Tag Archives: gender equality

Gender Equality and Picture Books

I got a tweet from a friend last week that lit all kinds of lightbulbs in my head.

It was a simple – but very rare – tweet.

teaching equality for boys

Reading for Gender Equality. A novel concept 😉

So many thoughts hit my head all at once.

The loudest was that this was the first time I’d ever been asked that by someone with a son, or sons.

I get asked all the time to recommend books to parents of daughters in order to promote the ideal of gender equality. But I hardly ever hear from parents of sons, asking how they can teach gender equality.

It filled my heart – because that is where it starts, with parents. And if we’re only teaching girls how to be equal, we’re missing half the equation!

Then I thought of this amazing blog post by male author, Robert J. Bennett about the first time he realized he had no idea that women were, you know, people. He was trying to write one and couldn’t. He couldn’t see his female character as a fully realized, complex, three-dimensional person. His flow of prose stopped.

What he realized in that moment was that his whole life, he had been shielded from seeing women as people just like him. They were “other” – incomprehensible and alien.

alien woman

Is it safe?

One of the solutions he proposes is for parents of sons to get past this weird idea that boys can only relate to stories about boys. After all, we don’t assume the same for girls. In fact, boy/man/male has been normaled to the point that we think nothing of books, movies, music, etc. with all male casts. I share them with my daughters regularly.

But a book/movie with all girls!?! Oh my, we could NEVER expose our sons to that! They just wouldn’t be interested!

Robert suggests that the first step to raising boys to be men who are aware of women as people is to read them books with female leads – in which the girls are actively doing things that contribute to the story!

It turns out that this is easier said than done as a brief stroll of my daughter’s book shelf reminded me.

The next thought that hit me was the old classic – Free to Be… You and Me. My husband was raised on that book and album, but now days you can get the book and CD combo. My kids listen to it fairly regularly and it’s a great reminder that both boys and girls can be who they want to be – boys can like dolls and dresses, girls can like tanks and adventure. They can both be parents, they can both have jobs.

free to be you and me

Because Kids is Kids.

Then, I had another realization – so often when we hear the words “gender equality” we assume we are talking about equality for women and girls, and we forget that there is a whole other side to this equality thing. We are so used to seeing boys/men in their position of privilege and power that we forget, they too are stuck in their gender box. For true equality to happen, we have to smash open the boy box just as surely as we need to smash open the girl box.

I remembered my friend back in Oregon and her son, who for his 3rd birthday wanted exactly one thing – a purple princess dress all his own.

It’s worth noting that this boy was one of the roughest, toughest, “boys will be boys” kids in our group. But, there was something about those sparkly, purple, layered princess dresses that appealed to him.

We all got together, pitched in and made sure he got his purple princess dress – and he LOVED it!

Shortly after that we had a potluck at my house, where my girls had rebelled against my no pink, no princesses decree by filling trunks with princess dress up clothes. That day, everyone in the group ALL dressed up in princess garb.

princess party

7 little princesses all in a row.

Not because they were cross dressers, gender creative, trans or gay (though some of them may be all of those things, and that is okay too.) they did it because they were kids playing make-believe in a safe space that uplifted the feminine as much as the masculine and that made it as okay for the boys to try on “girl” roles as it is for girls to try on “boy” roles.

My husband and I talk a lot about how we will know we have reached gender equality when it is as acceptable for him to mow the lawn or cook dinner or grocery shop in his pigtails and skirt as it is for me to bang nails, weed the garden or walk the dog with close-cropped hair, work boots, jeans and a tee-shirt. No one thinks I’m cross dressing… He isn’t either, it’s just bloody hot out and he likes the air flow.

We will know that we have achieved gender equality when the presidential fitness standards acknowledge that not all boys are stronger than all girls…

We will know we have reached gender equality when the toy aisles aren’t segregated into “boy toys” in primary colors and “girl toys” in shades of sparkly pink and purple. Because there are just TOYS for KIDS, in all the colors.

boys girls

This is straight up baloney.

When we don’t talk about “boy learning styles” and “girl learning styles”, but “active/wiggly learners” and “sit still learners”.

When the equivalent of “boys will be boys” isn’t “girls gone wild” because we will have realized that girls have just as much right to social freedom and pleasure as boys, and that boys have just as much right to quiet play and down time, and it doesn’t make them less masculine.

Gender equality has to go both ways.

In thinking about my friend’s question, I was reminded that equality isn’t just about allowing space for strong, intelligent, motivated women – it’s about creating space for all people to be fully themselves, loud and proud (or quiet in a corner with their thoughts…).

Masculine, feminine, gay, straight, cis, trans, gender queer… We’re all people, and at the end of the day, we all want the same thing – to love and be loved, just the way we are.

So, for all parents who want to raise more aware kids, I made some lists over at Amazon.com (Because it’s easy to do there, not because I heart Amazon.)

First – a handful of picture books with gender neutral protagonists. (Not as easy to find as I would like and I almost cheated to include some books that included gender pronouns – but didn’t need to, but ultimately decided to keep it pure.)

Second – A list of picture books with female protagonists that *gasp* even boys might like!

Third – A list of picture books with more nuanced masculinity than we often see portrayed in the media.

And last – here’s a link to one book that didn’t quite fit in any of those lists, but is a wonderful primer for teaching gender equality.

I hope these help, and of course, readers are encouraged to leave their favorites in the comments below! (Or debate my lists – that’s cool too.)

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Filed under Books, Kids, Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

What is Feminine about Feminism?

This is a serious question – in case you were expecting another spoof.

This question has come up recently in my life in lots of little ways.

There were articles talking about how often feminism has meant being allowed to compete with men in a man’s world, on men’s terms. And others trying to tease apart whether feminist pop stars were really feminist – are they expressing THEIR sexuality on that stage, or merely being sexy for a male audience – ie; bowing to patriarchy for their power.

feminism clothing

I need feminism because how I dress isn’t about YOU.

Then there was a mindblowing, soul-quaking session with my friend Dr. Trish Whynot, where she (oh so nicely) called me out for burying my femininity and helped me draw it to the surface, see it, accept it and honor it.

Shortly after that I read an article (which I can’t find to link to – of course.) wherein someone asked, “What exactly is feminine about feminism?” The question was blown off in the article, but it has continued to rattle around in my head ever since.

Because, it’s a really, really good question.

And, as I make the final preparations for my upcoming Feminism in Young Adult Literature workshop, it’s one that I am actively wrestling with.

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be a male-chauvinistic feminist – without even realizing it. So ingrained was the idea that feminism was about reaching parity with males, that it didn’t even occur to me that not all women wanted to be masculine and that being feminine did NOT make them lesser. Oddly, I was still perfectly fine with my male friends who leaned feminine – I saw them challenging gender norms as much as I was, but I didn’t think that men who failed to challenge their masculinity were failing all men in the same way that I believed girly-girls were failing feminism.

It didn’t occur to me that striving for equality with men did not necessarily mean becoming men with vaginas. It didn’t occur to me that I could be a feminist AND feminine!I had fallen into the sexist trap of believing that the masculine was the ideal, the thing to strive for, and the feminine was something to be hidden, buried and devalued. I managed my love of feminine things like cooking by reminding myself that the vast majority of chefs were men.

It didn’t occur to me that equality goes both ways – it’s about allowing women and men who want to compete, not in “man’s” world, but in corporate, capitalist, race to the topville do so. AND about allowing men and women who want to nurture, go slow, value their families above their paycheck to also do so.

masculine feminism

Lean in to the “feminine” side.

Feminism is supposed to be about opening doors (for everyone) – NOT closing them. It’s supposed to give us more choices, not less. If someone, male or female, wanted to learn to sew and wanted to stay home to raise children – who was I to tell them no? THOSE SKILLS HAVE VALUE TOO.

But it took me marrying a man who could sew, and cook, and clean and who valued staying home with the kids to SEE it. It took me “leaning out” and “taking time off” (As fucking if!!) to raise our children to see that the feminine side of me – and of my husband was JUST AS VALUABLE as the masculine.

Then came this comment from a man who sees the same thing. A certain type of feminism that is as rigid and male-chauvinistic as the patriarchy we’re all supposed to be fighting. He sees it as a man who wears skirts and gets crap from women because he appears to be flaunting his feminine side.

And this brings me around to the original question again – What is feminine about feminism, if feminism is primarily about competing with men and embracing masculinity?

feminine feminism

What is feminine about feminism?

There is a new wave of feminists rising in this country – a new generation who are starting to grapple with this.

I listen to my daughters talk about their peers. There was an entire year lost to debates of who was a girly-girl and who was a tomboy and what that meant and whether tomboys could be friends with girly-girls and whether you could be a tomboy AND wear skirts and whether girly-girls could also be tough.

It was wonderful to hear the conversations, to take part in the conversations, to allow the conversations to open MY mind and my heart. It was fun to dissect these notions of what it means to be a girl in today’s world – and then to flip it and discuss what it means to be a boy. (Can a boy cry at recess? Can a boy want to play princess with the girls? What happens if a boy opts out of rough games and chooses more mellow past-times? Is he girly? Is that okay?)

By the end of the year my girls were both so much more accepting of people who were simply true to themselves, living life out loud in whatever way was most comfortable for them. After all, through the conversations they had come to see that neither one of them was completely one thing or the other – they were a blend. Some days they wanted to play princess, other days they wanted to be Black Widow, some days they wanted to be scientists and some days they wanted to be poets. In the end they realized they didn’t have to choose, they could be a little bit of everything all rolled into one.

After all, isn’t that what feminism was supposed to be about?

The (Encarta) dictionary defines feminism as – 1. Belief in women’s rights: belief in the need to secure, or a commitment to securing, rights and opportunities for women equal to those of men. 2. Movement for women’s rights: the movement committed to securing and defending equal rights and opportunities for women equal to those of men.

Caitlin Moran runs with, “Making the world equal for men and women.”

Finally we have, “Feminism: The radical notion that women are people.”

And in the end, it is still that old feminist slogan that resonates the strongest. Because if women are people, and men are people, then maybe, just maybe, people are people.

I know I’m just one small voice among many – but I’d like that. I’d like feminism to mean making the world equal for all people.

I’d like it to mean raising up the feminine as much as the masculine, valuing the feminine as much as the masculine.

I’d like it to open doors for all genders to get out of our little boxes and explore our own humanity more completely.

I’d like it mean accepting all people for who they are and what they contribute to the world.

I think feminism will have won when a parent who chooses to value their family above their paycheck is not derided for “leaning out” but instead is raised up because they are leaning in to the hardest, most challenging, most valuable job I can think of – raising the next generation.

Feminism will have won when there are no girl colors and boy colors, girl toys and boy toys, girl clothes and boy clothes.

boys and dolls

Guys and Dolls – the modern version.

Feminism will have won – not just when more women break the glass ceiling and achieve equal pay for equal work – but also when men break the glass… floor!?! – Oh, do you see how much we continue to prop the masculine up even as we try to claim equality – and feel more comfortable taking “feminine” jobs like nursing, elementary school teacher, housekeepers, administrative assistants… And where those typically female jobs pay as well as typically masculine jobs – BECAUSE THE FEMININE IS EQUALLY VALUED.

Feminism will have won when people are people. Jobs are jobs. Toys are toys. Clothes are clothes.

It’s been that way before, it can be that way again – but only if we open the door both ways.

Only if feminism embraces, values and promotes the feminine as well as claiming the masculine.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

FYI Teenage boys. Or, dear Mrs. Hall

A friend brought Mrs. Hall’s recent letter to teenage girls to my attention yesterday.

I knew I wanted to reply, but I struggled with HOW I wanted to reply.

Honestly, I didn’t want to go all Ranty Pants rage machine – because I wanted her to be able to hear what I had to say and rage pushes people away from the conversation rather than bringing them into it.

Ultimately, I would have liked to be calm enough, rational enough, loving enough to write something like this.

I tried even, but I just couldn’t get there.

There was so much I wanted to say – not just to Mrs. Hall, but also to the BOYS who might read her letter and might not understand how scapegoating girls who dress or pose provocatively for their unpraiseworthy thoughts (or deeds) contributes to rape culture.

Matt McConaughey topless again

Is he asking for it?

I wrote, rewrote, edited, changed tactics, wrote again.

I couldn’t find the words.

Then I realized… Mrs. Hall had already given them to me.

She had done the work, I just needed to change the lens.

This morning Bombshell, the online rag I recently started writing for, published my rebuttal.

I’d love it if you popped over and gave it a read. And, of course – I’d love your comments and thoughts! I’ll be popping over there to participate in the conversation.

And to Mrs. Hall – I’m sure you didn’t expect that post to take over the internets. I’m sure you’re wondering how something written with so much positive intent could be taken so poorly. I’ve been there myself. And I’ve been blessed to have hoards of people come down on me and show me how my words or actions were harmful and hurtful rather than uplifting or inspiring, and then – I’ve been given a second chance to try again and do better.

Here’s to second chances. May we all be blessed enough to have a few!

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Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant, Things that work

Ignorant straight gal seeks enlightenment

Based on what happened to the woman who inspired this post – I fear that I am baiting trolls and inviting some serious haters. On the other hand, you all have a solid history of comporting  yourselves with dignity and intelligence here, so I’m going to risk it.

Please note, I am posting from a place of ignorance, and I am asking for help in moving past my ignorance into a place of better understanding. I am posting as an ally in search of better tools and language.

A conversation on one of the Facebook pages I follow has been haunting me – and at the risk of being attacked for my ignorance, rather than helped to understand, I would like to see if any of my people can clarify things for me. Also if any stray trolls or haters do show up, please note you’ll be nuked from the comments. I’d like to start a genuine conversation here and that can’t be done if people feel threatened or attacked.

The scenario is this – the admin for a page posted an apology for a post she made that led “trans*people” (That is how she wrote it) to feel unsafe/unwelcome there. The post in question was her attempt to welcome people of all gender identities and a disclaimer that as a straight woman, she did not understand all the issues/language/etc. around being LGBTQ, but that she was trying to learn and to be supportive and make sure her page was a safe, welcoming place for all people. This post was specifically an attempt to reach out to trans identified people who had commented that they felt left out by the feminist movement as a whole.

Based on the apology, it was less the post, and more the barrage of hate/fear/ignorance filled comments that followed that upset people.

The first comment that followed this apology was a woman who admitted she hadn’t read the original post, or the comments, but that “Trans people” didn’t cut it for her.

She said that she was born a man and had gone through the transition in order to live as a full woman, with a body that matched the person inside it.

She was upset by the “constant ‘innocent’ exclusion wording of women who happen to be different’.

The admin again apologized, explaining that she had used “trans*people” as opposed to trans women or trans men in an attempt to be inclusive of all people regardless of where along that spectrum they lived.

The commentor fired back that “trans” was the exclusion word in question. This woman had completed her transition and thus wanted to be identified as a woman.

Here’s the part where my ignorance comes out, and again, I am asking as an ally who would like to understand in order to be more supportive… My question may be phrased inappropriately, or insensitively, not because I want to hurt anyone, but because I am genuinely ignorant on some of these topics.

Please educate me.

If you are a woman who was born into a man’s body and you don’t want to identify as trans because you’ve completed the transition and are now living as a woman and you’re on a feminist page that talks about women’s rights and women’s issues… Why not identify with the posts about women’s rights and women’s issues?

Why get upset that the admin is trying to reach out to people who still identify as trans?

Why take it personally that she uses the word/prefix “trans”?

And, if you are upset and you do start a dialogue about it, why not take the time to educate her and give her the proper language to use?

This commenter never stated what she would like to be called. She identified as a woman, yet she seemed to feel that the term woman excluded her because of her “trans history”, as did the trans prefix, because her transition was complete. I am ignorant, clearly so is this admin – what is left in our language to use?

How can we be more inclusive?

Unfortunately, English as many of us have learned it is limited in its gender based identifiers. And, on a page that is dedicated to promoting equal rights for all sexes and genders, and to pointing out the harmful effects of a patriarchal system, gender terms and identifiers are going to be used – a lot.

So… Rather than just say, “Your language doesn’t include me, and I’m sick of it.” offer some HELP. Offer guidance.

If the admin has just attempted to come out as an ally, assume she is open to learning and listening.

Give her the tools to do a better job.

As another commenter further down the chain asked, “What I’m hearing here is that if an event/group says they are “trans* inclusive, it will alienate and exclude those people who feel they have completed the transition. But if the group/event says ‘women only’ it will exclude all of the people who identify as trans. Is there any way to reconcile the two?”

trans pride flag

Welcome everyone.

(Also, I am aware that there is a long and ugly history of feminists excluding trans people, lesbians, blacks, Latinas, Asians, men, working class women, and any number of “others”.
My apologies.
I can only speak for myself and the groups I belong to – you’re ALL welcome and included in my world.
People are people, and I hope we can all find a way to live together and support each other.
That is what feminism is supposed to be about – equality.
As Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “No one is free until we are all free.”)

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Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Woe to the Women

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately – most of it for the book I am working on, but also for a possible career change I am looking at. It’s taking me into some dark places. Really dark places. Scary dark places.

I haven’t been sleeping.

Eating – not so much.

Ranting – a little too much perhaps. But, the thing is, I’m reading a lot of truth. Facts, yes, absolutely. But also a deeper truth. A truth about how women have been, and largely still are, marginalized, mistreated and underrepresented.

I know we have plenty of examples right now in the media. From idiots who claim that “legitimate rape” (Whatever that is) does not cause pregnancy, despite the 32,000 women who can personally and physically rebut that EVERY SINGLE YEAR to the fetal personhood bill that is once again being put on the November ballot in Colorado.

Women all across this country are being told in one ear that we are less valuable than an undifferentiated clump of cells and that our lives hold no value next to that of a potential life. We are being told by our religious leaders that they should not have to provide their secular employees working in secular, non-church related jobs with health insurance that covers life saving medicine, screenings and procedures, even while they offer insurance to men that covers Viagra – a pill that so far has not saved a single life, and that really is used only to facilitate sex.

Meanwhile, we are being told in the other ear that there is no war on women. That this is all just a big distraction to make us forget about the larger issue – jobs and the economy.

Here’s the truth about that – If the GOP wins, and they get their way and outlaw female personhood in favor of patriarchy and fetal rights, women WILL lose their jobs. They WILL lose their voice. They WILL lose their place at the table. But – job numbers will go up. Because a woman who quits or is fired due to a pregnancy does not show up on the unemployment numbers. (Pregnancy is considered a voluntary condition and thus is not covered by the disability act that prevents employers from firing people who are seeking treatment for a medical condition.) A woman at home raising more kids than she ever wanted – doesn’t show up on the unemployment numbers. And all those men, sitting at home whining about not having a job, they’ll be able to step in and take the jobs vacated by the women.

Biblical Women

The GOP plan for women.

I just finished a radical truth-telling book. It’s called Woe to the Women The Bible Tells Me So: The Bible, Female Sexuality and the Law by Annie Laurie Gaylor and it does exactly what its title implies – it goes through the Bible and dissects what it really says about women. Even more than that though – it shows how that misogynistic viewpoint has tainted and corrupted our American law, and how it is still being used as a weapon against women.

I wish, sometimes, that I was just another conspiracy theory nut, because then I wouldn’t be so upset. But the truth is, every time I pull my head out of my research and try to let a little light in, I am confronted by another politician saying something stupid about women, about our bodies, about our ability to make our own medical choices, about the reasons we make less money than our male counterparts.

Like many women my age, I thought these battles were over. I thought our grandmothers and mothers had fought the good fight, and that we could sit back and enjoy the rewards of their hard work. But, it isn’t that simple. We ARE still under attack. Every day. And when we vote – regardless of any other issues, we need to remember that and cast our vote for the people who are on our side.

I can create jobs. When I was laid off, that is exactly what I did. And I plan to create at least 3 more by this time next year. But I cannot create freedom once I allow someone else to take it away. I cannot give myself, or my daughters, sister, nieces, mother, grandmother or friends healthcare once I allow someone to take away their right to have it. If we allow governments to shut down women’s clinics – who will be there when our sisters need care? (And I’m not talking about tax payer money here – I’m talking about service providers being shut down and their services outlawed. It IS happening.)

The war on women is not a distraction. It is not a decoy, or a ruse.

It is not a joke.

As Elizabeth Cady Stanton reminded us in 1897, “The greatest obstacle we had to overcome was the Bible. It was hurled at us on every side.”

And as Annie Gaylor reminds us now, “In our secular country, we are all free to believe what we like, but our government must remain above the religious fray.
And that’s women’s salvation – our precious, uniquely American principle of separation of church and state.
Our constitution says you cannot legislate your religion…
…in America, we can have as many gods as we like, or none at all. Women and the men who support women’s rights must make it our business to protect our First Amendment, because it protects us. We must fortify the wall of separation between church and state, because it is the only barrier, I repeat, it is the only barrier, standing between women’s rights and a holy war.”

Woe to the Women the Bible Tells Me So. Remember in November. Vote for someone who can keep their faith out of our government.

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Filed under Books, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant