Wednesday News: Gender & Genre Expectations Edition
Rethinking Pink: A New Feminine Aesthetic in Tech Toys for Girls – Sparkle Labs’ Amy Parness writes about the persistent use of pink and blue in the marketing of items to boys and girls. Although retailers like Amazon have actually eliminated the boys/girls categorization, the distinction, Parness argues, is discouraging girls from pursuing STEM careers, because of the way science is being buried under layers of pink. It’s not just about color, though, according to Parness – the crux of her argument is that girls may need to be mentored and inspired into STEM fields in different ways than boys, but those ways aren’t about superficial markers like color coding:
What I think would help girls get interested in making is seeing more beautiful, more approachable projects and projects created by women. There is a feminine aesthetic, but it is not about pinkness. It is about young girls seeing women happily succeeding in the STEM fields. The maker community for me has been very open and offers young girls a gateway into the STEM fields. The same way girls see Hillary Clinton running for President and think of themselves doing that some day, they can witness women involved in technical projects as an extension of what is “girly.” Making is about creating a new reality. We can do that by showing girls that pink is not the only option for them. – Amy Parness & Medium
Barbie Wants to Get to Know Your Child – An interesting overview of the upcoming release of a Barbie doll with enough artificial intelligence to have a conversation with a child. Hello Barbie has been programmed with 8,000 lines of content that adheres to a script created through seemingly logical questions and responses. The longstanding questions about how dolls influence you girls, especially, persist and become even more pronounced with a Barbie who talks, in part because they can convey messages about gender expectations and identities. With the A.I. component there is the added concern around how such a doll might affect a child’s imagination:
For psychologists who study the imaginative play of children, the primary concern with A.I. toys is not that they encourage kids to fantasize too wildly. Instead, researchers worry that a conversational doll might prevent children, who have long personified toys without technology, from imagining wildly enough. ‘‘Imaginary companions aren’t constrained,’’ says Tracy Gleason, a professor of psychology at Wellesley College who studies children’s imaginative play. ‘‘They often do all kinds of things like switching age, gender, priorities and interests.’’ With a toy like Hello Barbie, the personality is limited by programming — and public-relations concerns. Mattel, rather than kids, ultimately controls what she can say. ‘‘She is who she is,’’ Gleason says. ‘‘That might be a lot of fun, but it is definitely less imaginative, child-generated and truly interactive than someone with whom you can imagine whatever you want.’’
A toy that can befriend a child is likely to be a commercially successful one, so toy makers will presumably push to make their A.I. technologies ever more likable. ‘‘The first thing you’re going to do is to try and create stronger and stronger emotional bonds,’’ Sharkey says. For some children, synthetic friendship could begin to supplant the real kind: ‘‘If you’ve got someone who you can talk to all the time, why bother making friends?’’ Family members and friends can annoy, challenge or disappoint, ‘‘whereas this lovely Barbie will be beautiful to you all the time.’’ Parents, who already turn to televisions and tablets to occupy their children, might embrace an even more capable-seeming e-babysitter. Is Hello Barbie ‘‘a step toward leaving your children in the hands of robots?’’ Sharkey asks. ‘‘I don’t know.’’ – New York Times
Is There Anything Wrong with Men who Cry – A brief history of men and crying that traces the shift from societal contexts in which male tears were valued (e.g. monastic worship, Medieval knights) to the discouragement of crying for men. That urbanization helped differentiate between a public and private sphere, facilitates the ways in which tears can be both productive and counter-productive, depending on context. It makes sense, of course, but it’s interesting to trace the development of gender stereotypes (along with their benefits and costs), especially when you see a pretty substantial change over time.
But from the 18th through the 20th centuries, the population became increasingly urbanised; soon, people were living in the midst of thousands of strangers. Furthermore, changes in the economy required men to work together in factories and offices where emotional expression and even private conversation were discouraged as time-wasting. As Tom Lutz writes in Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears (1999), factory managers deliberately trained their workers to suppress emotion with the aim of boosting productivity: ‘You don’t want emotions interfering with the smooth running of things.’
Although some women worked in factories too, they were far more likely to remain in the home. They took in sewing, laundry or lodgers; or hired themselves out as domestics and governesses in other people’s houses. When a housewife or housemaid burst into tears, she was witnessed only by the members of her household. Often she wasn’t witnessed at all. Instead of being shouted at by a foreman, she could sob into her own laundry tub in peace. – Aeon
Gabriel García Márquez Describes the Cultural Merits of Soap Operas, and Even Wrote a Script for One – In the documentary Garcia Marquez and the Movies, the writer advocates for his love of television, particularly soap operas, noting that “To me music, literature, film, soap operas are different genres with one common end: to reach people.” Breaking down the artificial distinction between “high” and “low” cultural perceptions (both toward and within television, even), Garcia Marquez did write a television script for a soap opera, and his comments also provide insight into the ongoing relationship between books and screenplays and the writers who aspire to both forms of storytelling.
Film eventually needed Márquez more than he needed film. And yet he never disdained more popular entertainments, “producing more than twenty screenplays, some of them for television,” according to Alessandro Rocco’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Cinema. He even relished the chance to write soap operas. In 1987, he told an interviewer, “I’ve always wanted to write soap operas. They’re wonderful. They reach far more people than books do…. The problem is that we’re condition [sic] to think that a soap opera is necessarily in bad taste, and I don’t believe this to be so.” Márquez felt that the “only difference between La bella palomera” [a TV film based on his Love in the Time of Cholera] and “a bad soap opera is that the former is well written.” Though his pronouncements on the creative potential of television may seem prescient today, they did not seem so at the time. – Open Culture