by Pat Holt
Tuesday, July 2, 2002
'DADS AND DAUGHTERS' CHANGING THE WORLD
'DADS AND DAUGHTERS' CHANGING THE WORLD
If you think it's impossible to stop giant corporations from running any old advertisement they want, meet Joe Kelly, executive director of a nonprofit organization called Dads and Daughters (DAD).
Joe is author of the inventive and wonderful "Dads and Daughters" (Broadway; 336 pages; $23), a book that shows how powerful fathers can be as primary male role model for growing daughters (see "Daddy, do I look fat?" below) and as advocates for their daughters in the public forum.
For example: How does a group of fathers get corporations to listen, let alone change company policy? Well, for starters, says Kelly, the dads can take advantage of the fact that most corporations are headed by men who are fathers themselves.
Take the time DAD sent a protest letter to Campbell's Soup about a TV commercial that was running on after-school programs like "The Rosie O'Donnell Show."
In this ad, 11- and 12-year-old girls are shown worrying about their weight and going on diets until boys who are making soup tell them that "lots of Campbell's soups are low in calories!"
Now the girls are suddenly hungry for the soup while the announcer says to viewers that "because over 30 savory Campbell's soups have under 100 calories or 3 grams of fat or less per serving," girls like these "can feel full on fewer delicious calories!"
Dads And Daughters went on record to say the commercial was harmful. "You can't fool Mother Nature," Joe Kelly said. "Puberty is the time when nature adds body fat to females so they can bear children and lactate... Marketing diet aids to a prepubescent is insane." Two days later, vice president John Faulkner wrote back, admitting the company hadn't realized "the danger of the message" until DAD had written the letter. Campbell's pulled the ad.
In the book, Kelly refers to this kind of protest as his "Dear Mr. CEO" approach. "If I (as a father) ask a CEO (as a father) to put his daughter's or granddaughter's face into the picture of what he's selling and how he's selling it, my question might carry special legitimacy with him."
It certainly did when members of DAD were astounded at the message of an advertisement in Teen People magazine placed by Sun-In, a hair-bleaching product. The ad read: "Four of five girls you hate ask for it by name. Stop hating them. Start *being* them with Sun-In, the original."
Exploiting teen envy, even teen hatred, to sell a product really riled the people at DAD. In his "Dear CEO" letter, Joe Kelly wrote, "Do you want your children to hate others? If they did have that corrosive feeling, would you encourage then to start *being* the people they hate?" DAD then asked Sun-In to stop the ad.
"At first we got a letter back from a mid-level manager," Joe recalled in a recent interview, "basically saying, 'We focus-grouped this ad with teenage girls, and they had no objection. In other words, we're blowing you off.'
"Then a week later, a personal note arrived from the CEO saying he had been on vacation and read our letter when he got back. The first thing he did was sit down with his managers and tell them the ad wasn't working."
In his 20 years at Chattem, the CEO acknowledged, he had never received this kind of protest. "We certainly always intend to market our products with good taste and sensitivity," he wrote to Kelly. "Unfortunately it is apparent that this ad has been misunderstood, for which we take full responsibility."
He ended the letter to say that Chattem was pulling the Sun-In ad. It never ran again.
As he tells CEOs, Kelly believes one way fathers can change the the world (and their own world view) is to "put your daughter's face" in everything you see - in this ad about 11-year-old girls on diets, in this photo of a reed-thin supermodel, in this actress who's been reconstructed by plastic surgery, in this sexually "objectifying" product (ranging from Hustler to Lara Croft video games) aimed at boys and men.
Then see how you feel about raising a daughter *without* wanting to change the world she lives in, says Kelly.
Dads and Daughters was founded when Michael Kieschnick heard his 9-year-old daughter ask him, "Daddy, do you think I look fat?" This kind of question had never been uttered by Kieschnick's wife (a minister), nor had he talked about women in terms of their body image.
"Michael gained three key lessons from his daughter's question that now fuel DADs' mission," Kelly writes.
First, "it's significant that his daughter asked that question of her father, rather than her mother."
Second, it's not enough to raise your children at home with the values you want them to learn. "The outside world influences them, and so we need to influence it."
Third, "In today's world, body image is a central issue for girls and women."
That's a lot to tackle for one organization, which itself appeals to members one father at a time. "But how can we *not* try to tackle it?" asks Kelly.
"Let's say I discover that my daughter has grown sick from swimming in a polluted stream. You know I'm going to rush her to the doctor, maybe even the Mayo Clinic, but that's not enough. I'm also going to complain to everybody from the City Council to the Environmental Protection Agency so clean up that water. If I don't, what kind of father am I?"
I first discovered Joe's group in May of 2000 when DAD went after Simon & Schuster's Interactive Division to stop production of "Panty Raider" (see HU #149). In this video game, players get to save the Earth by stripping supermodels down to their bras and panties and sending photos of the models to "testosterone-driven aliens."
