Teaching Feminism

By Morgan Elyse Christensen

The girl wants everything in pink and purple. The boy refuses to even look at anything that is. She wants to read books and play with fluffy kittens. He wants to laugh at farts and destroy things in video games. Trying to debunk stereotypes and teach 10-year-olds the importance of gender equity in a 4th grade world where these boy/girl clichés are all that seem to give them a sense of identity – especially with schoolmates – seems to be almost a lost cause. However, after having a reassuring conversation with my boy/girl twins about feminism from their perspectives, I have a feeling that, on a deeper level, I must be doing something right.

We talked about equal pay for women, women’s representation in the arts, and the illusion of male over female competency on the job. I told them that, on average, men make more money than women and that there are less works of art by female artists in most museums all over the world. My son gasped and said, “That’s not fair!” I said, “I know!”

Photo by Tod Baker

Photo by Tod Baker

Recently, their school held elections for school council. I asked them if they thought girls and boys were treated equally in the election. “Of course”, I thought to myself, “At this age they’ll surely be about equal.” To my surprise, however, my son replies, “A lot of people don’t vote for the girls because they think they’ll turn the school all girly-girlish like make the school paint the walls pink and put unicorns on them.”

Photo by Tod Baker

Photo by Tod Baker

Apparently, last year, there was only one girl on the council as treasurer. Contrariwise, this year the school has elected female members for the roles of president, vice president, and treasurer. Well, aren’t we just a little mirror of our 2013 Congress? On a side note, my daughter had her own thoughts about the voting process outside of the girl vs. boy agenda and, my, does she have a grasp on politics already. In her words: “Running for student council is just a huge popularity contest…I didn’t just vote for who was popular, though.”

So I asked them how they did vote and my son said, “Well, I voted for the girls because they were cut out for the job (I know, right?). They actually do their work in class. The boys who were running this year just goof off in school and on the bus.” My daughter said she voted for the girls as well. I asked her if that was just because they were girls like her, but she “didn’t just choose the girls because they were girls – they were just the people who worked best in class.”

Photo by Tod Baker

Photo by Tod Baker

So, despite their arguments over what’s “for girls” or what’s “for boys” and them passing this mentality on to their 5-year-old little brother (which, frankly, makes me cringe every time he says, “I want to play a boy song” because a female artist’s track is on Just Dance 3), I know that the underlying message is getting through. Whether it’s the little things like my youngest son finding a bottle of Hello Kitty bubbles in his stocking or the big moments like having these meaningful conversations, it’s working. I just hope that as they get older, and start to realize the physical differences in gender and their respective peer groups become even more influential, that I can maintain their understanding of equality between boy and girl, man and woman in the areas that truly matter.

Modern Day Nuns

By Sarina Smith
 

 When one pictures a nun in this day and age, what is it that comes to mind?   Personally, I start envisioning Julie Andrews running around on mountain tops, but when I googled pictures of nuns I saw a range of awkward Halloween costumes and cartoon women in habits, looking stern and holding rulers.   The latter is what I think the majority of people see in their mind’s eye, Catholic schools where nuns taught strictly.  I say ‘taught’, like they are gone now because, for most people, nuns seem like a thing of the past.  But here’s the deal, nuns still exist and they do a ton of different things.

           It was through my Histories of Reading, Writing, and Publishing: Medieval Women’s Literacies course led by Dr. Virginia Blanton (Department of English) that that I was drawn to start a service  learning project instead of writing a regular paper.  With my enthusiasm for the monastic life she guided me to go to Atchison, Kansas for a weekend trip to the Mount St. Scholastica’s convent.  There I found that these nuns hold a wide range jobs from being nurses, to artisans, to even being college professors.  They wear regular clothing and act like regular people.  This is where I really got to thinking about the place of nuns in our modern society. 

 It makes sense that nuns would be professors; nunneries were a key place to send your daughters in the past if you wanted them to be well educated so nuns should be well educated and good teachers if they are to uphold their traditions.  Even though I see the connection when I stand back, it still seemed surreal while inside Mount St. Scholastica’s.
I wanted to know more.  Dr. Blanton informed me that Atchison had a mission located in Kansas City called the Keeler Women’s Center so I visited there next.  These nuns are as modern-day as it gets.  They lead a center to help and educate urban women stuck in poverty and they are busy people.  With the help of volunteers, they see a hundred different women each week and try to feed their needs in all areas of life.  From offering classes in parenting, teaching people how to read, to introducing them to popular women advocates they cover more life skills than most people are ever exposed to. 

