Thursday, January 30, 2014

Where the girlz are

This fall’s cyber-hubbub over GoldieBlox got me thinking. One of the better evaluations of the new toy that aims to interest girls in STEM (sciences, technologies, engineering, math) was that of Deborah Siegel. I tend to agree that princess-coated though it be, GoldieBlox weighs in on the plus side in terms of its objective, which leads me to dig further down to the matter of teaching our daughters (and sons) about feminism.

Before anyone can counter, “But why are you indoctrinating them ‘one way or another’?” let me say that I firmly believe there is a place for indoctrinating them, if that’s what you want to call it. Humans have inhabited the earth for – what? – 10,000 years, and for about 9,800 of those years, patriarchy dominated. And it still dominates. So our daughters are getting plenty of it, packaged quite slickly and going down oh-so-smoothly. So, yeah, I’m gonna indoctrinate, and I’m not apologizing.

So, once we’ve decided to introduce our daughters to feminism, how do we go about it? It’s indeed a daunting task, so I’m here to de-dauntify it. Just as Caitlin Moran distilled feminism thusly [paraphrasing; I couldn’t find the exact quote]: “If I have to worry about it and men don’t, it’s sexism.” Ready examples are removing body hair and walking unaccompanied after dark. While Moran’s formula works beautifully, it’s a bit out of reach for our little ones. Therefore, along the same lines, I suggest introducing this query into your household lexicon: “Where are the girls?”

The beauty of this query is that as soon as you start asking it, it fits in in every circumstance. For instance, as soon as my kids were old enough to be read to (that starts with picture books before age one, right?) I edited the text in real time. And you know what? They never questioned it, even after they themselves could read. Once you start doing this regularly, you’re surprised to find that nearly every character in children’s books — and invariably the animal characters — can easily be referred to as “she”. There’s no reason on earth that any of the three little pigs, nor the wolf, can’t be females, is there? Once you start asking, “Where are the girls?” there’s no limit to incorporating the answer everywhere, including using “she” and “her” as your default pronoun.

I knew I’d gotten through when my eldest, at the age of seven, was playing with a deck of cards, and she asked me, “Ima, if there’s a násich [Hebrew for “jack”], how come there’s no nisichá? [would-be “jill”, if she existed]. Yay! I thought. She gets it! She’s begun asking ‘Where are the girls?’” Because when you get down to it, where girls and women are absent, there’s an imbalance, and the odds are it’s due to sexism. Yet it’s within our power to correct that imbalance early, at least linguistically and theoretically, which is where all education begins.

Which brings me back to GoldieBlox: If we use the yardstick “Where are the girls?” then GoldieBlox has answered correctly: They’re right there, front and center — constructing, making, thinking, strategizing, producing. And isn’t that, after all, where we want them?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mystery Photo צילום תעלומה

Taking a break from our regular programming to post this photo

2 things that I'm sure would make Shulamit Aloni mad

I was listening to a 2009 radio interview with Shulamìt Aloni yesterday. The host asked her to talk about the many articles she wrote. She chuckled and said, “I did write lots of articles, and the best ones are those I wrote when I was mad!” YES, I thought. That’s me! So, two things that’ve made me mad lately:

This article concerning the Eilat Orthodox school rejecting an Arabic language teacher due to her wearing of the hijab; and this followup on the Education Ministry’s commensurate policy. I’m so mad I can’t even see straight. Where do we get off? There’re so many things wrong here, I don’t know where to start. So I’ll just ask: What could be more appropriate in an Orthodox school than a woman covering her head? Ah, but it’s the wrong kind of head covering. Chelm, here we come!

My no. 2 thing that’s got me mad is admittedly a classic First World Problem: My new keyboard. The Ctrl key on my old one got a hole in it (I know - weird, huh? I don’t ordinarily use plastic-eating acid in my line of work), so off I went keyboard shopping. How ‘bout I just list my complaints chronologically:

  1. The store, Petcom, one of only a few (two?) in my locale, had a selection of exactly three keyboards; two were for gamers. That left me with the Microsoft 3000 wireless. Sold for 210.00.
  2. Took it home to my office, opened package, which contained the product plus a warranty and safety warnings. No user guide, no other literature.
  3. Hooked it up and began using it. Works fine except the function keys don’t work. Searched online and discovered that it has a Function Lock key. OK, now why do I need this key? Presumably, I want all the product’s features to function, do I not? OK, unlocked the functions. Yay. [eyeroll]
  4. I notice a row of keys above the function keys labeled 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and “star”. They do precisely nothing. I also notice to my chagrin that there is no Stop key, which on my previous keyboard would stop a webpage from loading. It was quite convenient. Now I am inconvenienced. Consulted a colleague.
  5. Colleague says those keys are wild card keys, i.e., you can program them to perform whatever task you want (walk the dog? Wash the dishes?), but he doesn’t know how.
  6. Back to the Internet. Can find nothing. Sigh. Write Daughter’s boyfriend, who sends me links to two clips about my product. I view clips.
  7. Clip 1 says the software comes with the keyboard, right there in the box [frown of consternation]. Clip 2 mentions downloadable software. I search.
  8. I find and download software. I program a key to do what I want it to do.

The above succession of events took place over the course of eight days from purchase. In between I went back to Petcom, where no one could help me. Neither they nor the manufacturers at any point indicated that software must be downloaded. The word “software” was neither uttered nor written anywhere. And not only am I an adept computer user, but I’m compulsive about reading and following instructions. No tearing open the box and plugging it in for me, not I: I actually RTFM. As none came with the product, I actually downloaded .pdf versions of the “product guide” and “quickstart guide”. The former doesn’t mention software except for something called a Healthy Computing Guide [condom use?]. The latter mentions it, but does not tell you where to get it. No link. No link! Isn’t that one of the features of online help??? As First World Problems go, this is outrageous. And the maddening part is that it would be so simple to fix. Just tell me I need software! Right there! Inside the package! Where it makes sense!

OK, done. I hereby declare this post written in memory of Shulamit Aloni, z”l, who tolerated neither intolerance nor stupidity. May she rest in peace.