Something Wicked This Way Comes

If you thought Bratz were scary, there’s a new crew of makeup clad monsters creeping in the toy market that will haunt you. Mattel is set to launch a new franchise called Monster High this fall. The company plans to release the first book in the series this September. The toys are already on sale online and the TV series, website, apparel line and feature length movie are all in the works. Each of these products are dedicated to a group of teen monsters going through high school… dressed like hookers.

That’s right. Instead of creating positive and age-appropriate characters for a multi-million dollar new campaign for young girls, these “ghouls” are covered in a frightening amount of makeup, trashy clothes and sky-high platform heels. There’s nothing like a cast of mini-skirts monsters to make a buck and alter the collected perception of sexuality among tweens. Really Mattel?

And you thought toys were becoming more gender neutral. Sorry, but Mattel not only wants young girls to buy lots of dolls, clothes and watch their shows, they want tweens to dress in creepy, sexy Halloween costumes year round! As if the trend toward sexy apparel for teens isn’t bad enough, tweens are now the target with this new cast of saucy socialites.

Check it out — each doll is complete with her own “scary” pet and “fashionable” (read slutty) outfit. Kids can collect Draculaura, Clawdeen Wolf, Frankie Stein and Lagoona Blue. Each teen is the offspring of legendary monsters like vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein and sea monsters. What sucks, is that the idea is cute given all the passion for mythical creatures among youth culture, but the way the girls are dressed is a crime — no, I’m serious, if you dressed like this you’d be mistaken for a prostitute and hauled downtown.

Since I’m the product of the 80’s cartoon and toy marketing, I know this is nothing new, creating toys around entertainment and vice versa, but at least the toys we had growing up back then were empowering to girls and not weirdly sexual. I’m talking about My Little Pony, Rainbow Bright and Care Bears. Each taught lessons about confidence, community, intelligence and being independent — not popularity, shopping and premature sexiness. Where’s the lesson in looking hot?

As a culture, we deem it necessary for young girls to be pretty, hot and always made up. These pressures affect the self-esteem young women, leading to sexting, cyberbullying, hook up culture, sexual harassment and anti-feminist behaviors that are then perpetuated by adults. We need to break children free from the marketed sexism of toys like these. Barbie may have gotten a pass because she was also a doctor, among many diverse roles — and at least Courtney and Stacy dolls had outfits that fit their age — but these little monsters are young and wearing cell phones strapped to their legs like strippers. Too far!

So, how did I find out about these nightmarish toys? A friend of mine sent me an article by Peggy Ornstein in the New York Times. It’s a must read. If you want to read a press release from Matell, visit DreadCentral.

“The Hot Boy”

“The Jaundice Brothers”

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When Real Life is a Firewall

Last week I unplugged from my digital world and stepped out to attend my first blogger event and I’ll admit, it could have gone better. With all of the advances in technology and communication, it seems people have forgotten how to truly connect with real humans sans profiles and status updates.

Since my blog is virtually unknown, aside from a choice (and fantastic) group of you who read it, meeting other bloggers and editors from more well-known blogs seemed like a good idea to freelance, learn more about the blogosphere and meet more writers — in the flesh — a novel notion given that most people are constantly emailing, instant messaging, linking in, tweeting and sending virtual gifts.  So, in preparation for the event I turned to a printing press (how vintage!) to bring my identity and blog to life on paper with business cards designed online that I picked up on my way to the event at Staples.

I also let my book club know I’d be a little late for our monthly meeting, even though it’s one of my favorite in-person engagements.

The event, which was held at a bar, seemed calibrated for real-life networking, a refreshing break from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn: drinks, warm weather, outdoor space, name tags and a mix of young professionals. However, when I arrived, there were no more name tags and it was unclear who was there to grab a drink after work or who was there in a professional capacity.

In an effort to put forth my best networking skills, I searched for the two people I knew to be there. Though I only found one of them, I was relieved to know anyone at all.

However, even after chatting with an classmate who pulled a confused editor my way, it was still hard to feel like it had made a difference. Since most of the bloggers and editors already had many readers and most of them knew each other it was a little tough to approach people whose body language and cliques were like a firewall and I was the only one without the code to get in.

After two hours, I’d met with a couple people in PR and editorial, a comedienne comme comedy writer, two sales guys with websites and a penchant for music and losing interest in my writing abilities after finding out I’m married. It was a disappointment. However, the good news is, I did learn something, other than the fact that sexism against women and men is alive and collecting pageviews in the blog world.

In order for a blog to succeed, one needs to network, connect with other people and ultimately, keep writing — because as long as you continue to hit publish — people will find you. So keep up the good SEO, interesting posts and most of all linking to the best bloggers, blog posts and media online that you can find. And, if we have similar interests, please send me a message and I’ll link you up to my site.

