Double Standard and Harassment

Ms. Melissa Atkins Wardy writes at length on her blog Pigtail Pal & Ballcap Buddies about attitudes towards boys and girls and how it connects with street harassment. She starts by describing a threatening incident that her daughter’s friend went through, and connects it to the culture at large:

“The way the incident happened, there was something about her that this guy felt made it worth his while to engage with her in a very threatening manner. In this encounter, she wasn’t simply walking by on a sidewalk and he chose to cat call her. In this instance he put himself in her path, stopping her in her tracks thereby treating her as an object to be moved or disrupted, as opposed to an autonomous human being with thoughts, feelings, and purpose. […]

“From infancy boys are taught to be rowdy rock ‘n roll bad boys who are little masters of the universe and tiny stud muffins.

“From infancy girls are taught to be sweet and pretty, things to be adored and kept beautiful while pleasing everyone around with the sweet prettiness.

“These messages are all over media, apparel, toys, and are relayed by people who interact with our children. […]

“Unless taught by his family, a boy is less likely to learn from our culture that girls and women are worthy of respect and equality or that aggression does not make you a man.

“Unless taught by her family, a girl is less likely learn to offer herself as a whole person rather than a sexual object or that she can be many things without needing the approval of men. […]

“By the time they are teens most boys will have seen very little media that respects women and most girls will have seen very little media in which women ask for or take respect. Then we consider all of the advertising they have seen up to this point, the vast majority of which shows women as objects to be used for male sexual desire. […]

“So when I […] think about my friend’s daughter being harassed while she is out for walk I, [sic] also think about how this fits into the big picture in how we raise or children and what messages we choose to accept or reject. I think about how I try to teach parents to see the forest through the trees, and that while one gendered item or media component may seem trivial, it all adds up to a deep, dark forest we have to shepherd our children through. We also have to teach them how to find their own way, because we won’t always be by their sides.” [emphasis added]

(Quoted at length to fully reproduce the point.)

Kudos. Because patterns of behavior matter, and patterns of abusive behavior need to be nipped in the bud.

Teaching Positive Masculinity

Mr. Courtney Robinson, Dean of Students at Facing History High School, has established male-oriented programs in New York that teach models of maleness, change the way men think about their masculinity. He connects with highschoolers through questions and debate, but also by going over plain everyday occurrences. Natascha Yogachandra reports in The Atlantic:

“Robinson listens intently to the students’ problems and responds with short suggestions for nonviolent solutions. It’s a male place, a haven for these high-school boys to talk about the things they ordinarily would find difficult to air in public.

“The purpose of these programs is to give boys the chance to rethink maleness, and to change the way men treat women and each other. Moore, the one who always brings up basketball, says that the group isn’t for the weak-minded. ‘This is for people who got strong minds; who are willing to step up to the plate and really become a young man.'”

Mr. Robinson is also undeniably committed to his students. Despite an offer for a supervisory position, he chose to stay at Facing History High because, in his words,

“[m]e seeing y’all and being here to support you all [to] graduate and move forward and be able to deal with your problems, and help you all make it through and give you all advice means more to me than whatever dollar amount they were going to give me.”

Kudos. Because there shouldn’t be only one way to be a man. Because diversity is where our strength lies as a species.

New Tech Guy Archetype

Ann Friedman’s article on Medium.com about sexism and hiring practices in the technology industry concentrates on some of the problems women currently face in the profession. She also suggests a new IT professional archetype and lists three steps that have enabled businesses committed to more diverse hiring to find qualified, highly skilled women – and men! – for their ranks. One specific quotation stood out to me. Kellan Elliott-McCrea, chief technology officer at Etsy, states that

“[t]he men who come into our organization who are excited about the fact that we have diversity as a goal are generally the people who are better at listening, they’re better at group learning, they’re better at collaboration, they’re better at communication, they’re particularly the people you want to be your engineering managers and your technical leads”

Because why wouldn’t being open to and curious about experiences different from your own make you more receptive to new ideas and, therefore, more creative.

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.