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!

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%.

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

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.

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

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
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.)

The Girl that was Raised by…BOOKS! Part 1 of 3

A few weeks ago my W&G studies class did an exercise that involved listing the people who had part in socializing us into our genders. It was through this exercise that I realized something big on a personal level: books and other media had more influence on my higher mental growth than the people I had face to face interaction with as I grew up.

I’m not saying they had a bigger influence on who I am overall: there are parts of my essential being that became rooted in me long before I could read. Basic survival and academic skills were taught by my family and teachers, as were experiences that cannot have the same effect on an individual if simply read in a book.

There is, however, something about the way I grew up that made me different from my family. A large portion of my values are different from the people I was in contact with from childhood to the brink of young adulthood. An even larger portion of my knowledge was gained from sources other than my family or my school. My ambition and expectations for my life and my beliefs about existence are alien from the surroundings I had.

This other influence was, as I said, the books, magazines, movies and TV shows whose information I consumed with a voracious appetite. An anecdotal demonstration of the volume of books I read is that, one summer, my local library allowed me to check out 100 books at once, all of which I read (except for the Gossip Girl series, which I skimmed). When I came home from school, my free time was spent watching TV, and, as I grew older, reading.

Creative Commons Attribution: Wonderlane, www.flickr.comphotoswonderlane3909074244

Creative Commons Attribution: Wonderlane, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/

Media was an escape from my unpleasant station in life. There were many times when my reality literally slipped away from my perception—I was left behind in the library several times until my elementary school teacher realized she had lost a kid. Through the pages of books and the smooth glass of the television screen, I gained perspectives that I could not have encountered in my reality.

It was these media that introduced me to feminism. The most obvious example of a feminist influence on my young mind, was a magazine my elementary school inexplicably stocked (I grew up in a conservative area) that I only recently realized was explicitly feminist: New Moon. It featured an advice column that gave healthy advice to young girls, a section called “herstory”, information about physical issues girls face, and articles about important issues that were written purely by the young readers of the magazine. (If you want to get a subscription for a little girl in your life, just click the link here!)

There were countless, less obvious examples as well.

I burned through my libraries’ copies from the Dear America and The Royal Diaries series, and many miscellaneous historical fictions. Nearly all were written from the point of view of female protagonists, and though they were fictional representations of girls during their times, they were strong, brave, smart, and important. They faced obstacles related to their gender that often seemed foreign, but sometimes hit near to my reality. The injustices they faced made my fragile and developing sense of injustice boil.

It was through these books that I learned about my culture’s history with gender—from the treatment of women in Greece (discovered through a Magic Tree House book)—to the treatment of female factory workers. In a side note, the latter was learned in one of the most poignant novels in the young adult historical fiction genre that I have ever read: Uprising. It was about three girls who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (the story still gives me goose bumps thinking about it today).
Throughout my reading, I encountered strong female role models. The widely adventurous Ms. Frizzle, teacher in The Magic School Bus series, was a favorite character of mine in elementary school. Leslie from Bridge to Teribithia was different and not afraid of her difference. Ella from Ella Enchanted did not need the prince to save her, she did it by her own will.

Creative Commons Attribution: electrictuesday, flicker www.flickr.comphotosdiscodoll4247118823

Creative Commons Attribution: electrictuesday, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/discodoll/

Above all, Hermione from Harry Potter was my greatest fictional role model. She was intelligent, clever, strong, and fiercely loyal. These were not just additions to an already conventionally pleasing character either. She wasn’t initially a conventionally pretty young girl, and she wasn’t well liked by her peers (she was a teacher’s pet and a know it all). Despite the initial low esteem she had among her peers, she did amazing and brave things. By the end of the series matured into a well-rounded individual and maintained her identity even as she began to develop romantic relationships. She was my hero.

These texts are where the feminist in me was born.

The Skirt: Like seriously guys, grow up.

Ni hao! (I’m learning Chinese, let me practice!).

So, with all this talk in class and readings about gender, socialization, and all that jazz, gendered clothing has really been at the forefront of my mind.

I wear skirts. A lot.

I think maybe a reason this topic has been sticking in my brain is because I’m getting a bit defensive. There’s this idea in my head of judgmental feminist overlords that will chastise me for my clothing decisions, or perhaps do so internally with a *tisktisktisk* about how naïve and incapable of breaking free of gendered standards I am. I know this is (probably, for the most part, I hope) a fictitious creation stemming from my own insecurity, but nevertheless, I am defensive.

Judgey person
This…this is what the overlords look like. Feel the disdain?

Whenever I’m in a tiz about something, or I’m afraid of people’s judgment, I think about conversations I would have with someone that confronts me. A conversation with the imaginary force I described in the paragraph above goes something like this:

Them: Why are you wearing a skirt? That is sooo gender normative.
Me: Oh yeah? Well that’s pretty ethnocentric. Where did you even get that t-shirt and those jeans? Was it from the juniors section? The women’s section? Maybe the petites? Why do you buy clothing in specifically gendered areas? That sparkly batman logo sure looks androgynous. Why is it a problem that I wear a skirt? That implies that females are gendered incorrectly, what if it’s men who are gendered incorrectly into not wearing skirts? Do you know skirts actually make more sense for men to wear because they’re better for sperm count?…

Aaand so on until I make myself actually angry at the imagined foe I am hurling my words at.

So, this is not so much of a conversation, and is probably something I would never do in real life.

I guess my worry is that even if I did have logical well thought out reasons, I would be so taken aback by someone tactless enough to say something like that to me, that I just want to have something prepared so I don’t stare back in gape-mouthed stupidity.

But I think my word soup of indignant anger up there actually has some good points.
1. Almost every single clothing item someone wears is gendered.
Even plain, solid colored t-shirts are altered to be feminine. Different fabrics are used, different edge detailing, different shades of colors, different cuts (though that part may be because of the shape the “average” female has that differs from men). Women’s jeans have different sizing logic, colors, detailing, and styles (as well as different names for similar styles). Shoes are either “female sized” or “male sized”.
The worst example of gendering clothes, to me, is the altering of licensed clothing for the female market. Licensed clothing is clothing items that feature elements from TV shows, movies, video games, etc. Color differences are huge. Pastel blue for superman shirts (because god forbid a woman wears bold blue), pinks in the batman logo and the Big Bang Theory “BAZINGA”, etc. etc.
It seems worse that people think something that already exists isn’t feminine enough, and purposely alters it so it will be “appropriate” to grace a female body.
I actually buy my nerdy t-shirts in the “men’s” section. I want my Spock to stay Spock, with shirt colors that reflect his Starfleet division, not colors altered to be “girly” enough for my oh-so-fragile body.
2. I think I could successfully argue that it is not so much that people are taught to understand skirts as something girls are supposed to wear, as much as something boys AREN’T supposed to wear. It is the socialization of the male gender that is incorrect. Skirts are objectively an advantageous form of body covering. They are cooler than shorts in the summer (shorts just mean more fabric is smothering my poor body), they’re easy to put on and to move around in, and they require less fabric, skill, and time to make (and thus should be cheaper). I’ve even read that they are better for sperm count in men, which makes them seem the logical choice as a gendered item for men. Which brings me to my next point…
3. It is a modern, western idea that skirts are for girls.
Think about the ancient Greeks, Romans (and though non-western, Egyptians). Picture what someone in that culture looked like. What are they wearing?
Then there’s the obvious: kilts.
Furthermore, varieties of sarong-like “skirts” are worn by men in India and parts of Africa, and pretty much every “loincloth” is, in essence, a skirt.
This article does a much better job of explaining the “only women should wear skirts” fallacy. It’s apparently information for hikers, but the first bit is all about the history of the masculine skirt. Seriously, it’s super interesting. Click on it. Here it is again, just to make sure you have tons of opportunities to click on it.
4. Some of the rigidity of gender is still being held up by the feminist side of thing, though not in the dynamic of my imaginary fight. No, it is not the women still wearing skirts that are holding us back, but the people like this author that use stereotypes as humor and accidentally reinforce gender norms (and accomplish extra horribleness by vulgarly making fun of other cultures in the process). Ohhh, the problematic Jezebel, full of articles written by the very people I am afraid to meet in person (possibly the kind I run through imaginary fights with, like the above). From white lady savior complexes about hijabs, to *tisktisking* about how naïve the participants in Lolita fashion are, to pretty much anything they don’t understand and take from the point of view of Western ideas values. But this is all for another article.

