Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Simple Experiment

Jacq's Girls at Eastern Market

This is a picture of my table at Eastern Market on Sunday, November 25, 2012. There are 3 ballerina dolls, one on the left wearing a pink tutu, one on the right wearing peach, and one off-center wearing turquoise. The turquoise-wearing doll is blonde.

I made all three dolls at the same time and started displaying them together. The first time I set them out, I positioned them all toward the front, but Turquoise was near the middle. Little girls were immediately drawn to her. "She's so pretty!" they would say, and "I like this one best."

Mothers of all colors struggled with a child-appropriate way to address what seemed to be an affinity for the blonde doll over the others. "But you like pink so much, sweetie!  Let's look at the pink one," was a popular diversion. The look on all of their faces was summed up by what one mother whispered to me: "She can have any doll she wants, but does it have to be that one?"

Was this an echo of the Clarks' famous doll experiments? These were tests conducted in the 1940s in which children were shown a white doll and an African-American doll and were then asked which doll they would rather play with. The white doll was preferred by both white and African-American children.

There had not been any clear preferences before I set out the blonde ballerina, and blonde hair brings its own issues. Barbie is blonde. Cinderella is blonde. The "pretty" girls on TV are frequently blonde. Women spend millions of dollars a year dyeing their hair blonde. And in the midst of this, mothers are trying to teach their daughters that brown hair and red hair and black hair are just as beautiful as blonde hair. They are not against blonde dolls, but they are alert to signs that the popular media's "blonde is best" message is affecting their children. Watching their daughters pick out the one blonde doll on a table full of dolls felt like a defeat.

I was curious about whether this fascination with that doll was because of her hair or because of her position on the table.  So on Sunday, I decided to try a little experiment.  I moved her to the back of the table.  She was elevated, which she had not been before, so she was quite visible.  I placed the darkest brown ballerina, the one wearing a peach tutu, on a front corner.

To my surprise, not one child pointed out the blonde ballerina. They all went to the one wearing the peach tutu.  "Look at this one, Mommy!" girls would squeal. "Mommy, this one is the prettiest!" they would say, gently stroking the dark hair or the brown arm.

Maybe there is hope for us yet.

Back to hanging out with the fantastic bloggers at Yeah Write! Because I can.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

6 Things I Learned at Eastern Market

I have now had three Sundays as a vendor at Eastern Market and I'm really enjoying it. Here's what I have learned so far.

1.  It's not Fenton Street.  Eastern Market has been around a long time; Fenton Street only for a few years.  As a result, everyone is sort of new at Fenton Street, but the Eastern Market vendors tend to be long-timers, with some of them vending regularly for 10 or even 20 years. It's kind of like being the new kid in school, where people have to size you up before they decide whether you can play with them at recess. So far, though, the playground has been a pretty friendly place.

2.  People expect you to be there regularly.  This follows on to #1.  People don't want to hear about your fantastic newsletter -- they expect you to be out there on a regular basis with the stuff they want.  I can do regular, but don't look for me in cold January and colder February.

3.  You can eat your earnings very quickly.  I'm looking at you, Pie Lady, and you, Indigo, in particular.

4.  Half-spaces are fantastic.  One table of dolls doesn't have to take up a whole 10x10 space.  Eastern Market allows you to share a traditional space with another vendor, which cuts costs with little impact on display.

5.  Lots of little girls are out with their parents, and they have doll radar.  I can hear them coming before I see them. "Mommy, there's dolls!" "Daddy, let's look at the dolls!"  I always feel a little guilty at first, like I actively enticed them to my table, but then the feeling passes.

6. Barry Margeson and Katrina Cuffey are doing a great job.  Since the market is run by the city, city employees are responsible for its smooth operation.  City government doesn't always work so well here, but I appreciate Barry and Katrina's efforts to maintain the high quality everyone expects from Eastern Market.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I Approve This Message

I voted yesterday.
Not voting has never been an option in my family. When I hear people saying that they don't like the candidates so they just won't vote, I think of my parents in 1982.  We were living in Birmingham, AL and George Wallace was running for his fourth term as governor.  He had won the Democratic primary and run-off largely by presenting himself as a man who had found God and repented for all of those ugly racist things he had said before.

My parents weren't buying it.  As one of them noted, the Bible says to forgive; it doesn't say you have to vote for the person you forgave.

Unfortunately, they were also repulsed by Wallace's opponent.  Rather than not voting, my parents voted for a little-known third-party candidate.  Wallace won easily, but my parents weren't voting to pick a winner; they were exercising their right to vote against two loathsome options.

The first time I voted was in a primary election in 1984 in Birmingham, AL.  I was 18.  They had those election booths like you see on television, with a lever that closes the curtain.  I felt so proud as I pushed the little levers inside the booth, then pulled the big lever to open the curtain and register my choices. Citizenship had never felt so exhilarating.

I registered here in Washington, DC after the 1988 election.  I remember my initial disappointment the first time I voted here: there were no booths with curtains, only little carrels, and you had to color in the arrows to mark your ballot.  But then, leaving the polling place, one of the poll workers handed me a sticker that said, "I voted."  Well.  I placed that sticker on my coat and enjoyed a knowing solidarity with all the other people sporting their little stickers.

I have taken my children with me to vote when possible, and explained to them what it all means.  My son, who is 16, can't wait to turn 18 so he can vote.  That makes me happy.

Use your vote however you want.  It's your right.  But please, use it.

To quote Bob Schieffer's mother, "Go vote.  It will make you feel big and strong."