Tag Archives: popular culture

My childhood landscape involved shooting at dragons

Nerf is coming out with a line for girls. The Rebelle – and the first item in their line? The Heartbreaker Bow. It’s… well… Pink.

And it’s for girls.

And for those reasons, I want to hate it.

But the converse of that is this: The function of the bow is absolutely not any weaker than the other products made for Nerf, in fact it’ll pack the same strength behind it as the Nerf Elite darts. The company is making a bow and arrow set targeted at the female child market, and  I never thought I’d see that happen in my lifetime.

But I also think children are smarter than that. And in an age where we have children who are recognizing that there is more than just gender binary – where we do have children who realize their gender may be in flux, we need to stop marketing to children with “Boy” this and “girl” that. We need to just start making toys for children. 

So that the 6 year old girl who wants to hunt dragons (or rescue them, as the case was with me) can shoot a bow and arrow and wield a sword.

So that her brother can play with dolls or a tea set if he wants to.

So that the trans child who doesn’t have an easily identified gender market can play without fearing gender identification by picking up a doll or a Tonka Truck.

Children are smarter than we give them credit for, and really – what’s the difference between the Heartbreaker Bow and the Z Curve Bow except color?

I know that Nerf did market research, that they didn’t just slap pink packaging on one of their other models and call it For Girls, and for that I do commend them to an extent. But why do we need to slap pink on it at all? Why can’t girls play with bows and arrows? Why weren’t girls already part of that market?

In a world where a young woman can choose to enter the military, serve her country – and now go to the front line – we should be changing our perceptions, and maybe it’s a small thing, but the changes start with the toys we play with as children.

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The DSM is a Medical Text, Not a Plot Generator

I am tired of feeling like every time I see a mental illness article, I need to shield myself from the comments.

I am sick with fear every time I hear “mental health registry”.

I am undone by the lies media tells in their plotlines, using PTSD, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and therapy as plot points, punch lines and things people get over.

We can medicate, we can use therapists and we can find pieces of truth which comfort us in the darkness of our own existences – but this is something we all live with. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not a repetitive joke, it is not the thing which makes a private detective funny. PTSD is not the thing which makes Charlotte King angry and mean, anxiety is not merely fixed with a pill, and therapy should not be the joke of a 30 minute sitcom.

When do we stop using mental illness as a punching bag and start considering ways to help people who live with it?

It seems as though those with mental illnesses are cast into four categories in media: Out of Their Heads Crazy Violent, Nonsensical Crazy,  Functional But Silly Crazy, and Angry Crazy. These all have varying levels. For example, a savant might be in either the functional or in the nonsensical category, whereas often people with PTSD are only cast as angry crazy. schizophrenics are cast as out of their heads and violent. Always, or at least that’s how it feels.

These depictions are wrong.

Mental illnesses are diagnostic tools. They are not all the same.

My experience with PTSD is very different from someone elses’ and my triggers will be different. The way that I express my feelings about the diagnosis which I hold – very different from someone else.

The solutions are different too. For someone who is violent, perhaps medication and time in a hospital setting may help. For that matter, people who have mental health issues which impact their whole lives may need to be hospitalized just so they can get a grip on their own lives – hospitals are not places for just the violent. They are places where people can learn skills they need out in a world which is often harsh on those whose realities are different from the general populations. For someone with PTSD it may be a place to regain control of an episode, and to remember where they are in time.

We don’t need television shows to continue getting it wrong, to keep telling the stories of the mentally ill for us – and telling them badly. We don’t need to have the general public hear stories time after time that PTSD only affects people in the military. We don’t need to have the myths of OCD as funny fill the gaps in where knowledge should be. We should be learning about one another by asking questions, by listening, and by thinking harder than the TV set will encourage us to.

The fact is, mental illness isn’t just about being quirky or different. It is what makes us people. For some of those people, it makes them artists. It makes them see the world in different ways.

I have an ability to understand sorrow, and past pain in a way that some don’t. I have friends whose schizophrenia makes them better writers. Photographers whose stories tell tales of depression – and we wouldn’t know what that looked like were it not for them. Beethoven would not have been the artist he was without his madness and his deafness. Emily Dickinson would not have been the poet we love were it not for her profound agoraphobia. Sometimes these differences are what make us beautiful, and we can’t forget that even though we fear each other.

Perspective is everything – and we cannot forget the beauty inherent in a world of difference.

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Filed under Disability Issues, Language

Dolls for Disabled Children

I grew up with American Girl dolls. I had a Kirsten (because my heritage is Swedish American) and a Molly – because she had glasses! I loved that I had a doll who had to wear glasses like I did.  It definitely helped me to understand that glasses were a normal part of my image and nothing to be embarrassed by.

I only wish they’d had the hearing aids for their dolls when I was a child. When I was 10 or 11 I got my first hearing aid. It was a behind the ear, purple, and you could see through it to see all the gears and pieces that made it work. When I first got it, I thought it was really cool. But then my classmates figured something out – they could tease me using the hearing aid. Whistling into it, yelling into it. One kid chewed gum right next to me as loudly as possible.

So I stopped wearing my hearing aid.

Like the glasses, I feel like having a doll who can wear a hearing aid, or who uses a wheelchair, or crutches – it normalizes the disability for children. American Girl is doing something which could theoretically help make growing up disabled a lot easier. Being able to show your friends or classmates “My doll has a hearing aid like I do” might help. Or maybe it won’t. But at least on the inside, you can play with a doll that has your disability, and you can take out your dolls hearing aid just like you do yours, and it would help YOU the child normalize being a person who needs adaptive devices.  It isn’t just adaptive devices which the company is offering, however. They are also now offering dolls without hair – so that sick children can have dolls that look like them too. Again, acceptance is power.

To me, this isn’t just dolls having accessories – it’s a company choosing to help children understand themselves better, and to bring acceptance of themselves into their lives. There’s not a lot of movement when it comes to helping children with disabilities be accepted as “normal” in mainstream society. The wheelchair using Barbie named Becky was still used to reinforce the inspirational rhetoric surrounding people with disabilities, whereas the American Girl doll isn’t trying to say how amazing people with disabilities are, it’s trying to say that they just ARE.

The intention behind these dolls is almost as important as the dolls themselves, because their packaging, advertising, and description does impact children and how their families interact with the toys themselves. The presentation of a wheelchair Barbie may be significantly different from that of an American Girl.

I for one am pleased to see a mainstream dollmaker beginning to accept difference in ability, as they have always accepted difference in skin color, and in eyesight. I look forward to their continued push forward for diversity and acceptance.

 

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Having Fun Isn’t Always Fun and Games

I’m always up for sharing the work of those I know on the internet watercooler, and today I’m talking about the piece Lillian Cohen Moore wrote about Cards Against Humanity – a game which I love dearly, but always struggle with in some instances.

Cards Against Humanity is billed as Apples to Apples for Horrible People.

Sure, we’re all pretty terrible in my group of friends, but as Lillian explains – that can be a really big problem. Please read the article here: Save Vs. Sexism: Cards Against Humanity

So, I left a comment, but I’ll expand on it here:

Humor to cope with sadness is a major coping mechanism for me. In fact, I’m the person who makes her therapist laugh pretty frequently. But I think a lot of that. much like what’s hurtful, is in the eye of the beholder. The reason I find people being “PC” problematic sometimes is that we’re all going to have different issues, and we’re all going to get hurt in different ways. it can be hard to avoid every single hurtful thing ever – so we have to try. We have to strive to be better to one another – which is why the house rule I mentioned in my comment was instituted. I didn’t see the  South Park movie because I chose not to see a movie in which HIV/AIDS was a punchline. I sometimes struggle with listening to the ‘Book of Mormon” soundtrack because there are AIDS jokes that hit me where it hurts more often than not.

Giving me the AIDS cards is giving me the ability to choose whether or not to laugh at my pain. It would be significantly more difficult to change the deck to get rid of all the rape cards and give them to one person, or all the DV cards to one individual. And perhaps there’s a certain sense to avoiding this game if you really can’t handle certain jokes – I don’t suggest it to anyone who would be offended by violent imagery of Glenn Beck, for example. But I think this game can be a useful tool for those of us who do find hurt in some of the cards, and in this I think it’s useful. We can laugh at our pain, we can take the power away from our pain – and we can mock it into the ground.

So, play Cards Against Humanity thoughtfully – and don’t eat all the cookies at the AIDS bake sale.

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Filed under Feminism, Language, Sound Reflections

Halloween Costume Debacles

Last Friday I was at New York Comic Con.I saw a lot of people with eyepatches. But I’m not going to go into that here, because you can simply read my thoughts on eyepatches elsewhere. Suffice it to say, it’s a little frustrating to see able bodied people walking Very Slowly because they cannot see out of one eye. If you have to give yourself an actual disability in order to wear your costume, some rethinking might be in order.

There’s a photo series that’s been floating around for a while, and the title is “This   is  my culture, not a halloween costume”. Cultural appropriation, making fun of cultures, confusing one culture with another, all of these are things that conflate together to make the choice of halloween or cosplay costumes super complicated.  While I was at comic con, a couple of people assumed that my right eye was a special effects contact.

Please don’t think that my disability is part of my costume. I know. It was comic con. I know, it’s halloween MONTH. Guess what? I look like this every day. I’ve had people enroll me in half hour conversations about how they don’t believe that my eye is real – on Halloween. I’ve had people ask where I bought my special effects contact – and just for the record, I looked. There is no special effects contact I can find on the internet that would make your eye look like mine. The “Blind” contact is supposed to give you that “infamously creepy, hazy blind look.” (Oh, and I found a pair that actually make you blind. What FUN!)

There are two issues for me – there’s the issue of able bodied people playing disability dress up for fun, and there’s the issue of me not being able to put on a costume without people assuming that my eyeball is a part of my costume. Yes. I carry a fancy cane, but I do so because I want to be able to dress up and cosplay, and an actual white cane tends to take away from the whole effect of steampunk, or other costume choices for myself.

Furthermore, it’s incredibly frustrating to know that if I were walking down the street on a regular Tuesday in April none of these people would come up and ask me where I bought my eyeball. Nobody would ask me whether it was real or not. It’s a symptom of the season, but since I love dressing up, I’d like to be able to do it with everyone else, and still be able to use my cane so that when I go wandering through thousands of people at a comic convention, I can do so in safety. Nerd culture seems to value my eye as something pretty, or awesome – but it would be nice if it could be ported out of the context of a super awesome costume into just being pretty because it is.

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Why I’d be Proud to Have a Book Banned

In graduate school I studied the history of obscenity in the United States, and specifically sought to understand art as a subject for legal critique. My question has always been why art is so threatening to society. Every year, the American Library Association presents one week (the first week of October) as Banned Books Week. One week to educate the public on the history and issues surrounding banned books. So I’m doing my part here at feminist sonar.

Book burning and book banning are both manifestations of the desire to control information. Historically speaking, those who seek to control the kind of information which is deemed inappropriate are socially conservative and religiously conservative groups, trying to keep a hold on the rampant devastation of “good” society.

Stepping into my handy wayback machine, let’s take a look at some of the first people who banned books in the United states: Anthony Comstock and the New York Society For the Suppression Of Vice.


You’ll notice that even in their group seal, they have a man burning books. Comstock was the reason for the federal Comstock Law, which is how many books on the classically banned books list at the ALA landed on the list. The Comstock Law federally criminalized sending obscene materials through the mail providing groups a solid foothold for the legal battle against smut and literature.

These days, books are banned for a myriad of reasons. But I find most of them rather baffling. Scanning the list of banned books over the last 5 years, I can see that not only have I read most of them, but frequently the banning just doesn’t make sense. However, the point is not the baffling nature of the reasons for banning a book, but the very idea that a book should be banned in the first place. For example, I understand why the Catholic Church had issues with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. I don’t agree with their issues, and had I been in a city where the book had been banned, you can be sure I would have been upset. The books aren’t just about religion, but are an excellent story about growing up.

It is the books banned for having homosexuality which I find the most troubling.

The reason I find it troubling is that I feel that most of these books are banned out of fear. Out of fear that children will learn that being gay, or a person of color, of being from a different religious background, or for that matter that having sex is okay. People ban books and burn books as a signal for fear of knowledge. Fearing that someone might live a life differently.  That their lifestyle is a threat. Stories can teach us many things, but one of the most important things that literature can teach us, is tolerance. We can get inside someones head, and learn their life, we can explore their trials and their successes. And we can do it all without having to intrude.

And when it comes to books like The Hunger Games we fear the idea that what happens inside a book is going to happen outside of the book. But I don’t think reading a book is going to make me *want* to go hunt my peers in a dangerous arena. Quite the opposite. But what the Hunger Games might teach a young woman is how to fight for her freedoms. Branded as anti-family, I felt that the book taught us that our family is what we make of it. Protecting our little sisters from going to a terrible place, creating relationships with others in communities – these are not anti-family actions, but rather ones of communal spirit.

And as for the “unsuited to age group” notice that lands on almost every challenged book – we don’t pick the ages when we’re ready to read the books we want to. It isn’t up to groups to decide what someone is ready to learn. I read Sherlock Holmes when I was 6 and it didn’t turn me into a pipe smoking, cocaine using sociopath. It turned me into a person who likes to observe the world, and who would be proud to have a book banned – because it would mean I made people think.

Perhaps, rather than fearing the written word, we should embrace the challenges it gives us. So read a banned book today, and question why it was banned. You might learn something about the society you live in.

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Why Teens Shouldn’t Read Twilight

Why Young Women Shouldn’t Read Twilight.

In order to verify this I went to the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s website and took a look at these fifteen criteria. Now you go read them.

In order to go further, I have to admit that I have read the Twilight series. I did it for my 7th graders. In undergrad I was an education major, and since all of my 7th graders were buzzing about Twilight, I wanted to understand what on earth they were going on about. I finished the series, because my friend’s daughter was super excited about the books. I felt I could give her better books to read if I understood the appeal.

Here’s the thing – the books aren’t just terrible, but they’re the kind of easy read that sticks in your brain. They’re candy. But from this piece of information I have to conclude that they aren’t just candy – but incredibly dangerous candy. Because the checklist checks out. It’s true. On all sides. 

The books young women read have to stop setting the example that being abused by men is OK. Authors need to set out to not treat their characters this way, with particular regard to YA fiction. We are already raised in a society where it is hard to learn how to have a backbone. We already live in a society where saying “no” is not okay. We live in a society where the scene in which Jacob kisses Bella against her will gets her father to give him a high five. (and is meant to be funny).

Consent, care, and personal autonomy are all missing for women in this series. Yet it is always the woman’s fault. Every time I hear a young woman say that she wants to be like Bella Swann, or that she wants to have an Edward, I cringe. Because I would hope that they want a relationship free of harm.

It should not be considered “romantic that a man you barely know watches you sleep. It should not be considered “heartwarming” that in order to get her man back, Bella has to risk her life.

These are not the role models we need. We need women who stick up for themselves, women who find good partners, whether they be men or women. We certainly don’t need all fifteen criteria popping up in young adult fiction. Not in a world where domestic violence survivors are asked why they didn’t just run, or how they could “let” it happen to them.

Abuse is never romantic. Don’t let it seem that way. Give the young women in your lives books they can look up to, and books they can live by. Books that will teach them how to love, not how to submit.

Do you have a favorite positive role model for young women? Please share in the comments!

 

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