All posts by Ann Blumer-LaMotte

About Ann Blumer-LaMotte

I'm a crazy busy mom of 4 precious children and wife to a hard-working husband who always puts his family first. I love photography, reading fiction, and imagining new creative endeavors. Life's full of many blessings. I am just trying to keep up with all of them.

Passive-Aggressive Road Rage – Mommy Style

Dear Other Drivers on My Morning (or Afternoon) Route:

I realize you are trying to get your child to (or from) school… but so am I. And in doing so, we have to drive on residential streets where people (rudely) park on both sides – which means that one of us has to get over and make room for the other. And you know what, Other Drivers? It wouldn’t kill you to be THAT polite and accommodating person once in a while.Listen! Just because you’re rolling in a Hummer the size of mother-freaking Alaska does not mean you are automatically entitled to the right-of-way. Bigger does not equal more important, folks! You can pull over and wait just as easily as I can.

MinivanAnd while we’re on the subject: when you do insist on barging your way through a skinny little pathway with cars on either side, at least wait until I can pull over. I don’t feel like grating along the side of a parked car just because you’ve got to power your big arse on through rightthissecond. And no, there’s not enough room. It’s too close for comfort. I’m in a Chrysler Town & Country Caravan minivan here, not a flippin’ SmartCar.

As long as I’m on a roll — one more thing… Other Drivers, when I do pull over and let you pass (which I seem to do 98.1% of the time), please at least give me a wave. A smile. A lift of the finger. Anything to acknowledge that you actually appreciate me sacrificing two seconds of my valuable time so that you can motor on uninterrupted. Would it hurt to show some appreciation, Other Drivers? No, it wouldn’t. I’m not asking you to blow me kisses. Damn.

Please think about all this before I see you again tomorrow morning. Or your big stupid vehicle might just get sideswiped or worse.  (Think of the scene from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes with Kathy Bates in the grocery store parking lot…)

Sincerely,
One Ticked-Off, Mini-Van Driving, Manic Mommy

{Clearly this post is tongue in cheek and I promise not to go all “TOWANDA.” I guess it’s all about cracking myself up at how frustrated I get sometimes. }

Barbie in a Chador

Shereen El Feki gave an interesting TED Talk about how some Arab collaborators are working to take the best of Western pop culture and mix it with the softer side of Islamic values to form a cultural middle ground that young people (often from Arab countries) can relate to.

FullaEl Feki shows us how the United States Barbie doll met conservative cultural standards to birth “Fulla”, a pretty, Barbie-esque doll wearing a chador. When a mainstream doll wears a chador, it demonstrates to young Arab girls that it is acceptable and culturally relevant to abide by religious and cultural customs important to their parents. It allows young girls to see images of themselves reflected in the toys they play with. So while they can explore their femininity, the girls can also learn about traditional vaules.

Another example of converting Western pop cultural came with the advent of 4Shabab, a conservative Islamic music channel. 4Shabab tries to share music videos extolling Islamic values and lessons in an updated, modern manner that softens the intolerance and harsh jihad messages of radicals (which the majority of Arab peoples or Islamists do not support.)

Apparently much of the mainstream music videos in some Arab countries (I think El Feki was referring to Egypt) have risqué and explicit images, similar to what you would expect from Robin Thicke or Rhianna in the United States. I felt like 4Shabab could be compared to the conservative, but contemporary Evangelical Free, Christian music industry in the United States – which often sounds exactly like “hard-core” mainstream artists. Check out Thi’sl for an example from the USA.

The99In a literary twist, an Arab artist has created an Islam-friendly comic book titled “The 99.” It is “meant to teach the 99 attributes of Allah” through comic book characters. El Feki shares how all of these items are trying to win the cultural wars by “meshing the best of two distinct civilizations.” Embedding both sets of ideals to create a new civilization which resonates with a younger demographic and attempts to match their realities of a modern AND traditional world.

What do you think about racy, popular cultural icons being subverted to appeal to conservative values?

“Smarter than the Average Bear”

Shane Koyczan is a spoken word poet who makes hilarious, haunting, and heart-breaking presentations. In February 2013, he delivered a powerful presentation of “To This Day” at a TED Conference. The poem explains the painful journey many children face when bullied by other children and “explore[s] the profound and lasting impact that bullying can have on an individual.” Yet, Koyczan’s message is one of hope.


I found the poem so moving that I shared it with my thirteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. My precious girl actually teared up as she watched it and said, “Mom, I have to tell you about what happened at school…” My heart began racing as I thought of all the terrible things someone may have said to my intelligent, strong-minded, unique daughter and I waited for her to talk. She proceeded to tell me the following story.

Some boy approached me today and said, “Hey! Don’t I know you?” I was confused at first and said, “I don’t know.”

He asked me, “What school did you go to in 2nd grade?” I thought it was funny that he was asking about that grade in particular but I told him.

Suddenly he exclaimed, “You’re Elizabeth?! I knew I remembered you! When I first came here [to the United States], I couldn’t speak very good English, but you sat next to me and tried to help me. Other kids teased me but you didn’t. We were both little then, but I remember what you did. It made a difference. I was confused about what was going on, but at least I wasn’t so lonely with you around. I really didn’t know what was going on, but you stayed with me.”

As a parent, I have worked hard to raise children who are aware of the effect their actions have on others. I always tell them to try to make a difference in whatever small way they can. When my girl shared this with me, my heart swelled with immense pride. 

So whatever it takes, make a difference in someone’s life today. You never know the ripple effect your actions will have on strangers. And for Koyczan, stand up for the “Yogi Bears” of the world who like karate chops and pork chops.

NFL is a Not For Profit Organization

NFL MoneyIt can be argued that professional sports organizations provide economic benefits to their local community by helping fuel the hospitality industry (hotels, restaurants, etc) and paying state income taxes. Although there may be some truth to these claims, there is a dark side to professional sports that many fans are unaware of. Some of the largest professional sports organizations enjoy not-for-profit status for IRS purposes and therefore do not pay federal income taxes. This includes the National Football League (NFL), the Professional Golfers Association (PGA), National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Let’s focus on the NFL.

In 1942, the National Football League (NFL) became a not-for-profit organization. In 1966, the NFL managed to wheedle a few very important keywords into a piece of legislation that solidified its tax-exempt status as a not-for-profit. During these early years, the NFL claimed it needed these tax breaks since it was struggling financially and many of its franchises were folding. Pro football was not yet the crazy profit-generating entity that it quickly morphed into by the mid to late 1970’s.

Fast forward to the 21st century.

According to Gregg Easterbrook in an article for The Atlantic, “Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn’t apply to broadcast deals, the [NFL] league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year.”

piggy-bank-non-profit-organizationAccording to the IRS, 501(c)6 organizations are supposed to be business leagues that promote a common business interest but do not to engage in “a regular business of a kind ordinarily carried on for profit.” I argue that the NFL is an organization whose *sole* purpose is to provide entertainment and generate profit for its 32 franchise owners. A former IRS attorney stated, The NFL’s main goal is not to “operate for the public purpose of aiding commerce for all within a broad segment of some type of business or business in general. … [Instead] these sports organizations, in my opinion, are anything but public-minded in their profit interest. They are focused on the profits of their franchises.”

Nonprofit Quarterly had an excellent article explaining why Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okal., proposed the PRO Sports Act S. 1524 and the Daily KoS blog offers a scathing (and wonderfully bias) commentary regarding why the NFL should be stripped of its not-for-profit status.

As a spokesman for Senator Coburn’s office stated, “It’s one of the striking examples in the tax code where middle- and lower-income Americans are essentially subsidizing salaries for multimillionaires.”  Furthermore, the Joint Committee on Taxation in Congress estimates that “removing such exemptions… could mean $109 million in new tax revenue over the next 10 years.”

For an in-depth look at this issue, read the full Atlantic article by Gregg Easterbrook here.

To sign a petition to request the IRS revoke the not-for-profit, tax exempt status of the NFL, click here.

Changing Education Paradigms

Sir Ken Robinson is a phenomenal speaker, who is hilarious and insightful in turns. His lectures focus on the challenges faced by public education systems worldwide. During one of his many talks at TED conferences, he made great points about how our current educational systems diligently work to “education people out of their creative capacities” and therefore kills innovation and artistic thoughts/actions.

One video in particular, titled “Changing Education Paradigms”, was so profound that it changed how I think about the public education my children (and I, as a university student) receive.

Sir Ken Robinson’s comments about “children living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the Earth” and being “beseeched with information and calls for their attention from all directions” while “we are penalizing them for getting distracted from the boring stuff” we teach them in school truly resonated with me. As citizens of a wealthy and intellectually advanced nation, I often wonder why we are not seeking and demanding more innovative means to educate our children (and ourselves as lifelong learners.)

To bring higher education into the 21st century, I think we need a cultural paradigm shift to change the way we structure our educational institutions, the manner in which we deliver information and more importantly, our attitudes and ingrained thoughts about what it means to be an educated person. I am curious why we focus education on reading, writing, and arithmetic and not incorporating visual arts, dance, drama, music?

Practically speaking, some education needs to be separate from professional work. Students need to learn basic skills (reading, writing, math, science, critical thinking) to allow them a foundation to build future skills upon. However, I believe “education” should come from a COMBINATION of a variety of sources, which may include traditional classroom experiences, courses through engagement with community and civic organizations, on-the-job skills acquired through employment, as well as more abstract skills for learning through life lessons. As a student in my 30’s, I feel better prepared to apply newly acquired information (from any source) that I did in my early 20’s – and that mainly comes from the education and maturity gained through life experiences.

I invite you to watch the 11 minute video by Robinson in partnership with RSA Animate and then ponder the below questions.

As adults, and society as a whole, should we value an education separate from professional work?

What should we do to bring education into 21st century?

What do you think about the following quote by Robinson in his video How School Kill Creativity“?

“Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they will have a go. They’re not frightened of being wrong. Now I’m not saying that being wrong is the same as being creative; but what we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults most kids have lost that capacity and they have become frightened of being wrong. … We are now running our national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. As a result we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”  (5:27-6:32).

Beauty or Brawn?

 

As a parent of four children (three daughters, ages 13, 9, & 8 and one son, age 6), I am concerned by the stereotyped gender roles my children view in family films. Both females and males appear to be tightly constrained by what mainstream media sells to us socially acceptable.

Absent Mothers
In the early 2000’s, I was a single mom raising my eldest, sweet daughter. I noticed that positive examples of mothers were practically non-existent in the films we watched together. Disney Princesses were raised almost exclusively by fathers (Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas.) If a mother figure was present, invariably she was labeled as an evil step-mother (Snow White, Cinderella). Male children were also raised without mothers (Nemo, Pinocchio, Chicken Little, Bambi, Quasimodo). I found this trend alarming. There was not a single popular movie that my daughter enjoyed that included an accurate reflection of me as a loving, intelligent, economically and emotionally independent, and imperfect mother.

Under-Represented Women
I also noticed that the number of males with leading or supporting speaking roles far out numbered the number of female roles. In my opinion, it appeared females were relegated to support roles where their main purpose in the movie plot was to cause a conflict or problem that a male counterpart needed to rescue them from. I was upset that it didn’t appear there was a single female Disney character that was portrayed as independent and strong enough to save herself, moreover take control of saving the plot from being over-run with male characters.

Unattainable Beauty
To add insult to injury, I noticed leading female characters were portrayed by a rigid standard of beauty that was unrealistic and unattainable – petite, fragile girls with unimaginably tiny waists; overly busty chests; long, flowing hair; large eyes; and ivory-skin. Likewise, leading male characters tended to adhere to strict gender norms as muscular, young men with exceptionally chiseled faces and rugged handsomeness. Again, the films we were viewing did not show images that properly represented the true physical diversity young women and men.

Side note — In 2012, the movie Brave did feature a strong female lead, Merida, who saved the day. This is the *first and only* Disney/Pixar movie to do so. However, to negate any positive effect Merida may have garnered, Disney decided that before Merida would be marketed as a “Princess,” she must receive a makeover, including a new sexier hair-do, the addition of make-up, altered facial features, and a new off-the-shoulder dress with a low-slung belt on her narrowed waist/hips.

Source: Culture PoppedSource: Popped Culture

Research
According to a report summary from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media “males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films” which is the same level “it was in 1946”.  They also found “females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males.”

The fact that we are marketing these misleading gender stereotypes to young children is even more disturbing when you consider that “according to theories of gender constancy, until they’re about 6 or 7, children don’t realize that the sex they were born is immutable until they’re about 6 or 7. believe that they have a choice: they can grow up to be either a mommy or a daddy” (Orenstein, 2006).

Motherly Advice
I found myself questioning whether I should allow my children to watch films that clearly sent messages contrary to the gender-equality messages I wanted to instill in them. What type of conflicted messages was I sending? I began looking for other folks opinions on the matter.

I was impressed by a hilarious take from Huffington Post blogger, Bunmi Zalob, when she wrote about an imaginary dialogue between a wayward princess and her mother. The fictitious motherly advice was written with a contemporary flare and snarky attitude. I loved the way she cut to the chase and said what a blunt mother would at least think, if not actually spout.

Then I discovered Jaime Moore, a professional photographer who wanted to take unique photographs of her daughter for her 5th birthday. When she researched photo ideas, the vast majority of the search results returned information about photographing her daughter as a Disney princess. Moore wanted to encourage her daughter to “set aside the Barbie dolls and Disney princesses for just a moment” and see what a “real woman” she could grow up to be. In doing so, Moore sparked a movement when she photographed her daughter in the likeness of great women in history, including Susan B. Anthony, Coco Chanel, Helen Keller, Jane Goodall, and Amelia Earhart.  She explained, “I wanted her to know the value of these amazing women who had gone against everything so she can now have everything.” 

ameliaandemma_JaimeMoorePhotography
Source: Jaime Moore Photography

Penny For Your Thoughts?
What do you think about the gender inequalities of popular family films? Is it something you notice? Do you allow your children to watch these films? If so, do you start conversations with your children about the lack of positive mother figures or the lack of strong leading female characters? Do you try to introduce your children to “real” women, past and present? What media outlets do you trust to support gender equity in the media?

Ann Blumer-LaMotte

Sources:
Barker, J. (2009, 11 01). The life of a Disney princess. Culture Popped weblog retrieved from http://culturepopped.blogspot.com/2009/11/life-of-disney-princess.html

Moore, J. (2009, 05 09). Not just a girl. Jaime Moore Photography weblog retrieved from 
http://www.jaimemoorephotography.com/2013/05/09/not-just-a-girl/

Orenstein, P. (2006, 12 24).  What’s wrong with Cinderella? New York Times retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/magazine/24princess.t.html

Smith, S. L. & Choueiti, M. (n.d.). Gender disparity on-screen and behind the camera in family films. Retrieved from http://www.seejane.org/downloads/key-findings-gender-disparity-family-films-2013.pdf

Zalob, B. (2011, 03 16). If Disney princesses had mothers: Ariel. Huffington Post retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bunmi-zalob/the-disney-princesses-ariel_b_836612.html