What to Give Her, What to Buy for Him!

Gift giving can be tricky. And if you believe in the polarization of gender and biological determinism, be aware that you need to stick to highly feminine and masculine gifts that reinforce the belief in the segregation of women and men.

Red Envelope has a whole section of gifts for her, and for him. Subcategories for women (that are not included in the men’s section and vice versa) consist of “cooking and baking,” “flowers and plants,” and “gardening.” Subcategories for men include “sports” and “electronics and gadgets,” as well as “watches” (there’s a clear distinction between a watch and a piece of jewelry, right?) Some categories are similar, but assumed gender preferences are included. For example, for women there is a section called “for the home,” but for men this similar section is called “home & office.” For women, there is also a section titled “bar & wine”; the same section exists for men, with the addition of cigars. See, this is helpful because we would not want women smoking cigars in their offices and men to dirty their jewelry in the garden.

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The Day of the Girl

Today is the first annual International Day of the Girl. Its mission: to highlight, celebrate, discuss, and advance girls’ lives and opportunities across the globe. And it’s come not a moment too soon. On Tuesday, fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, a National Peace Award winner, was shot by Pakistani Taliban for daring to stand up for a girl’s right to receive an education. Yes, tragically, you read that right. The Taliban, having warned Ms. Yousafzai to stop her advocacy work on behalf of her gender, sent two armed gunmen to her school bus and shot her in the head.

On Wednesday, surgeons removed the bullet, and doctors are hopeful that there has been no brain damage and that she will ultimately return to school. Of that, Fazal Moula Zahid, a close family friend, is certain: “She will never, never drop out of school. She will go to the last.”

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I Want to Be a Princess

I feel that everywhere I turn I see young girls dressed in pink from top to bottom, sporting tutus and idolizing Disney princesses. Walk into any department store and you find clothes targeting the princess frenzy. One minute I hear surprised adults marvel over their child’s fascination with princesses while the next they refer to their daughter as a princess and buying her every pastel colored item with a princess face on it. As “pretty” as princesses might be, they are typically not very independent. And how can they be? They are expected to wear ridiculous dresses, tiaras and glass shoes while waiting in patience for Prince Charming to rescue them. Once professing their love, they marry the next day, have children (approximately) nine months later and live happily ever after. My parents never referred to me as a princess and I never thought I was one either, so I never dressed like one, or acted “like a princess”. So is the fascination with being a princess inherent in female biology or are little girls encouraged to be princesses? Personally, I believe the latter. I also believe that we have a tendency to displace our wants, needs and beliefs onto our children, ignoring the influence we have over them, while stating that they have the free will to do as they please.

What are the consequences when we treat, dress and expect little girls to be princesses? We teach them to act like a princess should. When I worked with children aged 3 to 5, I regularly noticed the limitations of the princess-child. First, we have limitation of movement. As girls came to school in skirts, dresses, heels (yes heels) and flip-flops, they were unable to play, move and do other things that the boys regularly could. The girls wanted to, but they often got hurt. One girl kept tripping in her heels, so she was sent inside to play. Another girl kept falling and getting hurt because she could not run in her flip-flops. She was also encouraged to be inactive and to go inside.

Second, we have the policing of girl’s bodies. Young girls tend to be unaware that they often show their underwear when wearing skirts and dresses (especially during circle time). They are constantly told to not “spread their legs” but instead cross their legs, or fold their legs while they sit. Not only are we telling young girls that they need to be aware of how they portray their bodies in ways that we are not policing boys. The girls is told that she is “so cute” and that her dress “is adorable”, but at the same time, she is told that she needs to hide her body, be aware of how she portrays herself and inadvertently, “take up less space”. Remember to be feminine and small.

Girls who do not dress like princesses often have to endure policing of their clothing and accessories by other girls. Even though none of the girls I worked with were older than five, they were very knowledgeable about certain brands, and what acceptable clothing looked like. I doubt this is knowledge innate to being a little girl. I understand that our consumer culture and societal pressures of fitting in also influence what girls’ want to wear, and what they feel they “need” in order to fit in. At the same time, parents are the mediators between young children and society, and children cannot acquire items without the help of parents.


Photo uploaded by Flickr user John-Morgan and is shared under a creative commons license.

Slut-shaming – my story

I was eight  years old and – truth be told – a pretty easy victim if you were looking to pick at a vulnerable kid. I had large pink glasses and braces on my teeth. I was smaller than the other kids and talked funny. We had just moved back to Poland after two years in the US and I spoke better English than Polish. And when I did speak Polish, it was with an accent other school kids only knew from American movies which were just beginning to be shown in a newly democratic and capitalist Poland. One might say, “I was asking for it.”

Things sort of went downhill after my first day of school. We had a Catholic religion class (yay secular state!) and I had a notebook with a kitten on the cover. Apparently, the previous summer the nun teaching the class announced we’re supposed to bring in a notebook with the Virgin Mary on the cover. I hadn’t known about that (which might have had something to do with the fact that when she was making the announcement I was living in Illinois a few thousand kilometres away…) and brought in an obviously very religiously offensive kitten. The nun decided she cannot put up with this sort of behaviour and threw me out of class calling me the devil’s spawn (I wish I was making this stuff up!). I didn’t know what was happening and a girl who spoke some English had to take my hand and lead me out of the classroom explaining I’m not supposed to come back until the bell rings again. Boy, was I confused…   [Read more...]

Quick Hit: Cheerleader Gets the Boot for Refusing to Shake Her Booty

I love it when a young woman stands up for herself and claims ownership of her body!

Faylene Fampton, you’re the shiz. Good for you for sticking up for what you believe in. It sucks that your cheer leading coach doesn’t support you – but there are other great things in store for you. So keep fighting the good fight.

Why is AIDS the #1 Killer of Women Worldwide?

HIV/AIDS is typically thought of as a gay man’s disease, despite the fact that the World Health Organization released statistics in November 2009 that show HIV/AIDS is the #1 killer of women ages 15-44 worldwide. Since March 10th is the National Day of HIV/AIDS Awareness for Women and Girls, I thought that it was important to focus on some of the reasons why women and girls are particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV.

According to a recent article in Poz Magazine:

The particulars of women’s heightened risk include the specifics of female biology; high rates of sexual abuse and gender-based violence; battles for self-esteem and respect; women’s need to be accepted by sexual partners; a chronic lack of resources and income; and homophobia, which can drive lesbians to unsafe and unhealthy practices.

Another part of the challenge is that the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS prevents women from getting tested or seeking support services for themselves. One woman interviewed in another Poz article about HIV and women pointed out that if you have breast cancer or heart disease, there are races and other public events for people to show their support. But with HIV, people would rather look the other way. [Read more...]