“Excuse me Miss, but are you a ‘real’ woman?”…

…”Can you please step this way so that we can test your sex?”

Quick History Lesson

In the 1936 Olympic Games Dora Ratjen, a german athlete, came a respectable fourth place in the women’s high jump. In 1956 Dora revealed that she was really Hermann Ratjen- a man forced to complete as a women by the Nazis.

From the 1960’s women athletes at Olympic Games have been subjected to tests to prove that they are in fact women as it was believed that the Soviets would attempt to pass male athletes off as women in order to win extra medals. Initially women athletes had to parade naked before a panel in order to prove their sex, but from 1968 this procedure was replaced with chromosomal testing. Using this method no males purporting to be females were uncovered but rather some women’s previously undetected chromosomal abnormalities were found.

Beijing Olympics

Anyway the NYT has run the story today as a lab is being set up in Beijing to in order to do the more modern version of the sex verification test — athletes are now evaluated by an endocrinologist, gynecologist, a geneticist and a psychologist.

Here are some quick thoughts on the matter. It just goes to show that sex and gender are a) not a simple matter, b) still being policed with the most sophisticated and up to date science and rhetoric of the day, c) Once again, women, and their bodies, are at the centre of the dispute as both the battle ground and the testing ground.


Bratz versus ‘My Scene’

My Scene Growing Up Glam Kennedy



Product Description

The My Scene dolls have younger sisters that REALLY grow up! These stylish sisters grow from tween to young teen with an innovative growing feature – plus, their fashions & makeup can transform to their new older look!
Manufacturer’s Age: 6 – 10 years
(Info and Picture sourced from Toys ‘R’ Us Online catalog).

Standing in the local toy shop I decided that these hideous ‘My Scene Growing Up Glam’ Dolls were the worst things on the shelves. They really freak the hell out of me. This doll represents a ‘tween’, (the latest incarnation of the preteen girl) and by twisting a knob on her back becomes a teen – she grows taller and curvier and more made-up. That this doll is meant to be a young girl just sickens me. What kind of world are we living in when we can represent girls as young as six, as tall, heavily made up, pouty lipped, impossibly thin waisted and bizarrely proportioned* with that ‘come hither’ look on its face?

But this post would not be complete without taking a look at Bratz Dolls, as the ‘My Scene’ Dolls are Mattel’s answer to the Bratz phenomenon.

Bratz Dolls are have over taken Barbie as the most popular and fastest selling doll in the UK out selling Barbie 2 to 1. As long ago as 2003 Bratz knocked Barbie off her perch, and also managed to make her look positively tame (as you can see from these examples below):

(Picture sourced from The Age story ‘What do these do to an eight year old girl?‘)

You can check out the Wikipedia entries on ‘My Scene‘ dolls and Bratz if you want to learn about the histories of the respective franchises, but the entry on Bratz contains some other interesting tidbits, like the story about how MGA Entertainment (makers of Bratz) are suing Mattel (makers of both Barbie and ‘My Scene’ dolls) claiming that the ‘My Scene’ dolls are copying the Bratz ‘doe eyed’ look (is that what we are calling that look?!) and how, in turn, Mattel are suing MGA Entertainment with the claim that Carter Bryant, one of Bratz creators, stole company secrets from Mattel. In addition you can read about the underpaid Chinese workers who make Bratz dolls and the opinions of the American Psychological Association who described Bratz thus:

Bratz dolls come dressed in sexualized clothing such as miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and feather boas. Although these dolls may present no more sexualization of girls or women than is seen in MTV videos, it is worrisome when dolls designed specifically for 4- to 8-year-olds are associated with an objectified adult sexuality

APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, Feb 2007 Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls

I think that this is what concerns me the most about these type of dolls, (because the above descriptions apply could equally to ‘My Scene’) is that young children (and I do mean young – we are talking about girls from four years old) are being given dolls that embody a very adult and very narrow view of sexuality. While children do not see the world in these terms it is the image that these dolls convey that leave indelible images on their developing minds. Besides the impossible physical proportions, there is the purpose of the dolls. What do you do with these dolls? You dress them in their outrageous wardrobe of clothes that look fit for a porn star and you do their hair and accessorise them. (What else are you to do with a doll whose slogan is ‘a passion for fashion’?). Tween girls play with dolls that represent teenagers and through playing and role playing are learning what society expects of teenagers. And the message is ‘dress tarty, and wear heavy make up’. I could here discuss the influence of the porn culture increasingly creeping like cancer into the mainstream, I could discuss the pressure towards heteronormality, or the unhealthy focus obsession upon personal appearance all of which problemise these dolls for me. But I’ve had two scotches and I am tired so I might just leave it by saying that I wouldn’t give a child a plaything that teaches them to be a plaything when they grow up.

Incidentally, I am not the only one interested in toys at the moment.

Lauredhel has recently examined the Target catalog and found it wanting, while both bluemilk and the Dawn Chorus take a look at the newest Barbie Collectible doll, the comic strip character Canary.

* This post, also by Lauredhel, sheds some light on the bizarre proportions of these dolls.

Why is this stupidity still happening?

From the BBC:

Italian wins gay driving ban case

Mr Giuffrida welcomed the sentence as “a step forwards for civil rights.”


An Italian court has ordered the government to pay 100,000 euros (£79,919) to a man who had to retake his driving test because he was gay.

Danilo Giuffrida, now 26, told doctors he was homosexual during a medical examination for military service.

The information was passed to the defence and transport ministries.

Mr Giuffrida was told to repeat his driving test or have his licence suspended because of his “sexual identity disturbance”.

Mr Giuffrida passed his test for the second time but his licence was renewed for just one year rather than the usual 10 years because of his homosexuality.

A court in Catania, Sicily, ordered the ministries to pay damages on the basis that Mr Giuffrida’s constitutional rights had been breached and that homosexuality could not be considered a “mental illness”.

The judge said the actions of the ministries showed “evident sexual discrimination”.

Is there really anything to add to this nonsense? This crud really shouldn’t still be happening. Making a guy redo his driver’s license because he is gay?!

It seems that people continue to go to extremes to ensure that they have a son

(Picture of one month old baby boy by Nils Fretwurst)

I found this story here.

Woman in India ‘has twins at 70’

A woman said to be 70 years of age has given birth to twins in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state after taking IVF treatment.

Omkari maintains she was nine years old when the British left India in 1947, which would make her 70. Omkari Panwar has no birth certificate but if her age is proven it would make her the world’s oldest mother.

The twins, a boy and girl both weighing 2lbs, were delivered one month early by Caesarian section. Doctors said the twins were doing fine.

Now, we are very grateful to God, who has answered our prayers
Charam Singh, father of twins

“We already have two girls but we wanted a boy so that he could have taken care of our property. This boy and girl are God’s greatest gift to us,” Omkari said.

Father of the twins, Charam Singh, a farmer in his mid-70s, told ABC News he was very happy.

“The desire for a male child has always been there, but God did not bless us with a male child. Now, we are very grateful to God, who has answered our prayers,” he said.

I saw this headline and my immediate reaction was along the lines of ‘perhaps letting people in their 70’s have babies is a case of technology going to far?’ but upon reading the story I realised that in this case it was not about the desire to have a baby, per se, for after all the couple in this story already have two daughters and five grandchildren. What did this couple want so badly that they not only spent their entire life savings but also took out a bank loan? They wanted a son, a male heir to take care of their property -or what is left of it, seeings that they have got into debt and spent their savings in order to pay for the IVF. Logic is obviously not clouding their judgment in their deep desire to have a male heir, a desire I imagine that they have probably been nursing for over 40 years as they raised their girls. And apparently age is no limitation in this technological dystopia of ours. I say ‘dystopia’ because many women are discovering that technology does not allow everyone who wishes it to have children, fertility treatment is still a very hit-and-miss affair, and stories such as these about obviously post-menopausal women having babies, trivialises the experiences of those who cannot conceive and perpetuates the myth that science is the panacea that will solve our problems and deliver our wishes.

I imagine, as I really know next to nothing about this couple, that as they have gotten older and felt their approaching mortality, their wish for a male heir grew into desperation. Because having a baby, or indeed two, when you are in your 70’s would be no picnic, especially for the mother. Endless rounds of hormone injections and the exhaustion of carrying twins close to term, would not be an easy task, let alone taking care of the babies themselves once they are born. For this couple, the pressure desire to have a male heir must have been immense, if what they were willing to do to achieve this is any reflection. I envision that this desire to have a son was the result of socio-cultural and/or religious beliefs that almost necessitate having a male heir to carry on one’s family line. And this is far from being something unique to India.

The preference for sons over daughters is almost universal across cultures and is currently being acted upon in ways that are producing demographic distortions. (For details, here is the link to the comprehensive ‘Because I am a Girl’ report). The general birthrate is usually 95 girls per 100 boys (as infants, boys have a slightly higher mortality rate, so generally the differences in birthrate disappear by childhood), but in some areas (for example, South Korea, India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan) the birth rate reflects this desire for a male child and as result there are 80 girls for every 100 boys. This is a reflection of several practices, prenatal testing to detect female foetuses – which are then aborted, female infanticide, and a neglect of girls – withholding food and/or medical attention.

In order to explain what I mean by demographic distortions let me share with you the number of women and girls missing, that is the additional females we would expect to be living in a given population if there was no discrimination. (Bear in mind that the population of Australia is roughly 21 million, just to put these numbers into to perspective) India is missing 23 million females, China – 30 million, Pakistan – 3.1 million, Bangladesh – 1.6 million, Egypt – 600 000, Turkey – 600 000, Nepal 200 000, and from the rest of the world we are missing some 40 million women. The shortage of women in areas such as China is leading to problems such as the kidnapping and trafficking of women. (See The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, by Joni Seager, 2003).

Undergoing IVF treatment to ensure that one has a son is, unfortunately, just the most modern permutation of a very old practice. Since the beginning of (written) history MANkind has engaged in practices that reflect the preference for a son. I will leave you with this snippet of a letter written by a husband to his pregnant wife living in ancient Roman controlled Egypt, which reflects the practices of the time.

I beg and beseech you to take care of the little child, and as soon as we receive wages I will send them to you. If -good luck to you!- you bear offspring, if it is a male, let it live; if it is a female, expose it.” (from ‘Marriage, a history’, by Stephanie Coontz, 2005).