I first learned about Nelson Mandela as a child. I was fortunate to have an elementary school teacher who believed it was important for kids to be well informed on social issues happening around the world (she also taught us about the Berlin Wall). I remember being amazed and inspired by his words. And also being saddened by his situation. He was still in jail at the time, but the pressure to release him and end apartheid was increasing. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to spend so many years in jail for fighting for equality.
To be honest, I still can’t.
Mandela’s passing last week has resulted in an outpouring of sentiment from around the world. Mandela’s body will lie in state for three days, followed by a funeral that is expected to be one of the largest in modern history. Political leaders (including those from countries who once deemed Mandela a “terrorist”) from around the world are making plans to attend. It is truly incredible to see how one man has touched so many lives—both directly and indirectly.
As we contemplate the loss of Nelson Mandela, let us first remember the man—a friend, father, husband, grandfather. Those who knew him will mourn the loss of the him in their life. Let us not forget that he was a person—one who his family described as “a caring family leader who made time for all and on that score we will miss him dearly.”
Let us also celebrate what he helped to achieve—an end to apartheid in South Africa. The importance of the work he did to rid the country of such a policy and to avoid civil war in the process cannot be overstated. During this time of reflection, I encourage all of us to learn more
about how apartheid came to be and the work Mandela did to battle it. As the saying goes, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. Many of the individuals attending the events in South Africa belong to the “born free generation”—people who have lived their lives with freedoms and opportunities that were hard won.
Finally, let us not forget to honor the legacy that Nelson Mandela left for us. Those of us who never knew Mandela and were not directly impacted by apartheid (although such inequality anywhere has ripple effects for everyone around the world), have been touched by what Mandela represented. His work as a political activist inspired others around the world to fight for their own causes. But I fear that we will allow Mandela to become a symbol—while forgetting the call he charged us to follow.
"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."
We can do better.
We must do better.
The same day that Mandela died there were strikes at fast food restaurants around the USA—workers who are demanding a living wage. There is more work to be done in this world—and every one of us can play a role. But we have to be willing to take up that charge.
Fortunately, most of us will never be called upon to spend 27 years of our lives in jail for the causes we believe in. But let us not use that as an excuse to ignore the sacrifices that we can make. All of us can give a bit (or more!) of time, or energy, or patience, or money, or love to fight for a just world. To make the lives of the people around us better. To dismantle systems of oppression. Maybe that involves escorting women as they visit an abortion clinic, providing support with one’s presence. Or boycotting a company that funds anti-LGBT policies and groups. Or registering people to vote. Or writing a petition. Or challenging someone when they make a racist, sexist or homophobic joke. No one of us can change the world alone--but we can each take actions that will make a difference.
May Mandela’s spirit rest in peace. And may his legacy live on, burning brighter with the sparks of change each one of us brings.
"It always seems impossible until it is done. "
Unless you have completely denounced all things internet, you have probably seen this video:
It is a commercial for toys made by GoldieBlox
. Half a dozen people sent me the video in the course of a couple of days last week. I was already familiar with this brand of toys and think they are filling a much needed gap in the market. This newest commercial spins a number of things on its head—challenging the idea that girls only want to be princesses while encouraging them to engage in play that engages their intellect and teaches them fundamentals of math, science, engineering and physics. The commercial also includes a rewrite of the lyrics to the popular song by Beastie Boys “Girls” with more empowering language. The original song includes the following:
Girls - to do the dishes
Girls - to clean up my room
Girls - to do the laundry
Girls - and in the bathroom
Girls, that's all I really want is girls
In the Goldie Blox version girls can "build a spaceship, and code a new app." It was inspiring to see the media attention this company is getting. When I shop for presents for my friends' children I spend a lot of time trying to find toys that are gender neutral or don't reinforce gender stereotypes. It can be a daunting task, so I am happy to see toys like this joining the shelves.
And then I went to see Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Although my husband and I usually go into movies right when they start to avoid some of the preview material, this time we went into the theatre early. I was reminded of the fact that movie theatres now play commercials before shows (a practice I still find deplorable—if I wanted to watch commercials I would stay home and watch TV. Or hulu plus). Anyway—it was clear to me that the commercials for this viewing were geared toward a particular audience.
