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Sunday Reflections: I’m Holding Out for a Hero, a Female Superhero

I have such conflicted feelings about this year’s superhero themed Summer Reading Club.

As a big superhero fan myself, I was at first incredibly excited. But the truth is, for those of us raising daughters or working with the female gender – which coincidentally makes up half of the population – it’s a bit of a double edged sword when you start to realize how little female representation there is in the world of superheroes. And the representation we do get is often incredibly sexualized and often in service of the male characters.

And then there is the merchandising.

Sure, in Big Hero 6 there are two female superheroes out of the six. A full 1/3. But you’ll be hard pressed to find them on any of the merchandising, particularly if you go looking for fabric to make your own clothing.

The Marvel Universe, also a Disney house now, isn’t much better. If you go looking for Guardians of the Galaxy or The Avengers merchandise you will be lucky to find any including Gamora or Black Widow. As The Mary Sue points out, you can only find a hand full of Black Widow on the new merchandising efforts for The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.

And if you go looking at Star Wars merchandise, you won’t find a lot of women there either. As Carrie Fisher recently pointed out, our primary image of Princess Leia from the Star Wars universe is the one where she is being held captive and sexualized in the gold bikini. Interestingly enough, at a recent Star Wars panel author Anthony Breznican (BRUTAL YOUTH) asked about female representation in the Star Wars universe and they seemed to at least acknolwedge there was a problem and they were working on it. Skip to the 5:30 timestamp in this Force Awakens panel to see the discussion.

I noticed this myself when we took our Girl Scout troop to a Build a Bear for a reward party for selling far and above the amount of cookies we thought they could sell. They worked hard and were incredibly successful. But if they wanted to build a superhero themed bear their choices were Thor, Hulk, Captain America and Iron Man.

And during Easter season I snapped this picture of Superhero dolls you can purchase to fill baskets. Not surprisingly, there was not a female one in the offering even though they were both DC and Marvel based heroes, which means they could have at the very least included Wonder Woman.

The results weren’t much better when I went looking for superhero Legos for my Lego based Makerspace. The problem, of course, is that there are far less female superheroes to choose from. So when I found a pack of 24 superhero Legos for only $24.00 on Ebay – a fantastic price – it was not surprising when they came in and only 4 of them were female. My tweens and teens like to make stop motion Lego movies and we’ll be making our own superhero themed ones, but it looks like our representation won’t be much better than the big screen given how few options we will have.

There was a glimmer of hope when the recent Ms Marvel comics were released – and they are good. Bonus points because we get a female superhero and a woman of color to boot, done well. But the male superheroes still far outnumber the female. And there isn’t a female superhero movie in sight for 2015 or 2016. A Wonder Woman movie has been tabled for years, currently slated for 2017. However, the pressure for a female led superhero movie to be successful is so stressful that the current director recently jumped ship according to MTV news. There is now a new director attached to the picture, Patty Jenkins, but if this movie fails many in the industry will see it as a sign that no one wants female superhero movies, which is nowhere near the truth.

My 6 year old daughter’s favorite movie is The Avengers (and sometimes Sharknado). She watches it again and again and again. I am mesmerized as she watches the scene where Black Widow busts out of a chair that she is tied into, surrounded by men who think they have the upper hand. I see how she feels empowered and is taking in a simple message: even in the most seemingly dire of situations you can be powerful, you can be strong, you can save yourself. In a world where a majority of the images our girls will see involve them being rescued by, objectified by and in service of men, it’s such a powerful message. But then when we can’t find any superhero merchandise in the stores, that message is undermined.

To make matters worse, some of the Avengers themselves were on a press tour this past week when they reminded us all that powerful women who embrace their sexuality are “sluts” and “whores”. In a recent interview with Renner (Hawkeye) and Evans (Captain America), when asked about Black Widow maybe having a relationship with Hulk, the two men joked about Black Widow being a slut. To add injury to insult, they went on to suggest that because her character has a prosthetic leg (which I hear makes no sense because it is not true) and she was “leading everyone on”, which is troubling ableist language. And they pointed out that “she’ll always be a sidekick anyway”, a seemingly direct slap in the face to every fan asking for a Black Widow movie.

Just this week WB and DC announced a new line of superhero stuffs – JUST FOR GIRLS. Which you would think would make me feel less conflicted, but it only addresses the female half of my concerns. Yes, I want my girls to see girl superheroes. But I also want boys growing up being told by marketers and authors and society at large that girls are not other, that they are in fact worthy of their time and attention. I want boys to be just as comfortable wearing an Avengers shirt with Black Widow as my girls are expected to be wearing a shirt with Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, and Hulk. As Chuck Wendig points out in his discussion of the WB/DC announcement: “Society will get better when boys have to learn about girls the same way girls learn about boys.” It’s not just about wanting superheroes for girls, is about wanting our boys to grow up in a world where they embrace the value of girls. But that’s what gendering does, especially since it is catered to the males among us, it others females in such a way that our boys grow up being told that girls are not worth their time and attention, unless it is as a sex object.

