Archive for January, 2011


Over the past Christmas season, I took a job in retail. As such, I got to see what toys moved past the registers most often – got to see what parents were getting for their kids. This led to two encounters that got me thinking about gender role socialization.

The first: a man came up with a few Lego sets. As I made some small talk with him, he said that the most expensive Lego set – a passenger plane – was for his nieces. He complained that he had to go with a vaguely gender-neutral set because there are no Lego sets for girls.

Surprised by this assertion, I immediately racked my brain to try and come up with a girl-friendly Lego set. “They have castles…”

He responded, “Well, those aren’t princess castles!”

Gender-progressive that I am, I tried to come up with an argument against this. After all, couldn’t a castle still be fun to a girl even if it isn’t pink and white? The man told me that if I knew his nieces, I would understand – and I’m not going to pretend that I know a man’s family better than he does. (I’d respond the same way if he told me that I should get my nephew toys marked for his age when the little tyke’s clearly ready for 3 and up toys.)

I took two things from this encounter:

1. Lego doesn’t market to girls.

2. A toy absolutely has to be pink and girly to be accepted as a girls’ toy.

Thing 1 is rather fascinating to me. I grew up as a boy with tons and tons of Legos – and I cannot conceive a better toy for fostering creativity. With my Legos, I had knights, cops, boats, pirates, castles, space ships, robots, cyborg apes who aggressively attacked space ship piloting monkeys. (A very gender normative assortment of boys’ things, of course.) But somebody in Lego marketing decided a long way back that this kind of creative play was not for girls.

I’d love to come up with a patriarchal conspiracy theory here – that evil male executives feared that the universal compatibility of Lego sets would open up endless possibilities for gender mixture as boys and girls attached boys’ sets with girls’ sets and built up a tiny plastic utopia. More likely, they shrewdly assessed that the vast majority of parents won’t buy building and construction toys for their daughters. I find the realistic explanation far more depressing.

Let’s go to Thing 2, now. Toys have to be pink to be girls’ toys. Toys are more strongly gendered than even clothing, and they serve as an early socialization tool to separate children into girls and boys. Toy aisles are shamelessly divided into blue and pink sections. Boys’ toy manufacturers constantly pack the token female characters in ludicrously small quantities out of fear that they won’t sell. Top boys’ toy brands these days include Transformers (mostly male-gendered robot warriors) and Star Wars (the big boys of Obi-Wan and Anakin far outsell their female sidekick Ashoka). Girls’ toys? Barbie still rules the roost with a violently pink iron stiletto while the Disney Princesses giggle in a fluffy pink void of timelessness and inaction.

Just as a little look into how strongly toys are gender-segregated, check out this article: http://blog.pigtailpals.com/2010/11/have-yourself-a-very-sexist-holiday . The numbers gathered from looking through a Toys ‘R’ Us Christmas catalogue are…I hesitate to use any variation of “surprising,” because really, it’s depressing how unsurprising they are.

I really wish that it would be feasible to start raising kids with less gender socialization in their playthings. However, even allowing for the strict separation and gendering of toys, nobody wants to be the parent who bucks the system and raises a gender non-normative child. The brutally stereotypical gender roles embedded in our children’s toys are some of the earliest and most powerful tools for socializing kids into a gender binary.

Now, I promised the story of two encounters, and I just got done unpacking my thoughts about the first. The second story is much more cheerful.

Around New Year’s, a little girl and her mom walked up to my cash register with a cartful of toys. I scanned a big stack of Zhu Zhu Pets (the girly ones – they doubled their sales this year by making the “Kung Zhu” line for boys) and other girly things…as well as a Super Mario Brothers keychain and a Star Wars Lego set. The little girl wanted the latter two in her hands right away – the girly stuff could wait.

I say this with pure sincerity: Rock on, girl. Rock on.

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It’s about time for something funny on here again. Here’s to everyone heading back to classes this week and next: a lovely article from the Onion about why god doesn’t want you to be accepting of gays. Happy schooling guys!

Sex and Strangers

I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to blog while I was in Nairobi, but it’s my free day and this helps me decompress (but don’t come to expect it!)

The wonderful thing about the American University study abroad program is the manipulation of group time in the orientation week activities.  There are 12 of us total, and about half of the activities are for all of us together, with the other half having us split into constantly rotating groups of 4, which is meant to help us get to know everyone.  I’m finding that both sides of these group arrangements are very beneficial in understanding where people are coming from, and it also tends to lead to very amusing conversation.

Now you’re thinking, ok, Bianca, that’s cool, you’re studying abroad, but what does that have to do with sex, sexuality, or any of the stuff you’ve been writing about for 4 months?  Well, thing being, when you get a certain number of women together, they’re inevitably going to start talking about sex and relationships- their pains, their triumphs, their dirty secrets and whatnot.  These conversations are also the time when the group seems to bond the most.  And me, being a person who thinks a lot about thinking, can’t quite figure out why that is.  What about sex talk brings people together?

My first thought was universality.  Everyone has either had sex with someone, wanted to have sex with someone, or felt the societal pressure to have sex.  It doesn’t matter who you’re attracted to and what kind of context you interact with that person (or persons) on, everyone’s felt it.  Somehow this universal understanding of a force makes it easier to connect to people, because everyone has a story.

