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

http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/gender-madness-swedish-pre-school-bans-him-and-her

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-14038419

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What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Image

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?

Privilege Activity

Privilege Activity: I’m in Philly for a People of Color Conference, and yesterday we learned about this activity in a seminar. Reading through these statements helps me to see how much privilege I have, and how all of the “hard work” I’ve done has only been a small factor in getting me where I am today. 

Purpose:  To provide participants with an opportunity to understand the intricacies of privilege.

Time:  1 ½ hours

Materials:  none needed

Facilitator Notes: 
This is a powerful exercise and should be thoroughly processed.

1. Participants should be led to the exercise site silently, hand in 
    hand, in a line.

 
2. At the site, participants, can release their hands, but should be 
    instructed to stand shoulder to shoulder in a straight line without 
    speaking.

 
3. Participants should be instructed to listen carefully to each sentence, and take the step required if the sentence applies to them.  They should be told there is a prize at the front of the site that everyone is 
    competing for.

Sentences:

If your ancestors were forced to come to the USA not by choice, take one step back.

If your primary ethnic identity is American, take one step forward.

If you were ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If there were people of color who worked in your household as servants, gardeners, etc., take one step forward.

If you were ever ashamed or embarrassed of your clothes, house, car, etc. take one step back.

If your parents were professionals:  doctors, lawyers, etc. take one step forward.

If you were raised in an area where there was prostitution, drug activity, etc., take one stop back.

If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to avoid being judged or ridiculed, take one step back.

If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school, take one step forward.

If you went to school speaking a language other than English, take one step back.

If there were more than 50 books in your house when you grew up, take one step forward.

If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food when you were growing up, take one step back.

If you were taken to art galleries or plays by your parents, take one step forward.

If one of your parents was unemployed or laid off, not by choice, take one step back.

If you attended private school or summer camp, take one step forward.

If your family ever had to move because they could not afford the rent, take one step back.

If you were told that you were beautiful, smart and capable by your parents, take one step forward.

If you were ever discouraged from academics or jobs because of race, class, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were encouraged to attend college by your parents, take one step forward.

If you were raised in a single parent household, take one step back.

If your family owned the house where you grew up, take one step forward.

If you saw members of your race, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation portrayed on television in degrading roles, take one step back.

If you were ever offered a good job because of your association with a friend or family member, take one step forward.

If you were ever denied employment because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were paid less, treated fairly because of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were ever accused of cheating or lying because of your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you ever inherited money or property, take one step forward.

If you had to rely primarily on public transportation, take one step back.

If you were ever stopped or questioned by the police because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were ever afraid of violence because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you were generally able to avoid places that were dangerous, take one step forward.

If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation, take one step back.

If you were ever the victim of violence related to your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.

If your parents did not grow up in the United States, take one step back.

If your parents told you you could be anything you wanted to be, take one step forward.

Processing:

Ask participants to remain in their positions and to look at their position at the site and the positions of the other participants.

Ask participants to consider who among them would probably win the prize.

Suggested questions for processing are:

1)  What happened? 
2)  How did this exercise make you feel? 
3)  What were your thoughts as you did this exercise? 
4)  What have you learned from this experience?5)  What can you do with this information in the future?

The Problem with Stereotypes

“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are WRONG, it’s that they are incomplete.”

Chimamanda Adichie

 

Watch her amazing insight into the “Danger of a Single Story.” This is quite possibly the best Ted Talk I’ve seen. Got twenty minutes? You won’t be disappointed. She talks about how we limit a group of people by portraying them in only one way, with only one story. It’s the easiest way to dispossess a people. It’s the easiest way to gain power over them. Check it out.

@WendellPierce

Check out Wendell Pierce on Twitter. He’s “Bunk” from The Wire.

He’s got provocative things to say about The Help from an African-American perspective.

Wendell Pierce

@WendellPierceWendell Pierce
The movie The Help was painful to watch. This passive segregation lite was hurtful. I kept thinking of my grandmother who was The Help
Wendell Pierce

@WendellPierceWendell Pierce
I never knew my mother had raised white children until we saw this movie.I was shocked.She was hurt by the film.She thought it was an insult
Wendell Pierce

@WendellPierceWendell Pierce
The story was a sentimental primer of a palatable segregation history that is Jim Crow light.
Wendell Pierce

@WendellPierceWendell Pierce
We never tell their stories alone. In Hollywood a black woman’s story has to be coupled with a white person’s story to validate it.
I can almost hear him saying, “Ya happy now, bitch?” 
The last comment is the most compelling to me. Are movies into “black” and “white”? Do white people go see Tyler Perry movies? Are white people only interested in The Help because it is from the voice of a white woman?
I can’t wait to see this movie. Is it better to read up on it beforehand, or allow myself to go into the movie untainted and try to form my own opinion. It’s a little late for that now…

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…