Toys in the Attic

November 29, 2014

I hope everyone had a nice Black Friday. We spent the day in bed watching movies: Hannah and Her Sisters and Blue Velvet (I wanted my wife to see where Lana Del Rey gets all her video ideas from) and spent absolutely zero dollars. But now it’s officially the Christmas season (for those who celebrate it. Also, for everybody else.) and a parent’s thoughts turn to toys.

I went absolutely ape-shit over Xmas as a kid. By mid-November I had 90% of the toys in in the JC Penny catalog circled (the remaining 10% were girl toys) and ended up with most of them under the tree. I would be tired of the majority of those toys in a day (they always seemed cooler on the Saturday morning commercials) but my parents would be stuck with the credit card bill for months. I did love those Hot Wheels well into the summer, though.


Now as a socially conscious feminist, the whole issue of toys brings me great anxiety. First is the fact that most toys for kids today (and all the toys at Wal-Mart) are made under questionable labor practices. The thought of giving a child a toy made by child labor in China is just a deal with the devil. How many of those Black Friday parents are clobbering each other for a Barbie doll that was made by kids who are essentially slaves? Would they buy that doll if they knew? (Probably, they were only $5 at one Wal-Mart.)

Black Friday 2014: Fight breaks out at Walmart over Barbie doll, more incidents

But most of what we consume this season has some bad mojo behind it, from the chocolate we shove down kids’ throats to the coffee we drink while we do it. So the first goal this season is to pay attention to where this stuff comes from and who makes it. Portland is a great city to buy local from. It’s not always the cheapest option, but it’s good for the soul and that’s what the Baby Jesus would want.

13 Products Most Likely To Made By Child Or Forced Labor

The other issue is the relationship between toys and gender socialization. I’ve lectured on this topic for 25 years. I’ve always found it interesting that as soon as little girls can sit up we give them baby dolls and start training them for motherhood. Why don’t we similarly train boys for fatherhood? Boys DO play with dolls. They are called “action heroes” and come with guns and “Kung Fu Grip.” I was obsessed with GI Joe as a kid but knew which girls got the Easy Bake Oven for Christmas because they had the cookies (along with their domestic apprenticeship).

The new adds for the Easy Bake Oven are just as sexist as they were in 1972, but the tide has turned. Mattel recently reported its profits were down as Barbie dolls had fallen out of favor. Good. This house will be a Barbie-Free Zone.

I remember the talking Barbies of the 1990s that said things like “Math is hard” and “Let’s go shopping.” That’s not the message I want for my daughter. If she wants dolls, they can have realistic figures and non-gendered aspirations. I want a doll that says, “I’m applying to MIT” and “I’m not a SkyCap. Give your baggage to somebody else.” If she wants to bake things, I’ll get her a chef’s hat and a Gordon Ramsey DVD. Gone are the days of Mystery Date and princess parties.

They gave each kid a Barbie and a doll with real proportions. What they say next really says it all.

¡]02051707¡^--SHANTOU, May 17, 2002 (Xinhua) --Workers dress for dolls at the Yiewei Arts and Crafts Company in Chenghai City in south China's Guangdong Province May 17, 2002. The city puts production of toys and handicrafts as a pillar industry which earned some 7 billion yuan(US$875 million) in 2001. (Xinhua Photo/Zhang Yiwen)

Of course my fear is that she’ll want a Little Mermaid costume made in some sweatshop by Vietnamese orphans and know how to sing “Someday My Prince Will Come” instead of Sleater-Kinney’s “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.” Do I honor her choice? Or do I take her to a basketball game instead (explaining that some of the players are wife-beaters)? I really have no idea in a consumerist society like ours how to avoid these moral landmines that are set in front of our children, especially our girls. No answers yet. Stay tuned.

EDIT: Thanks to my cousin Jennifer for turning me on to Take a look at this link below!

Image source:


November 26, 2014

Let’s post some love after the riots and before Thanksgiving. I’m sure this blog will feature a few rants, including the exasperation that parents apparently experience (Can parents really disown their kids? My mom told me that quite often) and me wondering why I didn’t do this when I was 20. But today I’d like to share the love.

I’ve loved people, moments, bands and stuff. I love my record collection. I’ve always thought if my house caught fire the first order of business would be to save my autographed Ramones albums. But there really is no comparison to the love a parent feels for a child. It’s like some drug-like state of euphoria and anxiety. Like what you thought love was supposed to be like when you were 13.

I was one of those people who made fun of “breeders” with their mini-vans and screaming brats on cross-country flights. As a childless dude, I had ultimate autonomy. If I wanted to go see a band on a Wednesday night, I would just go. If I wanted to spend my money a blue leather jacket because it looked like something Axl Rose might wear, I could do it. (It was on Kings Road, London in 1991 and I would give anything to trade that ugly thing in on a baby bike trailer.) People who had babies were just adding to the population bomb and the rising idiocracy. Look at that mom, smoking in her kid’s face. Forced sterilization!

Of course, I had to reconcile my hostility with my feminist values. Pro-choice means you can also choose to produce mini-yous if you want to and maybe this generation of rug rats will be the one to finally smash patriarchy. Each wave of youth gets a little less douchebaggy, right?

But then we got pregnant. It was planned. We said, “Let’s get pregnant!” and a month later we were. In fact on our second date, sitting at the bar in Binks on Alberta, I looked at Andrea and said, “We’re going have kids, aren’t we?” And the dread started to fade. That autonomy that had defined my masculinity for decades seemed like something I was ready to let go of, for something much better.

I’ve a lot of amazing moments in my life. April 29, 1985. I played guitar onstage with U2 in my hometown of Atlanta. Pretty awesome, right? It does not even compare to the first time we heard our baby’s heartbeat. The world changed in that instant. I heard a giant whooshing sound, like a massive black hole being shrunk down to a tiny singularity. My life was no longer about me and all the things and experiences I could collect. It was now about that heartbeat and protecting it with all my might. For the rest of my life.

That moment changed me. It destroyed my ego and opened up a part of my heart that I never even knew was there. In that moment, my life as a human finally started. And now that she’s here, I just have to look at her and the dopamine starts flowing in my brain. So I look at her a lot. I can’t believe that she’s here and that I had anything to do with her creation. Babies are the best drug ever.

So I get it, parents. I’ve got the secret now. I apologize for fantasizing about keying Volvos and bringing back “Adults Only” apartment complexes. When your kid is screaming next to me on the flight, I’m just going to look at you and say, “Isn’t this awesome?”

Ferguson Fathers

Nov. 25, 2014

I didn’t really plan on getting into the muck this early but, for the last 24 hours, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews about the Ferguson grand jury decision and the riots that have followed. Besides my interest as a criminologist who studies racism, this issue intersects with this blog for two very important reasons.

First, my daughter is brown. I may be a white guy (with all the privileges that wins), but my wife is Mexican. That means our baby is Chicana (Sorry, honey. We got us a Chicano baby.) Life for non-white people is different than for whites in America, as much as “color-blind” whites try to deny it. I’m sure I will write plenty on white privilege, but this morning I am just thinking about how justice is not color-blind for people like my daughter. She is more likely to be pulled over by the police and less likely to believed when questioned by authorities. I don’t have to make the case that this is true; the data backs me up. I just hope it is less true by the time she is old enough to drive.

The second issue has to do with the fathers of Ferguson. Or the lack of them. The “War on Drugs” targeted poor minority communities not white kids in frat houses snorting coke. Besides quadrupling the prison population, this trumped up war also served to remove black fathers from their communities. In 2007, one in 15 black kids had a parent in prison, mostly fathers.

Click to access cc_Parents%20in%20Prison_Factsheet_9.24sp.pdf

We have romanticized the image of the black rogue male with multiple kids from multiple women (Just turn on any episode of The Maury Povich Show.) But as much as I loved to hear The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” on the radio when I was a kid, this archetype undermines the recognition of the challenges of poor black fathers in America. This includes the days of AFDC, when welfare support was withheld if a father was present (Giving a valid reason not to be). The War on Drugs had a place for an awful lot of those fathers, behind bars.

So here we have a community decimated by poverty, disenfranchisement, and police targeting with a vacuum of fathers to help raise their children. It’s not surprising that many of those young men find empowerment in what Richard Majors and Janet Billson called the “cool pose.” (Two books for your reading list are Majors and Billson’s Cool Pose: The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.) A version of masculinity exists in urban America that many whites (including at least one white police officer) find threatening.

I had a conservative white friend who was driving into the city. He asked me a curious question. “Randy, why do black people walk so slow when they are crossing the street?” He was upset that black pedestrians were holding up traffic (mainly, his huge pickup truck). Now I don’t know if black people walk slower or faster than any other group of people, but I asked him, “Do you know any other group that does that?” “Yeah, teenagers do it all the time!” he said.

So, then, I told him, if you felt like you didn’t have much power in the world, what would be one thing you could do to feel powerful? Stop your truck!


It’s not surprising the people are rioting. Especially young black men. It’s not sad that they are rioting. What’s sad is that there is still a reason to riot in 2014. The Watts Riots were almost 50 years ago, but the issues are exactly the same. Oppression is a complex matrix and masculinity intersects with race in ways that many whites never see. But the cumulative removal of minority fathers by a criminal justice system that has repeatedly demonstrated racial bias at every stage, from policing to parole, has a price. Each generation pays for that with fire and heartbreak.

Here’s an interview done right as the riots were starting. Don’t judge my fashion choices.

Calling on the spirit of John Lennon!

Day 1 – Nov. 24, 2014 C.E. I just dropped my wife off at her new job at Planned Parenthood. I know it was hard for her to just get out to the car. Not because it was her first day at work but because it meant being away from our 3-month old daughter, Cozette. We’ve been pretty much addicted to Cozy since the get go and now she’s doing the 9 to 5 while I’m playing stay-at-home dad. She made me promise to send lots of Snapchats and I promised her lots of wonderful reunions when she got home each night and dad went on a run. To the bar.

[I can already tell that the challenge of this blog is writing and trying to calm a crying baby. Baby comes first!—— Dear lord, the only thing that stopped the wailing was Kathy Lee and Hoda.]

So today I start my job as a stay at home dad. As a sociology professor, for the last 20 years I’ve been telling people how to raise their kids. Now it’s time for me to take my own advice. As a feminist I’ve lectured about how to undo gender socialization and challenge patriarchy on the home front. Now my ideological rubber has to hit the road. Fortunately, I have a combined sabbatical/parental leave that will keep me home until March. After that I’ve shifted my work schedule so I can be home most of the week. I know my wife, Andrea, is jealous that Cozy and I will have so much time together, but I’ll probably be jealous that she has a work life while I’m at home sterilizing nipples.

So I’m channeling John Lennon for help. When his son with Yoko, Sean, was born in 1975, he quit the music business to become a stay-at-home dad. While Yoko went off to the office, John stayed home, playing with the baby and baking bread. As a 70s feminist, he redefined the role of fatherhood. The Father Knows Best days when dad came home from work to dinner on the table and solo time in the den were finally changing. John gave us permission to be hands on fathers who changed diapers and actually raised children.

The goal of this blog is to share the challenges of balancing fatherhood and feminism. In my academic work I’ve explored the connection between masculinity and crime (including hate crime). Now I have a chance to explore my own masculinity as I try to raise my daughter, with my wife, to become a strong young woman in a world that still rewards Miss America with more scholarship money than a girl who works helping house homeless mothers. I hope people will come along on my journey. I’ll share stories, thoughts and pictures. I probably won’t share all the Snapchats that I’m going to be sending Andrea. I think most of them are going to be of poopy diapers.