23 October 2012

The World's Most Womanly Laptop

This summer, a funny little internet phenomenon occurred: the Amazon.com listing for the BIC Cristal "For Her" pen, a pen designed for and marketed to women, gave rise to a slew of satiric comments and reviews praising the pen's ability to meet the "unique writing needs" of women. The sparkly pink pens, designed to fit in "a woman's smaller hands," became a symbol of sexist marketing and a source of endless jokes.

The Cristal pen hilarity was followed, this fall, by a similarly silly set of comments and reviews on the Amazon listing for an Avery Durable 3-ring binder. In the wake of Mitt Romney's now famous debate remark about his "binders full of women," the internet wags reviewed the binders with tongue-in-cheek cheekiness, complaining that the binders did not actually come with women, or that purchasers had difficulty folding themselves or their daughters into the binders.

But the ultimate insult to women was yet to come. On October 19, Fujitsu Limited announced the release of its new "Floral Kiss" brand of personal computers, designed by and intended for the exclusive use of women. Among the features touted in Fujitsu's proud press release are three available colors (Elegant White, Feminine Pink, and Luxury Brown); a top casing equipped with a flip latch that will not break long, lacquered fingernails; pearl- and crystal-adorned buttons and keys; and custom-designed applications that will facilitate such womanly pursuits as diary-writing, digital scrapbooking, and horoscope reading.

An alternative model is offered "in collaboration with the jewelry brand Agate, which is known for its drive to constantly offer stylish new products that reflect the latest trends in women's lifestyles and fashion." The Agate model has a cursive-key font, a unique packaging box, and a lovely little tote bag. It is available in Agate jewelry shops.

I write this blog on a little MacBook that my husband gave me for my birthday last year, shortly after my last laptop died a slow, torturous death. For the same occasion, my friend Derek gave me a gift certificate for an adhesive laptop skin, so my little laptop, I admit, has a pretty, swirly design on its cover. All of its other features, however, are woefully unisex. No pink sparkly buttons for me. The damned thing is all silver, except for the keys, which are a plain old boring - and, now that I think of it, sort of masculine - black.

I had no idea that I needed a female computer. I have been using a personal computer on a daily basis since I was about thirteen years old. The first one I ever used was an Apple II, situated in the computer room of my all-girls' high school. It, too, was designed by and for men, with no thought to the length of its ultimate users' fingernails and, as far as I know, no built-in horoscope software. I and my high-school buddies all lived a pretty privileged life back then, or so we thought; we had no idea how disadvantaged we were at the time, having to use a men's computer for our math homework and our college applications.

I've known for a long time that I am fashion-challenged (as mentioned, I sometimes buy jeans at K-Mart and Kohl's, because those stores carry clothes that fit my circumference), but I really didn't understand the extent to which my lifestyle had been compromised by my lack of womanly computing supplies. For years, I have been drafting all my legal work - motions, briefs, petitions for certiorari - as well as blog posts - on a men's computer. Had my friend Patricia (a gifted artist - here's a shameless plug for her beautiful and clever children's book) not brought the new Fujitsu "Floral Kiss" to my attention, I might never have known that I had other, more suitable options. A mother-of-pearl power switch! A cursive font available at the touch of a button! A cool purse in which to carry my fancy she-machine around! How did I ever survive without such a thing?

As you know by now, women's issues are near and dear to my heart. In this very contentious election season, I have lost at least three Facebook friends because of my "stupid, idiotic, elitist, obsessive" (their words) views about women and their proper place in the world. I clearly need further education on the subject of what is and is not appropriate behavior for women in and out of the home.

Having the right computing equipment should be a good start for me.

P.S. Thank you for supporting me in my CROP Walk on Sunday. The day was gorgeous here in northern New Jersey. My daughter and I walked the course together; we raised over $1000 to fight hunger at home and abroad. Hunger is not a women's issue. It is a human issue. I shall leave the link up on the right for another week or so in case anyone is inspired to make a further donation; in the meantime, please accept my sincerest gratitude. My readers are the best.

06 October 2012

Working at the Food Pantry

I got up at seven this morning - a beautiful, bright October Saturday - and saddled up my scooter for a trip to the food pantry. I work at the food pantry a couple of times a year; I sign up to do it on a sign-up sheet that gets passed around at my church. The pantry is housed in the basement of the Methodist church in Hillsdale, New Jersey, which is across the street from my own little Episcopal church.

The scooter ride from my house to Hillsdale is about a half an hour. I try to stay off the main roads, as my scooter tops out at only about 45 miles an hour, and I don't want to get run over by one of the local maniacs in some kind of crazy hurry. There was mist rising off the reservoir, and yellow leaves swirled around me as I rode. I stopped at 7-11 for a cup of coffee on the way.

When I arrived at the Methodist church, the families in need of food were already lined up at the door, half an hour before the pantry opened. They come early because the selection of food and other items is better before it's been picked over. They come mostly on foot, with big metal carts to help them take home their haul, but there were a few teenagers with bicycles and one woman with a battered old car. The pedestrians are mostly women with young children, and the teenagers are always boys.  I parked my scooter by the curb and said "good morning" to them as I walked past them into the church.

The first thing I did on arrival was sort the donations. All of the food and other pantry items are donated, and they come in big shopping bags or boxes. The other volunteers and I have to check them for expiration dates. Food that's expired has to be thrown out. Food that's still good goes onto the shelves, sorted by type. There's also a shelf for hygiene items (toothpaste, soap, feminine items, deodorant  and shampoo) as well as basic household supplies, like laundry detergent and paper towels.