The game keeps the arousal factor high with its instructions. "Keep in mind if you waste too much time undressing a supermodel, BOOM! Earth will be destroyed ... Can you control yourself?"
To help players draw the reluctant supermodels out in the open, "lures" are provided - X-ray glasses, pick-up lines, "goop" that disrobes women, "tiny mints (lunch!) and credit cards."
This kind of approach, DAD's letter to Simon & Schuster said, "reinforce(s) dangerously unhealthy behaviors and negative stereotypes for both boys and girls."
Further, when girls and women "are treated entirely as objects whose purpose is to titillate and be manipulated by the male characters," Joe wrote, all other standards are dropped as well. Look at the joke about "tiny mints" as the supermodels' lunch. This is a reference to widespread anorexia. How can it be considered funny?
"Folks, anorexia KILLS people," Kelly wrote. "[It] holds painfully long years of recovery for those girls and women who do survive. It's no more suited for joking than cancer. And then there is the stereotype that the ideal girls are obsessed with shopping and appearance. We have daughters and we know better."
You can see why I was taken by this guy and his organization. Instead of using the method by some overactive columnists of pounding the table with baseball bats, DAD uses a folksy, we're-all-in-this-together approach that's both sympathetic and tough-minded.
When Joe wrote to Campbell's Soup, "There is not a single thing 'M'm! M'm Good!" about encouraging 11- and 12-year-olds to diet," he proved himself both ally and constructive critic of the company, which responded in kind.
I found deputy director Heather Henderson as principled and welcoming as Joe Kelly - and invaluable as she put me in touch with contacts and experts and updated emails on new protests and companies' responses.
I didn't know it at the time, but Heather was fighting an 11-year battle with anorexia herself. Her health was not good, and she sometimes did not come into the office, but when she returned calls, her professionalism and encouragement gave DAD the kind of family-run atmosphere that made callers feel at home.
Despite considerable media attention, Simon & Schuster's Interactive department never responded to the DAD's letter (or to those from other organizations, apparently), nor did S&S provide spokespersons to appear with Joe when he was asked to discuss the matter with the press. The message was that "Panty Raider" was a satire, and that boys who played the game were mature.
[NOTE TO S&S INTERACTIVE: Do you know your own website page for "Panty Raider" introduces readers to over 100 sites of pornography? Take a look at this website .
There you'll find the "Panty Raider" listing; scroll down about two-thirds of the page, just below "Totally Cool Tools," and you'll find
http://www.pantyraider.com - it's not a link so you'll have to copy and paste it into your browser, then hit "return."
And there you'll find "TOP SITES FOR PORN," an honest-to-heck list of "heaps of porn-pay sites," "the biggests baddest porn on the web," "the only 'TRUE XXX' sex site online today," "Live cams, teen sex, lesbians, amateurs, orgies," "Live Sexy Teen Babes," "barely legal babes," "the naughtiest, hottest young sluts to please you in every way," "the dirtiest hardcore," and oy, the things they promise in the barnyard! I had to stop at #103, "Amazing Gangbangs."
Perhaps somebody sneaked this URL onto the S&S Interactive page for "Panty Raider" as a joke, but it does say www.pantyraider and it does mirror the message of the "Panty Raider" video game: Making women into sexual objects is fine and dandy. It might be one last reason to GET RID OF THE "PANTY RAIDER" VIDEO GAME AFTER ALL. Just a suggestion.]
Joe doesn't feel the group "fails" if it can't get any response from a company like S&S, however. "In terms of getting the outcome we want from corporations,DAD is batting around .300," he says - not a terrific success rate unless you're looking at the big picture. Constant visibility by Dads and Daughters as an advocacy group leading consumer protests "sets an example for our kids with our willingness to speak up and put ourselves out there."
Joe is perhaps the most "out there" father of the bunch. A former journalist with Minnesota Public Radio, he left the job to work with his wife, Nancy Gruver, and their twin daughters on the launching of New Moon, a magazine that's written, edited and read almost entirely by girls.
"As a staff member I learned to do the work my kids couldn't do because they were in school, and my wife couldn't because she had a 'real' [paying] job. So the girls who were editors would tell me to call various writers for revisions, or I'd follow the art director's instructions on page design, or I'd do the legwork at the copying center, or update the subscription list and so forth."
Today there are 25,000 paid subscribers to New Moon, plus several thousand more sales from newsstands. Joe left New Moon not only to co-found DAD, he also edits Daughters, a magazine for parents of girls with no-nonsense information about "Girl Athletes and Eating Disorders," "The Dangers of Dating Violence," "Strategies for Eating Disorders" and other formerly taboo subjects.
