Want to Find Out about Gender? Just Ask the Students
I am reproducing the following excerpt from an article entitled, “A Gender-Inclusive approach to English/Language Arts Methods: Literacy with a Critical Lens” by Shirley P. Brown and Paula Alidia Roy. It is so damning, I just couldn't help myself.
“K.M. a first year teacher in a large urban high school, asked the students to write a response to the following question: If you woke up tomorrow and discovered that you were the opposite sex from the one you are now, how would your life be different? Although some of the responses dwelled on the physical changes, many focused on the expectations for girls and boys, One girl wrote:
‘If I woke up as a boy, I wouldn’t have to clean up the whole house by myself all the time. I wouldn’t have to cook for myself all the time either. My mom would probably spoil me more and give me anything I wanted. I would have the same amount of freedom. But my mom wouldn’t ask me as many questions. I probably wouldn’t be all stressed out about succeeding in life and my family probably wouldn’t expect much of me. I really wouldn’t have to care about my outside appearance...I wouldn’t be as close to my mom as I am now. I would probably be more outspoken and less reserved. I would have more of a social life, more buddies.’
The following response is more or less typical for the boys’ responses:
‘If I woke up as a girl, I would feel the same. I would be angry at myself because I like being a boy because you have so many advantages. My mom said being a girl is hard work. You have to go through pregnancy, being ladylike and keep your hair done, etc. There is nothing wrong with girls, but I would hate to wake up and become one. I can’t even think to put myself in that situation. It is too many responsibilities.’”
What stands out is the teacher's willingness to explore these critical gender perceptions with her students. Students have plenty to say, early on, about how they identify and see themselves through the lens of gender. What also sticks out in the two excerpts is the assumption of unfairness, that the world is a rigged or fixed game where males have an advantage over females and both sexes are certainly aware of it. The logic is that this attitude and reality then extends itself into the work and family world where power relationships are unbalanced and women find themselves with greater expectations placed upon them, doing more, receiving less and having to settle for what is left for them. All of this is true, and this narrative still only represents part of the story
Women discuss, in many cases, gaining the perspective of expectations, stability, and competency while having to deal with men in their lives who need to learn how to grow up while they, at least, present themselves as grown up.
When I speak to women who grew up in more traditional homes where there existed a stark gender imbalance between men and women regarding household responsibilities and life expectations, the negative memories of inequities are tempered by the results or place that women end up versus their male counterparts. Women talk about brothers or male cousins who could never find a place for themselves, having grown up with a sense of entitlement but with no tools for living. They ultimately feel sorry for men they see who either cannot find their way, stumble angrily through relationships or worse, get involved in illegal activities, addiction, and violent behaviors. Women discuss, in many cases, gaining the perspective of expectations, stability, and competency while having to deal with men in their lives who need to learn how to grow up while they, at least, present themselves as grown up. Gender bias and inequity has a price to pay for everyone, either now or later.