Tag Archive | race

This is what white privilege looks like.

So…this happened. The following video shows an altercation on a TTC subway train in which a middle aged white woman sits on the feet of a young black man. The man is listening to earphones and looking at his phone. At first it’s hard to see but it becomes apparent that he had been sitting with the balls of his feet braced against the seat in front of him when she sat on top of his forefeet, physically preventing him from moving them.

This video made me feel physically ill. You can hear his anger turn to fear when he finally pushes her off and realizes how this is going to play out, a black man versus a white woman. “I shouldn’t be having to touch a lady.” And her smugness in her privilege is utterly revolting. She SAT ON A STRANGER. She PUT her body ON TOP of his body and refused to move it. Justifying her actions as a lesson in manners. WHO DOES THAT?? WHO FUCKING DOES THAT?? The answer, of course is: Someone with the confidence borne of a lifetime of privilege and the sense of entitlement that goes along with does.

The feet on the seat isn’t the issue here. The issue is that the woman appointed herself the manners police and instigated a physical altercation, something she was confident she could do without suffering any consequences because her white privilege meant she had never experienced systemic racism – the kind of racism that sees black boys shot to death for walking at night in a hoodie while white boys can commit mass murder and be arrested unharmed. The black man on the other hand endured this humiliation for almost a minute before finally resorting to physical aggression – knowing, because the knowledge is drilled into black boys starting in early childhood, that if things got out of hand, HE would at best be the one held responsible; at worst, arrested or attacked. We have no way of knowing if she chose him for her “lesson” because of his race, but we do know from experience that because of his race the situation was far more dangerous for him than for her.

Screengrab from the video posted by Jay Shylo with the words "This is what White Privilege looks like" overlaid.

(Image description: Screengrab from the video posted by Jay Shylo with the words “This is what White Privilege looks like” overlaid by PicklesINK.)

Then there’s the reporting. Every news report about this incident has focused on the feet on the seat and his language. Apparently there’s a bylaw; This young man could have been fined $235 for putting his feet on an empty seat. Perhaps he would have preferred that to being physically and verbally scolded by some stranger on the subway. According to the headlines like those in The Toronto Star, GlobalTV, and CityNews, this was an “etiquette lesson gone awry,” although I probably would have gone with, “physical assault on a stranger.” And every article quotes the part where he finally pours out his righteous anger as expletives; not the first half where he calmly and repeatedly asks her to “get off me, please,” and she smugly replies, “No.”

According to TTC officials, the woman was correct to hit the emergency stop after he pushed her off, because *that’s* when it turned into a physical altercation. Newsflash, friends: It became a physical altercation when she EFFING SAT ON HIM. TTC spokesperson also said passengers should use the alarm when they feel their safety is at risk, which was clearly not the case here, as the women who instigated the assault followed her victim in an attempt to continue her harassment as he left. And yes, I said assault, referring to HERS on HIM. Of course, if it had even occurred to him to hit the panic strip initially, I sincerely doubt officials or popular opinion would have been quite so understanding of his reasons. As activist and blogger Tasheka Lavann asks, “Are we saying that if I decide to put my feet on a seat…another passenger has the right to enter my personal space, sit on my feet and refuse to move…that’s the justification I am seeing across social media for this latest RACIST act right here in Canada — the notion that, somehow, this young man deserved to be harassed and assaulted.”

Jay Shylo, who recorded the assault, said that most of the passengers on the train agreed the woman seemed to have instigated the situation, targeting this man when there were many empty seats as well as another passenger with his feet up (no report on his race or ethnicity, but I’d be willing to hazard a guess). Shylo said, “I think what ignited her was that (the male passenger) was answering back.” How dare he! A black man getting lippy with her when all she did was deliberately cross a half-empty subway car to SIT ON HIM. “Both were verbally abusing each other. It got petty.” Oh. *THAT’S* when it got petty. At least Shylo recorded the disturbing incident and posted it online so everyone could see what really happened; with the caption “Ride the Rocket it’s entertaining *shrugging and smiling emojis* I’m not surprised at all that this happened on public transit.” Because LOLZ!!

Whoops. Slipped into angry sarcasm mode for a minute. I’m back now.

Make no mistake: Everything about this encounter was influenced by race. And the other passengers just passively sat and watched. I’m hearing from a lot of my (white) friends that they didn’t see race in this encounter, and that’s understandable. We don’t have to pay attention to race because our white privilege affords us the comfort of being colourblind. Read Unpacking the Invisible Backpack by Peggy McIntosh for a really excellent primer on how white privilege affects you every day. But I assure you that for any person of colour, and especially for the young man in the video, it is at the top of their minds, especially when the woman pushed the panic strip, because for a young black man any interaction with the authorities can potentially be life or death.

So here’s my call to action: White folks, we’ve got a shit ton of privilege, and with that privilege comes awesome responsibility. When you see something like this happening, for gods’ sake, call it out. Press the effing emergency stop YOURSELF and then stick around to tell the truth. Don’t just sit there. Act. Tell the world this is NOT OKAY. Because that is what white privilege should look like.

~ karyn

This post has been edited on February 25, 2017 to add further discussion of the ways that systemic racism and white privilege contributed to the situation. No text was deleted.

Does wearing makeup make me a bad feminist parent?

I’ve been seeing this post about a daughter’s questions about her mom’s makeup in my news feed recently, and it’s made me think. Christine Burke describes how her daughter’s simple question made her see herself through a 7 year-old’s eyes and examine why she spent so much time and effort contouring, highlighting, plucking, cleansing, and otherwise enhancing her looks.

Does wearing makeup make me a bad feminist - karyn in prom makeup www.picklesink.com

Does wearing makeup make me a bad feminist?

Continue reading

Black and Orange Day and #FirstWorldProblems

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Black and Orange day and #FirstWorldProblems - Why it doesn't matter if a school bans Halloween costumes and why you should care anyway.

What a short, strange trip it’s been! I had my first ever viral post this week when the news of North Ward School in Paris banning Halloween costumes broke. I was *almost* on Canada AM but was bumped at the last minute for a “breaking news story.” (My guess was something that started with “J” and rhymed with “misogynistic creep-omeshi” but, y’know, we’ll never know for sure what really happened, right?) Continue reading

7 Reasons Why This School is Banning Halloween

Here’s one for the “What is the world coming to?” files.

7 reasons why a school is banning Halloween (and it's not what you think)

This gem scrolled through my Facebook feed yesterday: A friend’s children’s school has decided to forgo Halloween this year in favour of…I don’t know…Friday, I guess. The decision was attributed to the “staff” and the reasons behind it were given as follows: Continue reading

Are you Elsa or Anna? What Frozen says about depression.

We received our pre-ordered* copy of Frozen yesterday, and now that my kids have now watched it about 87 times, I fancy myself somewhat of an expert on the movie. Based on personal experience, I also fancy myself somewhat of an expert on depression. This post is whence the twain shall meet.

Frozen DVD

Ben and Molly are overjoyed to receive their Frozen DVD

Since Frozen was released in theatres, it has been receiving quite the buzz – I’ve heard about it being an amazingly feminist movie – Disney finally redeeming itself for decades of Princess culture. I’ve heard that it’s allegory for gay pride and/or propaganda for ‘the homosexual agenda.’ I’ve heard from people who refuse to watch it until they stop hearing that goddamn song 8 times a day. I’ve heard from people who love that goddamn song so much that they sing along to it 8 times a day (*cough* me *cough*). And I’ve heard that it’s a piece of irritating garbage with half-rate singers, cheesy melodies, and the worst Princess-related story-line Disney has ever written.

My take on the movie itself? I’m a fan. I enjoyed the music and Disney’s deliberate send-up of its own patriarchal history of damsels in distress, handsome princes on white steeds, and true love at first sight. There was a cute blink-and-you-missed-it nod to diversity with a presumed 2-dad family and a neat twist on the usual moustache-twirling villain. Like so many children’s books and movies though, even with those giant leaps forward it still barely squeaked past the Bechdel test and there wasn’t a person of colour to be found (but no ethnic caricatures, so baby steps, right?).

Now we get to the part of the post about depression – the part that I start hyperventilating every time I think about writing. In so many ways…more and more each time I think about it…Frozen provides a perfect metaphor for depression. Beyond that, Frozen manages to provide dual perspectives – showing us a view of depression from both inside and out.**

Frozen stickers

Are you an Elsa or an Anna – Or maybe both?

