Is Gender Neutral the New Colorblind?

Faithful reader and friend, Em Em Li, has asked Moxie to comment on the NYT article where a pre-school in Sweden has become famous for referring to students as “friends” rather than using gendered pronouns. They’ve even created a word, “hen,” as a gender-neutral personal pronoun.Read it here.

Swedish School’s Big Lesson Begins With Dropping Personal Pronouns

Moxie’s 2 cents:  While the school’s motivation stems from trying to boldly break gender stereotypes, it is problematic to refuse to acknowledge that gender and sex do exist, matter, and shape who we are.  The harder question we need to ask is, “what do people who have the same gender have in common?” It comes back to the issue of equality vs. difference that gender scholars have been debating for decades. If we know men and women are not the same, but we think they are equal, how does that play out? The answer? No one knows; it’s complicated. But we need to keep asking the question, not moving toward a “post-gender” society.

It sounds like this school is asserting that men and women, male and female, are just the same. I appreciate their desertion of texts such Beauty and the Beast (which I just found out is the spring play at my school–yikes), and adding stories where women play many roles, men are sensitive, families are complex, and the hero is deconstructed. We need more, much more of that to broaden our narrative of what men and women are like. But in these stories, there ARE men AND women. To say that gender doesn’t matter does violence to both genders. I fear that being gender neutral is akin to being color blind. It’s not possible, nor is it constructive to pretend to not notice someone’s race. I would argue the same is true for gender. What do you think, Em Em?

For further reading check out these related articles

What’s Wrong with this Picture?


The past two weeks, the girls in the Diversity Club and I have been discussing Disney characters and how they portray women and minorities. Today we watched a portion of a video, Mickey Mouse Monopoly. It was amazing to see over and over how seductively female characters, even animals, are displayed. Batting eyelashes, disproportionate waists, revealing clothing are just the beginning.

Scene: Beauty’s family is ripped apart and she endures verbal abuse by the Beast until finally she uses her “sweetness” to draw out his softer side. They fall in love.

Message: Stay with the man even when he hurts you. Just keep being nice until he changes.

Scene: Jasmine uses her feminine wiles to overcome the villain and allow Aladdin to escape.

Message: Seduce a man to get what you want.

What are we teaching our children? They do not have the capacity to discern for themselves. The girls in my room today were appropriately appalled and eager to learn more. Is it too late for these twelve and thirteen year olds? They are years beyond the Disney phase, but Disney is everywhere. What do we do?

An Open Statement to the Fans of The Help

I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was unsettling about The Help. I read the the book about a year ago, and it was a good read. There’s just something about a white woman telling the story of black women that doesn’t sit right. It felt trite or simplistic or something. Similar to The Blind Side, it seemed white people were the ones doing the saving, and black people had no part, no agency in their own story. Is that overstated? I’d love to hear thoughts from others…

ABC sent me this article tonight with a thoughtful perspective from The Association of Black Women Historians. You can find the entire article HERE. But here’s a snapshot…

On behalf of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), this statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel versionofTheHelp. The book has sold over three million copies,and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism…

We respect the stellar performances of the African American actresses in this film. Indeed, this statement is in no way a criticism of their talent. It is, however, an attempt to provide context for this popular rendition of black life in the Jim Crow South. In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

We’re going to see the movie this week, and we’ll let you know what we think…


Pippa Middleton was recently voted “Best Skin Tone” of the summer in the UK. It’s called “Royal Mocha.” Mocha?

Several questions immediately arise.

1. Since when is there a vote for skin tone?

2. What makes her relatively “dark” (but not too dark) skin more desirable?

3. Why do people who have dark skin want to be lighter, and why do people with light skin want to be darker?

4. As I’ve mentioned before, feminists claim “the personal is political.” Is “tanning” political?

5. Am I tanner than Pippa?