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LEGO for… Girls?

For as long as I can remember, LEGO has marketed its toys as a gender-neutral play-thing that inspires creativity for all children. Imagine my surprise when I saw the “new” LEGO line… introducing LEGO Friends…

                    LEGO, the third largest toy manufacturer in the world, launched these new pastel-colored “easy-to-build” beauty shop, cafe, and veterinary clinic sets targeted at girls age 5 and up. After several years of “research” into what girls want, they decided this was the best way to go. The LEGO Group Chief Executive Officer told Bloomberg Businessweek, “We want to reach the other 50 percent of the world’s children.” I know LEGO has been under fire in the past for gender-related controversy, but since when has LEGO only been for 50 percent of the worlds children? By encouraging building and creativity, LEGO has always been seen to have educational benefits for children, irregardless of gender. But I am very suspicions when the companies decides to create an easily assembled set for girls and a highly intricate and complex set of Star Wars-themed spaceships for boys. As many have already said, it’s time for LEGO to stop giving into stereotypes and selling out girls – they deserve the same change to develop skills as the boys do.

                    We all know gendered marketing exists, particularly when it comes to children’s toys; Barbies are for girls and Hotwheels are for boys. This form of outdated stereotyping has been annoying sociologists, feminists, and other progressive thinkers for decades – but this new marketing scandal with LEGO has sparked a minor debate with a parent I have on my Facebook. After posting the article regarding the new LEGO Friends line from Ms. Magazine on my Facebook, feedback sparred a mini-debate. Congruent with the controversial debate taking place in the public sphere, is this new marketing strategy cute and effective, or is LEGO simply following the numorous other toy manufacturing companies who are giving their toys a “sexy-makeover”?? One response I received was that people are overreacting and that, if seen in the store, one parent felt she would purchase this for her daughter. Essentially, this was my thought on the matter…

Maybe some girls do want to make dollhouses or bake shops, but maybe some boys do too; so why is it important for the LEGO company to present only little girls in their commercials and advertisements? The reason is because of the inherent notion that ONLY girls will want to play with these new LEGO (I should also note the new LEGO people now have boobs and are “taller and slimmer” … Just what girls need, another reinforcement that they must be tall, slim, and big breasted to be “pretty”). The issues is that LEGO is a company that, for years, has prided itself on being gender-neutral AND it’s “ability to inspire creativity, not enable conformity.” LEGO, in recent years, has spent tons of it’s marketing energy at targeting boys (proof: it has always been sold in the boy/blue section of toy stores) and is now trying to compensate by targeting girls and giving them “what they want.” As with anything that is targeted at one gender, they do so by backing it up with “science” and perpetuating this notion that this is “what society wants.”  LEGO is avoiding responsibility for excluding a gender from a toy, perpetuating gender stereotypes, and reinforcing vanity and the “importance of beauty” to young girls… If your daughter chooses this and you buy it for her, that’s great. But choosing to purchase such a limiting-stereotype-filled toy for her prior to her having the ability to choose is narrowing her perspective of what it means to be a girl right from the start.

                   My issue with LEGO, and other toy manufacturing companies that ave similar gender-segregated toys, it that they are overtly pushing an outdated, harmful, limiting ideology to parents and their children. Baby dolls with stollers and kitchen sets that are marketed at girls tell them that they should have kids or cook in the kitchen. While there is nothing wrong with these two options, it ignores and excludes all other options. There is no problem with having these toys around; the problem arise when that is ALL the child has and therefore, by default, learns that this is all there is. If all she or he is surrounded by or given is stereotypical toys that perpetuated standard gender norms, you are denying your child the ability to learn about and choose other options.

                   Toys need to start being marketed to BOTH genders. For example, in commercials for dolls, have both little girls and boys playing with the toys. Some stores have started to catch on to the gender-neutrality model of marketing. For example, there are toy stores that have stopped dividing the toy sections into boy/girl or blue/pink, and have divided the store by age or type of toy (outdoor, adventure, science, domestic, ect.). For parents, they need to surround their children with toys/clothes/books that are not of just one marketed-gender. Particularly when a child is under the age 5, the toys they play with, clothes they wear, and books they read are all chosen by their parents; Parents have a huge influence on what the child learns during this stage and can have a positive influence by encouraging the child to play with all kids of toys, instead of just stereotypical ones.

                      When it comes to the socialization of children, toys and marketing companies play a huge role in how children learn about gender roles, gender expectations, and gender performance. Conformity to such stereotypes can be combated by parents and gender-neutral teaching. Strict gender reenforcement has serious detrimental consequences for children who choose not to conform or those who do not fit the stereotypical definition of “boy” or “girl.” The impact of toys and marketing on children is crucial and needs to be considered. There is nothing wrong with boys who like dragons and cars, and girls like barbies and cooking. My only point is that expectations can be lessened or expanded by exposing children to different aspects and allowing, or rather encouraging, them to experience things outside the normal gender boundaries and binaries. It’s healthy and important. At this age and as they get older, and marketing companies should not be relied on to tell societies parents what their children should play with.

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Babes… or Babies?

Babes… or Babies?

There is no doubt about it – Thylane Loubry Blondeau is a beautiful girl. But are the hypersexualized pictures of this 10-year-old really necessary for selling a product? Starting at the young age of 4, Blondeau has worked for world renown Fashion photographers, posed for ad campaigns for the children’s lines of major brands, and has more recently been part of the modeling team for high-end Fashion magazine,Vogue. However, it’s not Blondeau’s crazy resume that is the cause of her name being spread across headlines worldwide, but rather her role in the recent editorial forVogue Paris. What seems to have disturbed critics the most about this editorial shoot is the sexualized nature of the photo; the sexualized pose and blank expression implying sexual readiness is a very common pose in the fashion industry – but not for a child. While I don’t necessarily think this particular shoot is overly revealing or dehumanizing to the model, I do think it is adding to the problem of sexualized children in the media.
Blondeau is not the first child to be sexualized in a magazine photo shoot. In 2008, Fashion photographer Annie Leibovitz photographed a nearly-naked 15-year-oldMiley Cyrus for Vanity Fair and Marc Jacobs got slammed earlier this year for his provocative photo shoot of 13- and 17-year-old Fanning sisters.
 
Society is so desensitized to sexualized imagery that it’s almost nothing to see a teenager or young adult posing in a sexual manor, but one would like to think children would be exempt from the hypersexualized media.  For an even more disturbing example how society is condoning, even promoting, the sexualization of children, one need look no further than cable TV. In 2009, the network TLC introducedToddlers and Tiaras to the world; meant to be an inside look at the world of child beauty pageants, the show quickly became a disgusting reality check of what our media is doing to children. The Vancouver Sun had this to say about the show:
“Toddlers and preschoolers strut like strippers and smile like pros. They are made-up, hair-sprayed, spray-tanned, shaved and waxed. It’s a pedophile’s paradise.”

 The important thing to note is that there are devastating consequences to bombarding children with such sexualized imagery. According to the APA, Study after study report that these images change the way young girls view femininity and sexuality, leading them to tolerate and endorse sexual stereotypes about the objectification of women.  Some would like to believe children and parents aren’t buying into the hype, but look at the emerging lines of children’s lingerie (most famously Noah Cyrus’ new line), toddlers’ highheels, and padded children’s bikinis.
Companies want to make sure their products sell and editors want to make sure their magazines are purchased, so they are continuously pushing the envelope to gain a profit. The popular belief that sex sells, however, comes at a dangerously high price. Disordered eating, distorted self-image, and early exposure to sexual activity are serious consequences of inundating society with sexualized images of children. Like it or not, it’s out there, and while there may be no quick fix or easy ban to make it all go away, we are able to teach our young children to think critically about what they see, our parents to think carefully about the way they allow their children to be presented in public, and ourselves to think twice about supporting a magazine or other media product that endorses the sexualization of children.

Defying ‘Rape Culture’

Defying ‘Rape Culture’

Violence Against Women is not a new topic, nor is rape a new phenomenon. According toSexualAssault.ca, one in four North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime, fifty percent of sexual assaults occur on dates, and sixty percent of sexual abuse/assault victims are under the age of seventeen. These statistics are nauseating, but not overly shocking. What is surprising is that only one to two percent of “date rape” cases and, on average, only six of every hundred incidents of sexual assault are reported to the authorities. There are literally hundreds of campaigns and organizations dedicated to raising awareness and stopping rape or sexual assault in our society, such as the Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) organization, so why all the secrecy? The perpetuation of stereotypical ideals of masculinity and the rape culture in which we live are huge contributors to the problem of sexual assault.
 From the time they are in diapers, children are being bombarded with gendered notions of how to behave, what to wear, how to talk/act/be according to their sex. From the color of their room to the toys they are given, children are taught they need to fit a specific mold based on femininity and masculinity.  For young boys, they need to be strong, unemotional, independent, and sexually aggressive. Hegemonic American masculinity, or as some call it hypermasculinity, contributes to an understanding of male sexuality that idealizes sexualized violence against women. Rape is a product of a society that glorifies and sexualizes male power and dominance, while doing the same for female submission and subservience.
Rape culture is a term “describing a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone,normalize, excuse, or tolerate sexual violence against women.” Blogger Jaclyn Freidman writes about rape culture;
When people in power refuse to take women’s rape charges seriously, it means there are no consequences for rapists, which makes them more free to rape… When authorities use their power to deliberately silence rape victims instead of helping them find justice, it not only leaves rapists free but intimidates other victims from coming forward… When our media won’t talk about rape, people think it doesn’t happen, and the rapists face no consequences. That emboldens rapists… When women are too afraid of being re-victimized by the courts and the media to come forward, and when the public gets the message that women who accuse men of rape are lying or did something to deserve it, the cycle continues… That’s rape culture.
It is groups like MCSR who are fighting to change the way our society endorses sexual assault, by redefining masculinity, strength, and confidence. One participant says, “I am a strong man because I am trying to change myself and society and the way we perceive masculinity.” With a mission to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, the group is one of the “most innovative prevention programs” in the US. Groups and campaigns such as these are a much-needed response to the hypersexualization and objectification of women, combined with the fetishization of violence, in the media.  If we want to see the rates of sexual assault drop, we first need to change our notion of normativity and stop supporting or partaking in a rape culture.
***Addition***
I just recently thought of something else to add to this post… Slam Poet Andrea Gibsondoes an indescribable performance of a poem called “Blue Blanket” that I feel exemplifies rape culture in our society. She is brilliant, powerful, thought-provoking in her work, and this video resonates well with what I’ve discussed in the article. Her lyrics are also available to read.

Spread the love!

Spread the love!

“Finding that special symptom can be hard. PlentyofSyph.com makes it easy,” boasts the recently created fictitious dating website designed to raise awareness about symptoms of syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections. As STD/STI rates have been continuously rising in Alberta since 2002, Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Alberta Health and Wellness (AHW) have teamed up with ad agency Calder Batemen to bring this $2 million ad campaign to the web and media outlets nationwide. Causing a lot of controversy since the project launched in June 2011,PlentyofSyph.com has been called a “brilliant parody,” but has also been criticized for stigmatizing people with STIs and being “unlikely to promote behavior change”. When creating an awareness campaign for a taboo topic such as sexually transmitted infections, marketing strategies, potential outcomes, and unintended consequences must be considered and evaluated. While the creators have received some disapproval from various places, sex-ed experts and government officials are praising the innovative campaign.
 
The website is a play off hugely popular dating websites like PlentyofFish.com, with mock dating profiles that overtly state the stage of infection for each member. “It is totally the intent that this would be a satire,” said the project’s spokeswoman Micky Elabdi. “It’s outrageous. It’s quite risqué and fairly explicit in some of the profiles.” With a target audience of youth aged 16-24, the campaigned takes a different approach with social media in attempts to reach the tech-savvy generation. Some people are calling this tongue-and-cheek website degrading, but the exaggeration, mocking, and stereotyping nature of this parody site is doing exactly what it’s intended to – attract attention to its message. When I first saw the website, my initial reaction was “is this a joke?” But after some looking around and reading the information on the website, I realized the creators are actually quite clever. Before entering the site, it asks you to provide the “what you’re looking for” information similar to most dating sites. (Side note: It allows you to select “Looking for a Man or Woman”, being one of the very few “dating” websites to allow for bisexuality.) From there, the profiles all ultimately lead the viewer to the Help/Info page – where helpful information about symptoms, treatment and prevention tips are provided.
The campaign has led to some positive results, as Dr. Andre Corriveau, the chief medical officer for AHW, notes that there have been more people show up for testing in both Calgary and Edmonton. The biggest complaint about the website thus far has come from Plenty of Fish (POF) patrons – “While we believe educating the public about sexually transmitted diseases is imperative, such blatant disrespect for a private company’s brand is shocking,” Kate Bilenki, chief operating officer of POF, said in an email.  Sure, some could see this is a cheeky attack on dating websites, but it’s more a genius marketing strategy to parody something so relevant and trendy in pop culture. And PlentyofSyph is not alone – Herpesfish.com and Positivefish.com are two more similar faux-websites created by PositiveSingles.com to raise awareness about STDs/STIs and act as a information network for people living with STDs/STIs.
I think the unique campaign is creative, informative, and effective. The Edmonton Journalcalled it “Edgy. Bold. Sexually Explicit. Wickedly Ironic.” Failure to warn or educate the public about the existence, transmission, and prevention of such diseases puts the public at risk. With the public constantly being bombarded with various similar campaigns, one needs to stand out and be original to have their message heard – I feel like PlentyofSyph did exactly that. And to all those who complained from POF about negative scare tactics
With all due respect, the folks at Plenty of Fish need to look up the word “satire” in the dictionary. When you run a online introduction service for “sexy singles” who post their profiles under names like “Love_ Dr_2012” and “xxcanadianguyxx”, your “quality brand” opens itself to a little healthy parody -especially in the name of public health.

Accomplishments have no color.

“Accomplishments have no color.”

Racism is the belief that there are inherent differences in people’s traits and capacities that are entirely due to their race, however defined, and that, as a consequence, racial discrimination is justified.” In 2008, hip-hop video blogger Jay Smooth, formally John Randolph, posted a vlog discussing a strategic way of calling someone out for sounding or acting racist. Known as a minor star for bringing thoughtfulness to blogging and hip-hop, Smooth posts videos on his website, Ill Doctrine, about his nuanced take on the music industry and politics.  He makes a point of being not just good-humored and defiant, but also explicitly feminist and anti-discriminatory in his videos – qualities evident in his video “How to Tell People They Sound Racist.” In today’s mainstream society, there are two funny misconceptions about race – the notion that race is a natural, biological phenomenon and that racism as a form of discrimination is an obsolete problem; his video reminds us that this is certainly not the case.
No society is composed of genetically “pure” people. In spite of this, members of society have a tendency to rank themselves into hierarchies based on race, with one race assumed to be superior to the others. Traditionally in Eurocentric societies, white has been ranked higher than black or other categories in a pseudo-evolutionary scale, leading to the justification of slavery, colonization, economic and social exploitation, and genocidal policies. It is now understood that humans do have great phylogenetic variability, but we are in fact only one race – human. If we know that race is not a biological phenomenon, we must understand that race is a social construct. A social construct “is ontologically subjective in that the construction and continued existence of social construct are contingent on social groups and their collective agreement, imposition, and acceptance.” In other words, we must understand that…
There is nothing absolute or real about social constructions in the same way as there is something absolute and real about rocks, rivers, mountains, and in general the objects examined by physics. For example, the existence of a mountain is not contingent on collective acceptance, imposition, or agreement. A mountain will exist regardless of people thinking, agreeing or accepting that it does exist. Unlike a mountain, the existence of race requires that people collectively agree and accept that it does exist.
Sociologist Ruth Frankenberg argues that our daily lives are affected by race, whether we are aware of it or not. Right down to mundane everyday activities, we are advantaged or disadvantaged based on our skin-color, the only visible ‘indicator of difference’ and the sole aspect that defines our concept of ‘race’. Despite popular belief that racism as a form of discrimination is no longer an issue in modern society, one need look no further than public policy, wealth distribution in the US, immigration laws, and our own everyday experiences to see that racism is still a problem. Peggy McIntosh writes of an interesting angle to racism, known as White Privilege. She points out that, as a white North American citizen, we are taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but taught not to recognize aspects that put us at an advantage. She says, “White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.” To make her point more clear, she begins to list the ways in which she enjoyed ‘unearned skin privilege’ including;
  • I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  • When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color
made it what it is.
  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  • I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
To ignore the fact that racism exists is to ignore these aspects that I take for granted each and every day and, much like McIntosh, I was not even aware of such advantages. Nevertheless, by understanding race as a social construct and becoming aware of the advantages and disadvantages caused by racism, we can begin to dismantle it. One way to overcome racism on an institutional level is to address public policies and private attitudes that perpetuate it – awareness is key, which is the goal of the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. On an individual level, just as Jay Smooth says, it is almost inevitable that you are going to have to call someone out for sounding/acting racist, and to do that you have to be aware of avoiding the “rhetorical Bermuda triangle ‘what-they-are’ conversation.” We have to make sure that we are holding each person accountable for the impact of his or her words and actions. As for members of the “dominant race,” we must always be aware of our subject position and what we do with the knowledge is an “open question [of] whether we will choose to use unearned advantage to weaken hidden systems of advantage, and whether we will use any of our arbitrarily-awarded power to try to reconstruct power systems on a broader base.”

Dilemmas of Desire

Dilemmas of Desire

           “This book is not about the usual dangers that we associate with adolescent girls’ sexuality: unintended pregnancy and the risk of HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted infections. It is not about the “problem” of female adolescent sexual activity and its consequences. It is not even about girls’ sexual decision making.” Deborah L. Tolman does not write about the dangers of female sexuality that is most commonly associated with this topic; instead, she writes of the dangers of dismissing, nullifying, and condemning adolescent female sexuality.  Beginning her project with the aim of uncovering how adolescent girls talk about their sexual desires, Tolman interviewed 31 girls, aged 15 – 18 with varying backgrounds and social positions, and came to discover that these girls almost always found barriers that hindered their experiences of sexual desire and agency. Tolman, through the use of in-depth interviews and her analysis of what the girls said (or didn’t say), discusses the way our society presents and frames female sexuality though double standards, attempting to “force a wedge between their psyches and their bodies,” and giving women a choice between “their sexual feelings and their safety.”
            While we know that teenage girls are interested in and are engaging in sexual activity, it is surprisingly difficult to find girls who are willing to talk about it. Many of the girls in this project identified familiar reasons for not talking about sexual desire – fear of being labeled a slut or ‘easy’, fear of parents or peers finding out about their sexual history, taught that it just wasn’t a topic for conversation, or simply being unaware of the existence of their own sexual desire. Beginning with an interview with 17-year-old Inez, Tolman discusses the all too common concept of “it just happened.” Several of the girls describe sexual experiences in which they just ‘checked out’ or disassociated from the situation for various reasons, some unintentional. Others described an absence of agency in when, where, or with whom the sexual activities took place. Some girls even had difficulty identifying their own pleasures or desires, unless directly asked about their own personal feelings of desire. Most were keenly aware of the “fragility of their status as ‘good girls’ and the danger of that status changing to ‘bad girls.’” The fear of being labeled, fear of being taken advantage of or abused, or fear of getting pregnant or ‘ruining their lives’ are all factors attributing to the dilemmas of desire and this fear is highly perpetuated by societies idea of female sexuality.
            Be sexy but not sexual. Appear available but don’t give in. Be desirable but don’t express desire. Society constantly bombards girls with contradicting sexual scripts and play’s into the “Madonna/Whore” dichotomy all too recognizable for young women. Meaning…
 
“women’s sexuality is defined by men and according to male standards. As a result, women and their sexuality are separated into two possible categories, the good girls or the bad girls. Good girls “submit themselves to a male-defined double standard that says women should not consummate a sexual relationship too often, too quickly, with too many men, or under the wrong circumstances,” while bad girls do the complete opposite, “only to find they have been played as pawns in a sexual game conceived and controlled by men.” In other words, women who are “good” and do not have sex are submitting to the double standard and are placed in the “Madonna” category on the Madonna-Whore spectrum. Women who are “bad” are used by men and thus placed in the “Whore” category.
 
Double standards for men and women are one of the most frustrating concepts in our society, and they affect various aspects of our everyday lives.  Feminist writer Jessica Valenti, author of He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and 49 other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know,writes of how double standards affect more than just our sexual lives with 50 of the most pressing double standards that women confront, including He’s a Bachelor, She’s a Spinster; He’s Chill, She’s on the Pill; He’s a Romeo, She’s a Stalker; He’s Angry, She’s PMSing; He’s a Boss, She’s a Bitch. He’s Neat, She’s Neurotic; He’s Independent, She’s Pathetic; and of course the very familiar – He’s got G.I. Joe, She’s got Barbie. Double standards and the typical gendered scripts that supposedly define young female sexuality are damaging to their psyches and ultimately hinder their experiences as young women.
              While not heavily based in strong empirical data, Tolman pieces together a compelling story that aims to make us more aware of the lived experience of teenage girls. I would have liked to see more detail from the interviews and perhaps more direct quotes from the girls, but her analysis and interpretation of the girls’ stories makes for an interesting read. Her discussion of the absence of the girls’ erotic voice and theory of ‘silent bodies’ is interesting, and she makes a valid argument that young women have little safe space to express or develop their sexuality. Overall, I thought the first half of the book was well written and Tolman does a good job of highlighting common themes from the interviews while maintaining the individuality of the girls. I can only hope that her concluding analysis draws on some insightful findings and provides suggestions for further research into the narrative of female sexuality.