We don’t all get literally shut away in our rooms and directed to not let anyone see how we feel, but the messages are all around us, every day:

Snap out of it. ••• Boys don’t cry. ••• Put on your big girl panties. ••• Man up. •••This too shall pass. ••• It could always be worse, right? ••• Behind the clouds, the sun is shining. ••• Every cloud has a silver lining. ••• Tomorrow is another day. ••• What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. ••• Take it like a man. ••• Don’t air your dirty laundry in public. ••• It’s all in your head. ••• Life’s not fair. ••• Time heals all wounds. ••• Into every life a little rain must fall. ••• Pull yourself together. ••• Try and think about something else. ••• Fake it till you make it. ••• Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.

Like Elsa, many of us with depression are expected to have our ‘moments’ in private, hiding away and telling ourselves over and over, “Don’t let it out. Don’t feel. Don’t let them see,” until we have mastered the knack of acting like regular people, at least when it matters. And when you’re depressed you want to do that anyway – it’s exhausting out there! Like Elsa shut up in her room, I had a mantra in high school – I sang Simon and Garfunkel in my head, over and over – “I am a rock. I am an island. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.” I still get knots in my stomach when I hear that song or even think those words. “Don’t let it out. Don’t feel. Don’t let them see. Don’t feel. Don’t feel. Don’t feel.” Out and about, of course, you do your best to fake it – act normal, keep up with your schoolwork, get good marks; “Don’t let them in. Don’t let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be.”

When depressed, many people, myself included, engage in self-destructive behaviour, either because it gives you an outlet – a real reason, a tangible excuse for all those feels in your head that shouldn’t be there because there’s nothing really wrong, or because it can blunt those feelings, if only temporarily. Many people are also carers – If you spend all of your energy looking after the people around you, you just don’t have time or energy to think about yourself. Bonus points if they are dealing with real actual problems that are worse than your imagined ones so you can tell yourself you’re upset because you’re worried about them!

And like Elsa, for many people there comes a point when it’s just too hard to keep up that façade. Something brushes past your desperately clinging fingers, and all those emotions finally burst out. And often that’s followed by a sense of relief and calm – when you hit rock bottom, you finally have the freedom to be yourself. You don’t have to answer to anyone. You don’t have to pretend anymore. And it doesn’t matter what people think – You are perfectly okay the way you are, and they should just leave you alone and let you be. You’re not hurting anyone, right? It doesn’t concern them. You can build your ice castle up around you, shut the world out and be yourself by yourself.

But as we saw with Elsa, depression doesn’t just stop at being sad. Depression is a selfish illness – and before you react to that statement, please hear me out, because I’ve got the damn thing, so I’m pretty comfy owning that statement. When I’m depressed, I’m pretty effing selfish. When you’re depressed you’re irritable, rage-filled, irrational, unable to enjoy ordinary enjoyable things; you can’t sleep; you sleep too much; you’re lazy and unmotivated – and those traits don’t just impact you. They impact everyone around you. Recall Ben’s, “other kids’ parents play with them, but you don’t.” When you’re depressed, you don’t have the motivation to play with your kids, to tidy your house, or to keep your temper at the best of times, let alone when your kids or spouse are getting to you.

JD Bailey, Honest Mom, has written about the scariest part of depression – the rage. This is a fury that bursts out of you, uncontrollable and terrifying in its intensity. You feel it building inside of you – heart pounding, jaw clenching, until it gets to a point where it’s unstoppable and suddenly you’re lashing out, verbally, physically, mentally. Not everyone experiences the rage, but if you do it’s terrifying – for you and for the people around you. This can be the point for a lot of people when you realize that you need help. Up until now, you have held it all in and let yourself believe that it’s not affecting the people around you – but the first time you create that giant snow monster and set it loose on people, screaming, “DON’T COME BACK, (or “JUST EAT YOUR DINNER,” or “WHY WON’T YOU JUST SLEEP?” the impact on those you love becomes undeniable.

There was a meme sweeping Facebook last week starring Eeyore:

eeyore

Image from http://www.strongmindbraveheart.com/10-things-depression/

It urges us to accept people with depression as they are, warts, unhappiness, and all – and I agree, up to a point. It is important to let yourself, and your loved ones, feel. If you need to grieve, grieve. If someone is hurting, don’t tell them “It could be worse,” or “Pull yourself together.” People need space to be upset, to be sad, to be angry – but there is an extremely fine line between supporting and enabling. Poor Eeyore – his friends patted him on the back, helped him find his tail, and rebuilt his house of sticks when it got blown away, and I’m sure he really appreciated it. But he was still sad. And at some point, probably one by one, they said, “Oh, screw it, I guess that’s just Eeyore,” and they still let him tag along, because they didn’t want to be mean, and they let him just be his depressed self. And Eeyore was still sad.