One of the commercials was an advertisement for Nerf Rebelle.
According to the Toys R Us website, “Nerf Rebelle is THE sports action brand built specifically for girls. Like all Nerf products, this line is full of great performing toys that provide hours of active fun, but these toys also feature fierce styles girls ask for!”
Really. Girls are asking for “fierce styles”? Or are marketers trying to convince girls that they need “fierce styles?”
I love that the girls in the commercial are running, playing sports, being active. But why not just have girls in the same commercials as boys? Why do the "nerf for girls" toys need to have special names like “Hearbreaker Bow” and “Pink Crush”? Why is everything in pink and purple? What's with the play on "being pretty?"
I really wanted to like the Nerf line, but it reminded me too much of the recent lego fiasco: Lego Friends
This selection of Legos includes Lego "dolls" who hang out at the beach, go to a bakery, and even drive a convertible. And did I mention all the Logo friends are girls? Because that really is the crux of the matter here. There is nothing wrong with Legos (and girls who play with them) who want to decorate their house, or work at a cafe. But can't boys do those things too? Lego Friends supposedly were a response to concerns that the "standard" Lego sets are always marketed to boys. And this was the solution?
I know that this is all about $$. If marketers can convince you to buy different toys for boys and girls you have to spend more money. But seriously, is this where we are as a society? Being overjoyed about a rewrite of a super sexist song and pink guns that shoot foam darts?
I am not usually one to harken back to the “good ole’ days” but I can’t help but think about my own childhood growing up with three brothers. Yes, we all had toys that were our own, but mostly we shared toys. We had a large box filled with toys that anyone could play with. My little brother had an orange bow that I would occasionally use for target practice. I didn’t tell my parents that I needed a pink one instead. When my cat had kittens, my brother enjoyed driving them around in the Barbie convertible. Lots of toys were orange, green, red, brown and black. Sure there were some pink, purple ,and blue items, but we did not divide the world based on color.
Imaginative play is such an important part of childhood; it provides kids with opportunities to try on possible adult roles. Kids get to consider what it would be like to take care of a baby, cook meals, be a construction worker or hairdresser. When we tell girls and boys (whether indirectly or directly) that they can only play with certain toys we are imposing on them limits to what they can become. I am concerned about all the ways that kids are being told that they have to grow up to like certain things and have particular characteristics just because they are male or female.
I hope these recent trends are suggestive of a bigger movement toward ungenderizing kids’ toys. Until that day comes, I will keep using my imagination to dream of a better future and the tools I have to work for one. A future with a shared toy box that offers children a world of possibilities and a rainbow of colors.
In the last few weeks I have found some gray hairs on my head. Well, the word found
implies that I was looking. I was not. It would be more accurate to say that while doing my hair I have stumbled across a few strands about which I thought "hmm.. that is not brown." I had not expected that I would find gray hairs had I looked for them. I am in my early 30's and my dad brags about how he has a full head of brown hair. The same shade of brown as my own. I am not unaware that gray hair exists. In fact, my only memory of my maternal grandmother is with long silvery gray hair. So I expected that I would see that in my future--I just did not know when that future would be.
Honestly, my first reaction was : Well, maybe people will stop telling me I "look to young to be a professor."
And then, the news is abuzz with the "shocking" discovery that Kate Middleton dared to leave the house with a few gray hairs. The Daily Beast
"broke" the "news" with a set of close up photos of Kate's head.
Now I am far from a royal watcher, but I don't live under a rock. I know that Middleton has been the center of much hype since she made it onto the world stage. She also JUST HAD A BABY. But it is good to see that we have our priorities in order. Being a new mom is no excuse for looking "old."
Last spring when I was on a memoir-reading frenzy (see my earlier blog post) one of the ones I stumbled across was "Going Gray: How to Embrace Your Authentic Self with Grace and Style."
Kreamer tells the story of her decision to stop dying her hair and addresses the struggles she has along the way--the worries about how she will feel about herself and how she will be treated by others. She wondered whether others would think she was attractive with gray hair and if she would experience discrimination at work. She interviewed and surveyed hundreds of people (mostly women, but some men as well) about their experiences being gray and how they feel about others who had gray hair. The history of the US cultural obsession with "washing away" the gray is fascinating. Having read her book, I felt a little more prepared to think about and react to my own gray hair discovery. It also led me to talk to other women about the issue--an act that some people have found to be a bit surprising and unexpected.
to the Daily Beast's article about Kate Middleton articulates part of the problem with this cultural obsession. As if we need is another way to tell women that how they look is more important than anything else about them. Clearly, some companies are benefiting from the attempt to convince women (and increasingly men) that they need to look a particular way while reassuring them they can always buy something to change their appearance.
There is also something else going on here that is very disturbing involving access to power and the intersections of age, gender, and appearance.
Let's just step back for a minute and think this through. While individuals' hair changes at different ages, in general gray hair is an indication
that someone has lived for a while. Been around the block. Experienced some stuff. Probably even learned some lessons along the way. Some cultures actually appreciate and value this fact. They realize that (while not guaranteed) with age often comes wisdom. Elders are respected, valued, and have access to power.
That might seem a bit strange to those living in a society that assumes people who are aging should be dismissed, made fun of, or hidden away in a home somewhere.
The intersection of age and gender in mainstream American society is particularly salient. While men do experience discrimination as they age, in many arenas it appears that women face more and /or harsher age discrimination than men. A recent Canadian report
found that women were more likely than men to be treated unfairly because of their age. Hollywood actresses often talk about the way in which their access to roles (and which roles they are offered) changes as they age. Conversations about a potential presidential bid for Hillary Clinton often include a reference to her age (as though she could catch a break about anything...).
My conversations with other women often lead to a discussion about their fears that they won't be taken seriously if they have gray hair. Some of these women have shared they now dye their hair for that very reason, even though they never thought they would.
These conversations are fascinating to me and feel all too familiar. As a woman who has spent much of my life being mistaken for being younger than I actually am, I am often asked to defend or prove myself as a professional. It is shocking really how often I am told that I can't possibly be a professor, or have a PhD, or any number of things because I am "just too young." And while they don't say "too young and female" many of the interactions make it clear that is what they mean. Like the time a student introduced me to her mom and her mom shook hands with my husband (who happened to be standing next to me)--then proceeded to argue with her daughter about how I couldn't possibly be "Dr. Brinkman." Or the individual who attended an event I planned and told me he had always assumed I was my (similarly aged) male colleague's student.
So, I say, "bring on the gray" because I spend most of my days living on the other side of the age issue. The side with all the assumptions that a young woman can't be smart and accomplished.
Unfortunately, I know that life is not so simple. The days of me having to prove myself are not numbered by my gray hairs but by our culture's willingness (or not) to end discrimination against women.
I am starting to accept the idea that the window of time during which my legitimization as a professional will not be questioned because of my (apparent) age is likely a small one. Hopefully I won't oversleep that day and miss the whole thing.
I will be honest: I struggle with my feminist identity. For anyone who knows me well, this may come as a surprise. As I struggle with my feminism, I am also aware that it is one of the most salient aspects of my identity. It is the one to which I feel the most aligned, most committed, and most proud. I am also not shy about my feminism. I have posts, blogs, and bumper stickers. I talk about it in class, with my friends, and with my family. It is the source of both bonding and fissure in my relationships.
So when Joss Whedon, a feminist ally whose movies and shows have provided a different script for women in the media, denounced the word feminism
, I paused. It is a critique that I hear so often, and each time I ask myself: are they right? Do we need the word “feminism?” Would my life be easier if I was simply a "genderist?" I could go into a post about where Joss Whedon went wrong, but Noah Berlatsky already summed that up so well here
. I could also talk about how disappointing it was that a white, heterosexual male ally, whose fanbase surrounding shows like Buffy and Firefly are very much feminist-oriented, used his privilege and fame to flippantly denounce an entire history and movement of women working towards equal rights.
I could also talk about why I think the word “feminism” is
important. How you cannot tiptoe around privilege and patriarchy with a word like “feminism” the way that you can “genderist.” How the word “feminism” is so vehemently disliked because it acknowledges the oppression of women, and words like “genderist” and “humanist” and “equalist” fail to communicate that specific kind of oppression. How “feminist” is more than an adjective—it is a word entrenched with history of the movement, the centuries of hardship and work that went into gaining the rights that we have today. It is a word that embodies an ongoing commitment to working for equal rights for women and all people.
But these arguments do not get to the heart of why I call myself a feminist—The real reason why I push through the awkward conversations with friends and family members; The reason why I spend time negotiating my love of pop culture with my feminist identity; The reason why I make myself vulnerable by confronting the status quo .
I call myself a feminist because I want to give women (and men) who have been marginalized by the dominant systems a voice. I call myself a feminist because I want to work to create stronger feminist communities—not fractured, divided ones. I call myself a feminist because I believe in the power of groups when people feel they are connected, appreciated, and supported.
So I invite all you humanists, equalists, genderists, activists, and overall awesome human beings: you do not have to call yourself a feminist. As long as we are working towards the same goals of reducing systematic oppression of marginalized groups of people, we are on the same team. And although there is a time and place for self-critique, the time that we spend denouncing or disparaging our movements is just time spent not addressing the real social justice issues we should be talking about.
So while we were all debating if a feminist, by any other name, would smell as sweet, here were some other important things that were happening in the world:
· Women are still enduring genital cutting, as well as high rates of sexual harassment, in Egypt.
· Violence against women is a highly prevalent issue in Iraq, over a decade after the U.S. Invasion in Iraq.
· In a recent Gallup poll, male bosses are still favored over female bosses.
· Poorer women with a breast lump may wait to see doctor,
· Vagisil continues to make women and girls self-conscious with their new advertisement.
· Woman are less likely to orgasm during casual sex.
· Another Gallup poll found that the majority of people think women should start having children at age 25.
· Despite all the fuss about women earning more money, businesses do not actually know how to market to women.
· Lululemon shames women’s bodies by blaming their weight for fabric wear.
· Denying women’s contraceptive access is what brought the pilgrims to America.
· Why hasn’t the U.S. elected a woman president yet?
· Women with disabilities are even more vulnerable to experience violence throughout their lives.
· Women and the fight for comprehensive immigration reform
· Women and minorities still underrepresented in science careers.
It was Joss Whedon himself who said, “It was only when I got to college that I realized that the rest of the world didn’t run the way my world was run and that there was a need for feminism. I’d thought it was all solved.” Me too, Joss. Me too.
The translation of research into public information is a tricky one. I personally am a bit terrified of the day a reporter decides to write about one of my studies—it seems all too common that such articles are rife with misunderstanding (or possibly intentional misinterpretations) of a study. I understand that reporters cannot possibly be experts on every field they write about, so I try not to judge them for misinterpreting a finding or not recognizing the limitations of a study. I also realize the reporters want to tell a compelling story and may highlight the things that will create the biggest stir. When I am reading a newspaper article that is summarizing the results of a recent study I try to keep these things in mind. If I am being especially diligent (which I will admit, I am not always so) I find the original article and read it myself. Unless I read the original study or report, I don’t completely trust the way it is presented in online. Call me a skeptic.
So earlier this week when a colleague posted a link on Facebook to an article in the Washington Post he was interviewed for, I was interested in learning more. Right away I had some concerns about the conclusions the article was making. The title read: “A woman’s success damages a male partner’s ego, says a new study”
Why would I possibly have any problems with that?
Here’s the thing—in addition to not expecting reporters to be experts in psychological research, I also understand that they will often write sensational headlines to try to click-bait the reader. I get it—an interesting headline can grab someone’s attention (um…did you see the headline for this
But honestly, that headline is not all that exciting or new, at least probably not to most women in the USA. I have been hearing some version of that line for much of my life. And it is not just me. In my research with adolescent girls, many of them have told me that girls in their high school “act dumb” because boys don’t want to date a girl who is smarter than them.
But, I read the article anyway. And it became clear that the headline is not only trite, it is just plain wrong—that in fact is not what the study found.
I know, because I read the actual study,
which reported on the findings of five experiments comparing men who imagined (or were told about) their partner's success on some task with those who partner's supposedly failed.
I won't dive into a full critique of the study and its findings, but I will summarize some important points. In all 5 experiments, there were no significant differences in the explicit self-esteem between men who were told their partners failed and those who were told their partners were successful. Meaning the title could have just as easily read "Men's self-esteem is unaffected by female partner's success, according to new study." Of the five studies, three of those that reported differences in the mean implicit self-esteem of men who thought about their partners being successful compared to men who thought about their partners failing were barely or marginally significant (p=.08, p=.04, p=.048). In study 4 and 5, men who thought about their partner succeeding had a lower implicit self-esteem than the overall mean and men who thought about their partner failing had a HIGHER implicit self-esteem than the overall mean. Why wasn't the title "Men get a secret kick out of their partner's failures, says new study"? Finally, none of the experiments actually examined a change in self-esteem as the Washington Post implied. Really they looked at two different groups of men. In study 5, they included a control group and found that the men who imagined their partner's success differed from the men who imagined their partner's failure--but neither of these differed significantly from the control group.
Before I begin to sound too critical, let me just say that research studies always have limitations--even a study which included five experiments. The reporter also did a lot of things right. She included information about the study's methods and interviewed a number of experts who commented on the findings. Dr. Rochlen and Dr. O'Neil are well respected in the field of psychology of men and masculinity and helped to provide some context in which to understand the (supposed) findings. Some men may indeed feel threatened by women's success if they embrace traditional stereotypes about gender roles.
But ultimately, the title (and the take home message) presumed something that the study did not even find. Which is problematic because people trust research, they trust respected news sources, and they especially trust respected news sources that report about research. Sometimes more than they should. Heck, if we read an article in the Washington Post titled : "A martian is eating your brain right now and you don’t even know it, says a new study" we might pause and wonder. Is a martian eating my brain?
That ridiculous analogy aside, an article that misrepresents research in such a way that confirms social stereotypes is much more dangerous. People are less likely to question the article if it fits with assumptions they already hold or stereotypes they often hear from others. These kind of stereotypes are bad for women and men. The idea that men's egos are damaged when their female partners succeed is used an an argument to prevent women from having access to power and to discourage men from (vocally) supporting women. As Rochlen points out in the Post article, pressure to conform to rigid traditional masculinity norms (such as believing that men should be more successful than women) has been associated with a number of physical and psychological consequences for men. And while there certainly are some men who adopt such ideas there are plenty of men whose self-esteems are in no way damaged by their partners' success. But as long as researchers and reporters focus only on telling new versions of the same old story, stereotypes will be continually perpetuated and other perspectives and experiences will be minimized, ignored, or suppressed.
Just for a change of pace, I thought it would be useful to give those men's voices a little representation. I asked men who support their successful female partners to share their thoughts with me. These statements are just a small representation from a (very) convenient sample and I am in no way arguing that these men's feelings are the norm. But they do exist and deserve to be heard.
But you don't have to just take my word for it. Here is a sample of quotes sent my way:
"I am very happy for my wife's success in multiple areas. It helps her, it helps me, it helps us as a partnership when one or both of us is doing well and supporting each other."
“I love it. It makes me happy both because it makes her happy and it demonstrates that she is being recognized for her professional development. The challenge we often find is that, when looking for new jobs, one of us will have to make a sacrifice in our career. So as we job search our stated goal is to go wherever the best job is. If she gets a good job, I'll follow her, and vice versa. But that means one of us will likely struggle in a new place, or we can't go someplace that doesn't provide opportunities for both of us. That is what happened to her when we moved here and it really bothers me. Overall I want her to have success and I could care less if she is more successful than me.”
"The article has a very particular conception of success... I would argue that [my wife's] success far surpasses mine. The article's conception of success diminishes her by defining success very narrowly."
"I love that my wife is successful, in many respects, including financially, more so than myself. I am glad that all her hard work is paying off and she is an example to me. When I feel like work or life in general is hard or tiresome, I just look at her example, if she can do it, so can I."
"As a family, I feel we both celebrate the successes in our lives."
“Yeah, um, no. Sorry Post, my wife's kicking ass, taking names and (to the chagrin of others) my ego is completely intact.”
