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?

Pregnancy is scary when you’re not “fit” to mother

16 06 2009

Via I Blame the Patriarchy, here is a misogynist billboard that Jill saw:


As Jill writes, pregnancy is scary if you are a vulnerable woman in a patriarchal society that hates women, especially pregnant women who get pregnant under the “wrong” circumstances.  What are some of these “wrong” circumstances?  They include situations where the pregnant woman is a teenager (OMG! Teenagers having sex?!!!!), single and not planning on getting married anytime soon (But the baby needs a father! / Well now you’re doomed to be a poor single mom forever), of color, low income, low income and unmarried and already with children (oh god, just another one of those welfare queens), a prostitute, and a drug abuser or addict.

Meanwhile, pregnancy is not scary when you fit the acceptable mold of motherhood.  Like if you are an upper class heterosexual white woman who is married.  This billboard reminds me of ads I used to see on the NYC subways which would show a glum and depressed looking young woman and the text would say something like “Abortion Alternatives”.  Of course they weren’t abortion alternatives.  They were anti-choice ads targeting vulnerable women, like teen moms or low income women of color.

This is the organization’s website.  If you are considering abortion, the website immediately warns you:

Abortion is not just a simple medical procedure. For many women, it is a life changing event with significant physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences. Most women who struggle with past abortions say that they wish they had been told all of the facts about abortion and its risks.

Later on the site goes on to warn you of the risk of abortions, like how abortion is associated with premature delivery if a woman chooses to have a baby in the future:

Women who undergo one or more induced abortions carry a significantly increased risk of delivering prematurely in the future. Premature delivery is associated with higher rates of cerebral palsy, as well as other complications of prematurity (brain, respiratory, bowel, and eye problems).

Another problem that abortion can cause is that it may potentially lead to breast cancer (an unfounded claim),  or it may deteriorate your emotional and psychological health:

There is evidence that abortion is associated with a decrease in both emotional and physical health.  For some women these negative emotions may be very strong, and can appear within days or after many years.  This psychological response is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

And of course, if you get an abortion there are spiritual consequences you must deal with:

People have different understandings of God. Whatever your present beliefs may be, there is a spiritual side to abortion that deserves to be considered. Having an abortion may affect more than just your body and your mind — it may have an impact on your relationship with God. What is God’s desire for you in this situation? How does God see your unborn child? These are important questions to consider.

I wish I had something more eloquent to say right now, but my only response to this, especially the “How does God see your unborn child?” part, is a big LOL.  The page ends with:

…real empowerment comes when you find the resources and inner strength necessary to make your best choice.  Here are some other options.

The other options include parenting, adoption, or going to a local pregnancy center for counseling.  Right…because women who choose to get abortions have absolutely no clue that they could’ve just had the baby or given it up for adoption.  By closing with these suggestions and the whole “real empowerment” schpeal, the site is obviously trying to dissuade women from getting abortions and trying to insinuate that women who are truly empowered don’t get abortions because they know of their “other options”.

I’m sick of billboards like this and ads and organizations who produce those ads who mask as helping pregnant women when what they’re doing is anti-choice work of using fear tactics to scare women out of getting abortions, even if that may be their best option and the choice they want to make.

When A Man Stays Home and Takes Care of the Kids…

14 06 2009

The July 2009 issue of Bazaar shows us the catastrophic results of gender role reversal in this photoshoot.

via Sociological Images:

To me, it seems that the shoot is telling us that “Mr. Mom” is incompetant and cheats on his selfish, cold-hearted career-obsessed wife.  It is also interesting to note the way that the homemaker is unappreciated by the breadwinner for his work taking care of the kids.

Check out the captions on the images.  They are quite interesting.

Sociological Images notes two of the commenters’ reactions to the images.  They both made good points, so here are the two comments.

Amber Y. said:

I don’t think that this photoshoot mocks a man’s ability to take care of his kids. Raising (three) children is a lot of work, especially if your partner is not an active participant. Switch roles and what images do we get? An overworked stay-at-home mother and a distant negligent working father – a very common image thrown at us from all angles. What this photoshoot shows me is the dynamic between the hard-working breadwinner and the hard-working family caretaker, and the *lack of appreciation* for the one who watches the kids. “Mr Big gets downsized.” The breadwinner ignores the caretaker in every photo. The message here isn’t that men can’t take care of kids; it is that people who take care of kids aren’t as important.

EKSwitaj replied:

Amber, I definitely see what you’re saying, but if we say that’s the point of the photoshoot then why are the usual gender roles reversed?

I see a few possibilities:

1) Because men aren’t typically expected to take the primary responsibility, it’s easier to imagine a man having difficulties with children and/or considered to be less of an insult.

2) If a woman were shown as having trouble with children it would be seen more as “female incompetence” than as a sign of general difficulty. This is in part because of our typical gender roles and in part because of women being the marked gender.

3) Because of the expectation that women be more nurturing, it is more upsetting to see a woman ignore children than to see a man doing the same. (Women being the marked gender, however, means that it’s more difficult to transfer this into a general statement about breadwinners.)

What do you think?

Baby Heels are “Heelarious!”..or are they?

10 06 2009

Heelarious is a company that markets baby high heels.  Because marketing never fails to prove that children are never too young to be gender stereotyped.brookenew


For your child 0-6 months, these shoes are meant for babies who cannot yet walk.  The completely soft baby heels have been on the market for a year now, and are still popular!  They are quite expensive (just check out the site!).

Whereas some people have been offended by the shoes, claiming that they sexualize infants inappropriately, others think they are harmless and just “heelarious.”

Nevertheless, the shoes have become extremely popular, and were even put in the gift bags at the Emmy awards. Read the rest of this entry »

Weekend Reads

6 06 2009

It’s the first weekend of June…my, does time fly!  Here are good posts to check out this weekend:

The mainstream media has covered the opting out debate a whole lot.  But what’s missing from this coverage is that opting out, leaving one’s professional career to raise a family, is something that only women with privilege can truly do.  Ann Friedman has a piece out called  When Opting Out Isn’t an Option that discusses the need to shift the conversation about women and work.  She includes women who don’t have the luxury to opt out, the majority of women in this country, in the picture and discusses how the recession can be an opportunity to reframe the opting out debate.

There’s a great op-ed in the New York Times today about Ann Lohman, an English midwife who emigrated to New York and committed suicide in 1878 after years and years of anti-choice harassment.  She called herself Madame Restell, sold herbs and pills designed to end pregnancies, performed abortions if the herbs and pills did not work which she charged on a sliding scale depending on her patient’s ability to pay, taught sex education classes, provided shelter for pregnant women, delivered babies and set up an adoption service.  The op-ed examines Lohman’s legacy as a a champion for reproductive rights and illustrates how anti-choice violence continues to threaten those who do dedicate their lives to defending reproductive rights.

One of the reasons why people reject feminism is because it historically, and continues to, exclude certain marginalized bodies like the LGBTQ community and people of color.  Racism Review tackles this issue in Gloria Steinem, Where Are You Now? During Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign feminist activist Gloria Steinem wrote a piece in the NYTimes condemning the mainstream media’s sexist treatment of Clinton.  However, Sonia Sotomayor has been the target of countless racist and sexist attacks ever since her nomination but prominent white feminists who have publicly condemned sexism before, like Steinem, have been silent.  Why have none of them spoken up for Sotomayor?

Transphobia and violence against the trans community remains persistent throughout the world.  There have been many recent violent hate crimes against trans people in various countries: the U.S., Honduras, the Dominican Republic, India, Turkey, Canada, Serbia, Peru and Venezuela.  Bird of paradox reports that this year alone in Venezuela, there have been more than 20 trans people murdered so far.  This is deeply saddening and upsetting – launching violent assaults and murdering people are not appropriate or acceptable ways to treat the trans community.

Privilege is something that we continually think and write about.  But what exactly is privilege?  One way that people think of privilege is “You haven’t thought of these issues in the same way that I have because they don’t affect you in the same way.”  Another way to think about privilege is “You don’t have to think of these issues because they don’t affect you.”  Echidne of the Snakes has a post titled Thoughts on privilege (by Suzie) in which she discusses privilege and how it plays into our lives.

There’s a post on Womanist Musings about how an eight year old girl from Winnipeg showed up at school with her arms covered with white supremacist markings like swatstikas (which were “sun wheels that represented peace and love”) and “H.H.” for “Heil Hitler”.  Her parents taught her that Hitler was a “good man ‘for killing lots of people that didn’t belong there'”.  When a detective asked her for her parents’ thoughts on ethnic minorities, she responded that they felt that ethnic minorities “‘should be killed or go back to their country'”.  She also said “Some people from Pakistan carry AIDS and they could kill you”.  Remember that these insidious words are coming from the mouth of an eight year old.  Her parents clearly are not setting a good example in perpetuating their bigotry.

Disability is a Feminist Issue

6 06 2009

Hoyden About Town reports that the Australian government is proposing a scheme to lower the amount of disabled parking permits available to the community by forbidding individual people with disabilities who walk using a cane or without a mobility device from receiving permits.  Not all disabilities are immediately discernible to the eye which means that many people with disabilities that aren’t so blatantly visible will be refused accessible parking.  This is all done in the name of “harmonization” which is just a bullshit excuse.

Why is this a feminist issue?

Women will be disproportionately affected by this change because many disabilities that are invisible or harder to discern that affect one’s mobility affect more women than men.  For example, more women than men are plagued with chronic fatigue syndrome/ME, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, osteoporosis and many other autoimmune disorders.

Furthermore, women tend to occupy a larger parenting or caretaker role in the family.  Which means that women are the ones driving their kids around from school to soccer practice, dance lessons, music lessons, play dates, doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, etc.  So if women with disabilities are not granted accessible parking their lives and by extension, their children’s lives become incredibly more difficult and complicated.

Call to Action – Send this pre-written letter to the government protesting the “harmonization of disability parking permit scheme.”

When your mere existence is constantly used as an insult, what does that do for your self esteem?

20 05 2009

I was walking in the Village in New York City the other day and I walked by a woman walking with a young boy and holding his hand. He was visibly upset about something and started shrieking really loudly. The woman kept trying to shush him but he just got more agitated and shrieked even louder. Finally she said, “Stop screaming so loudly! You’re acting like a girl!”

That seemed to do it. The boy quieted down but still looked disgruntled and upset. It is saddening that for many young boys (and men too), being called a girl is an insult. They equate being a girl with something bad, something you definitely don’t want to be. Girls are constantly taught that there is something inherently wrong with them, just by virtue of having a vagina and being female. Boys know from early on that being called a girl is the ultimate insult. What does this do for the self esteem of girls who later become women?

With all this in mind, I read Why I didn’t want a girl and kept cringing at the internalized misogyny the author, Amy Wilson, harbors. At the time she authored the story, Wilson is pregnant with her third child. So far she has two sons and hopes that the third child is a boy as well (it ends up being a girl, to her disappointment) because she “likes boys better”. Ahh, so she seriously likes people better solely based on gender without knowing anything about their personalities or who they are? Way to be superficial and make a broad generalization.

Wilson writes:

…when I say I am the mother of two boys less than two years apart, I get a respectful nod or even a big thumbs-up for having that much testosterone in my daily life.

Daily life is already infused with testosterone. Hello, we live in a patriarchal society! What’s sad about her comment is that across the globe, many people value boys over girls because boys are more “useful” or “strong” or whatever bullshit justification they come up with.

When the receptionist at Wilson’s doctor’s office accidentally blurts out on the phone that the baby is a girl, Wilson is extremely dismayed and disappointed. She writes:

Even before I had sons, I worried about having a daughter. I could handle boys, with their cut-and-dried needs, but girls were so much more complicated. Girls have elaborate hairstyling requirements. They whine and mope, manipulate and triangulate. How was I going to deal with that?

Wait, what? “Girls have elaborate hairstyling requirements”?! Maybe if you choose to elaborately style your baby girl’s hair. As far as I’m concerned, baby boys and girls have really short hair that don’t require elaborate styling. Besides, babies (regardless of whether they are boys or girls) “whine and mope, manipulate and triangulate”. It’s not a girl specific thing to do.

I was ashamed of feeling apprehension about my unborn daughter. But I couldn’t shake it. What if I weren’t able to embrace what she loves? What if I couldn’t stomach daily viewings of “The Little Mermaid?”

My sons sneer at all things princess, and so do I. We love to pore over the Birthday Express catalog so the boys can plan the themes of their parties through 2013. My role in this is to gasp, “Oh, I think you should have a pink-poodle party!” “YUCK!! That’s for GIRLS!!” they shriek, and I laugh along with them. What will I do when I have someone who wants a pink-poodle party?

Sexist and misogynist much? She is raising the next generation of sexist, misogynist male pigs. I feel bad for her daughter who will be raised with two boys who so thoroughly despise girls. And then she goes on to say:

One of my friends who knows the secret thinks a girl will be great for me. “You deserve a girl!” she said, after watching me separate my two fighting boys. “Just think, she’ll be quiet. Calm. Easy.” It’s true: Even inside me, she’s different. When my boys would kick, I’d press against their little feet, and they’d kick back, harder. This baby? If she kicks and I press back, she goes completely still.

Uh-huh. In utero gender essentialism? Right, girls are passive, submissive and obedient. Beginning in the womb.

I sure hope that Wilson’s daughter never reads this. Reading this made me feel horrible for her daughter (who is now 16 months old), being so hated before she was even born.  Women like Wilson are reasons we need more feminist mothers, and feminists in general, who don’t buy into this gender essentialist, sexist and misogynist bullshit and patriarchal gender roles/norms.

Motherhood should be safe for all women

17 05 2009

Nicholas Kristof wrote an op-ed published in yesterday’s New York Times about the plight of mothers in Sierra Leone, West Africa.  Around the globe, too many women die of childbirth when they shouldn’t have to because these deaths are preventable.  Kristof writes:

According to the World Health Organization, Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality in the world, and in several African countries, 1 woman in 10 ends up dying in childbirth. It’s pretty clear that if men were dying at these rates, the United Nations Security Council would be holding urgent consultations, and a country such as this would appoint a minister of paternal mortality. Yet half-a-million women die annually from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth without attracting much interest because the victims are typically among the most voiceless people in the world: impoverished, rural, uneducated and female.

He later builds on this:

I’ve seen women dying like this in many countries — on the first win-a-trip journey in 2006, a student and I watched a mother of three dying in front of us in Cameroon — and it’s not only shattering but also infuriating. It’s no mystery how to save the lives of pregnant women; what’s lacking is the will and resources.

What is being done about this?  Well, President Obama has restored funding to the United Nations Population Fund which renovates hospital wards, provides free medication and works to ensure that poor women in labor don’t die because they can’t afford to pay $100 for a Caesarian section.  Organizations that are working on this issue include:

White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood


Averting Maternal Death and Disability

There has also been a bill introduced earlier in March, the Newborn, Child, and Mother Survival Act, which would champion the United States as a leader in the global community in improving the health and lives of newborn babies, children and mothers.  Unfortunately this bill has not been given prompt or due attention.