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?

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.


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


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:


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.

BioWare issues apology

30 04 2009

I’d like to issue a big thank you to our commenter Eric, who provided me with a link to BioWare’s apology for censoring the use of LGBT words and any LGBT discussions on their Star Wars game forum!

For those of you who dislike clickin’ links, BioWare, a game manufacturer, recently began censoring threads with LGBT topics (ones that were simply discussing queer sexuality in the Star Wars fandom) in their Knights of the Old Republic forum.  When people opened threads complaining about the locked threads, those threads were also locked.   Additionally, the very words “homosexual,” “gay,” and “lesbian” were censored out.  And Sean Dahlberg, the community manager, responded to complaints by stating very clearly that there was no queer sexuality in Star Wars, and so he would lock any of those topics.

Now, BioWare has issued an apology, given by Dahlberg:

I would like to personally apologize to “Elikal” and anyone I may have offended. My intention was not to demean anyone but simply to help promote a community that could discuss topics in a mature fashion. When I first built the word filter list, I added a variety of terms to the word filter that have been used numerous times in derogatory messaging. There were some words added to the filter that should not have been – we corrected this today.

I apologize for the confusion that this has created but I would like to be clear that there was never any intent to limit discussion. That said, I have overstepped my boundaries in my original statement and I sincerely apologize for doing so.

First and foremost, I’m very happy to see this apology, and also to see that the restrictions on discussion and language have been removed.  After all, as has been evident in our comments, as well as the comments all over the internet concerning what happened, there are plenty of queer Star Wars fans in addition to straight ones, and to say that queer sexuality has no place in a culturally significant fandom is to insult and discriminate against a large portion of the fan base (queer and straight alike).

Of course, this apology is flawed in many ways.  It is clear from the way in which threads were locked, and from Dahlberg’s initial statement, that the censorship was not to keep discussions mature, or to prevent people from using LGBT terms in a derogatory manner.  I’ve got experience with forums, and there are two general aspects of forum moderation that I’ve seen that completely negate this.  Firstly, moderators and administrators read threads before locking them; they don’t simply see a “bad” term in the thread name and lock it.  Secondly, censoring LGBT terms is in no way preventing (through language) the use of derogatory language.  While I do find it sometimes acceptable to censor, say, curse words (like shit and fuck), when dealing with forum members being idiots and jerks, it’s the responsibility of the moderators to dole out the appropriate punishment.

So, while I’m very, very grateful that Dahlberg has apologized, I’m frustrated with him for lying his ass off.  It’s clear, based on his first statement, that the censorship had to do with refusing to acknowledge the queer fanbase and disallowing any discussions about such sexuality.  Is it because these discussion weren’t “mature?”  Hell no.

I also find it just plain insulting that Dahlberg is insisting that everything he did came from good intentions.  Insisting that what he did was to promote mature discussion, that he never intended to limit discussion, and that he’s apologizing for “confusion” is simply dodging responsibility and minimizing what he actually did: bitch-slap queer people and allies.

I would prefer to have this obviously poor apology and a lift on the restrictions/censorship than have nothing.  I want to make that absolutely clear.  But this apology reveals that Dahlberg and probably his superiors do not understand exactly why the censorship was so unacceptable, and the ways in which they have seriously discriminated against the LGBT community.

As a way to express this sentiment, we should all go to the forums and start a half dozen topics about queer sexuality in the fandom.  Muahahahahaha!

Queer? Star Wars ain’t for you

28 04 2009, a gaming website, has found something troubling on BioWare forums.  BioWare, a gaming company, has a forum on its website that includes role-playing, but there are some restrictions on role-play content, specifically in the forum for the Star Wars game they produce.

What’s going on?  Well, if you haven’t clicked the link, all threads discussing queer sexuality in the Star Wars fandom in their Old Republic have been locked.  Additionally, all threads protesting the locks have been locked, and the very words referring to queer sexuality (“homosexuality,” “lesbian,” “gay”) have been censored.  According to BioWare’s community manager Sean Dahlberg:

“As I have stated before, these are terms that do not exist in Star Wars.

