Wednesday, December 12, 2012

moral panic: going online

It was a sunny afternoon in April 2010, during my first trip to Philadelphia and my first trip by myself. I was there for my first-ever meeting of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America. As I was planning my trip there I remembered that I was Facebook friends with a guy from Philadelphia, so I sent him a message asking him about things I could do and places I could visit there during my weekend adventure. Now, we didn't know each other and had never met, and I usually don't befriend people on Facebook unless I know them. Perhaps I accepted his friend request because I read in his info that he was half Puerto Rican, and I also saw that he was Catholic and we shared many interests. Other than that, I can't really remember how or why we became friends. Nevertheless, we began talking over Facebook and one day I decided to be brave and ask him if he wanted to meet for lunch when I got to Philly. He agreed. 

Fast forward to that day in Philly and I was a nervous wreck. Why did I ask a stranger to meet me for lunch? What if he is a psychopath serial killer? Then I thought, "well, at least we're meeting during daylight and in a public space. He won't try to kill me in the presence of others, and if he does, there will be witnesses." I know it seems very extreme to think those things but as brave and risk-taking as I wanted to be, part of me was scared that he could be one of those seemingly nice guys who end up doing terrible things. I felt confused because I wouldn't usually do something like that but it also felt right. to my relief, he was a very nice gentleman, he wasn't a serial killer, and we ended up becoming very good friends for a while. 

After a couple of months of "dating," communicating via Skype and phone, and going back to Philly for the summer, we ended things, but I always look at that day we met and ask myself "What were you thinking?" I am very glad that everything turned out alright for me, but it could've been completely different. This guy could've been someone completely different to what appeared on Facebook, and that is something everyone is at risk of discovering when "meeting" people online. In this case, my concern was about someone possibly harming me, but other people might fear that whoever is on the other side of the screen is not who they say they are. 

This is the case of a new TV show on MTV called "Catfish" in which people finally get to meet the person they have been dating strictly online. While a few have found that the other person was real and truly cared about them, others have found that their partner was actually someone completely different. In some cases the person was pretending to be someone else to get back at the other one (in one case a girl wanted revenge because another girl dated her man) and others simply wanted to be a different person. By pretending to be other people they hurt others, and while in these cases the victims are adults, it is still worrisome that people are able to deceive others and use online social media to take advantage of others.  

gender-swapped toys

It's a small step but significant for humanity (or at least for us feminists) that a toy store in Sweden has published a toy catalog where the traditional gender roles have been swapped. As seen in the picture, boys are depicted playing with "traditional girl toys" such as a dollhouse and a doll, while a girl is depicted playing with a Nerf gun, which is typically a boy's toy. I am glad that slowly but surely we are dismissing traditional gender roles and acknowledging that WE are the ones who put labels on objects. Why can't a boy play with a doll? If our expectation is that boys will one day become fathers, shouldn't they have the same experiences girls have with dolls so they can "practice" being a parent? That is what's expected from girls since a very early age.

As happy as I was to see this picture, the way I came across it was not necessarily pleasant. A Facebook friend posted the picture and the news along with his thoughts on the subject: "Por eso hay que estar bien aferrados a Dios" (trans. That's why we have to hold on tight to God). Now, I am a Christian and I believe in God, but I also understand that the Bible and some of the practices depicted there are dated. We are talking about a book written a couple of thousand years ago. Yes, in those times men were the head of the family and women were to be subjected to the men, and yes it was a patriarchal society, although we still have those nowadays. Everyone is entitled to their own ideas of how children should be raised, but God doesn't have anything to do with this. Why would someone say that we need to hold on to God just because boys are playing with dolls and girls are playing with "boys' toys"? Unless he made this comment specifically about playing with guns (in general), which may lead to violence, I don't see the point in mixing God or religion in this situation.
I think it is great that children can play with the toys they choose and not feel bad about it. As long as they are safe (and I mean that their lives or the lives of others aren't at risk), we should encourage children to break the boundaries of gender and enjoy what they like.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

confessions of a (former?) fashionista

Last week in class we looked at different magazines for girls, and while a lot of them mostly featured articles about music and artists, somehow the conversation shifted several times to fashion. This is not uncommon since girls are always associated with fashion, but perhaps it was because we had talked about our little field trips to the mall to look at stores for girls. These stores are creating little fashionistas  by providing clothes that seem to be for more adult women, just made into miniature sizes. I made me think of how much I loved to play dress-up, wear my mom's heels, put on a thousand bangles on my arms, and sometimes play with my mom's makeup when she wasn't aware. I loved being a girl and being "girly." So what happened to me as an adult?

At some point in my life I guess I decided that women shouldn't be subdued to society's scrutinies, so anything related to appearances was too superficial. Thus, although I would still wear dresses (mostly because they are comfortable) I wanted to believe that I didn't care about how I looked. Makeup? "Yeah,  that's too much work, and guys don't even like girls that wear too much makeup. I'd rather look natural." But I think there was more to that. In my effort to be a true feminist, I began to believe that I absolutely could not like those things that are stereotypically associated to women (e.g. clothes, makeup, shoes, hair products, etc.) because I would be perpetuating the stereotypes. Just a few weeks ago I wrote an analysis of a website for girls and heavily criticized it because most of the games were about fashion, but I have to admit that I like fashion, and so do other fellow feminists.

As I have been reading and learning, I realize that instead of trying to bury that side of me, I should embrace it. Our professor talked to us about her experience when she entered the field of Women's Studies. She was talking about her own experience with her professor, who dressed very blandly and had very short hair, so my professor cut her hair short as well and began wearing mostly pants. She then mentioned Farrah Malik, who is an active feminist but who is also very feminine; she has long hair, is fashionable, and even makes her own clothes.

Now I feel more comfortable admitting to actually enjoying getting my hair done (by myself, of course, being a poor graduate student), wearing a little bit of makeup, looking more like a girl, and admitting that I used to play with dolls. And hey, I watch “Project Runway” because I like clothes.  
This doesn't mean that I spend a lot of money on fashion especially on things that I don't need, but once in a while I splurge in a bracelet or a dress that I think is pretty, and I shouldn't feel ashamed of that. Somehow I guess a part of me thought that in order to be a true feminist I have to renounce to anything that is stereotypically “girly” but maybe I shouldn’t. Just as I shouldn't feel ashamed of admitting that I used to play with Barbie dolls, and as heavily criticized as she is, in my experience she didn't have a negative effect on me or my self-esteem.  I never felt the need to look like her, have blonde hair, or be "perfect." As long as a remain true to who I am, and understand that my appearance is not the most important part of, but that I'm also allowed to feel and look pretty, I shouldn't feel ashamed of taking a little of my time to "be a girl". 
And yes, I guess I still am a fashionista at heart, loud and proud. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

let's do some shopping

Last week we went to the Nittany Mall to visit some of the store for girls. I felt a little creepy going to girls' stores without a little girl, but it was part of our class, so we ventured into these stores. The first one was Gap Kids, and here all the clothes were beautiful and classy. I loved the little shirts with glittery animals, layered under little cardigans and paired up with little tutus. A lot of the clothes there seemed to be for little adults, and they were cute, but naturally, they were expensive. 

We then moved on to Claire's which was one of my favorite stores when I was a teenager. So many memories came back, the sales, the many bracelets and necklaces I bought (especially those "Best Friends" ones). The right side of the store seemed to be geared towards tweens. The items were more colorful and the fashion was more about boybands and Hello Kitty. The other side of the store had more "sophisticated" jewelry and accessories, so they seemed to be targeting older teenagers. 

The next store we went to was Justice. I had never been to this store since there isn't one in Puerto Rico. The general look of the store is too many bright colors and a lot of sequins, and clothes that don't look as sophisticated as the ones at Gap Kids. But I guess they are also fun, and for young girls, it's good to have clothes that are fun, and more importantly, that are not sexy. In this store there were clothes with boybands and male singers as well (yes, I'm talking about One Direction and Justin Bieber). 

These stores are typical stores for girls, showcasing their fashion sense with bright colors and weird trends (like the hipster mustache that we found in everything, even Hello Kitty).
These stores are very different from an online store I found online called Toward the Stars

According to the site description, TtS has a mission of providing "a safe haven from the commercialisation and sexualisation of girlhood, from the toxic gender stereotypes that dominate the marketing, media, and products targeted to children and young adults". In this store there are shirts for girls that read "I <3 Math", dresses with dinosaurs, shirts with robots, pirate dolls, and other items decorated with things not usually associated to girls. I really like this online store because it provides girls with other fashion options that the usual stores don't necessarily provide. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

my very own bedroom/ mi propio cuartito

This is a beautiful bilingual children's story written by Amada Irma Pérez, which is based on her own experience. In this story a little girl has to share a room with her five younger brothers, and all she wishes for is to have her own room. She finds a little space in the small house that could become her room, and after talking to her mom, everyone in her family helps make her dream come true. Her brothers help move things around, pain the room, her uncle brought her new bed, and everyone worked hard until she finally had her own bedroom, where she added books and read to her brothers at night. 

Thinking about what we have read for our Girlhood Studies course about bedroom culture, this story exemplifies the meaning a bedroom can have for girls. The character in the story makes it clear that she loves her brothers and loves spending time with them, but she also feels she needs her own place. She imagined her bedroom as a place "with my own bed, table, and lamp -- a place where I could read the books I loved, write in my diary, and dream." I think every girl -- especially girls who have had to share their bedroom with other siblings -- can identify with this. I always wanted a place for myself, so I play with dolls without other people interrupting; as I grew older I wanted a place where I could write or talk on the phone, or just simply be able to think peacefully. 

A girls' bedroom is a sort of sacred place, that's why I liked this book so much, because it shows how meaningful it is for girls to have their own place and also shows a family coming together to help make that possible. She didn't care that her bedroom was small, she was just happy to have her place. 

Pérez, A. I. (2012). My Very Own Bedroom/Mi propio cuartito. New York: Children's Book Press. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

a girl's bedroom

Two weeks ago in our class we were discussing bedroom culture, and I had the pleasure to prepare an animation with my classmate Jenny. There, we presented various depictions of girls' bedrooms, including a prank that was done to a  male teenager in which his brother turned his room into a girl's room. 

We also showed a wonderful website that Jenny found, which contains a project called A Girl and Her Room. This photography project, done by Rania Matar, consists of an array of pictures of different girls of various ages in their bedrooms. As we observed, each bedroom can tell something about the girl's personality. You can visit the project here.

As we observed and discussed these bedrooms, I thought about my bedroom, the changes it had gone through, my new bedroom and what it meant to me, and started to think about my years as a tween and teenager and how much time I spent in my room. 

When I was little, I had a shared room with my two sisters. It wasn't a very big room, sot it was often uncomfortable and crowded. Imagine having just one closet for three girls; storing our clothes, shoes, and toys was usually chaotic. Because my sisters usually spent more time outside, I used those moments of solitude to play with my dolls. Out of the three of us, I was the one who play the most with Barbie dolls, so I inherited by older sister's but also my younger sister's dolls. Playing with my Barbie dolls and my other figurines was a time of being myself and creating different scenarios with them. I never wanted to be bothered and did not want people to see me playing (now I wish there were videos of me playing so I could se them for my research about Barbie play).

Physically my bedroom went through various changes. When the three of us were in the same room, the decoration was not individual. Everything matched, and although we helped our mom pick out colors and bedspreads, it was one design for all of us. After our house expansion, my older sister had her own room, so I shared mine with my younger sister. This time I spent a lot of my time here writing what I considered then to be poetry.  As a teenager in this room, my love for boybands was very evident. My side of the room was full of posters of my favorite band: 98 Degrees, and because I also liked ‘NSYNC, I convided my little sister of putting up some posters of them on her wall. After my brother moved out, my sister moved to his room, so this finally became my own. Despite my age, I decorated it with butterflies and bright colors. A few years later, pictures of my friends became part of the decoration and so did posters of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. My current room doesn’t yet feel like “my room.” Because I am unsure if I’ll move to another place or not, for now it feels like a temporary place where I sleep, and I still refer to my room in Puerto Rico as “my room.” However, because it is my own place and my official room as an adult, I went with more adult decoration, not bright colors, and especially, no pink.

It is strange to think that a room can say so much about a person, but it really does. Even looking at pictures of my room at a specific point in my life I can remember what I was going through, what I liked, what was meaningful to me in that moment, and other details about my life. A room is, or at least for me it is, a sacred place, a place where I can gather my thoughts and be myself. 

toys for kids made by kids

Child's Own Studio is a website where parents can send their child's drawing and it gets made into a doll. There's a variety of dolls, including one of a fart. Yes, a boy made a drawing of a fart and it was made into a doll, and it is adorable. 

I think this is a great way to encourage and promote creativity because children can see a final product of their creation. They can play with something that is completely theirs and feel proud of their creation. For girls, especially, I think this is an excellent resource as they can play with dolls that have a meaning for them and that don't necessarily serve the purpose of training them to become mothers. I wish something like this existed when I was growing up because, despite not being a good drawer now, I used to doodle and draw a lot when I was younger, so it would've been amazing to see one of my creations come to life. There is no limit to a child's creativity, and with a resource like this one, practically any creation can come true.