During the past 12 summers I have attended YMCA Camp Minikani, first as a camper, then a counselor, and now as an administrator. With this new role in a leadership position, the responsibility of creating an environment for kids to learn and interact outside of normative constructions of the outside world is on my shoulders. Positive youth development in a camp setting is all about creating an environment of equality and respect for campers to pass on to people in their outside lives. Minikani actively works against destructive societal norms to promote originality and kindness towards others. As a leader of the organization, I aim to continue to work against constructions to promote individual and community wide respect. One way we can address this is through the reexamination of Minikani’s gender grouping.
For more than half of Minikani’s history, camp was extremely gender exclusive as only boys were allowed to come to camp. In 1967, the YMCA allowed for females to become campers, and soon after, counselors. Since then, however, there has been little change made regarding gender practices. The camp is currently set up with a day camp and an overnight camp, both of which separate groups into male and female groups. After taking this course, the necessity of demolishing the binary ideas of gender and sexuality became obvious. Anne Fausto-Sterling, along with other authors and theorists, has illuminated the history of assigning gender to bodies, the disconnection between ideas of binary genders and evidence of multiple genders, and the bias in the medical field with regards to sexing the body. These ideas make it clear gender is a construction, and limiting humanity to a binary viewpoint is limiting people’s ways of viewing themselves.
One of the YMCA’s core tenants includes the notion of diversity and inclusion. On their website, one can easily find this statement: “Together we work to ensure everyone—regardless of gender, income, faith, sexual orientation or cultural background—has the opportunity to live life to its fullest”. This is a goal that the YMCA at large, and Minikani in specific, have actively worked towards. Yet the continuation of binary gender divisions in camper groups has promoted an idea that is limiting to people’s constructions of themselves. Therefore, I am proposing a change starting in the day camp unit of Camp Minikani. We would, instead of organizing groups based on male or female and age, only organize groups based on age. This mixing of genders can help to teach cooperation and friendship with people who identify differently than you. More importantly, the lack of naming day camp groups in binary terms promotes inclusion and a non-limiting viewpoint on gender. Starting with the day camp groups in summer of 2017 can be a jumping off point and eventually lead to changes in the overnight camp unit to breakdown binary gender ideas as well. Even if no campers come to camp identifying outside of male or female, the breakdown of the binary system will lead to a respect and appreciation for mixed gender groups and a gender inclusive world.
Since I have not taken a gender and sexuality studies class before this semester, most of the concepts we discussed in class and from the readings were very new to me. This class has truly allowed me to broaden my horizons of how I view the world and society. Before this semester, I was only aware of gender and sexuality as binaries, but I now see how society has constructed them to be viewed this way. As we began discussing new topics in depth, I started to think about my education regarding gender and sexuality, or lack thereof, prior to this class. In middle school, I had the standard health and sex education classes, but we mostly touched on only the biological aspects of each rather than the emotional and psychological aspects. In high school, we did not have any type of sex education; in fact, it seemed forbidden to discuss any topics regarding gender and sexuality. However, this class has allowed me to understand how important and crucial it is to have open dialogue about these topics in everyday life. Therefore, for my theory to praxis final project I set out to open this dialogue in high schools in the Charlotte area.
As a member of Rape Awareness Committee, I volunteered to be in charge of our High School Outreach Program. In the beginning, I did it purely because I was from the Charlotte area so I had contacts at many local high schools, but as the semester went on, I realized how much of an impact we could truly make with this program due to the lack of health and sex education in the local high schools. Therefore, I began researching other sex education programs, narrowing down what exactly I wanted to focus on, and how we wanted to convey our message. After meeting with Georgia Ringle and Ashley Fry, I decided to focus on consent and positive and healthy relationships as these topics are pertinent and rarely discussed in schools. We found that most schools’ sex education programs are very abstinence-based so many students have never discussed these topics and a strong stigma surrounds conversation of these topics.
In working with the rest of my committee, we put together a presentation that focused on opening a discussion with students based on the norm of reciprocity: the more open and honest we are with them, the more open they will hopefully be with us. We begin our presentation by showing a video of Davidson students discussing key aspects of positive and healthy relationships and giving examples of personal sexual experiences where their knowledge of consent and choice was important. Following this video, we share why we personally are each here giving this presentation and a little bit about our own sexual identity and experiences. We hope that our willingness to share our beliefs and experiences will open a line of communication for the students to discuss their personal experiences and ask questions. In order to further engage the students and for us to frame the conversation towards the audience, we then have them fill out a series of anonymous questions regarding gender and sexual identity as well as personal experiences. This then leads us into our presentation about consent and healthy relationships. In addition to sharing definitions and characteristics of each, we ask students to share their beliefs and knowledge about each topic. We then give the students hypothetical situations and ask them what they would do in each case. One thing we want to emphasize is that there is more than one right way to handle any of these situations; each person will probably handle them a little bit differently. After hearing the students share their opinions on each situation, we each give our own answer and explanation for how we would potentially handle it. We conclude our presentation by allowing everyone to write down questions anonymously on note cards, which we then read aloud and answer to the best of our ability for the group.
Overall, we have given two presentations so far and have multiple scheduled for the spring. Just from the two presentations we have given, I have been able to see how much of an impact we can have. In one of our presentations to seventh and eighth grade girls at Circle de Luz, several of the girls were already sexually active, but were unaware of the meaning of the words consent and contraception. Though this was highly concerning in the moment, by the end of the presentation, they were all confident in their own ability to ask for and give consent, aware of their choice, and knew to always use protection. Personally, the impact we were able to make from this one presentation was worth all the time and effort I put into creating this program. However, I am looking forward to our presentations in the spring and to seeing the further impact we can make the community.
One of the most engaging topics of the gender and sexuality field is the categorization of children into male and female genders when they are born. The idea that a doctor defines a child’s gender at birth is a socially constructed practice rooted in defining gender as male or female based on genitalia. This idea of gender identity will strengthen as children grow up, through media exposure and toys they are given to play with. Parents often reinforce these stereotypes and buy their children either “boy” or “girl” toys. These gender specific toys usually differ from each other in color and theme. Toys that are labeled as “girl toys” are often pink or purple. They are usually princess themed toys, horses, and replica home appliances. Toys that are supposedly meant for boys are action figures, cars, and LEGOs for example.
The meme I found challenges these stereotypes of gender specific toys by poking fun at them. It was originally created by Kristen Myers. The meme gives advice on “How to tell if a toy is for boys or girls?” It guides the viewers on how toys should only be categorized as adults’ toys and children’s toys by their intended use. If a toy is meant to be operated with your genitals, it is a toy for an adult and not supposed to be used by kids. If it is not intended to beused with your genitals it is a toy for kids of all genders. This attacks the gender stereotypes because it says that toys that are meant for kids are for all genders and not specifically for boys or girls. My other supporting piece of media exemplifies this gendering of kids toys. It is a toy commercial by the popular toy company Barbie. The company is advertising their new product, a pink toy kitchen. In this commercial a girl calls for her friend and asks if she wants to help her to make dinner on Friday. The commercial goes on and the girls cook imaginary dinner using the Barbie Gourmet Kitchen. The main focus in this commercial is to picture how much fun the girls are having while doing things that are “natural for girls.” It would be “unnatural” to have two boys or even one boy and one girl cooking food with this toy. It is noticeable that the girl who asks for her friend to come over is wearing pink dress, and her friend is wearing red and yellow outfit. This shows us how this toy is meant to be “girls toy” because of the stereotypic appearance from both of the girls in this commercial. This idea of selling replica home appliances to girls emphasizes the femininity associated with domestic work. Girls are taught to enjoy cooking and other tasks around the house.
Target audience and purposes of these two media pieces are very different. The meme is meant to entertain people who understand the idea of having non-gender specific toys, and that it is totally normal for children of all genders to play with any toys. For people, who believe that it is unnatural for boys to play with “girls toys” or vice versa, this meme is educating through its use of humor. When kids see this picture, they are encouraged to think of where their toys fall in this category and how all toys can be gender neutral regardless of color or other factors. For the Barbie Gourmet Kitchen commercial, the target audience is young girls ages 5-10. It is also targeted to the parents of these girls, who are buying the product for their daughters. The purpose of this commercial is to sell the product and that is why it is emphasizing the fun the girls are having. The joyful music and happy girls are intended to make parents think that this product is good for their daughters. This commercial is especially targeted to traditional families, where gender roles are emphasized and parents want their daughters grow up to become traditional feminine women.
Both of these pieces have multiple details that are trying to catch reader or viewer’s attention. The use of big font in the meme pops up and gives the meme a title. The title presents the idea that the meme is challenging gender norms. Like all memes, this one is easy and quick to read. The main purpose here is to be funny and educate the audience by using humor as a tool. Little details in this meme are important. The colors that are used play a significant role. The question “Do you operate the toy with your genitalia?” is in a blue circle because it represents the neutral part of this meme. The line that says yes leads to a red circle with a text “this toy is not for children” and the other line saying no leads to yellow circle with a text “it is for children of all genders.” It is important that the gender-neutral answer is in yellow circle because yellow is considered one of the gender-neutral colors. The adult toy answer is in a red circle because it can be considered “dirty” or “naughty.” The use of the word genitals increases the humor of this meme because talking openly about genitalia can be considered funny. In the TV commercial, the high tempo and joyful music, the girls with high-pitched voices, and the decorated room are details that draw the viewers’ attention. The commercial’s purpose is to attract people and create a happy feeling, and this commercial does it.
The Barbie Gourmet Kitchen TV commercial supports the stereotypes that the meme is trying to challenge. The femininity and masculinity that the kids’ toys represent are being challenged when kids are encouraged to think about these issues themselves. Memes like the one analyzed above try to make people understand that traditional gender roles are outdated and children of this generation should not be forced to accept the gender assigned by a doctor at birth.
Pretty in Pink? Media Analysis of a “Progressive” Toy
Gender as a concept is a systemic structure that begins affecting children at a young age. The manipulation of gender and sex starts with advertisements for items such as toys, clothes, and furniture that mold the way children see themselves as soon as they are old enough to register what they see and hear on television and in print. Mass media and industry pushes the binary as a way to sell more items and this process requires children to pick a side: either the feminine side, where the toys are centered on appearance and homemaking, or the masculine, where the toys are more aggressive and active. The push towards a more inclusive toy industry is warped, and is seen through a recent advertisement for a toy called GoldieBlox. GoldieBlox is a set of building blocks and is focused on attracting a young, female audience. The commercial seems to reject the pink, princess-centric world of girls’ toys for a more scientific, active toy. What this commercial does not address, however, is the reinforcement that there are two types of girls: one that enjoys the norm and one that does not fit what we traditionally perceive as a girl’s toy. When the girl does not fit the norm, she is automatically placed in the other category, in which it is imperative that she maintains her femininity even though she rejects the traditional set of toys. In this way, the toy industry’s push to design more “inclusive” toys still remain solidly in the gender binary.
This GoldieBlox commercial, aptly named “The Princess Machine” begins by showing three girls sitting in front of the television, bored by the advertisement for a girly toy. The commercial proceeds when the girls don safety goggles and decide to construct an elaborate machine from their girly toys, such as baby carriages and tea sets. The girls work together to create a series of pulleys, levers, and ramps that extend throughout their whole house, creating a domino effect that moves a ball along the trail of toys. The girls run alongside the ball as it travels from room to room, eagerly awaiting the finale. The advertisement shows them enjoying their final product, which changes the television channel that originally showed the feminine toy commercial to an advertisement for this specific toy. The girls then cheer and celebrate their invention.
This advertisement is expertly crafted in order to appear to be advocating change in how toys are marketed to children, but only breaks down the feminine stereotype enough that it is comfortably available to the mainstream. An example of how it remains entwined in the binary is the toy’s pink packaging, showing a smiling blond girl on the box, plays directly into preconceived and accepted notions of what young girls should look like and how they should spend their time. This toy is no more evolutionary than a Barbie, and is a exemplary instance of Judith Halberstam’s argument in An Introduction to Female Masculinity that, “tomboyism may even be encouraged to the extent that it remains comfortably linked to a stable sense of a girl identity” (6). Girls are allowed to express themselves through traditionally masculine toys only until they hit puberty, when they are expected to become feminine, docile, and disinterested in masculine pursuits. Another interesting aspect of this commercial is its name: The Princess Machine. The name is not mentioned anywhere in the video, but can be found by searching it by name. The naming of this commercial is crucial to the argument that social norms can only be pushed so far, and not broken, as to create discomfort for the audience. The title of this commercial asserts that, although these girls do not want to be princesses, they can still create something feminine and acceptable to the gender binary. Notable, as well, is the race of the girl on the packaging. The use of a blond girl, though cartoon, asserts the argument that this toy is focused on maintaining what the media sells as acceptable for girls to be: white, “pretty”, and feminine. Not only is this toy selling the binary, its selling what society is groomed to think of as beautiful. The commercial, much like it does to the binary, pushes the idea of inclusivity just barely, by including one Caucasian and two girls of colors in it. The packaging tells the consumer that this is the ideal and is the first part of the toy little girls will see, which is no different than any other of the white centric, mainstream advertisements see across all industries. All these aspects of the commercial and packaging are, in a not so subtle way, asserting society’s views that being white, blond, and cis-gender is the ideal identity of a child.
The binary further asserts itself in the sub context of this commercial, narrowing the entire female gender to one of two categories: those who enjoy baby dolls and tea sets, and another, which rejects these items. The commercial seems to, at first glance, break down the stigma that girls enjoy playing solely with baby dolls and tea sets, but the makers have only given females one other option. By discussing femininity by only giving an alternative, this commercial’s message is very similar to the mainstream, exclusive message of the gender binary. This message is reminiscent of Wilchins’ Queer Theory, Gender Theory and her idea that, “Woman could do anything men could do and still retain their femininity” (8). Wilchins is discussing how, instead of completely breaking down and eradicating gender norms, it is popular now to offer an alternative to the “girly girl” while still remaining what is commonly thought of as feminine and therefore comfortable for the general population. Wilchins’ assertion is related to an image seen at the end of the commercial, with the three girls standing shoulder to shoulder, arms crossed, wearing their construction belts and safety goggles. Although this would be considered a common frame if it were little boys, the girls have to remain feminine by wearing girly clothes as to not disrupt the binary. Another pertinent topic discussed by Wilchins is the idea of gender expression, which she defines as, “the manifestation of an individual’s fundamental sense of being masculine or feminine through clothing, behavior, grooming, etc.” As long as the toy user’s gender expression is one that has been seen before and accepted by society, she is allowed to freely enjoy her blocks or dolls. If she were to start acting like or identifying as more masculine, Wilchins says, “[people] will probably be shocked, disgusted, or at least turned off” (9). GoldieBlox is an excellent example of the cunningness of advertisers, who play to their consumer to sell more products.
GoldieBlox is a toy marketed towards an apparent shift in commercial industry towards a more inclusive, neutral business. When analyzed, however, GoldieBlox and its corresponding advertisement do nothing to break down stereotypes and expectations placed on children and the activities they enjoy doing. The resulting advertisement is a misrepresentation of what is it to be a girl with interests that do not include traditional girly toys and fails to acknowledge that feminine ideals are ever present and still being embedded in the minds of the girls watching these commercials.
GoldieBlox & Rube Goldberg. YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Aug.
Halberstam, Judith. “An Introduction to Female Masculinity.”
Introduction. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. N.
Wilchins, Riki Anne. Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant
Continuing the conversation we had in class yesterday, I found this article in the Huffington Post that serves as an affect perspective about postpartum depression and how our society fuels the continuation of this social pressure onto new mothers. As this article states, motherhood is already highly politicized and therefore the public is weighing in on their opinions of “what a mother should truly be.” Postpartum depression is increasingly becoming a talking point, along with conversations about rape and the wage gap, but the issue could be more talked about.