Thread closed.”

Luke Plunkett, writing for Kotaku, comments on the above: “OK, but…they do, uh, realise that the people actually playing the game do not exist in Star Wars either, right? They’re real people?”

I’m not a huge Star Wars fan; I’ve seen the original trilogy and some of the new films, but I’ve never played any of the video games or the books, or any other part of the fandom.  I certainly don’t remember seeing much in the way of queer sexuality.  However, lack of representation of queer sexuality in the Star Wars official fandom does not unequivocally mean that there are no queer people (or aliens!) in Star Wars.  In fact, as societies move forward and recognize the different ways in which people identify, and the different non-dominant groups that exist and lack the same representation as dominant groups, things change.  In fact, I think it is perfectly acceptable to question the lack of queer sexuality in Star Wars, and I would encourage those who are still producing official Star Wars stuff to consider adding some.

If the official Star Wars fandom does not represent queer sexuality, the best way to procede is to problematize this lack of representation, not to present this lack of representation as self-explanatory.  In fact, I think that with Star Wars fans using role-play and community forums in order to consider the ways in which Star Wars and queer sexuality can intersect is an excellent way to begin increasing such representation.

And finally, as Plunkett points out, refusing to even allow a discussion of queer sexuality is rather inappropriate, given the fact that there are queer Star Wars fans.  I would go as far as to call this insulting, dehumanizing, and completely unethical.  I also firmly believe that this is a case of discrimination based on sexuality, and that Sean Dahlberg, and any superiors who have helped influence his decision and his statement should not exist in positions of power.

But of course, as heteros, they do.

You mean Latina woman aren’t all maids?

21 04 2009

On April 19th, on NPR’s website, an article described the long career of actress Lupe Ontiveros.  Apparently, she has played a maid at least 150 times.


Additionally, she finds that she’s not just asked to play maids; she’s asked to do her best to reinforce Latina stereotypes.  She describes to her interviewer a common occurrence in auditions she attends:

“‘You want an accent?’ And they’d say, ‘Yes, we prefer for you to have an accent.’ And the thicker and more waddly it is, the more they like it. This is what I’m against, really, truly,” she says.

Ontiveros was so sick of playing stereotyped Latina parts that when she received a script for Miguel Arteta’s Chuck and Buck, and saw that her role would be a woman named Beverly, she immediately accepted the part.  “I’ll do it because her name is Beverly, it wasn’t Maria Guadalupe Conchita Esperanza — this Latino stereotype,” she recalls telling Arteta.

Ontiveros has accepted maid parts throughout her entire life, and continues to do so in order to find work.  However, she says, “I long to play a judge. I long to play a lesbian woman. I long to play a councilman, someone with some chutzpah.”  She says at the end of the article that she thinks other Latina actresses, such as Jennifer Lopez and America Ferrera, have more options; they aren’t confined to the stereotyped accented immigrant maids.

What truly upsets me while reading this article is that Ontiveros, who has proven herself as an actress in films such as El Notre, is forced to conform to Latina stereotypes in order to find work.  I do think it’s pathetic, ignorant, racist, and sexist that so many film and television show execs are actively trying to reinforce racial stereotypes, but I wish that it would be easier for actors like Ontiveros to just walk away.  However, if she needs the work, what is she supposed to do?  She is caught in a classic double-bind, where she can take the money offered, so long as she helps reinforce stereotypes that she herself is against.

Apparently, Ontiveros will be appearing on the TV show Reaper soon, as a grandmother without an accent.  I watch Reaper, and so I’m very excited to look for her in upcoming episodes.  I’m also hoping that one of my favorite show has given her the opportunity to play a non- or less-stereotypical role.  If she is indeed on Reaper, I will update you all in the comments.

#Amazonfail. Who did it and what does it mean?

