Archive | Gender

Ladies Night at the Ice Rink

The image of the veiled woman remains a potent symbol of the “mysterious” Middle East and the question of “do you have to cover…”  is almost always the first question that anyone asks me when I tell them where I live.   It’s easy, particularly in the West, to lose sight of the fact that behind the veil is a person, and to keep in mind that gender politics are complicated here — but then again, point me to a place where gender politics aren’t complicated.

I wrote about Gloria Steinem and feminism the other day, and then the other day, at the ice rink, of all places, I was reminded that “feminism” has many different forms.  I had gone to the ice rink in the ginormous sports complex where Liam and Caleb play football because Caleb and I had to wait for Liam to finish practice, Caleb was hungry, there is a pizza place inside the ice rink, so off we went…only to be told that Caleb couldn’t come inside.  It was Ladies Night, no men allowed, not even nine-year-old men.

Inside, the place buzzed with energy as girls of all ages skated, watched the skaters, or walked around gossiping with each other, safe from the eyes of the men working in the restaurant kitchen:

IMG_8520

I bought Caleb’s pizza and brought it to him outside on the patio.  I’ve never seen so many people coming to the ice rink as I did that night, including some who were clearly coming for the gossip and a night out, and not for the skating, at least judging from her shoes:

IMG_8525can you see the heels she’s got on? Four or five inches, at the very least

The girls in the skating rink seemed entirely delighted to be there, and many of the girls on the ice were twirling and jumping and speeding around with the ease that comes only with a lot of practice.

Did it seem strange that “ladies night” kept out my little boy?  Yes.  Am I reminded that change happens incrementally, in loops and swirls and swerves, and not in a straight unbending line? Yes.

Because that night at the ice rink, sitting outside with my son, I was reminded that the girl in the abaya isn’t a metaphor but just a chick with a wicked slapshot, who perhaps daydreams about an Olympic medal in women’s hockey.

IMG_8524

 

Continue Reading · on March 31, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Feminism, Gender, Politics, UAE

happy birthday, gloria steinem. I wish you didn’t matter.

Gloria Steinem spoke at my college graduation back in 1986.

At the time, as a graduate of a woman’s college, I thought to myself “oh good lord, her. Couldn’t they find someone more relevant?”  It was the era of “divest now” and “free Mandela;” we’d just spent four years at a single-sex college where “gender issues” were as pervasive as the scent of the clove cigarettes many of us smoked.

Yes, it was the mid-1980s: there were shoulder pads, bad perms, Billy Idol on the radio, and we all smoked like our lives depended on it.  We thought that abortion rights were sacrosanct and that surely there would be a woman president before we turned 30, which was about as old as any of us could imagine being.

Now I’m fifty and Gloria, omigod, is eighty and we all of us, men and women, should hope that we do eighty the way that Gloria is doing eighty. Because her eighty would exhaust my fifty, that’s what I gotta say about that.

But how wrong was I—about so many things — lo those many years ago: we’ve recovered from clove cigarettes, bad perms, Billy Idol, and shoulder pads–but women still don’t earn equal pay for equal work.  Mandela was freed, apartheid was overthrown — but the statistics for sexual violence against women in South Africa and elsewhere in the world continue to rise.  We’ve seen the erosion of abortion rights in the U.S. and elsewhere; we’ve seen health care programs for poor women and their families slashed from state budgets.

And ironically, on the same day I was reading gossip on the internet researching very important researchy things, I saw an article on Jezebel about New York State’s new educational guidelines, which have been overhauled to fit with the new Common Core History Curriculum.

I know, I know, it sounds so totally exciting!  But you have to understand: I’m a literature professor. I actually like to think about things like “curriculum” and “reading lists” and “rubrics.” Well, okay, not so much rubrics, but the other stuff? Love it.

So I read the article and here’s the gist: in the pages devoted to all the elements that students in high school will have to learn about US and Global history, would you like to know how many women get name-checked? About seven.  Would you be shocked to find out that on the lists of What You Should Know there are many, many more men?  Jezebel doesn’t connect the dots they way I do, though, in their discussion of the women who are mentioned on this list: Mary Wollstonecraft, Ida Tarbell, Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams, Margaret Sanger, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe.  All of them are writers and reformers. None of them are, you know, world leaders.

