In a world filled with Barbie's and American Girl Dolls, there is a clear picture that is engrained in every young girl's mind of what they are 'supposed' to aspire to look like. The damage that could come with these impossible societal standards is infinite.
Even when diverse dolls and figures come out, they are not often on the forefront of displays at Toys R Us, Target or any other kid stores. The literal white space and lack of inclusion in children's media is glaringly obvious the moment one walks down a toy aisle or looks at the covers of children's series' in bookstores.
Representation is so important in this ever-changing society and gone are the days where one-dimensional are all girls have to look up to. Ylleya Fields knows this well. As a mother of four girls and two boys, Fields sees first hand the lack of representation of black figures in television, books, toys, and media. That is why she set out to make a change and took it into her own hands to give her daughters the role-model they deserve by writing a series of books called "Princess Cupcake Jones". The protagonist is based on her girls' so a lot of the traits and scenarios have real-life inspiration. The books all have messages and lessons for young girls, and the illustrations each contain the word 'love' hidden inside to show Cupcake Jones fans how loved they are. SWAAY sat down with Fields and got all the details on what's to come for the future of her books.
Photo Courtesy of Princess Cupcake Jones
1. What was the inspiration for "Princess Cupcake Jones"?
The inspiration for the "Princess Cupcake Jones" series is my daughters. Every story is based on something they've done or a feeling they've had. Luckily, I have four daughters, so there's plenty of material to work it.
2. Why is it so important for kids to have characters that represent them?
Representation is important because it helps kids define who they are and even more important who they want to be. When they see strong images of people that they can identify with (through race, gender, etc) they are getting affirmation that they can be and do anything they want.
3. What is the most challenging part of writing children's stories?
I think the challenge of writing any story is making sure that the plot is engaging to your audience from start to finish. Children stories arent as long as novels so you have to get your storyline across pretty quickly. And of course when you write in rhyme that can be even more tricky.
4. Why is the word 'love' hidden in every illustration?
Love is actually my eldest daughters' middle name. So it was my way of acknowledging her yet again in the series. But I think the word LOVE is so powerful and meaningful to people that by finding it with their children it keeps what is most important at the forefront of our readers' minds.
Ylleya Fields. Photo Courtesy of Princess Cupcake Jones
5. You've won a few awards for Princess Cupcake Jones, including the 2013 Mom's Choice Award and 2013 Winner of the Family Choice Awards. What does it feel like to be recognized for your work?
It feels amazing! I never set out to win awards but the fact that our series has been recognized as a great body of work is so fulfilling!
6. What do you think kids will learn from reading your books?
That depends on the book! Each book has an underlying message or value that children reading can apply to their everyday lives. In “Princess Cupcake Jones and the Missing Tutu", children learn that by cleaning up and staying organized, they can find things that are important to them easier. In “Princess Cupcake Jones and the Dance Recital", children learn that practice makes perfect, and doing your best is all that really matters.
Photo Courtesy of Airplanes and Dragonflies
7. Why do you think the number of African American characters is so limited in children's books?
I've touched on this before but the answer remains the same. It comes down to the fact that there are publishers that don't believe that books that feature African American characters sell or worse; doubt that there is even a market for them. Clearly, they're incorrect. The fact that Princess Cupcake Jones is popular and we are even doing this interview counters that notion.
8. What advice do you have for moms who want to help add more representation of black figures?
My advice is to diversify, diversify, diversify. Make sure your children have different kinds of characters in books, music, movies, etc. By diversifying their surroundings, you're actually helping them with representation by simply doing. It sounds cliche but it's really as simple as that.
9. What is the most rewarding part of writing books?
The most rewarding part is having other parents and their children tell me how much they love the series. Even going as far as thanking me for writing/creating her. I never thought that this could be as inspirational as it has become. My original mission was just to create something my own daughters' would be proud of, and in the process, I've created a character that empowers all little girls.
10. What do you see for the future of "Princess Cupcake Jones"?
The sky is definitely the limit! We have a new book coming out any day, “Princess Cupcake Jones Saddles Up", a brand new clothing line, and I just finished writing a new book (as yet untitled).
11. Is there anything you would like to add?
Just a thank you to all of our Cupcakettes for the love and support they've given over the years!
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.