Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Girl that was Raised by…BOOKS! Part 3 of 3

The final area of written word that I think was a contributor to my development as a feminist, was sex-ed books. I summoned the courage to check out such a book from my middle school library in 8th grade, and it was the first knowledge I ever received about the existence of the clitoris. The book—written for children going through puberty—enthusiastically included that it is the only organ on the male or female body that was created specifically for pleasure, and talked frankly about masturbation as an alternative to sex with other people.

I was outraged that I was never taught about this part of my own body (I had an entire marking period of sex-ed in 6th grade, but that part of female anatomy was mysteriously left out). I truly do not know when I would have learned about it if it weren’t for my slightly rebellious decision to check out that book. When I asked the girls in my 9th grade heath class if they knew what the clitoris was, and discovered that over half of them didn’t, I asked my female teacher to explain. She blushed and refused to speak about the subject. Now, I know perhaps that is because it went against curriculum (which is ridiculous in and of itself), but she didn’t even give the girls a reputable source from which to learn the information on their own.

I'm admittedly not one of those people that's all RahRah! about the "beauty" of female genitals--all genitals, female and male, are hopelessly disgusting. Buuut, this is so freaky and cool O.O

I’m admittedly not one of those people that’s all RahRah! about the “beauty” of female genitals–all genitals, female and male, are hopelessly disgusting. Buuut, this is so freaky and cool O.O

Since I wasn’t getting information about sex from the people that were supposed to be responsible for teaching me, I began to seek out information elsewhere. I read trashy magazines and websites whose reliability I questioned even then. Fortunately, I found a sex-ed education Youtuber whose name I can’t recall. She worked in an adult store, and her videos were incredibly straightforward and informative. She made fun of those trashy magazines and encouraged her viewers to actually talk to the person they are having sexual contact with. So, I stopped using said magazines as a resource and began to seek out more reputable sources.

I read through planned parenthood’s website for information about contraceptives, and with some Christmas money, I sneakily bought a book called “The Guide to Getting it On” (nice little hyperlink to the Barnes&Noble site guys, at the time of this blog publication, it’s on sale :P). It was pricy for me at the time, I was just a sophomore in high school, but the website and reviews said it was used to teach college sexuality courses. It is 981 pages of pure knowledge.

I believe a large part of feminism is taking control of your own sexuality, and these books gave me the power and knowledge to do that.

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Dansville, Michigan: The Epitome of a Small Town School District

The other day in my Women’s &Gender Studies class, we were given a school district to analyze. The school district given to my group was a tiny place called “Dansville, Michigan.” We were to find information about the district, and then find its ranking on a website—schooldigger.com. We are to fulfill four rough requirements with this information:

1. Briefly describe community and district
2. How was it ranked and speculate why?
3. How might gender and race be experienced there?
4. Is the district Desirable? Would you send your kids there?

So, let’s begin!

1.
Dansville, Michigan is a rural agriculture town, whose population is 563 and 95.6% White.
Its school system serves 898 students, and it has one elementary, middle, and high school. The student body is about 96% white, with Hispanic children making up most of the other 4%. The average percentage of students that are eligible for discounted or free lunch is 31%. In contrast, the average percentage of students that are eligible for discounted or free lunch in the district ranked 2nd in the state is 6%.

2.
Dansville was ranked 330th out of the 602 districts in Michigan. It’s single Elementary school was ranked 727th of 1493, it’s Middle school 383rd of 661, and it’s High school 471st of 814. These statistics put it somewhere around the middle of the rankings for the state.

To illustrate the point of view I’m coming from, I would like to mention that my school district was ranked almost exactly in the middle of my state, and there were only about 300 more students in the district.

Perhaps Dansville is ranked at a relative average because it is a small, relatively poor school. Schools with poor student populations and smalls student bodies are less likely to get as much money as large districts with wealthy students.

A combination of race and wealth may also have something to do with Dansville’s “middle of the road” ranking. The next to last ranked school district in Michigan is a public charter in Detroit, which comes to 601st out of 602 districts. It’s student body is 97% African-American, and 93.3% of the students are eligible for discounted or free lunch. Money isn’t given to these low-income schools, and systematic racism forces individuals to stay in their school district, without any real possibilities to move to another. This leads to a cycle of poverty and poor education.

Dansville may also have been ranked in the middle because, despite its small size, it still has a K-12 Spanish program, AP classes, and dual-enrollment options. These are all great assets when small schools are ranked against one another.

Creative Commons Attribution: Ajari, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/25766289@N00/3898591046

Creative Commons Attribution: Ajari, flicker
http://www.flickr.com/photos/25766289@N00/3898591046

3.
The racial experience of a child in Dansville would depend on that child’s race. A white child would likely go through their education thinking that whiteness is default, and that a deviation from whiteness is uncommon—other races would likely be novelties. Children of color would possibly grow up thinking this as well; that people of their race are not very common, and that white people are the majority.

The only information about Dansville that could give clues to the treatment of gender in the district is that it’s an agricultural town. This means the city could go to either end of the spectrum of gendering. Either there is a polarized gendering–the boys learn how to hunt, fish, and farm, and the girls do no such thing–or they are like my rural-Midwestern town was, and a great many girls learn these skills as well. Because it is a majority white district, the gendered norms the girls learn would be centered around white femininity.

4.
I did not enjoy growing up in a racially homogenous and small school. In my experience, the school will talk up the opportunities they provide students, but will, in reality, have very little of what they advertise (for example: they say they have AP classes, but they only have 3). There were only 4 clubs at my high school, and one was not constant through all my years there. I was also one of the few students interested in other cultures, but the people surrounding me were unfortunately all white or “passing-for-white.”

I want my child to understand all that there is for him or her in the world. I want her to have friends who may know a different language, or who have cultural traditions that differ from their own. I want my child to be able to be in clubs that truly fit their interests, and to take classes that will challenge them and put them in a better position for the future.

If I have a choice in the future, I would not send my child to Dansville, or any district like it. Better opportunities are out there!

(information from http://www.schooldigger.com/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dansville,_Michigan)

The Girl that was Raised by…BOOKS! Part 2 of 3

As I grew older, my historical novels became more in-depth and realistic. My literary choices in other genres also matured.

I read almost every book by Meg Cabot. Her books are like chocolate chip cookies: the majority of the stories are a romance plot, but there are little nuggets of feminist topics here and there. These bits of difficult topics included discussion of female masturbation, birth control access, and politics  (in the novel All American Girl), peer pressure (How to be Popular), model culture (Airhead), and full-on obvious feminism (The Princess Diaries, the books didn’t involve Mia’s dramatic transformation, her Grandmother is not portrayed as the stereotypical nurturing matron, and there are a handful of self-identified feminist characters). I also loved The Mediator and 1-800-Where Are You series, but that’s another topic.

Creative Commons Attribution: Farrahsanjari, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/farrahsanjari/with/5674100812/ It's okay, these stereotypically feminine items are probably the work of Mia's awful (in the book) grandmother :P

Creative Commons Attribution: Farrahsanjari, flicker
http://www.flickr.com/photos/farrahsanjari/with/5674100812/

It’s okay, these stereotypically feminine items are probably the work of Mia’s awful (in the book) grandmother 😛

In middle school, my librarian granted me permission to read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak because, to paraphrase greatly, she thought I was more capable of handling the mature themes than most other students. It was one of the first books that taught me what violent mental damage rape does. My first knowledge of date rape came from a book titled The Earth, My Butt, and other Big Round Things, which also dealt with body image.