13 04 2009

I’m sure most of you have heard about #Amazonfail. You can click for views from Twitterers here, Livejournal, Feministing, and Sexerati all have addressed this. You could just do a quick Google search and find a crap ton of information. In short, Amazon has removed all LGBT-friendly books from the general searches and sales rankings because it’s “Adult” material. What makes it ludicrous is that there are actually books with EXPLICIT heterosexual scenes left untouched, while innocent nonsexual books with homosexual main characters affected. So what do we have left? THIS bullshit book: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. I spent maybe an hour reading about this whole anti-LGBT movement, which encourages the “prevention” and “cure” of homosexuality. They’re pretty bad and based on fear and stereotypes, but that’s another blogpost.

ANYWAY I may or may not still have a livejournal (cough) and I came across this post here. Seems like a troll is taking responsibility for the whole Amazon thing. I’ve also heard that other people are trying to get credit. DO NOT BELIEVE THIS. Keep on sending your e-mails to Amazon about how upset you are and will not buy from them until they fix this. Here is just one post on LJ debunking the troll here.

Apparently this Amazon problem has been around for months, but just recently caught spread like wildfire. Amazon has been very noticeably quiet. All that I’ve seen is a few “inside sources” talking to popular bloggers. A few sources are saying that it is NOT a glitch but that someone or someones have been doing this. Feministing’s source says this, but it seems like everything is up in the air because there is no official statement.

It seems that this was a conscious effort by SOMEBODY. Sexerati says a coder internally labeled all of these as “adult.” It is quite sad that Amazon has failed to recitfy this deranking problem, but I’m pretty sure it will be reversed soon enough because now it is getting such mainstream attention. It seems that once again we are reminded that we are living in a world that still has a long way to go to achieve equality for all genders and orientations. It’s deplorable that it’s gotten this far, but it’s great to see that now with technology we CAN make a difference. The word spread quickly and I hope it is creating enough pressure on Amazon. I am amazed that someone is so bigoted that they would take the effort to derank ALL of those books and leave things like Playboy on the site. The gay rights movement is very necessary and while gay is not the new black, it is definitely a battle that needs to be fought. Having allies is more important than ever because companies like Amazon only care about money. We have to show them that this is unacceptable.

Well, to tell you the truth, I’m shocked, too!

7 04 2009

Apparently, actress Anna Faris is shocked by her sex scene in the upcoming movie Observe and Report, where she stars opposite Seth Rogen.  Why?

[B]ecause she had to be unconscious, naked and covered in vomit.

Rogen’s mall cop uses tequila to lure Faris’ character into bed in the new comedy.

So, Seth Rogen plies Anna Faris with alcohol to the point where she’s unconscious and covered in puke … so he can have sex with her.

This sex scene is rape. I’m not just a feminist overreacting; sex with someone who is unable to consent is rape.  One major way that people are rendered unable to consent?  Through the use of drugs or alcohol.  Since Faris’ character is unconscious, she is unable to consent to any sexual act, and therefore any sexual contact is sexual assault, and any penetration is rape.  The fact that Rogen’s character uses alcohol to “lure” her makes it clear that his actions are premeditated.  He’s certainly not the kind of cop I’d like to have around.

The law here is not vague; director Jody Hill filmed a rape scene, not a sex scene.

Admittedly, we will have to wait until the film is released to determine whether or not the scene is rape.  However, from the description of the sex, the designation of the scene as a “sex” scene, and the information that the scene made the final cut, I have very little doubt that we have a rape scene on our hands.

Faris was originally shocked at the scene, and she only agreed to film it because she expected it to be kept out of the finished film.  It is in the final cut, but:

now Faris has seen the footage, she’s had a change of heart: “I’m grateful, I’m grateful. I’m grateful that the movie is unapologetic.”

Treating rape as comedy is unapologetic?

I suppose it’s not true to say that I’m shocked.  I’m really not shocked that sexual assault is misunderstood to be sex, and that it’s slipped into comedies as a way to make movies funnier.  I am, though, disgusted and saddened.

Disney’s First Black Princess

30 03 2009

The Princess and The Frog

Disney is returning to it’s original 2D animation style to introduce a new 2009 feature, The Princess and the Frog.  The film is based loosely on the book The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker.  This film will be the first traditional animation feature in the Disney animation series since 2004’s Home on The Range.  And it is also the first Disney musical since Hercules.

