Tuesday, April 25, 2017

An Angry Letter

I was considering summer camp options for my girls over the weekend, but what ended up happening was this angry email:

As a mother of two young girls, and as a woman myself, I am fully aware of the challenges of raising girls in a culture that continually entrenches the gender stereotypes that keep our boys/men in dominant roles and girls/women in roles that prize beauty and obedience above courage and intelligence. It starts from a very young age, and we see it, both blatantly and subliminally enforced, every single day. We hope that schools know better and that schools would work harder in ensuring that it's an environment that values both boys and girls, so they know they're valued equally, and that they're encouraged to reach for the same stars, in the same manner. So imagine my surprise when I see a summer camp from RRISD Community Education that offers an art class targeted solely at girls, with this description:

Art: Drawing Fashions, Faces, and Flowers. GR 1-5 by Young Rembrandts
For fashionistas, florists and budding makeup artists, this Young Rembrandts workshop celebrates the beautiful world of girls. Every day students will be challenged and delighted drawing images that exude femininity and loveliness. Students will draw and color faces, stretch their imaginations illustrating whimsical flowers and challenge their creativity when tying them all together in fanciful settings. Prepare for elegance and a heap of drawing excellence! Enroll your child today! I mean, really? FASHION? MAKEUP? FLOWERS? = The Beautiful World of Girls?? Way to reinforce the stereotype in our girls that their world is all about being fanciful and elegant. That they're encouraged to learn about makeup and fashion at first - fifth grades! You know what's in my girls' world? LEGOS. POKEMON. MINECRAFT. MATH TOURNAMENTS. They also want to learn how to be stewards of the environment. At ages 5 and 8, they already know how to recycle and they ask, why aren't there recycling bins in our neighborhood parks? How about an art program that teaches kids to upcycle? Where both girls and boys can work together towards a worthy cause? It's so disappointing / appalling to see that a school district would offer a drawing class aimed at girls, elevating superficial beauty! It shows your inability to understand the implications of such a gender-biased program, and it's an irresponsible decision. I hope you will do better in curating your selections - you can point the blame at Young Rembrandts for offering this program, but in the end, it was RRISD that decided to go with it. Please understand that I don't disagree that little girls like to play dressup and want to be beautiful - but in an academic setting, I would expect you to be hyper aware of your actions. That what you present to our children is what they think the world expects of them, so please endeavor to do better and do right by both our boys AND our girls. ---- I sent this email on Saturday to the organizers and copied My Guy, the school district superintendent, and our school principal - basically, anyone who might listen. At 10:30 AM on Monday, the Director of Community Education called me and apologized for the content. She admitted that they needed to do better. That phone call was likely an obligatory gesture to placate an angry parent. They likely deal with this, in one form or another, all the time. It didn’t make waves, and it certainly didn’t move mountains, but that wasn’t what I was after. I felt heard, and I felt reassured that she meant what she said -- that they’d do better. At least they know that they can’t just get away with thoughtless programming for our kids. Just making them aware that someone is paying attention, and as a consequence, they need to put more effort in what they serve our kids, seems sufficient in this matter. The thing is, I’ve played the role of this passive observer for too long. I see an injustice or, in this case, an irresponsible oversight, I mutter some expletives, and I expect someone else to say something. But then something changed in me. I think our current political climate has a lot to do with it.
I am empowered by the Women’s March. I am more aware now of the implications of not doing what I can. Because that’s how it perpetuates, when we all collectively decide that it’s not our fight.
I am emboldened by my own situation at work, where I continue to face sexism, which led me to read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”. While I’m not exactly a powerful executive, I found myself nodding to everything she said. The data was irrefutable, and the anecdotes from her own experiences both confirmed my own and appalled me. She had inspired me to not just stay on the sidelines but to step into the ring. Gender issues are complex and insidious, but not insurmountable. It’s like chipping away at the iceberg that’s in your way to your destination with nothing more than a pickaxe. But if that’s all you got, then it’s better than not doing anything at all because then, you’ll surely not reach where you need to go. Also, as a parent, if we don’t look out and advocate for our children, who will? Which is why, if you’re a parent, I hope you will call out blatant oversights and subtle messages that continue to reinforce these damaging gender stereotypes in our girls and our boys. As a mother of girls, I have a lot - A LOT - of work ahead of me, which is why I make it a point to call out and talk about social injustice and gender inequality to my girls. Sometimes, it would seem that we have these conversations every week, but I think they need to be aware. They’re 8 and 5, and already they’re expected to live fancifully with flowers, makeup, and fashion. At this young age, when they absorb everything they see and hear around them, they will internalize these messages, and if I waited for someone else to say something, it may be too late. But this isn’t just a plea to mothers of girls to be vigilant. Mothers of boys need to play their part as well in eradicating these inequalities, which oftentimes begin at home when boys are raised with a detrimental “boys will be boys” attitude. To that I say: FUCK THAT. Boys need to learn respect and be held accountable for their actions too. Because we don’t live on an island by ourselves, everything we choose to do is consequential, and our children - boys and girls - need to be made aware of the effects of their role, their decisions. As these boys grow into men, and many of these men become fathers, they need to step up as well. Sadly, men are still predominantly the leaders in our community and workplaces, so it would make sense that they leverage their influence to support those around them who are not bestowed the same advantages. After all, when we lift each other up, we all win. I was talking to My Guy about the insights I gleaned from the book, “Lean In”, and mentioned that perhaps, as a leader of his team, he could benefit from a woman’s perspective on how the odds are stacked against us. He decided to read it, and several eye-opening data points and anecdotes later, he approached the men and women on his team with his idea to start a book club, beginning with “Lean In”, so they could all discuss and tackle these workplace issues together. What I love about this is that, as a white male, he could choose to ride the wave of his own privilege, or he could empower others to rise up with him to fight the status quo. I’m glad and grateful that he continually chooses the latter. In case you ever wondered why I married him, this is one damn fine reason.
Again, someone has to decide to do something. One angry letter here, one book club there. It’s not much, but it has to begin somewhere. We all know the world isn’t going to fix itself. When we look away, the problems aren’t going to magically disappear. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t actively participate and do our part, however infinitesimal compared to the big wide world of injustices. Even if it seems like our one act alone can’t affect change, let’s do it anyway. Let’s at least be responsible for our little corners of the universe and call out a wrong when we see one. Advocate for one another, especially our children. Stand up for what’s right. As Mahatma Gandhi says, “Be the change we wish to see in the world.” A movement often starts with one voice. Why can’t it be mine? Why can’t it be yours?


image source: https://flic.kr/p/bcUeBX