Dolls and Self Image

Dolls and Self Image
Girls have always played with dolls in every country around the world. Boys have too — but we don’t usually call them dolls. They’re soldiers like G.I. Joe or fierce alien creatures with ugly visages and an array of weapons to wage war against their opponents.

During the l930’s, the most popular doll in the United States was the Shirley Temple doll, modeled on the biggest screen star of the Depression years with blond curly hair and blue eyes. There was also the cuddly baby doll who came with a bottle and the realistic extra of wetting her diaper. Certain expensive versions could cry “Mama” when tipped over. All these dolls had pink complexions. There were few comparable dolls with dark skins other than the stuffed cloth ‘Mammy’ dolls wearing red bandannas on their heads, flounced skirts and aprons.

With the Civil Rights Movement in the l950’s and l960’s came an awareness in the business interests of the country of marketing to the needs of the black population. This included a surge in beauty products for skin and hair. It also reached into the realm of dolls that looked like the girls who would be playing with them. Today, the stores and the Internet carry hundreds of black dolls — dark complexioned baby dolls, svelte dusky Barbies, the famous Madame Alexander series- African American version, and collectors’ dolls costing hundreds of dollars. There is a 33 inch tall Australian Aboriginal doll named ‘Gracie’ who sells for $2,700.

A new doll was introduced to the world in November 2003 — Fulla , an Islamic version of Barbie in size and proportion, aimed at the millions of girls in the Middle Eastern market. Fulla peers out with large dark almond shaped eyes from her black head covering, the hijab, and wears a black abaya that covers her entire body. There’s an alternate Fulla wearing a white hijab and a long buttoned up coat. Fulla has what her creator — NewBoy Design Studio based in Syria — calls “Muslim values”. Fulla, smiling sweetly from her shiny pink box, has spawned an entire industry of must- have Fulla accessories. These range from a variety of outfits for her, a clothing line for girls, back packs, bicycles, cereal , chewing gum — all in the ubiquitous ‘Fulla pink’. She costs in Damascus about $16 where the average per capita income for a family may reach $100 a month.

In a toy store in Damascus, the clerk commented to a reporter, “If you’ve got a TV in the house, it’s Fulla all the time. The parents complain about the expense. But Fulla gives girls a more Islamic character to emulate and parents want that.” Fawaz Abidin, the Fulla brand manager for New Boy, has stressed, “This isn’t just about putting the hijab on a Barbie doll. You have to create a character that parents and children will want to relate to. Our advertising is full of positive messages about Fulla’s character. She’s honest, loving and caring, and she respects her father and mother.” The marketing campaign has apparently been a huge success. Fulla and her related product lines fly from the stores.

The growing conservative movement in the Muslim countries has brought an increase in the number of women wearing the hijab. Maan Abdul Salam, a Syrian women’s rights leader, has said, “If this doll had come out 10 years ago, I don’t think it would have been very popular. Fulla is part of this great cultural shift.” A fifteen year-old girl, Fatima Ghayeh, told a reporter, “My friends and I loved Barbie more than anything. But maybe it’s good that girls have Fulla now. If the girls put scarves on their dolls when they’re young, it might make it easier when their time comes. Sometimes it is difficult for girls to put on the hijab. They feel it is the end of childhood.”

The significance of dolls to children’s self image and self esteem was at the heart of the famous “Doll Experiment” conducted by Dr. Kenneth B. Clark and his wife, Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark during the l940’s in the United States. Their experiment became the first time that social science research was introduced into a Supreme Court Case — Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. (l954). The unanimous decision of the court headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren was that segregated schools were inherently unequal and unconstitutional. The doctrine of “separate but equal” was struck down and desegregation became the law of the land.

The Doll Experiment was of simple design — what scientists call “elegant”. The Clarks met with groups of school age children in communities across the country over a period of years.
Their aim was “to try to understand how black children saw themselves”. They used two brown dolls and two white dolls, identical except for their skin color. The dolls were purchased for 50 cents apiece at Woolworth’s on 125th Street in Harlem — one of the few places in New York where brown dolls were sold at that time. They also asked children to color line drawings of children with the color that most closely matched their own skin color.

