Representation matters, especially among our youth. Children with disabilities often feel isolated from their peers due to their perception of being different. Sadly, without mainstream media depictions of such individuals, their abled peers may pay more attention to those differences rather than the strengths such a friend brings.
Now, American Girl seeks to raise awareness and denounce incorrect perceptions by introducing its first disabled “Girl of the Year” doll for 2020. Hopefully seeing this fictional character living her best life will inspire other disabled youth to reach for their dreams. It may also help to eradicate some of the stigma experienced by those who use assistive devices.
Meet Joss Kendrick
Joss Kendrick is a 10-year old surfer girl from Huntington Beach, California. Previous disabled American Girl dolls have featured McKenna, who had a learning disability, and Gabriella, who had a stutter. Joss is the first to win the prestigious girl of the year designation.
If you read Joss’s story, you’ll learn that she was born deaf in her left ear, but has partial hearing in her right with the help of a hearing aid. The hope is that seeing the doll with an assistive device will help overcome stereotypes of the disabled community as being shy or retiring. Quite the opposite, Joss is very active! She loves playing with her two brothers and her pet bulldog—and she doesn’t let any challenges keep her from her beloved sport.
American Girl partnered with the Hearing Loss Association of America in creating Joss’s character and will be donating $25,000 to support the HLAA. The hope is that the real-world depiction Joss will inspire other girls with disabilities to go all-in on their dreams—seeing people just like them goes a long way in this effort.
Why the Disabled Need Representation in the Media
The disabled are among the most marginalized and invisible groups in America, and most dolls take on normative characteristics. They have functioning arms and legs, as well as eyes and ears that presumably see and hear. When you look at a character in mainstream cartoons and television shows, relatively few have visible disabilities. While some cinematic breakthroughs, such as the recent movie Joker, feature characters with emotional challenges, the majority of protagonists don’t encounter any physical impediments outside of external monsters and bad guys.
Even though 15% of the world’s population—over a billion people—live with some form of disability, they are ignored by the media, politicians, and even doctors. Half of the disabled cannot afford needed health care. This issue is a severe problem in the US, as many individuals lack insurance coverage, meaning they can’t get the treatments they need to manage their conditions effectively. Because untreated conditions make it challenging to perform on the job, many members of this population are vulnerable to extreme poverty.
Many young girls already feel somewhat stigmatized by a misogynistic society that establishes different norms for men and women. The addition of physical challenges can make things feel grim. However, when they see characters that resemble them happy and succeeding in life, it will give our youth hope and encouragement that they can do the same.
Thus, increasing accurate media depictions of the disabled community is vital. Books like El Deafo and others that promote diversity and inclusion belong in every classroom and library. Parents can use films like Finding Dory to discuss neurological differences among people and how speech or memory impediments don’t mean that somebody is unintelligent or unworthy of contributing to society when they are just as brilliant as anyone else.
Writers and producers play a role as well. They can talk to members of the disabled community when designing stories and shows that depict their plight. Only when we openly and honestly discuss the unique challenges facing this population can we make strides in bringing about more meaningful inclusion. Media producers need to show the struggles these individuals face in a realistic and authentic light, while at the same time offering hope that people can and do succeed despite overwhelming odds.
Until society makes these strides, such as American Girl in their celebration of Joss, disabled students will continue to face bullying at two to three times the rate of their abled peers. They’ll have an increased risk of suicide, both from their struggles with their condition and the subsequent poverty that often results. Can a doll fix all these problems? No, but Joss can do a significant amount to make young, deaf girls feel less alone and their friends more apt to include them in activities.
Recognizing the Contributions of the Disabled Community
The disabled contribute a lot to society despite the unique challenges that they face, serving as beacons of hope that the human spirit can overcome any odds. It’s well past time that the media started recognizing their triumphs with more depictions like American Girl’s Joss Kendrick!
Kate Harveston is a young writer from Williamsport, Pennsylvania. She enjoys topics related to culture, feminism, and women’s health, and how those elements intersect and act upon each other. If you like her writing, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her blog, So Well, So Woman.
Today is February 14, and you know what that means: GeekGirlCon ’20 is only 260 days away!
It’s also Valentine’s Day, a super fun holiday with no negative connotations whatsoever for anyone whose life isn’t playing out like a romantic comedy—or for anyone whose life is playing out like a romantic comedy, but who hasn’t yet made it to the happily-ever-after part.
Of all the amazing panels offered at GGC 2019, I was most looking forward to Knotty Geeks: Fiber Arts and Fandom. Crafting is having a bit of a renaissance in the geek world, and I am all here for it! I am an avid geek crafter, and I really wanted to see what other crafty geeks have been up to while possibly getting some new inspiration for myself. I waited patiently (not really) for 4 p.m. to roll around on Sunday and I headed down to the room with high expectations. I was not disappointed!
First off, the room was pretty full, which was encouraging to see for a late Sunday panel. As I looked around the room, I saw folks of many different ages waiting patiently for the panel to begin. Some of them were even working on knitted projects as they waited. I was actually a bit jealous, since I hadn’t brought any current projects of my own.
The panelist really didn’t waste any time once things got started. She kicked off the panel with one of the biggest and most important issues facing people who like to craft with ideas derived from pop culture—copyright infringement of trademark and licensed properties. Basically, what it boils down to is don’t sell this stuff. You can make patterns for things, knit a sweater depicting your favorite anime character, and even give them away as amazing one of a kind gifts, but the key is not to exchange money for said goods. It is really the safest practice. Now, you can absolutely jump through the hoops to create patterns in collaboration with license holders, but it is a lengthy and difficult process. Many times, it is simply easier to find licensed patterns that already exist and purchase those.
Another aspect of this issue that was mentioned is something known as “The 30% Rule.” This rule states that if a product that derives its design from another idea is not infringing on copyrights if the new product differs from the original by at least 30%. This can be tricky though, as it is largely subjective. Personally, I find it much easier to just find a fun pattern online and run with it.
When the necessary legal stuff was out of the way, we got to see some really fun and cool examples of fiber arts in the geek world. We were treated to a brief history of knitting, crocheting, and cross stitch, and were shown some cool and fun work that other geeks are doing out in the world. We had a discussion about how much math is involved in the art and the panelist showed us how some people are crocheting hyperbolic planes. She also passed around pieces that we could feel and look at in-depth, which was really fun. You could just feel the air in the panel room change with different levels of interest and awe with every project that was passed around.
The last portion of the panel was dedicated to a show and tell, and the attendees really delivered! It was wonderful to see geeks of many ages and skill levels get up in front of the room to show off work that they were so proud of, and to be supported by a community of like-minded people. The one I remember most was someone who showed their double-knitted Star Wars scarf that was readable from both sides! It was one of the most fantastic pieces I have ever seen! Even after the panel ended, there were groups of people in the room who stayed to talk about their crafts. Information was exchanged and connections were made. To me, this is what GeekGirlCon is all about—connecting you to your people. I was so, so glad that I attended this panel, especially since it has special significance to me.
I have been a crafter all my life. As an adult, I have taught myself how to knit and crochet. My mom taught me how to sew when I was very young, and it has proven to be a valuable skill. When I was 10-years-old, my father taught me how to cross-stitch. Yeah, my macho dad who worked in construction taught me how to cross-stitch because I was in love with the stitched Christmas ornaments he had made before I was born. No matter what goes on between my dad and me, I will always be grateful to him for giving me this gift.
Like many people, I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a very long time. And, also like many people, I was mis-diagnosed as a teen and didn’t receive the proper treatment for my mental illness. When things got hectic or hard, or when there would be too many thoughts running through my head, I would use cross-stitch as a type of therapy. It was something I could do that would calm my spirit and order my mind. I spent so many hours sitting in a really comfortable (and ugly) pink recliner, watching movies, and just having a great time creating beautiful things. Even now, over twenty years later, it is my favorite hobby.
There is also a timely and important issue that this panel brought up that I feel very strongly about, which is the gendering of crafting. We tend to think of knitting, crocheting, and other fiber-based arts as being a purely feminine pursuit, but that just isn’t true. I learned from this panel that, historically speaking, fiber arts have been practiced by people of all genders. If you think about it, it makes sense. I mean, everyone probably needed to have some kind of sewing and knitting skills just to keep their clothes in decent shape before they were mass manufactured. It wasn’t until fairly recently in human history that these skills were branded as being “womanly” and were relegated to the lowly position of being a housewifely, old lady hobby. I was taught to cross-stitch by a man. My boyfriend and I like to spend quiet nights crocheting together. Young people can make amazing things. Fiber arts are for everyone. Period.
I also love the idea of crafting for a cause. Sometimes you have an important message to get out there, or sometimes you get the itch to knit something, but you already have a million hats and aren’t sure what to do. Margaret and Christine Wertheim created a crocheted coral reef that has traveled to museums around the world to bring attention to the plight of coral in the Great Barrier Reef. My boyfriend and I have been knitting marsupial pouches to send to Australia to care for animals orphaned by the devastating wildfires. Premature babies, cancer patients, shelter animals… there is no end to the possible good that crafters can do, and have done, in this world. I am proud to be a part of a community that cares.
It doesn’t even have to be about knitting or crocheting. I want to take the opportunity to open this up. Sewing, quilting, sculpting, jewelry making, weaving, and any type of crafty outlet belongs here. In fact, I want to see what you have made! Share your projects! Stand up and be proud of the things that you have made! Inspire and be inspired by others! There is a place for you here.
Want to find some more inspiration and fun patterns online? Try heading over to ravelry.com to find another great community of knitters and crocheters. Want to learn? YouTube has so many great tutorials available for any skill level. Or you could do what I did and pick up a copy of Knitting for Dummies. There are a ton of resources out there for eager students. Don’t be afraid to try things. You may make something amazing!
I can’t wait to see if this panel will be back at GGC 2020!
This year, we’re partnering with the Paramount Hotel to offer group-rate rooms literally on the SAME BLOCK as the Conference Center. (Shout out to our excellent Operations team for making this magic happen!)
$175 per night
Available Friday, October 30 through Tuesday, November 3
This rate will expire, so wrangle your con-going companions and book now!
Have an idea for an awesome panel or interactive workshop that you’ve been mulling over? Want to share your knowledge and enthusiasm with fellow con-goers? Have a game that you would like to demo on the gaming floor?
Panel Submissions Each year, our panels are wide-ranging, diverse, compelling, and unique. Have a topic you’d like to discuss? A perspective you just HAVE to share? We want to hear from you!
Panelist and/or Moderator Application Apply to be considered as a panelist or moderator on any panels that need additional participants! Our team will work to match you with a panel that fits your interests.
Performance & Event Submissions From musical performances to variety shows, game shows to DJ sets, we can’t wait to receive your submissions for performances and events.
Workshop Submissions Workshops are some of the most interactive and educational elements of GeekGirlCon – and some of the most fun! Submit your idea for a hands-on presentation, class, or tutorial and share your know-how with all of us!
Tabletop Game Host Applications Have you created (or are you in the process of creating) a game, either independently or with a studio? Submit your proposal to demo it on our gaming floor
Psst! When submitting your programming proposal, be sure that it is:
Mission-aligned Be sure to check out our mission and values before you submit to make sure that your programming submission aligns with our vision – to celebrate and honor the legacies of under-represented groups in science, technology, comics, arts, literature, game play, and game design. We do this by connecting geeks worldwide and creating an intersectional community that fosters the continued growth of women in geek culture. We’re looking for programming ideas that help us provide a safe space to spark conversations around social justice while encouraging unabashed geekiness.
Timely We love to receive submissions that are relevant to what is happening today and that discuss timely issues in interesting new ways.
Relevant When submitting your ideas, be sure to keep your audience in mind. What would GeekGirlCon attendees be interested in and excited about?
If you have any questions about submitting your programming idea, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our GeekGirlCon team is busy creating our best convention yet, and we can’t wait for you to be part of it. Happy panel submission season!
The time has come—are you ready for some exciting news?
The title probably gave it away, but mark your calendars and get ready to join us October 31 and November 1 for GeekGirlCon’s 10th Anniversary.
We’re in the thick of starting our early preparations for 2020, but stay tuned because the ’20 convention is bound to make some waves. We couldn’t have made it this far without the constant and immeasurable support of our community, and we’re absolutely thrilled to celebrate this milestone with all of you.
This year, we’ve been asking you to share your world with the GeekGirlCon community. There’s a lot of different ways you can share through social media, but it’s usually confined to 280 characters or a picture. What if you wanted to share something longer than a tweet? Perhaps you wanted to share with a bunch of self-professed geeks? If so, you should consider writing a guest blog post for the GeekGirlCon blog!
Con season is about to kick off here in the Pacific Northwest, and we couldn’t be more excited! We at GeekGirlCon love nothing more than to get out and support other local Cons, and we want to invite you to come hang out with us at the second annual NerdFaire.
What is NerdFaire, you ask? Well, it is a mini convention in Lynnwood that celebrates all things nerdy and geeky! They love to showcase local shops and businesses and they hope to build an inclusive space for everyone (yes, EVERYONE) in geekdom. Here are the hard details:
When: February 1, 2020 from 10 am to 8 pm
Where: Lynnwood Convention Center, 3711 196th Street Southwest , Lynnwood, WA 98036
What: The con will feature a cosplay contest, panels, a showfloor where you can purchase handmade goods (and also a GGC table where you can chat with us about this years GGC), and more
Tickets: $5-$25, kids under 12 free. See the options and find more info here
As a writer and aspiring author, one of my favorite parts of GGC19 was hearing from some of the biggest new voices in publishing during the “Rising Stars” panel.
Each author had so many great things to say about their personal and professional experiences that I had a hard time cutting down my notes from the panel, so please enjoy this overly lengthy recap before checking out the authors’ books for yourself!
You’ve undoubtedly seen a storyline similar to this one on TV: A woman becomes obsessed with so-and-so. Have you ever paused to wonder how this trope plays into the inaccurate depiction of those with mental illnesses?
Although many celebrities have come forward about their battles with mental illness, depictions of characters with these disorders in movies and TV have little to do with reality. Instead, those with such disorders, particularly women, are still portrayed as emotionless and evil. This stereotype does a grave disservice to everyone in entertainment as well as to mental health awareness.
Mental Illness and Women
Researchers often claim that women experience mental illness at higher rates than men. However, this figure is convoluted by the fact that they also receive treatment for these disorders more often than men. For example, while more women attempt suicide, more men die from it.
Suffice it to say that all genders experience mental illness. However, you can’t ignore the way society interprets these conditions differently based on gender. For example, picture somebody with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you’re like many, you may envision a male soldier coming home from war. This stereotype is valid in some cases, but not all by any means. Studies actually show that physical and sexual trauma followed by PTSD occurs more often in women than in men.
This statistic should shock no one in a world where 90% of all adult rape victims are women. Repeated sexual and physical trauma often results in mental illness, not murderous rampages. Consider how few sexual assault survivors receive justice in our courts. The records of rapists getting away with their actions should spur an epidemic of revenge slaughter if women were inclined to turn their trauma outward. The majority of the time, however, they suffer in silence.
Depictions of Mentally Ill Women in Film
If you flip to channels like Lifetime, you’ll see countless representations of women with mental illness losing their collective minds, stalking and killing with impunity. We’ve all heard of the “crazy ex-girlfriend” trope. In fact, the Lifetime channel dedicates Wednesdays to Women on the Edge. On the edge of what?
Most of the time, the violent women depicted in these types of films don’t have a definitive diagnosis. Consider the classic Fatal Attraction. We know that Glenn Close’s character boils a bunny, but the movie never tells us what disorder compelled her to commit such a heinous act. It’s as if mental illness all fits into one neat category—it doesn’t matter if you have PTSD or a schizotypal disorder or anxiety. If you’re a woman and you have a mental illness, you’re simply nuts.
Contrast this treatment to the way films depict men with mental illness. Has anyone watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest without cheering for Nicholson’s character? Directors often portray men with mental illness as loveable-yet-misunderstood rogues. Such movies focus on their redeeming qualities, a man-versus-society theme. Conversely, when a woman character has a mental illness, she’s the problem—not the culture she’s grown up in.
Changing the Dialogue Around Mental Illness and Women
To truly embrace the reality of mental illness, filmmakers need to quit using it as a convenient plot device. Mental illness doesn’t explain why women, or anyone for that matter, commit heinous acts. Such actions stem from a multitude of factors. Making the simplistic correlation between violence and mental illness leads to a continued problematic stigma about mentally ill individuals. Mental illness can be a contributor to violence in a person, but it’s not the sole factor. A convenient explanation for an unpleasant phenomenon doesn’t make it accurate.
Instead, movies should show the real way mental illness affects women. They should present how they tend to isolate themselves from those they love and withdraw into despair. Films should show—and address—the overwhelming loathing of self, not hatred of others, that often exists as a hallmark way in which disorders manifest among women
Representation matters, and the images that people see in the media form part of our collective consciousness. By depicting the reality of mental illness for women in film, we can hopefully open up a better dialogue about mental health. Ideally, this new dialogue may even inspire people to seek help if they need it, instead of feeling like they have to hide their problems from the world, lest they be labeled and stereotyped.