Saturday, February 22, 2014

In Defense of "Voluntourism" (Sorta)

Sometimes it takes me a while to gather my thoughts, and by the time I have figured out what I want to say, everyone on Facebook has already forgotten about whatever it is I was responding to.

Anyhow, try to think back, WAAAAY back, to a couple of days ago, when everyone was sharing this link, and nodding wisely, and saying, "How true!"

I kinda half agree. I get what she's saying. Short-term missions and volunteer trips have lots of problems. And, yeah, getting a bunch of high school kids to do skilled labor poorly is probably not the best allocation of resources. And the perpetuation of the "white savior" myth is dangerous. But look at what the author is doing now: She is using her skills to run a camp in the DR, recruiting and enabling native leaders to do work that is actually worthwhile. And she claims that her first trip to the DR was a flop, but if she had never gone on that first trip, do you think she would have that kind of passion for the Dominican people? It's one thing to see pictures on TV or in promotional materials, telling you that there is a hurting world outside of your comfort zone, but it's another thing entirely to actually GO there and LIVE amongst those hurting people for a little while.

I think the word "voluntourism" is meant to be derogatory, but I actually like it. When you travel as a tourist, your focus is on yourself, and on what you are getting out of the experience. You usually see a sanitized and commercialized version of the culture you are visiting, polished and packaged to make your experience enjoyable. When you travel as a volunteer, your focus is on the people you are going to help, their needs, their situation, their struggles. And, while you might come back from a vacation relaxed and refreshed, you almost always come back from a short-term mission trip CHANGED. And that is what makes the world a better place: Not the actual work that "voluntourists" do while they are abroad, but the changed people who come home from those trips, a little less selfish, and a little more aware that the world is much bigger than their first world problems.

As with so many things in life, I find myself wanting to find a nice, middle ground. Some way to encourage people to travel to third world countries and expand their worldview without doing more harm than good while they are there. But it's not like we can send them to just hide in the bushes and spy on orphans - we need to give them something to do while they are there, some way of engaging and interacting. I know that this is something that greater minds than mine are working on, so I'm not trying to solve this problem myself. I'm just suggesting that maybe we shouldn't look down on voluntourists quite so much. At least they care. And if their concern is genuine, it can be redirected more effectively.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Consignment Sales

Spring consignment sale season starts next week!

It's been a while since I made a consignment sale list, but it looks like I don't need to feel guilty anymore, because someone else is doing a fabulous job. has an extremely detailed list of local consignment sales. Check them out!

Also: The mommy group that I have been attending is hosting a consignment sale this spring, too. I'm a bit nervous, but I think I'm going to dive and participate on the consignor side of things this year. Yikes! Wish me luck! I'm hoping to make a dent in the "hand-me-down room", so that it can actually be used as a "guest room", like it was supposed to be!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Some Thoughts on the "Gender Neutrality" of Legos

I've been thinking about this whole "Lego for Girls" controversy for a long time, but I haven't said much about it. I felt a bit like I was being pulled in two directions on the issue, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why. But something finally clicked for me today, and now I want to say something about it.

This is the 1981 Lego ad that everyone is talking about. That little girl could have been me. Classic 1980s tomboy, building with Legos instead of playing with dolls. It's classic 1980s power-suit feminism. The kind of feminism that said, "Women are allowed to fill men's roles in a man's world... As long as they dress/act/behave like men." The message of that ad, to me, was that little girls can play with boy's toys, too... as long as they are tomboys.

I don't have a problem with tomboys. I was one myself. (Sortof - more on that later.) But what if your daughters want to embrace their femininity? To me, modern feminism is not about telling women that they are just like men. It's about telling women that what they are is just as good as what men are. It's a subtle difference, but an important distinction to make. We need to show our daughters that we don't just value classically masculine skills; that they don't need to fight their natural skills and abilities to be valued in our society.

I have always wanted to be a mother, ever since I was a little girl. When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be a teacher. But I had one problem: I was smart. I was streamed into the gifted/enrichment program in fourth grade. Everyone expected more of me. I remember telling a classmate in middle school that I wanted to be a mother, and he said, "What a waste!" Not everyone was so explicit in their judgment of my ambitions, but I felt it on every side. Smart girls should do more.

So, I dreamed bigger. Went to college and majored in Communication, intending to go to law school after graduation. My advisor tried to talk me out of it. He encouraged me to pursue a Master's degree in Communication and go into higher education. I politely declined, and went to law school. I trudged through, barely survived my articling year, and then retired from law the day after I got my call to the bar. It's funny, because now, looking back, I think I would have made an excellent teacher or professor. Too bad I tried to do "more".

I loved Legos as a kid. I loved building with blocks. I loved sledding and climbing trees. But I wasn't very athletic. I didn't really do sports. And I secretly loved playing with dolls. Mostly, I loved brushing and styling their hair. I still do. Maybe I should have become a hairdresser. I didn't fit very well into either "gender" category. But that's okay. Most people I know don't. It's kinda more of a spectrum.

When I found out that I was pregnant with my first child, I registered for Duplo before I even thought about cribs. I couldn't wait to play Legos with my kids! But they never really got into it. They chewed on the pieces when they were babies, but that was it. I was very sad. I tried very hard to raise liberated little girls, but they defied me and decided to love everything frilly pink fairy princess. I fought it for a long time. Tried to buy them gender-neutral clothing and toys. But it didn't work. They only wanted to wear dresses and play with dolls. Then I had a light bulb moment one day: Isn't the whole point of feminism that girls can be whatever they want to be? So, if my girls love frilly dresses, why not embrace that, and let them wear frilly dresses?

One day, I was at the Dollar Store with my girls, and I told them they could each pick out one thing as a treat. Valerie picked out a golf set. First, I did a double take - My girly-girl picked a golf set? But then I saw the reason: It was pink. That's when I got on the pink Lego train. Before the pink golf club, I looked at pink toys and said, "Why do they have to make it pink? Girls can play with a brown football! That's so sexist!" After the pink golf club, I looked at pink toys and said, "Yes! Finally a chemistry set that my pink-loving girls will play with! Score one for feminism!"

When we tell our children that they can or can't do something for no reason other than the sexual organs they were born with, that's sexism. When we tell our children that they can be/do/love whatever they want to, regardless of their sexual organs, that's feminism. So, if the message of pink Lego is, "No, sweetie, don't play with those, those are BOY Legos," then I completely disagree. But if the message is, "Oh, you like pink? Look, this cool toy is also available in your favorite color!" then count me in. (Why and how girls are groomed to like pink in our culture is a whole different sexism discussion for another day. But taken as a given that MY girls DO like pink, I'm not addressing it today.)

I do have some issues with the new Lego Friends line. My biggest complaint is that the Friends mini-figs are not standard mini-figs. I think they would have done better to just make more female mini-figs. But I am glad to see Lego branching out and trying to include all girls, not just tomboys. That it's okay to like pink. That it's okay to want to be a ballerina or a teacher. Yeah, they have a long way to go. Female reporters could have better news stories than the "World's Best Cake". But it's a start.

So, my daughter got Lego for her fifth birthday. Pink Lego. And she loves it. She plays with it every day. And, when I back off and let her do her thing, she plays differently than I did. Rather than building and rebuilding essentially the same thing over and over, tweaking the design after each tear-down (how I used to play), she keeps the same basic structure intact, and makes subtle changes, for aesthetic or play reasons. She keeps it, fully-assembled, on a shelf, like a shrine. There is no "wrong" way to play with Lego, and however she uses it, she is learning, and growing, and developing problem-solving skills, and improving her coordination and fine motor skills. And that will serve her well in the future, whether she becomes an artist or an actress or a teacher or a doctor or a lawyer or a brick-layer or a hairdresser or a clown. Or a mother.