But… being hungry is universal.  As is friendship.  Or school.  All of these are topic areas which have universality, but don’t draw half the conversation that sex tends to.

My second thought was excitement.  You don’t get much of a thrill by talking about being hungry.  What you and your best friend did this past holiday can be amusing or interesting, but it probably won’t send chills down your spine or make your eyes grow wide with intrigue.  Sex, on the other hand, being the taboo and infinitely complex societal interaction that it is, has enough dimensions, twists, turns, and surprise endings to keep people constantly interested.

And yet, that doesn’t seem sufficient either.  There are plenty of exciting things to talk about- the antics that people get into drinking, the sports and travel adventures that others have taken, etc.

I think what it truly comes down to is the depth of the questions involved.  The truly engrossing things- sex, religion, love, philosophy, fate- are exciting and unknown, they’re universal and fundamental, but more than that, they reveal the deepest part of a person’s self understanding.  The way you frame sex can be indicative of the way you conduct your life, or it can be purposefully opposite.  The relationships you’ve had can fundamentally shift who you are as a person, and they will almost always reveal something about who you always were.  Sex is dirty, but it’s evocatively dirty.  It makes us remember that we’re all human and that we’re dealing with similar questions in very different ways.  And I think all of this is compounded by the fact that so many people are telling us not to talk about it.  Because so many of us have had to find answers on our own because of society’s stifling silence, there’s an even greater sense of camaraderie built around the sharing of these struggles, these heartbreaks, these laughable snapshots and the inevitable comparisons we so desperately need in order to validate our own experiences.

I’m open to being proved wrong, though.  I especially would like input from the asexual community- is what I’m saying valid for you?  Does sex talk matter, and is it interesting?  Does it help you bond with people or push you farther away?  Do you have any alternative suggestions, or is this whole philosophical musing a big N/A ?

I don’t have all the answers, you know.

Prostitutes vs. Sex Workers

Happy 2011 everyone!

 

I may have gotten a little preachy at my New Years Party about the problems inherent in shaming words like “slut,” “whore,” etc.   It’s an issue I’ve talked about obliquely on my blog a lot, about how everyone should be free to express their own sense of sexuality without feeling ashamed of it or having to answer to someone else’s moral standards.  But I went on a bit of rant aimed specifically at vocabulary yesterday.

See, while it’s one thing to say you support everyone’s right to express their own sexuality, it’s an awful lot harder to live it in your everyday life.  When you drive past an adult video store, you might raise an eyebrow at the cars parked in the lot and wonder if you know any of the people in there….  When you see in a girl in a miniskirt, a low-cut top, and heels walking down the street, you might look down on her for dressing that way and wonder if she’s a “hooker.”  Just like these socially-ingrained attitudes about sexual propriety, our vocabulary reflects how little we actually do accept of human sexuality.

Words like slut, cunt, whore, dick… these are all manifestations of a social attitude towards sex.  Their usage defines how much sex is ok, how low that top can sit, how much skin the girl can show, how many women a guy can have.  Whether we admit it or not, we all make judgements about people based on these behaviors, and they often aren’t pretty ones.

I won’t lie.  I was that girl in high school.  The one who looked down on all the girls having sex in 10th and 11th grade, the one who stole guys wallets to see if there were condoms inside (which was proof, of course, that they were terrible people who only thought about sex)… I was that girl who made snap judgements about you based on how short your dress was at homecoming and how much makeup you wore.

But I recognize now how wrong that was, how hurtful.  None of those choices make a person bad, immoral, disgusting.  They’re just choices, and choices that any person has the right and autonomy to make.

I have two links that I love for the way they illustrate my point in relation to people in sex work.  While I know that there are people out there who are trapped in prostitution by money issues, by drug problems, but debt or fear or any number of problems, I also know that not all of them are.  And moreover, regardless of their situation, sex workers are still people.  They still have lives and choices to make- but like the sluts and whores of high school, they are constantly being judged, being told that they aren’t good enough for something because of what they do for money.  The article, “Can Sex Workers Afford Love?” talks about this more eloquently than I ever could.

No one suggests that masseuses can’t afford to love, or acupuncturists, or therapists, and what they’re offering is intimate in nature as well, in different ways. I’m offering my skills as a Top, along with my creativity and my undivided attention. I’m offering a hand job from a girl who empathizes with wanting to get off with someone else and yet not wanting to go through the dating dance steps. I’m offering someone who will talk about sex with you, and communicate clearly and effectively, and with any luck will have rubbed some of that off on you.

Just because you cum on my hands and you pay me for it doesn’t mean I’m suddenly unable to love people.”

Sex workers are human, and that should really be more obvious than it is.  For another fantastic, if lighter take on the subject, I look to the new tumblr, “Stuff Sex Workers Eat” which in addition to being amazing fodder for my culinary adventures, is a beautiful

Mona Ramone eats angry little bear cookies. She loves to bake!

reminder of the other 23 hours in a sex worker’s day, where they eat, bake, see friends, laugh, and live colorful, social lives.

If we could see all people in this same light- with the purity of non-judgment, with the ability to remove our own squicks about sexual behavior and morals from our views on individual people, I think the world would be better off.

((So that’s your homework while I’m in Kenya, queer kids.  The girlfriend has mentioned the possibility of making a few posts while I’m away, so you might hear from her, but I’m off on an adventure.  Much love and blessings for the new year!)

 

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