Archives For Gender equality

You may have heard about the Lego debateor the mixed reviews  about Goldieblox or most recently the up and coming “design and engineer your own dolls house”,Roominatewhich, while brilliant in concept, still panders to the marketing of “girl colors.” And then of course, there’s the maelstrom that erupted when journalist Peggy Orenstein published Cinderella Ate My Daughter

All these are examples of attempts to look at what “stories” or messages we are giving children. 

And I say children deliberately. Much of the focus in these discussions is appropriately about what role models, stereotypes, and gender identity constrictions we are giving girls. But these not so conscious but conscious prescriptions also perpetuate a particular world for boys.

When Jean Kilbourne pointed out the advertising messages I was consuming about what it meant to be a women back in 1983 with her first Killing me Softly, I never saw the world the same again. I am deeply and eternally grateful to  her for making  the smog I was breathing obvious. But I abdicate how to fix the world of media messaging to the likes of her and Peggy Orenstein.  I also I leave the valiant attempts to encourage girls and women in STEM to the likes of the female engineers of Stanford such as the creators of Goldieblox’s, Debbie Sterling and Roominate’s Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen.

But I won’t let those who interact with children off the hook.

I challenge you to ask the following questions when you pick up a book for your self, for your child or for your students. These questions are geared to picture books but with imagination can be adapted to any story or message you or the child in your life is consuming.

I also challenge you to think about your reaction to the fact that I wrote this post in pink! Did it bother you if so why?  Feel free to share your gut reactions if you have managed to ignore the color and read this far!

When you read a book take a few minutes to ask yourself or the child you are with these or other questions about gender roles. Pay attention to what difference it makes to your experience.  Should you be asking yourself these questions all the time now that you have started to pay attention? 

  • What do the women/girls look like?
  • What kind of work /activities are the women/girls doing?
  • What objects/toys etc are the women/girls playing with interacting with
  • What do the men look like?
  • What kind of work /activities are the men doing?
  • What kind of work /activities are the men/boys doing?
  • How do women and men interact with each other?
  • What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a woman’s/girl’s face?
  • What sort of emotions do you see expressed on a man/boys face?
  • What messages do you think the book is sending about the gender roles of men and women?

Some people pray for ordinary things and get extraordinary results.

Malala Yousafzai is one such girl!

The sixteen-year-old prayed to be two or three inches taller than her five feet. “But,” she told the crowd in Boston as she received a bronze bust of John F Kennedy, “I can now reach the sky because reaching you with my cause is the greatest height.”

I can’t imagine anyone standing taller in the name of women’s rights than this courageous global heroine. Malala has had strong women behind her, like her mother encouraging her to tell the truth, to speak up and raise her voice. She’s had brave women beside her, like all the other girls in her village who despite the Taliban’s disapproval, still go to school. Yet, it is Malala’s own mix of wit, humility, and way with words that has made her a towering international symbol for peace and the right to education.

Even though last October, the Taliban tried to assassinate Malala because of her efforts to gain access to education for women, she wants to return to her homeland of Pakistan. The passion with which she spoke about education broadening your world views was palpable. So it was easy for the audience to imagine her following her dream of becoming a politician. To serve her nation and to get education for every child.

Malala Yousafazai and her father Ziauddin in Boston last Saturday.

Malala Yousafazai and her father Ziauddin in Boston last Saturday.

At one point Malala said “I heard your voice through my heart.”And while she may not have won the noble peace prize, listening to her was powerful, peace inducing poetry for my soul. As a mother of a daughter and a library teacher, how could I argue with her adamant declaration that “It is the right of every person whether a girl or a boy to get education. It’s a responsibility and a duty that you must have knowledge. You must not be limited to your house .You must know about the whole world. You must know about other cultures, other traditions other societies, and learn from them.”

So let’s make sure we listen to each other’s stories, read them, tell them, and share them. I know that celebrating International Girl Day by listening to Malala and her inspirational story has reinvigorated me and left me a richer person.And maybe one day we can all stand as tall as Malala Yousafzai!

To hear clip of Malala’s speech,click here.

Here’s a link to the Washington Post’s review of her book, I am Malala: The girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban which was released on Tuesday.

In a few days my students will tumble through my library doors after a summer of reading stories elsewhere. Like many others I am eagerly preparing for a fresh new year.

I dust the library shelves, create book displays about sustainability, and finalize lesson plans for creating a second grade research project on bento boxes.

Then there is one more important step before I feel ready.  I pull out and study a checklist that I created for myself based on and inspired by the work I so admire at EdChange: Building Equitable and Just Schools, Communities and Organizations through Transformative Action.

So far, I haven’t been able to check anything off the list.  And I don’t expect to. This work is ongoing, though some of it is getting easier.

  1. Do I learn to pronounce each student’s full name correctly? No one should feel like they have to change his or her name to make it easier for me.
  2. Do I continually assess my bias, prejudice and cultural upbringing and how they influence my teaching practices and relations with my colleagues, students and their families?
  3. Do I consciously pay attention to my language and not use expressions which originated from inequities of power?
  4. Am I using materials that are unbiased? If not, do I use it as a teaching tool to help students analyze and recognize it?
  5. Do I help my students unpack the myth of color-blindness? Do I discuss why it is important to acknowledge differences, and not deny another person’s experience that has been shaped by their skin color?
  6. When an issue such as racism or classism comes up in the classroom, do I address it or shy away from it out of fear or ignorance? Neither is a good reason.
  7. Is my curriculum inclusive of a wide range of multiple perspectives all the time or just a token gesture especially during special months?
  8. Do I work toward equity for ALL underrepresented groups? Or for example do I strive for gender equity but not racial equity?
  9. Do I work towards equality or equity?  Do I try and give everybody the same thing which may not be what everyone needs or do I try and change the disparity in access for an underrepresented or disenfranchised person?
  10. Am I constantly working towards understanding my whiteness and the privileges it gives me?

Wish me a good fall and support in accomplishing these goals. May they be useful to you too.