LEGO Friends: a Friend to Girls?

It’s too late for my daughters, or for me, for that matter, but not for my granddaughters. LEGO has come out with a series of kits created specifically for girls. After more than a decade of marketing to boys with themes like Star Wars, ninjas, monsters, dinosaurs and the like, LEGO has turned its attention to the market that is potentially just as lucrative; after all, females make up 51% of the population.

Not that LEGO hasn’t tried to reach out to girls before, but nothing really took off like the kits for boys. This time, LEGO devoted seven years of research to figuring out what kind of LEGO kits would appeal to girls. Last year, right after Christmas (go figure), the company debuted its LEGO Friends series. I’m only just now finding out about them because I was looking for a Christmas gift for my five-year-old grand-niece and I came across them at Target.

They caught my attention because they go beyond the rather limited role that dolls have in a little girl’s play. There are doll-like figures (5 centimeters taller than traditional LEGO minifigs) but LEGO has come up with an entire world that has to be built–with LEGOs, naturally–before the dolls can “live” in it. There are five main characters who each come with her own biography and personality and kits geared to her interests.

At first I was leery about gender-stereotyping, and rightfully so: The Friends’ world is called Heartlake City and the colors of the kits are all “girly” colors, mainly pastels. Not only that, but the environments the kits are designed to create are almost exclusively traditional female ones, like beauty parlors, cafés, performance studios, bedrooms, swimming pools and horse stables. The only kinds of occupations represented include actress/singer, beautician, baker, café owner and dog groomer; no doctors or police officers need apply. (I suppose a girl could borrow those figures from her brother’s kits.)

But there are also encouraging signs: one of the kits, a bedroom, includes a drum kit. There is a car, a speedboat and an airplane. The environments aren’t just places where the characters go; they own the businesses, perform on the stages, drive the cars, and so on.

If people are worried about making kids think that they can only play with “gender-appropriate” toys, then what about the LEGOs that are aimed at the male market? You’d think that boys are supposedto be all about fighting and destroying (and constructing and destroying again!–I’ve seen my grandson playing with LEGOs.) But maybe boys are simply more interested in action and girls in interaction. Who really knows? All I do know is that neither I nor my daughters were remotely interested in playing with LEGOs–I had my Ginny dolls, they had Strawberry Shortcake and later Barbie).

If LEGO Friends get more children interested in LEGOs, isn’t that a good thing? No one said that girls can’t play with Harry Potter (which is one of the few kits outside of LEGO Friends that has female characters in it) or Star Wars or any of the kits that are thought of as for boys. But now girls and boys who like things that are pretty, that involve role-playing and redecorating, or that aren’t all about wars and fighting, will have something that satisfies their needs as well.

Find out more about LEGO Friends here.

NOTE: I found this comment on the Internet which I found both amusing and disturbing: “my lil sis wants this set she has a the cafe but i use her minifigures as prisoners to my lex luthor minifugre from DC superheros and a slave to The Joker minifure.”

1958 Ginny Doll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Should We Care About Shulamith Firestone?

Shulamith Firestone died sometime last week at the age of 67. She had been a recluse for years, which is one reason why no one found her body for several days. (Her sister confirmed that she died of natural causes.) The feminist community took notice, but the average person could have cared less. And that’s a pity.

Why should we care? What connection could she possibly have to our lives today?

Those of us who are Baby Boomers might remember her name in connection with the Women’s Liberation Movement. She helped to create several radical feminist groups in the late ’60s and was outspoken in her criticisms, not only of the patriarchy, but also of the political left, which she felt didn’t do enough (if anything) to liberate women.

But it was her book, The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, published in 1970 when she was only 25, that earned her a primary place in feminist history. And it was also her book—or rather, the reception the book received—that drove her to withdraw from public life in the years following its publication.

To say that Dialectic created a firestorm is an understatement. Even many feminists felt that Firestorm had gone too far in her denunciation of family life and her assertion that women are enslaved by their biology. She felt that women should be released from the burden of reproduction by the use of artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and artificial wombs.

Besides being one of the first feminist theories of politics, Dialectic also set the tone for how the general public perceived the feminist movement. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it helped to make feminism the dirty word it is to many people today. The book calls for a complete obliteration of gender differences and traditional patriarchal society (what many would now call “family values”). She wrote that pregnancy was barbaric and that as long as the traditional family existed, women would never be liberated.

It was strong stuff then and is even more so now. Most people have forgotten the woman who put forth these ideas, but they haven’t forgotten that feminism appeared to approve of them. They fail to make the distinction between radical feminists, which Firestone most certainly was, and mainstream feminists (as typified by the National Organization for Feminists, or NOW).

I’m a pretty traditional woman. I believe in marriage (although I don’t think it has to be restricted to male-female unions) and families. I think there is such a thing as a maternal instinct and that mothers tend to occupy themselves more with the care of their offspring than fathers do (or perhaps just in a different way). But I also believe that women are penalized in this society merely because they can have children, let alone if they actually have them.

A lot of people still think that feminists are anti-family, that they put down stay-at-home moms, or moms period. (Not to mention are bitter, man-hating lesbians.) But the vast majority of feminists get married (or enter into committed, long-term relationships) and have babies, work in and out of the home, and struggle with the same issues as non-feminists.

The difference is, feminists are also aware of the wrongs that are done to females in this society and are willing to fight to right them. Firestone recognized the problem, and, even if we don’t agree with them, we would be remiss if we failed to recognize her sincere attempt to formulate solutions.

She saw what a lot of people are unwilling to see: This society is not woman-friendly, especially when it comes to reproductive issues. However, the answer is not to give up on having babies. The answer is to take charge of our own bodies. We don’t need artificial wombs; we just need for (male) law-makers to keep their hands off the ones we have.

 

Adrienne Rich: Not Just a Feminist Poet

Adrienne Rich died last Tuesday, March 27, 2012, at the age of 82. If it is at all fair to sum up a poet’s work in one word, in her case it would be “feminist.” But of course it isn’t fair, or accurate, to do so. Rich wrote about so much more than feminism.

It is true that she became known as a feminist poet partly because her poetry gained recognition during the early days of the Women’s Liberation Movement. In fact, her third poetry collection, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, was published the same year as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963).

Rich’s life followed a predictable course for a young woman of the ’50s: She graduated from college (Radcliffe) with a bachelor’s in English in 1951, married in 1953, when she was 24, and had three sons before she was 30. But by 1970, when she and her husband divorced, her life had taken a radical turn. She came out as a lesbian in 1976 with the publication of her poetry collection, Twenty-One Love Poems.

Along with her poetry, Rich also wrote non-fiction on a variety of topics: racism, the Vietnam War, politics, social commentary, and of course,women’s issues. She was also willing to act when something moved her.  For instance, she was so critical of the policies of the Clinton administration that she  refused the National Medal of Arts that was awarded her in 1997, citing her dismay that “amid the “increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice,” the government had chosen to honor “a few token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”

It’s sad that we often don’t pay attention to a person’s life achievements until after they’re gone. I’d heard of Adrienne Rich, but didn’t really know anything about her or her writings. I plan to correct that. I’ve ordered two of her books, one verse and the other prose, and I’ll be sharing what I learn from them in future posts.

In a 1984 speech she stated that her writing and her life were about “the creation of a society without domination.” That’s why I think it’s a shame that she is categorized as a feminist poet, just because she was a woman who sometimes wrote about women. Naming an artist a feminist is one way that society silences its critics. (And naming her a lesbian is an even more effective strategy.)

That’s why I’m going to read Adrienne Rich. Not because she was a feminist, but because she was against all injustice. Hers is a voice that deserves to be heard by everyone.

 

 

Why Fight the War on Women?

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the War on Women. What most people don’t realize is that this “war” isn’t only about abortion. It’s a series of battles over a woman’s right to live her life purposefully. This doesn’t just mean her right to birth control or abortion. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Women are still having to fight for these things and more:

  • access to education
  • jobs, promotions
  • health benefits
  • reasonable rates for life and health insurance
  • maternity leave and other accommodations for child-rearing
  • effective prosecution of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence
  • elected office and other positions of power

Many people think that the War on Women was fought in the ’60s and ’70s and that women won it. They point to female CEOs and other professionals, to the number of women obtaining higher education, to greater attention being paid to women’s health issues and  to greater protections in general under the law. But these advantages are not being given equally to all women.

As long as there is one woman who is treated wrongfully and unequally because of her gender, the war has not been won. And the fact is, there are still millions of women who need things that many of us, privileged as we are, take for granted. Not only that, but women who feel that they have never suffered gender or sexual discrimination are either unusually fortunate or delusional.

One of the most insidious ways to keep women down is socialization. It’s hard to point a finger to the culprit here when the entire society participates in the practices that keep women from fulfilling their full potential. Even women themselves cooperate in their own socialization and often seem proud of it. The woman who drops out of college to get married, the professional who stops working to have children, the mother who praises her daughter for being pretty, but not for her participation in sports—all of these women are shortsightedly dooming themselves and their children to discrimination in the future.

These women protest that they have the right to choose to work part-time or not at all (except for in the home of course), to have as many children as they want and to raise them however they see fit. I’m not saying that they don’t have the right to choose whatever they want to do with their lives. I’m just asking them to think about the long-term effects of their choices.

The War on Women can’t be fought only by the people who already have the advantages some women only dream of. It has to be fought by all women. Each woman has to think purposefully about her life and do whatever it takes to achieve her goals. She has to stop thinking about what everyone else wants her to do and start thinking about what she wants.

Some say that the feminist movement has done nothing but create a society of self-centered and selfish women who think nothing of abandoning husbands and children and who could care less about their families’ fates. There will always be those who think only of themselves (female and male), but the feminist movement didn’t cause that. And that is certainly not its goal.

All that feminism asks is that women think and act responsibly with an eye to the future, both their future and that of their children. Do they really want their daughters (and sons) to be saddled with children they didn’t want and can’t care for? Do they want their daughters to continue to have to bear the brunt of housework and child-raising? Do they want their sons to take women for granted, even to the point of abusing them?

Maybe the War on Women will never be over. Patriarchal attitudes are ingrained in nearly every society. Add to that the resistance people have to change. But humankind’s progress doesn’t depend on staying in the present or even going back to the past. Progress means to go forward. What was “usual and customary” for our ancestors has to be re-examined and reworked in order to serve our future.

 

 

A Victory for Women’s Health: Why Isn’t Everybody Happy?

After years of trying to get birth control covered to the same extent that health plans cover Viagra, our country will finally have nearly universal coverage of contraception.

On January 20, 2012, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that most employers will be required to cover contraception in their health plans, along with other preventive services, with no cost-sharing such as co-pays or deductibles.

Being able to prevent unwanted pregnancies (and abortions, by the way) is now going to be an achievable goal for all women who have health insurance. That is, unless your health insurance provider is one that has been excepted because of religious objections to birth control.

What I can’t figure out is why any health insurance provider would allow its policies to be dictated by religion, especially when not providing full coverage for birth control will elevate its costs and eat into its profits. Women who can’t get or afford birth control tend to have more babies, which costs insurance providers much more money than providing birth control would have in the first place.

Apparently, some providers are willing to shoot themselves in the financial foot in order to attract clients who believe that life begins at fertilization. They must believe that the number of clients they can attract outweighs the costs associated with having children. However, the odds are that those clients are going to have more children because of their stance against birth control and abortion. If that just meant the cost of prenatal care and routine labors and deliveries that would be one thing. But what about high-risk pregnancies, premature babies, birth defects and complications that require expensive measures like C-sections and neonatal care?

Naturally there are those who aren’t happy with this decision, most notably the Catholic Church. What they fail to see is that it is the woman’s individual choice to use birth control. No insurance company is going to force a woman to use it. It’s just going to be covered in case she wants to.

The Catholic Church wants to change society to fit its standards, as if all people in our society agree with its stance on birth control. It really has no business telling non-Catholics what they can and cannot do. And that goes for anyone who is anti-birth control. If they have a problem with the use of contraception, I have a simple solution for them: Don’t use it. But don’t try to tell me that I can’t use it.

Organizations that will be able to opt out of providing full coverage for contraception are those whose employees all have the same anti-birth control views as the employers. This means that the Catholic Church can’t claim the exemption, because many of its employees aren’t even Catholics. So either they stop hiring non-Catholics, or they resign themselves to abiding by the HHS ruling.

Of course the decision has set off a firestorm of political posturing. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida introduced a bill, named the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012,” to repeal the policy.

“The Obama Administration’s obsession with forcing mandates on the American people has now reached a new low by violating the conscience rights and religious liberties of our people,” Rubio said in a statement.

In an appearance on “CBS This Morning,” Newt Gingrich called it “an attack on Christianity.”

I’m sorry, but where is it written that Christians don’t use birth control? And how is it an attack on religious liberties if no one is being forced to use contraception?

What amazes me is that the movement against abortion has now escalated into a movement against contraception. Doesn’t contraception lessen the number of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore the number of abortions?

Instead of criticizing the decision, the Catholic Church and others should be applauding the fact that low-income and under-insured women will have better and more affordable health care. But of course they’re not going to do that, because everyone knows that pro-lifers want to force their views on others, no matter what the consciences or religious beliefs of others tell them about contraception.

My conscience and religious beliefs tell me that I am to be responsible about family planning and the use of the earth’s resources. An unstemmed tide of unwanted pregnancies is a recipe for disaster for individual women, their families and their societies. The impact would be global (and already is, in areas where birth control is not available or utilized). If the pro-life constituent had its way, people with beliefs similar to mine would be prevented from acting on them.

Isn’t that a violation of our  conscience rights and religious liberty?

Rethinking Abortion

A friend of mine recently told me that she used to be strongly pro-choice but now, because of experiences she’s had in her own life and seeing what other women have gone through, she’s decided that she’s pro-life. She said she’s concerned about the psychological damage to women who have abortions. She also feels many women have abortions for selfish reasons and there are very few good reasons for having one.

To tell the truth, I was surprised at how much I agreed with her. I’ve never felt comfortable about women having abortions just because they don’t want to be inconvenienced or stressed out. I’ve even wondered if there’s ever a good reason to abort a baby other than rape, incest, severe birth defects or the health of the mother. I have four children myself and two grandchildren (with one more on the way) and I know how precious a new life is.

The problem is, the abortion debate forces you to pick sides. You’re made to feel that you have to be pro-life OR pro-choice. You can’t be both. But as I listened to my friend, I realized that I am both.

I believe that abortion should be a last resort. No woman should use abortion just because she was too lazy or irresponsible to use birth control. (However, this belief doesn’t address the issue of what to do when a mistake has been made.)

I also believe that once a fetus is viable (i.e., it can live outside the womb without heroic efforts to keep it alive), it should not be aborted. If you’ve gone eight months with a baby inside you, what’s another month? That child has a right to live; even if you don’t want to be its mother, there is almost always someone who does. Let’s face it: newborn babies are in demand. It’s the older child who is harder to place. So if you don’t think you want to be a mother, don’t “give it a try” for a few years. Make the responsible choice while the baby still has a chance to grow up from birth in a loving home.

When I had my abortion at the age of 19, I was a freshman in college, I didn’t want to marry the father and I was afraid to tell my parents. I was also pretty sure that I couldn’t give the baby up for adoption and I knew my life would be changed irrevocably if I kept him or her. I thought I’d have to drop out of college and depend on my parents even more than I already did (and which I hated). And I didn’t want to have to deal with custody and visitation issues with a man I didn’t want to be with.

Also, this was 1971 and unmarried mothers were not as accepted as they are now.

None of these reasons justified my “killing” my baby, but they added up to a compelling argument at the time. And since the man who’d gotten me pregnant was completely supportive of my getting an abortion, I have to believe that he had similar reasons.

So how did I feel after having the abortion? Was I overwhelmed with guilt and grief? No. I can honestly say that all I felt was relief, especially since I pulled it off without having to tell my parents.

But now that I’m almost 60 and can look back on a long life of mistakes and regrets, I realize that just because something feels right doesn’t mean that it is right. I was a moderately religious person, but I didn’t have a well-developed sense of morals or ethics. I didn’t approach the problem from that perspective at all. I didn’t go to a counselor or a trusted adult. I felt like I got myself into this mess, it was up to me to get myself out.

I have had feelings of guilt and grief over the years, but they’ve never been overwhelming. My main feeling was that the abortion was regrettable, but the right thing for me at the time. But I had some bad moments during each of my subsequent pregnancies, especially once the babies were born. I couldn’t help but think that I would have had another child three years older than my oldest daughter if I hadn’t been so selfish. Who knows what that baby might have been like? Was it the boy I never managed to have later on? He or she would have been forty years old this year. Would I have had other grandchildren? How would he or she have turned out?

Having an abortion puts you in a tricky situation. You can ask God for forgiveness, but you can’t ask your aborted baby to forgive you. Some people get around this by not believing that the fetus was a baby. Technically and medically, the fetus isn’t a baby (that is, it can’t live outside the womb). But is it a life?

One debate surrounding abortion is over whether life begins at fertilization or implantation. Medical science has always favored the latter. You’re not pregnant until implantation occurs and you can’t be carrying a new life until you’re actually pregnant.

People who hold the former view have arbitrarily decided that life begins at fertilization.  Some pro-life advocates are against birth control because they think that the contraception itself causes abortions. But what happens when a fertilized egg passes out of the uterus naturally? Is that an abortion? Carry that a step further: does that mean that even God “murders” babies?

Strong words, I know. But the point I’m trying to make is: Is it ever right to make decisions that only God used to make? If the answer is no, you might as well do away with medical science and research. No more transplants, no more medicines, no more fertility treatments, no more heroic measures. Who are we to decide whether someone should live or die?

The Bible says that God gave man dominion over the earth. You could argue that this doesn’t just mean that he is supposed to tend plants and animals. It could also mean that God gave us jurisdiction over questions of life and death. He gave us the intellect to develop those things that help to extend life. But the flip side is that we’re also allowed to decide when things can or should be prevented from achieving viability, or life.

There are many good reasons for not allowing an embryo to develop into a fetus, or a fetus into a baby. What about when the number of children a family has prevents those children from having a good quality of life? What if the resources and support systems don’t exist to ensure that a child will be raised in a loving environment?

And that’s not even taking into account the health of the pregnant woman. What if she has other children she needs to be there for? Is it right to allow a woman to die just to allow the birth of another motherless child?

There is no consensus about these issues. That means is there is no one position that is more popular than the others. And for that reason, I believe it is against everything this country stands for to allow one group’s opinion to prevail.

Being pro-choice doesn’t mean that women will be forced to have unwanted abortions. But being anti-choice does mean that some women will be forced to have unwanted babies.

Which is right: force or freedom?

For a doctor’s views of when life begins and the abortion debate, go here at “The Moderate Voice.”