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 pronoun default.

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?

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