I dropped my daughters off at school today. I kissed them goodbye and told them I love them. I sent them out once again into the breech, this world that continues to tell them that in subtle and not so subtle ways that they are less than their male counterparts. I think they deserve better. I think they deserve to see female superheroes who remind them that they can be fierce, they can be brave, they can be honorable – that they can be their own heroes. And I think they deserve to grow up in a world where boys are learning that girls and the things that girls like, produce and consume have value. And this can be done to some extent when they have their own superheroes to look up to, but even more is accomplished when we create a superhero universe for all fans – male and female – that represents a wide variety of genders, ethnicities, abilities and more. Representation matters.

Breaking the Gender Molds, a guest post and giveaway by author Eric Devine


I’m a 36-year-old, cisgendered, heterosexual, white male, who writes Young Adult novels that are boy-centric, and I’m bothered by the slim definition of what it means to be a man.

I was raised under very stereotypical precepts about manhood, and I was always bothered by them. Instead of watching sports, I read. Shyness overtook bravery. I did not demand, I accepted, and it was problematic.

Until I flipped the switch during middle school and played the part. It was instantly apparent how much easier it was to be a loud-mouthed punk than it was to be me. But in spite of the ease, I was unsettled, because I knew who I had abandoned.

Painful, yes, but excellent training for the work I do today. Because those expectations, those norms of masculinity, still exist, are extremely pervasive, and put boys and teens into extremely uncomfortable situations where they either have to behave the part or suffer the consequences. The pressure is real and terrifying, and something I try to address in my work.


In summary: Tap Out is about what one does as a very stereotypical “tough” male in a hostile and violent environment that has only one use for him. One he doesn’t want, but is hamstrung to escape.


Dare Me explores what it’s like to want to break the profile of “nothingman” and win acclaim, earn money, and come out on top by succeeding at feats of valor––or more commonly known today as YouTube stunts.


Press Play is about pushing back against the dominant, violent culture, by fighting with technology and intelligence, instead of fists. It’s about choosing not to hide, in spite of the enormous danger of exposure.

Much of my decisions regarding what I write and how I address issues of gender, in particular masculinity, are informed by my own experience, but equally by my students. We talk. A lot. And I tell stories of my youth because they want to understand how I’ve arrived at my perspectives. I’ve addressed aspects of drug use, sexuality, violence, suicide, rape, privilege, and any number of humorous/disgusting combinations about life you can think of. Often we talk about expectations placed on girls and boys, even if my students don’t realize that’s what they’re talking about.

One day we discussed fighting. There had recently been one, and based on the details, I innocently asked about a broken nose. The class sensed I knew more about this topic than I was letting on and asked me to tell a story of what I knew of breaking someone’s nose.

I did, briefly, but more importantly, then asked, “What are the expectations for males in our society, especially contact sport athletes, when it comes to fighting?”

This led to an engaging conversation that quickly turned from only males in sports to males and females broadly. And it was an interesting experience for many of the girls to hear the boys talk about the pressure of fitting in. They deftly detailed that on some level the dirty jokes and swearing and fighting are part of the roles in which they are asked to play (Yes, they struggled to word it this way––they’re teens––but the message was clear: forced stereotypes are universal).

I was so proud of our conversation because it was obvious that I had provided a space for my students to think about concepts they’d never fully entertained, which is exactly what I try to do in my stories. Yet, the issue stuck with me. Because what didn’t emerge in that conversation was that those pressures don’t go away. They morph and become stronger. And in light of very recent events of parties and rape and fight clubs, I felt a bit hopeless. How is a male, today, supposed to successfully navigate the pressures of being “a man” and evolve into someone who is unafraid to embrace a balance of masculine and feminine traits? In essence, how are they to succeed where I failed?

I won’t say books are the answer, because that’s naive. Parents, adult figures, older brothers and sisters, and by very large measure peers and pop culture all have a hand in shaping boys and girls. Books are a part of that, and a significant one if they flip preconceived notions on their heads. If they challenge the stereotypes. If they offer alternatives to the norm of cisgendered, heterosexual, white protagonist. Or if they expose and explore the trappings of how and why the stereotypes abound.

And they already exist. But the audience needs to be wider. I know men and women who haven’t read a book since high school, and so for all the good that I can do by writing novels that challenge societal assumptions, how are my stories ever going to find a way into the hands of the sons and daughters of these adults, who do not value reading, who may be completely comfortable with the expectations of the standard male and female models because they were never challenged to think otherwise, and who have not had conversations with their children about the fact that “being a man”  or “being a woman” is an ever-evolving process that is a paramount pursuit in order to have a fulfilling life?

But there are others. Like me, and not at all like me, who are having these conversations, who are reading and helping teens navigate. There are teachers and librarians and adult figures in various capacities who are open and willing and helpful. There are allies in every struggle. And I feel that the issue of redefining both masculinity and femininity is a pressing and important concern. Not so that we can foist new roles on boys and girls, but so that we can accept the traits of masculinity and femininity, the fact that they are a part of us all, regardless of gender or sexuality. If only so that the “boys will be boys” mentality, that is one of the most ignorant concepts in our culture, can die.

And so with it, some of that pressure. I say “some” because there will always be pressure. But it is up to us to decide how it is applied, and to what end. Do we want to continue the binary opposition of male versus female in our culture, or do we want to move forward with a better understanding of humanity and of ourselves?

Because in the end, even my freshman understand the pressures are they same, they just manifest differently. Therefore, we should be seeking virtues of behavior and not categories. Because breaking the mold is beautiful, but never again having to fill one is stunning.

Eric Devine is a high school teacher and the author of Tap Out, Dare Me and the upcoming Press Play, all from Running Press Kids. He blogs here at Teen Librarian Occasionally and wrote a chapter in The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services, edited by myself and Heather Booth and published in July from ALA Editions. 

You can follow Eric online: 

Win Eric Devine’s Books!

Eric and Running Press Kids have generously donated a copy of Tap Out which I am putting together with my arc copies of Dare Me and Press Play picked up at various library conferences to give to you as a prize. You can win a complete set of Eric Devine books! If you live in the U. S. you can do the Rafflecopter thingy below until Saturday the 23rd, The Tween’s birthday and the debut of the new Doctor, to enter.

The problem of relationship (and girls) in YA lit, plus 5 of my favorite titles

Check out the series About the Girl over at Stacked

If you read enough YA lit, you might start to come to a few interesting conclusions:

1. Teens only have 1 relationship, romantic ones. Especially if you are a teenage girl.

2. Relationships only have one goal, which is sex. For some reason, as Cory Ann Haydu mentions here, a large number of YA books (never all) focus on romantic relationships that accelerate quickly from kissing to sex.

But what about all the other relationships in our lives?

If you read this blog enough, you know that one of my favorite books ever is Guitar Notes by Mary Amato. Primarily because it is a book about a boy and a girl who are not romantically involved. It’s possible that if Amato were going to write a sequel they could head in that direction, but they don’t have to (and that honestly is the sequel I would like to read).

Sometimes, if you are lucky, there are friends that become boyfriend and girlfriend in very organic and realistic ways, like in books such as The Sweetest Thing (Christina Mandelski) and Until It Hurts to Stop (Jennifer R. Hubbard), which also has a strong female friendship in it as well and has a female engaged in a nontraditional activity (hiking, mountain climbing).

But the truth is, we – people – are all about a wide variety of relationships.  We have families, parents. Many of us have siblings. We have friends. We have enemies. Sometimes we are in romantic relationships and sometimes we aren’t. And yes, some teens have sex, but not all of them do. And sometimes we go through a really long process before we even think about getting to sex. Relationships are complex.

My favorite high school memory involves a new relationship with a boy named Kenny. I don’t remember how we met, but he was my first real boyfriend and I was a senior in high school. Yep, a senior. I was scared and didn’t know what I was doing and we hadn’t even held hands yet. He was on the track team. One day after school a group of our friends were hanging around and Kenny had just finished track practice. He was exhausted and sweaty. And as we all sat there and talked, without even thinking, he just leaned back in his chair and grabbed my hand. It was like, in that moment his guard was down, and he just did what seemed to come naturally to him. It is many years later and I can still remember vividly every detail of that moment. Every thing I thought, every thing I felt, and the slow, casual, exhausted way he just leaned back and gently grabbed my hand while he talked to his friends. We dated for 18 months and of all the moments that happened between us, this is the most vivid and the most significant. It spoke volumes about his feelings. It was, in a word, beautiful. Simple, meaningful, and beautiful. Okay, that’s 3 words.

The rest of my teenage years were dominated primarily by friends, including two best friends that I had who were boys and never once did we ever discuss those friendships being anything more than that. In fact, one of them went on to marry my post-high school roommate (and we are still friends).

When I was in the 11th grade, my best friend, a girl, died in a car accident. My junior year was overshadowed by the process of mourning and the sometimes guilt I felt in the wake of that loss. No romance happening there.

My point is this, we do our teens a disservice when we continue to act as if romantic relationships are the end all be all of life, that they are the only relationships that matter. I am now married to my best friend, and have been for 18 years, but I am also a mother, a daughter, a friend . . . those relationships are important to me too. They are important to the ins and out of who I am as a person, how I choose to spend my time, and the issues that I wrestle with in my dreams at night.  People are multi-faceted, including teens. We need more stories that represent the dimensionality of life and the various ways that we define and attach ourselves. Which is why as a reviewer, I am always awarding bonus points to books that highlight different types of relationships, put an emphasis on including family members, or acknowledge that life is about more than falling in and out of love, etc. Sometimes you want a good love story, and I get that, but we need stories with dimension.  This is what I keep thinking about as read the ongoing series at Stacked on ABOUT THE GIRLS (there is lots of good discussion going on there, check it out.) So I thought I would contribute a post. It’s okay, she invited us to.

Because here’s the deal, I want teen girls to know that life is about more than romance. That they have other goals. That they can and should have other meaningful relationships. That they are not defined by whether or not a boy loves them in that way.

So here are 5 of my favorite YA titles and the reasons why . . .

The Lynburn Legacy from Sarah Rees Brennan (Book 1 is Unspoken)

This has such a tremendously fun female friendship. Both girls are strong, confident, realistic, supportive, etc. It is such a positive example of both female characters and a female friendship. Also, I laughed out loud throughout the entire thing.

Guitar Notes by Mary Amato

This is a male/female relationship that shows growth with the characters inspiring and sometimes challenging each other to be more honest with themselves (and their families) without necessarily resorting to romance. Plus, it is perfectly clean and can be read by anyone, and that really does matter to some people and I respect that.

Death, Dickinson and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Frenchie Garcia is a very depressed young lady, on the verge of graduating high school and unclear as to what her future holds. She has a male and a female friend who, at times, have a hard time understanding Frenchie’s extreme depression. But you know what, they come through time and time again for her. The relationships in this book are challenged, strained, and realistic.

Fire and Flood by Victoria Scott

When we first meet Tella, we see her in the context of her family. She is there, with a very sick brother, and we see that relationship. Then she makes a decision, she enters a desperate race for a cure.  Here, she makes allies (think Survivor) and those relationships are very interesting. I was particularly struck by her relationship by a fellow female competitor who becomes her ally and the choices that they make. I also like this story because Tella is a very realistic portrayal of a typical teenage girl. Sometimes she is capable in this race but often she is not, which is in keeping with her character. And sometimes she just wants to go home and get a good manicure. I like that she is what we consider traditionally feminine and yet still strong.

The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

I gave this title a mixed review, which I sometimes regret because I love the contemporary element of this title so much. But I DO love the relationships in this book between Isadora and both her female friend Tyler (as well as Tyler’s relationship with her boyfriend Scott) and her first friends than maybe something more relationship with Ry. In fact Ry very clearly tells her that you can’t actually be in a happy relationship unless you are happy with yourself first. You can read my full review here.

I know I said five, but I want to give a shout out to Going Vintage (Lindsay Leavitt) which examines some cool sibling relationship dynamics and has a great relationship between a female and her beloved grandmother. I am also a huge fan of This Song Will Save Your Life (Leila Sales) for its leading lady engaged in an under-represented passion – DJing – and the female relationships depicted in it.

We are more than the romantic men in our lives. And romance is about more than sex. So our books should be too. I am really enjoying the discussions in this series. Thanks for letting me add my two cents and sharing some of my favorites.

Why Isn’t Katniss Everdeen Nominated in the MTV Best Hero Category? A reflection on the role of women in the movies

Look, no one is expecting the Oscars when it comes to the MTV Movie Awards. And in the history of MTV it is no secret that it is often unkind to women, at least it reflects the world’s often unkindness towards women. In fact, in the music world more than anywhere you can often see the sexualization and objectification of women more clearly. I mean, that’s why almost all female pop music stars (and female back up dancers) are overly sexualized while the men get to keep their clothes on while they sing. Seriously, rewatch this past year’s Grammys and note how many men sang completely clothed – often in suits – and how many women sang in some form of bra/panty swimsuit looking get up. Yes, you may argue it was their choice, but how much of that choice is being put upon them by our cultural expectations and influence and how much of it is a genuine expression of who they are? It’s an interesting question that I ponder a lot.

So the MTV Movie Award nominations shouldn’t surprise me, but they do disappoint me.

Let’s look for a moment at the Best Hero nominees:
Henry Cavill as Clark Kent — “Man of Steel”
Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man — “Iron Man 3″
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins — “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”
Chris Hemsworth as Thor — “Thor: The Dark World”
Channing Tatum as John Cale — “White House Down”

You know who is missing? Katniss Everdeen from Catching Fire. Or any other woman. Can women not be heroes?

Read more about the reaction to Katniss’ exclusion at The Wrap

 A woman did, at least, get nominated in the best villain category:

Barkhad Abdi — “Captain Phillips”
Benedict Cumberbatch — “Star Trek into Darkness”
Michael Fassbender — “12 Years a Slave”
Mila Kunis — “Oz The Great and Powerful”
Donald Sutherland — “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”

You know who I think is missing? Rinku Kikuchi playing the witch in 49 Ronin. Although it is possible that I am the only person on Earth who saw this movie and thus knows that she was an awesome villain. What can I say, I am a dedicated Keanu Reeves fan.

But don’t worry, a woman did get nominated in the best shirtless category. That woman would be Jennifer Aniston. Of course society does view a shirtless woman quite differently than a shirtless man, just ask any of the number of women who are trying to breastfeed their babies in public and are asked to cover up.

Jennifer Aniston — “We’re the Millers”
Sam Claflin — “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
Leonardo DiCaprio — “The Wolf of Wall Street”
Zac Efron — “That Awkward Moment”
Chris Hemsworth — “Thor: The Dark World”

And one woman is nominated in the best on-screen transformation category.

Christian Bale — “American Hustle”
Elizabeth Banks — “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
Orlando Bloom — “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”
Jared Leto — “Dallas Buyers Club”
Matthew McConaughey — “Dallas Buyers Club”

In fact, if it is not a category designed specifically FOR women – say best actress – it appears to be a 1 woman to 4 nomination ratio, with a few exceptions in the best cameo and best scared as shit performance. Make of that what you will.

It’s no secret that like most industries, Hollywood is still dominated disproportionately by men. Did you know that Frozen is the first animated Disney movie to be directed by a woman? Actually, although women make up around roughly 50% of the population, there are very few female movie directors. Only 4 women have ever been nominated for a best director Oscar in 84 years.  There are very few female led or mostly female movies. And there is only 1 female Avenger in the movie and she has absolutely zero super powers.

I have a friend who was recently watching The Ghostbusters with her two daughters and the oldest one asked, “How come there are no girl Ghostbusters?” What’s sad is that as a kid, I never thought to ask that. We have been conditioned to accept that the girl will of course be the lobby receptionist while the boys are the scientists who develop the equipment and go out hunting for ghosts. Maybe that’s why many people think it is okay to overlook Katniss Everdeen in the hero category, despite the fact that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was a huge box office success and Katniss kind of rocks.

You can see a complete list of the MTV Movie Award Nominees here.

Also, I’m totally serious about the dedicated Keanu Reeves fan. I recently commented to my husband that we had been together over 20 years and his response was, “That’s a lot of bad Keanu Reeves movies I have seen out of love for you.” Thanks honey!

It’s 2014: Still Different Marketing? by Christie

http://www.achilleseffect.com/2011/03/word-cloud-how-toy-ad-vocabulary-reinforces-gender-stereotypes/


So, I’m going through a wonderful online galley request site, and scanning through new books (YEA BOOKS- BOO addition and adding to my growing reading pile), and saw this cover and read the blurb. 

https://s3.amazonaws.com/netgalley-covers/cover42447-medium.png

The Guy’s Guide will encourage your faith, challenge you spiritually, and give you real-life advice how to live out your faith in today’s highly secularized culture, with distractions lurking around every corner. . .and just a click away.

I’m like OK, sounds interesting. I like the chalkboard cover with the conversation pop-ups and the wi-fi/RSS fee things, and it’s really kinda cool. Might be interesting.

And then I get to the next page that’s available, and I see the “twin” of it- same publisher, same marketing team, same ideas- just created and aimed for teen girls.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/netgalley-covers/cover41993-medium.png

The Smart Girl’s Guide to God, Guys, and the Galaxy melds spiritual and practical advice with humor—a winning combination as you’re trying to navigate the ups and downs of life with grace and confidence. You’ll be encouraged and challenged with sound, biblically-based advice equipping you to stand up for your faith and live the Christian walk every day. . .plus, you’ll encounter some fun, common-sense tips along the way.

I like the retro look of the cover, and it’s nice that as teenage girls we’re trying to conquer the galaxy- thinking big is awesome.

However.

  • Teen guys have drama just as much as teen girls do. In fact, I’m listening to the drama unfold in the computer lab next door as the library is closed. (They don’t know I’m here) Why is the book automatically tell girls to save the drama?
  • Why do guys get the current/tech cover while girls get the retro cover? I know that it’s cool looking and everything, and if they weren’t twin books it wouldn’t be as obvious, but it’s almost subtly implying that girls need the typewriter (and really, what teen today knows what a typewriter looks like?!?!?!) while guys get the internet.
  • Why are girls always encouraged to “navigate the ups and downs of life with grace and confidence”?   Why don’t we encourage the guys as well? 
  • Both books challenge the readers (yea) but the Smart Girls’ Guide (and did it have to put the Smart qualifier?) spells out what you get, while Guy’s Guide (evidently even the dumb ones) is confident boys can understand “secularized” and “spiritually”.

I realize these are only the advanced reader copies and the publicity blurbs for people to look at before publication, but really? It’s 2014, and we’re sending out these messages to teens?


[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BR4yQFZK9YM?rel=0]

Karen’s Top 10 Posts for 2013

Ah, the end of the year. Time to reflect on all that we have accomplished in 2013 (or not).  Or, really, it’s time to go on vacation and I need a quick and easy post.  Plus, we have new followers (**waves hi**) and you may have missed these posts, which we really like and want to make sure you have seen.  So here are my Top 10 Posts for 2013 . . .

The one where I share what I wish my library patrons knew.

The one where author Kim Purcell tells us how we can help get teens involved by raising awareness about human trafficking.

The one where my friend and school librarian Amianne Bailey shared about how one book made a kid think differently about a nonverbal kid in her library and made our eyes leak.

The one where I discussed what it means to tell boys that they should only study boys and girls that they should only study girls, and maybe got a little ragey. Because feminism.

The one in our ongoing series on youth and poverty where I reflect on the fact that poverty doesn’t always look the way you think it does. As poverty is growing, we need to be aware and we need to work towards change.

The one where Heather reminded us all of the ways that teenagers are like cats.

The one in which author Mike Lancaster kindly opened up his life to us and shared what it was like to grow up watching Doctor Who for Doctor Who Week, it was such an amazing gift to be invited on this journey with him.

The ones where we discussed the implications of the newly proposed electronic badging process and then Christie got her snark on and proposed some other badges we could earn in part of our Things I Never Learned in Library School series.

The one where Jonathan Maberry helps me impress The Mr. and asks him, “Haven’t you learned that wives have superpowers?” Bam, take that Mr.

And the one where I discuss why The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa is more than just another vampire book because it is a reminder of the dangers of banning books.  Because education and the freedom to read are vitally important.

A Gaggle of Squealing Girls Can’t Love Science?

Some of you may recall the great gender based assignment rage of 2013.  If not, start here.

So, here’s an update.  This year, the Tween gets to research a scientist.  She adores science.  So I asked her the other day, have you picked your scientist yet?  Apparently, she is waiting to be assigned her scientist.  But I asked her, hoping for the best, will it be any scientist or will this be another gender based assignment?  But the Mr., he raised a good point and mentioned that her female scientist options would actually be rather limited because, you know, historically science has been a very hard field for women to break into.  Which still remains true today.  When you review lists of people big in the world of science and tech, the male to female ratio is very skewed and women are significantly under represented.  And when you are talking about history, forget about it.  You probably immediately think Marie Curie and a few other big names and after that, it’s harder to come up with the names.  And to find the books to do the research, even harder.  I know, I looked last night.  (Edited because this link about the Unsung Heroines of Science JUST popped up on Buzzfeed, we’ll call it kismet.)

And then I woke up this morning and Maureen Johnson (man I love her) was raging about this:

The set up of the article is maddening:  There were a group of girls – no, a gaggle of squealing girls – in a room where they were oblivious to the fact that right next to them the big boys were doing important things : Science! Silly, squealing girls.  Real magic is happening in the room next door to you.

So, let’s just dispel a few myths:

Not all fantasy or even Harry Potter fans are girls.  I wasn’t there, but I would presume that a fair number of male Harry Potter fans were in attendance.  I have hosted many a HP program over the last few years and there are always guys in attendance.  Sometimes dressed up.  HP is universally loved and for good reason: it is some amazing storytelling.

You can like fantasy and science.  It’s a big world and the two are in no way mutually exclusive.  In fact, a lot of fantasy has science weaved into the story, which is part of the reason that Fantasy and Science Fiction are often shelved together.

I don’t really get what is wrong with being excited about something or why we must condescendingly describe it as “squealing”.  I mean, I have seen some of my male “techy” friends reaction to the announcement of the newest version of the next Apple product, it’s no different than my reaction to meeting one of my favorite authors.  There is joy and excitement and even sometime squee.  Squee is not bad.  Life is short, get excited about things.

As a mom with a daughter who loves science, I really don’t appreciate the constant barriers put up by the field and the media which tends to send the implicit message: this is not for you.  We can’t write articles saying we need more women involved in science and math and then turn around and set up barriers.  Or call them whores because they want to get paid for their work (oh wait, that was a different story).

Basically, let’s stop being condescending about girls and their interests.  Even if they are not your interests, it’s a big world, let’s respect each other.

And here is a list of books that have girls involved in some kick ass science and tech.

Also, if you want to read an interesting take on Artificial Intelligence, the focus of the New York times article, check out Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron.

On the Megaphone: Double Standards in the World of Teens


This is not going to be a shiny and happy post. If you need shiny and happy, click elsewhere. Christie has lost her shiny and happy right now, and there is not enough chocolate right now to bring it back.

I am so sick and tired of double standards. I am tired of all that is wrong with the world, and I am really tired right now of yelling at it and it not fixing one damn thing.

If you are a POC, you are NOT going to be represented in the media. At all. Hugo Schwyzer, a Pasadenda City College instructor and “internet-famous male feminist” has now admitted on Friday that he has been having SEX with his students (which, from statistics at PCC will likely be POC, as well as low socio-economic and/or new to the country). Not only THAT, he was CAUGHT in 1998 but WASN’T FIRED THEN. According to his claims, he “started again in 2008.” See here. Yet, if you Google search as of Sunday, September 8, only the local news and student reports are picking it up. WHY? Because it wasn’t white college kids. If it had been white college kids, it would have hit CNN, NBC, Post, Times, and everywhere else.

This is the world that the kids I work with, and the kids I call my heart-kids live in every day. They are almost all POC, and they are all right now shiny and innocent, and when the world looks on them, they see someone not worthy. And it breaks my heart.

And I haven’t even reached the idiodicy of the double standard of teenage sexuality.


I’m not going to touch GLBTQ in this (I don’t have the energy in this post). I’m just talking straight male/female gender/sex.

A mother somewhere posted on her family blog about how girls on her sons’ facebook pages shouldn’t post immodest pictures and profile pictures. I see what she’s trying to do, but what pisses me off is that instead of trying to reach out and minister, she starts throwing shame:

know your family would not be thrilled at the thought of my teenage boys seeing you only in your towel. Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t quickly un-see it?  You don’t want our boys to only think of you only in this sexual way, do you?

Huh. Really? What about having a discussion at the family table about how NOT to look at girls at only that sexual way? I have a brother-in-law that is a minister, and I’m sure that he’s seen a bunch of immodest ‘selfies’ on Facebook, but I don’t think he thinks about those girls in only sexual ways.

Have you looked at guys’ facebook ‘selfies’ (that is a stupid word, BTW)? My teens show off abs that they’ve been working on, side shots, profile shots and mugging in the mirror. A few of them could have been Treyvon Martin. My girls do duck faces and other faces. They’re TEENS. They have more access to instant social media that anyone before, and their brains are NOT COOKED. They think before they act. They’re flirting with each other online, and one picture does not a reputation make. If I was known by one stupid picture, I have many where I’m flipping off a camera about that age, but that was on FILM (where we couldn’t take it back and it got developed and then we got BUSTED for it).

If we’re going to go after the girls for being sexual and exploring what it means to be BE a girl (which is what they’re supposed to be doing) and wanting them to be virginal in mind, then go after the BOYS as well, and make them be monks.

Actually, why NOT start teaching boys and men not to think of women as sexual objects? And if they actually have to think about them that way (READ as sarcasm please) then how about learning SELF CONTROL? Because really, a 14 year old girl is not in control of her hormones any more than a 14 year old boy, yet for some reason girls are expected to be responsible for everything. The judges in Montana say so. A rapist gets 30 days in jail (correction: sentence currently in dispute) and the judge says that the 14 year victim was “older than her chronological age when it came to sexual matters.” Yeah. She killed herself in 2010 while awaiting this justice.

How about instead of treating a teen like “boys will be boys” when they abuse/rape/violate a girl, have them take responsibility? So it doesn’t repeat again?
And Again?
And Again?
Or when they rape/violate/abuse boys?


I’m tired of yelling and not being heard. I will take up the megaphone again tomorrow.

The Curious Case of the Gender Based Assignment

A pink piece of paper set on the counter with these instructions: The students were to do a living Texas history project.  Girls were instructed to pick one girl who has made a significant contribution to Texas history, write a 5 sentence report, create a costume, and learn a brief speech about their historical figure.  I let it set there for a few days as I tried to figure out the feelings I had about this assignment, and then I contacted the Tween’s teacher saying I was a little concerned about this assignment, the limitations it put on our students, and how it stifled creativity and promoted gendered thinking and bias.  The teacher replied, “Your child can study a man if she wants to.” I sat with that reply for a while, and then I wrote a letter expressing more fully my concerns . . .

I would like to ask the teachers involved in this assignment to contemplate the broad cultural ramifications of presenting this assignment in the way that it was presented and asking ourselves what is the educational value of the gender limitations put on the assignment.  For me as a parent and a woman, there are two main concerns:

1) The assignment itself seems to have unnecessary gender parameters put on it that re-emphasizes dangerous cultural messages.

Girls are constantly told they should stay out of “man things” in this male dominated society, and the subliminal message here seems to re-emphasize this.  Likewise, guys are taught that they are above girls and that girls are not worthy of their time and attention, a message that seems to be validated by this assignment.  But what if we started to identify each other as people first and not by gender?  If we instead choose to see and learn about the value of people based upon their individual acts irregardless of their gender.  What if we didn’t tell boys and girls to limit themselves to boy or girl things but just asked them to learn and explore and investigate . . .

I imagine if you had given the same assignment without any specification of gender, the boys would still predominantly choose a male historical figure and the girls would predominantly still choose a female historical figure.  But they would have done so without someone in a position of authority telling them to do so and reinforcing dangerous cultural messages.

From the moment our children are born, they are being bombarded with these cultural messages that seem to suggest that girls are one way and boys are another and their worth is somehow dependent on their sex.  But the truth is, each and every individual is their own thing and all people have value.  Gender is only one part of who we are, and should not be anywhere near the top of ways in which we define ourselves.  Instead, I would hope that our children would seek to define themselves as good people, moral beings, intelligent, compassionate, able to accomplish great things in this world.  But when they are constantly bombarded by these messages of gender, they start to put limits on themselves (and their peers) based on these messages.  They start to view the opposite gender as different, foreign, alien, and sadly, often as unworthy.

I would like my daughter to go up in a world where she believes she can achieve the scientific accomplishments of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison just as much as she can achieve the accomplishments of Betsy Ross and Harriet Tubman.  And history is already so male dominated and focused, imagine what would happen if we asked our boys to study the history of women more, and to put themselves in the position of a woman in history.  Education is about challenging oneself, critical thinking, opening your eyes to the truth of the world around you and learning from it – I feel that this assignment, and the gender based limitations put on it, does the exact opposite of this.

2) The presentation of the assignment on color coded paper – pink for girls and blue for boys – further acculturates cultural gender stereotypes.

I feel that as educators, especially those teaching subjects as important as history, we need to ask students to think deeply about what we can learn from history, and I would hope that one of those messages would be that men and women should have equal rights with equal dignity and respect and opportunity.  We need to ask them to question gender stereotypes so that we as a nation can move forward into greater equality rather than reinforcing the age old gender roles.

In the year 2013, women holding the same jobs as men still earn less.  Women are still objectified and described first and foremost according to their looks as opposed to their abilities.  Women are often raped, beaten, and murdered in part because we are seen as less than men.  Congress is made up of less than 20% women.  The 100% Men Tumblr highlights how few women there are in the world of tech, media and politics.  Even as a librarian, there are more female librarians though there are more male librarians in administrative positions.  In a time when gender shouldn’t matter, it unfortunately still does because we keep teaching our children that it does.

I want my daughter to receive as few gender specific and alienating messages as possible in her life, especially from people in positions of authority in her life –  and especially in the educational realm which should have moved past simple minded classification systems.  I worry about what the cumulative effect of these gender messages have on our children, and why we can’t break free of them; why we can’t look at each individual as a person first and not define them by gender.  Why we can’t see the merits of a person’s historical accomplishments irregardless of their gender? And yes, I recognize that race and gender are sometimes important in the study of history when we consider what others have accomplished in spite of the world that they lived in, but that is not the same issue being discussed here.  Why do choose to put our children, ourselves, in such narrow boxes and allow a culture to define – and limit – other based on such narrow label as gender?  Why would my anatomy define me as opposed to the character of my person, the depth of my soul, my contributions to this world, my brain and how I choose to use it?  That is what I believe we need to be teaching our children.

Imagine what a different assignment this would be if the students were just given a neutral colored piece of paper with the simple statement that they needed to choose a historical figure and study their lives and the contribution they had made to the world.  No preconceived notions, no gender based messages – just an invitation to explore and think critically.  That is the education that I believe our children need.

What I do hope is that at some point these concerns may be talked about among those giving this assignment and in the future it will be presented in a gender neutral way.  I don’t want educators coming in with their personal bias and telling my daughter who she should be, I want them to set up safe environments for her to explore it and decide on her own, that is, I believe, the primary function of education

So, there you have it: My thoughts on the gender based assignment.  Would it have bothered you? Would you have written a letter? What else do you think I should have said? Discuss (nicely!) in the comments.

More on gender at TLT: I’m Just a Girl? Gender in YA Lit

Edited 5/08/13 to add the Maureen Johnson link