GHC Reflections: “Why Are We Still Geeks?” Panel – Part 2

In the second portion of the “Why are We Still Geeks?” panel at GHC, Brenda Laurel took center stage of the discussion, speaking out passionately about our portrayal of women as “professionals” – and what this decided imagery can do for our perceptions. She used the Grace Hopper poster as her example, commenting on details such as polished nails and suits – this serialized ideal of the business professional.

While at times her discussion seemed a bit out of left field or reaching, I felt she did have a very valid point in that we should be allowed to look “ourselves” and still be perceived as competent and professional. Of course we should dress workplace appropriate – but why must workplace appropriate for women include makeup? Why do so many images portraying business professionals show women in the 3-piece suit while men are able to wear khakis and polos in an ever-increasing amount of media? Why is pulled back hair considered professional – but pigtails (still pulled back) are not? When did these rather archaic lines become drawn between “appropriate” and “not” when some are rather silly when given a second glance?

Women should be allowed to dress in a way that is workplace appropriate but still expresses their sense of style and self – as for women, we often garner quite a bit of confidence from our dress. She stressed the importance of doing great work, being yourself, and allowing that to be noticed by those who will appreciate it – a valid point, even in a world with a need for a level of base professionalism. Who would want to work somewhere where their sense of individuality isn’t – on some level – appreciated at all?

Of course, Laurel’s discussion for those in the panel was a bit further seeming that we should be able to dress “any which way” that so suits us – to quote, we should  “deny power to the spectacle “status quo” image of success” and “put our own self representations out”.

This is where I feel she loses me a bit. I agree, as I’ve stated above, that we should be allowed some semblance of freedom within the boundary of professionalism to express ourselves – and that often the media portrayal of that image is far too streamlined to a specific cut-and-dry image (the “power suit” woman – when so often many women where a nice dress or blouse to their jobs and are equally as successful). However, I do believe that there is a right for a company to have a dress code – again, some may be considered outdated or even bordering on archaic, but a business has a right to have an image they wish to convey. I don’t believe, however, that image should be allowed to fully mask the individual inside (whom they hired!). Even students in schools with dress codes often have some way to express – be it buttons their backpack, funny socks, hairstyle/color, or fun jewelery. If the overall “look” is being adhered to, why can’t someone be trusted with some freedom to express themselves?

While I wasn’t entirely sure how this discussion itself circled back to being geeks, I can see some correlation with perhaps our dress constructing an archetype?
Regardless, and even accounting for my disagreeing on certain levels with Laurel’s message, this section of the panel provided a good platform to consider the woman in the workforce dress code, and to hope we can continue to find and gain new ways of expressing ourselves in our dress while adhering to levels of professionalism.

“Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way to live” – Gianni Versace

What Girls’ Toys are Really Lacking

I wanted to take a break from my Grace Hopper reflections for this blog, as I think during the holiday season it is especially pertinent. I was wrapping Christmas presents for my extended family when this thought dawned on me – and with all the articles and bemoaning of the “pink aisle”, it seemed a worthy time to add my two cents.

The dreaded “pink aisle” – for those unaware, it is a nickname for the girls toy aisle, as rolling past it in any store you will most likely see a large wall of pure, unadulterated hot pink. Is the pink the problem though? Or is there something more at play?

While I wrapped up the latest mishap in the Barbie-to-Bratz-gone-wrong saga – Monsters High, my problems with the pink aisle hit me like a ton of bricks. I was reading the back of the doll’s boxes – Abby Bominable and some Poltergeist one for those who’ve manhunted the dolls this holiday season – and on the back I noticed mugshots like yearbook pictures, where the doll in question mentioned who they hated, who was their friend, etc. Miss Poltergeist had Abby as her “BFF”, but Abby did not reciprocate such feelings, instead some mermaid also blue-skinned buddy named Lagoona was hers. I commented on this to my dad as he walked past, who laughed and said “it sounds just like high school”. Of course, the dolls were high school girls, but something about that statement fit the pieces together to me.

Girls toys promote conformity. Boys toys promote imagination.<br />
Cut and dry, it clicked. Before anyone thinks I’m jumping to conclusions (and of course, there’s always going to be outliers in the equation), let me break it down.

Almost every popular girls toy most seasons is some variation of Barbie/Cabbage Patch/Friendship-Super-High-School-Buddies/Bratz … the picture of the generic doll souped up to whatever is relevant this year comes to mind. Yet most of these dolls, while at times promoting exploration, have gone the way of having one central theme: how important being liked is. No, maybe they mask it as the importance of friendship (always a good thing to learn), or making memories and finding yourself with friends, but at the heart of every one of these toys is a glaring message if you dig deep enough: you need people to like you in order to be worthwhile.

Even My Little Pony – one of the less blatantly gender specific toys of our era despite its pinkness (as evidenced by brony culture) – the tagline is “Friendship is Magic”. Of course, the show teaches a deeper message – love and tolerance despite differences, honing ones talents and using them to help others. In all actuality it is probably one of the least representative franchises out there for this phenomena.

That is, until Equestria Girls is taken into account – blatantly following the trends of the other competitors just in time for the holidays. Of course, Equestria Girls the TV Show has yet to actually have any air time -so it’s still undetermined if it will be a high school show actually maintaining the high school show archetype, or follow more closely the vein of MLP:FiM.

Moving back to the point though – these girl’s toys as they stand don’t really promote individualism, encourage creative scenarios/problem solving, or tell them much other than that they need to be popular. With girl’s toys you’re given a doll with an outfit and a purse/day-planner/laptop/desk – some sort of school/home and fashion accessory. What story is there to imagine up for that doll beyond, well, high school drama?

Boys get action figures with laser blasters – you can shoot the laser blaster at the crocodile you got three holidays ago, shoot it at your brother, shoot it at the dog, pair him up with the superhero from another franchise entirely….the stories are endless.

Put a high school doll with another high school doll and the only story is cross-high school drama.
Even adding in toys like ponies, unicorns, fairy princesses – there are little ways to explore them besides accessorizing them in the girl’s aisle.

Even dress up toys and the ideas children have while wearing them reinforce this concept. When a boy dresses in a ninja turtle costume or a Batman mask, if asked why he is more than likely to say he wants to be Batman “so he can do anything” – or more kid-maginatively – so he can “fight off the evil zombie hoard outside the living room”. If you ask a girl
why she wants to be in a princess costume, it’s so “she can be pretty
and play dress-up with the sparkliest clothes” or “so everyone will love
her”. Or craft toy kits, while fueling artistic creativity, typically
only teach girls the same message that “pretty-fying” is important and
are typically geared again, toward sharing or playing with their friends
– not exploring their own individual creativity, but creating together
and thus sometimes stifling their true exploration (not to say that
group play is a bad thing – but children also should grow their own
talents).

What girl’s toys really lack is opening their minds to something more than the same old message. That how you look is the most important, that you need to fit in to be significant. Boy toys have samurais, pirate ships, ancient crypts, and plenty of gadgets and weapons to explore with – they encourage imaginatively dreaming up new scenarios, and believing in oneself. Boys also get more villain toys – lessons in overcoming adversity and never quitting come to mind (though granted, the villain archetype is a bit black and white compared to real life). Boys are taught that things are about what they want – what they can dream up, and that they are more than capable of achieving them. Girls toys teach the importance of sticking with your “pack” and reinforce staying in the same boxes of the high school, the home, the pretty pink vacation yacht.

In my eyes it’s not the “pinkness” of the pink aisle that leads girls astray. It’s the message that conformity is key. Imagination fuels exploration and learning – some of the best engineers in the world have huge, vividly creative imaginations. When we hand girls toys that tell them to pay attention to what others think and not stray “outside the box” – how can we question the lower numbers of women in STEM fields? We never used toys that taught them to dream outside the friendship circle, to be their own person, and to make their own stories and be problem-solving heroines, rather than gossiping schoolgirls. And of course when these messages of conformity are drilled in – if they never see women in STEM, they won’t stray from the “normal path”.

Don’t hate the pink aisle for its pink, glitter, and unicorns – franchises like My Little Pony have proven that the pink is not the problem and that it can break gender walls.
Instead, wonder why the unicorns can’t have laser blasters, and the dolls can’t go anywhere beyond the mall, the classroom, or the sparkly mansion. Check back with me on the damage the pink aisle does when we see the diversity of possibilities those fuchsia boxes hold matches what we offer boys.

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by its lapels” – Maya Angelou

Monsters High (c) Mattel, My Little Pony (c) Hasbro, Justice League (c) DC Comics