Thursday, June 26, 2014

Day 4: High School Hope

Dandy Judy
As my Dandy Judy self today, I sported a form-fitting tee-shirt, suspenders, pinstripe pants and snazzy Oxford shoes. No makeup, my face adorned only by turquoise earrings.

In this get-up, I had no significant encounters at all on the subway. Quite a surprise!

So today's edition will be on hopeful messages from high schoolers (and an elementary school kid too, just for good measure).

The under 18 crowd these days (or maybe it's always?) are a much maligned group. We hear that they are lazy as a result of helicopter parents, apathetic about politics, glued to their many screens. But what I've been so impressed about with this group of 14 high school women is that just like my college students, they enjoy analyzing and critiquing and breaking down concepts and stereotypes. AND many of them also take the initiative to move the discussion to 'given these critiques/problems, what can we do about it?'

Interestingly, this is not always where some of the college students I work with go with their frustrations. Perhaps it's just the difference between idealism and cynicism--that developmentally, many college students move through a cynical phase as they learn that truth is not fixed or static, and authority figures are not necessarily right. And of course, there's nothing wrong with those who remain cynical--we need them to help us see societal ills and need their skepticism around 'easy fixes' for complex social problems. But for high schoolers to recognize that they have agency in addressing how gender functions in our society makes me feel very hopeful.

During a class discussion on stereotype threat readings, one student encouraged the class to think about solutions, asking, how do we break down these harmful stereotypes that are affecting how girls and women do in STEM fields? Hands shot into the air! One student said that girls need to love each other and not shame each other. Another said we need to be gender-, sex- and sexuality-positive. Another said not to put down other girls and not to slut-shame. Another suggested we focus on the positive role models out there, of women doing awesome work in the sciences and in politics. This all warmed my heart so much, and gave me hope that these smart, motivated young women from across the country (CA, TX, IL, MN, NY, etc.) are going to be dispersed into the world to do the work they speak of.

The hopeful feelings I was having in class were rounded out by my subway ride home. A group of three women in their 30s or 40s with four children between the ages of 6-10 stepped on the train with me. The kids were talking animatedly to each other and kid 1 screamed, "I HAVE TWO MOMS!" Kid 2 responded with a melancholy, "I only have two parents." Kid 1 tried to clarify, "SO DO I!" Kid 2: "I only have a mom and a dad." Kid 1: "I HAVE TWO MOMS!"

Some of the nearby passengers cringed from the screaming, while others of us smiled.

Check out the other posts in the series:
Day 1: Gender Play at Barnard
Day 2: Lipstick, Loafers and Labels
Day 3: "Do women have to be naked to get into the [MoMA]?"

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