And it might not have helped, but then again it might have, if one of them had said, “Hey Eeyore? I know it’s not really any of my business, and I’m not judging you, but we’ve found your tail and fixed your house and it just seems like you’re hurting a lot and you’re never really happy. I care about you and I really want to help you get the help you need.” And maybe Eeyore would have said piss off, which is fair, and hopefully that friend would have said, “Okay, buddy. I’m here though whenever you’re ready.” But maybe Eeyore would have had a good cry on that friend’s shoulder because finally someone got that he was sad, and he didn’t even know why, and he did want to figure out how to stop it, and then maybe he and that friend might have started Googling some options.

Frozen had a happy ending. The much more difficult ending would have been the one where Anna, out of self-preservation, has to let go herself – letting go of guilt and walking away, understanding that whatever that other person decides to do, it is not up to you to change them. There can come a point, in loving someone who is depressed, when you have to love yourself more. I’ve done it. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty, but it was hands down the best decision I ever made.

Elsa needed Anna, because by herself, she didn’t know that she wasn’t okay, and Anna stepped up and, against all odds, reached out, again and again. People with depression need Annas. It’s hard to do it on your own – first because you don’t always realize that you need help and after that because even when you realize it, that help is not easy to get. Even when Elsa pushed her away, and even when Elsa hurt her, she kept reaching out, until finally Anna was able to break through Elsa’s self-involvement, to show her that isolating herself wasn’t protecting anyone, and that even though her actions were affecting her loved ones, they loved her and wanted her, warts and all – but only the warts she wanted to keep.

Elsa kept her powers – the magic that was integral to her personality – but got the help she needed to be able to control it, not be controlled by it. Her power no longer called the shots. People with depression can be pretty awesome. We often have wicked cool senses of humour – Elsa created Olaf, didn’t she? Scratch the surface of many very funny and talented people (The Bloggess***, and pretty well every other humour blogger in the world) and comedic actors, for example – and you’ll often find depression. We tend to be realists and are pretty comfortable with our own warts…and maybe a little too comfortable pointing out other peoples’.

If, like Elsa and Anna, we find that happy ending, we don’t become different people – we’re generally the same dry, sarcastic, realistic people as before, just a little easier to live with, and finding it a little easier to live with ourselves.

~ karyn

 

 

 

*Pre-ordering? Not actually a thing. You order. You don’t pre-order. Ordering is when you say, “Can I have this when it’s ready?” Pre-ordering would be saying, “Can I have this when it’s ready to be ready?” or something. Like pre-registering – what the heck is that? What do you do when you pre-register? You say, “Sign me up for that thing I want to do! Here’s all my information!” You know what I call that? REGISTERING. Yeesh.

**For another take on Frozen and depression, walk the plank over to Domestic Pirate for a powerful post on how Elsa and Anna represent the two warring voices of depression in her head.

***Seriously – if you haven’t read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened yet, you need to. You will ugly cry and laugh hysterically at the same time. So…uh…like my friend David recommends, try to avoid reading it in public.

Not your mama’s toy shopping tips

‘Tis the season!! As the ground turns snowy and swathes of red and green appear in the dollar store, our thoughts turn to the joyous season of giving.

Christmas store

Dollar Store in October. No joke.

To help you with that giving, I have been carefully poring over toy catalogues to compile a list of my top 10 essential Christmas shopping tips. I really hope that you find them helpful!

Ben santa

10 Essential Toy Shopping Tips, straight from Santa!

Top 10 Christmas Shopping Tips

(according to a national retail toy catalogue)

Tip #1:

For the little boy in your life, pirate, castle, race car, tool kit and train play sets are always appropriate choices. Don’t accidentally buy one for your little girl, though. She would much rather have a pretty pink purse, baking set, realistic shopping cart, or vanity unit with light – the 5-minute auto shut-off means she won’t get into the habit of primping for too long, and her future husband will appreciate that, amiright? Pair that with her very own vacuum cleaner and cleaning trolley and look at her go!

Graphic for Number 1

Collage of catalogue pages. Thought bubble reads, “This thing’s gonna crap out any second and I’m not even half done.”

Tip #2:

Boys love science, so look for a telescope, chemistry set, microscope, or any of many other assorted science kits with only boys on the boxes. As I’m sure you realize, girls aren’t really good at that sort of thing but they do like to make pretty stuff, so you could try the rock-tumbling kit; maybe she’ll even learn something while creating earrings, necklaces, or keychains! For even more creativity without the distracting science focus, consider any of a wide variety of craft kits.

Graphic for Number 2

Collage of catalogue pages

Tip#3:

Looking for something a bit bigger? Little girls really like to sit and draw, or even just sit passively and look pretty, so consider a art desk or a pink princess castle playhouse for her. For her brother, how about an activity gym or superhero-themed real go-kart? Those boys really like to get active while their sisters watch! Remember, they’re never too young to start internalizing appropriate gender roles, so consider an infant-sized kitchen play-set for Baby Susie or sports centre for Little Johnny.

Graphic for Number 3

Collage of catalogue pages. Text reads, “Binary Internalized Gender Roles: The Gift That Keeps On Giving!”

Tip #4:

For toddlers and preschoolers, you can’t go wrong with a classic child-sized kitchen play set. It used to be that these were only for the little girl in your life, but we’ve come a long way, baby! Now you can get realistic-looking toy kitchens so that boys and girls can play together – think how much fun your kids will have reinforcing gender stereotypes when she washes dishes while he barbecues, or even better, as she fixes him another sammich while he scarfs down the first!

Graphic for Number 4

Catalogue page. Speech and thought bubbles read: “How are the dishes coming babe?” “Just fine, sweetie!” “Asshole.”

Tip #5:

Little girls love to play dress-up and then look at themselves in the mirror, so the only question is: Table-top or full length? (Or how about both?)

 

Graphic for Number 5

Catalogue page. Thought bubble reads, “I thought I wanted that chemistry set, but boy was I wrong. Thank goodness Auntie Sue went with her gut!”

Tip #6:

Outdoor toys like sleds, battery-operated cars and other ride-ons are always a hit! If you want your daughter to participate make sure she has a brother or little boy friend who can take the controls because you know what they say about women drivers…

Graphic for Number 6

Collage of catalogue pages. Text reads: “I mean, women drivers – It’s just not worth the risk, right?”

Tip #7:

Building sets are also an excellent choice for both boys and girls. The manufacturer makes it easy for the consumer to ascertain which sets are appropriate for boys or girls by selectively gendering the character figures that are included. Your daughters will love building the sets and then grooming horses, pampering pets, hosting sleepovers, or running a bakery with Andrea, Emma, Stephanie, Mia, and Olivia, while your sons will enjoy flying planes, fighting bad guys, and performing open water rescues while identifying with male pilots, lumberjacks, forklift operators, police officers, superheroes, and coast guard members!

Graphic for Number 7

Collage of catalogue pages

Tip #8:

What little girl wouldn’t love a baby doll to cuddle and care for or a little girl doll to be her best friend? With a wide variety of doll furniture and other accessories available in a vast array of shades of pink, your little mommy can dress, change, bath, and feed her little baby to her heart’s content. Since statistics show that the vast majority of little girls are white or just slightly tanned, you will easily be able to find a doll that your daughter can relate to. As the catalogue suggests, “Celebrate her uniqueness” with the gift of unintentional irony! Playing with dolls develops nurturing, caring, and empathy, which is wonderful for girls, but of course we don’t wish to encourage those traits in boys, which brings us to our next tip –

Graphic for Number 8

Collage of catalogue pages – in fact, EVERY SINGLE page in the doll section. Text reads: “CELEBRATE HER UNIQUENESS WITH ACCIDENTAL IRONY” and (pointing to tiny inset photo) “Look! A Black person! Thumbs up to this retailer for representing diversity!”

Tip #9:

Boys love violence! Luckily there is a wide variety of toys available to feed those urges, including boxing sets, guns, and ammo. For your little Katniss, consider a pink/purple gun, bow, or crossbow – and so you don’t have to say it, the little “Rebelle” logo will remind her every time she sees it that it’s not quite socially appropriate, now, is it?