Whelp, that’s enough for now.
Keep reading guys. I promise I’ll work very hard to make it interesting and more like a real conversation than a regurgitation and summary of ideas on a half-hearted homework assignment.

Response to Taboo: The Third Sex (or: Ugggh, NatGeo, why you gotta be like that?)

First blooog post! I had writers block for a bit—well, it was more being too psyched out to write. Daunting is the blog, where you pour the things from your brain out to a world full of strangers. But I shall try!

This post was assigned for my WS 201 class! The theme of today’s lesson was in the category of “Bodies and Genders”. For part of the class, we watched a national geographic show called Taboo, episode “The Third Sex”.

See what I did here. This embedding took like 20 minutes, so you better appreciate it. Also, it’ll help you understand what I’m talking about in the rest of the post, so that’s a plus.

If you want to watch the video without ads, it’s also available here.

First of all, this show was simultaneously fascinating and infuriating. First for the fascinating bits (so I don’t seem like a giant negative Nancy—it’s a personal flaw, I’m working on it).

The episode covered three cultures and their additional genders. It started with the hijras of India (individuals that are neither men nor women) participating in an important ceremony for their god, and ended with a segment on a “sworn virgin” of rural Albania (they are women that take on the social roles of men after taking a vow of chastity). The middle culture, the Bugis of Indonesia, was the most complex. In their culture, there are five genders, male and female, bissu (individuals that are both male and female), calabai (individuals born male that live in feminine social and sexual roles), and calalai (individuals born female that live in social and sexual male roles).

The Bugis ideas were the most interesting to me. One of the points made in the video is that when someone wanted a fertility blessing, they’d go to a bissu because the blessing came from a person with both masculine and feminine energy. As far as spiritual logic, that seems pretty solid. It was also interesting that their society seemed to perceive the five sexes as normal and universal—quite a contrast to how most of the program’s Western viewers likely think.

Now for some of the infuriating bits.

While watching the segment on hijras, it was very hard not to consider the idea that western influence likely affected social acceptance of the gender. The program mentions that there was a time when hijras were so respected that they earned their living dancing at weddings and attending births. Now, being a hijra “means becoming a social outcast”, reliant on begging or prostitution to make a living. Western values have altered many societies in some pretty big ways, and I am almost certain this is one of those ways (though I’m open to any insight on the topic, just leave a comment!).

The whole program kind of feels like Ripley’s Believe it or Not. You know what I mean: the music meant to kind of freak you out a little, the constant recycling of footage you just saw, like, 10 minutes ago, and the alternatingly ominous/debasing narrator (“this man dresses as a woman so he can marry his goood”/”an unusual beauty pageant”).

Now, I know I shouldn’t expect high-quality documentaries from National Geographic. I’m pretty sure their most popular series right now are about gold mining and doomsday prepping, oh, and what I’ve heard is a super racist show called American Gypsies (and I’m sure there are aliens somewhere, like its cousin The History Channel). I digress. My point is, it was just a little upsetting to learn about such interesting and potentially healthier ideas of gender in such an awful medium.

I’d like to close with a question to anyone reading this blog. When an interviewee is speaking a language other than that of the intended audience for the interviewer, how is the person that voice over the interpretation of the interviewee chosen? If the interviewee is male, is the interpreter usually male? What about female/female?

I ask because every person in these additional genders that was interviewed required a voice over interpretation for English speakers to understand.
Hijras were voiced over by English females (the married man participating in the ceremony of the hijras’ god was voiced by an English male), the bissu was voiced by an English male, the calabai and calalai by English woman, and the sworn virgin by a woman.

If the choice of who speaks as a representation of these individuals is arbitrary (and perhaps it is not, that is why I am asking), then the arrangement of which western gender narrated the speech of the additional gendered people, is very interesting.

PS: I’ll be updating the Home page soon with a little about me. Stick around!