Friday, September 30, 2005

Barbie and Ken

So my students and I have been discussing gendered messages in children's toys, and we got involved in a protracted discussion of Barbie. Barbie dolls always seem to provoke a strong response in students; whether it's the unrealistic body image conveyed, the ubiquitous pink displays in toy stores, or general discussions of playing with Barbie or not wanting to play with Barbie, she cannot be avoided in discussions of gender and toys.

But here's a new twist. What about Ken? What is Ken's role in the Barbie world? (One of my students says that Ken dolls are being replaced by Liam, but the question is still valid.)

One of my students made the point that Ken, by virtue of being relegated to the "girls' toys" section, is being framed as insufficiently masculine. He's not man enough to make it in the boys' toys, next to G.I. Joe and the superhero action figures, so the emmasculated Ken ends up hanging with the ladies in the Barbie section.

Interesting point. I, myself, never thought of Ken as especially effeminate -- he's not a bulked up as some of the "action figures" (e.g., boys' dolls), and he seems to have no particular goal in life other than hanging out in Barbie's dream house in his swim trunks, but it never occurred to me to question his masculinity (even though he, along with Barbie, lacks relevant genitalia on which to make sex distinctions).

But here's my thought. Barbie's world is one which is populated predominantly by women, and is suffused with women-identified activities (predominantly shopping and personal beautification, although there are some nurturing roles as well). A number of feminist theorists have noted that women on their own, without male supervision or primacy of male attachment, are perceived as dangerous and evoke strong social response. Hence the historical persecution of widows, lesbians, etc. -- if women can survive on their own, without men, that serves as a potential threat to patriarchy. So Barbie, although she adheres to gender role norms, could still serve to promote the image of an independent, self-sufficient woman who can achieve satisfaction without men...and that is a message that could be seen as very dangerous to provide little girls. Enter Ken. He serves to confirm her heterosexuality and the need for women to have relationships with men. He watches to make sure that she doesn't become too independent. He affirms the heteropatriarchal system.

So, what is it? Ken as emmasculated, or Ken as patriarch? You decide!

Racist, or just stupid?

The Washington Post today reports:
Democratic lawmakers and civil rights leaders denounced conservative commentator William J. Bennett yesterday for suggesting on his syndicated radio show that aborting black children would reduce the U.S. crime rate.

The former U.S. education secretary-turned-talk show host said Wednesday that "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose -- you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Bennett quickly added that such an idea would be "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do." But, he said, "your crime rate would go down."

But wait, why stop there? Why not prevent *all* births -- if no one was ever born, surely that would eradicate *all* crime. Eradication of the human species as a crime-prevention program...

And this is from the author of a book on virtue.

*Sigh* Sometimes it seems that we haven't made any real progress.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Long time, no blog

Gosh, it's been a while since I've posted: Bad blogger, no biscuit! ;)

I have been swamped with:
Beginning of semester -- classes, student interns, meetings, committees...
Travel -- away every weekend in September (to Poconos for family weekend, to wedding in MI, to wedding in Philly...) Weddings were lovely and very wonderful. Family weekend was fun; great to see everyone.
Dance -- performing, teaching one class a week, taking three classes a week... and all the usual stuff.

I've also felt overwhelmed by recent world events, and it's been hard to know how to formulate a fully meaningful and appropriate response.

So I needed some downtime, I suspect.

Today's fortune cookie said, "Come back later...I am sleeping. (yes, cookies need their sleep, too)" I think that about sums it up. ;)

I've determined that there are two different places within which time stands still for me: The gym, and G Street Fabrics. I know that time continues outside of their walls, but I have no sense of its passage. It feels like sanctified space somehow. It's not the same as the sense of flow I get in activities like teaching and dance (see Milhaly Csikszentmihalyi's work on flow states), where I don't have the awareness of time passing or of myself as a separate entity, but there is a sense of standing outside of time as if one could watch its passage through a window but not be part of it. I'm not sure what the significance is, but it makes me want to stay longer in these places.

Garden update: I have managed to produce a single, very tasty zucchini. And a small handful of green beans. And six gold raspberries. And more basil than I can keep up with (anyone want some?). And a whole bunch of weeds which need to be dislodged.

Such are today's random thoughts.