The Power of Toys: How Feminists Can Change the World

Why can I never find any minion (Despicable Me) or Olaf (Frozen) toys? Is it because stores don’t know where to put something that defies gendering? One of the reasons why I loved the minions is because they performed gender rather than having a solid sex/gender. They could pick and choose based on clothing and behavior, although stereotyped actions always made it obvious. And although a male actor voices Olaf, it could easily have been voiced by a female. The physical snowperson body could be any sex or gender, although the reference to “snowman” provides a choice/option for it. So why does this matter?

Children can be born with a variation of intersex, male, or female sex types but learn gender. Gender is created by society through individuals, the media, school systems, and a variety of other factors. For example, historically men wore heels before women and pink was not originally a “girl” color. For more information about when popular gender stereotypes arrived:

Dominant gender ideologies are spread through the media and individual attempts to “keep up with the Joneses,” often changing depending on culture, location, and time period. While many enjoy the organization of gender in society, helping people “find their place” and form their identity, what if you don’t easily fit into the male or female categories?

Common forms require you to check male or female, with few providing an “other” option, which can also be a demeaning term. Some intersex children are given surgeries after birth, with parents and/or doctors choosing a sex for them that they may or may not feel comfortable with later in life. Transgender, transvestite, tomboys, metrosexual boys, and other “nonconforming” individuals are often ostracized because they cannot and do not want to conform to the restrictive binary of male or female. Even deciding which bathroom to use and finding college housing can be difficult because of the lack of gender-neutral options.

When feminists state they want equality between men and women we should really say we want equality between all genders. I often catch myself referring to “male” and “female” sexes/genders, rendering already marginalized groups invisible. This is a mistake that many of us make, but cannot afford to anymore. Learning to be more careful with language is the first step:

Feminism needs allies, which appreciation for multiplicity and plurality and intersections with other interest groups can provide. So what can we accomplish together? Stereotypical gendering that perpetuates ideas like boys shouldn’t cook, clean, and play with dolls and girls shouldn’t like tools, science, or dressing up like male superheroes is harmful and restrictive. Children should be able to grow up liking what they want to like, and we as adults should support those decisions whatever they may be.

Although some companies like Goldie Blox have already received some attention, other gender-flexible advertisement and gender-neutral products are largely unknown:

Along with pushing for and creating gender-neutral toys, these companies are also creating toys to more accurately reflect the beautiful diversity of children around the world. With initiatives for more diverse race, religion, sex, and gender representation for toys we can teach the younger generations to be more open-minded and free them to pursue the options that are best for them, leading to future progress.

I want to be able to walk down the toy aisle and pick out a unisex toy or pick out a pink and blue outfit for a child. I want to be able to see children in dance and tai kwon do without worrying about whether or not they’re being teased. I want to walk down the street without thinking: Is that a boy or a girl? Because it doesn’t matter whether I can identify someone’s sex, gender, or sexuality. It matters that we are making the world safer for everyone, making it easier for identity formation to take place, and making sex and gender equality a reality. When more people ask for gender-neutral options, possibilities are more likely to be provided and laws protecting individual rights passed. It is up to us to make a difference and support those seeking equality.

Progress is Only the Beginning

If you ever thought you weren’t making a difference, check this out:

Kat Lazo describes the positive impact the Internet had on her own life, introducing her to the feminist community around her. Beyond sharing cool messages and videos with friends, you could be reaching beyond by contributing to social media.

I love sharing blogs and articles that have had a special impact on me. After some personal professional experiences with unfriendly gender stereotyping, I found the following video uplifting and empowering:

Not only was it great to see powerful, successful women who went through a similar experience, but also the fact they clearly got through it that mattered to me. Like Kat Lazo, it’s great to be reminded of the community out there that is willing to educate and encourage when you need it. By feeling encouraged, I’m inspired to pass on the message to others and help make change possible!

A similar video, ignoring the product placement, had a similar message regarding gender differences in perceptions:

Although I don’t wish to pass on product endorsements, the idea that companies as well as specific celebrities feel the importance and value in these messages (at least as a marketing tool) is encouraging to me. After all, as a part of pop culture, mass media, and consumerism, we as individuals have the ability to affect the world around us. I still have no interest in Pantene or Covergirl products, but I love passing on the positive messages these commercials contain:

How many of us have been told or had “can’t” implied with regards to our potential success? No matter what your sex and/or gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. we need to accept and share the “can” attitude. No matter what you choose to do in your life, don’t let these assumptions bring you down. They may challenge you, but you can overcome because you are capable and committed. We shouldn’t have to prove our worth or equality to others, but can help others see it in themselves, as well as remind ourselves of our own inner strength and beauty.

Speaking of beauty, although I’ve already written about body image, it’s important to keep it in mind as we prepare for swimsuit weather. Encouragement can take place in a larger sense or movement, but it can also take place in front of the mirror and with your friend/significant other on the beach. Helping people feel comfortable and happy in their own skin can be as valuable as helping them feel encouraged with regard to their actions, thoughts, and personalities.

Now it’s up to us to pay it forward by passing it on! Feel free to share any of these videos as you spread the word and share more positive messages with your community and feminists at large.

Investing in Girls and Women: International Women’s Day & Beyond

Investing in Girls and Women: International Women’s Day & Beyond

Why do we invest so much time, energy, and money into certain efforts? The quickest and easiest response is because it’s worth it. Girls and women around the world are worth investing in, which was a part of this year’s March 8th effort to Inspire Change. However, our efforts aren’t just for International Women’s day. We can invest in one of the world’s greatest resources every day…with a little time and energy of course (money optional). So who’s leading the charge? While a quick Google search will give you plenty of inspiring girls and women, check out this list of women’s rights advocates to watch in 2014:

However, you don’t need to be one of these great women to make a difference. What can we do? Malala Yousafzai, an inspiring, young feminist leader, encourages girls and women everywhere to use social media as a positive, educational resource:

It could be something as simple as a quick post of a picture/link or “liking” a supportive organization like the following.

By reading and sharing pictures and stories we can create a positive, supportive environment that is capable of inspiring change. What would happen if we supported the following movement?

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could work to support womenaround the world? No matter what your political affiliations are, what important aspect of feminism do you want to support? For me, I’m personally interested in raising awareness of gender representation in film/media. One of my recent Facebook posts was the following link:

Although we are all individuals with personal interests in specific areas of feminism, we can come together to further the overall goal of gender equality. Even though we’re all busy coming back from Spring Break, I encourage you to take some time out to share something that matters to you!

Appreciating Multiplicity is a Necessity of Life

As a part of the 3rd wave feminist philosophy, I firmly believe in appreciating diversity, multiplicity, and plurality. And I know that I would not be a feminist today if it weren’t for the amazing women who have come before me.

However, too often feminists like myself forget that progress was made by individuals other than Caucasian, middle/upper-class women. But I also refuse to relegate my thanks to just one holiday or special month in a year. Instead, I will continue to showcase the diversity of involvement in feminism everywhere throughout the year.

As a feminist, the following link caught my eye:

While I recognized a few, many I realized had been left out of history classes, and when a brief “women’s history” unit was given, only Virginia Woolf and Mary Wollstonecraft were discussed. So let us educate ourselves in these impressive women’s histories.

But let us also remember that feminism and great accomplishments can come from many types of women, from many types of work, and have inspired women from many different time periods.

So I urge you, recognize, appreciate, and encourage the great strides around you to honor the multiplicity of great women. As feminists, men and women who believe in gender equality, we need to stick together in order to support one another. Although we are all unique and wonderfully different in our pluralities, we are also unified together by our common goal. We need to appreciate our differences, respecting each other no matter the racial/ethnic, religious, or LGBTQIA community “label” one may choose.

That’s why I want to share one of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls logos:

We can and need to be kind to one another to support each other. I’ve talked previously about being kind to ourselves when it comes to body image, but the same idea applies to so many other areas of respect.

As an optimist, of course I see progress everywhere. Although the media will always be problematic, I was touched by some of the positive development made in several SuperBowl commercials.

Of course, I loved the variety of young girls featured in the empowering Goldieblox commercial, the multilingual beauty of America in Coca-Cola’s rendition, and of course the adorable Cheerios feature of a bi-racial family. Growing up, I loved seeing myself represented (physically or character-wise) in movies, the media, and literature. And I wish the same for all the other young ladies out there, so I hope that we continue to show realistic, beautiful, and diverse images of girls and women for us all to look up to. After all, what’s not to love about our multicultural world?

Awareness and Inspiration: V-Day Steps of Progress

The first time I saw The Vagina Monologues I was shocked: they said “vagina” numerous times without feeling the least bit embarrassed, made being female seem beautiful, and shared stories of violence and heartbreak from real people. And even though I’ve almost memorized the stories by now, I continue to see it every year. The Vagina Monologues is one important (and fun) part of the V-Day Campaign, a global movement to end violence against women and girls.

The V-Day campaign reminds us that gender equality is far from being a current reality and that emotional, mental, physical, and social violence is still happening all around us. However, it also reminds us that we are a part of the solution and that hope, and progress, is in our hands.

First Step of Progress: becoming aware and educating ourselves about gender inequality. The following video breaks down what sexual objectification is and why it’s problematic (linking to sexist media portrayal and sexual violence).

Second Step of Progress: becoming inspired and involved. As mentioned in previous blogs, The Representation Project works to create gender equality in the media by raising awareness of and working to remove stereotypical, sexist portrayals of women. During the Super Bowl this weekend, you too can be a part of this process by calling out the individual ads and the companies that represent/create them with the new (free on iTunes) “Not Buying It” app.

However, issues of violence in the media are just as important to discuss as sexist portrayals. Rape scenes, for example, are present in multiple movies and TV shows, including a recent scene in one of my favorites: Downton Abbey. At first, I was appalled by such a depiction. Then I was reminded that, according to the White House Council on Women and Girls: “Nearly 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 71 men have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes. These statistics are stunning, but still can’t begin to capture the emotional and psychological scars that survivors often carry for life, or the courage needed to recover.”

As horrifying as it would be for victims to have to relive such atrocities through the media, if we ignore it, what will happen? If it reminds people to stop blaming the victim, to help support survivors, and that real consequences exist for criminals, then does it serve a realistic and moral purpose?

Eve Ensler includes challenging stories in her creation, The Vagina Monologues, not for the sake of sharing drama, but to educate others in the pain that is caused by such violence, and to inspire victims to continue to be brave because they are not alone. It is through these stories and joint efforts that progress is made. She reminds us that the V-Day Campaign is not just about 1 billion female victims of violence in the world, but being part of one billion men and women who join to together to make a difference.

For more information about progress, such as the “White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault,” feel free to visit the following website:

Remember, no matter what gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. you identify with, if you believe in gender equality you are a part of the progress that can be made. The Vagina Monologues performance is an educational and inspirational experience for those who are just becoming introduced to these important gender equality issues and for those who are already spreading awareness for these important causes.

Performances at the Maintenance Shop in the Memorial Union take place Feb. 13th at 8:30 pm and Feb. 14th at 6 and 8:30 pm. Tickets are 10$ for students, but proceeds are donated (as well as the majority of proceeds for other buttons, shirts, etc.) to ACCESS, Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support, and the V-Day Spotlight Campaign. And for more information:

New Year’s Resolution: Taking Back Beauty

How many women truly believe they are beautiful? How many of you are willing to compliment yourself as much as you probably compliment those you care about?

Why do we have such a problem with our own weight? Why do we use “fat talk” about ourselves and often comment negatively about others? And how do we go about creating a change?

Although my intent is not to endorse any products, I am endorsing the message created by that video and have made it my New Year’s resolution to be more positive about myself, as well as others. To do so isn’t ego or selfishness, but a necessary confidence booster leading to happiness.

Why does society and social media provide so many poor role models? I read an article called “Plus Size Barbie Gets Slammed for ‘Inaccurate’ Portrayal of Curvy Women” by Lizette Borreli, which made me wonder why there aren’t more positive examples of the beautiful multitude of female body types.

As long as the focus is on being happy and healthy, why can’t we applaud the weight loss of people (such as Jennifer Hudson), revel in the beauty of natural, curvy women like the “real women” in the Dove ads, or applaud celebrities (like Jennifer Lawrence) who comment on the need for young girls to be happy with their body and body image.

So I’ve decided to find and share the positive role models I know I, and many other girls and women, need to boost our confidence and spread our message. For example, I love this video of a “plus-size” model, Robyn Lawley, who came on the Ellen Degeneres Show and stated loud and clear that despite her “thigh gap” and the negative body image others have about her, she considers herself to be beautiful. such-a-perfect-response that-even-ellenapplauds?g=2&c=ufb2

For more information you can also check out:

Robyn’s message is a great one: to think and even say positive things about yourself can change your life. Accept yourself, learn to love yourself, and let us, as consumers and participants, push social media and society to step up, take notice, and create a positive change! I may not be a model or a curvy woman; in fact I’m considered “boyish” by most fashion magazines for my lack of female curves. But I consider myself to be feminine and beautiful, just as much as I do my curvaceous friends. Everyone is unique, but everyone is also gorgeous, sexy, cute, and any other positive synonym they can think of. And we owe it to ourselves to remember that. What helps me remember as I work towards my New Year’s Resolution? Videos like the following that encourages any and every “ordinary” woman to consider herself to be extraordinary.

Each step it gives us helps us remember to focus on the positive rather than the negative about ourselves and our lives, even though it is often easier said than done. Say something positive about yourself rather than resorting to “fat talk” and self-inflicted putdowns. If you have a weight goal, make sure it’s to be healthy-not harmful. And remind others that they are beautiful and that complimenting each other is way more fun that insulting one another.

For some it’s helpful to find that outfit that makes them feel beautiful, for others it’s having someone tell us we’re beautiful, but most importantly, we need to tell ourselves. To say it is to believe it, and to believe it is to truly become it. Join me in having a beautiful, happy New Year.

All I Want for Christmas

I love the holiday season, especially all the childlike joy and optimism that comes with it, but when thinking about what I really need (not just what I want) for the holidays, I realized I had several serious and important items on my list:

  • ·      I want more movies and TV shows to pass the Bechdel test.
  • ·      I want to have successful & influential women to be on the cover of magazines and taking important roles in companies and in governments.
  • ·      I want to see advertisements show realistic and empowering gender images.
  • ·      I want to read about positive role models for young girls and women in social media.

On a happy note, Disney’s Frozen passed the Bechdel test and is a shining example of a new direction in which animated movies (and film in general) can go to empower and delight young girls.

And  Jennifer Lawrence, my current idol, in all her imperfections…the things she brings to social media makes me believe in the holiday spirit.

Although more eloquent responses are sure to be out there, the fact that Jennifer Lawrence was honest, said something important, and has the popularity among young girls to spread the word about positive body image makes me hope in the possibility of change.

Jennifer Lawrence has been thrust into the fashion world and has been Photoshopped numerous times, but she reminds us that those pictures are not realistic and we can’t base our idea of “perfection” and beauty off of altered images.

She reminds me that I need to be comfortable in my own skin.  So maybe what I really wanted for the holidays was to feel beautiful—realistically comfortable in my physical skin, as well as within my identification as a female and feminist.

I’m also always excited to see influential women in politics and areas of social & legal power.  Political opinions aside, one of my first influences of feminism was hearing speeches about woman’s rights from Hillary Clinton.

This video reminded me not only of the importance of finding and having a role model, but also of the importance of political figures leading the way for legal rights as well as social change for women. What actions are being taken to ensure women’s legal rights and what gender equality steps still need to be striven for?

  • ·      What women hold government office positions or are leaders of powerful organizations around the world (like Margaret Chan and Shirin Ebadi) and use their position, among other things, to fight for human rights?
  • ·      What young women (like Malala Yousafzai) do we see recognized for their contributions as they strive for equal rights?
  • ·      What people (like Manal Al-Sharif & Helen Benedict) are willing to struggle to share important information and give people the help and voice they need?

Not that I don’t have many “wants” for the holidays, which will make their way below my tree as presents to be treasured, but what do we, as feminists, need for the holidays?

For more information, please check out websites like,, and

Sarah Chase, MSWC Volunteer

Feminism & the Influence of Masculinity

Every time I visit the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, I see a variety of men and women taking advantage of the inviting space. Although it is a women’s center with the purpose of providing services for women to ensure equal opportunities and resources, men too are welcome and their participation is important in the fight for gender equality.

As feminists it is important to remember that patriarchy is just as harmful to men as it is to women. Toxic masculinity, for example, creates an idea of the male gender role as aggressive and forbids the open display of emotions. According to this concept, any men that don’t display this idea of masculinity aren’t “real men”.

This idea of society’s influence on gender, as well as the performance of gender, is described in a New Statesman article by Samuel C.L. Jones.

Joss Whedon, director of Avengers and writer of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, also showcases his idea of masculinity that as a feminist I appreciate. His ability to write strong female characters and strong male characters that appreciate their strength provides important role models for both genders. He not only discusses the necessity of equality, but also stresses the imbalance created by inequality as harmful to all.

That being said, I love Disney and Pixar movies. Some feminists will point out the stereotype of the passive/helpless damsel in distress being saved by the active/heroic prince. While I appreciate the prince’s helpfulness in more classic tales, I also appreciate Disney’s Mulan and Pixar’s Brave & Tangled, which show young girls and boys that both male and female characters can be active, strong, and intelligent.

There are many men out there who hold doors for women and perform other gestures out of respect and politeness and many who are gracious when women repeat the same gestures back to them. I know of men who stay at home with their children while their significant others go to their jobs outside of the home. Other men continue their professional careers while also supporting their significant others at home. I know of men who are administrators and men who are nurses: stereotypical male and female roles. You too have noticed variations in masculine roles in professional and personal areas of their lives.

Is there a right or wrong? What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman?

I don’t have solid definitions or ideas and doubt that simple ones can truly fit for all individuals and their variations. But I do know that gender roles have changed and continue to change from past traditions and stereotypes, and it is up to the individual to decide what is right for her/him. What aspects of a gender role make you comfortable and encompass who you are?

If you are in a relationship, it is up to the two of you to decide what you are comfortable with. In my own relationship I always remember Joss Whedon’s words of equality and respect between genders, which continues the work and ideals of feminism.

And as a teacher I will continue to expose students to various male and female characters, showing a multitude of masculine and feminine characteristics to continue the conversation of gender and feminism.

- Sarah Chase, MSWC Volunteer

Fate of Women in Film

As a feminist and a moviegoer, I sometimes find myself disappointed in the selection of films out there. While some of my favorite movies center around male characters, I also enjoy seeing strong & capable female characters. But does the film industry agree?

Anita Sarkeesian, creator of Feminist Frequency: Conversations with Pop Culture, explains in one of her videos about how men, as the vast majority of the power-holders in the film industry, are thus making films primarily about men.

I feel a connection with Anita’s ideas because she is a science-fiction movie fan like me, but also because she is a feminist who is working to speak to current generations. Anita does a great job of providing information to ordinary people like me without including overwhelming academic jargon. She proves that feminist spaces can be safe and interactive, while also being educational and geared toward steering media in the right direction.

One of the most important videos she shares is about the Bechdel Test, originating from the author Alison Bechdel. This test is a way for people to decipher whether or not a film has a gender bias.

Anita describes it here:

Essentially, for each movie you see, watch for two women speaking together in a meaningful way about something other than men. Unfortunately, very few mainstream or blockbuster movies include such conversations to pass this test, proving that women-centered movies are in the minority. Of course, male-centered movies are not necessary anti-female. But the test goes to show that more movies are centered on men, rather than being equally spread between genders (like film audiences usually are).

But of course, there are details and exceptions to everything. For example, a feminist movie can include conversations about men, but it should not only talk about men. Also, some films, like the short film I just watched- Marvel One Shot: Agent Carter or the Harry Potter series can have feminist themes or characters with very little or no interaction between female characters.

So the next time you go to the theatre or have a movie night, see if the films you watch hold up under the Bechdel Test and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Was the theme and/or perspective male or female focused?
  • Did the movie have strong female characters (not stereotypes or minor characters) that you could identify with?
  • Would you recommend this movie to a woman or watch it again yourself?  

Also, consider helping others become aware of the situation in the film industry today by posting comments below or sharing links on other social media sites. Are you familiar with other resources like Feminist Frequency? Do you have reviews or examples of female-friendly literature, film, or TV? Feel free to comment, critique, share, and read posts like my recent review:

Remember, everyone has something valuable and important to share, even if we don’t always agree. Share with us at the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center via this blog or come in to tell us what you know. Sharing your thoughts and insights are an important way to participate in what is happening around us and help change take place.

 – Sarah, MSWC Volunteer

“Get involved this April”


April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and if you’re like me, you don’t know much about it. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, protests against sexual violence began in England in the 1970s, beginning with Take Back the Night marches that focused on protesting the threats women faced while walking at night. The marches eventually spread to the United States, and the protests now include various other events that aim to raise public awareness and educate communities and individuals about sexual violence and assault.

This week, The Margaret Sloss Women’s Center will be hosting SAAM events in order to draw attention to the very real threat sexual assault poses to students, Ames community members, and everyone. The following facts from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network put the epidemic into perspective: someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes; one in six women and one in 33 men will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime; and 60% of sexual assaults go unreported (

 With those kinds of statistics, it is likely you or someone you know has or will be assaulted in their lifetime. This needs to end, so help raise awareness and demand a change. If you are a student at ISU or in the Ames community, participate in ISU’s Take Back the Night event on April 25th. Even if you can’t attend the event, make others aware of what is going on and help be a part of the solution. As the NSRC explains, “By working together and pooling our resources during the month of April, we can highlight sexual violence as a major public health, human rights and social justice issue and reinforce the need for prevention efforts.”

Hope to see you there!



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 547 other followers

%d bloggers like this: