Monday, December 10, 2012

Gender Expectations - Is Umbrella the Key to Equality?

It's been a while since my last post, but next week is finals week, and I'll have so much more time to sew and blog after the semester is over. You'll definitely get more frequent posts starting next week. For now, though, I do have one thing to share with you.

I've been thinking a lot lately about gender norms. It comes up everywhere I look, from class discussions about how male graduates from my program get higher-paying assistant-director and administrative jobs while female graduates get lower-paying reference librarian jobs, to the presidential debate question about equal pay for equal work, to the expectation of gender role conformity in lesbian relationships (I'm supposed to wear dresses, and she's supposed to wear men's button-downs and ties...she actually questioned whether or not I'd still be attracted to her if she stepped just to the other side of androgyny and started wearing women's answer, of course, was to tell her I'd love her in whatever she wore, and to be honest, the women's pants and button-downs and sweaters she's purchased recently are really flattering), to shopping at Target.

Yes, you did read that right. Shopping at Target yesterday, I came upon some pretty awesome wall art for kids:

How amazing, right? Fun, bright, and educational (The alphabet! With animals! The names of states and their capitals and pictures of what they're known for! Dinosaurs!), these are exactly the kinds of pieces I would want in my (future) kids' rooms.

The three pieces above were on the right side of the aisle. When I turned to the left, this is what I saw:

Umm... Yeah. Flowers, fairies, and ballerinas, all in pastels. No one actually comes out and says, "this side of the aisle is for boys, and that side over there is for girls," but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say the right side of the aisle was almost certainly intended for boys while the left side was similarly intended for girls. Is there anyone reading this who disagrees with my assessment of the artists', distributer's, and Target's intentions for these canvases? For the sake of this post, I'm going to assume that those are the intended recipients of the above wall art.

The lower three pieces are very pretty, but what does this say about our expectations for our children? What does art like this tell our children about themselves and their abilities? Why is it that the colors that represent boys (and possibly the boys themselves) are expected to be bold and bright, while the colors that represent girls (and possibly the girls themselves) are expected to be soft and muted? When I looked at Target's website to see if maybe the best girl's art was online and not on the shelves (maybe it was all bought up?), I found that everything was very gender-defined. There was a picture of the solar system in "boy" colors, complete with the names of the planets, and there was a dollhouse in varying shades of pink, to list just two among several other items that implied through various images that boys are somehow worth more than girls. If we create things like this for our children and put them on their walls, we tell our children that boys are more athletic, more intelligent, more talented, and girls are only good for being pretty, empty-headed future housewives (and possibly pop music stars?).

How is it that we are still (silently but very clearly) perpetuating this idea and yet we say that the time for feminism is past? How can we expect to get equality as adults when we treat our children so differently? Boys are given engaging information about exciting and interesting things, and they are encouraged to read and express an interest in geography and science, while girls are given flowers, ponies, dollhouses, and fairytale castles. Obviously, this is a slight exaggeration; I know that many of us (girls) learned to read before any of the boys in our class, we climbed trees and played sports and became scientists and IT gurus and CEOs. I guess my question is this: Why, in a time when women have supposedly gained so much equality, does the art we create for our children's rooms still reflect a massive gender divide?

The need for feminism is still here, and yet the extreme feminists in our society seem to have given the idea as a whole a bad name. I say feminism and you envision a mob of angry women burning bras in street protests and forcing other women to leave their children at home and go work. It's this warped extremist idea of feminism that has women like Katy Perry, and Carla Bruni claiming that they are not feminists. Feminists do not want to force women out of their homes and into the workplace. Feminism is the belief that women should have the choice, and should be treated (and compensated) equally should they choose to work. You don't have to be an activist to be a feminist.

Anyway, off my feminism soapbox, if I had children right now, I'd buy all three of those top pieces along with the outer space one online, regardless of my children's gender. :) And I wish I'd had that wall art as a kid. I kind of want them in my room now!

Back to my search of Target's website, I did find one (and only one) semi-educational item that was directed toward girls. It was an alphabet piece, and the reason I say semi-educational is because I'm not sure I'd want my little girl to learn that J is for Jeans when it could be for Jaguar or Jet, Jar, Joust, Jade, Jack-in-the-Box, Jay, Jam, Jelly, Jellyfish, Jester, Jungle, Jupiter... I'll leave you to compare it with the equivalent boy-intended alphabet and wonder why the girl one has jewelery, clothing, flowers, and fairies while the boy one has monsters, outerspace, sports, and a treasure map. The only similarity is U is for Umbrella. Is the umbrella the answer?