Only rarely have I ever looked forward to a game more than my beloved UConn women’s basketball team going up against Mississippi State in this year’s March Madness semis. After all, one of our school’s alumnae, Chinwe Okorie, played for MSU and was likely to get significant playing time. It would be wonderful to root her on as well as my own favourite team. I confess, though, I was a little jittery as to how UConn would do. At one point in the season, MSU had been ranked #2, and they were the only highly ranked team UConn had not yet faced. I felt in my bones that, if anyone was going to stop UConn in this tournament, and I knew that was possible, MSU had perhaps the best chance.
Today is the 19th birthday of Malala Yousafzai, and we join millions and millions of people in wishing her a happy birthday and many happy returns. To celebrate her 16th birthday, Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, designated July 12 “Malala Day” and she addressed that assembly with a now-iconic speech, asserting it was not her day but rather the "day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised a voice for their rights." (Malala, quoted in Bai).
Before you keep reading, I’d like to invite you to read a piece my friend Christina Torres wrote for Teaching Tolerance entitled “We Can’t Dismantle What We Can’t See: Teaching Concepts of Masculinity.”
<pause>Done? Good. Thanks.
It’s one of those cold and rainy days that keeps me online more than I would be otherwise on a Sunday with most of my class prep behind me and all student writing having received feedback. That’s fortunate, because otherwise I might not have seen Mel Greenberg’s tweet that Imani Boyette and her mom Pamela McGee might become the first-ever mother-daughter pair to play in the WNBA if Ms. Boyette can make the regular season roster for the Chicago Sky. The WNBA is the longest-running women’s professional league in U.S.history, and it feels encouraging that it is reaching this major landmark.
By now, you may have heard of this pithy observation on women in science: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls ... three things happen when they are in the lab ... You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.” (Sir Tim Hunt, quoted in Drum) The piece provoked a firestorm of reaction, including the trending hashtag #distractinglysexy which mocked Sir Hunt’s remarks through comments such as “Rosalind Franklin was so #distractinglysexy that Watson and Crick forgot to give her credit for figuring out how DNA worked.” (Seth D. Michaels, quoted in Waxman) A few days later, Sir Hunt, a Nobel Prize winning scientist, was fired from his position at University College London.
With five teacher/advisors volunteering to chaperone the 8th graders on their annual trip to Washington, DC, it seemed only right for me to step up and sign up to sub in their absence. I got Andrea's 7th grade Science/Math class and Meghan's Junior IB Bio I class. We got off to a bit of a slow start in the 7th grade Pre-Algebra class as the 7th graders who were in the predominantly 8th grade Algebra 1 class downstairs were apparently baking, and there was a tidal wave of enthusiasm for the idea of our doing the same despite the fact that we had neither ingredients nor oven. But it wasn't long before I was tossing dry-erase markers to students to go put up their answers to the homework on the board before checking them over.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” I turned to see a woman approaching me as I sat working at Rao's coffee shop. “Yes?” I said. “Can you please give me directions to (we’ll say it was La Veracruzana)?” I did, and she thanked me, acknowledged my “You’re welcome,” and turned and left. Clearly, she was either open or oblivious to the contrast between whatever it was about my appearance (hair? clothing? something else?) that had caused her to “ma’am” me and my baritone voice. Myself, at this point in my life, I respond naturally to either “ma’am” or “sir,” reasoning that in either case, someone is addressing me respectfully.
Respect is the key word here. It’s what underlies most successful human interactions, and what is most often missing when dysfunction takes over. It’s a firm underlying principle in each of my classes. I expect respect not only for each other (which they almost invariably show anyway) but also for fictional characters, reasoning that if we are generally talking about them as if they were real, we might as well carry it to the logical extreme.
Filed Under: gender, LGBT Support, gender stereotypes, Transgender Day of Remembrance, anti-racism, social justice, gender equity, TDOR, Acceptance, diversity, In the Classroom, The Faculty Perspective, transgender
Transgender Awareness Month comes right on the heels of National Bullying Prevention Month, and in many ways that makes sense, as transgender people are disproportionately affected by bullying (as with street violence). GLSEN reports that fully 82% of LGBT kids have had problems with bullying, 44% specifically due to gender identification (reported on the nobullying.com website). GLSEN’s 2013 National Climate survey is available by download for anyone who might be interested.
In an age where definitions of different genders are becoming as fluid as some people’s sense of gender itself, it can be hard to keep up with the latest terms. For starters, (biological) sex is not the same as (social) gender, and 1-2% of people are born neither female nor male but rather intersex. Additionally, even though “transgender” refers to someone whose gender identity differs from that assigned to them at birth, not everyone who might fit that definition automatically chooses to identify as transgender. Moreover, though some transgender people (such as noted teen activist Jazz Jennings, here in an interview with Katie Couric) feel they were always girls trapped in a boy’s body or boys trapped in a girl’s body, not all transgender people feel that way or even identify within the gender binary. Partially blurring the binary are bigender people and androgynes, and within the Native American tradition, two-spirit people. But other transgender people might identify as polygender, agender, genderqueer, or just plain nonbinary, and still others avoid terminology altogether. Some may have a stable gender identity while others might be more fluid. Facebook, as many people know by now, offers a menu of over 50 gender choices, and even then, it is not 100% comprehensive.
Filed Under: gender, LGBT Support, gender stereotypes, social justice, gender equity, Transgender Awareness Month, community, Acceptance, diversity, Feminism, The Faculty Perspective, Education, transgender
“Bra-burning. Man-hating. Angry and unattractive. Such stereotypes have shadowed the women’s movement over the past few decades — and a slew of young, fashionable celebs are working to clarify feminism’s true definition.” (Fairchild) Setting aside for another day the question of why such a stereotype may have come to life and remained, in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary, so persistent, Caroline Fairchild raises a good question in her article “Will young celebrities make feminism ‘cool’?” Besides noting Emma Watson’s epic speech at the UN launching the “He for She” campaign, Ms. Fairchild mentions Taylor Swift’s recent realization that she has been a feminist all along and Beyoncé’s performance at the VMAs backed by the word “feminist” in huge block letters.
Feminism, many analysts note, has been waging an uphill battle for years to define itself as being in general far more inclusive than it is typically portrayed. I’ve certainly seen many students over my three decades here echo Ms. Swift’s sentiment when she said, “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means.” (Swift, quoted in Thomas)