Compromise

This is the post where I give a review of the movie currently on high rotation in the DVD player and where I discuss some of the tricky aspects of being a feminist mother trying to raise her kids amidst a culture chock a block full of toxic, pernicious pornified *over-marketed crap.  So much of what is marketed at kids, at girls in particular, is not particularly healthy.  (While the vast majority of the stuff that is marketed as being for children is extremely gender bifurcated, I think that girls stuff can tend to be worse because there’s a sexual/sexualised element tendency in girls toys –  such as these dolls).

A very good friend of mine lent me this movie for my five year old girl to watch, she also wanted to know what I thought of it.  She had purchased in a fit of desperation, in a search for something, anything, that her girls would like that wasn’t princesses.  She was fed up with Princesses.  She just wanted something where the role of the protagonist involved something more than securing her prince.  And that how she ended up with Disney’s latest offering, Tinkerbell.  In comparison to what her girls had been watching, she loved it.  “Tinkerbell’s a Tinker!  She has a trade! She does something, she works with her hands! Here! Watch it!  Kindergarten Girl will love it! You’ll love it! It’s great!”

Indeed, Kindergarten Girl does love it.  The way her face glowed when the movie started was beautiful to behold.  Her eyes lit up as the music started, when there’s that castle with the starry backdrop.  Disney does do magic sooo well.  And yes it is a lovely movie.  The characters are sassy, funny, and erudite ( one even uses the word ‘elucidate’ ).  The music is beautiful and the animation gorgeous.  No princes in sight.  The plot revolves about the ‘being happy with who you are’ bit that seems all the rage in kids/teens movies these days (although in this case, like an awful lot of movies, the character learning self acceptance just happens to be the best at some particular thing and ends up the hero of the day – does this message help us mere mortals learn self acceptance I wonder?)

I do like it, but of course I have, shall I say, reservations about the movie.  I am not enamoured of Tinkerbell’s sexy, svelte look.  Big eyes, hips and curvy figure encased in a short dress.  In fact, the scene where she gives herself a make-over and emerges in her green outfit to have one of her male friends be so dazzled by her look that he fails to recognise her, and her other male friend has his glasses pop out in shock, is my least favourite.  Is it really necessary to fixate on her appearance?  The other aspect of the movie that doesn’t grab me, is the plot device that revolves around the jealous, bitchy character.  To my mind, its stereotypical teenage behaviour being modelled to little girls.  I don’t know, maybe I’m just being picky, as there is lots to like about the movie, especially the knowing references to the Peter Pan story.

That’s the thing with these movies, they are being marketed on two levels.  On the one hand they are designed to be appealing to kids.  On the other hand, they are designed to be enjoyed by adults also. If the adults enjoy a movie, they are much more likely to let the kids watch it, over and over, and over and over again.  If I don’t like a movie, I’m much more likely to try and convince suggest to my kids that they might like to watch something else.  So kids movies, and especially Disney’s, are full of adult jokes and sophisticated humour just so us parents will be willing accomplices in our kids obsessions.  And a whole world of merchandising purchase potential is opened up.

So compromise.  That’s what I do.  I let my kids watch stuff I have misgivings about for two reasons.  One, they are their own persons, their own little selves and I can’t control their personalities and tastes (of course I do try to rein in the unacceptable impulses that young kids are want to have, but overall I’m an influence not a dictator  – and I’ll not exposure them to stuff that I think is entirely inappropriate).  Two, I feel that I’m trying to strike that balance, the middle ground, where they are aware of the pop culture stuff around them  but not too embroiled in all of it.  I am attempting to rise environmentally aware kids, with a feminist conscience.  So, for me, that means trying not be sucked into consumeristic materialism but at the same time letting them explore their interests and follow where their imagination leads them.

* It is not the princess stuff, per se, that I object to, its the RELENTLESS marketing of ubiquitious products peddling a dubious version of compulsory femininity.  From here “Playing princess is not the issue,” argues Lyn Mikel Brown, an author, with Sharon Lamb, of “Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers’ Schemes.” “The issue is 25,000 Princess products,” says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.”

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Happy International Women’s Day

It would be a happy day indeed if we no longer needed an International Women’s Day, but alas, much misogyny/violence/discrimination abounds.   This year the theme of IWD is Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.  Here’s some tip of the iceberg stuff topical for IWD, I’ll start locally and go international.

From the ABC:

Unions are highlighting pay differences between the sexes ahead of International Women’s Day.  The ACTU says Australian women on average earn 16 per cent less than men, but that it varies between states.  ACTU president Sharon Burrow says Victorian women earn 14 per cent less than men, while in Western Australia women earn 28 per cent less because of the mining boom.  Ms Burrow says the gap will widen as the economic slowdown continues.  “We’re seeing women, young people simply being told their hours are being cut or in fact they’re not required anymore,” she said.  “That will simply add to the income disparity for women – we’re very concerned that the pay gap will simply widen as a result of the global financial crisis.”

The Catholic Church continues a grand tradition of misogynistic legality.

Brazil’s influential Catholic Church raged against an abortion carried out on a nine-year-old girl who had been pregnant with twins after allegedly being raped by her stepfather.  An archbishop for the northern region where the termination was conducted, Father Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, said the church was excommunicating all those responsible for the abortion: the medical team and the girl’s mother.  The operation – carried out because of doctors’ fears the slender girl might die if she carried the foetuses to term – was a crime in the eyes of the church, he said.  “God’s law is above any human law. So when a human law… is contrary to God’s law, this human law has no value,” [said] archbishop Cardoso.  “The adults who approved, who carried out this abortion, will be excommunicated,” said the archbishop for the Recife region.

And, of course, the Vatican backs the Bishop.  Now might be the time to announce that there goes the lasting lingering threat of my Catholicism.  Where is the compassion for the poor girl who could have died if she carried the twins to term?  Where is the excommunication/denunciation of the creep who raped and abused her?  God didn’t cause this pregnancy her stepfather did and the pontificating judgment should be directed at him and not at those trying to save the girl’s life.

Iraqi women lack basic services and widows, in particular, have no support

In Indian women are campaigning against the violence and patriarchal control aimed at them.

Poster from Pink Chaddis campaign seeking to end mob violence against women

Poster from 'Pink Chaddis' campaign seeking to end mob violence against women

From the horrific to the ridiculous –  from here, I discover that there is a 75 000 strong petition on facebook to get pole dancing included as an Olympic sport for the 2012 games.  FFS.

In other news, and this is trivial in comparison to what the women in countries such as Indian and Iraq are facing, but Barbie turns fifty tomorrow, and still looks as young and perky as ever.  Thus we see (and remember we are barely scratching the surface here) a continuum of issues faced by women, running the gamut from economic disadvantage, to intense struggle for survival and to live unmolested, right through to ideological struggles against a culture that emphasises women’s passive and ornamental sexuality at the expense of all else.  *sigh*

Bratz versus ‘My Scene’

My Scene Growing Up Glam Kennedy

by:

Mattel

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.