Graphic for Number 9

Collage of catalogue pages

Tip #10:

Finally, if toys aren’t really your game, consider furniture. Is your little one outgrowing his crib? Why not get him an awesome toddler bed that looks like a sports car, train, or pirate ship? If you have a daughter, you’ll have to think of something else since a hollowed out fairy princess would be kind of creepy. (Aside – How is it that no-one has made a disemboweled tauntaun toddler bed yet?? Mattel? Little Tikes? This is cross-branding GOLD. You guys will definitely want to get on that. I expect a 10% royalty on every unit sold.)

Graphic for Number 10

Catalogue pages. Thought bubble reads, “This race car is cool and all but a hollowed out tauntaun would be SO much better.”

Special bonus tip #11:

Be aware of the way that toy marketing influences as well as reinforces gender roles. Don’t buy into the marketing gimmick that tells you that you have to go to the separate “girls” section to get a pinkified version of the same familiar toys. Companies aren’t doing it because research has shown that there is a qualitative difference between “boy” stuff and “girl” stuff. They’re doing it because they know they can get you to spend your money twice on the same damn thing.

Listen to your children. Let them develop their own likes and dislikes – don’t let the toy companies do it for them. If your daughter asks Santa for a 44-piece tool kit while your son wants an Easy-Bake oven, congratulate yourself on doing parenting right. (I still use that tool kit – thanks again, Santa!).

The social construction of gender is a cyclical process – advertising doesn’t create those constructs, but it doesn’t try to undermine them either, because retailers make money by giving us what we want to see: Little white girls playing with dolls and boys driving racecars. They think that we won’t be as likely to buy it if they catch us off-guard with something that doesn’t seem quite right, so they (and we) continue to force our hockey-playing girls and our Strawberry Shortcake-loving boys back into those boxes that society has built for them over and over until eventually they decide that they might as well just stay there.

Let kids be kids, not gender constructs. The next time you see a toy catalogue with 9 pages of little (white) girls playing with doll stuff and not a boy in sight, take a cue from Santa Ben and shout it out, loud and proud:

“That’s a STEREOTYPE!!”

Collage of photos of boys and girls being themselves

Collage of photos of boys and girls being themselves

 

Please Note: This is not a sponsored post. All artwork, unless otherwise noted, remains the property of the original photographer. My observations are based on my analysis of trends seen in toy catalogues and do not refer to any specific retailer or manufacturer pictured.

Gee, Karyn, are there any dolls you actually do like??

I’m not all doom and gloom, privilege/oppression/whiteness/and-other-social-work-buzzwords. There are some good options out there if you’re willing to do some digging (or some sewing).

I have a collection of dolls/hand puppets from when I was a teenager called “Treehuggers.” These were, in my opinion, the best rag dolls ever made. You could buy from the catalogue or place a custom order, choosing gender, eye shape (from a selection of buttons), hair colour and texture (yarn – straight, ravelled, dreadlocked, long, short), and skin colour. They also encouraged fine motor development through tie-able shoelaces, button fastenings on the clothing, and  the fact that they could be used as dolls or hand puppets, making them excellent toys for children with special needs. Unfortunately, except for the odd Ebay listing, you can’t get them any more. If anyone reading this has mad sewing skills and wants to go into business, let’s talk!

Treehuggers

My collection of 4 Treehuggers dolls, each with different skin colour, hair colour and texture, and eye shape and colour.
©PicklesINK 2012

Cabbage Patch Kids are still available in black or white and as boys or girls. At the lower price point they have unfortunately gone to the glossy doll-hair but you can get the “original” version through the website for a price. Lots of the older ones are available in thrift stores though.

Ben and Molly's babies: From left, Lissaba, Melissa, Alyssa, and baby with no name.©PicklesINK 2012.

Ben and Molly’s babies:
From left, Lissaba, Melissa, Alyssa,
and baby with no name.
©PicklesINK 2012

There is a line of dolls called “Hearts for Hearts Girls” that is reasonably affordable. Each doll represents different country and comes with a story book, friendship bracelet, web access code, and donation through World Vision to help girls in her country of origin. Unfortunately, in Canada they are exclusive to Walmart, which may turn off some consumers. They only have girls, but that does fit with their concept.

Part of the “Hearts 4 Hearts Girls” collection: From left, Consuelo (Mexico), Dell (USA), Rahel (Ethiopia), Zelia (Brazil), and Lauryce (USA). Photo credit: Hearts 4 Hearts Facebook page

I also quite like Groovy Girls – contrary to their name, there are boy dolls, and they come in many different skin tones and hair colours and textures (yarn). They have been around since 1998, so they would probably be available in second-hand shops as well for more variety. We have a great collection that was given to Molly by my cousin.

Molly's collection of "Groovy Girls" dolls©PicklesINK 2012

Molly’s collection of “Groovy Girls” dolls
©PicklesINK 2012

Online, by asking my good friend Google to find me “ethnic dolls” I also found the following intriguing websites (below). Sadly, the first entry that turned up in my search was toysrus.com, offering “ethnic dolls, including Dora the Explorer, Barbie, and SpongeBob.”

SpongeBob??

Screenshot of Google search for "ethnic dolls"

Screenshot of Google search for “ethnic dolls”

Anyway, moving on…

My World Ethnic Doll Clothing, based in Toronto, Ontario, was founded by a Canadian teacher who wanted to provide parents with the opportunity to purchase doll clothes that represented their cultures. This website provides a wide variety of multicultural fashions, male and female, and androgynous dolls in 4 different skin tones. Prices are shockingly reasonable.

Picture

My World Ethnic Doll Clothing
doll and clothing collection

Kids Like Me, based in the UK, provides educational toys, books, and resources that embrace diversity, special needs and inclusion. Their online catalogue offers a variety of reasonably-priced multicultural rag dolls (boys and girls).

And finally, oddly enough, IKEA has the coolest collection of multi-ethnic, unisex, and extremely reasonably priced doll stuff anywhere…which I suppose should not be particularly surprising since they have for some time been ahead of the game when it comes to providing unisex (ie. neither pink nor blue) toys such as kitchens and toolbenches. The LEKKAMRAT series includes 3 soft doll options (different skin and hair colours and facial features), 4 different sets of outfits, and a bathtime set in which the bathtub is blue. BLUE! IKEA also offers a wooden doll bed with blue sheet and rainbow-striped cover – and listed as “related products” to the doll bed are the children’s “10-piece coffee/tea set,” “5-piece kitchen utensil set,” and “toolbelt with soft toys.”

Photo of LEKKAMRAT dolls in various outfits
from website of Kimberley Bezaire, PhD

Whether you are searching for a doll that looks like your own child, trying to find resources for your classroom or daycare, or looking for ways to promote diversity in your own home, there are definitely options available – in fact, more than I even realized when I started this post.

~ karyn

Lottie: She may be new, but is she improved?

A good friend posted this article to my Facebook timeline the other day, asking what I thought of it:

“New doll made with body image in mind”, Toronto Star, December 12, 2012

Two “Lottie” dolls by Arklu
Toronto Star, December 12, 2012

According to the article, Arklu, the company that makes ‘Lottie dolls’ “worked with two academics to work out the exact proportions of an average healthy 9-year-old. The scaled-down dolls don’t have breasts or super skinny waists, although their heads and eyes are enlarged.”

I had skimmed the article when I first came across it and remember thinking “Meh…cute dolls, nice concept, good price, but it’s been done,” but being asked specifically for an opinion compelled me to look a little deeper and I wound up tossing and turning all night thinking about my response, which was this:

As options for young girls go, I don’t hate them. I don’t think they will do any harm (or any more harm than any other doll, but I’ll get to that) but I don’t know that they’ll do the good the creators are hoping either. I know we as a society have heaped a lot of vitriol on Barbie, but I believe she is a symptom of our warped ideal body image, not the cause. When I was a little girl playing with Barbie, I saw her as a doll, not an image of an ideal woman. I never thought I would grow up to look like Barbie…I also never thought I would grow up to live in a Dream Castle (TM) or drive a bubble-gum pink motorhome.

Barbie in her Magical Motorhome (1990)

Aside from the weird physical proportions, Barbie (bearing in mind, I haven’t actually seen any of the movie/TV tie-ins, so I’m basing this solely on the commercials and characters from when I was a kid) is actually not unempowered, as female characters go. Except for that “Math is hard! Let’s go shopping!” talking Barbie debacle, Barbie usually represents an independent and successful woman – she has been a doctor and teacher, owns her own home, car, and motorhome, and though Ken shows up occasionally, he’s generally an unnecessary add-on. Yes, there is plenty of gender stereotyping (ie. Dr. Barbie spends all her time delivering cute babies and clearly has a weakness for short skits and pink stethoscopes , but the Lottie dolls obviously have not made clear inroads there either.