In his testimony before the Supreme Court, Kenneth Clark described one of the meetings with black elementary school children : “I presented the dolls to them and I asked them the following questions in the following order: ‘Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with,’ ‘Show me the doll that is a “nice” doll’, ‘Show me the doll that looks “bad”, and then the following questions also: ‘Give me the doll that looks like a white child.’ ‘Give me the doll that looks like a colored child.’ and ‘Give me the doll that looks like you.’ I wanted to get the child’s free expression of opinions and feelings before I had him identified with one of these two dolls. I found that of the children between the ages of six and nine whom I tested, 16 in number, that ten of the children chose the white doll as their preference, the doll they liked best. Ten also considered the white doll as a “nice” doll. …Eleven of these 16 children chose the brown doll as the doll that looked “bad”. This is consistent with previous results which we have obtained testing over 300 children. …The Negro child accepts as early as six, seven or eight the negative stereotypes about his own group.”

Dr. Clark also reported that in many groups, some black children when asked which doll looked most like them responded that the white doll looked most like them. Other children refused to answer and others cried. When children chose the brown doll and said it was “nice”, he talked with them individually and learned that they had a positive role model. The Clarks also found that black children in their line drawings usually used lighter colors to fill in the forms.

Clark’s testimony before the Supreme Court had a powerful effect upon the nine Justices. In his decision, Warren acknowledged the research findings and called Kenneth Clark one of the “modern authorities” on which the Brown decision was based. The Doll Experiment had reached to the very heart of what Warren wrote: “Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority which affects the motivation of a child to learn.
We have come a long way from the days when African American and Hispanic parents couldn’t find dolls for their little girls to play with that looked like them. Self image is built in a child from the earliest years. For girls, playing with dolls is part of that process. By the age of three, psychologists tell us that children see themselves as a ‘good me’ or a ‘bad me’. Of course, many ingredients go into this mix in an individual child’s maturation. But, one important ingredient is the identification with positive role models — in dolls as well as in people.

Stories About My Mother, Miriam M. Sloan

When she was a little girl living with her mother, Hannah Marcus, and two sisters, Deborah and Rose in the Lower East Side of New York City, her nick name was Mimi. Her friends and sister Deborah called her Mimi when she grew older as well. Mimi Marcus was a very bright little girl who read “every book in the local library” as she grew up. In those years, the schools would skip a student to a higher grade when they completed the work in a lower grade. Mimi Marcus was skipped many grades along the way and was much younger than her classmates as she grew up. She told a story about a teacher in one of the grades who spied her at her desk in the back of the class when all her work had been completed. She said, “I see you, Mimi Marcus, drawing pictures back there!” Of course, all her work was not only completed but perfect! A medal she received for “Excellence” was given to Miriam Krule who is named for her at her bat mitzvah. It is gold with M. Marcus as the inscription.

When she graduated from 8th grade, she was still a little girl with long ‘banana curls’ while the other girls at 12 and 13 were mature. She moved rapidly through high school and college, studying languages — 8 years of Latin, 7 years of Greek, Hebrew, French, German, Old English and in later years she taught herself stenography and Braille. She graduated from Hunter college before she was 18! She had to receive a special license to teach in New York because she was not yet l8. She taught while she entered Columbia University and earned a Master’s Degree in l921 when most girls were lucky if they graduated from high school.

When my older sister Shirley and I were growing up, our mother would bring home books from the New York City School where she taught as gifts for us on the Jewish Holidays. She would hide them in the bottom of the upstairs hall closet of our home in Haledon, New Jersey. She didn’t know we had discovered her hiding place, but we would take the books out and happily discover their titles before she presented them. Some of the books were “The Golden Treasury” of poems, “Robinson Crusoe” and “Little Women”. Shirley and I did not attend school on the Jewish Holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first two days of Passover and the last two days, Shevuoth and Succoth. We were the only Jewish children in the entire school and always felt very special to be home reading our books on the holidays. We were proud to be Jewish. On the High Holidays we all walked miles to the services. We played games along the way. And counted the stores that were closed because of Jewish owners. When it rained, the family still walked.

