Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Challenging the Notion of “Gender-blind” Classrooms

Let the media storm begin. A preschool in Sweden, Egalia, has decided to eliminate the words “him” and “her” and begin referring to students as “friends.” The purpose of this change is, according to a teacher at Egalia, to inspire children to be “who they want to be.” I respect the school’s commitment to allow their students freedom and individuality, but I do not think this is the best approach. In light of the recent media frenzy about Storm, the famous gender-neutral child, I do have a problem with creating classrooms that are “gender-blind.” It reminds me of the term “color-blind” some educators cite to combat racism in their classrooms. This is a poor approach since it does not acknowledge the wealth of knowledge students’ differences can bring to a classroom. Also, these differences can cause students to have strikingly different experiences in the classroom. To assume that treating each student the “same” would solve inequalities in the classroom is foolish, and I think an injustice to each student. TIME's article describes that another reason for this preschool’s decision is to fight the unfair advantage boys get in society. So calling a child “friend” instead of “him” or “her” is going to give girls an advantage against unjust structures of power in Swedish society? Wow, that’s a lot of pressure!

Instead of liberation from gender roles, this decision may confuse children and rob them of ways to define themselves. I support breaking down stereotypes in the classroom because I think teachers and the classroom environment are strong manipulators of gendered behavior. For example, at the preschool I volunteered with last semester their was a fairy tale day where the girls dressed as princesses and the boys were required to dress as princes. In an effort to open up possibilities for the students, the educators at Egalia may, in fact, be limiting the children’s exploration of what it means to be a boy or girl. While I am often on a crusade against labeling children, sometimes we need labels to better understand ourselves.

I respect the methodology behind the educators’ use of "him" and "her", but gender is an elusive concept, and as I’ve asked in a previous post, citing a clip from Modern Family, can anything or anyone truly be gender-neutral or “gender-blind”? Even if we try to accomplish this, are we all victims of the society in which we live? Can meaning only be made based on the labels of "male" or "female" we are given at a young age or maybe from birth with the blue and pink blankets? I would like to think "No"!


The label for this image of Annie Lennox on Google was "Androgyny is Cool." Is the prospect of gender neutrality now a trend that models and celebrities want to jump on the bandwagon of?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Which Boyfriend Are You in the Mood For Today?... What the Internet is Teaching Kids

I’m always intrigued to speak with young children about how they experience the “online world.” While I was working at the art studio a few days ago, a bunch of eager children hijacked my computer to check out the latest games on The first screen that popped up asked the girls, “Which boyfriend are you in the mood for today?” While the online world may be a place for young people to try on different roles without real world consequences, what happens when they take their fantasy roles into the real world? For example, are men disposable in the real world if girls can choose a new one each day based on their moods in an online program? Are they being exposed to mature roles they aren’t ready for or are they learning to explore their sexual identities?

When I first saw that “boyfriend game” I was taken aback and ready to criticize it, but I know from many hours of working with kids that they are smart and inquisitive. They receive conflicting messages constantly about what it means to be “sexy” and “sexual.” Peggy Orenstein brought up a great point in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter about the way young girls are taught to look and act “sexy” but are not allowed to actually partake in “sex.” Are young girls to blame for mimicking the dance moves of their favorite musicians? The look is separated from the act. Once again, reinforcing the fact that young girls don’t have sexual desires. So could the online world be an empowering place? I’m hesitant to use the word “empowering” because of the incidences of cyber bullying.

After they “chose” which boyfriend they were in the mood for, the girls engaged me in a discussion about what I disliked the most about Justin Bieber. It was clear that these girls were over “Bieber fever.” I suggested, “Well, I don’t like his songs very much.” One girl chimed in, “Justin Bieber is a girl. He is female. That’s why I don’t like him. He looks like a girl.” I asked her more questions behind her reasoning about Bieber’s femininity. She responded that it was about the way that he dressed, looked, and he sang like a girl! This was a clear example to me of children assigning particular characteristics to men and women. A man possessing feminine traits is problematic in their worlds because they already have an idea of how men and women are supposed to act. For these girls, a man being stereotypically feminine is “wrong” and it’s a point of ridicule. The girls then dressed a Justin Bieber avatar on as an old grandfather.

In a few sketches on his talk show, Jimmy Fallon has ridiculed Bieber's image. Take a look!

Yes, this conversation was amusing, but then it took a turn for the worse when the girls began dressing other famous pop stars like Lady Gaga and Adele. They obsessed over their looks changing their hair and makeup. So that’s what all girls think about, right? They just care about the makeover and maintaining the perfect hairstyle? That is one reason why we need to be asking these questions about what online sites are teaching kids. Are they expanding gender roles or limiting girls to a world of shopping and perfect and “pure” bodies?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Denmark's Drops 30,000 "Ugly" People

An exclusive Denmark-based dating site,, helps attractive people find love, and it has stirred controversy recently for it's dismissal of 30,000 people for their "lack of beauty." In response to criticism, a site manager, Greg Hodge, told The Guardian that, "We have to stick to our founding principles of only accepting beautiful people -- that's what our members have paid for. We can't just sweep 30,000 ugly people under the carpet." The site lost $100,000 in refunds, and rejected members are reportedly using a counseling helpline. One of the goals is to keep the "trolls" out, and let beautiful people fall in love and make beautiful children. This article reveals that 600 people have married as a result of this miraculous dating website.

Are you sensing my anger and repulsion, yet? First, what are the criteria for beautiful people? Beautiful people are chosen based on the photos they upload to their profiles. Isn't it possible that these people don't even look this way? In the online world, we can cultivate the identities and male attention we cannot possess in real life. My most obvious concern is that this site divides the "ugly" versus "beautiful" people based on I'm sure narrow European beauty ideals. Good job, you sent 30,000 people to counseling (Yes, I'm know I'm over-exaggerating). This incident magnifies how much our outer looks define our inner selves. The message that's hidden in each article about this website is that "looks" are what matter. Inner beauty's a nice add-on, but you don't need it when you're beautiful on the outside!

Consider the website's opening image below:

I enjoy that the managers have made some attempt to make it look "multicultural." The website offers the seductive message that joining will lead members to an alternate world where only beautiful people exist. This image perplexes me. Is the point to create a human race without "ugly" people? Why are there animals in this? Each person in this image is thin and perfect-looking. I find it funny that this photo displays such a strong image of physical beauty while members only show their faces on their profiles. Another interesting point is how similar beauty ideals in Denmark are compared to the United States. I would argue that they may be more strict in Denmark. After spending a semester there, I could feel the tension for some of my peers who revealed that they "felt uncomfortable" around such "beautiful" Danish people and couldn't wait to return to the U.S. with more "normal-looking people." It was an intriguing comment for me because I hadn't looked at it from that perspective before.

While it would be easy to sit here on my high horse judging a website that is based in Denmark, I question: Is this site worse than People's The 50 Most Beautiful List they compile each year in the U.S.? Jennifer Lopez is People's Most Beautiful Person in the World for 2011.  I guess last year she didn't make the cut. Beauty politics change with age and levels of stardom. is another site that divides the "beautiful" versus the "ugly" people. Yes, I don't want to be a hypocrite here. Of course, I enjoy flipping through the pages of attractive men gracing People's pages. They're irresistible and marketed well. People entices us with men that can cook, are sensitive, and look great without a t-shirt on. The inside and outside do matter because these men have both!? 

Yet, People's beauty contest is problematic. It tells young people that beauty is a competition and the greatest accomplishment in life. While I'm sure young girls aren't telling their parents, "This magazine contest is contributing to my low self-worth" they are telling their peers that "They do not make the cut in friend groups because they're not cool or pretty enough." These messages are not created in a vacuum, and I cannot place all of the blame on television programs or advertisements, but they contribute. Young people internalize messages to be "beautiful and thin," and therefore, judge others and themselves based on those standards.

Who will make the cut in 2012?

I often question: How can we navigate such a contradictory world that tells young girls to "not judge a book by its cover" while bombarding them with thin, perfect beauty ideals on their favorite television programs? I think it can begin by educating ourselves about the ways media influences young people. If we can't make smarter advertisements, we can become smarter viewers, readers, and writers.

Monday, June 13, 2011

BEWARE: The Dangers of Romance Via Text Messaging

I was inspired to write this post because of a recent text messaging mishap I had. I’m not sure if “mishap” is the correct word to use, but you decide. So, I am here at Denison doing research for the summer, and I often do research in the library. Some people don’t know this, but the library is a dangerous place to go if you are young and single. Last semester, a boy hit on me with the pick up line, “Excuse me, Are you related to Einstein? You just have this really intelligent energy about you.”  Yeah, that definitely wooed me…

Anyhow, I know Boy X on an acquaintance basis, and I see him a lot in the library. He’s kind of creepy, and I’m not interested in dating him at all. We have the general conversation: Hey! How are you? … etc. As I’m walking out of the gym last week, I run into him, and he asks me to come over for dinner. I thought that it might be a group dinner with a bunch of people, so I gave him my number to text me when it was ready (First mistake!). I decided not to go. Then on Thursday I get a text message, “Hey cutie, do you have a good memory?” So I’m just sitting there, and I don’t know what’s going on. So I ignored the message. Then, Friday he texts me again.

This young woman perfectly displays my look of disgust after recieving Boy X's creepy text messages. (

 Here’s a brief summary of our exchange via text message:

Boy X: You know you’re breaking my heart.
Boy X: I feel bad right now :( (At this point I don’t know how to respond, but a guy friend suggests that I subtly turn him down and try not to hurt his feelings).
Me: Hey, I’m sorry. I’m not interested in dating anyone right now.
Boy X: Oh no, I don’t know if I’m interested in that. I just wanted to get to know you and see if you qualify. (Qualify for what?!)
Me: I’m not interested.
Boy X: I know how hot girls are. They try to play hard to get.

Here's my first question: What about my responses suggested that I was playing hard to get? It raised a lot of issues for me about men not taking no for an answer when a woman says she is not interested. From a perspective of rape and sexual assault, playing a "lovegame" of hard to get is not fun or funny. I think it goes back to the lure of the forbidden fruit. We want what we can't have, and I think that has dangerous implications when women are assaulted because a man just couldn't take no for an answer. This story from Dateline demonstrates what happens when sexual assault is NOT taken seriously, especially on college campuses.

Also, note to Boy X: That is not the way to romance a woman. I read this story about a man who proposed to his girlfriend by painting a mural on a street in New York City. Now that's romance, and it gave me hope that relationships aren't dissolving into creepy text messages and little face to face contact. While texting is fun, it has its consequences and has created a new language for some children and adults to be more cruel or daring via text message than they would be in person. I'm sure Boy X would not say those things to me in person, but maybe I would have been able to better get my point across that I'm not interested. I do not have the answers since as I write this I'm sure new technology is being created that pushes people further away from face to face conversations, but I can offer my own cautionary tale about the dangers of romance via text messaging. BEWARE!

True Romance does exist!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Another Reason to Admire Scandinavians

I'm currently obsessed with Peggy Orenstein's blog. She's a journalist, writer, and speaker on young girls, self-esteem, and girlie culture. I'm currently reading her book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter (More on that later). She posted this link on a Swedish clothing line that promotes unisex clothing. Another reason to love Scandinavia!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

What if Cinderella just wanted to Hook Up with Prince Charming?

A few weeks ago, I saw the film Water for Elephants starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. In the film, Robert Pattinson’s Jacob discovers the dangers and excitement of circus life after his parents are killed in a car accident. He falls for the beautiful Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the wife of the abusive and cruel ringmaster. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that Jacob takes extensive measures to prove his love and loyalty to Marlena. Yes, it isn’t the traditional boy meets girl, they date, and live happily ever after storyline, but there was something romantic and sweet about Jacob’s pursuit of Marlena. I left the theater thinking: How often do men pursue the women of their dreams in the modern dating world?

The fairy tale model where boy meets girl and they run off into the sunset has been twisted, revised, expanded, and turned upside down in recent films. Hook up culture doesn’t fit in well with the happily ever after messages we’re told when we’re young. Can you imagine Cinderella telling Prince Charming after he puts on her glass slipper that she would “just like to hook up and have meaningless fun for a few weeks and then find a new prince” instead of the magical kiss and marriage? I’m going to take a wild guess and say that version would not be popular with parents and young children. Yet, these are the messages young people are navigating through in the modern dating world.

While there is an archetype of the non-committal, sex-crazed male in films such as Knocked Up and American Pie, there are new male and female archetypes emerging to keep up with the changing dating climate. For example, in 500 Days of Summer, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Tom declares his love for Summer when she openly admits that she doesn’t want a commitment. His heart is broken, yet their relationship I think offers a reality in the dating world. Sometimes things don’t work out, and sometimes one person has different expectations than the other person in a relationship. Tom loves Summer while she is hesitant and anti-committal.

Tom's seeing birds and leading a musical in the park while Summer isn't sharing the love...

The woman who just wants sex without the love is a rising female model Hollywood has used in the films No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits. I find it amusing that two films with the exact same plot have been released in the same year with actresses that starred in the same Oscar winning movie. While on the surface, the “new” Hollywood leading lady is career-driven and in charge of her sexuality. Yet, is this an empowering view of women? A woman that knows what she wants. I would say no since at the end of the movie she usually changes her mind and trades the career for love. While I think a woman has every right to enjoy her career and hook up, Hollywood films such as No Strings Attached just teach young people that a career is a substitute for a relationship and being in a relationship is of course the best judge of a woman’s character.

So, how do we make sense of these confusing messages? Should a woman wait for Prince Charming to arrive on his white horse? Should she engage in hook up culture? Should she find a “fun friend” to magically fall in love with after weeks of hooking up? Does this actually happen in real life!? I don’t think these answers are simple because I think our society has set up guidelines to punish a woman for whatever choice she makes. If she waits too long, she’ll become a spinster or a prude. Think about Kate Middleton a.k.a “Waity Katie” as deemed by the British press when Prince William wouldn’t propose to her. If she’s too quick to hook up, then she’s called a “slut.” She gets around “too much” and other women resent and judge her. This is a frustrating trap for me, and maybe one day I’ll just get to a point where I don’t care as much anymore.

Below are a few links on this topic:

A Wall Street Journal Blogger on women who want sex while a man wants commitment in Hollywood films.

A review of recent studies done about hooking up on college campuses.

A critique from Fox News about Hollywood's glamorization of domestic violence in teen romances on shows like Gossip Girl and Twilight.