Blog Archive

Blog Archive – July, 2014

Toys: Girls and Boys

July 31, 2014

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

From Tom Sawyer, through Batman to A Wimpy Boy and the innocent Nemo.  It’s not just in math, science and journalism where our girls and women are marginal. Boy-man heroes dominate our children’s books; films too.

Among theories on socialization, I subscribe to the argument that serious life-models for our children derive from the admirable, heroic characters in our books and films. And boy heroes who far outnumber female champions of any kind-- even today-- affect girls’ aspirations and achievements.   

Hadn’t 40 years of feminist campaigns reversed the dominance of males in the bedtime stories we read to our children and the films we so enjoy together? Aren’t women in all police squads now? Harry Potter’s creator is a woman.

Certainly that movement awarded many more women iconic status. After Wonder Woman, we have Leia of “Star Wars”, Agent Scully of “X-Files”,  Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games”, Barbara Park’s Jennie B Jones series for kindergarten kids, Elastigirl,  Xena Warrior Princess, and a host of ‘badass women’ sleuths.

Women are there. Somewhere. But boys and other male characters still dominate.

Arguments for stronger girl models to counter stereotypes of the bossy, the compliant or the adjunct female character are back. The debate’s been sharpened by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. “We have too few women leaders”, notes Sandberg. She argues that girls and women are still constrained by low self-esteem; “Lean In” is her strategy to change that.  

Authors Hadley Freeman and Zoe Margolis are among the many journalists re-examining how heroic stories depict girls. Now animated films are brought into the argument. About time too. Animation is a major source of family fun-- and possibly, just possibly-- impact our children’s ideas of who can be brave and noble, dynamic and successful.

We have film interpretations of classics like Lord of the Flies and Harry Potter; we have video adaptations of bestsellers like Diary of A Wimpy Kid; and of course Disney’s fantasy hits. I marvel at the animation technology and human imagination that gave us “Toy Story”, “Finding Nemo”, and “Shrek”. (Even if all three of these happen to feature males in leading roles.) They offer entertainment for adults and children from Texas to Thailand. They are funny, playful, dazzling and touching.

But where are the girls? Am I just a grumpy lady frustrated by the sluggishness of feminist successes?

If so, I’m not alone. In the July issue of The Atlantic, Sarah Boxer convincingly demonstrates that female characters are not only secondary; those who save and protect lost children are predominantly male. She reviews the fate of cartoon mothers in some of our favorite animated tales, from “KungFu Panda”, “Little Mermaid”, “Ice Age”, “Aladdin”, “Pocahontas”, going back to “Bambi” and “Snow White”. In film after film, she shows the pattern:--mothers die, leaving orphans to be rescued by men, be they fish, lions or princes.

And we haven’t even mentioned the issue of American children’s falling reading levels. Where do we begin to counter the imbalance? Would Pixel editions of Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Zora Neale Hurston, and Doris Lessing work?

Tell me I’m misinformed or unreasonable. Shower me with examples of the little girl heroes who inspire your daughters and granddaughters. Maybe your sons too.

[ Toys: Girls and Boys ]

Making Connections in Israel's Stategy

July 21, 2014

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I really can’t comprehend what the long term intent of Israel’s current military action is. But I’ve had a most discomforting thought, namely that Israel’s short term aim is based on earlier developments-- the success of the boycott and divestment campaign—and to put the U.S. Congress on the spot.

Perhaps months ago Israeli strategists, noting how world opinion in their favor was waning, asked: “Will American lawmakers remain loyal? Could there be a crack in the Washington fortification we so carefully nurture? Are ‘they’ as solidly behind us as we demand?”

Of course, from the start of the attacks now underway on Gaza, the US media and U.S. leaders rush to affirm their allegiance: “Israel is justified-right or wrong”; “We must support them.”

But Israel might have needed reassurance from Washington well before this crisis erupted. Possibly months ago, Israel began to worry about the mandate it’s enjoyed for decades, and wondered if it remained beyond economic and moral censure. Because on other fronts it was facing serious threats to its immunity.   

Had you noticed how things hadn’t been going Israel’s way? During the past year the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement has made significant gains in securing pledges by institutions and individuals to divest their funds from Israeli companies and to boycott events there. Notable among those joining BDS’ call is the respected British physicist Steven Hawking, Microsoft’s Gates Foundation, the American Studies Association, and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. Rock stars’ cancellation of their concerts and academic sanction indicate this is serious stuff.

BDS’s successes are augmented by the Palestinian lord of the ocean leadership applying directly to the United Nations for recognition, and most recently, a hard won union with Hamas. If things continued this way, some U.S. leaders might reconsider their stand and find the courage to join the global chorus for justice.

Could the successes of BDS have so worried Israel that it needed to test its status with Washington?

What was Israel to do in the face of all those peaceful initiatives? Surely not re-enter peace negotiations in good faith. Nor halt illegal colonialist settlements. Release hostage prisoners, recognize the Palestinian right of return? You’re joking.

Israel is doing what it knows best:--stepping up the violence and terror, pressing ahead with ethnic cleansing, rounding up thousands, deploying its inexhaustible lethal arsenal while pleading danger from terrorism, crying that Syrian and Iranian arms for Gaza militants assault its cities and homes.

What better way to achieve assurance than to precipitate an event that obliges the U.S. president to reaffirm what he has done so consistently and loyally. If the virtue behind the boycott and divestment strategy reached the hearts and minds of any of our elected officials, now it may have been subdued. 

 One thing I’ve learned over the years of closely observing Israeli policy is that no action is simply a response to an alleged provocation. Israel’s moves are part of long-term strategies and careful control of their U.S. partnership. END

[ Making Connections in Israel's Stategy ]


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