Most Children’s Books Are Still about White Boys?

In her blog post published in Huffington Post, writer Soraya Chemaly cites a 2011 Florida State University (FSU) study that found 100 years of gender bias in children’s books. The FSU team analyzed nearly 6,000 books published from 1900 to 2000 – which makes it the most comprehensive study of 20th century children’s books ever undertaken in the U.S. – and found clear bias towards men and boys as lead characters. The post gives some core findings from the study:

“A girl’s imagination and literary life would be a stark and barren place if she didn’t learn early on to read books about boys, put herself in boys’ shoes and enjoy them. As with other aspects of socially sanctioned behavior, children’s ability to cross-gender empathize is a one-way street — girls have to do it and boys learn not to. People are married to enduring ideas about ‘otherness’ when it comes to masculinity and a big part of being a ‘real boy’ is disdaining stories, books, movies, and games … about girls.”

“Researcher Isabelle Cherney found that half of boys ages 5-13 picked ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ toys equally… unless they were being watched. They were especially concerned about what their fathers would think of them if they saw them. Over time, boys’ interests in toys and media become more rigidly masculinized, whereas girls’ stay relatively open-ended and flexible. Think of the implications of storytelling on that pattern and what it means for social skills development, adaptability, work-life issues and more.”

Ms. Chemaly argues that media that distorts reality in this way hurts everyone. She says:

“Boys aren’t responsible for the perpetuation of media injustices or their effects. The problem is not boys, but cultural habits that disproportionately favor them.”

“As children grow up, girls’ media marginalization becomes more acute and racialized. We seem incapable and unwilling to deeply consider the societal effects of dysfunctional, stereotype-plagued media. Without fail, when I talk or write about this and focus on girls, the first response I get is ‘What about the boy crisis?’ It’s remarkable. So, what about the boys who are over-represented in media as valued and worthy, albeit, too often, hyper-masculinized? I think that while benefits can accrue to them as a class, by imparting a sense of confidence and entitlement, the effects on individual boys can be awful.”

Ms. Chemaly’s final point is golden:

“We are a storytelling species, and symbolic representation and visibility are crucially important to the way we structure society. Exposing children to diversity in media encourages them to learn about people who are “different” and to understand why that difference isn’t the foundation of hierarchy, but community.”

Because a person’s genitals do not determine their behavior, their upbringing does. Because we’re not just girls and boys or women and men, we’re people.

World’s Best Father Photos

Photographer Dave Engledow has been taking humorous, irreverent, wonderful photos of and with his daughter throughout her (currently four years of) life. Working with his wife Jen, his aim is to depict fatherhood and capture life with a baby / toddler. The Engledows’ project has achieved far-flung fame: apart from newspapers, magazines and websites around the world, their work has appeared on the Today Show and Good Morning Germany, and a book titled Confessions of the World’s Best Father was published in May 2014.

The photo that started it all:

World's Best Father

Dave & Jen Engledow.

They also take irreverent photos like this one:

World's Best Father

Dave & Jen Engledow.

(I did mention irreverent, right?) Both photos from the Engledow Tumblr (here and here).

Mr. Engledow explains how it all started:

“In February 2011, my wife Jen and I created a photograph that would literally alter the course of our lives.  Our daughter Alice Bee was 66 days old at the time, and even though Jen and I had gotten over our initial amazement that 63 days earlier the nurses at the hospital had allowed two such obviously ill-prepared people to walk out with a newborn child, we were both still feeling an almost constant anxiety about our total cluelessness around raising (or is it rearing?  I always get those mixed-up) an infant.  Additionally, we were both exhausted, constantly afraid that we were screwing up (a fear, I’ve since learned never really goes away), and completely and totally in love with each other and with our wonderful, amazing, beautiful daughter who we both agreed was the most perfect thing either of us had ever seen.

“The sleeplessness combined with the cluelessness and constant fears of failure were causing me to do what I always do when confronted with things I don’t understand or don’t like—find a way to make fun of those things.  The constant joking about these feelings of inadequacy ultimately led to my decision to create an image that captured new fatherhood by showing exactly how out of it I felt as a new father.”

“Jen and I are grateful for all of the unexpected attention and subsequent exposure given to our images, but for us the most pleasurable aspect of all of this is the continual support and encouragement we receive from people all over the world.  I genuinely had no idea that so many people would connect with our family’s offbeat sense of humor, and for me, this has been by far the most rewarding aspect of having a much larger audience for our work.”

See more on his Facebook page or Tumblr.

Because why couldn’t art emulate the imagination of children. Because playfulness and curiosity are how the human race has gotten this far.

Football Stars Speak against Violence towards Women

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, among his other off-field activities, has also dedicated himself to stopping domestic violence. Witten’s JWSF SCOREkeepers initiative places trained male mentors in battered women’s shelters throughout Texas to demonstrate positive male behavior in an effort to break the cycle of violence that plagues families affected by abuse.

Don McPherson is an ex-quarterback, member of the College Football Hall of Fame, a feminist and educator. In a CNN article in 2013 Mr. McPherson writes:

“Men do not just need to stop being violent. The vast majority of men are not violent. But men do need to stop being silent. Calling violence against women, whether street harassment or sexual harassment or rape or murder, a “women’s issue” allows men to ignore it as if we have no responsibility for it or stake in ending it. We all have grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and female friends and colleagues. Our lives are inextricably interwoven; women’s issues of safety and equality directly affect our lives as men.”

“Beyond that, women are humans, with the same rights to safety and freedom as men. It is therefore our moral responsibility to not remain silent or passively on the sidelines, but to be actively engaged in confronting this problem in every corner of homes, communities and societies.”

Kudos. These two men show in very concrete ways that the concept of manhood defies narrow confines sometimes thrust upon it. Because football players can be – and are – so much more than their stereotypical meathead reputation.

An Epic LEGO Rendering of an Epic Poem

Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey was to retold by VirtuaLUG – in LEGO blocks. Their incredible 300-square-foot layout features numerous scenes from Odysseus’ 10-year adventure. The scenes include but are by no means limited to:

Circe’s Island:

Circe’s Island by Millie McKenzie

Circe’s Island. By Millie McKenzie; image via The Brothers Brick.

Hades:

Hall of Hades by Lee Jones, Leo J. and Adam Reed Tucker

Hall of Hades. By Lee Jones, Leo J. and Adam Reed Tucker; image via The Brothers Brick.

Mount Olympus:

Mount Olympus by Bart Larrow

Mount Olympus. By Bart Larrow; image via The Brothers Brick.

Found via The Brothers Brick.

Kudos! This is such a creative, epic version of the poem beautifully and imaginatively rendered. Because “toy” is such a restrictive descriptor for LEGOs. Because old stuff need not be stuffy.