Ya Got to Have Friends…

January 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Part Eight (and last for a while) of I-Don’t-Know-How-Many in a series of posts inspired by “Miss Representation.”  If you haven’t seen the trailer for this movie, and you have 8 minutes, please watch it here now.  

Remember Donkey in “Shrek?”  Now, I don’t often look for wisdom out of the mouths of donkeys (insert liberal Democrat joke here…) but when he’s singing a Bette Midler song, I tend to take notice.  There’s a theory that’s been bouncing around in my mind for the last year or so, and I can’t seem to separate it from the image of happy Donkey singing “Ya Got to Have Friends” to Shrek.  Animated references aside, it seems appropriate to give voice to this theory in the blog series inspired by “Miss Representation.”  Yet, it’s a tricky message because I imagine it will be easy to misinterpret – and here it is anyway.

Minorities need friends in the majority.  I believe this applies to many facets of life, but generally, I am referring to the advancement basic human rights.  Overthrowing tyranny and abuse.  Moving civilization forward.  You know – the little things.

I realize I’m painting with very broad strokes here, but consider  history.  It’s hard to find an instance where an oppressed minority group’s advancement towards equality was not helped along by someone (or many) in the majority.  Emancipation.  Desegregation.  Women’s Suffrage.  Establishment of Israel.  Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Were the minorities and/or oppressed in these cases irrelevant or powerless in bringing the advancements to fruition?  Of course not – of COURSE not.  Au contraire.  But neither were they alone or singular in their efforts.  Somehow – somewhere along the way, in each of the cases mentioned above – their arguments, stories, actions, found a receptive heart and sympathetic ear of people in the majority.  And those in the majority whose eyes had been opened worked on behalf of those who had been wronged.  Then there was progress.

It’s very natural, when you’re a member of a group that’s been wronged to surround yourself with others like you, and assert your strength and independence as a group.    Cathartic.  Therapeutic.  Necessary.  And soooo easy to cross over to the “Stick it to the Man” and “Rage against the Machine” mentality.  We emphasize the “us vs. them” dynamic.  We are able to turn any problem adversarial.  (The more twisted ones actually get off on doing that, and shame on them.)  I can’t think of a greater impediment to progress.

We may feel we can go it alone – we don’t need those bastards in the majority.  But we’d be wrong.  If we don’t need them now, we’ll need them down the line, and we’ll be happy to have a friend or two on the other side.  This is my argument against isolation, people.  For all the flaws in our government, the beauty of its infuriating design is that one side can hardly get anything done without the other.   For all the flaws in our society, the brilliance of its survival lies in our ability to see value in other points of view.

Forgive the inelegance of the argument (and my beating a dead horse,) but blacks needed whites to defeat Jim Crow.  Jews needed gentiles to establish Israel.  Gays and lesbians need straight people to be on their side and advance their cause.  The first female Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court was appointed by a man.  Everyone needs friends on the other side of the aisle, whether it’s the aisle of Congress or the aisle separating men and women in an orthodox synagogue.

I finally watched “Miss Representation” in its entirety.  I’m trying to get it screened in Maryland.  Baltimore’s mayor (Stephanie Rawlings-Blake) is female, the longest-serving female U.S. Senator (Barbara Mikulski) is from Maryland, yet our state hasn’t yet had a screening.  How great would it be to fill a theater with people to watch this film?  Yet, the first question on my mind is, “How many men can we get to see this?  How many boys?”  I desparately want women and girls to see this, too – to stoke the fires in their bellies and make them roar.  To impress upon them how dangerous complacency is and how fragile our hold on equality.  But I also want the men there.  Progress won’t happen without them.

Because believe me.  When a twenty-something-year-old waiter feels comfortable addressing my mother as “dear,” but my father as “sir,” it is more obvious than ever that we have a loooooong way to go and a LOT of work to do.

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Pink Legos – Part II

January 14, 2012 § 2 Comments

Part Seven of I-Don’t-Know-How-Many in a series of posts inspired by “Miss Representation.”  If you haven’t seen the trailer for this movie, and you have 8 minutes, please watch it here now.  

Okay, okay, okay.  When I recommended buying Pink Legos, I was imagining the same sorts of construction sets found in primary colors, only in pastels.  Should have done a little more research.  No, these aren’t the same architechtural and vehicle structures as the ones being offered in primary colors – they’re simpler!  For girls!  Yay!  Whew – thank goodness I don’t have to worry my pretty little head about building hard stuff like the BOYS do!

Here’s what I did to examine the issue a little further.

I read this analysis of the new Lego LadyFigs.  Lotsa great points and spot-on exploration of troubling gender issues.

I watched this Spark Video Petition asking Lego to re-examine its marketing strategies.  I will sign it.  I really support this effort.

I watched this thoroughly offensive treatment of Star Jones on the Today Show.  Consequently, I was reminded why I hate the Today show and never watch it.

And this.  The Lego Friends commercial.  Barf.

HOWEVER – I hate almost EVERY commercial aimed at kids.  I hate the food commercials aimed at kids.  I hate the toy commercials aimed at kids – girls AND boys.  Make no mistake – the marketing to boys is every bit as shallow and stubbornly adherent to gender stereotypes as the marketing to girls.  I hate most magazines aimed at kids, and most TV shows aimed at kids.  They are, so many of them, filled with obnoxious behaviors, colors, sounds, images and insulting messages.  And, please don’t get me started on how adults are depicted on these shows.  There is a reason the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children under the age of two years old not watch TV.

I get the huge disappointment loyal Lego customers feel – it has for so many decades been considered a brilliant gender-neutral toy, and this new line extremely condescending and misguided.  I can just feel parents deflate when they see these commercials.  It’s like having your your hero selling out.  (Imagine Keith Hernandez going from being a baseball great all fans can love to doing gross, sexist, and poorly-acted commercials for men’s hair dye.  Thank GOD he would never stoop to that level.  Oh.  Wait…)

Don’t get me wrong.  I can get whipped up into a righteous fury over mistreatment of girls and women as much as the next guy.  I can, and I do.  Yet, I can’t help what bothers me most in this whole scene being played out with Legos’ new line.  Go back to the Today Show clip.  Watch the end of the Lego segment.  Watch from 6:45 – 7:00.  Listen to what gets used as the hilarious segue into the next segment.  Nancy Snyderman, M.D., saying, “The BRAVE parents will buy this line for their BOYS!”   HAHAHAHAHA!!!!  Donny Deutsch saying, “No, they WON’T!”  Snort!  Matt Lauer saying, “THAT’s probably not going to happen.”  Chortle!

Truly, I began to conceive of  this post being willing to have my mind changed – to say “I WAS WRONG!!!  Don’t buy Pink Legos!!!  Don’t support the sexist and insulting messages that go along with the new pink Lego line!!!  Don’t do it!!!”   My stomach clenches at this blatant, insidiously insulting line of products, and I am intensely grateful to all who are fighting the sexism so powerfully.

But, you know what?  There’s also this.  The much publicized story of a big brother sticking up for his younger brother who wanted a purple game controller.  Standing up for him to their DAD.  That such things go on boggles my mind.  Add to it those toss-off remarks by people with such reach and influence as Snyderman, Deutsch, and Lauer?  Sorry, my post-modern feminist friends.  I find myself wanting to stick up more than ever for the little boys who want things that are traditionally though of as “girly.”

So, again, I ask you – in the name of these boys – if your son wants these, buy them for him.  Please.  Seems to me I made that very argument a couple of weeks before Nancy Snyderman tossed the notion off as a joke.

Buy Pink Legos. Please.

December 25, 2011 § 3 Comments

Part Six of I-Don’t-Know-How-Many in a series of posts inspired by “Miss Representation.”  If you haven’t seen the trailer for this movie, and you have 8 minutes, please watch it here now.  

Mention the phrase, “pink legos” and stand back.  (Did I mention you should have popcorn handy?)

I’ve already blogged about my defense of pink.  Readers (in the double digits!  Go, me!) have read about it.  It doesn’t seem to be taking hold across the nation, yet, though.

Girl On Saturday,(aka, “Penis Mom”) – my new hero, by the way – tweeted that she may have her angry feminist card revoked for buying pink legos for her girl.  Miss Representation’s twitter feed is has quite a few angry tweets about this (new?) campaign of marketing pink Legos to girls.  They have a hashtag devoted to calling out marketers and manufacturers who demean girls and women, called #NotBuyingIt.  As in, if they send sexist messages, you shouldn’t buy the product.  I’m right there with them.  Go Daddy can suck an egg.  But such anger towards pink?  Please allow me to offer an alternative.