One year, I really wanted to be a genie for Halloween. I was nine or ten years old and I must have been watching lot of reruns of "I Dream of Jeannie." My parents told me absolutely not. I grew up in Salt Lake City where the first snowfall of the year is often before (if not on) Halloween. That skimpy little pink and red outfit was certainly not functional for trick-or-treating. But that is not the reason my parents refused my request and ignored my whining. They told me I was too young to wear a costume with a bare midriff. I don't know what I ended up being that year, but I was probably a witch or a ghost or a vampire, because those were the costumes I often wore as a child. And not a "sexy fairy" version of those things--just a mostly campy, sometimes scary attempt at a Halloween icon. In fact, my family had a big box of costumes and each year my brothers and I would dig through it to decide what we wanted to wear. The costumes were pretty much gender neutral. Looking back, I am glad my parents denied my dream of genie. I think it helped me develop the attitude that I have about Halloween (and about
myself in general). Mostly, I see Halloween as an opportunity to dress as some obscure hero of mine. One year I was evil Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another year I went as Kahlan Amnell from the Sword of Truth series. I get a big kick out of it when 2 people at a party actually guess my costume. I have also dressed in some pretty traditional Halloween costumes (vampire, sorceress, a terrible attempt at a homemade Cleopatra costume) or not dressed up at all. As Halloween approaches and I think about what to be this year, I can't help but be distressed by the problematic nature of what has become super-sexy Halloween (there are also some really disturbing racist costumes floating around, but that is a blog for another time).
Luckily there are campaigns out there
and other people
writing about their concerns with the sexualization of Halloween--but it seems to me that things are not getting much better. Here's the thing. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be sexy. There are definitely times in my life when I choose an outfit because I want to feel and look sexy.
It is even ok for Halloween night to be one of those times (heck, one year in college I dressed as a "sexy Angel" because I found some cool wings, was 21, and was spending Halloween night at a dance club with my friend). My concerns about the sexualization of Halloween does not mean that we should all engage in slut-shaming or be afraid of women's (including young women's) sexuality. The problem with our "super-sexy" Halloween is that it promotes the ridiculous idea that the most important
attribute for women to be is "sexy" (and "sexy" defined by some very narrow standards). This is bad for women of all ages, but it is especially problematic when this standard is imposed on girls. The report from the APA task force on the sexualization of girls
clearly spelled out the numerous negative effects of our culture treating girls like sex objects.Yes, Halloween can be a time for women to show off their "sexy" side--but it can also be a time to be silly, creative, scary, political, smart, adventurous and so much more. It can be
a chance to try out a job or a persona. It can be a way to dream of what we can become, to imagine what our life could be like. Let's be honest, for most kids it is a chance to get free candy and stay up late. Many historians believe that the tradition of Halloween
dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain--when they believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to the earth on the night before their new year (November 1st). The Celts dressed in costumes of animal skins and heads to disguise themselves from the spirits. We sure have come a long way from that to
"Sassy Raphael Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle
" (no, I did not make that up). I have been thinking about all of these things
as I tried to decide what I should be this year. My husband and I are hosting a Halloween party for our friends (many of whom have children under 5) and we plan to have trick-or-treaters stopping by. I am very aware that little kids will often look to the adults in their life as they think about who they are and who they want to become. I wanted to pick a costume that would highlight the fact that women are more than just sexy. I decided to go as Amelia Earhart. I am planning to learn some fun facts about her that I can share with the kids (yes, always a teacher). As I was browsing google to find a costume (I need those iconic googles and the aviator hat) I saw a costume for "sexy Amelia Earhart
" which only furthered my resolve.
We can all do something to push back on this cultural trend that has taken over girls and women's lives (not just on Halloween. We can ask retailers to change what they offer--stop marketing boys' and girls' costumes differently.
Stop making the "girl" costume a skimpier version of the boys'. We can all encourage children to think outside the box when picking a costume, like this mom did.
Guardians of kids can say "no" to the sexy costumes and make their own (like two of my amazing mom friends are doing), or buy the "boy" version of something.
Whether it is on Halloween night or just a day in March, all of us (women and men alike) can remember to compliment girls and women on all the wonderful things about them--not just their looks.
Finally, adult women, we can consider our audience when we choose a Halloween costume. What message do we want to send with that choice? Being sexy is a totally reasonable option, but it doesn't have to be the one we go with every year. Have fun with Halloween and see where it can take you.
Let yourself dream of flying to new heights. -BB
Last week I took my students to a lecture by Representative Brian Sims
, PA state representative of the 182nd district. Sims is the first out LGBT member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, he is a policy attorney and a civil rights activist. I was immediately impressed by Sims and his story. He is funny, engaging and authentic. He admitted that he is sometimes a bit "brash" and was clearly passionate about supporting and advocating for the rights and dignity of all people. Sims recently introduced H.B. 1686, the Pennsylvania Marriage Equality Act, he proposed a ban on anti-gay conversion "therapy" for minors, and supports a non-discrimination law that would protect LGBT individuals from discrimination. One of the things that struck me most was the way that Sims talked about collaboration within politics. This was especially meaningful given the situation of the nation at the time. The day of his talk was more than a week into the federal government shutdown. While there is plenty of disagreement about the cause of the shutdown (and plenty of finger pointing) I don't think anyone would argue that it is the result of collaboration and mutual respect among politicians and between political parties.
In fact the current state of politics in the USA seems to be built on vitriolic opposition of the "other."
Representative Sims talked about his own experiences being shut down and disrespected by some of his fellow state representatives. He also spoke proudly about being a Democrat, a feminist, and an LBGT advocate. But he did not assume that all members of a political party hold the same beliefs and values. He did not encourage partisanship but rather reminded the audience to approach everyone (especially those who we disagree with) with respect--to have conversations about why we want our representatives to pass laws which support the rights of all people. These laws are not a republican vs. democrat issue. They are issues of human dignity. My students were amazed by Sims. Many said that they had never encountered a politician like him--and had not even envisioned one like him. I think we can all learn a lot from Sims' approach. I know how hard it can be for me sometimes to back down from argument, to listen to another perspective, to not assume that someone
will disagree with me.
Balancing passion for an issue with collaboration is a tricky feat. But it is likely the only way to really get things done. People are rarely convinced of the value of an idea when it is presented to them in an adversarial way. If our goal is to "win" then by all means we should dig our heels in and take a competitive stance. But if our goal is to make the world a better place, to fight for social justice, to support the rights of all people, then a little collaboration just might be what we need. Are you listening, congress?
In December of 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution to make October 11th the official "International Day of the Girl." In case you haven't checked your calendars, that means this Friday will be the second year the day is celebrated. The goal of having a day devoted to girls is to recognize the needs of girls around the world, to galvanize support for activities that improve girls' lives, and to empower girls to be involved in all aspects of society. Why do we even need a day of the girl? Sadly, because the state of rights and living conditions for girls worldwide is concerning. Many girls are denied access to education, experience violence in their daily lives, are sexualized in the media,
and their voices are dismissed. Luckily, a number of girls and their allies around the world have joined forces to fight for the dignity and rights of girls. The Day of the Girl Summit 2013
will include a number of activities and events to engage people of all ages and genders to learn about and support girls. Here in Pittsburgh, there will be a large celebration
bringing together various girl serving agencies.
Luckily, you don't have to wait until Friday to get involved. The summit is offering 11 Days of Action to mobilize people now. Today, the SPARK organization is encouraging girls, women, boys and men of all shapes and sizes to "strike a pose" and become live mannequins at H & M stores, a retailer who sales plus size clothing but only displays negative sized models (check it out: 9th Day of Action
).This is the kind of action that the Day of the Girl is all about--drawing attention to a problem facing girls and doing something about it. I encourage you to celebrate the day of the girl this year. Join a local celebration or make one of your own. Think about a way to honor the girls and women (remember, they were girls once) in your life. Each person can make the world a better place one day at a time.
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 Members of the AWP Implementation Collective and the 2014 Conference Planning Committee
that’s not who it is for
it’s about a shift in consciousness
that will bring an end to war"
"wouldn’t it be nice if we had an amendment
to give civil rights to women
to once and for all just really lay it down
from the point of view of women"
"and if you don’t like abortion
don’t have an abortion!
and teach your children
how they can avoid them
but don’t treat all women
like they are your children"
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. -BB