I’m just wondering … if you’re talking about English history, I’m thinking that Liz I (Tudor, not Taylor) might be a name to consider; ditto Isabella of Span, who I guess maybe didn’t do anything except, I don’t know, bankroll the guy who stumbled into North AmericaAnd what about in the category of “imperialism?” Dontcha think maybe Queen Victoria might have warranted a mention?She’s got an entire era named after her bad dowager self.

A person could read through this list and come away thinking that women have never been involved with any aspect of world governance, anywhere in the world, at any point in time.

I realize lists like these can fuel the “what about” arguments for days; I’ve fought with myself about what to include or leave out, as I write syllabi for my classes (upside? I always win the fight).  I am sure that these guidelines are the product of hours, months, maybe years of people meeting and talking and yelling, of sending endless emails back and forth, of cutting-and-pasting and then cutting-and-pasting some more.  And I know these are “guidelines” and “conceptual” and not meant to be proscriptive or definitive or absolute.

And yet.

If I’m a busy, probably underpaid teacher (yes, I know, hard to imagine but just imagine, okay?) and I were being asked to re-vamp my curriculum for the next school year,  I might just scan these guidelines and zip zap zoop, add some names from the list, swap some titles on my current reading list for the ones mentioned here and be done with it.  Yes, we’d all hope for more thoughtful and considered revisions but I know how hard it is to write a syllabus and I know that it is really tough to teach a brand-new course, much less make sure that I can get all my students to pass a set of proscribed exams as a result of my brand-new course—all of which suggests that following the guidelines to the letter becomes really, really tempting.

That’s how “convnentional wisdom” starts, I think: not with conspiracy or patriarchal malice (okay, maybe a little of that), just an insidious, easily overlooked neglect, and then suddenly there we are (again): women do the soft stuff, men do the hard stuff; women write books and news articles, men write treaties and doctrines and foundational texts; women report on things, men do things.

Happy Birthday, Gloria.  I wish I’d been right, all those years ago: I wish you were irrelevant. But you’re not.

Gloria at my commencement

Continue Reading · on March 26, 2014 in aging, Education, Feminism, Gender, Politics

in which teaching becomes a metaphor. or something.

Next week I am teaching Virginia Woolf’s brilliant and amazing essay A Room of One’s Own.

So on my list of “to do” for the weekend is this note, jotted down while I was in a meeting: “find a way in to Room.”

Indeed.

Of course, what I meant (I think) was that I need to figure out how to help my students tackle this long essay.

But the metaphor?

Woolf says that if each woman could have her own income (which Woolf pegs at being about 500 pounds a year) and a room with a lock on its door (one assumes locking from the inside, not outside, which is to say locking out and not being locked in), then it would be possible to develop “the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think.”

Wouldn’t that be nice?

It is a room of independence, I guess you could say; and Woolf was smart enough to understand that without freedom from economic worry, it’s very difficult to feel the freedom to create.

In this house that we’re renting, there’s a little room tucked in between the entrance to the garage and the laundry room. On the floor plan of the house, this room is designated “maid’s room.” Lots and lots of people have live-in help in Abu Dhabi, in part because if you hire someone full time, you have to sponsor the person’s visa–and in order to get a visa, you have to have a place to live.  We don’t have any live-in help (I don’t want any witnesses), so I have adopted that room as my office.

My god. It’s another room-based metaphor: my “room of my own” is…the maid’s room.

And that’s the challenge, isn’t it? In between driving and errands and laundry and housekeeping, in between earning money and making lists and going to meetings, somewhere in all that, a person should find the courage to write exactly what she thinks.

image source

 

 

Continue Reading · on October 5, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, Education, Feminism, Gender, me my own personal self, teaching, writing

What’s In a Beard?

I’m traveling this week and so I’m bringing up some of my favorite old posts to keep you company while I’m gone. Circus Amok used to be one of our favorite NYC summer traditions, but I’m not sure they’re still being funded, alas. Here’s a link to last summer’s Kickstarter fund. If ever there were something worthy of being kickstarted, it’s the Amok-ians.

 

IMG_1920.JPGCircus Amok brought its chaotic carnival to city parks again this past September, culminating in two performances in Tompkins Square Park, that former battleground in Manhattan’s never-ending gentrification wars (remember the riots of the late 1980s?). Gentrification won, of course, which is why King Tut’s Wa-Wa Hut no longer stands at the corner of 6th and A, and why I can’t afford to shop in the precious wee clothing boutiques that dot Avenue B.

