Did Nancy Brinker Deserve a 64% Pay Raise?

Update: Ok, I changed the headline to this post because it was distracting people.  The new financials for Susan G. Komen for the Cure are out. According to the Dallas News, in 2012, the same year that the organization was roiled by the Planned Parenthood scandal (under Nancy Brinker's leadership and based largely on her say-so), the same year Brinker was forced to step down as CEO in an attempt by the organization to regain public trust, the same year donations dropped as a result of her miscalculations, Komen also gave Brinker  a 64% pay hike--from $417,000 to $684,717. Does that make sense?

Just so you know, a Charity Navigator survey found the median salary for the CEO of a not-for-profit organization to be $132,739.

Also, since Brinker is no longer the CEO of Komen, what is she doing in her "new role" for that kind of dough?

In case you've forgotten, the percentage the organization dedicates to research went down from 29% of revenues in 2008 to 15% in 2011.

I wonder, are the well-meaning Komen supporters "aware" of this?

I  do not want to be perceived as encouraging people to abandon breast cancer as a cause. Quite the opposite. I want your good will, effort, time and money to matter to a disease that has touched so many of us. Please let Komen know what you think about their skewed research allocations and Brinker's inexplicable pay hike. Contact them on Facebook tweet them at @komenforthecure Write or call them at :

5005 LBJ Freeway, Suite 250 Dallas, TX 75244 (1-877-465-6636)

You can change this.

And check out the good work of some of these other groups: Breast cancer Action; National Breast Cancer Coalition; Breast Cancer Consortium; Breast Cancer Fund; Susan Love Research Foundation.

 

Nancy Brinker from the Dallas News: Talking pink, earning green.

"Hippest Town in NJ" Doesn't Read the Bleeping New York Times!

I just got this press release. Made my jaw drop. Did they not know who they were writing to?  I get that Thomas could have missed  my blog post about this event. But come on, Dude. You're in New Jersey. You're a PR guy. The New York Times is your local paper. So let's give him some publicity--feel free to email Thomas at the linke below and tell him what you think of "paint your town pink." I responded by sending both the above links with this note:  "You are REALLY writing to the wrong girl. I think you are wasting people's time and money without doing anything to help eradicate breast cancer."  

From: "Thomas Paolella" <TPaolella@meridianhealth.com> To: "Thomas Paolella" <TPaolella@meridianhealth.com> Sent: Thursday, May 2, 2013 1:00:56 PM Subject: FW: Giuliana and Bill Rancic are coming to NJ to discuss the importance of mammography

Just a reminder about Saturday’s event. If anyone from your outlet is able to attend and share in this special evening we would love to have you.

 

Hi there – I wanted to invite you or someone from your team to cover a truly inspiring event for your publication. I know you don’t traditionally cover local NJ events, but this is something truly newsworthy to a nationwide audience.

 

In just a few short weeks, Meridian Health will host its annual “Paint the Town Pink.” For the seventh straight year, volunteers, committees, businesses, physicians, and local officials will make this event a reality. Everyone joins forces for one common goal; to raise awareness of the importance of annual mammography. Beginning May 1, Paint the Town Pink will cast a wider hue across our area with an expansion that now includes 23 Monmouth and Ocean County towns, making the event the most represented to date. What began as an idea seven years ago has been transformed into a grassroots initiative that is changing lives in very tangible and meaningful ways.

Paint the Town Pink was started by Riverview Medical Center with the goal to encourage women aged 40 and older to pledge to have their annual mammogram, as well as raise funds to provide mammography to the uninsured and underserved in our community. Through a variety of special events and in-store specials from hundreds of businesses, and involvement from community groups, this year’s Paint the Town Pink will be “bigger and Pinker” than ever before!

Last year’s campaign featured the “Men in Pink” and highlighted the men that support the women in their lives. Bill Rancic came to Red Bank, NJ and gave a talk about how he supported Giuliana during her breast cancer diagnosis. Bill had such a positive experience with Paint the Town Pink that for 2013, Giuliana will be coming with Bill and are hosting an event together titled “Little Things” – flyer below. There will be a Pink Media Lounge at around 7:45 p.m., in which members of the media will have full-on access of both Giuliana and Bill and will be able to ask questions, take photos/video, etc.

For more information please visit www.PainttheTownPink.com. I thank you in advance for your consideration. I know you get pitched stories all day long and I appreciate you taking the time to read this. Even if you’re not able to cover the event, a brief mention on your website would go a long way in helping to spread the Paint the Town Pink mission. I know the event is on a Saturday, but it will be well worth it.

 

Thanks again,

Tom

 

Tom Paolella Public Relations Manager Riverview Medical Center Bayshore Community Hospital Office: (732) 530-2282 I Cell: (848) 203-7596

 

Seriously, Disney, I'm Trying to Take a Little Break Here-- MUST YOU?

Update: The fabulous A Mighty Girl has put a petition up on Change.org asking Disney to keep Merida BRAVE. You can sign it here. So, I was about to commend Disney for doing something right. Yes, I was. The front page story in today's New York Times reported that the company stopped production of branded merchandise in Bangladesh in March, after the last disaster there: a fire that killed 112 people. To wit:

 A Disney official told The New York Times on Wednesday that the company had sent a letter to thousands of licensees and vendors on March 4 setting out new rules for overseas production.

Less than 1 percent of the factories used by Disney’s contractors are in Bangladesh, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The company’s efforts had accelerated because of the November fire at a factory that labor advocates asserted had made Disney apparel. The Disney ban also extends to other countries, including Pakistan, where a fire last September killed 262 garment workers.

So good for them. Good for Disney for trying to show some leadership and ethics regarding how its products are made. I respect that.

Now back to discussing the depressing results.

Rebecca Pahle over at The Mary Sue alerted me to the news that on May 11 Merida from Brave will to be crowned the 11th Disney princess. You remember Merida, right? The one with the bow and arrow? The one who looked like this?

Well, not any more. As with the other Princesses, she has gotten a redesign, a pretty-sexy-skinny makeover to boost revenues. Voila, the new Merida:

There's the hot hair, the coy expression. Also the obligatory exposed shoulders (moms tell me all the time that their preschool daughters are pitching fits and destroying their t-shirts because "princesses don't cover their shoulders), slimmer waist, and the bow and arrow replaced by...what is that, a low-slung belt? And she has what appear to be high-heeled shoes. Or at least slimmer, pointier feet.

Inside the Magic, a blog promoting Disney and theme park events, says that Merida's official royal ceremony will be well attended:

She will be joining existing Disney Princesses Snow White, Mulan, Aurora, Belle, Tiana, Ariel, Cinderella, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Rapunzel in the line, all of whom are likely to make an appearance at the coronation. New hairstyles, makeup, and dresses were recently given to the princesses in a modern update to their looks, which are also now reflected at Disney’s theme parks .

Because, in the end, it wasn't about being brave after all. It was about being pretty.

In case you've missed it, by the way, here's the updated look of the other ten princesses:

I'm especially creeped out by Belle who appears to have had major surgery. Compare this new chickabiddy to the actual movie:

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

Or, wait, maybe I'm more creeped out by the way they've changed Aurora (who used to be called Briar Rose).

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

Or, wait, what about what about the apparent lobotomy that Rapunzel has had? OrAnd  Cinderella looking like Taylor Swift? And Pocahontas?  Tiana looks like she's not getting enough to eat at that restaurant of hers. And Mulan, poor, poor Mulan. And here's  what Jasmine used to look like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kl4hJ4j48s

Snow White and Ariel were always especially  vapid so I don't have much to say there.

I hate to be in the position of defending the "old days" when the princesses looked "normal" (because, really, it's all relative and it's not like I was happy with them before this). Still, check out this pic, also from Inside the Magic, of the latest princess lineup including the new Merida:

Look at that head position on poor, exposed-shouldered Merida! In addition to everything else, they're pushing the brown girls slowly but surely to the edges. Tiana is thinking, "Wait, I only got one year up front? One lousy year to make up for nearly a century of racism (though to be fair, the ugliness extended well beyond Disney's depiction of African Americans)?  Meanwhile, Mulan looks WEIRDER THAN EVER. She doesn't even look human she's been so Orientalized and botoxed.

This is what she used to look like:

 

I've always said that it's not about the movies. It's about the bait-and-switch that happens in the merchandise, and the way the characters have evolved and proliferated off-screen. Maybe the problem is partly that these characters are designed in Hollywood, where real women are altering their appearance so regularly that animators, and certainly studio execs, think it's normal.

Ok, you know what? I'm so tired. Someone else take over here and make some pithy, salient points about the impact on girls of being bombarded with skinny, pretty, sexy messages and endless consumer products that tell them from the earliest ages that how they look is who they are, ok?  

I'll just leave you with that moment of promise, the trailer from Brave when we thought maybe Disney was showing some leadership and ethics not only in how they made their products, but the actual products they made.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEHWDA_6e3M

Make Komen Feel the Squeeze....

I was tempted to headline this "Komen: What a Bunch of Boobs!" But that seemed in poor taste..... In my piece in last Sunday's NY Times Mag I wrote that after our interview (interesting timing) Komen finally took off its homepage the misleading stat about the benefits of mammography.  Steven Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz had called them out originally in their excellent "Not So" series in the British Medical Journal. According to the ever-brilliant Gayle Sulik at Breast Cancer Consortium, however, you can still find the stat displayed elsewhere on Komen's site.

Maybe the PR folks just overlooked this one instance as they hastened to expunge the embarrassing evidence of science denialism from the site. But Sulik notes,

As Komen’s bold messaging continues to be erased from its materials if not from collective memory, is it enough for the group to simply step back and quietly disassociate from a misinformed pro-mammogram campaign?

Yeah-what she said! How can Komen deflect, disassociate from and deny the impact of their role in over-selling mammography when, according to Sulik's "short list" they continue to perpetuate it in their  "educational" materials and affiliate messaging (she points to such items as  "Early detection of breast cancer saves lives and thousands of Orange County women," and “Komen Austin was able to fund over 3,000 mammograms. I think of that as 3,000 lives saved.” ). Click over to the blog post yourself to read what Nancy Brinker just won't stop saying......

Komen is not getting the message. A friend who attended the White House Correspondents' dinner last week told me Brinker was there (don't know why...) and commented, "We'll soldier forward despite the critics." How about learning from a critique, using it to make a better, stronger, more effective organization? On our joint appearance on KQED-radio's Forum last week, after Dr. Laura Esserman urged advocates and the public not to be afraid of change, Komen's representative immediately disengaged by listing  the positive things the organization has done. She clearly has her tried-and-true sound bytes and wasn't going listen, only, like Brinker herself, try to duck criticism by playing the victim.

If you are a Komen supporter--or even if you're not--please keep the pressure on them to provide a truly balanced view of screening, to stop pinkwashing and to put more of their research money--more of ALL their money-- towards prevention, environmental links to cancer, the mechanisms and treatment of metastasis, better understanding of DCIS, social inequities and on and on. Tell them what they've allocated isn't enough.  Meanwhile, there are other groups who need your help--Breast Cancer Consortium, Breast Cancer Action, National Breast Cancer Coalition, Breast Cancer Fund, Susan Love Research Foundation. See which of those moves you and jump on board. 

As Sulik writes:

Mammography has been the rallying cry for breast cancer awareness for decades. And, it has helped to build an economy that focuses not on primary prevention but on the management of risk.

Time to make a change.

 

 

Photo: "This Elixir Won't Fix Her" by Torrie Groening. 

Update: More Komen deflection evident in the comments of this Reuters post on my piece. Really smart responses following....

What's Next, Porn Legos?

When I started my career, back in the mid-1980s, I was hired to be an editorial assistant at a certain top tier magazine in New York City. As part of the job interview I took a typing test. I was also informed  that the guy I'd be working for had a reputation for groping his  assistants. "Can you handle that?" I was asked. Not "If it happens report him." Not "He is being brought up on charges." Not even "We're trying to deal with it and we're sorry." Just "Can you handle that?" WWAMD? I thought (That's "What Would Ann Marie Do?")

Of course, I said yes. I worked for the guy for over a year and "handled it" by keeping six feet away from him at all times--believe me, I earned my $13,500 salary. (Note: I also worked for two amazing, generous, encouraging editors and mentors to whom I owe my career: Adam Moss and David Hirshey).

I thought we'd evolved since then (this was pre-Anita Hill's testimony in the Clarence Thomas hearings) but my heart sunk while reading Amanda Hess'  amazing post on yesterday's XXFactor  about Lego's latest foray into reinforcing sexism among children:

When journalist Josh Stearns introduced his son to the world of Lego this year, he was disappointed to find that in addition to its trademark building blocks, the company now produces a Lego-branded sticker set that articulates the innermost thoughts of its little plastic construction workers. Alongside phrases like “MEN AT WORK” and “GETTING DIRTY,” the set includes an image of a Lego worker at rest, leaning back in a hard hat and a pair of cool-dude sunglasses, shouting “HEY BABE!” at an unseen target. It’s marketed to kids aged “1 to 101.”

Here is the photo that Stearns put on his tumblr:

Seriously. WTF?????

Meanwhile, my daughter is getting make-your-own messenger bags for her birthday with iron on transfers that say "spoiled" and "brat." (Not by Lego, I should say--this was a "craft" present a couple of years back).

As I've said before,  Gary Cross, an historian of childhood and author of the excellent Kid Stuff: Toys and the Changing World of American Childhood once told me that toys communicate to children our expectations of their adult roles.  Criminey!

I wrote an editorial in the New York Times when Lego introduced its friends line discussing why promoting gender segregation in toys was a bad (though lucrative) idea. The wonderful women and girls at  Spark.org also launched a petition that garnered so many thousands of signatures that Lego  met with them to discuss how, at the very least, they could push the Friends line past hair salons. The company seemed to respond, at least a tiny bit, at least for the girls.

Not for boys. Apparently Lego has no problem reinforcing the idea among our sons that girls are "other," that they are subtly inferior and, ultimately, objects for their eventual enjoyment (and current scorn). I don't want the boys I know growing up with that message. I don't want the boys my daughter some day learns with, dates, works with, marries, raises children with (yes, I am already dreaming about being a grandma, so sue me) believing sexual harassment is "funny" or in any way ok. That's why I love  the Sanford Harmony Program's attempt to develop curriculum that, from preschool onward, encourages friendship and mutual understanding between boys and girls.

Stearns, who is doing his best to raise a decent, caring human (bless his heart) writes about his own experience going up against Lego. Their first response was classic defense: lighten up, it was a joke:

Charlotte Simonsen, Senior Director at LEGO’s corporate communications office told me that “To communicate the LEGO experience to children we typically use humor and we are sorry that you were unhappy with the way a minifigure was portrayed here.” 

Ace journalist that he is, he  kept pushing and subsequently received another note, this time, from  Andrea Ryder, the head of the LEGO Group’s Outbound Licensing Department. She wrote: “I am truly sorry that you had a negative experience with one of our products […] the product is no longer available and we would not approve such a product again.”

That's progress. Stearns writes that he appreciates Lego's responsiveness. I do, too. I'm also glad the stickers are off the market. But still. How did something like that get through their vetting process? And, if you spend any time on this blog, you know that these incidents (across toyland) are not rare.

Yeah, it's one toy. One little toy. But one among so many. As Stearns writes:

If we don’t call out these things when we see them, then even the little pieces of culture, like a pack of stickers, can serve to normalize sexist behavior and harassment. If you care about these issues here are some great resources and organizations to follow and support:

Couldn't have said it better. Thanks, Josh.

Photo  from a previous post on Lego:

Forget Pink--Remember Rose

There were a couple of things that got cut from my New York Times Magazine piece on breast cancer  that I wish I could've squeezed in. One is kind of wonky, which is why it was dropped, but super important. It's about data collection, based on a discussion I had with Dr. Peter G. Bach at Sloan-Kettering:

It surprised me to learn how little cancer data the U.S. collects, though it is  vital to improving treatment. We know how many cases of cancer there are and the stage of diagnosis, but unlike Scandinavian countries, we don’t keep track of which therapies are used or what happens to patients over the long-term. 

I could write a whole piece on publicly accessible, non-proprietary data collection and why we need to do it. But I just wanted to at least put it out there. Breast Cancer Action talks a lot about this one, and they are right. BCA is  also leading the charge against the pernicious practice of gene patenting, which was just argued in the Supreme Court. Gayle Sulik discusses this one beautifully in a recent blog post on Psychology Today's site

The other thing that got cut was a bit of history on the divergence in the strands of the breast cancer movement. Again, I only had so much space and a lot to cover, but I think useful in thinking about one's choices when considering supporting various groups. Here's an excerpt (which never even got to the point of being fact-checked by the Times--it was really a draft):

It is hard to remember now, but until the early 1970s breast cancer was the Voldemort of diseases, its name never spoken aloud, omitted from a woman’s obituary. If you found a lump, you obediently submitted to the surgeon’s table: maybe you would wake up with a small incision from a biopsy that turned out to be benign. Or you would find yourself mutilated without your knowledge by a Halsted radical mastectomy, the standard treatment of the day, in which the entire breast, chest muscles and lymphatic tissue were removed. Either way, you were expected to keep your experience, and feelings about it, to yourself: to pull up your socks—or shove them in your bra—consider yourself lucky to be alive and get on with it.

That began changing in 1973, when Shirley Temple Black, the former child star, went public with her breast cancer in McCall’s magazine. The following fall, First Lady Betty Ford talked publicly about her diagnosis (as did Second Lady Happy Rockefeller, who was diagnosed two weeks later). By 1976, Betty Rollin’s memoir of her struggle with the disease, First, You Cry, became an international bestseller (and later a TV movie starring Mary Tyler Moore). And with that, a stigma was shattered.

Temple, Ford and the rest made telling one’s personal cancer story socially acceptable, even, in their defiance of shame, vaguely political. However, they didn’t question medical or scientific authority. That role fell to the nascent feminist health movement, and, specifically, a journalist named Rose Kushner. Kushner was diagnosed the same year as Betty Ford; through mutual friends, begged the First Lady to resist the paternalistic, one-step procedure for biopsy and mastectomy. Ford refused, saying, “the President has made his decision.”

Kushner spent the rest of her life—which would turn out to be sixteen years—challenging the medical establishment. It was Kushner who, undeterred when she was booed off the stage during a meeting of the Society of Surgical Oncology, fought, ultimately successfully, to separate a biopsy from cancer surgery; it was Kushner who fought to replace the radical Halsted mastectomy with one that was less disfiguring yet equally effective. And it was Kushner who started the first breast cancer information hotline that was run by women and for women.

There are now hundreds of breast cancer advocacy organizations and those two early strands sometimes overlap, but, as Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues, has pointed out, the fundamental philosophical division between those who challenge the medical status quo and those who promote it persists. It can be seen in debates over how (and from whom) funds should be raised, how that money is dispersed, and what, precisely, “awareness” should encompass. Heirs to Kushner’s oppositional stance tend to reject the pink ribbon. They push for lay-person involvement in grant-making decisions. They question the efficacy of both treatment and diagnostics. They see potential conflicts of interest in partnering with corporations or Big Pharma. The most well-known include the National Breast Cancer Coalition, which since 1992 has lobbied Congress for $2.8 billion in funds for the federal Breast Cancer Research Program overseen by the Department of Defense; Breast Cancer Action, an industry watchdog group best known for coining the term “pinkwashing”; and the Breast Cancer Fund, which focuses on potential environmental links to the disease.

Komen, meanwhile, is heir to the Betty Ford model--they speak out, yes, but they don't truly challenge. They embrace private sector solutions, partnerships with corporations and organizations, including, as I say in the piece, those that harm public health:  Chevron. Frackers. I care about breast cancer, passionately, but not at the expense of larger issues of public health. I am a fan of Breast Cancer Action's Think Before You Pink campaign, which coined (I think) the word "pinkwashing."

Ultimately, I think the pink ribbon with its assurances of hope and progress lull us into thinking enough is being done. It lulls us into thinking we can keep ourselves safe. It silences us in the name of voice. Meanwhile, women die. Meanwhile, women are over-treated, destroying their lives and well-being. Women with DCIS, rather than being celebrated as triumphs of early detection, should be FURIOUS that they will never know if their treatment was necessary or not. Rather than thanking pink ribbon culture, they should be protesting its complacency and myth-mongering, bringing their pressure to bear on making change so their sisters, mothers, nieces, daughters do not have to go through the uncertainty that they did.

I am sobered and inspired by Kusher's example. She, too, is a journalist, diagnosed young with cancer. She stood up to the status quo, stood up to ridicule, refused to yield to "good enough." I don't know why she has been virtually lost to history--I had never heard of her until I started reporting this story. Maybe there is more there than I know. But it seems to me that it's time to bring her back.

I don't stand with pink--but I do stand with Rose.

(photo from RKBAC.org)

It's True: I Was Rescued By a Prince

My cover story in the New York Times Magazine is up: it's called "Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer." As a journalist I write about all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes I write for fun. Sometimes I write because I have a great story to tell. Sometimes I write to pay the rent. Sometimes I write because if I don't say something about something I see as wrong I will absolutely explode. This is one of those. And it won't make you feel so good. That said, I do want to share another story that didn't belong in that piece, that has not so far belonged in anything I've written but that truly is a feel-good cancer anecdote: it's about how amazing and wonderful and compassionate people can be.

The background: In case you don't know, last July I found a lump in my breast; it turned out that the cancer I had 15+ years ago had returned.

I know. Fifteen years later!

But I’m so very lucky—the kind of cancer I've had is low grade, slow moving and unlikely to have spread. While there are no guarantees, my odds of surviving, with surgery and a five year course of  Tamoxifen, remain pretty damned good. 

Unfortunately, another lumpectomy would require more radiation. Since  you can’t irradiate the same body part twice my only option was a mastectomy. Radiation also destroys the elasticity of your skin, making reconstruction with an implant a challenge. I considered just going flat, but  I felt that for me, reconstruction would make it easier going forward.

My best option was something called a DIEP-Flap Reconstruction in which the docs take the fat from your belly make it into a breast. The upside is that the reconstruction is your own flesh (and yeah, there's my newly flat stomach....). The down side is that it’s a BIG honkin’ surgery involving a week on your back in the ICU and a looooong recovery at home. And, of course, as with all reconstruction it has no sensation. I don't know why no one seems to mention that. It feels more or less like a ball of socks appended to my chest wall.

Anyway, I have a lot to say about reconstruction—the pros and cons of it, the weirdness of coming out of all of this looking better than when I went in, what it’s like to have a NEW BELLYBUTTON (they removed the old one—if they didn't put another in I’d look like a space alien) but I’ll save that for another time. I’ll also save for another time a discussion of the loathsome new “reconstruction awareness campaign” (read the brilliant Gayle Sulik on them instead).

So, here is what I wanted to say today:

This procedure, this DIEP thingamabob, is highly specialized microsurgery. Not a lot of docs do it. The two who were most highly recommended to me were both outside my insurance network. The first one said, Well, you’ll have to pay the difference out of pocket but we can work out a payment plan. It would cost me roughly $20,000. I didn’t want a boob that badly. Still, it was extremely upsetting to think it wasn’t a choice but financial necessity.

Hello, American Health Care System. Never think it can't happen to you.

Oh, wait--this is a feel-good story.

Enter doc number two. I’m not sure he’d want me to name him so I won’t. Just think of him as Prince Charming. When I told him about my insurance woes Dude didn’t skip a beat. "Don't worry about it," he said--he'd take whatever the insurance gave him as full fee.

At first I didn't think I'd heard right. “Why would you do that?” I asked. 

“Because," he responded, "it’s the right thing to do.”

This guy doesn't know me. He didn't know what I did for a living or who I work for (that is, he wasn't angling for media coverage). HE'S JUST A MENSCH.

Are you tearing up? Because I did.  

We shouldn't have to depend on random acts of kindness in health care, but that's where we are. That's where I was. And as horrible as having cancer again has been, as difficult as the surgery was, I felt blessed the entire time by the generosity and compassion of this man. Cancer is not a gift, not at all, but he was.

Sometimes, you really can find a Prince.

 

This Post Makes Me Hungry...And Sad.

A note on this blog post: I have been discussing Candyland for years--since I got it for my own daughter. I also mention it in my talks. It is one of the best examples, along with the other toys linked below, of sexualization of toy culture. This particular post was inspired by a post on my facebook page from reader Lisa Marie Norton, whom I don't personally know. In trying to write a quick post, I pulled photos from Google that were from Rachel Marie Stone's blog. She and her followers have been unhappy with that and I apologize. I was sloppy. I don't think of blogging the way I do my articles and books in terms of journalistic standards, mostly because it seems bloggers themselves don't; it is a new world to me.  At any rate, I hope the changes below will make amends. That said, please understand that my ideas are my own, they are long-standing (on Candyland, toys, and the sexualization of girlhood--the links in this very blog post are a trail of crumbs). I often see people writing identical revelations about princesses without quoting me. That is their prerogative. There were also many great books about the sexualization of girlhood before mine (Packaging Girlhood, So Sexy So Soon, The Lolita Effect). Mine was neither the first nor the definitive word on any of the issues I covered. Our voices all play a role in change. Thank you.  A reader on Facebook commented on how the imagery on the board game Candyland has changed over the years. I sometimes bring that up when I give talks but since I've got your attention, let's just take a peek together, shall we? Here is the original Candyland, circa 1949.

 Yum. Here is the game in 1978:

I dreamed of those ice cream floats....

Update: I hadn't realized that the photo above is a reproduction of the Candyland board done by Peggy Dembicer in seeds and beads! You MUST check out the original, it is stunning!

Things begin to change more significantly in the 1980s. That's when Candyland ditched the Dick-and-Jane outfits for generic his-and-hers overalls:

They also added some friendly candy characters: Plumpy with his plum tree, Mr. Candy Cane, Gramma Nutt, Princess Lolly, Queen Frostine. More on  some of them in a moment.

Then we hit 2010. Here's a photo from Rachel Marie Stone's blog on the game's evolution. On the upside, as she points out, Milton Bradley finally recognized, at least in some versions, that there are children who are not white and blonde (nothing against blonde white kids--I was one myself--I'm just saying):

Beyond that, though...Yikes! Check out today's board!

In case you can't see it: here's the new Princess Lolly (again--took the photos below from Stone):

And Queen Frostine turned into a Bratz doll:

Stuff changes. I know that. What played in 1949 is not going to play in 2013. Still, when the changes are all about skinny and pretty (and exponentially larger portion sizes--there's a mixed message for you) you have to be leery.  In addition to those characters, the game pieces themselves have slimmed down. If you look at more of Stone's photos, you'll see that Gramma Nutt has been replaced by the more fashionable Gramma Gooey (who has definitely had some work done) and Mr. Candy Cane has been replaced by some guy--maybe a prince?--whose giant muscles are only exceeded by the size of his triple-decker ice cream cone.

I've written before about other classic toys that have, without our notice, had skinny makeovers.  When our kids play with toys that we played with we assume that they are the same toys. It's kind of back to the Disney Princess thing--I watched "Cinderella" as a kid, so what's the big deal? The big deal is that it's not the same at all. It just has the same name. And the images our kids--boys and girls--are exposed to from the youngest ages are so distorted and so often sexualized (I mean, hubba-hubba Queen Frostine!) that it is no wonder that girls are self-sexualizing ever earlier. (Note that in the study cited in that last link they are using the different size game pieces from Candyland as well as Chutes and Ladders).

I think a lot about something that Gary Cross, an historian of childhood, once told me: that toys traditionally have communicated to children our expectations of their adult roles. What are we telling girls we expect of them with this?

Another update: I Googled  Candyland Costumes, just out of curiosity. Pretty good illustration of how we see girls and women--consumable consumers:

Little girl Candyland costume:

 

"Sassy" Candyland costume:

Shopping as the New Prince

When I first started writing about the Disney Princesses, people assumed my beef was with the girl waiting around to be rescued by the handsome prince. But honestly? I don't get that passive vibe from little girls playing princess or from the merchandise sold  them. For instance: how often do you see a prince doll at Toys'R'Us? (Though, personally, I think Prince himself is a doll...). No, today's princess is not about romance: it's more about entitlement. I call it "girlz power" because when you see that "z" (as in Bratz, Moxie Girlz, Ty Girlz, Disney Girlz) you know you've got trouble.  Girlz power  sells self-absorption as the equivalent of self confidence and tells girls that female empowerment, identity, independence should be expressed through narcissism and commercialism. 

Think of it as the Kardashinization of girlhood (or maybe just the apocalypse): whether it's craft kits, science kits, summer camps, birthday parties, dolls, games it's all about the bling.

One of the things that set me ticking on Cinderella Ate My Daughter was wondering whether the very thing that we trusted to protect our daughters --Princesses and, by extension, the Disney Brand--was actually doing the opposite: priming them for early sexualization and an obsession with appearance. So it was important to me to look at what the brand hoped to move girls to next. And so I give you the brand new Disney City Girl Game. 

Here's the description:

With suitcase in hand, it's time to leave your small-town life behind and head to the big city to make your dreams come true! Do you have what it takes to skyrocket to stardom? In the spirit of Sorority Life, Disney City Girl gives players the chance to engage in a stylish and aspirational virtual world!

As a recent New York transplant, the player will explore the city with the help of her fabulous friends, from BFF Jenna to adventurous Auntie Kate. She’ll discover the best places to shop and hang out, choose from a variety of glamorous career paths, and visit exotic locations. As she progresses through her career, your City Girl will accrue style points, continually decorating and upgrading apartments, expanding her wardrobe, and facing off with her friends in “Daily Look” fashion competitions! From a grungy studio to a Park Avenue penthouse, from overworked intern to successful CEO, from country bumpkin to glamour girl, City Girl will keep you coming back again and again.

Have the makers of this game seen the TV show "Girls?" Because last I checked, there was a little more to deal with in the Big City than snapping up some Louboutins (retail, yet). Like trying to get a job. Astronomical cost of living. Rent. Grossness. Bad boyfriends. And messy, messy life. 

I did the moving-from-the-midwest-to-the big-city thing myself once upon a time, living on equal parts moxie and cluelessness.  Just the other day I was recalling those pink-and-yellow fur walls at the Palladium. And my daughter begs for the story of why I will never eat pizza again. I will not even go into my litany of giant cockroach and rat stories or what it was like to live next door to a crack house. That may be too much realism for a game--or maybe just the right amount. There could be an amazing video game about moving to the big city, right? 

You may have noticed above that Disney promises "a variety of glamorous career paths." Right now that extends to being  either a chef or a fashion designer. Yep, that's it. Players land an immediate paid internship in their chosen field (now that's a fairy tale). To earn a promotion you have to work hard: the only way to advance is to collect “style points” with which to upgrade your apartment and wardrobe. Yeah, that's right: the only way to move up at professionally is to shop for better clothes and decor. Oh, and you can compete against "friends" in the game's "daily look" competition. Because whatever else is going on, you still want to be the fairest of them all.

The girls who play this game may be up for a rude awakening some day.

Seth Meyers mentioned Disney City Girl on SNL's Weekend Update on Saturday. 

Disney has developed a new video game called 'Disney City Girl,' which lets players shop and work their way up the social ladder. To win, all you have to do is defeat all the progress women have ever made.

Really, I don't have a lot to add to that....

Here's the game's trailer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hNVvlzpn3Y

P.S. Thanks to Robin Wolaner for making me aware of this one. 

P.P.S. Amy Jussel over at Shaping Youth reminded me of an earlier post in which I discuss Disney's attempt to rebrand princess with its recent "I Am a Princess" video. I wondered whether it signalled a change in how the company viewed girls, if they were authentically trying to shift things. But compare it to the one for City Girls  and all I can say is....nah.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUGnu0gXtn4&feature=player_embedded

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.)

 

And So it Begins....

Here are some of the questions a 9 1/2-year-old asks: "Mom, when did you go through puberty?" "Mom, when did you get your period?" "You mean you can get PREGNANT when you go through puberty????" "Mom, what's a tampon?" "Mom, what's anna...anna...anna...Anorexia?"

Here we go.

As a journalist, I have had mixed feelings about the American Girl line, mixed feelings I never had to confront as a mother because Daisy thought the dolls were creepy. However, they publish some fabulous books and one that is absolutely worth getting for your pre-pubescent daughter is The Care and Keeping of YouIt covers all the above questions, plus  basics like why you really, really do need to wash your face every morning.

I do wish they hadn't made the Asian girl on the cover quite so bowl-haired and slanty-eyed, though.

For those other birds and bees-type questions I've found the best books are It's Not the Stork (for boys and girls age 4+)

and It's So Amazing for children 7+

 

The Asians are better in these books, too.

I suggest having all of these on hand. You'll need them before you realize....

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?

 

There's a New Girl Strutting on Monster High's Corner

Move over Monster High, there's a new semi-nude, spike-heeled, crazy skinny Sesame Streetwalker posing as a girl power icon in town: Winx Club dolls, based on the Nick series, Winx Club http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnlxmaHqpcI

Good thing these fairies are magical, because if they were real women they'd have to keep their uteruses (uterii?) in their purses.

As dolls, they make Barbie look like a before picture from  "The Biggest Loser."

Looking at pictures of these normal-sized little girls happily olding these pro-ana fairies makes me wince. I've seen the research that says girls now self-sexualize by age six. You can certainly see how that happens.

 

 

The girls are so lovely and chubby and real. The dolls are so skinny and missel-pointy and freakish. They'd have a mom BEGGING for Barbie. Nick, can't you do better?

Let 'Em Know: Rape's Not Fun & It's Not a Gift

Think these comments about "legitimate" rape and rape that "God intended" are a fluke? Think again. Gayle Sulik,  whose excellent book Pink Ribbon Blues just came out in paperback, sent me the following, which went around on A Critical Sociological Discourse Listserv:

GIFT-FROM-GOD-RAPE

"When life begins with that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen." -Richard Mourdock (R), candidate for Senate in Indiana, on October 23, 2012

"The right approach is to accept this horribly created, in the sense of rape, but nevertheless...a gift of human life, and accept what God is giving to you." -Rick Santorum (R), Senator and Presidential candidate, on January 20, 2012

"Richard and I, along with millions of Americans...believe that life is a gift from God." -Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas voicing his support of Richard Mourdock's statement about rape-induced abortions, on October 24, 2012

 

LEGITIMATE RAPE

"If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." -Republican Congressman & Senate candidate Todd Akin of Missouri on August 20, 2012

 

HONEST RAPE

"If it's an honest rape, that individual should go immediately to the emergency room, I would give them a shot of estrogen." -Republican Congressman & Presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas on February 3, 2012

 

EMERGENCY RAPE

"It was an issue about a Catholic church being forced to offer those pills if the person came in in an emergency rape." -Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon of Connecticut (also confusing churches with hospitals) on October 15, 2012

 

EASY RAPE

"If you go down that road, some girls, they rape so easy." -Republican State Representative Roger Rivard of Wisconsin, on December 21, 2011 and endorsed by VP Candidate Paul Ryan on August 9, 2012

 

FORCIBLE RAPE

Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, Todd "legitimate rape" Akin and 214 other Republicans co-sponsored the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act", which would prohibit federal funding of abortions except in instances of "an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest." -H.R. 3, 112th Congress, January 20, 2011

 

ENJOYABLE RAPE

"If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it." -Republican Gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams of Texas on March 25, 1990

Me, I'm with the legendary Lesley Gore:

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

 

The Plastic Surgeons Threw a Party and All I Got Was This Lousy Boob

Nancy Stordahl wrote a great piece this week on HuffPo about the dubiously named “BRA Day,” a new national, um, holiday, embedded in Breast Cancer Awareness month (let’s put the discussion of that aside for now) which is designed to educate women on reconstruction options after breast cancer. BRA Day even hired their own celebrity spokeswoman, the singer Jewel, who wrote a song, “Flower,” for the occasion. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oX_yNOF6io

Now, I am deeply grateful to have had the option for reconstruction, which U.S. health insurance already has to cover by law. And I am grateful that I could have a type of reconstruction that was possible despite my previous radiation therapy, which wreaked havoc with my skin elasticity. I’m even abashedly pleased that the kind of reconstruction I had—using my own belly fat—had the bonus side effect of leaving me with a much flatter stomach. What the hell. I might as well get something out of it, right? Because part of what won’t be discussed on BRA day is that reconstruction can be absolutely brutal to go through. Also, no matter how great the result, it’s only cosmetic—you don’t get sensation back. It feels a bit like having a folded up pair of hiking socks attached to your chest.

I have friends who have done reconstruction and those that have not and both have their reasons. It’s a personal thing and both options should be respected—if they truly are freely chosen. It seems to me, too, that everyone is equally happy and equally unhappy with what they did as time goes on. There is no perfect solution.

Nancy points out that BRA Day (an acronym “that sounds patronizing and trivializing and somehow puts the main focus once again on saving breasts not women's lives”) is part of a larger attempt to pass a bill called the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act  which would require the Health & Human Services Department to create an education campaign for mastectomy  about reconstruction options, availability and coverage rights. Which sounds good, until you consider that the bill’s primary backers seem to be plastic surgeons:

While I do hold my plastic surgeons in the highest regard, it doesn't feel quite right to me for others in their profession to be so strongly backing a bill that if passed will result in further lining their pockets. Even if this is not their intent, it certainly can be construed this way. It seems like a conflict of interests to me.

...it seems to me doctors should be responsible for directing their breast cancer patients in regard to educating them about all their reconstruction options, not legislators. If doctors are not doing their job here, we have bigger problems

Finally, my biggest problem of all with this proposed campaign is its exclusion of too many women. I say what about the under-insured and the uninsured?What about their reconstruction rights? There is so much disparity with all aspects of healthcare in this country and this is one more instance where this disparity is being swept under the rug.

If the backers of this bill and BRA Day wish to get behind every woman in the United States who has had breast cancer and wishes to have reconstruction options offered to her, then I'm all for it. Until then, no thank you.

I'd go a step further. Even when, like me, you do have insurance coverage the procedure can be prohibitively expensive. I was lucky. The two surgeons who could perform my reconstruction, a type that involves microsurgery and is still relatively rare, were out of my insurance network. There was no way I could afford that. Or perhaps more accurately, no way I would. My family has needs more pressing than my new boob. But it sure didn’t make me happy. In fact, I was distraught. Not only did I have a recurrence of my cancer, not only did I need a mastectomy 15 years after I thought I was done, but now I couldn't afford the only method of reconstruction open to me.

Then one of them said, unbidden, “You know what? I’ll take whatever your insurance gives me as full fee.”

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” he responded.

I burst into tears. Wouldn't you?

What a mensch. Also, and I don’t think this is coincidence, he is Canadian. Our health care system probably just seems whack to him.

By the way, I’m still fighting with the other guy, by the way, over the cost of his “free” consultation that somehow has resulted in a $344 bill.

Even with all of that, even with my doc’s generosity, the whole enterprise cost me $8,000. That’s right, $8,000. It’s not the difference between eating and not eating—more like putting off the renovation of our  60 year old kitchen, hanging onto our twelve-year-old cars. A little belt-tightening. But still. My husband and I are both self-employed, so that $8k is on top of our Blue Shield insurance premiums which have spiraled up 30% a year for three years. Even after downgrading our coverage we’re paying way, way more for less.

That said, if I were uninsured, I’d be screwed. My hospital bill alone was—wait for it--$135,000. That’s right. All them zeroes. So rather than BRA Day how about those plastic surgeons back an “astronomical cost of medical care that makes it out of reach for all but the rich day?” Hey Jewel, why don't you write a song about that?

Or what if all those plastic surgeons who promote BRA day marked it by pledging to do a certain number of reconstructions this year for free or at cost?

What do you think, Nancy? For that would you be willing to say “yes, please.”

If You Let Me Be a Princess.....

Just saw this latest video posted by Disney. They're trying to rebrand the Princesses as being about strength of character and self-efficacy. What do you think? Can they do this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUGnu0gXtn4

while also peddling tens of thousands of products to our daughters that emphasize beauty and consumerism? Does the brave Rapunzel in the movie offset the one who is on the Escape From the Tower Lip & Nail Set?

Or the Pretty Pretty Princess board game?

Or the zillions of other products out there? You tell me.

Meanwhile, this video put me in mind of one from years ago, back in the days of Girl Power, that Nike did:

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

And finally just for fun and to illustrate how deeply the Princess phenom has gripped our collective imagination, (see it before it goes viral and loses its cool) I give you "Hipster Disney Princess the Musical!"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yPfmRoSfpA

Kind of the opposite of age compression.....

GAP: ABC's of Back to School Stereotypes?

Reader  Jocelyn Conway Malone was strolling by the GAP the other day and noticed the difference between their  back-to-school clothes marketing to girls and  for boys. Feel free to tell  the company how you feel about skinny jewel-box girls versus "active stretch""made-to-move"  boys at the following address: custserv@gap.com (subject line: marketing & advertising) Girls:

 

Boys: