It’s mid-January, and the holiday season is over; children are readjusting to the new semester, and adults are back to work. The lights and trees have been taken down, and malls are back to their normal number of shoppers. As I reflect on this past holiday season, particularly the craze surrounding popular items that the children in our lives request, I am baffled.
Every year the same issue arises during my holiday shopping: I stroll down the aisles in search of a doll I can purchase for my 9-year-old niece, and each year I am disappointed with the options. This year my question remained the same: Where is the diversity? To justify my feminist mentality and sometimes too-frequent overthinking of certain matters, I searched “Barbie” on Google. How surprised was I at the results? Not at all. Before my eyes was a page full of white dolls, the majority scantily clad with long legs, small waists, and perfect smiles.
I have always had these issues with doll companies that gross billions of dollars a year and stack toy store shelves for little girls across the globe. Maybe my aversion is a reaction to stories my grandmother has told me, reliving her childhood of sexism and racism. Maybe it’s because of the sense of pride I feel as I look in the mirror at my brown skin every morning. Maybe it’s because I refuse to allow my niece to be socialized to think that pretty girls are only those who are skinny with light skin; long, straight hair; and skimpy clothing — and that women are meant to be mothers and wives instead of engineers and politicians. Maybe it is because of the political, social, economic, and physical attacks that women all over the world survive every day. Maybe it’s because of the grotesque portrayal of women in movies, television, and the media as sexualized beings who deserve little to no respect. Or maybe it’s because the feminist in me would like, for once, to walk down the toy aisle and find a Mexican, Asian, or black baby doll with ease — or a doll whose abilities aren’t limited to being fashionable.
So as I stared at my niece’s Christmas list this year, I skipped over the request for a doll. I challenge all parents and gift-givers to be cautious and aware of what toys you purchase for your children. Are you encouraging your children to follow certain paths in their lives by buying the boys construction toys and the girls toys that reinforce their stereotypical roles as caregivers? Are little girls being socialized to strive for an unobtainable physical ideal represented through popular culture? The answer is yes! From television advertisements to technology to the toys children play with, ideals are being reinforced in our children’s minds. It is time to take a stance and teach children that diversity is beautiful. Each person is unique, and that is what’s normal.
This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Benita Robinson.
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Maybe I need to get out more. Or is it that I’m hanging with a boring crowd? Whatever the case, an innocent trip to the party store to purchase items for a baby shower led me to discover an entirely new opportunity to shake my head in disbelief, along with my 11-year-old daughter. There are so many offensive frontiers out there that I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when I stumble upon one. It certainly provides a teachable moment for whichever of my offspring happens to be with me. We discovered that Mrs. Claus isn’t who she used to be. She’s sexy. And so are elves. And winter wonderland vixens.
Everybody loves a good party, and costumes seem to be standard fare these days for holidays like Halloween (of course), which is apparently more lucrative for adult purchases than for children. Remember our Dialog blog about “Sexy” Rosie the Riveter? These days everything is made “sexy” or “hot” from tweens and up. As costumes go, there is also an apparently strong market for St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and other holiday costumes because for some reason adults need to dress up to celebrate them. (And that’s an entirely different blog post that needs to be written.) The overall theme is that women need to be scantily clad (oops, I mean “sexy”), while men are covered in armor or wool from head to toe. Santa sure isn’t baring any skin. I’m not against sexy, but why has it become the default for women and girls? Many studies document the negative impact of these kinds of images on girls.
So it wasn’t totally surprising as we perused the aisles of balloons, invitations, and candy to come upon the usual holiday costumes (reindeer antlers, elves, Santa suit) and find out that Mrs. Claus has a new attitude. She’s a babe. She’s Adult Sexy Lace-up Ms. Santa. Definitely not the one from storybooks. You know — ruffled white cap and red dress with an apron (on all the time, because apparently she spends a lot of time in the kitchen to keep Santa well-fed). The Adult Sexy Elf costume caught my eye as my daughter stood beside me with an expression that clearly showed her annoyance.
Later, at home, I checked out the retailer’s online site (where we buy totally innocuous items for birthday parties and other events), and it went downhill even further. There’s even a section with the Top 10 Sexy Santa Costumes for Women, including Adult Toyland Babe (“This sexy helper is really heating up the workshop!”), Adult Holiday Honey Elf (“All he wants for Christmas is his honey elf, dressed and prepped for the occasion!”), and Adult Sexy Foxy Frosti (“This snow fox will melt any icy heart!”) Even the basic Mrs. Claus costume can’t maintain her dignity with the online description “’Tis the season for matronly sex appeal … ” I am not making this up. I wish I were.
I haven’t seen a Sexy Mary costume yet — but unfortunately it’s probably only a matter of time.
My hope for 2013 — let girls be girls and “sexy” not precede the description for “elf.”
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Posted in Sex Discrimination, Sexism, The AAUW Community, Women's History, tagged Ava DuVernay, black feminist filmmaking, Bradford Young, Emayatzy Corinealdi, film industry, Hollywood, Howard University, women of color on October 19, 2012,|
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It’s no secret that white men dominate the film industry — women make up only 5 percent of directors, and women of color are even more scarce. So it’s no wonder that the number and representations of women are warped, disappointing, and damaging. Since this tendency intersects with the often problematic onscreen portrayals of people of color, black women characters rarely anchor films. As a result, black women’s experiences are ignored and erased from our cultural memory — aside from the persistent tokens and stereotypes that so many lazy writers rely on.
Middle of Nowhere, which premiered in limited release last weekend, breaks with these Hollywood traditions. Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, the film earned buzz at Sundance, where it earned DuVernay the best director award — the first time a black woman has ever won that distinction. The film tells the story of Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), a smart, resilient nurse who puts her dreams of medical school on hold when her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is incarcerated for selling guns. Ruby prioritizes her marriage — making sure she has the time to be at home to receive his phone calls and to take the long bus ride to visit him each week — despite Derek’s and her mother’s protestations. When, after four years of this, Derek’s parole eligibility is called into question, Ruby starts to emerge from the emotional stasis she has been in.
In the process of Ruby’s transformation, we see her complicated and heartbreaking relationship with Derek evolve without demonizing either character. The audience ends up deeply invested in a couple whom we only see together in flashback, in a prison visitor’s room where physical affection is verboten, and in the loneliest scenes you can imagine — where Ruby imagines her husband is with her as she wakes up in the morning or walks to the bus for her night shift.
We also see the difficulty of navigating the justice system when money is tight. And we get a glimpse of the family dynamics that oscillate between emotional support and tough love for Ruby, who has the potential to escape the economic hardship that her mother and sister experience.
Amazing acting, beautiful cinematography from Howard University film school graduate Bradford Young, and subdued colors make the events of Middle of Nowhere seem like they’re happening around the corner to your good friends. The mellow soundtrack and succinct dialogue alternate with punctuated silences that bring Ruby’s internal struggle between loyalty and frustration to a slow boil.
Audiences and critics have made Middle of Nowhere one of the most talked-about indie films of the year. And the new distribution model that is bringing the film to audiences nationwide could be fostering a 21st century LA Rebellion for black independent cinema. This is what happens when new voices have the opportunity to tell their own stories. In a film culture that doesn’t do much to foster black feminist filmmaking, audiences have to demand and support the rare films that address women’s issues or that feature underrepresented voices. Otherwise, we’re leaving our cultural imagery and narrative priorities to the fellas.
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