Alone in a Room on National TV

So you know when you're watching CNN or MSNBC or FOX news orPBS or whatever and they have some talking head on a monitor chatting with the host? Well here's how they do that when you're the guest: you are sitting alone in a black-walled, darkened room staring into a camera lens. You do not see the host. You do not see the other guests. You do not see yourself. You have no idea whether or not you are on-screen at any given moment. You hear the host and the other guests through the earpiece and you talk earnestly at nothing at all. It's a seriously weird deal. But that's how it goes, especially if you live in California and most of the media is in New York. I never get used to it. But I did it the other night because I was asked to be on the PBS News Hour with Gwen Eiffel and, really, how cool is that? Anyway, here's how it came out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pk_J6l_T2Jg&list=PLgawtcOBBjr-JeJG7XTRqPO-oeuWZK1De&index=2

Just for Fun, 'Cause Dang, I Need Some

So many people have sent me links to Jamie Moore's work. Moore is a photographer and mom to a 5-year-old girl, Emma.  In response to the cultural omnivorousness of Disney Princess, she she began to think about:

...all the REAL women for my daughter to know about and look up too, REAL women who without ever meeting Emma have changed her life for the better. My daughter wasn’t born into royalty, but she was born into a country where she can now vote, become a doctor, a pilot, an astronaut, or even President if she wants and that’s what REALLY matters. I wanted her to know the value of these amazing women who had gone against everything so she can now have everything. 

Gosh, that is so beautifully written, isn't it? Anyway, she and Emma chose five of those women for Emma to dress up as to honor for her fifth birthday.

...but there are thousands of unbelievable women (and girls) who have beat the odds and fought (and still fight) for their equal rights all over the world……..so let’s set aside the Barbie Dolls and the Disney Princesses for just a moment, and let’s show our girls the REAL women they can be.

You have got to see the results. GOT TO. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about "fighting fun with fun." Everyone has their own limits, tolerance, acceptance for the Disney Princesses and all that comes after, but wherever you stand on that spectrum, it's important to give your daughter a broader view (no intended, sort of) of what it means to be a girl and a woman. So thank you SO MUCH for giving me something beautiful I can share with my daughter, Ms. Moore and Emma.

I hope you don't mind if I reprint one of your photos here....And could you please, please keep going with this project? We need it!

Where Have the Go-Go's Gone-Gone?

Daisy and I have been watching this Go-Go’s vid over and over (and over) lately. I’m struck by how much the women in the band, unlike most of today’s female artists, look like real people--even Belinda, whom I recalled  as a sort of having an unattainable ideal of beauty vibe (maybe that came later,  in the "Cool Jerk" era). And Jane, well, dang, how cool is Jane? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3kQlzOi27M

This vid is all about having silly fun and making music with your pals, not what other people think about how you look. Yeah, they stop at a lingerie store for no apparent reason. But they come out empty handed as far as I can tell. Because unlike today’s lady stars, if they did buy leather thongs, they are wearing them under their clothes. And who knows? maybe (as my girl Caitlin Moran might say) they just needed to stock up on some stridently feminist big pants.

Rock-&-roll is sexy, no problem with that. Love that. But somewhere along the line, for women in the bizness (as for girls across the board) looking desirable replaced  expressing or understanding your desire as the definition of "sexiness." I mean, where are today’s playful vids of girls just wanting to have fun, making music for the joy of it, letting the audience in on what it means to simply feel free? I suspect if this vid were made today it would show a band of perfectly sculpted bodies in bustiers and 5-inch spikes “owning” their sexuality by bumping and grinding in a giant bird cage. Constraint as freedom, that's just messing with girls' minds. Minimally, Belinda would have come out of that lingerie store carrying a stack of shopping bags. 

So, yeah, there’s Adele. Of course, Adele. Maybe the Dixie Chicks? But who are today’s Go-Go’s? Whither today’s Belindas and Janes?

(Me, I blame the Spice Girls.)

 

A Chrismukkah "Nice" List

'Tis the season of giving--and frustration with hyper-gendered, sexualized toys. So, how about "fighting fun with fun" with some recommendations? There's my on-going, if badly organized, list on this site. But in addition, let's help each other out: What are you giving your children for Christmukkah? Tell us their ages, sexes and your gift ideas.  I'll go first, since Chanukah is in four days.  But I'm trusting you guys NOT TO TELL MY DAUGHTER!!! To reduce the greed-fest that the holiday has become, we usually have a latke night with another family whom she loves and doesn't see that often as one "gift." We also typically bake Chanukah cookies on the weekend as a "gift." There's also a "dreidel night" with gelt and/or M&Ms (yeah, it's teaching my kid to gamble, but heck, it's TRADITION). Sometimes on that we give a board game as well. This year she'll get a lot of games from relatives: my parents are giving her Seafarers of Catan an expansion set for  The Settlers of  Catan, which has been a favorite since she turned 9.

My oldest brother's family is giving her Forbidden Island.

My husband's family will also probably give her a board game. My other brother's family always gives her wonderful books or audiobooks for the holiday, usually picked out by their (now adult) children based on what they loved as kids. Later they can discuss  the books together, which is a lovely way for cousins who are over a decade apart in age to bond.

Then we have calendar night (something my own parents always did), when I give silly calendars for daughter and husband. This year I think she'd like this one. Nine year olds love absurd, "in-joke" humor.

And we  have an art night--this year she'll get this Klutz book and some pastels.

I'm putting my money where my mouth is this year and getting her an original Roominate kit. It's expensive, but I figure it's not just a toy, it's a political statement. Plus, I know she'll really dig it.

She will also get this book of optical illusions from my parents, which looked really cool.

That takes us through the 8 nights and more, really. And, ok, we are also mulling over whether to get her what she REALLY wants, which is a camcorder. Something like a Kodak Playsport or a Panasonic. Basically something akin to a Flip, which sadly no longer exists. But she's already getting a lot, so she may have to break down and use the allowance money she's been hoarding for four years to buy that one for herself. She'd also really like an electric keyboard; perhaps next year.