Buy them.  Buy the pink legos.  But buy them for boys.

Hear me out.  Please, I am begging you…hear me out.

When I was in elementary school, my dad had a rehearsal with his students at our apartment over Christmas break.  The show was “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and these were high school kids.  He was telling me about how great these kids were, and how I was going to swoon and fall in love – IN ABSOLUTE LOVE – with the kid who played Pontius Pilate.  “I’m telling you, Aliza, you are going to want to MARRY this guy,” or something like that.

When he rang the doorbell, my dad let me answer the door.  When I did, I was not prepared for what I saw.  He was not a kid.  He was at least 8 feet tall (to me, anyway.)  He had a full moustache and beard (it was the 70s.)  And he was black.  Dark black.  Standing in front of me was the blackest black black blackity black man I’d ever seen in my short life.  Handsome, true…but that was not what I took away from that experience.

Intentional or not, my dad sent me the message that it was okay for white people to fall in love with black people.  Not just okay…it was fine.  Not just fine.  It was fine with HIM.  And while at that age, I wasn’t considering the complexity of race relations, it did make me wonder why I had assumed the kid would be white.  Mostly, I walked away from that shrugging, and thinking “Gee – I guess I can marry a black guy if I wanna – that’s kinda cool…”  The revelation was transformative, shaping my thinking and outlook to this day.

Wondering what this has to do with pink legos?

Consider the message would you be sending if you bought pink legos for boys.

  1. To the manufacturer, you’d be letting them know their marketing is off base and outdated.  That EVERYTHING can be manufactured in bold colors or pastels, and that either gender should be encouraged and shown to be buying whatever color appeals to them.
  2. To little boys, you’d be sending them the message that girls shouldn’t have the market cornered on pink.  It is simply a color in the spectrum, just like blue is.  (Boys don’t have the market cornered on blue, anymore, do they?)  It is not just okay for them to like and use pink – it is FINE.  Just like my dad sent my young brain the message that there is nothing (or should be nothing) out of the ordinary for whites to marry blacks.

Imagine the ripple effect of this over time.  Perhaps girls would be further empowered if we weakened the stranglehold pink has on both genders.  Maybe a boy who liked pink wouldn’t be afraid to wear it.  Maybe his friends would be less likely to make fun of him.  Maybe being accused of doing something “like a girl” would no longer be considered an insult.  Maybe pink and other pastels would regain their rightful places in the color spectrum.

So go ahead and buy the pink legos if your girl likes them.  Buy them for your boys if it has never occurred to them.  The younger the boy, the better.  You will be planting the seed early.  Pink does not equal girl.  Girl does not equal inferior.

I admit, though another motivation for pushing this trend.  I get the subversive psychic giggles at the thought of the photos being uploaded to the Lego website.  Photos of dads buying pink legos for their sons.  And pictures of the boys playing with them.  Do it.  It’ll drive the ad execs crazy.

I’ve Got the Pink Blues. (The Great Pink v. Blue Debate)

December 5, 2011 § 7 Comments

Part Five of I-Don’t-Know-How-Many in a series of posts inspired by “Miss Representation.”  If you haven’t seen the trailer for this movie, and you have 8 minutes, please watch it here now.  

I used to be afraid to have a boy.

Wait.  Allow me to re-phrase.

I used to be afraid to give birth to a male child.

That’s better.  Yes, the prospect of having a son scared me more than having a daughter.  No matter how many people told me boys were easier (they’re not, by the way…) I was still afraid.  I had this theory that it was tougher to raise a boy to buck gender stereotypes than to raise a girl to do the same thing.

Call it a sign of the times that I wasn’t afraid of raising a tough girl – the Feminist movement of the Sixties and Seventies, and of generations further back, had cleared the way for my girl to hear that she had options besides housewifery.  Expectations for girls had been so incredibly broadened regarding education, attitudes and careers.  I couldn’t say the same for the boys, though options for boys were wide to begin with.

Put more simply, it had become more acceptable in society for girls to do “boy” things than for boys to do “girl” things.  This bothered me for many years before I became a parent, so I guess it made sense that I’d approach the parenting years with this anxiety.

Fortunately, I took comfort in the notion that I was not solely responsible for my potential son’s upbringing and attitudes.  I realized that the guy I married would have something to do with it.  If the huz was any indication, any boys I birthed would have a great example to follow.  Their dad had mastered the art of being manly without the BS macho posturing that often goes along with it.  He had no need, patience, or use for it.  So I relaxed a little, and, it turns out, I was right to entrust any future male offspring to the guy I married.

Our eldest is a girl, and the other two are boys.  When she was a baby, I dressed her in blue and green, but not necessarily to make a statement.  She’s a redhead – those colors looked best on her, and pink washed her out.

When our first son came along two years later,  E’s first words to me were, “Mommy, put that baby back!”  But she grew to like N, and eventually was more than happy to share her stuff with him, including her nail polish.  He wore it.  When she outgrew her pink, satiny, Cinderella nightgown, she gave it to N.  He wore it.  When she outgrew her flower socks, she gave them to N.  He wore them.

The huz and I had no problem with any of this.  I did field quite a few comments from some other pre-school moms, along the lines of, “Oh, my god, my husband would FUH-REEEEEAK OUT if my son wore that!!!”  This was to be expected.  I mostly said things like,  “Why?” or “Oh, how sad for your son…” and moved on.

Quite a few years later, I was helping out at the elementary school’s Grandparents’ Breakfast.  It’s always on a Friday in November, and as we live in Baltimore, I wore a Ravens jersey.  A pink one.

One of the grandmothers passed through the line and expressed dismay, bordering on disgust, that I was wearing a pink Ravens jersey.  “Why does it have to be PINK???  Just because a GIRL is wearing it???”  She (I’m guessing) had come of age when the Feminist movement did, and I sensed her frustration stemmed from the “Pink = girl” and “Blue = boy” mentality.  I share this frustration, but from a different angle.

So, I said,  “I feel like rather than banning pink from a girl’s color spectrum, it would be more productive to ADD pink to a boy’s.”  Make it okay for boys to wear and like things that are – you know – PINK.

Not just during Breast Cancer Awareness month. Not just the professional linebackers.  Ray Lewis can wear pink and no one will mess with him, I assure you.

The little shy boy?  He should be allowed to wear pink if he likes.  The little athlete?  He should be allowed to wear pink if he likes.  The girl?  She should also be allowed to wear pink if she likes.

I had dinner with two great girlfriends of mine, and we had a spirited discussion about it.  One was dismayed by the concept of pink legos and pink toolbox toys marketed to little girls.  She couldn’t quite put her finger on why, but it troubled her to have things set up this way.  I agree with her.

The other defended the use of pink this way, positing that making the toys pink doesn’t make them less valuable – especially if it gets girls playing with “traditionally” boy things.  There is nothing wrong with a girl liking pink.  I agree with her, too.

Then there was the conversation I had with my adult niece and her girlfriend.  I relayed to them the story of this grandmother at the school breakfast.  My niece’s girlfriend said, from a purely practical point of view, “Well, I just think it’s stupid that any team jersey would be made in a color other than that team’s colors.”  We got to talking about it, and came to the conclusion that there is something demeaning about assuming that the only way a girl will like something is if it’s pink.

This is what (I am guessing) bothered that grandmother.  This is what (I’m guessing) bothered my friend at dinner.

For me, the problem is when pink is considered “less than.”  When girls are considered “less than.”  When boys (and girls, by the way) who like pink are considered “less than” because that means they’re acting like GIRLS.  Tomboys are fine, but boys who do and wear and like GIRL things?  That’s what draws scrutiny (and legally sanctioned discrimination) on all levels – social, educational, professional.  And that, above all, tells me that in this world, women are valued less than men.  THAT, to me, is the problem.

Epilogue:

About a month ago I was in the orthodontist’s office with N,  who is now 13.  He was there because he had eaten some forbidden food and broken off one of his brackets.  The orthodontist was an older gentleman who was gently chiding him for not following the rules.  He joked with N, saying, “It’s okay this one time, but if you break another bracket, I’m gonna make them all PINK.”

My son, not missing a beat, looked him straight in the eye, smiled, shrugged, and said, “I like pink.”

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