"There are two big surprises in this work," he says today. "First is the way conservatives relate to what we call 'conscious fathering.' Look at the Promise Keepers, a conservative Christian men's group, for example. I think 90% of what they're doing is right on the money. They're building an intentional community among fathers. When they say things like 'I hold myself and my brother accountable,' they mean they're giving support to dads who do it right and drawing attention to dads who do it wrong (sexual abuse, racism and the like).
"Granted, I part ways with groups like Promise Keepers on the other 10% of what they do - keeping the wife and daughters at home and obedient to men, for example - but when it comes to learning how to respect and listen to your daughters, they're meeting and figuring out new ways to be better fathers.
"The other surprise has come from fathers I call 'live-away dads,' meaning divorced or noncustodial dads. Like many people I used to think of divorced dads as men who've failed in marriage and fatherhood, and it's true that most live-away dads find themselves unable to spend as much time with their kids as they'd like.
"But there are also fathers who see time running out as their daughters grow up and are determined to learn to 'parent on purpose' - things like how to schedule your time to fit with your daughters', how to sacrifice demands like work (or being a workaholic) and private time, how to grab fleeting opportunities, how to work creatively on communication.
"Hell, these are things we ALL should be doing. It's why I now think of divorced dads not as failures but as pioneers. They're showing us how dads can get involved and stay involved with their kids' lives. I say to fathers, 'if you want to do this job better, find a successful life-away dad and follow his example."
The quotes from fathers in Joe's book offer a wealth of ideas and emotions that are hard to find elsewhere. Here's a dad who pays the bills every week with his pre-teen daughter's help. She fills in the checks and he signs them while they talk about how companies compute charges. At one point she stumps him when she asks: Since water pipes are round, how does the utility company measure water in cubic feet? Finding the answer gives them a chance to learn about how the world works.
In another chapter, Joe talks about the way girls who once loved hugging and wrestling with their father start to pull away as they approach puberty. A dad may feel hurt when this happens, Joe acknowledges, but if he tries not to take it personally, he'll see how much his daughter trusts him to be there when she needs him.
Good advice, but the dad who opens our eyes is the one who takes his kids to the local swimming pool, where they get into playing "goofy water games" and everybody crawls all over him or hangs on to him or stands on his shoulders, and he gets to be as physically playful with his half-grown-up kids today as he used to when they were little.
And here's a dad whose daughter asks, "What does intercourse feel like?" Holy cow, he gives the most amazing answer, as does the father whose daughter asks him, "Dad, tell me about the first time you ever kissed a girl."
One of the most engrossing stories (to me) is the one told by a Caucasian father who might have fit into Joe's definition of a "Shotgun Dad" ("You Can't Start Dating Until You're 35") as he watches his teenage daughter date a Filipino hip-hop dancer who's becoming famous:
"[The boy] traveled with bodyguards and the whole nine yards. The bodyguards were big, bad and mean except when they were in my house in the suburbs, and they came over a lot. It was hard to allow them in. There was an underlying fear. But it soon faded. Around here they were just good kids with kid thoughts and ideas. They relaxed and they told me they felt comfortable at my house. It was a great lesson for me. It took me three years to find the real boy in there. I actually found myself caring for her boyfriend a lot, and I believe I taught him a thing or two. He had no father to lean on. So here it is seven years later and their relationship is over. No kids from it, nothing but an empty spot. I miss him."
One learns from Joe Kelly's experience, which he pours into this book, that fathers - and father figures - can encourage their daughters and other girls to pull out the best in themselves; the next step is to support these young women even when the best is not enough.
In September of 2000, only a few months after the "Panty Raider" protest, Dads and Daughters sent out a release that deputy director Heather Henderson had died of a heart attack in her apartment. In our interview, Joe Kelly told me that he had discovered her body when she didn't come to work. The cause was her decade-long battle with anorexia. She was 27.
By now the reputation and the power of Dads and Daughter has grown mightily, "perhaps in part because of the memory of Heather," says Joe. "She was a very brave, very productive colleague."
How proud she would have been of the DADs mobilization against an Asko Appliance advertisement in April of this year. Asko, a Swedish manufacturer, described its energy-efficient kitchen appliances with this headline: "Like most Swedish supermodels, they consume next to nothing."
DAD hit the roof. "What do women starving themselves to fit an unattainable body image have to do with selling appliances?" Joe Kelly asked. On April 23, Asko announced, "We certainly understand that eating disorders affect millions of Americans, and it was not our intention to add to that problem."
Thanks to the protest by Dads and Daughters, Asko stated, "The offending ad will not run again."
Heather Henderson had been one of those 8 million people struggling with eating disorders. The way the fathers at DAD look at it, says Kelly, the next step lies in advocating for the 7,999,999 others.
WHAT DOES THE FBI *DO*?
Special agents in Washington may not be able to conduct a two-word search on their antiquated computers, but they've learned how to use photoshop software to save us all from terrorists in disguise.
You can see this work in action by clicking to the official FBI website page on suspected terrorists at http://www.fbi.gov/terrorinfo/terseekinfo.htm, then scroll past the first 8 photos.
There on the left side of the page, we find mug shots of bad guys like Ramzi Binalshibh, Khalid Ibn Muhammad Al-Juhani and Muhammad Sa'id Ali Hasan. Photographed in their home countries, they appear in traditional headress, long hair and full beard.
On the other side of the page, the same mug shots appear, but gone are the beards and hair; removed are the tell-tale headresses. With a start, we realize: Why, I never would have seen their "real" faces if somebody hadn't shorn them of their terrorist looks! What a contribution!
We don't know if the page will catch all the terrorists, but one thing is clear: When it comes to learning photoshop, the FBI is on its way.
NOTE TO READERS:
'Tis the time for loading the buses and tuning up the staff band for our annual Fourth of July picnic and parade. We've rented all of Yosemite this year for the three-legged race. Have a great holiday, and we'll see you next week.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
[Re your article on the removal of "sensitive" words from literary excerpts in statewide tests for middle and high school students, your readers may be interested in this recent news story from the Associated Press in London.]
LONDON (AP) - A British theater company has changed the name of its adaptation of the classic novel, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," so it won't offend people with the disability.
Oddsocks Productions swapped "hunchback" for "bellringer" because it did not want to upset people with scoliosis, producer Elli Mackenzie said Friday. The condition causes the spine to curve and, in extreme cases, the development of a hunchback.
"We did not want to reinforce any stereotypes about Quasimodo's disability," said Mackenzie. The name change - to "The Bellringer of Notre Dame" - has been applauded by London's Scoliosis Association.
"I welcome it because in the past the title has caused some problems with our members in that people use it as derogatory term - throwing names and making comments at the possible similarities,' said Scoliosis Association spokesperson Libby Biberian, who has scoliosis.
"It's a very delicate thing. People have been rude and hurtful," she said. Mackenzie said the title of her production was changed after she spoke with a disability adviser. Quasimodo, the lead character in Victor Hugo's novel, originally published in French under the title "Notre Dame de Paris," has a hunchback and is deaf. He rings the bells of the famous Parisian cathedral.
"This is still very much a play about what is beautiful on the outside and the characters are still not terribly nice to the Quasimodo character - who is played by an able bodied actor," said Mackenzie.
Mackenzie said the company did not use the French title, which was used by a West End production last year, because it was not thought well enough known to attract audiences. "We felt it was more descriptive to call it the bellringer of Notre Dame because it would ring bells in people's minds," said Mackenzie.
She said Quasimodo will appear very much as he is described in Victor Hugo's novel, including his hunchback. The novel was first published in French in 1831, and was later translated into English. In 1923, it was made into a film starring Lon Chaney in the lead role, and a Disney animated feature film in 1996.
Holt responds: Let me get this straight - you don't want to use the word "hunchback" in the title because of the stigma. But you don't want to use the original title because it lacks the fame. So you use "bellringer" because you know people will think "hunchback." Good idea.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
What you say about "the only good news" in the FBI/Library fiasco seems to me an encouraging omen of more accountability and honesty in government (and corporations), and a more committed citizenry. Not only that the Patriot Act is being questioned, as well it should, but because it happened so quickly and has been taken seriously so soon.
McCarthyism held sway for a decade before reason prevailed. Previous corrupt government practices were successfully swept under the rug, undiscovered and unchanged for years, often not until the corruptors were long gone or even dead. The quick response to the constitutional violations of the "Patriot" Act (I use the quotations here the way Michael Moore does for "President" Bush) gives us an opportunity to stop them before the corruption insinuates itself too deeply into "the way it is."
And the faster we expose these distortions, the faster we can create what we'd rather have. As more of us refuse to be conned by psuedo-moralistic greedheads, the process of restoring the true spirit of America (and our best selves) gains momentum. We owe a deep gratitude to people at the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, our valiant local librarians, booksellers, and the brave majority of the House Judiciary Committee. They are real patriots.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
One day after last September 11, I took a good look at the Pledge of Allegiance that we were all muttering like the verses of a rosary, as though it would somehow save our souls, and was appalled at what it really said. Why pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth, no matter how symbolic? And the "under God" part has bothered me since they stuck it in, back when I was in grade school.
I don't mind a little reminder, even one said every morning, of the fact that we are Americans. But shouldn't it say something more to the point of what we mean, what our country really stands for? How about, "I pledge allegiance to the United States of America, one nation, indivisible, with the goal of liberty and justice for all"?
Hey, THAT's who and what we are. The pledge needs a good editor, one with permission to approach it with the open mind for which we ostensibly stand.
Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.
"Holt Uncensored" is an online column by Pat Holt
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