So often this blog is filled with the unhappy stuff in life--discrimination and oppression, misrepresentation of girls and women in the media and the like. It is so nice when I get to write about the hopeful moments, inspiring people, and how I rejuvenate with a little vitamin F! I spent the last two weekends in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to loving the hip and friendly city, both of these weekends were filled with feminist inspiration.
The first weekend was a fun trip that my husband and I made to see Ani Difranco in concert. I have been a fan of Ani since a friend introduced me to her work in college. Ani is considered by many to be an inspiration and a feminist icon. As a folksinger for over 20 years, Ani's music has touched the hearts and lives of so many people (lots of them women!) with her honest and thoughtful lyrics. She unflinchingly writes about love, sexuality, feminism, politics, and life. I commented to my partner on our drive home that I can not imagine the talent it takes to write such meaningful things in ways that are catchy and moving. Her latest album Which Side Are You On? continues this tradition with lyrics like:
"feminism ain’t about women
Seeing this artist push the limits to speak truth as she sees it, and do it in a way that gets a room full of people singing, was incredibly inspiring.
I was back in Columbus the following weekend for work. The governing board (Implementation Collective as we call it) of the Association for Women in Psychology was having our fall meeting. As a member of the Collective, I was geared up for two long days of meetings about the ins and outs of the organization and planning for the March 2014 conference which will be held in Columbus, Ohio.
I have been a member of the Implementation Collective for two years now (we serve three year terms). We work hard to keep the fantastic feminist organization going. We are a volunteer board, so we have to create time in our already busy lives to fill these roles. For me, it is worth every second and every ounce of energy. We challenge ourselves and each other to be better people and help AWP lives its mission to be a diverse feminist community of psychologists and allied professionals invested in the integration of personal, professional, and political power in the service of social justice. We also support each other and learn from each other. This meeting was particularity fun for me as I got to drive with and room with an amazing women and enjoyed the time getting to know her better. AWP is a space where I feel like I can be my truest and authentic self. It is a space where I feel appreciated and understood. It is a space where I feel connected to other people who share my vision of a just and inclusive world without sexism and oppression. And by being together and working together, we are making that vision come alive.
So turn up the music, find a good community, and give yourself a healthy dose of vitamins.
I did not watch the Miss America pageant when it aired on September 15th, but I certainly heard about the historical result and the reactions it inspired. Nina Davuluri is the first Indian-American woman to win the contest. Since the moment of the announcement, thousands of people took to Twitter and Facebook to express their opinions, unfortunately often in the form of racist and hateful comments. Some, like Stephen Colbert, have responded to the outcries with humor. When a student asked me what I thought of the hub-bub I responded with an "ughhhh.." and a sigh of frustration.
But we can do more than make fun of the reactions or dismiss them in disgust. We can use this moment to have a dialogue about racism (and sexism) in the United States. This is what we educators like to call a "teachable moment."
The silver lining in this mess is that it has brought to the forefront the ideas and beliefs about race that some Americans hold which may often go unvoiced and unchallenged. So what do we do about them? First, we can use this momentum to support a call for action to have diversity and social justice education in the USA. At the university where I teach, students in the counseling psychology graduate program are required to take diversity courses and two years ago I helped develop a diversity course that is now required for all undergraduate students. Other colleges and universities have similar requirements but it is far from universal. Diversity and social justice topics are rarely present in K-12 education in the USA (an issue I wrote about for a chapter in The Psychology of Prejudice: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Contemporary Issues) despite the advocating efforts of educators and social scientists.
Education can increase people's knowledge in areas that appear to be limited based on the comments about Davuluri. For example, people should know that India and Iraq are not the same place; nationality and religion are different things; not all people with brown skin are terrorists. You know--the basics. We also need to have more dialogues (formally and informally) about what it means to be "American." In my work teaching children and adults about social justice I have found that many White people living in the USA think American=White. They rarely think about their own ethnicity or ethnic identity development (or the fact that all White people's ancestors immigrated to the USA). Some tell me that they don't have an ethnicity because they are "just American." They hold these beliefs because no one has ever talked to them about whiteness or taught them about ethnicity. This invisible norm of Whiteness and White privilege are the bedrock upon which countless racist policies are built. We need to work harder to dismantle this. Scholars and educators (like Lisa Spanierman) are doing amazing work about white identity development. Let's get it out there.
Second, we can use these moments on Facebook and Twitter to confront the racist comments others make and possibly change their thinking. One of my students shared with me the way in which he challenged his friend who posted racist remarks on Facebook about the new Miss America. He told her how he felt about what she wrote and encouraged her to think about things in a new way. Imagine how much change could happen if every person who made a racist remark was challenged by one of their friends or family members.
Finally, we can use this situation to open a conversation about beauty pageants. Yup. I went there. If you have read my blog before, you probably are not surprised.
Just in case you missed the news buried among the stories about the Miss American pageant, this week the French Senate approved a ban on beauty pageants for girls younger than 16. The ban is in response to growing concerns about the consequences of the sexualization of girls. The APA report on the sexualization of girls supports the view that hypersexualization of girls and young women can have dire effects on physical and mental well-being. Extensive research on the objectification of women demonstrates how destructive this sexualization can be for women of all ages. France has passed similar measures in recent years (one regarding minimum BMI for models, another addressing underage models in ad campaigns) in their work to increase gender equality. In the USA, we have gotten Toddlers and Tiaras and thongs for girls.
I am glad that so many people were upset by the racism displayed in response to the Miss America pageant. But I wish more people would be equally concerned about the objectification of women that occurs in a contest that judges women based on their appearance in swimwear and evening gowns. Equal opportunities to be sexual objectified should probably not be our goal as a society.
Let's aim higher.
First, I had to remind myself that it was not April Fool's day. This was an actual story I was hearing on NPR. You may understand my surprise if you listen to the story yourself. "Why Women (Like Me) Choose Lower-Paying Jobs" by Lisa Chow aired yesterday (I heard it in the early morning). [note: be sure to listen to the actual story--the written transcript online has been edited]. It opens with Chow recounting her conversation with an economist who told her that "women are making a lot of bad decisions" "they are choosing the wrong majors" and "even when they chose the right majors, they don't take advantage of it." She indicates that women are overrepresented in the "wrong" majors that result in low paying jobs, like arts, the humanities and psychology (hey-wait a second!) and are underrepresented in the "right" areas like engineering. She further argued that even when women choose a "good" major they don't always go into a high paying job. She gave the example that many women who major in math go on to become teachers (as though it should be obvious to the listener that teaching is a terrible profession). Chow even used herself as an example. She shared that she got an undergraduate degree in math and an MBA but chose to become a reporter. She laments the supposedly $3million she "left on the table" with this occupational decision. To be honest, I am more concerned about the decisions she made in reporting this story. It seemed to me that her punchline was "silly, stupid women are just making bad choices." Let me be clear, she never directly called women stupid. But she sure implied it.
Ok. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised by the way this story was told. But I was. And, I am fed up.
It appears that this story was prompted by a recent report released by Georgetown University about the economic value of particular majors. Chow was particularly focused on gender differences in the individuals majoring in these areas. I agree that there is an important story here. And that we should be asking some questions about these findings.
But, I propose that we start with a different premise. How about we stop calling women stupid? Let's stop assuming that they are "just making bad choices" or "opting out" or not "leaning in" enough. Let's stop blaming women for problems that are much deeper and more complex.
Here are some questions reporters could be asking:
Why are we paying engineers more money than teachers, child care providers and counselors?
Why are we (predominantly) measuring the value of work by how much money a person makes?
Why is there a wage gap between women and men in the United States?
Why are more women than men in the USA expected to balance work/career demands with doing the majority of the childcare and household responsibilities?
Why don't we have better family friendly policies (paid maternal and paternal leave, flexible work schedules, sick leave, onsite childcare, etc.)?
Why don't we have a minimum wage that is a living wage?
Why do people expect girls and women to tolerate harassment and unfair treatment in male dominated fields?
I could go on, but I think you get the point. Some people are asking these questions and working on finding out answers. I would like to see more reporters like Chow asking these tough questions and looking for real solutions.
But what do I know, I am not a reporter. I am "just" a Psychologist.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.