Dr. Barbie with 3 Baby Dolls (1995)
Special Edition Career Collection

On the other hand, these dolls do fill a void in the market – there are lots of baby dolls and lots of grown-up dolls (Barbie), but the only in-between little girl dolls traditionally have been TV characters like Dora or Doc McStuffins, or are prohibitively expensive (American Girl dolls, china dolls) so it is nice to have an affordable option that kids can personalize and relate to. In terms of the not wearing makeup, heels or jewelry, it’s a nice hook but to me the faces still have that same “glamour” look that defines all of these giant-headed, small-bodied dolls: Huge eyes, long straight hair, and perfect skin. Conclusion of the body-image section of my comment: I don’t think that these dolls are going to solve any problems, but they aren’t really going to create any new ones either.

Putting the body image piece aside, further study of the Lottie dolls brings up several other issues for me. First, on reading her website, we see that “Lottie” is clearly not suffering from any lack of funds, since her favourite activities include “pony flag races” and walks in “English country gardens” with her (presumably pedigreed) dog, “Biscuit the Beagle.” Lottie may be shaped like the average 9-year-old girl, but she seems to enjoy a very different class of leisure activities than the average girl who will be playing with her.

Second, and this is common to the whole “fashion doll” and for the most part the “doll in general” market – where are the boys? When are we going to meet Lottie’s brother Larry, who, I don’t know, loves playing soccer with Lottie and her friends when they’re finished with their English country garden picnics and fox hunts?

And third, and this is my very biggest issue – Traditionally, dolls are white. This is a HUGE problem for non-white children. There was a study originally done in the 1940’s and then re-created in 2006 by a high school student that demonstrated that when given 2 baby dolls, one black, one white, black children (boys and girls) overwhelmingly preferred the white doll and attributed positive attributes to it (“pretty,” “nice”) and negative attributes to the black doll (“bad”), and also identified the black doll when asked “Which doll looks the most like you?”

Kiri Davis - A Girl Like Me

A Girl Like Me DVD Video Poster
© 2012 Kiri Davis

That bears repeating – the study was done first in the NINETEEN-FORTIES and repeated in TWO THOUSAND AND SIX and showed NO CHANGE in attitude. Please take 7 minutes and go and watch the extraordinarily powerful documentary by Kiri Davis. I’ll wait.

When I was about 3, Cabbage Patch Kids came out, and they were the first mainstream, popular manufacturer to actually offer a selection of black dolls.

Cabbage Patch Kids

Four Cabbage Patch Kids (1982)
©PicklesINK 2012

Now manufacturers are offering more selection when it comes to non-white dolls (or at least, black dolls – there is still very little out representing other ethnicities) but even those options only change the skin colour – they still have idealized, typically “white” features such as small, pointed noses, and long, smooth, glossy, straight hair, and these Lottie dolls are no exception (here’s that picture again). Does this look to you like the “average 9-year-old girl”?

Two “Lottie” dolls by Arklu
Toronto Star, December 12, 2012

Meteorologist Rhonda A. Lee

Consider the fact that a black meteorologist named Rhonda Lee was fired this November for responding – politely – to a viewer’s FB post saying that her short-cropped hair made her look like a “cancer patient” and she should wear a wig to avoid upsetting viewers (the viewer than continues on to say that while he is not racist, the world has “certain standerd [sic]” and asks, “if you come from a world of being poor, are you going to dress in rags?”);

News8 Anchor Jennifer Livingston

while at the same time a white news anchor, Jennifer Livingston, was hailed as a hero worldwide by responding to a letter saying that she should lose weight in order to be a better role model with a 4-minute on-air segment (she was interviewed by, among others, Ellen, Katie Couric, and Glamour magazine).

Rhonda Lee’s viewer is right – our world does have certain standards which have been set by public opinion and which are reinforced every day by, among other things, the dolls that are available for our children to play with. If Arclu wants their Lottie dolls to help to dismantle and reinvent these damaging standards, they have a little more thinking to do before they get to the heart of promoting positive self-image in the young girls (and boys) who are really at risk.

~ karyn

Do you like or loathe Barbie? Would you buy a Lottie doll?