All in all, I felt like a failure after the event, wondering why I left the comfort of my plugged in lifestyle where being over capacity on Twitter is a comfort because it means we’re all seeking the same link to the world. Yet, now that I’ve had a couple days to think about it and I found this list of the 50 Women Bloggers You Should Be Reading, I feel a little better.

I’m not going to let the awkwardness of a unfortunate in-person meet up discourage me. There are other women writers out there too and I’ll be combing through that list of bloggers to add more to my blog roll. And, I’ll be joining some blogging communities.

So, I guess it wasn’t a total loss, I only needed to learn how to climb the figurative firewall to see what was on the other side.

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Going Postal For Women Leaders

Mother Theresa, USPS

Katharine Hepburn once said, “I never realized until lately that women were supposed to be the inferior sex.” This independent and courageous thinking illustrates Hepburn’s role as one of the premiere feminists who valued equality. It also shows why she was chosen to be honored by the United States Postal Service.

Well, there’s nothing inferior about this year’s women on stamps. The 2010 U.S. Stamp Program unveiled stamps honoring three important women: Mother Theresa, Kate Smith and Katharine Hepburn. For those who do not know these amazing women, each left their mark on our culture, history and feminism.

Mother Theresa (1910- 1997) was a nun dedicated to aiding the poor in India where she took vows of “chastity, obedience, and poverty,” along with “a fourth vow of wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor,” says the USPS website. “‘In order to understand and help those who have nothing,’ Mother Teresa told the young women, ‘we must live like them.'”

Kate Smith, USPS

As an honorary American Citizen, her unprecedented generosity in her teachings and service to the destitute in India and with AIDS patients in the U.S. earned her the respect of people from all backgrounds. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, “in the name of the poor, the hungry, the sick and the lonely.” In addition to her many awards from the U.S. government she was an advocate who earned funds to sustain her work and the people she helped. Her stamp will be available to purchase on August 26, 2010 on what would have been her 100th birthday.

Kate Smith (1907-1986) was a singer and songwriter. Her signature rendition of the song “God Bless America,” has been called America’s unofficial national anthem and was a good luck charm for the NHL team, the Philadelphia Flyers. Known as the “Songbird of the South,” Smith recorded close to 600 songs, selling millions of records. Her stamp went on sale May 1, 2010.

Katharine Hepburn, USPS

As for Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003), whose stamp was revealed this month on May 12, 2010, “Katharine Hepburn will be remembered for generations, for both her unparalleled acting ability and being a role model for women who chose to live life on their own terms,” Postmaster General John Potter said in a statement.

Hepburn won four Academy Awards during her acting career that included 40 motion pictures. She played strong roles in films, proving that women could be sophisticated leaders on the big screen and in life.

Hepburn is the sixteenth professional actor to be honored in the U.S. Postal Service‘s Legends of Hollywood stamp series. Her niece Katharine Houghton, said, Katharine “provided hope and inspiration and courage for a whole new generation of women.”

I completely agree. Bravo to these amazing women and the U.S. Postal Service for recognizing their courageous work.

To see more of this year’s stamp series, check out the press release.

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Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe It’s Mom

Each week I write (and I’ll admit, sometimes rant) about feminist issues. On some days, the amount of sexism in the media, on the street and how we see ourselves can be overwhelming and I can’t take the discrimination, idiocy and pressures women face. And I think, how did we get here?

Then, I’ll be standing in Target and I feel the strong urge to buy the shiny lip gloss my mother used to apply in the rear view mirror of her car. Rubbing her lips together, singing and smiling at me with her beautiful, bright, imperfect teeth.

Other times, it’s her mascara — that classic pink tube of Great Lash with a green top. The very sight of that four dollar mascara lets me feel closer to her — the woman she was — and who she wanted me to become.

So, every now and again, I buy it. I wear it. And I feel beautiful. Not because I need to be pretty for a guy, or a job, or it’s how I’m supposed to look as a woman. I feel good because for moment I can wear a memory, a single moment in time when she sang “Sweet Thing,” by Mary J. Blige in the same lip gloss I see in the mirror, remembering her blue eyes looking back at me as urged me to sing along.

Maybe some of you will call me a hypocrite for loving these beauty products, but there are days I can’t help but like the way I feel when I wear them, connecting to my mom, embracing a fraction of her beauty in a simple smack of gloss or the curl of my lashes in black.

It’s funny how so much of what we know about gender is tied to what our parents taught and conditioned us to believe about the world and ourselves. Though my mom enjoyed looking her best and was devastated when she did not, the glamour she brought to her days, even when no one else could see it, is empowering to me (despite my own issues with beauty standards for women).

She worked multiple jobs, most of the time under the table so we could still collect food stamps, never caring what other people thought of her. She was a feminist, in her own way, as she boldly curled her hair and applied makeup before she left our home to clean other people’s houses. She used her confidence, moxie and determination to support our family, even though she was overwhelmed and faced different types of discrimination, idiocy and pressures.

At night, when she washed her face, the smell of Noxema filled the bathroom and her beauty products went down the drain, but her confidence did not.

Maybe there’s a little more to makeup than meets the eye. Or, maybe that was just my mom.

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Being Pretty Isn’t a Career Tactic

To my horror, I received an email this morning with the subject line, “Are You Pretty Enough to Get A Job?” Normally, Excelle sends me advice with empowering information on how to forward my career ambitions with confidence, strategy and feminist savvy. Well, not today.

I was thoroughly disappointed to receive such an insulting and sexist email written for women with the words “Ugly Ducklings Need Not Apply” as soon as I opened it.

“Studies show pretty people make more money, and now a new beauty-based job board looks to take plain Jane’s out of the running altogether. Will a ‘plainness penalty’ keep the average unemployed?”

Underneath that quote was also a link to a quiz titled: “Do You Need a Makeover?”

I considered not clicking the link, but wondered if it was a joke or meant to be ironic. Or, better yet, I would discover that plain or not, we could all channel our inner Peggy Olson and the secrets to modern day upward mobility.

Again, not today.

The author, Career Diva, began with statements about disregarding the assumption that attractive people get better jobs, however, the article contradicted these claims by linking to other Excelle features on how to dress better and why appearance matters.

Next, Career Diva brings up a website that connects companies who want attractive prospective employees (and gives them ratings on their looks) because “[u]nderstanding our dark side is the first step in overcoming it, I always say.”

Even though she attempts to explore sexism in the job market and investigate the website, she mainly quotes stats from studies in Florida and the U.K. affirming that good-looking people do receive better pay and job titles, even when intelligence is in the mix.

Instead of feeling proud to be a woman, she cheapened the “career-minded” site with this article that lacked the intelligence and feminism I look for in these newsletters.

The article ended with this quote: “According to the Florida university study: ‘people who were rated good-looking made more money, were better educated and were more confident.’ Maybe there should be a site called”

Isn’t the very process of applying an act of confidence? Why not offer something more to women who seek techniques for improving their current position or cultivating new skills?

Everything about the article made me feel like my success is dependent upon something superficial and totally subjective — not something real like education, experience and excellence.

To add insult to injury, when I googled “Woman CEO” to link an image to this very blog post, I got a photo of Heidi Klum spread eagle and bikini clad (and my search filters are set!). Really Google? I know she’s a Victoria’s Secret model, but she’s also the Executive Producer of a hit TV show! There aren’t any pictures of her dressed? And, aren’t there other powerful women in business? (Hello, Sheryl Sandberg!)

Curious, I clicked the image which took me to a feature about the “25 Hottest Women in Business.” Again, to my disgust, “sexy” photos of women leaders posing for FHM, or simply looking like sex objects, with vacant stares and fishnets tights, filled the page.

Instead of showing the talent, importance and successful methods hard-working women use to attain their dreams, like the 50 Most Powerful Women in 2009 by Fortune, that list and Excelle reduce women to “hot” bodies and “pretty” faces. I refuse to believe that women’s worth will always be dictated by the way we look — it’s unfair, unkind and completely short-sighted by men and women alike.

We are leaders, we can earn high pay and we are powerful.

Will I continue to subscribe to the Excelle newsletter — whose name is also stupid — why gender a word, anyway? We’ve been trying to avoid gendered terms for decades — that’s not empowering — not today.

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The Misconceptionist: Bristol Palin

May is National Teen Pregnancy Month and the Candie’s Foundation has several public service announcements and campaigns “educating” youth about teen pregnancy. As the child of teen parents, I feel very strongly about sex education and teen pregnancy awareness, but I completely disagree with the approach the foundation — and many American schools — have taken recently.

The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in developed nations, despite today’s 50th anniversary of the birth control pill. “In 2006, 750,000 women younger than 20 became pregnant,” reports the Guttmacher Institute. With all the access to birth control methods and freedom of speech we have, it’s absurd that we do not provide better sex ed resources to tweens and teens.

To top it off, young celebrity moms like Jamie Lynne Spears and Bristol Palin glamorize the problem. Bristol Palin is not a valid spokesperson… for anything. She needs to focus on taking care of her child and getting an education, not doing public service announcements for the Candie’s Foundation (then going clubbing after the premiere).  She shouldn’t be exploiting her son Tripp on People covers repeatedly, while talking about abstinence and then making appearances on the Today Show and The View as a role model for young women.

As you may have seen, she tells teens to “Pause before you play,” in the Candie’s PSA. “Play” what? Play house in a condo paid for by parents, like you? Play sex games? Foreplay? What exactly is she talking about? She never even says, “sex.”

My other problem with the PSA (please see below) — aside from its vague message — is the organization’s choice of Bristol Palin as the face of their advocacy. She makes it look fun and easy to be a teen mother, yet she has more help than the average mom — at any age — let alone teens in poverty who need education about sex, STDs and pregnancy.

Candie’s plays off the fact that she DOES have things easier and it sounds like she’s bragging about being better off than other young moms. She might as well said: “Hi, I’m Bristol Palin and if you aren’t rich and famous like me, being a teen mom would really suck. Thankfully, it doesn’t for me, but it could for you.”

Plus, there are behind the scenes videos that make Palin look like a movie star at a photo shoot as she smiles happily for the camera and her cute baby coos.

In my experience, people, especially young adults, do not like being treated like they are less than anyone else, or like they are stupid. Bristol Palin is as far from the average teen as they could imagine in the first place. The white T-shirt and pared down room at the end of the PSA aren’t believable.

Plus, what’s the message? They don’t even say the word “sex,” let alone useful terms for preventing pregnancy like “condoms,” or “birth control pills.” You know what’s really scary? STDs. Or giving birth. Or a crying baby that won’t stop screaming because he or she is hungry, tired or cranky. That’s a real message.

Also, Palin advocates abstinence — she’s the biggest hyprocrite. Especially since studies have shown (Palin included) abstinence is not an effective method of preventing teen pregnancy. You know what does work? Condoms!

When I was in school celebrities proudly talked about safe sex, displayed condoms in music videos and increased awareness about HIV/AIDS. In fact, the topic of intercourse wasn’t taboo and in school — we learned about reproduction, STDs and all the methods of birth control. Putting a condom on a banana was a rite of passage for freshman!

Sex makes a baby, Bristol! We know you know that — so why can’t you just be honest to teens and make an educated statement your situation, instead of exploiting it for media attention.

Here’s what Candie’s should be saying:

“If you’re going to have sex, wear a condom because you could get pregnant, or contract a highly contagious or incurable STD. Go to the Candie’s Foundation website, or your local clinic to get some free condoms or to receive a birth control pill consultation. Please see our list of resources on sex education. Think before you have sex and be responsible.”

That’s a public service announcement.

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Avoid Fake Tears, Beat Stereotypes

Image by kharied

“There’s no crying in baseball.”

Boy, was Tom Hanks‘ character in A League of Their Own right. Why is it that women feel it’s o.k. to cry and get their way?

Whether it’s to gain sympathy, from force of habit, or a direct manipulation, I’m so tired of women crying because they think it’s the most effective way to get what they want.

In my opinion, women should avoid crying as a form of persuasion because it reinforces the stereotype that women are sensitive and weak.  And, when women cry to control others, particularly men, they are actually exercising a form of passive aggressive power.

However, this is not a good source of authority. Fake crying is deception. It shows men that women are unable to communicate in a logical, rational and assertive manner.

For example, at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival this year, a friend and I were in the front row against the barrier between the audience and stage for La Roux. When a drunk, pretty woman with attitude picked a fight and then brawled with another woman, I let the guard know that there was a fight going on to prevent others from getting hurt.

When he confronted her, she cried to the male guard that others were picking on her.  Not only was this a lie, she cried to make it seem more real.  What did the guard do?  Absolutely nothing.  He let her stay while she continued to hit people in the face and make a nuisance of herself until she became too violent that the crowd had to squeeze her out.

Instead of doing his job and removing the violent person from the crowd, she took advantage of the guard’s sexist view of women by acting like a victim.  Not only did she deceive him, she ruined part of the show for everyone else — not to mention inflicting some bruises on her fellow concertgoers.

As the surrounding group, we were wise to her fake tears and managed to move her away from us (without hurting her) since the guards refused to do their job.  What bothers me about this situation is not her drunken behavior or the fact that she got physical with the crowd. The frustrating part of this situation is that we all know if she had been a man, she would have been removed with force after mere seconds of a fist fight.

To be clear, I’m not saying women should never cry.  If you feel it and need to show it, go for it. If you aren’t sure how to express yourself in a clear way, the first step is to stop manipulating people and simply state your mind in a polite, but firm way.

When women use tears for persuasion, they reinforce negative gender stereotypes that make the rest of us less credible and communication even more muddled in prejudice.

Plus, fake tears are standard “Terrible Twos” behavior. You wouldn’t let a toddler get away with it, why would you let an adult?


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