After seeing all of this I was drawn in further.  Asking the director of the Keeler Center, Sister Carol Ann Petersen, what it was that I could do to help led her to show me their bookcase.  For a center that teaches literacy, they are in great need of things to read.  When she presented me their two sad shelves of dusty books (most of which are saints’ lives or stories about nuns) we decided that they could use a few more books. 

 I encourage you to go home and look through your shelves, in case there is something there that you can part with.  Giving up a book or two can take you five seconds yet make a life time of difference to these women.   They are looking for anything: children’s books for daycare, easy adult reading for their women just learning to read and then books of general interest for the variety of people they see every day.  As for me, I’ve been upsetting Isabella, my daily book guardian who did not want to get up off of my bookcase at any point this week.  Regardless of cat problems, I was able to score a stack of books, including Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, and Leo Tolstoy, which I am contributing.  Please do join me in donating to the Keeler Women’s Center.  You can do this by either contacting me: sesyrd@mail.umkc.edu , contacting the Keeler Women’s Center: kwc@mountosb.org , or by simply dropping your books in the book-drive box that has been placed in our own, UMKC Women’s Center located on the first floor of Haag Hall.  Give a little, give a lot, give what you can from Monday, March 12th through Friday, March 23rd. 

 

A special thanks to Sarina for initiating the book drive and sharing her post with us! For more information about the book drive please contact the UMKC Women & Gender Studies Program or the UMKC Women’s Center

Join the Women’s Center for a screening of Miss Representation

By Carolina Costa

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiD9SbeaDEs&feature=fvst[/youtube] Miss Representation is a 2011 award winning documentary written and directed by women’s advocate, Jennifer Siebel Newsom. Miss Representation challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls; as well as the collective messages that young women and men overwhelmingly receive pointing that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. Newsom has also launched MissRepresentation.org, a call-to-action campaign that gives women and girls the tools to realize their full potential.

The Women’s Center is pleased to invite everyone in the UMKC community and Kansas City area to a screening of Miss Representation on Tuesday, February 28th. The event will take place at the UMKC Student Union Theatre and we will kick-off the evening off with a reception at 5:30pm, followed by the screening at 6:00pm. Join us after the film for a facilitated discussion concerning the documentary. Drinks and snacks will be provided and this event is FREE and open to the public! All you have to do is pre-register online at www.umkcmissrepresentation.eventbrite.com and bring your tickets to the event; space is limited so do not wait to register!

It is also a great opportunity to discuss matters such as media consumption, women’s leadership, sexualization, self-esteem and abuse in an informed and plural environment that will help you develop your thought in many issues. Don’t hesitate to engage in the discussion and share your experiences and impressions of the film. And please, join us for the opportunity to make a difference in your community by taking action in the Miss Representation Campaign.

 For more information about the event contact the Women’s Center at 816.235.1638 or umkc-womens-center@umkc.edu or visit http://www.missrepresentation.org/

 A special thanks to all of our sponsors for this event: UMKC Counseling Center, K-Roo Student Media, UMKC Friends of the Library, Veronica’s Voice, Girl Scouts of NE Kansas NW Missouri, UMKC Career Services, The Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City, and Win for KC

Leave Your Lipstick At Home

By Courtney Neaveill

“Gwyneth Paltrow lipstick lesbian”: Google that and you will get over two pages of results – all of which reference a recent interview that Ms. Paltrow gave with Harpaar’s Bizarre. The 39 year old film star mentioned her daughter’s affinity for pink, ruffled clothes and remarked that IF her daughter were a lesbian she would be a ‘lipstick lesbian’ – as opposed to a ‘butch’ lesbian.  So now you may be thinking, ‘what the hell is that?’ Definition incoming! The most popular description on UrbanDictionary.com, defines the lipstick lesbian as “a feminine lesbian who is attracted to other feminine lesbians. They generally enjoy fashion, flowers, perfume, sex and the city, lingerie, lipstick of course, and (gasp!) passionate sex with other women.” The authors at Wikipedia expand on their similar definition of a LL by adding “most female same-sex sex scenes in mainstream pornography [portray women] this way.”  I take issues with this designation.  It’s as if people are saying “ok- now that we know what she is, we’ll know more appropriately how to deal with her.” I think of scientists uncovering a new species of animal or better yet, Jack Hannah. “Hey everyone, how’r  ya’ll doin – I’m Jungle Jack Hanna and on today’s episode we’ll be looking for the allusive Lipstick Lesbian.” What about the lesbian who does not fit into the nicely outlined “lipstick” category – is she butch by default? Is there no such thing as a normal, everyday lesbian? I’ll admit when I first heard the term lipstick lesbian I was amused – but does this label serve a purpose or is it damaging to the gay and lesbian community?