The film supposedly began under the working title The Frog Princess and the princess’ name began as Maddy.  Maddy was originally listed on the casting call sheet as a “chambermaid.”  However, the film title was changed to The Princess and The Frog and supposedly the princess’ name was changed to Tiana.  Tiana’s occupation was also reportedly switched from chambermaid to waitress.  

But it seems that Disney is denying the claim that the information was switched.  In a press release, the Disney PR department said:

…There is incorrect information being circulated about Disney’s 2009 motion picture The Princess and the Frog (whose previous working title was The Frog Princess)

The central character is a young girl named Princess Tiana. The story takes place in the charming elegance and grandeur of New Orleans’ fabled French Quarter during the Jazz Age . . . Princess Tiana will be a heroine in the great tradition of Disney’s rich animated fairy tale legacy, and all other characters and aspects of the story will be treated with the greatest respect and sensitivity.

This American fairy tale is several years away from completion and the creative process is ongoing . . . unfortunately much of the information that has surfaced, including the casting breakdown . . . is inaccurate. When we do casting calls we frequently use substitute information as we don’t want details out about the movies. Therefore that information you have is incorrect.

One thing Disney does admit was that the title was changed.   It has been argued that the new title was chosen because it has been perceived as less derogatory to black women because it does not imply that the princess is in some way ugly.  Many people believe that the name and occupation were in fact changed due to a media outcry against racism in the film.  Some critics noted that the name “Maddy” calls to mind the word “Mammy,” an offensive stereotype of African American women.  And the portrayal of “Maddy” as a chambermaid for a spoiled white girl was considered insulting.  The name may have in fact been changed due to this outcry, and many people seem to agree that the new name for the princess is more fitting because it is more regal and “ethnic” sounding.  

In reaction to the film’s preliminary information, Jennifer Daniels from BET wrote:

As it turned out, my ‘Boys’ could write a better story than this.  

Our plucky young Black protagonist, Maddy, as a chambermaid. There’s also a plantation owner, two practitioners of voodoo – one a Magical Negro, the other a villain – a singing alligator, and score by the whitest White man to ever rest his head in the Big Easy, Randy Newman. (Were the Neville brothers & Harry Connick, Jr., busy?). Knowing Disney, I’m sure there’s a dead parent somewhere in the mix. The living parent, Maddy’s mother Eudora, is also a maid. Somebody turns into a frog. Oh, and the prince is White.

…A movie like The Frog Princess, with its touching tale of a po’ Black chile (sic) being rescued from the Big Black Voodoo Daddy by a great White hope in the pre-Civil Rights Movement South not only offensive and ignorant of history, but highly insensitive as well.

It does seem that many people do consider the presentation of a black princess in a Disney movie to be a long overdue bit of progress, even if the portrayal might be problematic.  But some have been hailing the film with headlines such as “Princess Maddy Repairs Disney’s Racist Reputation.”  This is taking it more than a little bit too far.  Simply having a black heroine (who of course conforms to standards of beauty and thinness) and a Latino (maybe?) prince (who is buff, handsome, and strong looking of course) does not mean that the film is racism-free.  And of course the couple is heterosexual!

William Blackburn from the Charlotte Observer stated:

This princess’ story is set in New Orleans, the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community. And then they throw in the voodoo theme [the fairy-godmother character is a voodoo priestess] and an alligator sidekick. When you put New Orleans, alligators and voodoo together, there’s no beauty there.  

Whereas it has been argued that the use of New Orleans as a backdrop is insensitive, on the other hand some seem to see the film as a positive for New Orleans, taking the spotlight off of the devastation and putting it back on the beauty of the city and the culture.

Another debate has arisen about the prince’s race.  From what I’ve read, it seems that the prince is supposed to be Latino, but some people argue that he is white. Others say that the prince was originally supposed to be white, but his race was later changed to Latino after the public outcry.  While some see the portrayal of the interracial relationship as progress, others would have preferred a black prince.  One commenter on said:

What is wrong with the prince being black?? Why MUST he be anything but?? I don’t want my daughter growing up with fantasies of a white guy “rescuing” her. It kind of seems that the “prince” in Disney movies is usually white though, even with the other “ethnic” “princesses”

Another commenter wondered if Disney was just trying to “kill two birds with one stone” by including both a Latino man and a black woman, when neither group has been represented in Disney films before.

I have to say I’m a little nervous about the film’s content, but I’m also really excited to see it.  The animation looks absolutely beautiful, and it will certainly be something to blog about once I actually have seen how the plot actually plays out.

So, what do you all think?  Is the inclusion of a crazy voodoo-practicing villain, a jazz-singing alligator, and a Cajun firefly friend with only four teeth just more Disney  racist stereotyping?  Are you buying Disney’s supposed argument that the information circulating about the character’s name and occupation was false, or do you think the changes were a product of a quick panic that Disney might be seen as racist?  Is the use of New Orleans as a backdrop offensive or brilliant?  Is the inclusion of an interracial couple progressive or problematic?  And last, is Princess Tiana a monumental and progressive step towards racial inclusion in Disney films, or is she just another racially stereotyped, ultra-feminine, skinny heterosexual girl to instill children with unrealistic expectations of romance?

Where is the compassion?

22 03 2009

I recently read a phenomenal book, Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution (Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters) by Wally Lamb. The book recounts the stories of 11 incarcerated women in the York Correctional Institution in Connecticut, as told by them, in their own words. By publishing this book, Lamb raised the voices of the voiceless and let them be heard.

The book and the stories within are horrifying, disturbing, heartbreaking, cathartic, yet immensely powerful. It gives a human face to prisoners, people we too easily dehumanize and readily dismiss as criminals, delinquents, unworthy, and useless. Where is the compassion? The criminal justice and prison systems are such heartless institutions. People don’t just commit crimes just because – they do so because they have suffered as victims of some sort and cannot cope with the brutality they’ve experienced in their lives. In prison, they often experience more brutality and cruelty.

These women who committed crimes and were sentenced to prison (some are still serving time, some have been released) have been victims themselves: they were victims of parental neglect, broken families, rape, incest, drug addictions, relationship violence, etc. She may be convicted for murder, but she grew up in a broken home with a delusional mother and went to a school where she was the only lower-class, non-white girl and was picked on for that. She may be convicted for grand larceny, but she had a series of abusive boyfriends and has been a victim of relationship violence for much of her life. They may be criminals, but they are humans too.

I read a very relevant article in The American Prospect about prison reform. Instead of relying on the dominant “‘lock ’em up and throw away the key'” strategy, we need to re-shift our perspectives and our priorities. There needs to be more support services in place for prisoners that will help them reintegrate into society after they are released. There need to be more health services in place for prisoners that will enable them to maintain good health while they serve time so that they won’t be an extra burden and so that they won’t die prematurely for health complications because they didn’t have adequate health care. There needs to be more of a focus on rehabilitation so that prisoners won’t get out of jail only to get back in for committing another crime, and so they can be fully functioning and productive members of society.

Apparently, Kansas Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholz has changed the way Kansas does corrections so that there is a greater emphasis on rehabilitating convicted felons instead of just punishing them and locking them up.

Werholz wanted his parole officers to behave more like social workers, not just reacting to parole violations but providing the kind of support for the formerly incarcerated that would prevent violations in the first place.

His reforms have altered the very nature of the parole officer/parolee relationship in Kansas, reduced the number of parolees who abscond or are reconvicted, and are expected to save the state $80 million over the next five years. Ultimately, Werholz wants to drive down recidivism, the rate at which convicted felons are imprisoned again within six years of release.

“What do you do with these folks?” Werholz says. “They’re coming out; there’s nothing you can do about that, so you might as well have them come out the best way possible, which is that they don’t hurt us anymore.” (bold emphasis mine)

There is much resistance against focusing on rehabilitation versus strict imprisonment and punishment because rehabilitation is too “soft”. However, it makes the most sense and is the most beneficial to society as a whole in the long run. As Werholz says, “‘…you might as well have them come out the best way possible, which is that they don’t hurt us anymore.'”

This approach is also more compassionate and considerate of the fact that prisoners have been severely victimized in their lives, which drives them to commit crimes to begin with. If they are victimized further in prison, this can encourage them to commit crimes again once they are released. However, by educating them, providing them with therapeutic support and giving them the tools they need to be productive members of society, they will be less likely to commit crimes afterwards.

Focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration into society is also cheaper for prisons. This new focus seems to be a growing trend in the nation, but not because politicians are more moral or compassionate. Instead, it’s about  saving money. Nancy Lavigne, from the Urban Institute, says, “‘What we’re witnessing right now is this new focus on rehabilitation because it’s the only way to reduce prison populations, and it’s the only thing that makes sense, in order to keep budgets in line.'”

Even if this push towards prisoner rehabilitation stems from concerns about budget cuts, it is a step in the right direction. Prisons should be less invested in punishment and retribution, and more invested in helping prisoners repair their lives.

Tyler Perry perpetuating stereotypes?

19 03 2009

I recently rewatched “Madea Goes to Jail” with my family this past weekend. While it is great to see a mainstream movie with a predominantly black cast, I can’t help but think about the personalities that the women have in this movie. Every main female character in this movie is far from what I would consider a great role model. They all have perhaps, one great quality that pales in comparison to her faults and mistakes.

We have Madea, the main character.  Yes, she’s hilarious.   It is understood that she’s supposed to be an outrageous personality, but it’s a shame that this woman is crazy! Yes, she’s a strong, black woman, but first of all she’s played by a man and second of all, she has no respect for rules, laws, or people’s authority. This is supporting the idea of the “crazy” black woman that stands up for herself, but goes too far.   Example: A woman cuts her off in the parking lot and takes the spot Madea was going to take.   Madea then gets revenge by using heavy machinery to take the woman’s car and drop it a few stories, which results in its destruction.

Then there’s Candace aka “Candy.” She is a prostitute who has a difficult past. She is a survivor of rape and other issues that go unnamed in the movie.   She was a strong woman who is intelligent, but drops out of school after being gang-raped by schoolmates.  Is was difficult to see that the only survivor in a movie turns out to be a prostitute.  Can’t we have more examples of women who don’t become drug-addicted, homeless, prostitutes after being raped? The movie practically implied that the rape CAUSED her to be a hooker. It isn’t very empowering to see the survivor in this movie be viewed as the pathetic character who cannot help herself.

There was one beacon of hope: Linda.  Linda is gorgeous and a very successful Assistant District Attorney.  She was the leading prosecutor in the county.  But of course having a gorgeous, smart, successful woman in a movie would be too easy. She is deceitful, willing to break the law to get what she wants.  She constantly tries to control her fiance to do what she wants to do.   She treats Candy as less than human because she is a prostitute and is another woman who is threatening her relationship with her fiance. Ironically, her behavior CAUSES Candy to be a threat to their relationship.

There are some other smaller characters, such as Linda’s best friend who merely serves as a nag that tells Linda’s fiance to just merely listen to Linda no matter what. Instead of minding her own business, she butts into the relationship between Linda and her guy.  Madea’s daughter Cora is a kind, sweet girl who is basically a doormat and is easily coerced  to do things against her beliefs.

I’m not saying that one should not see or enjoy the movie, but as a black person I do have to say that it is getting frustrating to watch his movies. There have been critics stating that his movies carry too many racial stereotypes, and I must agree.  Black women have to deal with many stereotypes held about them and Tyler Perry has chosen to merely reinforce them. By becoming a well known figure, he has undertaken a responsibility. Perry’s race does not excuse his decisions.  Anyone should strive to provide a balance of positive and negative characters, especially for minorities and women.  It’s a shame that Perry has been gifted with a wide audience of all colours and peoples and has failed to optimize it, except in matters of filling his wallet.