Above all books in the “serious life stuff” genre that seems to be sweeping across young adult literature, is 13 Reasons Why. It was a book that truly illustrated how every encounter with others shapes who a person becomes and what they do with their future, and its message lives deep within my psyche.
I believe this novel had an impact on my path to feminism (and sociology, for that matter) because it showed how interactions others see as small and insignificant (“is calling someone slut really all that bad?”) have consequences that reach far beyond the simple actions. The book and its ties to issues of feminism are incredibly complex. The main plot of the book is that a girl, Hannah Baker, commits suicide, but before she does, makes a set of cassette tapes explaining the reasons that led her to that choice. It begins with a story about the boy who she shared her first kiss with making up a rumor that she did more. Throughout the book her reasons (that are very related to gendered expectations) pile on. Some of the reasons she gives are her humiliation about public judgment of the sexual appeal of her body, a peeping tom, a boy who assumes she will do more with him sexually because of her reputation as a “slut”, her guilt for not stopping the rape of her friend, public dismissal of her potential suicide, and unwanted sexual contact from a boy who doesn’t ask if she wants it or not (because of her reputation). The book is a haunting example of the dangers of slut shaming.

My literary tastes took also took a big turn that is, in hindsight, quite political and philosophical. I acquired a taste for post-apocalyptic and dystopian future books. The Shadow Children series was arguably the beginning of my formulation of opinion about a woman’s rights regarding her pregnancy. The Giver also made me think about my own culture’s model of childbirth (though the book was very much not in favor of alternatives). I also ate up The Uglies series, which contains several complexities, among them beauty standards, ethics, and a theme of questioning the judgment of authorities.

Stick around! There’s one more post in this series, and I have some school blog assignments left!

Shakespeare: Covert Sociologist? [edited to add a response to Tough Guise]

[The bit of this post in brackets was added after I realized it didn’t quite fill a class requirement. This post was apparently meant to be a response to the film Tough Guise, a movie about the ways men are gendered in Western society, and the negative products of that gendering.

A big part of the movie is that men are taught to “perform” their gender a certain way (thus the long post on dramaturgical analysis. Though we didn’t watch the whole movie in class, the bits that we did watched seemed decent in terms of basic facts and figures. Nothing we watched really surprised me much (I was already relatively familiar with gender statistics on crime, and many of the other subjects he mentioned), but one point seemed quite interesting: when crime committed by a male is reported in the media, his gender is rarely brought up as a topic of conversation. However, if a crime is committed by a female, it is seen as less common because of her gender, and this piece of information is often brought up.

Overall, I’m sure the movie has done a lot of good by opening up the eyes of students unfamiliar with the topic. A downside to the movie, though, was the speaking style of the man who lectured through it (Jackson Katz). His speech was full of pauses and abrupt stops that made it difficult to focus on what he was saying, because how he was saying it was distracting. I fear that this could affect how receptive students are to his message, because it makes him sound like he’s not confident about his subject matter.

Now, onto the performance of gender!]

 

In my Intro to Sociology class, taken at a community college near my high school (dual counting credits, yay!), we were taught the concept of “dramaturgical analysis, the study of social interaction in terms of theatrical performance” (Macionis 2011:101).
It is the idea that people interact with one another through social scripts they have been taught. Macionis says that we use different costumes, props, and demeanor to carry out these roles, and that we change these things depending on our set.

Basically, it’s a sociological theory for what Shakespeare meant when he said “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”

This idea may seem silly to people that have just heard of it, but with examples, it becomes more tangible.
If your friend raised their hands to be called on while you were hanging out, it would be out of place. Why is this? What if a stranger started telling you about their love life? Would this be different than listing to the same information from a close friend? If your Chemistry teacher suddenly decided that, today they will lecture on religion, would that seem odd?
Have you ever seen a girl wearing “party” clothes during the day, and judged her for her seemingly out of place clothing? What if your professor came to class in academic regalia, or the student serving your lunch today was wearing a ball gown? What if your doctor wore jeans and a t-shirt instead of scrubs or lab coats?
What if that same doctor was carrying around a boombox? Would it be weird to see someone chillin’ in the club wearing a fully packed backpack? If someone in your lecture hall held up a sign cheering on the teacher, would that be strange?

Creative Commons Attribution: Sarah G, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/dm-set/

Creative Commons Attribution: Sarah G, flicker
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dm-set/
If your doctor has this in his office, he’s using the wrong script altogether.

Do you change your voice when you talk to babies and animals? If you ever “mouth off” to your parents, would you use that tone with your teachers? When you’re walking with a group of friends do you pay as much attention to your surroundings and walk as quickly as you would if you were walking home at night?
Hopefully you see what I’m getting at. There are specific “scripts,” “costumes,” “props,” and “demeanors,” for specific social situations.

Hopefully you can also see why this applies to a Women’s & Gender studies class. Our social performances are often very related to our genders, in fact, gender itself is regarded as a performance (as a disclaimer, my discussion of this is very Western-centric).

Our costumes are obviously different—any trip through a department store (especially the children’s section) can show you that. Women may wear jeans these days, but most of our clothing is thinner, tighter, and shows more skin than “men’s wear”. Even plain t-shirts are different in the men’s in women’s sections, with men’s t-shirts usually reaching the very base of the neck, and women’s t-shirts sitting along the collarbone. Detailing such as lace, scallops, ruffles, bows and ruching are virtually nonexistent on men’s clothes these days. Colors are often softer in women’s clothing, and pinks and purples are definitely harder to find in the men’s section. If you want to read more from me about gendered costuming, head over to my article on skirts and printed-ts!

Women carry purses, but it was a huge cultural push just to make men carrying messenger bags seem normal (you know, the “man purse”). If a woman grabbed out a compact mirror on the bus, she would definitely not get as much attention for it as a man doing the same. Many men carry folding wallets, but a large trend these days for women is long billfolds that need a purse to transport, or function as a small clutch. In a wedding, women carry a bouquet (why?), and her bridesmaids may also carry one, but the groom and his groomsmen don’t carry such a “prop.”

Women are taught to carry themselves differently—their role’s demeanor is different. Women are told to cross their legs when they sit, but men may be ridiculed for this. A highly prized trait in a woman is grace of movement, while boys are taught the ideal is to be gruff, ruff&tumble sorts. Women are taught to take up less space, and men are taught to take up more (though I personally think we should all be taught to take up less space because it’s polite >.>). “Feminine” voices are supposed to be soft, lower pitched, and pleasant, but “shrill” and “loud” girls are annoying. “Masculine” voices are deep and powerful. A man with a lower pitched voice may be accused of being gay because our culture associates certain vocal qualities as traits of gay men.

An important and incredibly gendered social script is the marriage proposal. The man gets the ring. The man gets on one knee. The man asks the woman to marry him. The woman excitedly cries yes. This is a western idea fed to us from childhood.

These ideas about gendered performance limit both men and women. When there is a set list of ideas about the character of men and women, it makes any variations jarring and seemingly out of place. We humans don’t like to be made uncomfortable, and we’re also very good at separating people that are different from the “normal” and dominant group. If these set lists and expectations for male and female social performances were loosened, if we were taught not to expect them so much, we would lessen a source of discomfort, intolerance, and hatred.

I try to make a conscious effort to understand what I am thinking, and to recognize when I am acting based on my expected gender role. I heard somewhere I can’t quite place (and would cite if I could remember), that even if you continue to do something you know is gendered (like shaving your legs if you’re a girl), it’s better (maybe even okay) if you at least question yourself and try to understand the reason you’re doing it. I think this helps break down “the rules” of social performance, because if you can understand why you perform the way you do, you can try to understand another person’s reasons for doing things differently.

So go forth and question your performance!

(Macionis, John J. 2011. Society: the basics. 11th ed. Boston: Prentice Hall.)