I Read the Internets – 12/30/06

I’ve got a pretty big and varied assortment of links for you to peruse this week – the internets have been busy! First up, I was really pleased to see Jeff Pack writing a great post for the Official Shrub.com Blog about criticisms of criticism. I would’ve loved to see him going into a little more detail about why the complaints he highlights are flawed, but I think just listing them and describing them as he has does a lot to point out how fundamentally reactionary and disingenuous such responses to feminist critiques of pop culture can be.

Another thing I read on the internets this week (though it’s actually a little older than that) that got me into my enthusiastic head-nodding groove was the short comic “The Paper Mirror” by Metrokitty. I had a bit of a paper mirror moment, myself, when reading it – what Metrokitty describes is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, lately, regarding my creative writing.

Just as important as seeing yourself reflected in the things you read and watch, I think, is seeing characters who are like you, but better – characters who are worth emulating, and who represent something that you might someday be able to achieve. Kalinara‘s post about the She-Ra: Princess of Power series bible shows some of the thought processes behind one particularly awesome cartoon role-model that many of us who are active in the feminist geek blogosphere today were lucky enough to grow up watching. She-Ra wore some pretty silly outfits and stuff, sure, but what I always took away from the show was the idea that girls could have magic swords, too:

Women should play a major role in all stories, not only Shera and her super-powered friends and enemies, but women of all kinds. Don’t neglect our male characters. They are important too, just don’t surrender to the macho-syndrome of many cartoons in which the females are wispy Princesses always in need of rescue. Strive always for a true equality of characters, thinking of our people as just that, people, regardless of sex differences.

Those of you who spend a lot of time with young girls, these days, or who go to toy stores for any reason, are no doubt aware of the recent popularity of princess-themed toys and products. Sadly, the “of Power” part that was so exciting to me when I was a kid seems to be missing from the latest princess offerings. Peggy Orenstein, writing for The New York Times, explores some of the implications of this in “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?”

I’ve spent much of my career writing about experiences that undermine girls’ well-being, warning parents that a preoccupation with body and beauty (encouraged by films, TV, magazines and, yes, toys) is perilous to their daughters’ mental and physical health. Am I now supposed to shrug and forget all that? If trafficking in stereotypes doesn’t matter at 3, when does it matter? At 6? Eight? Thirteen?

One of the biggest issues I have with the whole princess thing is the way that it’s all wrapped up as gender-reinforcement-through-marketing. I get that it makes sense to try to sell products to people who are likely to be interested in them – hence, market the toy cars to boys, and the pink frilly dresses to girls, right? But who decides which group is going to be interested in which product? I’ve known a lot of little boys who had baby dolls, and girls who dressed up as Darth Vader, y’know?

So I’ve been really interested to see the ways in which the Nintendo Wii is being marketed. Dawn C. Chmielewski, of the Los Angeles Times, discusses some of the techniques Nintendo has used to expand the potential market for its new product in “‘Alpha Moms’ pitch Nintendo Wii.”

And now, to balance out all of the heavy content I’ve been linking to for this week’s edition, here are some quick geeky links for you all! If you got all excited when I mentioned knitting last week, you may be interested in the “Binary” scarf featured in the latest issue of Knitty. And if you like crafty stuff, and, y’know, neon green – did you see the Mountain Dew Christmas Tree?

Also spotted on the internets this week:

* Pac Man: im on ur highway, eatin ur dotz! [post since removed]

* Zuzu of Feministe asks a question which has bothered some Star Wars geeks for years.

* Lord of the Rings meets a typical D&D group in “DM of the Rings“

* Did you know there’s a book all about the physics of the Buffyverse? There is! It’s called The Physics of the Buffyverse!

Reading about that last one led me to the author’s blog, Cocktail Party Physics, and a slightly vintage post where she discusses something that’ll probably be pretty familiar to Hathor regulars. To close this week, I offer the link to “he said, she said,” wherein Jennifer Oullette tears into the “Girls Don’t” myth. Read the whole thing.

Comments

  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    Someone at Feministe said Chewie didn’t get a medal because he was based on Lucas’ dog, and it never occurred to Lucas the dog would get a medal. Lucas is the undisputed king of “didn’t occur to me”. That’s why the post-movie EU was the most inconsistent thing I have ever seen before.

    As for the post on critiques of critiquing… very good start, but I’m thinking about making a whole manifesto and posting it on this site now. One of the things forbidden by this site’s guidelines is questioning the entire purpose of the site. We frequently get commenters who say, in polite form or otherwise, “You’re stupid to complain about this; quit whining; it’s just the way things are.”

    I don’t know what they think that accomplishes. All it says to me is that this site really IS a danger to the status quo, or else its minions surely would have something better to do than post belittling comments in an attempt to make me feel silly. I mean, they’re so awesome, they must have great and full lives, right? ;)

  2. Patrick says

    Reading the “What’s Wrong with Cinderella?” article, I particularly noticed her mention the Dora the Explorer Priness toys. I recently worked on the night crew for a major toy store, and noticed two things about the Dora line: one, that the “Princess” toys outnumbered the “Explorer” toys and did in fact sell better, and two, that the toys for the boy-oriented spinoff Go, Diego, Go! were plaed in the Preschool section, while the Dora toys, while aimed at the same age range, were placed in “Girl World” (as the store employees called the pink section of the store).

    When presented with products liscensed from two related shows, the chain management decided not to put them both in the Preschool section, nor to put them in the “appropriate” gender-segregated sections, but to put the “Boy” line in the Preschool section and the “Girl” line in the “Girls” section. I don’t know what the reasoning was, but I suspect that it was based on the attitude that male is the “default” gender.

    It is worth noting that product organization like this is decided at the national level for the store I worked at, so this was not the decision of a local manager, but one made for every store in the country.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    My understanding from a retail manager I know is that MOST stores have their product placement dictated by suppliers or at a national level.

    I think you’re right that it’s the “male – default” mindset. But it seems to me this could lose them some sales of the Dora toys this way: if I were shopping for a preschool girl, I’d tend to think a section called “Girls” was for older kids. So I’d never see the Dora stuff.

  4. says

    We frequently get commenters who say, in polite form or otherwise, “You’re stupid to complain about this; quit whining; it’s just the way things are.”

    And we’re not the only ones. I’d definitely encourage you to explore that stuff more in a formal post.

  5. says

    I wonder what the guys who make those decisions are thinking. I mean, they must have reasons – but what are they? I’m sure profit comes into it in a big way somewhere, but I have my suspicions that there’s a fair amount of “this is just the way it’s done” going on, as well.

  6. MaggieCat says

    I’m sure profit comes into it in a big way somewhere, but I have my suspicions that there’s a fair amount of “this is just the way it’s done” going on, as well.

    The profit angle makes sense, especially during the gift giving season when people who may not have children of their own are in an unfamiliar shopping situation, but I can’t help but agree with the “this is how it is” default. I wouldn’t be surprised if the logic was just “well we have a Girls Only section, so we might as well use it” and then everything ends up being defined in ‘girly’ and ‘not girly’ terms.

    I can’t decide if the biggest problem is that the girls section exists at all or that there isn’t a corresponding boys section. (Or at least there wasn’t the last time I was in a toy store, which was admittedly quite a few years ago.) It reminds me of that old chestnut about a man who upon hearing about women’s studies classes asks “where’s the men’s studies class?” and the answer is “that would be aaallll of the other classes”. But it feels more insidious when it’s marketed at children who are still trying to work out who they’re going to be one day.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    It all depends whether the “girls” section comes across as an additional resource for girls or a segregation section to keep their stuff from contaminating the boys’ stuff. And that’s a tricky distinction – no matter how the toy store presents it, I think it’s likely to smack of segregation because of all the messages girls are getting elsewhere about knowing their “place”.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Definitely. I mean, what drove me crazy in film was that when faced with solid indications that audiences like strong women, they looked for ways to interpret the data to indicate the opposite – the status quo. It was like they couldn’t even see that they weren’t being objective, which is important if you want to make money.

  9. Patrick says

    The chain I worked at was divided into the following sections: saesonal, infants, preschool, educational and building toys, games, video games and electronics, sports and bikes, “boy world” (action figures, cars, and action-oriented roleplay), and “girl world” (dolls, more dolls, and domestic-oriented roleplay).

    So what would have made the most sense to me would be to put both the Dora and Diego toys in the Preschool section, as “Boy World” and “Girl World” were both aimed at the 6+ age group.

    I guess the reasoning was: the Diego toys are boys’ toys, but in the 2+ age range, so they go in Preschool. The Dora toys are girls’ toys, so the age range is irrelevant. They go next to the Bratz.

    And no, I don’t have a theory as to why someone thought that Dora the Explorer belonged next to Bratz, of all things, except that maybe someone hoped that the little girls would be looking at the Dora toys, see the Bratz toys, and decide that being a rambunctious adventurer did not sound like as much fun as being a prepubescent, hydrocephalic streetwalker at risk of a collagen overdose.

  10. sbg says

    And no, I don’t have a theory as to why someone thought that Dora the Explorer belonged next to Bratz, of all things, except that maybe someone hoped that the little girls would be looking at the Dora toys, see the Bratz toys, and decide that being a rambunctious adventurer did not sound like as much fun as being a prepubescent, hydrocephalic streetwalker at risk of a collagen overdose.

    I just had to express my appreciation for your description of Bratz dolls. :)

    I can’t stand those things and I don’t even have a young daughter. I do, however, have nieces I buy gifts for and seek help from “experts.” I looked this year and Bratz was recommended for an 8 year old girl – because it’s what all little girls want. People commented on the blog that they’d never buy Bratz stuff for their kid, that they just didn’t like the dolls or what they represented, and the expert said, “Why not? They’re affordable and they make your little girl happy!” She completely missed the point of the objection.

    I don’t spend lots of time in toy stores, so I don’t know how they’re arranged. It is pretty dumb not to have Dora in the pre-school section though. Of course, I also think it’s dumb that they made a princessed-up version of her. She’s cool without a tiara and fancy dress, thanks.

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    I doubt the expert was missing any points. Feigned misunderstanding seems to be a popular debate strategy.

  12. sbg says

    It sure doesn’t work with me. At that point I said, out loud, “You’re pretty dumb, I’m not following your advice.” and navigated away from the blog.

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