But I digress.  The Circus was in town and as always it was a splendid mashup of burlesque, slapstick, acrobatics, and deeply political satire. All ringmastered – excuse me – ringmistressed by Jennifer Miller, who is not a bearded lady, but a lady with a beard.

Liam and Caleb wanted to know if she is a lady or a man and if the beard is real – questions that everyone else was thinking about too, I’m sure – along with other, perhaps more prurient questions that my boys haven’t quite glommed onto (yet). Yes, I say to Liam and Caleb, she’s a lady, and yes, she has a beard.

That answer satisfies their curiosity and they settle back to watch the men in tutus, the African American “Dorothy” (in a blonde afro wig, natch), maniacal tumblers, and Jennifer herself, devilishly juggling what look like razor-sharp machetes.

What do they see, I wondered, watching them watch the juggling. Is it just juggling and funny clowns and the faint fear that Jennifer’s sharp knives will slip out of her fingers and go slicing towards the front row of the audience?

Are they in any way feeling the message of gender outlawry that pervades Circus Amok?  Could the anarchic street theater of Jennifer Miller’s circus help loosen the net of gender conventions that – all of our best intentions notwithstanding – ensnare us all, more or less?

Here’s an example: last spring, I took the boys to a family reunion of sorts, in Florida, where they had a great week romping around with all kinds of cousins and aunts and uncles.  On the second-to-last day of our visit, two girl cousins, both about ten years old, gave Caleb and Liam full mani-pedis.  The boys got the complete treatment: sparkly colors, little dots of decoration, tiny painted flowers – as elaborate as Hindu brides.  Beautiful.  And they loved it! Waved their fingers around, wiggled their toes, showed off to all and sundry.

These are Liam’s fingers – sorry about the inadvertent product-placement for Dibs –
IMG_1249crop.jpgBut after we got home, on the Sunday before Liam was due back at school, I wondered whether I should stick to my progressive guns and allow my second-grade boy to go off to school with his manicure intact or strip the polish off in deference to the unwritten rule that boys don’t have painted fingernails.

I caved. Off came the silver flowers, off came the purple sparkles.

I hated giving in to convention but I didn’t want him to be teased (he’s got enough problems, given that he’s the smallest kid – boy or girl – in his grade).  We decided to leave his toenails painted, however – but sure enough, that week at karate, a couple of boys gave him grief for his decorated tootsies.

Before I became the mother of boys, I used to think that gender codes wrapped mostly tightly around women – and probably that is, in fact, the truth. But as I watch Liam and Caleb grow up, I’m increasingly reminded that there are lots of rules about being a boy, too – and that those rules constrict just as tightly.

Jennifer Miller and her troupe smash the rules with gleeful abandon; inside their ring, it doesn’t matter who sleeps with whom, who has a beard, whose toes sparkle. It only matters that when you do a head-first swan dive off the shoulders of the burly (wo)man in the gold spangly dress…someone is there to catch you when you fall.

IMG_1902.JPG

Continue Reading · on August 18, 2013 in Gender

because we all know that girls can’t do math, right?

Here we go again:

1146596_546445112069717_706905320_n

This t-shirt is for sale just in time for “back to school.”  Isn’t that just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? A girl’s t-shirt that tells her (and us) that she can’t do math but it’s not a big deal.

It’s funny, you know? I looked on the website for The Children’s Place and didn’t see a corresponding boys’ t-shirt that says his best subjects are…football, TV, and accidentally breaking things.  What would the unchecked box be….reading? writing? empathy?

A few weeks ago, I was in a children’s store–Gap, maybe, or Old Navy, something like that–and the boys noticed that the store was divided into the pink section and the non-pink section (Okay, they’re a little slow. Give ’em a break, they’re boys.)  When I said that the store marketers figured that it would sell more merchandise or something, Liam (who is 12), had a very succinct response:

“That’s stupid.”

We’ve weathered the ridiculous JC Penney shirts, the disgusting Victoria’s Secret underpants…and corporate America keeps right on swinging back, hell-bent, it seems, on sending the message that girls are…less than boys.  And, as Liam would say, “it’s stupid.”

You want a funny shirt? Try this:

HN3281

source

Now that is a shirt any kid could wear, just in time for back to school. Funny–and grammatically correct.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Continue Reading · on August 6, 2013 in Children, Feminism, Gender, kids, Parenting, Politics, shopping

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes