Mattel Hates Girls

I just saw a book on Amazon that looked so promising, and then, after reading just the first page, realized what a mysogynistic piece of crap it is. “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer” is absolutely the worst book in the entire, up-to-this-point-merely-nauseating series of books. What the book really says is that Barbie might be able to design a game, but please – leave the REAL coding to the (male) professionals.

In a review of the book by The Daily Dot, Aja Romano calls it an affront to basic decency, and it is. Clearly author Susan Marenco, Random House, and Mattel have only the lowest hopes for girls as anything other than window dressing. In Ms. Marenco’s views as expressed by the book, girls really need a man’s help not only with coding and game development, but with simple computer upkeep tasks like…rebooting… They really shouldn’t worry their pretty heads over things like STEM skills.

I feel like we’re fighting a war that no one but a few other people can even understand. We’re not just fighting to get paid the same as men, or to be respected at the same level as men. We’re fighting to just get other women to consider their own gender as equal to males. We are somehow not getting the message across to our own sisters, that feminism isn’t about preferential treatment for women, but about fair and equal treatment for everyone – regardless of gender. As Emily Shire says in her article at The Daily Beast, “Feminism has a PR problem.”

When I was growing up, it was the 1970s, the “second wave” of feminism. The year I turned 12, the song “I Am Woman” was published, and it’s still one of my go-to anthem songs when I’m alone in my car. It gave me shivers. It was one of those powerful songs, sung by a powerful woman. It spoke to me in ways no person ever did. My heros were Amelia Earhart, Abigail Adams, Grace Hopper, Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Blackwell, Marie Curie, and Gloria Steinem. My mother worked the entire time I was growing up, more out of a need for her own identity than to supplement the family income. At times, if you did the math in terms of a 40-hour week, she made more than my father did. I don’t really remember her ever telling me I could be anything I wanted, but I do know that I took it for granted that I was the decider of my future, not a man.

I tried to impress upon my daughters that the world was their oyster, even while I was fighting my own battles of self-worth and self-determination. I worked in IT at a time when there were few women in the field – not so different than today. I would answer the phone in the office and be asked to take a message for “the guys.” I was forced to get technical work by failing to pass those messages on, and by going on the calls myself. Even after I had a degree in IT, proving myself competent was a daily fight.

By painting a picture of Barbie as needing the boys to do the real work, I feel personally marginalized by Ms. Marenco. Beyond that, it makes me even more angry to think of all the girls that will read this story, adding it to the already considerable body of work telling them that being female is somehow “less.” The (barely) unspoken subtext of the book is that in order to be a complete person, girls (and by extension women) need men to complete them.

Is this really what we want our girls to think? Is this the message the next generation will also be force fed?

Inclusive Culture and Cultural Appropriation

Inclusive – including everything concerned; enclosing; embracing.

Cultural appropriation – exploiting the culture of less privileged groups.

I’ve read articles on why white people shouldn’t engage in belly dancing or wear braids or ethnic prints or dreadlocks. Everyday Feminism has an article entitled If People of Color Had ‘White Fetishes’ with a ridiculous video. It discusses the idea that “In a misguided attempt to appreciate other cultures, many socially progressive folks end up exoticizing and, as a result, dehumanizing people of different cultures.” I think that we’ve gone too far at this point.

In my eyes, the goal of an inclusive society is to remove lines of differentiation, while maintaining respect for traditions and beliefs. To say that belly dance is only for middle eastern women is to draw a cultural line not to be crossed. Cultural lines are similarly drawn regarding dreads and cornrows. The common denominator of the outcry about cultural appropriation, as I see it, is that to coopt any action/practice/appearance that is primarily associated with a particular racial or cultural group is a racist act.

I’m not saying that it isn’t done with racist intents in many instances, but its also done simply because someone likes the look, or as a political statement, or for any of a thousand reasons. Dreads were worn for thousands of years before Bob Marley made them a political statement. Many people actually see dreads as a “lazy” hairstyle. (They’re not, as they take a significant amount of upkeep, but there you have it.)

I understand the feelings you have when something you identify as being “mine” or “ours” is being done by those you may consider “other.” I feel that way at times. People want to hold on to that which identifies them as part of a group. It’s what gives us the stereotypes that, for better or worse, set us apart from the huge amorphous blob that is humanity. We all want to feel special in some way. We want to be acknowledged as part of the group, but at the same time we want to belong to society at large. Separate, but together.

Unfortunately, racism and bigotry still inform a lot of the opinions we hold. Even when we try our best to refrain from making blanket judgments, it still happens every day. Spend a day paying attention to your thoughts concerning the people around you. You don’t need to share them with anyone – just be honest with yourself. What’s the first thing you think of when you see a group of Asian kids? What about the group of teenagers at the mall with their hair all different colors and chains hanging off their belts? How comfortable do you feel when you pass a group of young men wearing their pants around their hips with their boxers showing? What’s the first thing that goes through your mind when the white guy in the suit pulls in front of you to grab a prime parking spot?

Getting caught up in the cultural appropriation outcry only masks what’s really happening. People are still more worried about what other people are doing and thinking than about themselves. What’s important is not why the white guy standing on the corner in dreads has chosen to wear his hair like that. What’s important is why do you feel that way? Even more important – what are you going to do to move people foward, into that racially inclusive, equal society that everyone wants, but no one seems to want to work at?