On Christmas morning, she generally gets a few stocking stuffers. Santa brings candy, tangerines and  a few items that, COINCIDENTALLY, appeal to my husband's tastes as well as my daughter: little Japanese animation-based toys, a graphic novel (she is missing one from the Bone series) or a Calvin & Hobbes book, Plants vs. Zombies.

For other little girls on my list, I am doling out Rapunzel's Revenge.

So, what about you? What are you getting (or suggesting family get) for your little ones?

 

How We've Decamped from Science

A recent Christian Science Monitorarticle confirmed that there are still gaps between girls and boys in STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) subjects despite larger gains in education for women over the past 40 years.  Among the high school graduating class of 2011, for instance, 80% of computer-science course Advanced Placement test-takers, 77% of those taking the physics exam for electricity and magnetism and 74 percent of mechanics exams. Also, 59 percent of those taking Calculus BC, the more advanced of two AP courses offered in the subject, were male. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows  continued achievement gaps between boys and girls in STEM fields as well, especially science. Boys outperform girls at the 4th, 8th and 12th grade level with the biggest gap being in 12th grade.

No bueno, right?

I was thinking about this the other day, when I attended the orientation for my daughter's drama camp, a wonderful program that centers on Elizabethan history, stage combat and Shakespearien drama. Be still my English major's heart, right?

As it happens, she's attending it with a male friend. He  will be one of maybe three boys in the entire camp. I was truly saddened thinking about how the  arts have become a  "girl thing" (not to mention the irony given that all the female parts in Shakespeare's plays were originally played by boys). It's impoverishing to boys' souls when they are tacitly discouraged from drama, fine art, writing, reading, music.

What ARE boys doing? Well, sports, of course. Science camps. Robotics. Things my girl did up until this summer. Somehow, without my noticing,  we slipped into stereotypical girl land. I think that is exactly what happens: according to the article, girls begin to fall behind in STEM in elementary school and the gap just gets wider. In part, no doubt, because of  something going on in the classroom. But the culture outside of school is also to blame:  from the get-go girls are rewarded in their play and by adults  for how they look rather than what they do. Even the putative "science kits" for girls, which I've written about before  are more about cultivating obsessions with beauty and consumerism than actual science. To that list I'd add the HELLACIOUS video "Science: It's A Girl Thing" by the clearly-on-crack European Commission that's been making the rounds lately. I guess they didn't read the recent study of middle school girls  from the University of Michigan  that found that attempts to "glamorize" women in  STEM seem to be less motivating to girls than more "everyday" female STEM role models. So try this video instead:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_176279&src_vid=g032MPrSjFA&v=vpgc_cvCsP4&feature=iv

There are also the extra-curricular activities we think about for our girls. This is not an easy one for me as a parent. I'm not a STEM person myself. Nor is my husband, who is a documentarian. Still....our daughter loves math. She adores science. She is a regular at the science museum that's down the street from our home. We listen obsessively to the fabulous They Might Be Giants "Here Comes Science" album. Here are a couple of vids from that one:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0zION8xjbM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf33ueRXMzQ

And even with all that, we ended up this summer with nary a STEM activity in sight. Nor will she see many boys in her activities over the next few months, reinforcing the idea that they are more "other" than is necessary (though we do discuss a great deal why there are no boys at horse camp or drama camp).

The truth is, I probably will never enroll my daughter in as many extra-curriculuars as I should that would keep her brain STEM alive. I am a passionate under-scheduler and I prioritize the arts, then something physical and, eventually all will fall by the wayside for Bat Mitzvah training.  I depend on her school, her teachers, to stoke her interest--and all their students' interest--in those critical subjects. I hope they do. I hope they notice when the little differences begin emerging so that they don't become the kind of big gaps that will, later, limit them in their choice of professions and earning power.

 

***

Yeah, I know I haven't written about Brave. I was on a deadline. Now it seems too late. So, briefly, I thought the movie was okay. It wasn't my favorite Pixar movie by a longshot. If considered as a "princess" movie it was certainly superior to most (though Mulan I and II are still my favorites). I could talk about how we deserve broader representations of females on film, ones that aren't royal (it seems that a number of people can't even remember that princesses were not, until recently, the only image for girls allowed on screen).

I could also talk about how I didn't understand what made Merida "brave" per se. Her mother was certainly brave. But what was brave about her? How did she change? She changed her relationship to her mother because her mother changed. In the revelatory scene when she's talking to the men her mother is feeding her lines, she's not coming to anything. It seemed to me that what made her "brave" was that they slapped a bow and a quiver on her. But that's a symbol, not a character trait.

I would've found the movie more interesting, too, if the men hadn't been such dolts. What if her suitors were actually appealing? Was the issue that Merida didn't want to marry someone she didn't choose or she didn't want to marry an idiot?

And, then, while the mother was fine, it would have been nice if there were some other female roles in the movie--a friend, say, or lady-in-waiting. It was as if Pixar was so afraid males wouldn't go that they didn't want to have any extraneous females muddying up the place. Imagine, for a second, a movie in which the two main characters were male and every other character in the film was female, without comment  (ok, yeah, the cook in Brave was female, but still). The movie did nothing to change the statistics that the Geena Davis Institute published on the percentage of speaking characters  in family movies held by females: it remains a paltry %29..

But really, I think the issue is this: the discussion of the movie is symptomatic of the problem. There are so few female protagonists in family films (or any other film) that when there finally is one, we can't just look at it as a movie. We can't just say, yeah, it was okay. It has to have all this weight on it, all this pressure. It has to be a referendum. If there were just more, more, more then Brave could've just been another Pixar film, no more, no less, instead of a major event because they FINALLY, after twelve films, realized they hadn't made one starring a woman.

So what do I think of Brave? What I think of Brave is that I wish I didn't have to think so much about Brave. You know what would have been REALLY radical? In our screening (and I assume at theaters) there was a short before the movie called "La Luna." It featured two old men and a little boy in a row boat whose job involved changing the phases of the moon. What if the old men and been women? What if the boy had been a girl? What if there had been no comment about that? Seeing the short before the much-ballyhooed "first Pixar princess" (note that "princess" was at some point substituted for "female" as if the two are interchangeable) reminded me that when a character is male it is assumed to be universal, and so goes without comment. Only when she is female does she become specific. I want to see so many females on screen that we, too, are universal.

Also, I wish I could get my hair to look like that.

If Brave didn't do it for you, or even if it did, I hope you'll also take a look at the movies on my fight fun with fun page. And be sure to check out Studio Ghibli's latest: Arietty based on The Borrowers. Disney buried it, which was a shame.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp2nb9Vq0yY

 

DREAMY reviews for "Kepler's Dream"

I wrote earlier this week about the must-read YA novel, Kepler's Dream, which was officially published yesterday. I'm thrilled to report that the book is already racking up stellar reviews. In this coming Sunday's New York Times "Book Review" the discerning Dani Shapiro--herself a wonderful writer--calls the book  "delightful" and "marvelous" and  "full of smart, subversive commentary on the numbing effects of contemporary youth culture." She adds:

But in the end it is Ella's voice--utterly captivating, idiosyncratic, rich and memorable--that ties all the pieces together in, yes, a kind of dream logic, making this not only an entertaining book but an absorbing and artful one.

From Library Journal:

Ella’s divorced mother has leukemia and her father is busy guiding trips for his fly-fishing-trip business so the 11-year-old is sent to stay with her grandmother. Neither of her parents gets along well with her father’s mother, and Ella hasn’t ever met her. She joins eccentric Violet Von Stern at her adobe home and names it The House of Mud. Under the brilliant Albuquerque’s night sky, she wishes on stars for her mom’s recovery. Her grandmother sternly corrects and lectures her, but Ella’s stay is full of interesting surprises. One of grandma’s books, Kepler’s Dream, has been stolen from her extensive library, and it’s worth thousands of dollars. Ella puts her detective skills to work to find the missing book while discovering the importance of family. Bell has created a fascinating cast of eclectic characters who are sure to capture and retain readers’ attention. Smart and thoughtful, the story sparkles like Kepler’s favorite stars in Bell’s debut offering for children.–Helen Foster James, University of California at San Diego

And Booklist:

While her mother is in treatment for leukemia, 11-year-old Ella goes to spend the summer with the grandmother she has never known. She is initially intimidated by the formidable relative she calls the GM (for grandmother or, alternately, general major). Despite worries about her mother, Ella falls into the rhythm of life in Albuquerque, befriends a few people, and begins to uncover family secrets. When the theft of a rare book, Kepler’s Dream, upsets her grandmother, Ella and a friend attempt to find it and unmask the thief. However, the mystery always takes a backseat to the revelation of characters and relationships in past and present. Punctuated by the occasional letter to her mother, Ella’s narration is fresh, distinctive, and full of dry humor. After she discovers that her grandmother is a stickler for correct word usage, Ella privately refers to the GM’s home as the GGCF (Good Grammar Correctional Facility). One of the pleasures of the novel is Ella’s gradual realization of what she has in common with her initially aloof grandmother. Two strong individuals under stress, they come across as fully rounded characters, and even the minor players here are distinctive, credible, and memorable. An impressive debut for Bell. — Carolyn Phelan

Congratulations, Juliet Bell!

 

I feel so passionately about this book. I so want to get it out there. Rare is the book for middle graders these days that is beautifully written; has a very real girl at its heart; and has a well-plotted, age-appropriate, gore-free story!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfD6CLGmwfM

 

 

Read These Now!!!

Looking for a  new “fight fun with fun” book for your middle grade daughter (or son….)? Honey, have I got two for you. Kepler’s Dream, the debut YA novel by Juliet Bell, is about 11-year-old Ella, a clever, compassionate  girl whose mother’s cancer treatment and father’s disengagement exile her to   “Broken Family Camp” for the summer: staying with her severe-natured grandmother in her peacock-ridden hacienda in Albuquerque. Neither of them is happy about the arrangement. Ella is afraid her mother may die, but all her grandmother seems to care about is her crazy library full of books When a rare and much-loved volume, Kepler's Dream of the Moon, is stolen, however, Ella decides it's up to her to find it. The result  could be the key to healing her broken family. This is the kind of book I used to love as a girl, back in the days before the vampires and zombies and murder-tainment (nothing against Hunger Games)  struck. Ella feels utterly real, her voice just the right amount of snarky, her struggles relevant and relatable. I loved that nearly all of the central relationships were among women (though plenty of complex men are in there, too), especially the initially-hostile  one between Ella and her friend-to-be Rosie. Just because they’re the same age doesn’t mean they have to like each other, right? There’s a mystery at the heart of Kepler’s Dream, which I won't spoil, but really, this  a family issue story in the tradition of Paul Zindel or Judy Bloom. As Kirkus said when describing this “utterly satisfying” book:

Ella learns how blame can tear a family apart and how forgiveness and the things of which dreams are made can heal. The credibly realistic resolution leaves Ella firmly grounded with deepened family ties, a new friend and some hard-won horseback-riding skills.

 

Meanwhile, back in the land of fantasy and fairy tales, Daisy and I have been riveted by the audiobook of Shannon Hale'The Goose Girl. It is performed by our beloved Full Cast Audio and, as usual, they do not disappoint. Amazon says this book is for 6th-9th graders and they may well enjoy it, but as a read-aloud, Daisy and I were riveted (and she’s 8 ½ these days). She has friends in second grade who are enjoying it as well.

You may be familiar with the Grimm’s story that inspired this tale, but Shannon Hale has taken what amounts to a (very bloody) sketch and turned it into a (less bloody) masterpiece. At 16, Anidori–Kiladra Talianna Isillee, Crown Princess of Kildenree is sweet, if naïve and cosseted. She possesses the gift of “animal speak, ” something little valued by her imperial—and imperious—mother, the queen. When she’s shipped off to a neighboring kingdom to marry its prince (and keep the peace) she is easily overthrown by a mutinous entourage headed by her lady-in-waiting. Ani barely escapes with her life. Eventually she disguises herself as a goose girl. Before the story is over, she learns lessons in courage, justice, perseverance and coming in to your own as a woman and a person. In the end, birthright doesn’t make Ani a princess—her character, forged by experience, and her brave actions do. I cannot recommend this audiobook highly enough.

Both Kepler's Dream and Goose Girl are about girls who face enormous obstacles they have to work hard to overcome--that only they can overcome. And through making hard choices, facing unforeseen challenges, they make not only their lives but the lives of those around them--friends, family, strangers--better. They come into power, and that is a beautiful thing.

Enjoy.

Prom Plastic Surgery and Girls SPARKing a Difference

When  we called people "plastic" back when I was a teenager, it was an insult. These days, apparently, not so much. Joe Kelly, over at The Dadman (an expert on how to father girls, as well as husband to Nancy Gruver, founder of New Moon Girls online community/magazine) sent me a press release discussing the 71% rise in chin implants in 2011, in large part driven by teen girls asking to have the procedure done...for prom. That's right, 20, 680 surgical procedures at $3,500-$7,000 a pop were performed last year. There has also been a spike in "ear-pinning," (for those up-dos) which Darrick Antell, a spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, informally called "Clark Gable Wings." Antell told the Sunday Times:

At proms in the past, teens would line up for photographs and face the camera. But the rise of more informal images, captured during video chats or by smartphones when they are leaning over a buffet maybe, has shown them angles of their face they had not seen in a mirror.

Oh, well in that case....

The HuffPo asks in a poll, "Do you think getting plastic surgery for prom is excessive?"

Like we need to vote on that????

Whether or not surgery for prom (or any teen cosmetic surgery. Or, for that matter, any cosmetic surgery on anyone) is excessive is not really the question. Nor do I want to get into a debate over what those girls' parents were thinking. The issue to ponder  is, how, even as girls are higher achieving and better-educated than ever, did we get to this point? And how do we pull back from the brink?

Well, for starters, the culture that bombards girls  at unprecedentedly early ages  with an unattainable ideal of beauty, pressures them to define themselves from the outside in, tells them that the most important thing to their well-being and success is being the Fairest of them All. They learn over and over whether from their baby rattles or their  science kits or their flower seeds that who they are is how they look.

What's more, these days, even the people who embody the unattainable, ideal haven't actually attained it. That's different than when I was young, and it messes with girls' heads. One way to combat that is to make sure EVERY girl (and EVERY woman and EVERY boy and EVERY man) sees and discusses the Dove "Evolution" video. I've shown it to my daughter repeatedly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hibyAJOSW8U

Another good clip, especially for boys:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5_AFk9aOAA

We can also support girls who are trying to make change. Here's an opportunity: 14-year-old Julia Bluhm, a SPARK team member, has started a petition to ask Seventeen Magazine to run one--JUST ONE--un-altered photo spread a month in the publication.

I was a rabid fan of Seventeen as a girl. I sat down with my monthly issue the minute I got it and read it cover-to-cover. I mean that literally. I read every ad. I read every article. I didn't jump to the back when an article did, I waited until I got to that page. I kept every issue--I think I may still have them--in a footlocker in my green room with its white patent crinkle-leather beanbag chair and its green swag lamp. I knew all the bylines and the names of all the models. Years later, I met folks who had written for the publication and they were shocked when I could quote their pieces back to them. (You can read about a modern girl's love/hate with the iconic girl mag here). Seventeen is part of why I became a writer. It may also have contributed to the eating disorder I struggled with as a teen. So I don't take the magazine's influence lightly.

SPARK and Julia have  already gotten over 43,000 signatures on her change.org petition. I would love to see them get at least 50,000, so these marvelous girl activists know  that we adult women (and our daughters, sons, menfolk) are behind them.

In a supporting--and fun--activity, SPARK's partner site, poweredbygirl.org invites girls (and adults) to contribute an on-line spoof of the current Seventeen cover.  I believe understanding and taking control of media messages can be transformative for girls, turning them from princesses into heroines. Why don't you try it yourself and see?

 

 

(posted by avivajaye)

My Favorite Reader Photos

I’ve been off-line for two weeks which is like two centuries in social media time. Here are some of the things I’ve apparently missed. A reader sent me a photo of Kraft's  Girlz  cheese.

 

Beyond  the gratuitous sexualization of dairy products...um, cheese pods????

This one is  from the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum:

So, blue or gray for historical accuracy and pink....for girls? I would hate to have been wearing pink in a field of gray.

Seriously, pink Confederate soldier caps? As a 7-year-old, my parents took me to Gettysburg.  I happily popped my traditional Union blue soldier hat atop my favorite outfit: a red-and-white striped t-shirt (decorated with a jaunty, patriotic blue anchor), cut-off jean shorts and navy blue sneakers. If my scanner weren’t broken, I’d post a Kodak moment of  my  brothers and me decked out in our caps, dangling our legs over a cannon, waving Old Glory.

I know the Lincoln Museum gives ample space to Mary's accomplishments, but what I wish in retrospect is that someone had told me—and my brothers—back at Gettysburg about the courage of ordinary women during the Civil War: their incredibly brrave role as battlefield nurses (a new and much-resisted concept at the time). If your little one is into Magic Tree House, check out Civil War on Sunday. Or check out this site  for a quick rund-down on women of the Civil War (both sides) including  Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix and even some Mulan-style soldiers. After all, we can't teach our children what we don't know ourselves!

Finally, here is an art piece by an 8th grader named Carole that says, more eloquently than I could, how the toxic culture of girlhood makes her feel. Carole,  thank you so much for sending it.

Panem-is-Us? Thoughts on "The Greed Games"

Ah, the ironies of our media culture. First  the film version of "The Lorax" commercialized anti-consumerism by pimping out its namesake  to seventy corporate sponsors (including IHOP pancakes and Mazda cars). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-chuDFXcaAU

Now comes the deluge of "Hunger Games"-inspired products that are so contrary to the books' message that they seem like a parody. Take the press release I received today:

SAVING FACE in The Hunger Games – Best Beauty Solutions to Shed the ‘Tribute Tomboy’

Hi Peggy,

Hope you’re doing well! In just two days the world will be watching as Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and the rest of their star-studded cast take center stage in The Hunger Games… so with all the hype surrounding the premiere, I figured you might enjoy this fun story idea!

Fighting to the death doesn’t always end pretty (case in point, Glimmer’s notorious tracker jacker scene), but Katniss Everdeen made it look so easy, right? Through the scrapes and scars, burns and bruises, torn limbs and tattered clothes, the Tribute 12 huntress maintained her Amazonian prowess, with the same composure and “soft, rosy glow” radiance that Cinna + his beauty squad sent her to the Cornucopia with.

Yet for the rest of us, who aren’t quite mockingjay material, looking great at the end of a grueling “battle royale” might enlist extra help. The Careers would probably just use nature to concoct these mystifying beauty elixirs, but competitors who are aren’t such DIY-ers, should just hope for these products in their survival packs….

Let me know if you’re interested in more information on the below products for any emergency/life-saver beauty pieces you might be working on.

Looking forward to your thoughts! Danielle

Exhaustion/Dehydration Post-Cornucopia Bloodbath (sukiface® Balancing Day Lotion) – this lightweight, inflammation soothing daily complexion hydrator formulated with comfrey and aloe calms skin irritations, relieves redness and helps balance oil protection (from a full day of sweat and tears, you’ll need it).  $35.95/sukiskincare.com

Attack of the Tracker Jackers (sukiface® Concentrated Balancing Toner)  - this potent and powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial vitamin C complexion tincture/tonic calms and soothes minor bug bites and even the horrific sting of the tracker jacker.  Also great as a refreshing mist/after-sun spray to cool off after your hallucinogenic romp in the sun has died down.  $32.95

Tired, Weary, Scarred and Scorched (sukibody® Butter Cream Healing Salve) - this  intensely hydrating, non-greasy therapeutic botanical balm infused with coconut oil is ideal for alleviating the worst rashes (and poison ivy?), treating scars and scrapes, and healing chapping/chaffing brought on by severe dehydration.  Great to have on hand if your sponsor isn’t doing his job… $27.95

Let it Rain (sukibody® Delicate Hydrating Oil) - it might not be the safest decision to dance in the rain once the sky opens up, but for the first few minutes freshen up with this lavender-infused therapeutic moisturizing bath oil… can also be used as a great massage oil if you have some alone time to kill in a cave…  $27.95

 

Here are my thoughts, Danielle: Somewhere the "real" Katniss is weeping. Or laughing. Or putting her head down and just getting on with it. (And "Tribute Tomboy?" What does that even mean?)

But don't despair: given how many thousands of girls love The Hunger Games series, this is a fabulous opportunity for a media literacy discussion, for imagining how Katniss--all buffed and glossed and ready to be forced to BATTLE OTHER CHILDREN TO THE DEATH for the entertainment of the decadent Capitol denizens and their sadistic president--might feel about these products; to consider about how our media and beauty culture is glorifying the Panemites, making Hunger Games about something other than what it is  (and how we can channel our inner Katniss to fight back).

One idea: Powered By Girl offers young women a chance to talk back to media by spoofing ads in a fun, funny, creative way. How about doing your own PBG-ing on some of the Hunger Games product ads like this one for "Capitol Colors" nail polish (each color reflects one of the Districts!)? With whom are we to identify here?

 

What better way to be the Mockingjay than to mock?

 

 

 

 

In Memoriam: Benedict and Nancy Freedman

Ben Freedman, my friend, inspiration and the co-author (with his wife Nancy) of my favorite book as a girl—Mrs. Mike-died on February 24 at the age of 92. I found out earlier this week when the New York Times obituary page called me for a quote. Here is a picture of my original copy of Mrs. Mike, which I still have, held together by scotch tape and rubber bands.

Ben and Nancy (who died in 2010) led rich, full lives—I loved going to their apartment to listen to stories of their adventures, schemes and foibles. Even in failing healthy, they were exuberant and intellectually engaged, full of plans for the future, still writing every single day.

In honor of their lives, and to mark their loss, here is a link to Ben’s obituary.

And here is a link to a piece I wrote for Oprah Magazine about what they meant to me . I’m so grateful I had opportunity to write it—and even more grateful that I could do it while they were still around to read it.

Nancy and Ben were iconoclasts, free-thinkers, the ultimate champions of the  "fight fun with fun" mentality.  Nancy used to reminded me, “You have to celebrate bad news. Good news, you're happy anyway, but bad news--you've got to have a great dinner and kick up your heels.”

May we all, like then, remember to kick up our heels.

 

 

Is it Contradictory to Embrace the "Princess Boy?"

In today's Motherlode Emily Rosenbaum struggles with what seems to her to be a contradiction in the how she parents her daughter vs. her sons. The revelation was triggered when her  3-year-old girl returned from the Home Depot (with Emily's husband) brandishing a Disney Princess light switch plate (in case you're keeping track: that would be DP item #25,978 of the 26,000+  I mention in CAMD). It probably looked something like this:

Emily was furious, but her husband said:

You know, you’re reacting just the way I react when Zach wants to buy pink clothes. You should allow her to express herself as much as you let the boys do it.

That pulled Emily up short. Turns out their son, Zach, "is the only boy in his second-grade class to regularly rock a pink hoodie and pink socks. Benjamin spent his toddler years dressed as Tinkerbell, and we potty trained him by giving him plastic Disney princesses as reward." What bothers her is the idea that her daughter is into pink and princess. "It's a parenting Catch-22," she writes:

We have excellent books like Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter [Aw, gee, thanks, say I!] that deconstruct why princesses are so injurious to girls. Yet Cheryl Kilodavis’s My Princess Boy has us jumping up and down to support a boy’s right to like pretty things. We gag at nail polish marketed to children, yet we are delighted by a J. Crew ad featuring a boy in toenail polish.

Which is it? Are princesses bad for kids or part of their right to express themselves? Should we shield our children from the nefarious influence of cosmetics or embrace them?

I don't necessarily see these positions as mutually exclusive. Because really, it's not about "princesses." It's about recognizing the limitations our culture places on both girls and boys through its selling of very narrow ideas of femininity and masculinity.

So let's unpack this a bit.  Emily's husband says girls are "expressing themselves" by buying into a $4 billion marketing blitz that is geared towards convincing girls this is  the only way for them to act out femininity. Remember that developmentally, most 3-year-old girls do want to express their girlness (and boys their boyness). The princess industrial complex exploits and distorts that impulse.  Take a look, for instance, at the winner of the contest I held  when the CAMD paperback first came out.  It's one of the best illustrations I've seen of how today's  princess play flattens girls individuality and imaginations. They're not  "expressing" femininity so much as latching onto one  heavily marketed aspect that has been sold to an unhealthy extreme. I mean look at  how many DP items there are at Home Depot alone! That's not including non-Disney items (search princess instead of Disney Princess). What other choices are little girls offered?

That brings me to the  second issue--the pendulum-swing we often engage in when we discuss this topic. The choices seem to be that  a girl is either "expressing her femininity" by ensconcing herself in pink and princess or shunning  "girlie stuff" and sleeping with a football. To me the real task is to find a "third way" that exposes  girls to and allows them expression of a broader, healthier range of ideas about femininity: ones  that aren't perpetually linked to appearance and consumerism and  that aren't putting them on a path to define themselves through that connection for the rest of their lives. That's why I added the "fight fun with fun" section to this site--to offer  at least some options for cultivating a different, celebratory, joyous vision of girls' femininity that is unhooked from the current script.

Okay, now, onto the princess boy. Honestly, who doesn't like a few sparkles? I put them on the cover of my book! Everyone should be able to indulge in a little dress-up occasionally. That said, celebrating the  "princess boy" is really about  not wanting ANY of our children limited by stereotypes or denied the full range of human desires, emotions, enjoyments and potential. In  our culture right now boys are actively discouraged from engaging in anything seen as "feminine," which means they're denied color, sparkles, art, aesthetics, music and many things that, once upon a time, were the province and right of both sexes. When we hyper-segment kids by gender everyone is hurt, everyone is limited. But there's an additional issue when we teach boys they can't play with "girl" things: they learn not only to disdain  that which is associated with girls but to disdain girls themselves. Enforcing masculinity in childhood play is how we replicate misogyny and homophobia. Bad, bad juju.

Another way to think about it might be to flip it.  You might be more comfortable buying your daughter a toy gun because violence is not marketed to her as the cornerstone of feminine identity. It might feel subversive, expansive, whereas you might fret that buying one for your son  would reinforce the message that he's supposed to be tough, hard, emotionless, cruel.

So it's not about saying pink and sparkles are okay for boys and not girls, it's about trying to navigate through a world of products and images that are hyper-segmented and unhealthy, promote stereotypes, alienation between the sexes, and limit kids' access to the full spectrum of life. Emily, that's a really, really good impulse on your part that the marketplace, in its simplicity, is trying to convince you is hypocrisy.

You've got so many opportunities to create change as the parent of both a girl and boys. Listen, a  little self-decoration (henna tattoos, washable markers, face paint, glitter) is fun for all. Meanwhile,  try to expose your children of both sexes to a wide range of ideas, toys, images, clothing. Rather than simply allowing Zack to wear pink, why not also read him  the kind of stories about strong women and competent, clever girls that I'm sure you read to your daughter? If he likes to dress up as a Disney Princess, why not suggest a Greek goddess? Or Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? Or Kiki from Kiki's Delivery Service? How subversive would that be? Would that make you less comfortable than celebrating "the princess boy?" And if so, why? Perhaps that's the real question.

Who Needs Lego Friends When You Have a Lego Granddaughter?

A reader named Leslie, whose daughter, Callie's eloquent letter about Lego's new "Friends" line was summarily dismissed by that company, just sent me this photo:  

 

Callie and her cousins made this Lego "birthday cake"  for their grandmother, who is unable to eat the real deal.  Here's the family of girls and women preparing to blow out the candles. I bet they wished for creative, open-ended toys that didn't stereotype and hyper-segment children.

And guess what, Lego? THIS IS WHAT BEAUTIFUL LOOKS LIKE!!!!!!

In Which We Rescue the Fairy Tale

Before being co-opted by Uncle Walt (and, for that matter, the Brothers Grimm), the medieval, European fairy tales were a women's medium, an oral tradition shared over long hours of repetitive work, such as spinning (that's where "spinsters" comes from...). The tales were the entertainment of their day: the movies, the TV, even the porn (did you really think that Rapunzel and the Prince just talked in that tower?). The Grimms recorded the tales of their time and place, but as their compendium went through a variety of reprints--and as the stories became aimed at children--the brothers took out the sex (especially the pervasiveness of incest as the motivation for a heroine's flight) and amped up the violence. They figured, like many of the day, that scaring the beejezus  out of kids would get them to  behave. Personally, I love fairy tales and there are those (such as Bruno Bettelheim) who insist that you should read them, gore and all, to even the smallest children. That makes this modern mommy queasy, but I do think they're great for older girls and I still love reading them as an adult. The Disney animators' brushes have painted the heroines as passive and the prince as the savior, but in fact, that's not how many of the story goes. There are some great tales of female feistiness, cleverness and heroics. Most are waaaaay to bloody for girls (some that aren't are on my resources page). But for those of you over, say, twelve, I'd suggest starting with the following, which you can find online, along with many others, at SurLaLune Fairy Tales:

Fitcher's Bird

The Girl Without Hands

The Robber Bridegroom

Bluebeard

All-Kinds-of-Fur

Tatterhood

Fairy and folk tales  of  female bravery can be found in every culture.  Also check out Alison Lurie's book, Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Fairy Tales, some of which can be shared (or altered to share) with little girls.

My favorite physical version of the Grimms' stories is Maria Tatar's The Annotated Brothers Grimm. You can't beat it. Great on discussing women's roles as well. I'd also suggest Jane Yolen's Not One Damsel in Distress, The Serpent Slayer, and Lady of Ten Thousand Names. Each has some stories within that are appropriate for little ones.

Start with those, then just keep on going! Enjoy!

 

Disney Agrees: Princesses are Unhealthy for Girls!

Did Disney blink in releasing its new "age-appropriate" Sofia the First princess character and TV show?  If  Sofia is deemed "just right" for preschoolers, after all, wouldn’t that mean the now re-labeled "adult" princesses…aren’t? Yet for the past ten years, the Princess concept has been sold (and sold and sold) to the exact same demographic with the Disney assurance that they are “developmentally appropriate,”  "safe," and imparting good values. No more. Sofia, they assure us, won't be about romantic fantasy. She won't need a prince to make her happy, a message that, according to one report Disney recognizes as a "legitimate worry" for parents and a "bad message for little girls." Yet when I spoke with Disney execs while reporting Cinderella Ate My Daughter, they poo-pooed my concern, insisting that the romantic story lines and passive heroines of "Cinderella," "Snow White," "Little Mermaid" etc.--which, again, they were shilling to the very same preschool girls they now say need rescuing from that message--were harmless fun. Can they have it both ways? At the time, execs also told me that Princess was  not I repeat not only about the dresses, makeup, bling and Kardashian-sized materialism. Or the $4 billion annually Princess pulls in for the company. No.  Disney Princesses were  about kindness and compassion and values.

Hey, guess what they’re saying about Sofia? She will, according to a Disney Jr. exec, have “plenty of pretty dresses and sparkly shoes,” but her REALY purpose is to teach  viewers that “what makes a real princess is what’s inside, not what’s outside.” Unlike, say, what the other princesses have been teaching viewers for all these years?

So I wonder, does that mean Disney won't be selling any of Sofia dresses, crowns, ways or other merch, so they can reinforce the idea that she's all about the inside?

Not hardly.Disney is nothing if not cynical. And greedy.

Obviously Sofia is all about the dresses and the shoes. If not, they could have made her an astronaut or, I know….an explorer!!! Oh, wait, we have that already.I wonder whether Dora would have been possible in today’s princess-obsessed culture. Especially given that Dora herself has both gone princess and undergone a makeover.

 

 

Maybe if Disney (or Nick, or Sesame Street Workshop or, gosh, anyone)  had 10 other “age appropriate” female characters who were not princesses; maybe if they had a female character whose appeal did not depend on her prettiness (because make no mistake—Sofia is very pretty and weirdly coy and, not for nothing, totally white and that is part of the package); maybe if they didn’t continually reinforce to girls at ever-younger ages that how you look is who you are while claiming to do just the opposite (witness the Tangled Escape From the Tower Lip & Nail Set! and the Princess with a Loving Heart Make-Up Kit.); maybe if they didn't prime them for premature sexualization while claiming to protect them from it; maybe if they didn’t exploit little girls’ fantasies and turn imagination into something to be scripted and sold; maybe if they didn’t provide the first entrée for so many of the issues I write about on this blog (and in Cinderella Ate My Daughter); maybe then I would feel less disgusted by this latest move. Instead, it just feels like the latest predatory example of Disney reaching for the crib.

Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for the company to come out with a Snow White coffin. They’re missing a major womb-to-tomb  branding opportunity.

o

Wait! Wait! One more thing--you want a great princess story? I'll give you one. Just in time for the holidays. The Princess and the Pig. It looks hysterical--and right on. And you can bet it won't be used to sell your 3-year-old lip gloss!

Pearls From Ruby

The best thing we can do for our daughters is to teach them, as they get older, to make their own courageous way through the woods of the girlie-girl culture. So what a thrill to read this  blog post by my friend Marcelle's 11-year-old daughter, Ruby. Ruby wrote it after she and her mom, who live in New York City,  went shopping for her Halloween costume. Needless to say, they didn't find one, though Ruby sure found her voice. It's one thing for us adults to talk to girls about the creepy (not in a good way) costumes, but how much more powerful to hear it from a peer!

So Ruby and Marcelle, you are my sheroes and here, with her permission, is Ruby's post:

TRICKS AND TREATS: RETURN TO INNOCENCE

by Ruby Karp

So, you know what time it is! That’s right, Halloween! When you dress up as a scary ghost or zombie, right? Not for girls my age (I’m 11, in sixth grade). For us, it is dress-up-in-an-inappropriate-way time. And I know I am in that inbetween age, where I’m still a kid and almost something else, but seriously. I love Halloween, I love trick-or-treating with my friends, I love the way the neighborhood turns into a magical place with cobwebs and spiders and everything spooky-safe. And ever since I was 7, it’s been hard for me to find a costume that isn’t above the knee or low-cut or has a choker involved.

Like this year, I wanted to be Elmo and my friend was going to be Cookie Monster but where were the fuzzy costumes? NOWHERE. Instead of fun costumes that I would have a hard time choosing between, I found super-short dresses that aren’t cute, they’re inappropriate for me. How does Snow White turn into a girl in a sports bra that’s blue and a yellow mini skirt and super high heels that are bright red? Tell me, how is that Snow White? I looked at a Little Red Riding Hood costume and it went up really high. I mean, the list goes on and on.

And you know, instead of just telling my mom, “So this year, I want to be a Ghoulish Girl,” and going to the costume store and picking it out in five minutes, we have to search for something and my mom has to inspect it! Can you imagine trying to decide what costume is sexy and which is not with your mom? Do you know how embarrassing that is? Well, believe it. I have to do that every Halloween. Now, it isn’t easy when my best friend and me had been planning to be something together and your mom tells you cant because it is too-something-gross. So this year, I’m borrowing my friend’s old pumpkin costume that her Mom sewed for her (yep, she’s got a Super-Mom) and it is perfect for me, a girl of 11 years old.

It is sad how for Halloween, girls have less and less options on what to wear, that they have to choose between ick and ickier. I used to love Halloween because you could dress up in public  like a fairy and not look weird! Now, when I look for a fairy costume, I look a little too weird. Why do costume-makers want girls looking like this? What is going to happen to the next generation? Maybe the GOOD costumes won’t even be here anymore, the only choice a 10-year-old girl will have is to be something with the word “vixen” or “sexy” in the costume title. Sigh. I can only hope for the best.

I have to search real hard for a good non-weird costume. And it shouldn’t be this hard. Really, the only thing we can do is hope that the costumes go back to the way they were when I was little, when you could be a Princess or a Baseball Player and not look like you were out to be anything else but that. And more appropriate. NOTE TO PEOPLE WHO MAKE THESE COUSTUMES: we are not 25. We are 11. Start making costumes like it. AND FAST.

What a gem. Thanks, Ruby!

Don't be a "Trick" or "Treat" This Halloween

My beloved friends at SPARK have teamed up with HollabackPhilly and Beauty Redefined to sponsor a "Taking Back Halloween" contest for teenage girls. I wish they'd extend it down to 5-year-olds, whose costumes are getting sexier all the time, but hey, it's a start.  Here's what the site says:

Submit your spookiest, creepiest, punniest, funniest, most creative and brilliant costumes to our Costume Contest for the chance to win amazing prizes (including an iPod!). But we don’t want just any store-bought costume–like SPARKteam member Melissa says below, this contest is about creativity.

Over to you, Melissa:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hqs-TFQFaBA&feature=player_embedded

 

SPARK has created a fabulous space where girls can talk back to the media that tries to define and narrow them. It's also a great resource for us adults looking for "what we can do." Take a look at their SPARKit! Action ideas.

There. Now I feel a little teeny bit better about October.

Forget Harry Potter--The New Miyazaki Looks Like Magic!

Oh my goodness! More good news! The next Studio Ghibli movie, Arietty, will open in the U.S. in February. Ghibli the Japanese company founded by the visionary auteur Hiyao Miyazaki is responsible for the fight-fun-with-fun screen gems My Neighbor Totoro,

Kiki's Delivery Service,

Spirited Away,

Ponyo,

Castle in the Sky,

Nausicaa,

Princess Mononoke (not for little ones),

all of which feature spectacular, wonderful, natural female protagonists. I could not have gotten through my daughter's childhood without him. Plus, Miyazaki totally blows out of the water the old chestnut that female protagonists can't be universal or hold boys' attention. His  creativity puts Pixar to shame. In fact, John Lassiter idolizes Miyazaki.

According to an article in the UK Guardian:

Ghibli is often lazily dubbed Japan's answer to Disney, but the comparison only holds true in terms of box-office sales (Spirited Away is still Japan's all-time top-grossing film – three other Ghibli films are in the top 10) and sales of cuddly toys. In terms of content, Studio Ghibli is a world apart. Since 1984, under the auspices of its founder and chief auteur, Hayao Miyazaki, the studio has rolled out a succession of dense, ambitious fantasy adventures, almost all of them led by strong, intelligent, independent-minded girls. Miyazaki's movies are exciting and fantastical, often involving flying machines, ecological disasters, clashing civilisations and precarious spiritual values – all rendered in clean, colourful, hand-drawn animation. His heroines also tend towards a certain type. They are adventurous and active, but also compassionate, communicative, pacifist and virtuous. Their "female" qualities and childish innocence are often what resolve the crisis at hand and bridge conflicting worlds. Miyazaki does princesses, too, but the first time we see his eponymous Princess Mononoke, she's sucking the gunshot wound of a giant wolf and spitting blood into a river.

As Miyazaki once explained: "If it's a story like, 'Everything will be fine once we defeat him,' it's better to have a male as a lead. But, if we try to make an adventure story with a male lead, we have no choice other than doing Indiana Jones. With a Nazi, or someone else who is a villain in anyone's eyes."

"He thought heroism was much more complicated than that black hat/white hat stuff," explains Helen McCarthy, a British author who has written extensively on Miyazaki and Japanese animation. "By making the hero a girl, he took all that macho stuff out of the equation and that gave him the freedom to examine heroism. His career has been a very beautiful building of an idea that the feminine doesn't preclude the heroic."

The new film has all the earmarks of a Ghibli classic:

Arrietty fits right into this mould. It was adapted by Miyazaki from Mary Norton's Borrowers stories and directed by his protege, Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Arrietty herself is a miniature 14-year‑old girl, who lives with her parents in secrecy under the floorboards of a rural Japanese home, "borrowing" their possessions – a pin becomes her sword, for example. Like any little girl growing up, she's independent-minded and eager to explore the outside world. Just as Spirited Away's heroine bridged the world between the spirits and the living, so Arrietty bridges that between her little people and the full-sized humans, but she is also driven by her curiosity about boys.

Yeah, the boys thing, I don't know. But in Miyazaki's hands I imagine we'll see something beautiful...and real. Here's the trailer (somewhat lame, but the animation and story look great).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeoKCQUDE-k

And--GIRL CRUSH ALERT--it stars Amy Poehler!!!

 

Forget Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (well, okay, don't FORGET it, but....). I'll be first in line for this one.