Monday, January 09, 2006

Free to Be You and Me?

I am a child of the '70s. It was a time of questioning, when people were saying, "Hey, wait a minute -- maybe it's not cool to oppress minorities and women and gay people. Maybe we need to step back a minute and think about our preconceived notions about what people's proscribed roles in society are. Maybe it's not cool to call people "crippled" or "retarded,"either. Wow, maybe we need to make a change."

I grew up with parents (mom and stepfather) who had stopped to think about it, and who decided they weren't going to go along with the status quo in terms of gender roles for their kids. I grew up hating pink, hating dresses and skirts, and wearing my hair cut short, "like a boy."* I grew up listening to the "Free to Be Me" album and thinking girls could fix cars and play baseball if they wanted to. I grew up receiving race car tracks and the Bionic Man doll on Christmas morning.

* In all honesty, this was partly because my mom couldn't deal with doing my hair, and partly because I couldn't deal with having it done. Perhaps I was tender-headed. I don't remember, but I had a little blonde Afro back then. I'll try and post pics if I have time.

As a result of this upbringing, I was all about feminism and gender and racial equality and not treating people differently based on what they looked like or what their sexual orientation was or whatever. I proudly enrolled in a women's college when the time came, and felt proud to be in a community of diverse, strong, ornery women. I've been involved with women's organizations on a variety of levels; I've volunteered my time, I've donated money, I've subscribed to magazines and written grants for women's programs. I've done the same with a variety of race-based organizations.

I was also raised to try and be of service in some way. My mom trained as a teacher, my stepfather as a paramedic. They both majored in sociology. We were poor as hell, but nonetheless, the pursuit of money as an end in itself was conveyed to me as vulgar and not something that was valued in my family. This was counterbalanced by my grandparents' emphasis on education as a means to self-sufficiency.

So this is how they raised me up. Fast forward to 2006:

This past weekend, we met up with my mom, grandma, sister and nephews to have lunch and exchange Christmas gifts. My grandma was in the hospital over Christmas, so we did not do the whole Christmas thing at the appropriate time. For a variety of reasons, this Saturday we ended up eating lunch and running out of time for opening gifts, due to the kids' nap schedules.

We loaded all the gifts into one another's cars, said our goodbyes, drove off on our separate ways. And when we got home, after Viva woke up, she opened a huge plethora of gifts -- among them, these:

Just in case you can't tell, they are, from left to right:

Disney Princess hopscotch, Disney Princess Cinderella Deluxe Dress-Up Set, and Disney Princess Deluxe Shoe Boutique.

Does anyone else perceive a bit of a disconnect? Given that I have just summarized my bringing-up for you, it should come as no surprise that I loathe the whole Disney princess propaganda machine with every fiber of my being. But aside from the sick message I believe it sends -- which is as anti-grrl-power as you can get, in my opinion -- my main issue is the fact that pretty much every ethnic group in the world is represented among the Disney princesses, except black and Hispanic. If you look at the hopscotch set, for example, you have a range of Caucasian/Anglo representation (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle), you have Middle Eastern (Jasmine), you have Asian (Mulan, who wasn't a princess), and you even have Native American (Pocahontas). For Christ's sake, you even have a mutant half-human, half-fish (Ariel)!

Why would you give this to a little black girl? It just makes me nuts. I will tell you honestly that Viva scored a whole lot of other stuff during this gift-opening extravaganza. Sweet William and I quietly removed the offending items one at a time while she was playing with other stuff, and I will be taking my ass to Toys'R'Us later this week to see if we can get store credit from this shit. I think my mom has lost her mind.

In happier news, Viva has a new little sister:

My grandma got this for her for Christmas. Viva has named her Kimbe (pronounced KIM-bee), which Sweet Wills and I have adopted with gusto. We like it because it sounds like Dikembe Mutombo, who we have always loved to imitate saying "I'm DOM-inating!" because he likes to say that he is a DOMinant player in the NBA. So we like to hold up the baby doll and pretend she is saying she is DOMinating. ...Um, I think this is one of those situations where if you have to explain it, it loses its funniness.

I need to add links for y'all, but I've run out of time -- must go get Viva. Perhaps I'll edit later. I'm out.


AmericanFamily said...

Oh, good grief that is a lot of princesses stuff. My mom just bought us *ALL* tickets for princesses on ice. I think I am going to be traumatized for a lonnnnng time after that.

fahren said...

One of the things that turned me off Disney is that when they finally got around to doing a 'toon about Africa it was about animals not people and the lion cub sounded like he was from the valley. Then there's Scout's Safari (new age Tarzan) where little white chick can talk to the animals but black kids can't.

Robin said...

Good lord, I hate that Disney crap. Actually, I hate stuff that's cross-marketed to kids in general, but I think the Disney stuff's particularly awful. Good for you, taking it all back.