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Jenna Busch Headshot

May the Force Be With Katie

Posted: Updated:

2010-11-22-Katie

I loved Star Wars as a kid. I had a chemistry set. I was told over and over again that I liked "boy things." I ended up making a career out of it. So when I read the story in ChicagoNow about a little girl named Katie who was getting teased for carrying a Star Wars water bottle to school because it was "only for boys," it saddened me. I thought, how can this still be happening in 2010? But the response to the article, not only in the comments section, but in the online geek world was amazing. Women (and men) all around the web were sending in stories of their own teasing and bullying for liking what they like, supportive messages for Katie and rallying around the little girl who loves Star Wars.

Amidst all the stories about what damage the Internet is doing to the world, from privacy issues to online stalkers to social network bullying, we have a beautiful story about the good that can happen when people of like minds can find each other. I contacted Katie's mom, Carrie Goldman and talked to her about the story, Katie's reaction to all the geek love and what happens now. I also got to chat with the young lady herself.

You've gotten some response to this!

[laughs] It's a little weird, I have to say! I've been writing articles for months and months, but I've never had one where so many people have paid attention to it.

We girl geeks will rally when we're needed.

I had no idea about the phenomenon of girl geeks until this happened... when the post started to move around and I started to seeing the comments coming in, I noticed a common theme on the initial wave, which was "Hi Katie. I'm a girl and I love Star Wars and science." And I saw it over and over. And I was astonished by how many females were out there who were not only supportive of Katie, but plugged into each other. Once one of them heard of what happened to Katie, it seemed like all of them heard! I was thinking to myself, these girls must have some kind of amazing support system going for each other.

We hear so many negative stories about the Internet, but this one really showcases the positive side.

This has been one of the first times I have seen something go viral when it's not about gossip, it's not about porn, it's not about somebody having fallen off the wagon for something, it's not about some catastrophe somewhere. And just to see a story go viral that's so ordinary... it's everybody's story. Everybody, everyone was once a little kid who felt different at some point. It's funny that it's become such a sensation, because it's every story every day about million kids around the country. But at the same time, maybe that's why it's such a big deal. It's so easily identifiable.

Who have you heard from? Aside from the massive amount of female geeks...

[laughs] It's so funny that you guys call each other geeks!

It's a good word! [laughs]

It is a good word! It's just so funny to hear it! At first I started getting supportive comments from females who are interested in science or technology or 'Star Wars' or whatever. Then Thursday night, I got a personal email from Tom Kane, who is the voice of Yoda in the new Star Wars movie, and he said, "I heard about your daughter and what was happening, and I'd like to invite you to be my special guest at a Star Wars premiere in Chicago." At first I thought it was a hoax, because it's so unbelievable. So I went to his website to make sure that he really was who he said he was, because you get all kinds of crazy things on the Internet. I've had responses before to my articles from people who are maybe not totally stable, you know. And then shortly after that, we realized there was a comment on the blog from Cat Taber to Katie. And she's the voice of Queen Padme Amidala.

Oh my gosh!

At this point, Katie was in bed. She's in first grade so she goes to bed at 7 p.m. I usually have all three of my kids in bed by 7 p.m. This started really escalating at 8 or 9 p.m. on Thursday night. We started seeing a sort of geometric rise in the number of comments, Facebook likes and emails. So at some point it was brought to our attention that people like Felicia Day and Alyssa Milano, Bonnie Burton were aware of the article and passing it around. At that point, I actually started to feel a little overwhelmed. I've been writing articles for a long time and to be suddenly catapulted into notoriety when it's not something you expect can almost be a little frightening.

I can imagine.

Andrew and I, my husband, we talked about how we were going to approach this with Katie in the morning. Katie, who had no idea that any of this was happening. In the morning when she woke up and came into our bed to snuggle, which her sisters who are 3 and 5 months old always do, I said, "You know, Katie, a lot of people read my story about you with the boys teasing you about your Star Wars water bottle." She was like, "Oh, OK." And I said, "We have received emails from a lot of people telling you it's OK to like Star Wars and it's OK to like "boy interests and boy games and toys." And she said, "That's good." I could see she had no clue. [laughs] And we kind of want to keep it that way. Keep her just a touch clueless about the numbers in some ways. Because she is just a little kid. But in some ways, I want her to have that full feeling of support that's out there. It's kind of a fine line between letting her know how many people support her and not letting her know how many people are out there.

Then we said, "A couple of the people the people who said it's great are Yoda and Queen Amidala," and then her eyes got pretty big. [laughs] And she has these glasses that magnify her eyes to begin with. So when she opens her eyes wide behind her glasses, they get pretty huge. And she got this big smile. The kind of smile that makes a mom pretty happy. What we decided to do is show her the comments in small batches. Because I think she can appreciate it more if we just read it a couple at a time. A lot of the comments have a common theme and I don't want her to glaze over. I want her to appreciate each comment, because each person who wrote took the time to share a story with her about their life. So we're reading three or four at a time. She reads them, actually. I pre-screen them so that they're OK and not too intense. Some people's stories are pretty intense.

I read them. Some incredible stories on there.

The ones that are too intense, she will read as she gets older or we read her parts of them. I'm pre-reading every single comment and we pick some each night for her to read. I think that she does feel like it's OK now to like Star Wars! She wore a Star Wars shirt to school on Friday! [laughs] She's carrying her water bottle and she seems pretty OK with it again. It's amazing.

It's really exploding! I know that on Facebook, there is an Support Star Wars and Geek Pride for Katie event, that I'm participating in. I have my Star Wars shirt, all ready to go. I have several. [laughs]

I sent an email to the girl who started that event. I wanted to see if we could re-market it slightly. My husband and I came up with the idea, Wear Star Wars-Share Star Wars. Since it's the holiday season, we thought maybe the people participating on that day could also donate just one small either Star Wars or science fiction toy to a toy drive that day. It could be one of the things that we could start in Katie's honor. And all kids who have ever felt different.

What a great idea!

I think it would be a great thing to teach Katie. We're going to wear something Star Wars that day, but let's choose something to bring to a children's hospital or somewhere. It would be neat if it caused this other influx of gifts for kids who really need them. A lot of people have offered to send Katie Star Wars toys, which is really so generous. Katie is not needy but there are so many children who are, so we're really asking people to, in lieu of sending something to Katie, to make a donation. We're saying, if you want to send her cards and letters, sure. That's different. That's fine with me... we're actually going to have them made into a book, so that way, throughout her life as she grows and reaches different stages of her development, she'll have this humongous support book she can pull down and read if she's ever feeling bad.

Is that something you'd ever consider publishing?

The book to Katie? It's a fabulous idea! I never thought about that! I have been working over a year on a non-fiction book proposal which was about the process of adopting Katie, and Katie herself was laughingly saying to my husband, "It's going to be called, Waiting for Katie.'' I'm going to have to change it to, Waiting for Katie, the Star Wars Kid. [laughs] But I think it's a great idea to publish the comments. Part of me wonders if the people who are writing in would be OK with that. I guess it a public forum... I'd definitely have to think about it. I have seen tweets saying that these are amazing stories. Read these comments. I guess if somehow I could get some approval. I wouldn't feel right, publishing these comments without each individual person saying yes. I'm very sensitive to that.

What I find so interesting about this whole things it the "boy toy" idea. I hung out with boys when I was a kid and I didn't realize I was into "boy things" until I was older.

With Katie, I don't know why I did this, but from the time she was a baby, when I bought toys for her, I bought "boy toys." I didn't want my house filled with just "girl toys." By the time she was 18 months old, she was playing with Thomas the Train... we collected them all. Like you, she has grown up with toys that would be considered boy toys, Legos, Star Wars, all of that. I think what happened this year was that she was a little shocked and taken aback and had a little crisis of confidence when people said to her, "those are for boys." I think that was a shocking idea for her and she felt like she was doing something wrong.

I got a really interesting email today from someone... a women said, "You know, I was thinking about you and Katie when I was in Wal-Mart buying a gift for someone." She snapped a photo of it to show me. It was labeled "Boys" and "Girls." That's how the toy section is labeled. No wonder these poor boys think Star Wars is for boys. They're Wal-Mart. One of the biggest mass market stores out there. Right now, in 2010, there is a photo and a big sign hanging over half the toy section saying "Boys" and "Girls." And on the girl side are all the Disney princesses and on the boy side is Star Wars. It has to start somewhere other than on the playground of Katie's school. It has to go much much further to change the way people think.

We might want to tell people to label their donated toys "for a girl."

I totally agree, because toys get labeled and separated into boy and girl groups. It might be neat to mention that these toys should go to a girl.

Also, I want to make it clear that Katie was being teased, not bullied. There are a lot of articles out there saying, "Little girl bullied for liking Star Wars.'' In the article I wrote... I want to make it clear that I see the distinction between these two things. But when you see a first grader getting teased, that's when you step in. I want people to understand that she was teased and I don't want to do nothing about that. That's how you walk a slippery slope to bullying.

True.

If it makes you feel bad, it's not OK. Whether it's out and out teasing or bullying, it's not OK. If it makes a little child come home and cry or change her behavior or change who she is, it's not acceptable. Whether it's a tease or a shove... when a first grader comes home and thinks it's not OK to carry her water bottle, in my mind, it's time to say something.

Do you want to say hi to Katie? She's right here.

I'd love to!

(Katie got on the phone with her mom here. Her responses are in italics. Her mom's continue to be in plain text.)

Katie, this woman's name is Jenna and she's a lot like you. She likes "Star Wars" and she thought it was really neat that you do too!

Hi Jenna.

Hi Katie! I have a Star Wars water bottle just like you!

[laughs] That's cool!

Do you have a favorite Star Wars movie?

Return of the Jedi.

Do you have a favorite character?

Princess Leia.

Why do you like her, sweetie?

I like her because her and Luke are adopted. Leia and Luke are adopted. That's why I like Leia.

Katie, have you been surprised by how many people have written you letters saying they like Star Wars too?

Yeah. [laughs]

What do you think of them, sweetie?

I think that they're really cool, because so many people are standing up for me.

Do you think you'll be OK carrying your Star Wars water bottle now?

Yeah, I think I'll be OK carrying it now.

That's why I wrote the article about you.

You've got a pretty cool mom.

Yeah. [laughs]

I've got a pretty cool kid.

Yeah. [laughs]

If you want to check out the book Carrie is writing about Katie, check out her Facebook page, Portrait of an Adoption.