Monday, February 15, 2010

The Daily Texan - Study shows impact of gender stereotypes on children

The Daily Texan - Study shows impact of gender stereotypes on children

My student, Emily, sent me this article because she thought I might be interested in it. You bet. We need to think about every kind of stereotype and how it affects our teaching and lives. As a teacher, one can never really rest because the journey is ongoing.

It helps me to reflect a moment upon my life as a woman. The social role affects how I was raised, social perceptions of my intelligence, expectations, abilities, relationships, self perception and so much more. Even though all of that is true, though, once I jump through all of the hoops of my womanhood and society, I want the playing floor to be equal in terms of my access to power and a voice.

I've been pretty lucky because I have been recognized as someone who can speak for not only myself, but for others. I can put words together and this gives one social power. In addition, I studied philosophy as an undergraduate, which gave me an intense habit of mind and training which helped me reflect and question not only authority, but my own presuppositions about, well, everything.

It took me a long time, though, to take the microphone into my hands fully. As a mother and a wife, who comes from a supportive family, I held back from the public domain for many years so that I could sit with my children while they worked on their homework and I could prepare appealing family dinners. And I was proud of that and it wasn't a bad thing.

Now, I'm out into the world with my stories and views and it's the right time. But why now rather than twenty years ago? Why can't the raising of our children be more equitable in every way? Why are tasks in even the most equitable of families still so gender divided?

In college, even though I was an outstanding student with maximum teacher encouragement, I skirted away from the highest academic challenges (doctoral degrees and the like) as a young woman. I remember once, visiting Princeton University with a former professor, an Alum of that illustrious institution.

Dr. Princeton told me that getting a doctoral degree from there would mean "cutting myself off from everyone" for the entire time I would be working. I looked around the study cell at the graduate library at the portraits of elderly men hanging in gilded frames. No face like mine anywhere. The air felt cold and stale. I didn't feel at home. I remember my heart pounding in my chest till I got into the open air.

Perhaps this was my personal failing, an inability to step up to the opportunities offered. Or perhaps some of those stereotypes I had felt in society had crept right into the mind that was making crucial decisions. It's impossible to sort out what really happened, but it's interesting to think about.

I'm 54 years old now and I'm speaking my head off everywhere with what I call "an awkward fearlessness." I hope that the people in the audience don't see how nervous I feel inside or know how frightened I am of tripping or knocking something over on my way to deliver a speech or presentation. Even with my clumsy ways, I do a pretty good job and there is no turning back now. Not after waiting a lifetime to do this.

But how many women get to be the New Jersey State Teacher of the Year? How many women have been waiting their whole lives for a microphone, which is just a metaphor for a "voice" and a say in the building of the world?

As teachers and community leaders, we need to make sure that our words don't create any roadblocks in the minds of children. Maybe, if we do this, they will become more themselves a whole lot sooner in their lives.

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