When everything was sorted and we were ready to go, they let the shoppers in. Each family filled out a form, indicating how many people were in their household and the ages of the children, if any. There was no income or identity check. The shoppers ticked off items on a list of things they might need, and the list was handed to a volunteer worker like me. I took it downstairs.

In the basement pantry, I took a shopping cart and filled it according to the needy family's shopping list. I went up and down the aisles of donated food, tossing cans of tuna, boxes of pasta, rolls of toilet paper, and tubes of toothpaste into the cart. One family had a six-month-old baby; I found some stage-2 baby food and zweiback teething crackers and put them into the cart. One family had a 13-year-old girl and asked for "sanitary napkins, please." I found them behind the toothpaste and tossed them into the cart. The family with twin seven-year-olds got a couple of boxes of Girl Scout cookies tossed into their order, along with the necessities.

When I was done with each order, I bagged it and carried it back upstairs, where the families waited. I gave the completed order form to the volunteer coordinator and handed the groceries to the family. The kids who were big enough to carry bags always helped their moms. People with smaller children hung their bags on the handles of their strollers.  The teenaged boy on the bicycle tied his bags to his handlebars while he strapped on his helmet. I watched them go, and then I took another order and went back downstairs.

As I threw boxes of macaroni and cheese into a shopping cart, I thought about how long those boxes would last in my house (approximately ten minutes). I thought about how hard it is to be a thirteen-year-old girl even if you can afford all the sanitary supplies you need.  For the Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret crowd, buying sanitary supplies is embarrassing enough in itself. Imagine having to ask for them, please, at the food pantry. Imagine not having enough money to buy toilet paper, or telling the kids to go easy on the Cheerios because there won't be more until next month.

Regardless of where you live, where you came from and under what circumstances, what your political leanings are, how well-educated you are, or what your beliefs are, you have to eat. All living human beings have basic needs that must be met somehow, and food pantries take care of a little bit of that. There are people who believe that poor people are lazy and don't deserve handouts; in this day and age, that's a popular philosophy. But I know better. That teenaged boy, up at the crack of dawn, riding his bike to the food pantry to get a month's supply of food for his family - he is the antithesis of lazy. You don't have to be lazy to be hungry.

On October 21, I am participating in a fundraising walk to combat hunger in my neighborhood and around the world.  If you have had a full meal recently, if you bought a cup of coffee at a fancy café, if you refused a doggy bag or pushed the excess food away, if you bought the things your family needed at a grocery store and pocketed the crumpled receipt without looking at it - please consider donating to the cause. You can contribute in any amount by clicking the button on the right sidebar (with the picture of me in my purple shirt). As of this writing, I am nowhere near my fundraising goal, but I know you, my dear readers, can help me get closer.

Thank you. Have a wonderful weekend.

04 October 2012

Rooting for the Predator

My son, who is thirteen but wise beyond his years, asked me a question last night that is better than any blog writing prompt I have seen to date. He asked me, "Do you root for Tom or Jerry?"

"That's easy," I said. "Tom."  And then, after a pause, I added, "Also Wile E. Coyote and Sylvester PuddyTat. For the same reasons." My son agreed without further comment. We understand each other, he and I.

Just in case you're too young to know them, Tom and Jerry were the stars of an eponymous Hanna-Barbera television cartoon series, aired on weekends and after school during my childhood. Tom was a housecat, and Jerry was a mouse. Tom spent every single episode chasing Jerry around, trying to catch him and, presumably, eat him. Each episode is full of hilarity and comic violence (and great sound effects) as Jerry narrowly and ingeniously escapes the claws of the vicious predator. On occasion, the two act as allies against a common enemy (usually the family dog), but most of the time it's just a big cat-and-mouse chase. Often, Tom gets an anvil or a baseball bat to the head for his efforts; as with our friend Wile E. Coyote, the constant injuries smart but are gone by the following frame.

When I was a little girl, I always sighed with relief at the end of each episode, glad that Jerry was safe and would live to appear on my television screen the following Saturday morning. I didn't want to see a cute little mouse get dismembered by a mean cat. As I grew older, though, I realized that Tom wasn't really all that mean. He was just a cat, doing what cats do. His owners might even have adopted him with the understanding that it would be his job to eliminate Jerry. He not only failed, episode after episode, at that pursuit, but he got injured and humiliated in the process. Jerry was smarter and quicker on his feet every single time.

Jerry was a bully.

The little mouse could have just run into his mouse-hole to avoid injury, but he couldn't leave it at that. He had to mortify Tom, pound him over the head, drop a burning iron on his tail, lock him in the freezer, or do something else equally mean to drive his point home. There was no stopping at détente.

Of course, the cartoon would not have been entertaining - hilarious even - if it had not involved the violence, but that's beside the point of my son's question. My son's question was a moral puzzle with huge implications. If we cheer for Jerry, we are endorsing the same type of over-the-top violence that regularly sent Wile E. Coyote over cliffs, dislocated Daffy Duck's bill, and left Tweety Bird simpering disingenuously in his cute little cage while that little old lady handed him treats. That sort of sympathy just isn't right. And our conflicting emotions about the safe little prey animal are part and parcel of the cartoon's conceit. It's logic turned on its head, and that's one of the things that make for great comedy.

Also, great moral discussions at the dinner table. Your thoughts?