The Matter of Gender

I was given the opportunity to visit with Audrey Watters twice in the past month. For those of you who don’t know her, this is her twitter account: @audreywatters and here is her blog: Hack Education. If you’ve never heard of her or if you’ve never read her stuff, it’s okay. I hadn’t either. But having  visited with her twice now, I can honestly say that my brain has not been quite restful since.

I know, I know, my friends, that my brain is never quite restful, but now my blinders are off on an area I thought was “safe”. I have had this innocent, limited view that education was a place where women were treated equally. I’m not saying that we are currently being harassed or paid vastly different from our male colleagues, but I though that we were being given the same treatment and respect as our male counterparts. My time listening  to and reading Audrey Watters’ work has taken those blinders off and I’m suddenly aware of an equity issue I really hadn’t considered before.

I’ve seen gender equity issues in other areas of my little world. Male doctors have tried for years to explain to me that my hormones and “female” issues shouldn’t affect my blood sugar readings or my diabetes, even though the numbers and patterns of my logbooks and CGM say otherwise. I spent a large amount of my teen and young adult years in the “geek closet” because girls weren’t supposed to love Star Trek, X-FIles, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and comic books that weren’t Archie. In the past couple of years, I have seen some male “geeks” accuse female “geeks of pretending to like the genre to get boyfriends, because the hero is “hot” and basically saying that their “geek” knowledge is false. (And i have cheered over male written articles like this one!)  I watched, in horror, as Gamer Gate blew up online last summer. I felt suddenly happy that I hadn’t participated in online gaming, but had instead stayed healthily interested in single player, single user games like Skyrim and Zelda. I knew about the treatment of women in cultures so far from how I was raised, and I have felt the appropriate amount of anger against men who seek to put women “in their place”. (This video arrived on my timeline 2 days after our talk with Audrey)  I just never realized that I was a part of it in education.

I work very hard to teach the children in my classroom that boys are not better than girls and that girls are not better than boys. Every year, however, I have the same conversations with my littles. Every year, there is someone in my group of 4 and 5 year old kids, who will emphatically claim that “Pink and red are GIRL colours and that blue is a BOY colour”. Every single year, we talk about how colours have no gender and that we are free to love whatever colour we want, but that one little voice still claims that pink is just for girls. The little people in my class love the house center, and that too is a source of infinite gender equity teaching. You see, in the fall, the girls are always told to stay in the house with the babies, while the boys dress up as police and fire officials to go to work. I have many, many, MANY conversations in the beginning of the year about these pretend roles and thankfully, by the end of the year, the babies are being cared for by many hands while all the children are dressing up in career clothes to go provide for the “family”. I find that so much of my playtime teaching is involved in encouraging my students to explore different roles; I encourage my girls to build and to tumble around while my boys need  encouragement to create artistic pieces and pursue more gentle play opportunities. However, I cannot control what happens when they go home, and therein lies my frustration.

The conversation our small group had before Audrey joined us in March, opened my eyes to my participation in this gender inequity in education. I have been asked to present, to show off my learning, for my staff at a staff meeting. My initial reaction was not one of honour, but one of horror. My first thought was simply, “Why? Nothing I’m doing is that special or unique.” Bryan Jack commented that if that same question was asked to many young, male teachers, they would jump at the opportunity to highlight their awesomeness. After talking to Audrey, Bryan Jack and Mardelle Sauerborn, I realized that I am participating in my own inequity by downplaying my own growth. I think back to our class visit with Dean Shareski and the conversation we had about bragging vs sharing, and I am starting to see that we, especially the women of this profession, have to start shouting our amazing achievements. Audrey talked about the “erasure of women” from history. Women like Ada Lovelace, the women of Bletchley Park who were brilliant minds, but who no one knew about until recently. I work in a female dominated profession (73% of teachers in this province are women) and I really don’t want us to be erased from educational reforms, pedagogical changes or educational history. Do you?

I see the inequities so much more now, than I did even 2 weeks ago. Audrey mentioned Anil Dash and his resolution to retweet only women for a year. I’m very tempted to do this, if only to highlight the amazing things women are doing in this field, in any field. I realize this won’t change everything, but perhaps all of our little actions against inequity can fan the spark and help bring change. It’s worth a try.

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One thought on “The Matter of Gender

  1. hjames18 says:

    Liane, this was beautifully written. You brought up one memory for me that I had suppressed. The only HUGE time that I encountered brash inequality was during my time as a female fire fighter. We have to pass the same interval tests for safety reasons, but I remember being pushed by my male counterparts to the breaking point, far past where other fire fighters were being asked to perform. There was a desire to prove that I was unworthy colleague. I pushed through it, but that hurt me and made me angry.
    I had forgotten this until you mentioned your house station. Ouch.

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