Sunday, October 25, 2009

From Erica: in the news this past week

Here are a few more items I found in the news this week that had me intrigued, critical, thoughtfully upset, and enraged, respectively. Here they are, for your enjoyment!

The first item is an article from the Daily Mail, a UK newspaper, that discussed the meltdown of "supergirls"- the middle-class, White, seemingly ideal adolescent females who find themselves struggling with all kinds of psychological problems as they deal with the enormous pressures of their lives. I find it intriguing for several reasons, my personal experiences with such meltdowns notwithstanding. One worrisome trend I've noticed in anti-oppression work, from theorists and activists of all sorts, is the tendency to minimize or deny the very real problems that privileged folks can (and do) have. And while it's important to acknowledge the fact that some problems might appear to be objectively more pressing or serious than others, a complete denial or de-legitimization of someone's distress is unhelpful and wrong.

The second item, from CNN, looks at the mixed reception to Mattel's latest line of African-American Barbies. The dolls were created by an African-American designer who wanted to offer African-American girls the chance to play with mainstream toys that more accurately reflected their own appearances. The dolls have thus been designed with fuller lips, curlier hair, and other features that are typically defined as African in origin. The controversy now a-brewing is that the dolls aren't viewed as being "Black enough" by some folks, mostly because the dolls retain a lot of Caucasian-influenced features (especially, as one person described it, "long, straight hair"). My two cents? African-American children (and children of Colour in general) grow up in the US with fewer toys available that offer them reasonably accurate, culturally flexible, and positive representations of themselves and their identities. This needs to change. That being said, it's not like Barbie's always been a positive representation for White children, either. While White kids can expect to buy a Barbie with their combination of hair and eye colour, they can also expect to buy a Barbie that idealizes and fetishizes the female form into some gross parody of humanity. Bottom line, Barbie's problematic. As usual.

The third item comes out of Australia, where the government is considering what to do about a proposed ban on Uluru climbs. Here's the background: Uluru, also known as Ayer's Rock, is a monumental...well, rock in the Great Australian Desert. It's a popular tourist site, but more importantly, it's a sacred space for the Aboriginal groups who live in the desert. For a long time, the Australian government has permitted tourists to climb Uluru in spite of Aboriginal protests, and this ban would seek to restore the sanctity of the space from its current tourist status. I'm highlighting this controversy for a number of reasons, but the biggest is the all-too-common story of struggles between original inhabitants of an area and current dominant groups using the area for their own purposes. I visited Uluru when I was seven, and even at that age it was impressed on me by my parents- who tried to balance our tourism with a respect for the sacredness of the space in Aboriginal cultures- that, no matter how much money we paid for our tickets to be there, we were guests of the Aboriginal groups who valued Uluru, not the Australian government. Since I know not all tourists tried to strike that balance- and it can be argued that being a tourist there eliminates all possibility of balance- I would argue that a climbing ban, out of respect for the traditions of the Aboriginal people who live there, is completely reasonable.

Finally, again from the UK, we have a story about a Muslim woman who was denied entry to Burnley College because she wears the burkha. As usual, the readers of the Daily Mail felt compelled to comment on the article, or rank the comments in accordance with "agree" or "disagree," and overwhelmingly their opinions were bigoted, narrow-minded, and ignorant. Between cries of "go back to the Middle East!" and "you should just adjust to Western life!" were other remarks about how no self-respecting woman could choose the burkha, how her choice of dress is a safety concern because of what she could be hiding "under there," and how we can blame liberals (especially Prime Minister Gordon Brown) for this issue. I suppose this makes another victory for hate-mongering, Islamophobia, and a bipartisan view of the world. How depressing.

That's it for the news of the past week, at least as far as I felt like bringing it in. Tomorrow will be our final Domestic Violence Awareness Month "how-to," and we'll bring in a couple of extra posts on the side for that. We're also looking forward to bringing in a guest contributor sometime in the next few weeks as well. Stay tuned!


  1. I just want to note that I'm a white girl who can't find a Barbie that looks like her. The only way for me to find a Barbie with hair even close to as curly as mine is to buy a black Barbie. I believe my parents actually did that when I was little and insisted I wanted a Barbie with dark, curly hair.

  2. Apparently, when I was two, my dream was to have a Cabbage Patch Doll and my parents wanted me to pick it out. I only vaguely remember this, but apparently when I went to choose a doll, I chose an African-American one and was disappointed to learn that dolls were "supposed" to look like me.