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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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.

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).

A quick note on the sexualisation of children issue

For a long time now I have been worried about the sexualisation of children that seems to be happening increasingly in our society. Now when I refer the the ‘sexualisation of children’ I am not talking about their own development of sexuality and sensuality. What I am refering to is the commodification of children’s sexuality. I object to marketing which uses sexualised images of children, I object to inappropriate things of a sexual nature being marketed at children and stuff that reinforces the message implicit in our culture that your value as a person in bound up in how sexy you are perceived to be.

In the week that the Senate report on the sexualisation of children has come out I found this awesome post on the same topic by bluemilk (every now and then you find a post that you wish that you had written, well this is one of those posts for me, well worth reading and pondering). Bluemilk discusses the reasons why parents feel powerless in the rising tide of sexualised stuff being marketed at tots and why parental blame is not the most helpful approach.

The full report of the Senate’s inquiry into The Sexualisation of Children in the Contemporary Media can be found here.

The shorter version, that is the Senate inquiry’s recommendations can be found here.