Women, especially those with their own forums, must insist on the same respect given so easily to men. These small yet ubiquitous acts of shaming only become more effective if we try to swallow and ignore them. Since I’ve started posting some particularly atrocious offenses, I’ve seen more and more of my readers fight back against the misogyny they witness. Conversations, which might have never otherwise occurred, are sparked by a single troll’s comment. If women’s opinions and viewpoints are to be taken seriously, then they have to be considered on their own merit and not tainted by sexist expectations of how we ought to act. When we put our names to our writing, we must be able to trust that judgment of our work will be based on the quality of our arguments, not on our socially acceptable dress size or our agreeable nature or our willingness to go out with a stranger from the Internet. I will probably always encounter the occasional sexist remark and so will many of you, but rather than viewing it as disheartening, use it as an opportunity to emphasize that the struggle for gender equality is far from over.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
Hill's piece, titled "After Feminism: What Are Girls Supposed To Do?" focuses on the increasingly difficult lives of teenage girls, and how hard it's become to navigate those tricky years thanks to societal pressures regarding success, sexuality, and intelligence. The consistently mixed messages being sent to young girls, Hill notes, have lead to an increase in eating disorders, behavioral problems, and "risky behaviors" amongst the already vulnerable population: "Who, after all, wouldn't feel confused and unhappy being raised in this brave new world that demands super-skinny, super-sexy and super-brainy all at the same time?"
As Jezebel notes, every generation gets their own “isn’t anyone thinking about the children?!” stories, and there is always something new to panic about. I like to give teenage girls the benefit of the doubt when it comes to navigating the difficult terrain of growing up, since myself, my sisters, and all of my friends seemed to turn out just fine. But girls today are definitely facing a different world than I did when I was younger.
However, there are a few things that bother me about this article. First is the title. It insinuates that feminism is somehow to blame for teenage girls getting into trouble with police and flunking out of school because they have “too many choices.” Please. This is not why they are doing these things, and I’m so tired of hearing the argument that too many choices are the root of women’s problems. Choice is a good thing.
Another issue I have is with the murky statistics, for example this:
A number of other studies, both in the UK and elsewhere, have indeed come to similar conclusions. Last week government research into 42,073 children between the ages of 10 and 15 concluded that teenage girls were a vulnerable demographic, urgently in need of help.
This sounds quite alarmist, but what exactly does “vulnerable” mean, and what kind of help do they need? How urgent is this need for help? And what kind of help are we talking about here?
I will agree with a few points here. First of all, if girls are indeed facing more instances of depression, eating disorders, and other illnesses, they should be treated appropriately. This shouldn't be taken lightly.
Next, girls are definitely facing more pressure to fit in in a highly sexualized culture, where sexuality, rather than intelligence and competence, is seen as a source of empowerment:
The sex industry has moved from the margin to the mainstream. Girls are besieged by images that glorify a pornographic view of women. There is a lap-dancing club in every town centre, six-year-old girls are bought fashion accessories adorned with the Playboy logo, Shakira writhes on all fours in a cage on MTV.
Ariel Levy chronicled this phenomenon in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs, which explored how women use their sexuality as power, a trend she traces back to conflicts between the women's movement and the sexual revolution long left unresolved. You see examples of this with women lifting their shirts for Girls Gone Wild, stripping being considered empowering, and the fact that a woman runs Playboy. Now these ideologies are being placed on younger and younger women. Feminists today are working to make girls see that their self worth does not reside in their sexuality, and Jessica Valenti makes this point with her book The Purity Myth, which is about the abstinence movement and the “cult” of virginity. Girls being encouraged to hold on to their virginity to be “pure” and girls who are told to give it up to “popular” are facing the exact same message: your self worth is dependent on your sexuality.
This needs to change, but I’m not sure what the answers are to solve this problem. Hill doesn’t provide any answers either (another problem I had with this piece). We can’t stop advertising companies from sexualizing women or women like Paris Hilton from becoming a celebrity because of a sex tape, so maybe the answer lies with reaching the girls first- before the media gets to them.
Getting girls into programs, sports, and other activities that bring out and celebrate their talents, and encouraging them to work hard at what they are good at, and find power through those attributes rather than their looks can help. This is a daunting task, as the amount of influence the media has on them is great. But media literacy should be a part of everyone’s education- boys and girls- from a young age.
I also think that there should be initiatives to support both sexes as they grow up. Teaching girls that their self worth doesn't reside with their sexuality will be much more effective if boys are taught that, too. Boys are also facing similar pressures as these girls that are different than the pressure their fathers faced, and even if they aren't "suffering" in the way girls are, the issue should be addressed as well.
For more thoughts, check out the comments on this post.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
There are many, many people out their shilling their services as dating gurus and self help specialists who can get you a date and even land you an engagement ring, if you so desire. So many books (you can't miss them- they are usually pink)! So many speaking engagements! So many websites, magazine articles, newspaper articles, and even some TV shows! And all their advice has a common thread: it sucks.
In their favor, relationship advice is really hard to give out, because the person giving it has no emotional connection to the people in the relationship. You might tell your friend over and over again to dump some loser, but he/she isn't going to listen to you. What seems so black and white to those of us outside of it is gray all over for the people inside it. But for those people giving out advice to the masses, it's particularly difficult because they have to be so general, since everyone is different and they are trying to appeal to all problems and situations.
The most recent of these dating experts to come forward with some advice is Lori Gottlieb. She's not new, exactly, as I wrote about her Atlantic article "Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough," way back here. But that wasn't the end of her, as now she has written a whole book chiding single women everywhere to settle for some dude just so they don't end up an old maid.
As I wrote back then, I think the problem with Gottleib and the women she writes about (those who won't go on a second date with a guy who orders tap water, for instance, because that means they are "cheap,") is that they have a warped view of what dating and love actually is. Maybe it was all the Disney fairytales or Julia Roberts movies, but they don't seem to get that no one is perfect, and no one is going to come save them from the mundane lives they may lead. But just because they shouldn't be so picky doesn't mean they have to settle.
I'm not even going to go into her insinuation that it's better to be coupled and unhappy than single, or the uneven societal pressure on women to get married versus men (spinsters versus bachelors), or even that she assumes that marriage, any marriage, equals happiness in a land with a 50% divorce rate.
Instead, I'm going to point out the biggest flaw in Gottlieb's theory, which is that she never took her own advice. She never settled for Mr. Good Enough.
And this is another reason why relationship advice sucks: because people almost never take their own advice. You may be telling your friend to dump that shmuck, but you probably dated a shmuck too once (and if you haven't, you will), and you probably didn't listen to your friends then either.
She also doesn't consider the males in these scenarios- if a guy was in love with someone who had Gottlieb's book on her shelf, he'd probably feel pretty shitty. Something else she doesn't consider is how miserable people can be in "good enough" relationships, and how just because you're with someone doesn' t mean you won't ever be lonely again.
What would have made for better reading would be a book about Gottlieb's life after settling. Imagine that one- an entire book about how she never truly loved her husband, but wanted to get some help around the house for a couple of decades. But she won't write it, because she won't settle. She says that we should settle for whatever is "good enough?" Well, you first, Lori. You first.
Monday, February 08, 2010
Monday, February 01, 2010
I came across two articles in the past few days discussing education and the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program. When the administration passed the stimulus package last year, $4.3 billion was allocated to the Department of Education budget for the Race to the Top fund. States across America can get a piece of this money if they can prove they are “leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reform.” This often includes tying test scores with teacher performance, which many unions are unhappy about.
Joe Klein in this week’s Time laments that New York State, although facing a huge budget gap, refused $700 million of this federal money, which is only granted if states give parents more school choice and competition with an added emphasis on teacher evaluation and accountability. It was New York’s United Federation of Teachers who “thwarted the state’s attempt” at receiving this money.
I’ve discussed teachers unions on this blog before, and I still believe that they are keeping a lot of bad teachers in classrooms. Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, have taken on an important yet daunting task: requiring the schools to make more teachers accountable, and to improve the education of millions of children. The improvement of our nation’s education is a big priority, as Klein notes, American students are now “32nd internationally in math scores, 10th in science, 12th in reading. It will be impossible to rebuild our economy- to create the sophisticated, high-paying jobs we need- as long as we have an archaic, industrial-age school system.”
Most of us can agree that a big priority here is to get-and keep- good teachers in the classroom. But what, exactly, makes a good teacher? Amanda Ripley takes on that question in last month’s Atlantic:
But we have never identified excellent teachers in any reliable, objective way. Instead, we tend to ascribe their gifts to some mystical quality that we can recognize and revere—but not replicate. The great teacher serves as a hero but never, ironically, as a lesson.
She turns to the years of research that Teach for America has compiled about their greatest teachers, the ones who can get their students ahead by one to one and a half levels in a single year, a complicated task when all the teachers are placed in low income neighborhoods. What they have found is that the income of the student’s families doesn’t become much of a detriment to their education if there is an excellent teacher in their classroom. So Teach for America tried to figure out what made those teachers so excellent, and how to find those qualities in their new recruits.
Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.
When Ripley interviewed excellent teachers, those whose students were able to improve their skills by one to one and half levels by the end of the year, she noticed they spoke very differently than teachers who were not able to get their kids to those same levels.
Like all the teachers I talked to in Washington, Mr. Taylor [the excellent teacher] laments the lack of parental involvement…But when I ask him how that affects his teaching, he says, “Actually, it doesn’t. I make it my business to call the parents—and not just for bad things.” …
Other teachers I interviewed spent most of our time complaining. “With the testing and the responsibility and keeping up with the behavior reports and the data, it has gotten so much harder over the years,” said one fourth-grade teacher at Kimball, the same school where Mr. Taylor teaches. “It’s more work than it should be. They don’t give us the time to be creative.”
A 23-year veteran who earns more than $80,000 a year, this teacher has a warm manner, and her classroom is bright and neat…But she seems to have given up on the kids’ prospects in a way that Mr. Taylor has not. “The kids in Northwest [D.C.] go on trips to France, on cruises. They go places and their parents talk to them and take them to the library,” she says one fall afternoon between classes. “Our parents on this side don’t have the know-how to raise their children. They’re not sure what it takes for their child to make it.
The teachers who can make a big difference are absolutely relentless in their pursuit to get their students to learn, regardless of poverty or parental involvement- traits that teachers unions say is why we should keep students test scores untied to teacher pay and performance. So how does the second teacher that Ripley interviewed perform?
When her fourth-grade students entered her class last school year, 66 percent were scoring at or above grade level in reading. After a year in her class, only 44 percent scored at grade level, and none scored above. Her students performed worse than fourth-graders with similar incoming scores in other low-income D.C. schools. For decades, education researchers blamed kids and their home life for their failure to learn. Now, given the data coming out of classrooms like Mr. Taylor’s, those arguments are harder to take. Poverty matters enormously. But teachers all over the country are moving poor kids forward anyway, even as the class next door stagnates.
Even if the teachers are failing, their principals are likely to review them positively, and very few are fired.
Now, Teach for America searches for candidates who can show they have perseverance, relentlessness, and have made and reached big goals for themselves. These are the candidates most likely to make the biggest difference. Schools in D.C., led by Chancellor Michelle Rhee, are starting to use a process similar to Teach for America’s to recruit and retain the best teachers. As part of the process, half of the teachers score will be based on how their students perform on standardized tests, and the other half will depend on “five observation sessions conducted throughout the year by their principal, assistant principal, and a group of master educators. Throughout the year, teachers will receive customized training. At year’s end, teachers who score below a certain threshold could be fired.” D.C. will be applying for Race to the Top money, and I hope that what they are doing will get kids to perform better and lead as an example for schools around the country to change the way we do things and improve education for our kids.