The people over at Belladonna.org not only find lipstick classification necessary but they also commit an entire section of their website in support of feminine lesbians. The claim is that they are unidentifiable by appearance and therefore need a support community where they can find tips on how to navigate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), dating and social scene. “Since we “don’t look like Lesbians”, other Lesbians don’t recognize us, which means we are often excluded from the united front. (Also, we don’t get asked out.)” This makes sense. In 1998, the Village Voice published an article in which they addressed the lipstick lesbian phenomenon.  According to the article, after series like the L Word, Sex and the City and Grey’s Anatomy portrayed lesbians in a more feminine light, lesbians no longer felt obligated to wear Doc Martens and rainbow colored jewelry but instead ventured to strut around in designer clothes and high heels.  Executive producer and director of L Word, Ilene Chaiken, feels that lesbians are liberated by the increasing social acceptance of the feminine lesbian.

“I think that we all need representation, we need aspirational figures, and it’s a positive thing for girls growing up to look at a TV show and say: ‘Oh, so that’s a lesbian, and she can be successful and wear glamorous clothes. Feeling that I might be gay doesn’t relegate me to some dark corner of society.’ “

Sociologist and professor, Jane Ward, calls this “’an echo effect’: The media prefers images of beautiful women, so lesbians put energy into being pretty, and then the media reports that image as the new ideal. “It’s the same way that heterosexual femininity is packaged and sold to female consumers.” Lesbians are therefore more palatable to the media-crazed, consumer public.

So which is it – have lesbians been forced by the general public into acting and dressing more feminine or have they been liberated by lipstick and high heels? I think it is a matter of both social pressure and personal expression. Either way, it is not a very flattering reflection of U.S. American social culture when public figures like Gwyneth Paltrow keyhole people into such inescapable categories. Actress Portia de Rossi once quipped “Everyone is their own kind of lesbian. To think there’s a certain way to dress or present yourself in the world is just one more stereotype we have to fit into.”  We should not be persuaded to make the distinction between two potentially harmful clichés; the ‘lipstick’ and the ‘butch’ lesbian.  Why is it anyway that lipstick lesbians receive the special feminine treatment? One of the most beautiful expressions of femininity is the deep love and affection that one woman can have for her female friend, partner or lover; with or without lipstick.

New Year’s Resolution: We should all be as vocal…

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srnaXW9ZgZc[/youtube]

by Arzie Umali

Happy New Year! It’s that time again when many of us are making our New Year’s resolutions. If you haven’t made your resolution yet, or you’ve decided not to make any resolutions this year, let me suggest one for you: Let’s all resolve to put our passion for women’s equity into action this year. During a time when so much is happening in this country with the unsteady economy, the presidential race, and our own busy and hectic lives, it’s easy to leave the advocacy work to some else. But as the little girl in the video shows, you’re never too young to get on your soap box and speak up about women’s equity!

 

I don’t really want to ‘Think Like A Man’

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JX4HzF0Kmg&feature=related[/youtube]

By Bonnie Messbarger

A new film is coming out this Spring called Think Like A Man which is based off the book by Steve Harvey titled Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment. This book has caused me a lot of distress. Now the movie trailer is out, and it’s worse than I could have imagined. After watching the trailer the only message I received from the film was, “Honey, ‘guys will be guys’ and they’re flawed and imperfect and you just need to accept that. Now, you need to change what you do and think if you ever want to land yourself a man.” And I’m not the only one who sees it that way. Let’s show women that when your relationships with men aren’t great, it’s obviously your fault. Great idea.

Did You Miss These?


A trailer for the film “The Invisible War” about sexual assault in the military.

Gloria Steinem talks about feminism and women and aging at the TEDx Women event.

The plan to allow Plan B to be available to anyone regardless of age is blocked.

Amnesty International released some facts and figures about violence against women.

The International Women’s Media Foundation releases a Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media.

Secretary Hillary Clinton talked about LGBT human rights in Geneva.

House Republications push a bill to ban abortions based on the sex or race of the fetus.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) does a two part series on the Penn State sexual assaults and how it can be used to teach about bystander intervention.

 

Dr. Pepper Ten, “It’s Not for Women.”

By Kristina Gardner

Dr. Pepper is telling ladies that they shouldn’t drink Dr. Pepper Ten. They are also saying that women don’t like action films, and asking if you are “manly enough”. Of course as soon as this campaign was released there was outrage; over the internet, on blogs, and especially on their Facebook Wall. But Dr. Pepper couldn’t let bad publicity reach their Facebook Wall about pushing women away, being sexist, boycotts, and shamefulness. So, the bright minds behind the Dr. Pepper Ten campaign have been deleting any and all negative comments about their product. There are entire blogs dedicated to the posts that have been deleted. Even popular websites that round up the “buzz” on the Internet have gotten into it, rounding up comments into one listing of the top ten comments about the outrage that women are having.

The saddest part is that, even the campaign alienates men as well. Listing ten man’ments of how to be manly, what you should never do as a man, etc. What man wants to be told how to be more manly and what they should and shouldn’t do as a “man”? 

There are plenty of feminists and feminist organizations that are calling for a boycott of the new ten calorie diet soda, as well as all other Dr. Pepper products; with Facebook groups, blogs, and even online news.

As an avid Dr. Pepper drinker myself, I find myself confused about what to do. I guess we all just have to ask ourselves, are we going to continue drinking Dr. Pepper because it’s our favorite drink, or are we going to look at the big picture, and boycott the sexist campaign until Dr. Pepper realizes what they did wrong, and change it.

Beauty vs. Brains?

Image from Flickr.com

By Lakhvir Kaur

It seems like lately we are back to the beauty versus brains saga, in which girls entering middle school feel forced to ask themselves, “‘Do I want to be smart in math, or do I want to be seen as attractive?’ ” says Jennifer Skaggs, a University of Kentucky education researcher and author of the June 2011 paper Making the Blind to See: Balancing STEM Identity With Gender Identity. These stereotypes about how a woman good in academics, is not attractive is not guiding women in the right direction. This is just creating insecurities among female teenagers because they feel like they have to pick between either being beautiful or studious. And with t-shirts like this one from Forever 21, it’s no wonder young women are seeing it as “cool” not to like math and science.

These pressures and stereotypes are leading us to a very bleak reality. According to a report released last month by the Department of Commerce, women only hold less than 25 percent of jobs in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). So is Jennifer’s concern true? Are women affected by how they think men are seeing them based on their intelligence? The only way to improve the situation is that we need to stop and think about what we are telling young women today. Instead of telling them that it isn’t “cool” or attractive to be smart we need to show them that women can be both smart and beautiful. Women can do just as well as men in STEM areas, if not better. This means that women should explore more careers in science, math and technology because according to Christianne Corbett, a senior researcher for the American Association of University Women and co-author of the 2010 report “Why So Few?,”: “The growth of technology is driven by the people who are designing it. Without women at the design table, the interests of half the population will basically be ignored.”

Gender Stereotypes In the Classroom

Image from flickr.com

By Bonnie Messbarger

Recently I was reading some of the blogs on Ms. Magazine’s blog site, and found this article to be really interesting.  It talks about the new book written by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett called The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children. The book takes a look into the pseudoscience of gender essentialism, which basically is the idea that because we have different genders that means there is a natural difference in their biological and psychological makeup. This belief has bled into parenting styles, media and corporation strategies, and even education. Some see the differences between boys and girls to be so great that they need to be educated not only separately (as in a private all girls/boys school), but in completely different ways.  The Ms. Magazine Blog says, “In the U.S., 524 public schools now have at least one single-sex classroom; nine years ago there were only a dozen.” Leonard Sax and Michael Gurian are the faces of gender separation in the classroom with books like “Why Gender Matters” and “Boys and Girls Learn Differently”. So, what exactly are these people suggesting we teach in these single-sex classrooms?

For starters people like Sax and Gurian tell us girls learn most effectively in a calm and quiet environment, where there isn’t much noise and everyone learns home economics, poetry, and other subjects that they see as useful to women. They are taught to be passive, quiet, and to nurture and listen.  Also according to these stereotypes, boys learn best in an active environment, where they are moving constantly, and there is lots of noise. They disassemble electronics, and cars, and learn how to make things fly. They do not read literature critically, or discuss art and music, that is for women. They are outgoing and persistent, and taught to take charge and lead.

In my opinion, these stereotypes, which are basically what they are, are dangerous to be teaching young children.  This system of separation could be very damaging for both boys and girls because of how limiting it is. This idea of different education methods for boys and girls claims to be based on science. But this “science” doesn’t account for boys who like to cook and teach and girls who like to build planes and take charge. This whole idea of separatist education is shocking to me, because it seems more like something out of a classroom in the 1900’s than a classroom in 2011. As a woman who’s outgoing, bakes, works on cars, can’t sit still, plays video games, sews, reads, and learns best by being hands on, I don’t see how these separate classrooms can be beneficial to anyone.