Unless you have completely denounced all things internet, you have probably seen this video:
It is a commercial for toys made by GoldieBlox. Half a dozen people sent me the video in the course of a couple of days last week. I was already familiar with this brand of toys and think they are filling a much needed gap in the market. This newest commercial spins a number of things on its head—challenging the idea that girls only want to be princesses while encouraging them to engage in play that engages their intellect and teaches them fundamentals of math, science, engineering and physics. The commercial also includes a rewrite of the lyrics to the popular song by Beastie Boys “Girls” with more empowering language. The original song includes the following:
Girls - to do the dishes
In the Goldie Blox version girls can "build a spaceship, and code a new app." It was inspiring to see the media attention this company is getting. When I shop for presents for my friends' children I spend a lot of time trying to find toys that are gender neutral or don't reinforce gender stereotypes. It can be a daunting task, so I am happy to see toys like this joining the shelves.
And then I went to see Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Although my husband and I usually go into movies right when they start to avoid some of the preview material, this time we went into the theatre early. I was reminded of the fact that movie theatres now play commercials before shows (a practice I still find deplorable—if I wanted to watch commercials I would stay home and watch TV. Or hulu plus). Anyway—it was clear to me that the commercials for this viewing were geared toward a particular audience.
One of the commercials was an advertisement for Nerf Rebelle.
According to the Toys R Us website, “Nerf Rebelle is THE sports action brand built specifically for girls. Like all Nerf products, this line is full of great performing toys that provide hours of active fun, but these toys also feature fierce styles girls ask for!”
Really. Girls are asking for “fierce styles”? Or are marketers trying to convince girls that they need “fierce styles?”
I love that the girls in the commercial are running, playing sports, being active. But why not just have girls in the same commercials as boys? Why do the "nerf for girls" toys need to have special names like “Hearbreaker Bow” and “Pink Crush”? Why is everything in pink and purple? What's with the play on "being pretty?"
I really wanted to like the Nerf line, but it reminded me too much of the recent lego fiasco: Lego Friends
This selection of Legos includes Lego "dolls" who hang out at the beach, go to a bakery, and even drive a convertible. And did I mention all the Logo friends are girls? Because that really is the crux of the matter here. There is nothing wrong with Legos (and girls who play with them) who want to decorate their house, or work at a cafe. But can't boys do those things too? Lego Friends supposedly were a response to concerns that the "standard" Lego sets are always marketed to boys. And this was the solution?
I know that this is all about $$. If marketers can convince you to buy different toys for boys and girls you have to spend more money. But seriously, is this where we are as a society? Being overjoyed about a rewrite of a super sexist song and pink guns that shoot foam darts?
I am not usually one to harken back to the “good ole’ days” but I can’t help but think about my own childhood growing up with three brothers. Yes, we all had toys that were our own, but mostly we shared toys. We had a large box filled with toys that anyone could play with. My little brother had an orange bow that I would occasionally use for target practice. I didn’t tell my parents that I needed a pink one instead. When my cat had kittens, my brother enjoyed driving them around in the Barbie convertible. Lots of toys were orange, green, red, brown and black. Sure there were some pink, purple ,and blue items, but we did not divide the world based on color.
Imaginative play is such an important part of childhood; it provides kids with opportunities to try on possible adult roles. Kids get to consider what it would be like to take care of a baby, cook meals, be a construction worker or hairdresser. When we tell girls and boys (whether indirectly or directly) that they can only play with certain toys we are imposing on them limits to what they can become. I am concerned about all the ways that kids are being told that they have to grow up to like certain things and have particular characteristics just because they are male or female.
I hope these recent trends are suggestive of a bigger movement toward ungenderizing kids’ toys. Until that day comes, I will keep using my imagination to dream of a better future and the tools I have to work for one. A future with a shared toy box that offers children a world of possibilities and a rainbow of colors.
In the last few weeks I have found some gray hairs on my head. Well, the word found implies that I was looking. I was not. It would be more accurate to say that while doing my hair I have stumbled across a few strands about which I thought "hmm.. that is not brown." I had not expected that I would find gray hairs had I looked for them. I am in my early 30's and my dad brags about how he has a full head of brown hair. The same shade of brown as my own. I am not unaware that gray hair exists. In fact, my only memory of my maternal grandmother is with long silvery gray hair. So I expected that I would see that in my future--I just did not know when that future would be.
Honestly, my first reaction was : Well, maybe people will stop telling me I "look to young to be a professor."
And then, the news is abuzz with the "shocking" discovery that Kate Middleton dared to leave the house with a few gray hairs. The Daily Beast "broke" the "news" with a set of close up photos of Kate's head.
Now I am far from a royal watcher, but I don't live under a rock. I know that Middleton has been the center of much hype since she made it onto the world stage. She also JUST HAD A BABY. But it is good to see that we have our priorities in order. Being a new mom is no excuse for looking "old."
Last spring when I was on a memoir-reading frenzy (see my earlier blog post) one of the ones I stumbled across was "Going Gray: How to Embrace Your Authentic Self with Grace and Style." Kreamer tells the story of her decision to stop dying her hair and addresses the struggles she has along the way--the worries about how she will feel about herself and how she will be treated by others. She wondered whether others would think she was attractive with gray hair and if she would experience discrimination at work. She interviewed and surveyed hundreds of people (mostly women, but some men as well) about their experiences being gray and how they feel about others who had gray hair. The history of the US cultural obsession with "washing away" the gray is fascinating. Having read her book, I felt a little more prepared to think about and react to my own gray hair discovery. It also led me to talk to other women about the issue--an act that some people have found to be a bit surprising and unexpected.
Jezebel's response to the Daily Beast's article about Kate Middleton articulates part of the problem with this cultural obsession. As if we need is another way to tell women that how they look is more important than anything else about them. Clearly, some companies are benefiting from the attempt to convince women (and increasingly men) that they need to look a particular way while reassuring them they can always buy something to change their appearance.
There is also something else going on here that is very disturbing involving access to power and the intersections of age, gender, and appearance.
Let's just step back for a minute and think this through. While individuals' hair changes at different ages, in general gray hair is an indication that someone has lived for a while. Been around the block. Experienced some stuff. Probably even learned some lessons along the way. Some cultures actually appreciate and value this fact. They realize that (while not guaranteed) with age often comes wisdom. Elders are respected, valued, and have access to power.
That might seem a bit strange to those living in a society that assumes people who are aging should be dismissed, made fun of, or hidden away in a home somewhere.
The intersection of age and gender in mainstream American society is particularly salient. While men do experience discrimination as they age, in many arenas it appears that women face more and /or harsher age discrimination than men. A recent Canadian report found that women were more likely than men to be treated unfairly because of their age. Hollywood actresses often talk about the way in which their access to roles (and which roles they are offered) changes as they age. Conversations about a potential presidential bid for Hillary Clinton often include a reference to her age (as though she could catch a break about anything...).
My conversations with other women often lead to a discussion about their fears that they won't be taken seriously if they have gray hair. Some of these women have shared they now dye their hair for that very reason, even though they never thought they would.
These conversations are fascinating to me and feel all too familiar. As a woman who has spent much of my life being mistaken for being younger than I actually am, I am often asked to defend or prove myself as a professional. It is shocking really how often I am told that I can't possibly be a professor, or have a PhD, or any number of things because I am "just too young." And while they don't say "too young and female" many of the interactions make it clear that is what they mean. Like the time a student introduced me to her mom and her mom shook hands with my husband (who happened to be standing next to me)--then proceeded to argue with her daughter about how I couldn't possibly be "Dr. Brinkman." Or the individual who attended an event I planned and told me he had always assumed I was my (similarly aged) male colleague's student.
So, I say, "bring on the gray" because I spend most of my days living on the other side of the age issue. The side with all the assumptions that a young woman can't be smart and accomplished.
Unfortunately, I know that life is not so simple. The days of me having to prove myself are not numbered by my gray hairs but by our culture's willingness (or not) to end discrimination against women.
I am starting to accept the idea that the window of time during which my legitimization as a professional will not be questioned because of my (apparent) age is likely a small one. Hopefully I won't oversleep that day and miss the whole thing.
I will be honest: I struggle with my feminist identity. For anyone who knows me well, this may come as a surprise. As I struggle with my feminism, I am also aware that it is one of the most salient aspects of my identity. It is the one to which I feel the most aligned, most committed, and most proud. I am also not shy about my feminism. I have posts, blogs, and bumper stickers. I talk about it in class, with my friends, and with my family. It is the source of both bonding and fissure in my relationships.
So when Joss Whedon, a feminist ally whose movies and shows have provided a different script for women in the media, denounced the word feminism, I paused. It is a critique that I hear so often, and each time I ask myself: are they right? Do we need the word “feminism?” Would my life be easier if I was simply a "genderist?" I could go into a post about where Joss Whedon went wrong, but Noah Berlatsky already summed that up so well here. I could also talk about how disappointing it was that a white, heterosexual male ally, whose fanbase surrounding shows like Buffy and Firefly are very much feminist-oriented, used his privilege and fame to flippantly denounce an entire history and movement of women working towards equal rights.
I could also talk about why I think the word “feminism” is important. How you cannot tiptoe around privilege and patriarchy with a word like “feminism” the way that you can “genderist.” How the word “feminism” is so vehemently disliked because it acknowledges the oppression of women, and words like “genderist” and “humanist” and “equalist” fail to communicate that specific kind of oppression. How “feminist” is more than an adjective—it is a word entrenched with history of the movement, the centuries of hardship and work that went into gaining the rights that we have today. It is a word that embodies an ongoing commitment to working for equal rights for women and all people.
But these arguments do not get to the heart of why I call myself a feminist—The real reason why I push through the awkward conversations with friends and family members; The reason why I spend time negotiating my love of pop culture with my feminist identity; The reason why I make myself vulnerable by confronting the status quo .
I call myself a feminist because I want to give women (and men) who have been marginalized by the dominant systems a voice. I call myself a feminist because I want to work to create stronger feminist communities—not fractured, divided ones. I call myself a feminist because I believe in the power of groups when people feel they are connected, appreciated, and supported.
So I invite all you humanists, equalists, genderists, activists, and overall awesome human beings: you do not have to call yourself a feminist. As long as we are working towards the same goals of reducing systematic oppression of marginalized groups of people, we are on the same team. And although there is a time and place for self-critique, the time that we spend denouncing or disparaging our movements is just time spent not addressing the real social justice issues we should be talking about.
So while we were all debating if a feminist, by any other name, would smell as sweet, here were some other important things that were happening in the world:
· Women are still enduring genital cutting, as well as high rates of sexual harassment, in Egypt.
· Violence against women is a highly prevalent issue in Iraq, over a decade after the U.S. Invasion in Iraq.
· In a recent Gallup poll, male bosses are still favored over female bosses.
· Poorer women with a breast lump may wait to see doctor,
· Vagisil continues to make women and girls self-conscious with their new advertisement.
· Woman are less likely to orgasm during casual sex.
· Another Gallup poll found that the majority of people think women should start having children at age 25. (No pressure)
· Despite all the fuss about women earning more money, businesses do not actually know how to market to women.
· Lululemon shames women’s bodies by blaming their weight for fabric wear.
· Denying women’s contraceptive access is what brought the pilgrims to America.
· Why hasn’t the U.S. elected a woman president yet?
· Women with disabilities are even more vulnerable to experience violence throughout their lives.
· Women and the fight for comprehensive immigration reform
· Women and minorities still underrepresented in science careers.
It was Joss Whedon himself who said, “It was only when I got to college that I realized that the rest of the world didn’t run the way my world was run and that there was a need for feminism. I’d thought it was all solved.” Me too, Joss. Me too.
The translation of research into public information is a tricky one. I personally am a bit terrified of the day a reporter decides to write about one of my studies—it seems all too common that such articles are rife with misunderstanding (or possibly intentional misinterpretations) of a study. I understand that reporters cannot possibly be experts on every field they write about, so I try not to judge them for misinterpreting a finding or not recognizing the limitations of a study. I also realize the reporters want to tell a compelling story and may highlight the things that will create the biggest stir. When I am reading a newspaper article that is summarizing the results of a recent study I try to keep these things in mind. If I am being especially diligent (which I will admit, I am not always so) I find the original article and read it myself. Unless I read the original study or report, I don’t completely trust the way it is presented in online. Call me a skeptic.
So earlier this week when a colleague posted a link on Facebook to an article in the Washington Post he was interviewed for, I was interested in learning more. Right away I had some concerns about the conclusions the article was making. The title read:
“A woman’s success damages a male partner’s ego, says a new study”
Why would I possibly have any problems with that?
Here’s the thing—in addition to not expecting reporters to be experts in psychological research, I also understand that they will often write sensational headlines to try to click-bait the reader. I get it—an interesting headline can grab someone’s attention (um…did you see the headline for this blog?).
But honestly, that headline is not all that exciting or new, at least probably not to most women in the USA. I have been hearing some version of that line for much of my life. And it is not just me. In my research with adolescent girls, many of them have told me that girls in their high school “act dumb” because boys don’t want to date a girl who is smarter than them.
But, I read the article anyway. And it became clear that the headline is not only trite, it is just plain wrong—that in fact is not what the study found.
I know, because I read the actual study, which reported on the findings of five experiments comparing men who imagined (or were told about) their partner's success on some task with those who partner's supposedly failed.
I won't dive into a full critique of the study and its findings, but I will summarize some important points. In all 5 experiments, there were no significant differences in the explicit self-esteem between men who were told their partners failed and those who were told their partners were successful. Meaning the title could have just as easily read "Men's self-esteem is unaffected by female partner's success, according to new study." Of the five studies, three of those that reported differences in the mean implicit self-esteem of men who thought about their partners being successful compared to men who thought about their partners failing were barely or marginally significant (p=.08, p=.04, p=.048). In study 4 and 5, men who thought about their partner succeeding had a lower implicit self-esteem than the overall mean and men who thought about their partner failing had a HIGHER implicit self-esteem than the overall mean. Why wasn't the title "Men get a secret kick out of their partner's failures, says new study"? Finally, none of the experiments actually examined a change in self-esteem as the Washington Post implied. Really they looked at two different groups of men. In study 5, they included a control group and found that the men who imagined their partner's success differed from the men who imagined their partner's failure--but neither of these differed significantly from the control group.
Before I begin to sound too critical, let me just say that research studies always have limitations--even a study which included five experiments. The reporter also did a lot of things right. She included information about the study's methods and interviewed a number of experts who commented on the findings. Dr. Rochlen and Dr. O'Neil are well respected in the field of psychology of men and masculinity and helped to provide some context in which to understand the (supposed) findings. Some men may indeed feel threatened by women's success if they embrace traditional stereotypes about gender roles.
But ultimately, the title (and the take home message) presumed something that the study did not even find. Which is problematic because people trust research, they trust respected news sources, and they especially trust respected news sources that report about research. Sometimes more than they should. Heck, if we read an article in the Washington Post titled : "A martian is eating your brain right now and you don’t even know it, says a new study" we might pause and wonder. Is a martian eating my brain?
That ridiculous analogy aside, an article that misrepresents research in such a way that confirms social stereotypes is much more dangerous. People are less likely to question the article if it fits with assumptions they already hold or stereotypes they often hear from others. These kind of stereotypes are bad for women and men. The idea that men's egos are damaged when their female partners succeed is used an an argument to prevent women from having access to power and to discourage men from (vocally) supporting women. As Rochlen points out in the Post article, pressure to conform to rigid traditional masculinity norms (such as believing that men should be more successful than women) has been associated with a number of physical and psychological consequences for men. And while there certainly are some men who adopt such ideas there are plenty of men whose self-esteems are in no way damaged by their partners' success. But as long as researchers and reporters focus only on telling new versions of the same old story, stereotypes will be continually perpetuated and other perspectives and experiences will be minimized, ignored, or suppressed.
Just for a change of pace, I thought it would be useful to give those men's voices a little representation. I asked men who support their successful female partners to share their thoughts with me. These statements are just a small representation from a (very) convenient sample and I am in no way arguing that these men's feelings are the norm. But they do exist and deserve to be heard.
But you don't have to just take my word for it. Here is a sample of quotes sent my way:
"I am very happy for my wife's success in multiple areas. It helps her, it helps me, it helps us as a partnership when one or both of us is doing well and supporting each other."
“I love it. It makes me happy both because it makes her happy and it demonstrates that she is being recognized for her professional development. The challenge we often find is that, when looking for new jobs, one of us will have to make a sacrifice in our career. So as we job search our stated goal is to go wherever the best job is. If she gets a good job, I'll follow her, and vice versa. But that means one of us will likely struggle in a new place, or we can't go someplace that doesn't provide opportunities for both of us. That is what happened to her when we moved here and it really bothers me. Overall I want her to have success and I could care less if she is more successful than me.”
"The article has a very particular conception of success... I would argue that [my wife's] success far surpasses mine. The article's conception of success diminishes her by defining success very narrowly."
"I love that my wife is successful, in many respects, including financially, more so than myself. I am glad that all her hard work is paying off and she is an example to me. When I feel like work or life in general is hard or tiresome, I just look at her example, if she can do it, so can I."
"As a family, I feel we both celebrate the successes in our lives."
“Yeah, um, no. Sorry Post, my wife's kicking ass, taking names and (to the chagrin of others) my ego is completely intact.”
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.