Monday, November 19, 2007

Monday Quick Hits: Comics and Christmas...

Good morning readers! It's the Monday before Thanksgiving (in the United States), and I just got back from a great trip to Boston. The weather there was beautiful, and Walden Pond was peaceful and relaxing. Now, unlike the Pirates Who Can't Do Anything, I can't say that I've never been to Boston in the fall. (Yes, that was, in fact, a Veggie Tales reference. I can't help it- that particular song tickles my funny bone every time. I'd say that I'm sorry, but... well... I'm kinda not. It's funny stuff!)

Anyway, it's amazing how, after a perfectly lovely weekend, fate the internet can conspire to ruin a good mood. To wit: this comic (the Oct. 1st issue of They'll Do It Every Time). I shouldn't be surprised, really. This type of comic- the "take a stupid stereotype and reinforce it for laughs" type- is depressingly common. This isn't exactly brilliant material- it's the print equivalent of telling an "Airplane food, am I right?" joke. And yet, this thing has been running for eight decades, and is in distribution in 100 papers today?

The entire joke is "your wife is an annoying nag who'll dish out unwanted advice inappropriately, but won't take your advice when she should!" Hell, her name is Annoyia. I glanced through the other strips, and they're not much better in terms of humor (Why is it that the neighbor who can cook well brings over tiny bits to sample, but the one that can't cook at all always brings over gallons? Did you ever notice that grandparents bring over gifts that need to be assembled, and leave dad to put them together?), but this one took the cake in the sexism department. I guess I should consider myself lucky that this thing doesn't run in my local paper. Ugh.

(For more regular analysis of sexism and stereotypes in comics, check out Feminist Allies- it's a regular feature over there)

And, of course, nothing brings out the gender essentialism quite like Christmas, right? Girls want Barbie, but boys go high-tech? Really? Let's look at the number one toy on each list. Girls... Barbie. Boys... Transformers.

In other words, the top toy for each sex? Dolls.

Look, I love Transformers. I really do. I still have a bunch, sitting on a shelf at home. They're great. But, well, aside from the fact that they turn into cars, they're not that different from any other doll/action figure. They're just highly gendered dolls.

There are a number of things that I found annoying about this article (even beyond the failure to capitalize "Autobots"- it's a proper noun, Reuters! A proper noun!), but the main thing is how misleading it is. If all you read was page one and the headline, you get the impression that boys are going high-tech, while girls are just asking for dolls. And yet, when you look at the actual lists, you find that, shock of shocks, girls want video games too! Coming in at number 7, we find that girls want Nintendo Wii, and at 8, they want Webkinz- which are an online "pet". Also known as... *drum roll* a video game.

So, sure, there are more tech toys on the boys' lists than the girls', but it's not like all girls are asking for are Barbie dolls and My Little Pony or all the boys want are tech toys- hell, if you count remote control cars as "high tech", the boys' lists only include 4 tech toys to girls 2. Of course, besides the misleading headline, there are other problems. We don't know a damn thing about how the survey was done, or to what age group. Were people given limited choices? How old were the children in question? How many of each sex were polled?

And, really, some of the things listed are so generic that it's impossible to know what they're really asking for. The girls' list has "Hannah Montana" on it. The cd? The video? Are there dolls? The game? If they're asking for a game or a video, does that count as high-tech? Same thing with Dora the Explorer- there are dozens of video games and learning modules for computer systems out under the Dora brand. How do we know?

And, ultimately, there's absolutely no analysis here- Reuters just says "hey, boys like tech stuff, girls like dolls" as though that's the whole story. There's no attempt to understand why girls' lists include the things they do, or why it might be that the lists are so very gendered (the only cross-over are the Wii and Elmo). I guess I shouldn't expect much of that kind of analysis from Reuters, but, really, without any analysis, what's the point?

1 comment:

Djiril said...

Fun fact:
On the subject of "They'll Do It Every Time," that strip is almost entirely made up of suggestions sent in by readers. The Comics Curmudgeon ( often comments on that strip, and it has gotten so that a suggestion by one of his readers is used at least once a month.
The strip commented on in this post is one such submission.
Of course, the creators of the strip always change the story to fit stereotypes to the greatest degree possible. This is what the man who submitted the idea had to say:
Basically, the strip is inspired by my father (and, to a lesser extent, me) … [my father] has since surpassed anything I was annoyed with before and fell off a building, and broke his nose, in separate incidents, and didn’t go to the doctor after either one. And yet, if my mom has something bothering her, he does insist she go.

It’s sort of creepy to see my dad depicted as my wife though. I’ll say that right now.