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.