Shabbas was a true day of rest in Haledon. Shirley and I spent the day reading and playing outside in the yard where there was a big pear tree to climb, a grape arbor and a badminton court on the back lawn . Our mother was happy to be home for the weekend, since she traveled to New York each weekday to teach in an all boys vocational high school in Harlem. She was known as a firm teacher who cared about her students. She never brought her school work home. Once she was home, she took over as our mother. We were always happiest on the weekends when she was home. During World War II, when there was rationing of shoes, and food, Miriam Sloan would cook the pears from the tree and put up jars for the winter. Samuel Sloan planted a victory garden and taught Shirley and me how to grow vegetables like carrots and beets. In the summer Miriam was home and that was a happy time for her and the entire family. We would take day trips to Cold Spring Lake with picnic lunches and long journeys all the way to Jones Beach in Brooklyn. That would take many hours to reach, but the family went equipped with a suitcase full of kosher food to eat on the beach.

In later years, when she was a grandmother and a widow, Miriam Sloan lived in Ventnor New Jersey near our family. Our three children, Faith, David and Steven saw her often and became very close to her. She had her own apartment and the grandchildren would take turns staying over some nights. She taught them how to bake cookies and played endless games of cards and games they enjoyed. She had a wonderful way of always talking about the other person, child or adult… and what they were doing and what they were interested in. With children, she encouraged them in their school work and their other interests. She often came to dinner and brought her little pot with the kosher chicken dinner since we had stopped keeping kosher in the house. She never complained about her heart condition which made it difficult for her to climb steps.

Miriam Sloan gave a class every year as a volunteer to teach women Braille so they could create books for the blind. They sat at her dining room table and she taught them the difficult work of punching out Braille on stiff oak tag pages. In later years, they bought Braille machines and she taught them how to produce books on the machines. Each page in a book had to be PERFECT to be accepted by the Library of Congress.. She proof read every page of every book her students wrote. She also produced Hebrew Braille and was awarded a certificate from the Jewish Braille Institute. One year, she did the Torah portion for a bar mitzvah boy so that he could go up on the bema and read his portion in Hebrew and English. She taught her Braille classes for seventeen years and received the White Cane Award from the New Jersey Lion’s Club in October, 1973.

I meet some of her former pupils who remember best that my mother always said “Onward!” when life dealt her hard blows. In one six month period of her life, four tragic events happened: Her husband, Samuel Louis Sloan died of a sudden heart attack at 61. Her sister, Deborah Melamed died of cancer at 57. Miriam had a major heart attack at 54 and had to give up her career as a teacher in New York City. After she recovered, she read of a Braille course being given at Ridgewood High School. She took a taxi cab to the school and learned the course was on the third floor. She tossed her coat up the steps one at a time and crawled up to the classroom. After each class, she sat on the steps and bumped her way down. At the end of fifteen weeks, she was certified as a Braille teacher for the Library of Congress in Washington.

Miriam Sloan always felt she had to do something worthwhile every day of her life. She answered Hillel’s famous three questions, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But, if I am only for myself, what am I? And, if not now, when?



2016 Presidential Campaign Running on High!

Trump! Trump! Trump! Since early summer when his jumbo jet emblazoned with TRUMP on the side landed at strategic airports, Donald Trump, billionaire entrepreneur and showman, has captured the rapt attention and fascination of the American public. Some call it entertainment fueled by non-stop media attention. They arrive by the thousands to join in the excitement when he comes to their city. Other more sober observers see him as a blazing comet shooting up into the stratosphere of stardom and adulation. Many skeptics have been waiting for him to reverse the curve and plummet to earth. That has not happened.

During the first two Republican debates he was positioned center stage among ten or eleven presidential candidates, tossing insults and sparring with Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina. A few challenged him and received a temporary boost in the polls. Governors Rick Perry of Texas and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, once touted as the man to beat, ran out of money and withdrew. It appeared that voters were not interested in governors of big states and their accomplishments. John Kasich, of Ohio and Chris Christie of New Jersey are in single digits in the polls. Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and the establishment darling is Donald Trump’s favorite whipping boy . He remains in single digits and has started to cut staff expenses. Only, Dr. Benjamin Carson, the neurosurgeon and other leading outsider has edged up close to Trump in the polls. Admirers dismiss his bizarre comments on Hitler, gun control, Jews ,and the Holocaust as well as comparing Obamacare to slavery. He is soft spoken and has strong Evangelical appeal in Iowa where the first caucuses are the traditional kickoff for both parties.

Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Hillary Clinton started her campaign with a strong statement of policy and a cross country tour to listen to and meet American women and men in small towns and rural settings. The only large rally was on Roosevelt Island in her home state of New York when thousands of excited fans greeted her as she announced her candidacy. She presented her eight years of experience as First Lady and her accomplishments as Senator from New York and Secretary of State for Barack Obama in her quest for the presidency. She is the antithesis of the two favored outsiders in the Republican party. Hillary Clinton has been a headliner in political life for decades and is often referred to as the “Most Admired Woman in America.”

The Democratic campaign also attracted Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who describes himself as a Democratic Socialist. He has a long, impressive record in the U.S. Senate as a lawmaker focused on ending economic inequality and promoting civil rights and other liberal causes. He is a dynamic, fiery speaker and has attracted tens of thousands of enthusiastic young men and women to his rallies in big cities such as Portland, Oregon and Boston, Massachusetts. During the first Democratic debate, he stood on Hillary Clinton’s right. Martin O’Malley former Governor of Maryland was on her left. Two other candidates were Lincoln Chafee of Connecticut and Jim Webb of Virginia. Both had impressive records of government service but have since withdrawn from the race. The verdict of instant polling and every media pundit was that Hillary Clinton won the debate with a very strong performance. Some of the comments: “Clinton commanded the debate!” “Hillary mopped up the stage!”

The second triumph for Hillary Clinton was her appearance before the House Select Benghazi Committee in the Capitol in mid October. The setting was spectacular ; She was seated completely alone at a large circular desk facing the phalanx of Congressional representatives. MSNBC and CNN Cable news ran the entire hearing live, which lasted an historic eleven hours, starting at ten a.m. with only a few breaks. Fox News quit coverage before it was over — perhaps since the marathon session cut into Bill O’Reilly or they saw Clinton coming through clearly as the winner. The chairman, Trey Gowdy, and six hostile Republican colleagues each took turns asking her accusatory questions. They alternated with the five supportive Democrats who attacked the motives of their Republican colleagues. Hillary Clinton never lost her cool, answering each question with calm, specific responses. In her opening statement and that of Representative Elijah Cummings, it was stressed that the Republican House Majority Leader had said publicly that “the Benghazi Committee was formed to bring down her poll numbers.” Oops! After the hearing, Trey Gowdy told reporters that they had learned “nothing” and would continue to call other witnesses. It should be noted that the cost to tax payers so far runs over $4 million!

The Iowa Caucuses, next February may seem far off . And it is a full year from this November when the presidential election will take place. Much can happen in these months to the candidates and their political fortunes. We know from the 2012 campaign, especially in the Republican party, that front runners like Herman Caine who catapulted to fame in the polls or Michelle Bachmann who won the Iowa Straw Poll can disappear from the race. This time, there are two outsiders who are leading the Republican race. Neither has ever run for nor held political office. That’s their calling card. They boast about coming from the outside to “Make America Great Again!” .or “Clean up Washington” We’ll find out in the months ahead if their allure holds as voters decide whether they can imagine a President Trump or a President Carson.leading this nation as Commander in Chief. Ah, there’s the rub! It’s no longer a game when each of us reaches the voting booths in November, 2016.