated patron made sexually explicit movements toward the police supervisor,” and was arrested.  The statement claimed that a second man made explicit gestures and a third grabbed an agent’s groin, thus spurring their arrests.  Police reported that another intoxicated person was placed on the ground by officers to control him while resisting arrest.

However, the general manager of the Rainbow Lounge and several witnesses are claiming that officers used excessive force to make arrests.

“He was just walking to the bathroom when an officer grabbed him and shoved him against a wall and pulled his head back,” said Chris Hightower of Fort Worth. “He (the injured man) was then thrown to the ground and three other officers were on him.”

Several witnesses are claiming that the officers were never assaulted.  One patron described the routine inspections usually performed by police.  “Usually, they’re very orderly and respectful – they work with the bar staff and check IDs, it’s quick and painful and then it’s over and then they’re out.  This was not that. This was harassment, plain and simple.”

For an up to date feed on the details of the raid and scheduled protests, check out the Dallas Voice. Read the rest of this entry »

Vibrator use is more common than you may think

28 06 2009

According to The New York Times , the first academic peer-reviewed studies of vibrator use reveal that “it is nearly as common an appliance in American households as the drip coffee maker or toaster oven.”  Two August 2008 national surveys from Indiana University published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine report that 53% of women and nearly half of men have reported using a vibrator.

The vibrator is also being used much more often for shared pleasure among couples.  81% of women and 91% of men reported using the vibrator with a partner.

Other interesting data indicate that among women ages 45 to 60, 46.3 percent reported having used a vibrator at some point in their lives.  59.5 percent of women ages 23 to 44, and 32.7 percent of women ages 18 to 22 reported having used a vibrator.  Among men, 45.2 percent ages 45 to 60 reported having used a vibrator while 51.5 percent ages 23 to 44 and 15.5 percent ages 18 to 22 reported vibrator use.

The researchers suggest that the increasing use of vibrators (the 1953 Kinsey report reported that vibrator use was “less than one percent”) may be partly due to the increasing availability of the device and changing cultural opinions of sex toy use.  The vibrator has become more mainstream, and is now being marketed towards couples, older people, and even couples with children under 18.  The move away from the X-rated taboo public opinion of the sex toy industry may have helped spur the increasing interest in sex toys.  The New York Times also reports that:

Men and women who had used a vibrator in the last month scored higher on sexual pleasure scales that measured arousal, orgasm, lubrication, pain and erectile function than those who had never used one.

The study of course probably has its downfalls.  93% of the 2,056 women and 1,047 men interviewed were heterosexual.  There is also the question of whether volunteer bias and the specific makeup of the sample may skew results.  However, this study may be indicative of a shift in social attitudes about sexual practices.  If the survey results reflect even slightly that sexual pleasure is becoming less taboo and more often discussed and sought in the mainstream (for both women and men), this is good news indeed.

Bacardi Misogyny Makes Me Drink More Malibu

20 06 2009

via Jezebel:

Bacardi has a new promotional site through Tel Aviv ad agency McCann Digital for it’s Bacardi Breezers that is just disgustingly awful.  The site has been created in both English and Hebrew.

The idea behind the site, entitled “Get an Ugly Girlfriend!,” is that all that women have to do to look attractive is find a less attractive friend to accompany them to events.

The site stresses that women can find “ugly” friends to accompany them to the pool, the beach, the mall, or a barbeque.  The site suggests that with sexy fashion accessories, lots of Bacardi Breezers, and these “friends,” any woman can look hot.


Vomit, vomit, triple vomit.

Read the rest of this entry »