Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Do You Recognize Miss Represenation?

When my oldest daughter, Katina, was deciding which college might be the right place for her, she had a conversation with an admissions officer from Simmons College. Simmons is an all-female school. And this was a conversation I'll never forget.

Katina shared her thoughts with the admissions officer, "Simmons seems like such a wonderful fit for me. I love everything about the school. But I do have one hesitation. I think I would miss the male voice being part of my academic climate. Is that a problem for a lot of students?"

The woman smiled and responded, "In all the years I've been doing this, no potential applicant has ever asked such an insightful question. So not having a chance to really think about it, here is my gut response. You live in a male-dominated society. You don't even realize how deeply every aspect of your life is permeated with the 'male voice.' Don't you think you deserve to give yourself at least 4 years of time where the female voice is heard? Your voice is heard? And it is not only understood, but accepted without unnecessary justification or biased qualification?"

Powerful words. And they've been spinning around in my head for the past week.

Last Tuesday, I was lucky enough to attend a screening of the documentary Miss Representation. The organization's site describes the movie as, "...a film that exposes how mainstream media contributes to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence in America." The video truly resonated with me. So deeply, in fact, I believe I will be grappling with everything it had to offer for quite some time. I loved the movie. (Not all of it. But most of it.) And I hope everyone takes advantage of an opportunity to see it. We need to raise the level of discourse in this area.

I grew up in a home where I truly believed that I could do or be anything I wanted. But it wasn't until recently that I realized that there was this unspoken ending to that sentiment: "...even though you're a girl." Upon reflection, it's obvious that the beginning part of the message was being pushed a bit too persistently, too desperately. Particularly in comparison to the conversations I would hear with my young male friends and their parents.

I am an athlete. And I am the product of the first Title IX generation. I was involved in playing the games and being on teams that are stereotypically "meant for boys." And basketball was my favorite sport. To my parents' credit, they nurtured me in these areas. My father—with four daughters and one son—consistently and steadfastly defended me whenever I was teased or mocked for being a tom-boy. My parents sincerely loved how passionate I was about the things I enjoyed.

But until now, I didn't realize how offensive it was to be taught a double-standard by my middle school and high school teachers and coaches, "It's great that you're into sports! You're setting a wonderful example for future young women everywhere. Sports isn't just for boys any more. You can be an athlete on the court. And then behave as a woman off the court."

There is so much I could share. So many stories. But I need to spend more time processing my own thoughts before sharing them with the public.

So instead, I'll leave you with these two things to ponder:

  1. How are women represented in the media? In your daily life? In the small communities you're a part of on a daily basis? And how does this representation affect you and your behavior?
  2. The cover of a special edition of the National Geographic caught my eye (below). First, because it had stories about five historical figures about whom I enjoy learning. Second, because I saw the five mini-descriptions of each. What do you think about these descriptors?





4 comments:

David Barron said...

Curious that they editor of the magazine felt the need to talk about Amelia's looks as an accomplishment but apparently the men were nothing to look at. I find the story of Katina and the college both disturbing and interesting at the same time. As you know, I work for a sporting goods company. Like many companies, it is very male dominated I am continually aware of the "male voice" at work.

I wonder if an all female college would help or hurt a future in a male dominated world. My question is this: in the fight for equality with men, is it possible for women to maintain their differences? I like the differences...equally.

J. Gallagher said...

@David First of all, thanks for your thoughts. The movie was really focused on the way women are portrayed in the media and the damage that causes our young women. But also the damage it causes our young men. Secondly, the "male voice" goes beyond just men being present in your/my workplace or other positions of power and influence. It is that we don't even recognize that this is the lens that is used to think through and decide on everything. The absence of women in person is a problem, of course. But the consequence of this, "the null curriculum" so to speak, is worse. Think about how old I was before realizing the "understood message" that was never once said out loud to me. "You're smart...for a girl. You're talented...for a girl. You're athletic...for a girl." This message is EVERYWHERE. And our girls don't realize it. But neither do men. Even the ones as empathetic and loving as you and Spiro. (It's like the book Ishmae, by Daniel Quinn. It's very difficult to see the story if you are the story.) Men don't ever have to deal with this. Their world view is accepted because that is the world view. :)

Unknown said...

It's an interesting perspective from the admissions counselor.

Working in an extremely female-dominated profession, I have to say I'm often extremely disappointed by the way we act, and how we treat each other. It's like we bring out the worst in each other at times. On the flip side, my husband works in an extremely male-dominated profession, and I can say the exact same thing about his work life. It's led me to strongly believe that the sexes need each other to offset certain tendencies- whether they are innate or learned, which I am CERTAINLY not prepared to debate-but I agree that in those situations, the female voice is often lost or invalidated.

it's got me thinking, anyway.

Unknown said...

It's an interesting perspective from the admissions counselor.

Working in an extremely female-dominated profession, I have to say I'm often extremely disappointed by the way we act, and how we treat each other. It's like we bring out the worst in each other at times. On the flip side, my husband works in an extremely male-dominated profession, and I can say the exact same thing about his work life. It's led me to strongly believe that the sexes need each other to offset certain tendencies- whether they are innate or learned, which I am CERTAINLY not prepared to debate-but I agree that in those situations, the female voice is often lost or invalidated.

it's got me thinking, anyway.