Category Archives: Feminism

Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine – Review

goldieblox2There’s a lot of argument over this toy: is it feminist, or does it perpetuate pink princess stereotypes? Do girls and boys play and think differently? If so, should we use those differences to lure girls into STEM? Or should we assume that boys and girls actually tend to play and think the same way, when allowed to?

I don’t have answers to all these questions. But I can tell you I was really excited about this toy when it was first announced. Now that my five year old daughter has actually played with it, I’m a little disappointed. Ultimately I’d say it’s not worth the money, and other building toys are better. Upshot – the best thing about Goldie Blox is that it inspired me to buy some Tinker Toys for my daughter.

Here’s the good stuff:

  • Unlike so many cool building toys, here’s one that specifically welcomes girls. Too many nifty toys have only boys pictured on packaging, along with the blue, black, and green that places them squarely on the boy side of the toy aisle divide.
  • No batteries. I think this not only decreases the annoying factor for those around the playing child, but encourages more imaginative play.
  • It does offer some interesting possibilities for building and physics play.
  • The main character of the story is a girl who likes to build things and solve problems.

The drawbacks come in two categories – the toy actually has some sexist elements*, and the play value of the toy is limited:

  • Its premise is basically, “Can we make math pink?”
  • There are five character figures you can use in your constructions. Of the five figures, four are MALE. The female character is a ballerina. (Note to Goldie Blox: If you’re trying to make a feminist toy, you really should avoid the trope that men are the default, and try to keep the ratio of genders closer to real life. Maybe even three girls and two boys!)
  • Suggested play is focused on making different shapes with the ribbon as you set it up to spin the characters. There are no construction goals beyond “spin the characters.” Everything beyond that is about visual design. (Because girls don’t accomplish objectives – they make things pretty, teehee!)
  • There are actually further, more interesting ways to play with this, but they probably require far more pieces than come with the set. See below.

The tantalizing thing about this toy is that you could play with it in many other ways. There are slots on the top and on the sides of the board that accept the spindles. Likewise, the wheels have all sorts of holes, some of which fit tightly with a spindle, and some of which allow it to move freely. The blocks can be used as connectors, so you could build structures and include spinning, turning, and swinging elements. If only you had way more pieces.


Goldie Blox’s website draws attention to both the possibilities and the insufficiencies of their product on the Play page, which features constructions far more imaginative than the suggestions in the instruction booklet. However, many of them require a lot more pieces than come in the box. You can theoretically order a “Blox + Bits” expansion set, but currently it’s sold out. And honestly, if you ponied up $30-$60 (!) for ten measly spindles, do you really want to fork over $9.99 for some more?

Bottom line – this is an underdeveloped, under-equipped building kit with a slightly novel mechanical aspect (the ribbon) and a lot of flashy marketing. I don’t hate it, but I don’t think it’s worth the $29.99 I spent. I certainly don’t recommend spending $60 or more for it!

Alternative ideas include:

  • Tinker Toys, which have a similar pieces and connection, and allow spinning and rotating elements.
  • K’Nex, which explore gears, wheels, axles, levers, pulleys, incline planes, bridge engineering, etc.
  • Lincoln Logs – a classic.
  • For older kids, good old Erector sets.
  • Of course, there’s always Lego. Add girl figures to taste.
  • Toys that explore other ways of building such as wooden blocks, magnetic building kits, marble runs, snap circuits, vehicle models, anatomical models, and so on.

* I hear tell that the follow-up game is even worse, the goal being to help a friend win a princess pageant and ride a parade float. I haven’t seen that game, so I can’t comment, but it seems consistent with Goldie Blox’s intentional “girls are girlie” approach.

Publishing the identities of minors . . . who bully rape victims

On the Media has an amazing interview with Matt DiRienzo, editor of the Connecticut Register Citizen newspaper, about yet another victim-blaming sexual assault case out of Torrington, CT. This time the victim is 13, the defendants 18. And still, local kids are tweeting hate at the victim, calling her a whore, blaming her for her sexual assualt, and calling for her to be punished, rather than the alleged rapists.

DiRienzo and his team decided to post screen captures of the hateful tweets, including the full Twitter handle and image from each kid. And in the interview, he’s totally unapologetic about it. When asked if this makes him an “advocacy journalist,” he says he is more than happy to be seen advocating against 13 year old sexual assault victims being called whores in the public square.

Give it a listen – it’s just  a few minutes! And while you’re at it, you might check out the entire show from this weekend, where they discuss Steubenville and rape culture in a very measured, thought-provoking way.

How to prevent rape

dont rapeI’ve seen this image going around in the wake of the Steubenville verdicts, and it’s a great rhetorical salvo: Hey, what if we actually put the responsibility for rape on the rapists, instead of the victims? Crazy, right? It’s a very good reminder that most of the rape prevention advice we’ve heard is directed at women, instructing them how not to be raped, and how messed up that is. The implications behind it include the assumption that men are just gonna rape, nothing to be done about it, and that women could possibly do or wear or drink something that “causes” them to be raped.

So I’m not trying to criticize that list here. However, I think we could go further, and construct a list that isn’t directed satirically at malicious rapists, but to every good person out there who wishes they could help prevent rape. Not in a “potential victims: don’t wear slutty clothes!” way, but guidelines that all well-meaning people could actually use to make rape less prevalent.

I think Men Can Stop Rape is a good start. Sometimes they veer a little paternalistic, especially considering their advice is aimed solely at men. But the idea that we should protect and support our friends from creepers, jerks, and potential rapists is most welcome.

So I sat down and thought “What do I want my daughters to know? What do I want their friends to do? What standards do I try to hold myself to?” What would be on a sincere list of suggestions for all people who want to help, not just focusing on potential perpetrators or potential victims?

I was heavily influenced by this excellent post on Captain Awkward. It tells stories of social groups passively allowing creepers to test group tolerance for sexually invasive behavior. Read this! It’s chilling how even women who are themselves harassed and groped feel awkward calling the creeper on it, and how the groups tend to exclude women who complain, rather than the perv who is assaulting people. And Captain Awkward’s response is wonderfully wonderful.

All that said, here is my proposed list of ways to prevent rape. These are for men, women, girls, boys, people who worry about being raped and people who worry about their friends being raped, and people who just want to make our society less tolerant of rapists in general.

How to Prevent Rape

  • Remind yourself often that women are human people worthy of respect.
  • Remember people’s bodies belong only to them.
  • “No means no” is fine, but better to look for an enthusiastic YES!
  • Don’t let anyone have sexual contact with an unconscious person.
  • Yes, even if “it’s their own fault” they’re unconscious.
  • If you have to stop and wonder whether something is illegal, assume it’s not acceptable behavior.
  • Look after your friends – don’t stand by while someone takes advantage of them.
  • Look after strangers too!
  • Call people on their inappropriate behavior!
  • Don’t put up with creeps in your social group.
  • Don’t blame women for complaining about unwanted touching and other invasive sexual behavior.

I’m including an image for easy sharing, but if people like it, maybe someone with more graphic design skill than I have (i.e., any) could think of a way to pretty it up like the image up top. Let me know!

Girl Scout Cookies!

Hey benighted Christian extremists, I don’t think that image about how “bad” Girl Scout cookies are because they support feminism and reproductive rights is working the way you mean it to!

In any case, here’s my response:


Action Legos for girls

I don’t have too much of a problem with the Lego Friends line.  I don’t mind that it has lots of pink and purple pastels, and the themes seem perfectly nice for the most part.  A tree house, cool car, vet clinic, home, and cafe are all pretty normal settings that don’t necessarily scream “You’re a girl – stay in your place!”  (Sure, the beauty shop is a little iffy, but then again, I have to admit my girls spent an awful lot of time doing their ZhuZhu Pets’ hair when they were given a salon for them.)  My biggest problem with the Lego Friends line is that the segregation exacerbates and may be used to justify Lego’s marginalization of girls in their other toys.  (And it also tends to exclude boys from playing tree house or vet clinic, which seems unfair.)  Sure, girls can play with Lego sets that don’t include female figures, but I think it’s better for girls to have the option to play with figures that are “like them.”  And Lego’s more adventuresome sets don’t offer that.

For example, Lego’s Airport set comes with five figures.  There’s one female.  Guess what her role is?  Yep, flight attendant.  Similarly, Lego’s licensed movie products tend to fail the Bechdel test just like the associated movies – The Avengers set has one woman, the Star Wars set has one woman, The Pirates of the Caribbean sets have up to one woman, etc.  One brighter spot comes with the Harry Potter sets, which may actually include more than one female figure, and offer an array of female hero and villain figures across the line.

Meanwhile, the Lego City sets make a few stabs at equality by occasionally including one female figure.  Which I do appreciate.  But how come the boys are guaranteed someone like them in every cool action-oriented set, but girls will be lucky to find such a set with one female character, and more than one is out of the question?

Recently, when Chloe decided she’d rather have a police set than a Friends set, I came up with my own solution.  I’ll demonstrate with her latest set – Raptor Chase.

Step 1: Get yourself a cool Lego set.  This one comes with two dudes.

Step 2: Go on Ebay and buy a set of female minifigure heads.  And/or some female hairstyles.  Like so:


Step 3: Now you can do home gender reassignment on your Lego guys.  Chloe chose to have one man and one woman hunting raptors:

My girls have a lot of fun exchanging heads on various Lego sets, playing with different hairstyles, and inserting more females into the narrative of Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars.  They tend to play with a mix of male and female figures, but use more females than those that come with the original play sets.

At one point, Chloe was considering the pirate-y looking lady head.  I approved, saying, “She looks a little bit mean, but like she can get things done.”  Chloe responded, “Yeah . . . like you!”

I’ll take that as a compliment.

Nursing in Public – Tips for Avoiding Problems

As requested, here’s a direct link to the graphic version of my list:

You’re not helping

Sometimes people hold the same basic beliefs as I do, but their presentation of this stance is so combative, so extreme and counterproductive, that I just cringe.

Case in point: Kathy Dettwyler is a talented and engaging anthropologist who has done some amazing work researching breastfeeding.  Then this week she responded to a Facebook conversation about feminism and mothering with this gem:

“But when it comes to children, if you want kids, but don’t want to breastfeed them, maybe you should reconsider why you are having them. It is not necessary to have children to live a happy, successful, fulfilling life. If you want children, and want to do right by them, you’ll figure out a way to be a good mother, which starts with breastfeeding.” 

When I read that, I grimaced and made the noise that Ralphie makes right after blurting out his wish for a Red Rider BB gun: “Oooooh!”

Similarly, I hear tell that one year at a La Leche League conference, one of the founders of the organization was a featured speaker.  During her talk, she told the crowd that anyone who goes back to work when their child is still a baby doesn’t really love their child.  (NB: this attitude doesn’t reflect the actual philosophies of LLL, and in fact went over like a lead balloon in that roomful of LLL Leaders and members.)

I’m very much against routine infant circumcision, but I still can’t believe that some intactivists responded to news of Michelle Duggar’s miscarriage with ruthless glee, opining that a child is better off dying in the womb than living to be circumcised.

I think homeschooling, bed sharing, and gentle discipline can be great ways to support your children as they grow, but too many advocates of these practices state loudly and repeatedly that their way is the ONLY way, and if your child goes to public school, sleeps in their own room, or experiences time outs, you are a failure as a parent, or at least patently inferior to them.

Every movement needs passionate people who aren’t afraid to challenge convention.  A lot of the time, these people are perceived as “militant,” but I think there’s a difference between unapologetically advocating for your cause and going out of your way to offend people.  Telling expectant mothers that formula is riskier than breastfeeding is appropriate and useful.  Telling moms if they really loved their babies, they’d move heaven and Earth to breastfeed is being a presumptuous jerk.

Let me try to rephrase Dettwyler’s message, keeping (what I hope is) the underlying intent, while changing the language so it doesn’t turn off the very people she’s trying to influence.

I think some people consider having children just because it seems expected in our culture.  Having children means putting other people’s needs above your own and being inconvenienced, and it will probably impinge on your career to some degree.  That’s not anti-feminist, it’s just reality, for both parents.  I hope that anyone feeling societal pressure to have babies will consider whether they really want to make those hard choices and have those extra burdens, and if they think it’s not for them, will remain happily childfree by choice.

There.  Now we’re addressing the issue of feminism, the legitimate burdens of motherhood, and supporting free choice, instead of implying that mothers who didn’t breastfeed are failures, and that women who, say, lost their breasts to cancer shouldn’t procreate.

Being involved in the atheist sphere online, I’m all too familiar with tone wars and concern trolling.  I don’t want advocates to feel they have to walk on eggshells and bend over backwards to protect the feelings of mothers, no matter what choices they’ve made.  But I think there is a zone between pussyfooted appeasement and vicious judgment, and most of us can land there most of the time if we put a little thought into what we say.  After all, if we alienate people who don’t agree with us, and prompt them to tune us out entirely, all we’re doing is building mutual self-congratulation societies where like-minded people get together to “tsk” at the poor benighted masses who don’t do as we do.  Aside from bolstering our egos, what good does that do?

Feminism and mothering

Once upon a time, women didn’t have options.  We were expected to learn domestic arts while living in our father’s house, then to be “given away” by him to another man, whose house we would keep and whose children we would bear.  Our sexuality was tightly controlled through shame and restriction of freedom.  Clergy thought that the pain we often feel in childbirth was only our due as daughters of Eve, and to alleviate it was a sin.

Feminism started by asking, “Can’t women enjoy what men have?”  We’ve made huge strides toward that goal.  Women can get an education and choose a career path just like men.  Women compete in the job market and do work that was once considered only for men.  Women own their own property, make their own financial decisions, and are more frequently the primary breadwinners in their households.  We now have legal and social freedom to express our sexuality, along with the access to birth control that makes that freedom practical to exercise.  We’re still fighting for equality and freedom in many areas, from wage equity to abortion access, but we’ve come a long way.

And yet, it seems to me that “female things” are still considered second-best, even by many feminists.  Is it feminist to buy into the idea that the roles traditionally reserved for males are desirable, powerful, and of value, while the roles traditionally reserved for females are undesirable, disenfranchising, and without value?  As part of our (relatively) newfound freedom, women wear pants, work for a wage, and need not be shackled to our fertility – roles and behaviors that once belonged only to men.   But if a man wants to become a nurse, or be the primary caregiver to children, he’s laughed at, or assumed to be marking time until he can find real employment.  God forbid a man want to wear a dress or other traditionally feminine clothing – at best, he’ll be laughed at.

Is it possible we’re ready for a new wave of feminism that is about valuing traditionally female things as much as male things?  On one level, the availability of baby formula is feminist because it frees women from the need to be close to their babies all the time.  But wouldn’t it be more radically empowering to also have a default assumption that workplaces need to accommodate female reproductive biology by routine availability of long maternity leave, and on-site daycare and excellent pumping facilities to facilitate breastfeeding?  Shouldn’t we see going back to work and staying home with a baby as equally challenging and empowering options?  If femaleness is equal to maleness, caring for young children should be seen as just as exhilarating and valuable as being a high-ranking executive.

On one level, the availability of pain relief in labor is a decidedly feminist victory.  But even modern hospital practices can be horribly misogynistic, betraying an underlying assumption that a woman in labor is by definition a hysterical, dangerous, incompetent who must be managed and directed by the more capable medical staff.  Doctors and nurses all too frequently talk down to, bully, and even physically assault laboring mothers in the name of protecting their babies.  And that’s another problem – discussions of where and how to birth so often focus only on the outcomes for the baby, ignoring not only the comfort and autonomy of the women involved, but even their health risks.  The message is loud and clear: “Your needs are not significant; you are only valuable as a vessel for a baby,” and isn’t that an attitude we’ve been trying to do away with?

Nursing in public is a big debate currently, but I don’t think many in the “anti” faction appreciate how big a feminist issue this is.  Acceptance of nursing in public is about female empowerment on two levels.  First, it diminishes the objectification of women.  For so long, breasts have been all about sexuality and the male gaze.  To acknowledge that they aren’t just about arousing the prurient interest of men is to elevate women beyond being mere sex objects.  Second, nursing in public is vital to allowing mothers full access to social life.  As more women are nursing, trying to do the best thing for their babies, more women will be out and about and need to nurse.  Only someone who hasn’t nursed an infant would ever say, “Just time your excursions for when the baby doesn’t need to nurse,” or “Just pump some milk and use a bottle,” or “Just sit on a public toilet for 20 minutes and nurse.”  These are not practical solutions.  What is practical is to get over our societal perversion about breasts and allow mothers full access to life outside their homes by supporting, or at least ignoring, public nursing.

And that leads to my final thought – the Mommy Wars are largely due to a double bind women are put in.  Nursing is a great example.  All the experts say it’s important for your baby’s health to breastfeed.  Women get hammered with the message that they need to nurse to avoid exposing their babies to unnecessary risk.  But society leaves all the onus on the moms; when it comes to actual, broad-based cultural support for these allegedly vital behaviors, our institutions suddenly get very silent.  All the messages to moms are “YOU need to do this for your baby,” never “here is what WE’RE doing to help you help your baby.”  Those on-site daycares, pumping facilities, and welcoming places for nursing in public are few and far between.  This leaves mothers with all the burden of giving perfect infant care, without any of the necessary support.  So moms feel guilty, frustrated, and angry.  And then we accuse each other of being negligent or intolerant, selfish or holier-than-thou.

Is it possible to truly value women’s choices, no matter what?  To find power and worth in mothering just as much as we do in employment?  To give women real options, with any decision being greeted with respect and care?  To turn all that guilt-induced infighting into demands for societal support?  I think these goals are just as important as fighting for equal pay and safeguarding control over our fertility.