Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

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.

Girls Against Girls {Book Review, Discussion & Giveaway}

My heart speeds up.  I see a single bead of sweat start to fall down my cheek.  Soon that bead of sweat will be a tear, but not quite yet.  She is coming.  I stand at the bus stop waiting to go to school and she is coming.  I am in the 5th grade, alternately known as hell – thanks entirely to her.  Today we are in for a special treat.  Her mother is a nurse and she has stolen a needle from her. As she plunges it into the skin of my arm over and over and over again, I know I can’t do this anymore.  So the next morning I force my little brother to walk to school with me, even though I have been told that I can not.  It is not safe where we live. We walk under the freeway overpass where in the future weeks a drunken man will grab me by the ankle.  We walk and we walk and we walk, morning after morning, because whatever dangers are out there, even the rapist they keep talking about on the radio, they don’t compare to the dangers that wait for me every morning at the bus stop.   Nothing is more dangerous than her festering hatred, and I don’t even know how I earned it.  Thank God that because of my parent’s divorce, I get to go to a different school next year.  I hope I can make it that long.

5th grade sucked for me. Truly and to its core.  There would be some other bad years, but nothing that compared to that one.  I remember when I was pregnant with my first child and The Mr. and I went to find out the sex of our baby, I wanted desperately for it to be a boy because I knew first hand how hard this world is for girls, and sadly it is often other girls making it that way. We have two little girls.  Last night the tween cried because the girl assigned to sit by her on the bus every day refuses to do so because she thinks the tween is “weird”.  Ahhhh, the glory of Girls Against Girls.  Sometimes I wonder, is there anything worse than being a teenage girl?

Girls Against Girls by Bonnie Burton is a nonfiction title from Zest Books that really challenges girls to think about why they do the things they do to one another and ways to end the cycle of girl against girl violence, which is primarily emotional and psychological but can get physical.  We all know what they say about “cat fights”.

“Hey, how long till the music drowns you out?
Don’t put words up in my mouth,
I didn’t steal your boyfriend”
Lyrics by Ashlee Simpson, Boyfriend

So why are girls so mean to one another?  Conventional wisdom has always said we are in competition.  I do feel like the world likes to put us in competition with one another.  Are we fighting for scarce resources, in this case men?  Jobs? Self respect?  Are we just born this way?  The truth is there is some truth to all of it.  We are taught to be competitive, we pass it down from generation to generation.  When you snipe at the neighbor or judge the woman on television, the children around you hear that and it becomes a model to them.  You can tell your children not to bully and judge but when they see you doing it – well, you know what they say: Actions speak louder than words.
“She’s my best friend. God I hate her.” – from the movie Heathers
Girls Against Girls is divided into 6 sections . . .
Section1: Why we hurt each other
Section 2: Methods of our meannness (Gossiping, the silent treatment, boyfriend stealing)
Section 3: Bearing the brunt of it (ways to deal)
Section 4: Calling in reinforcements (asking for help)
Section 5: Stopping the cycle (awesome section on dealing with emotions and taking responisibility for your actions)
Section 6: Teaming up instead of tearing each other down
Cyberbullying is discussed as well, a very relevant topic.  And there is a definite emphasis on dealing with the issues in positive ways and trying to stop the cycle.  The truth is, mean girls are not going to pick up this book (though they definitely should). No, it is the girls being bullied and tormented by their peers that will read this book, and it is a great resource for them.  It will help them understand that they are not really the issue.  But I would love to see every adult that works with or loves a teen read this books too.  Pair it with Queen Bees and Wannabees and look closely at what girl culture is like.  Then, put together some Girl Power programming and help girls have positive social interactions.
Some things you can do:
Have a girl power book discussion group.  Include titles like Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.
Have a “Mean Girls Movie Festival” where you show movies like Mean Girls and Heathers.
Share resources with your teens like Girls Incorporated (www.girlsinc.org), The Ophelia Project (www.opheliaproject.org), Girls for a Change (www.girlsforachange.org) and some of the youth empowerment organizations listed here.
Provide positive opportunities for social interaction with craft events and other programming opportunities.  I have two rules at my teen programs: The BIC Rule (keep your butt in a chair, one butt to chair) and the Safe Haven Rule (all my teens know that my programs are safe places and no smack talk will be tolerated at all).  I don’t care if that is your sister who got you grounded by telling your mom about your boyfriend last night, you will not talk badly to her or about her at my programs.  You will be asked to leave after one warning.  This is non-negotiable.
“Being yourself is the best revenge.” Lynn Peril, author of Think Pink
To teenage girls everywhere: Be yourself and be kind to others
This is a good and, unfortunately, necessary addition to all teen collections.  There are no supplemental reading lists included, which is probably a good thing because they would always need to be updated.  But you can run with this theme and put together current reading and movie lists. There are also no shortage of songs you can put together for a Girl Power/Mean Girls playlist.  In fact, I would love for you to help me BUILD A RESOURCE GUIDE IN THE COMMENTS.  Leave your recommendations of teen book titles, movies and songs in the comments.

Final thoughts: As my tween saw me reading this book she asked me, “We’re all the same, why would we be mean to each other?” Why indeed? (Man I love that girl!)

Girls Against Girls: Why we are mean to each other and how we can change by Bonnie Burton is highly recommended for all school and public libraries, and to everyone who loves and works with teen girls.  It is well organized, thoughtfull, relevant and has some cool graphic elements and inspiring quotes.  You know I love me some inspiring quotes.  Published by Zest Books. ISBN: 978-0-9790173-6-0.

Bonnie Burton is part of the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club which I discussed earlier.  Fun stuff.

Other relevant posts:
Youth Empowerment Resources

Girl Power/Mean Girls Booklist
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
PBS has an empowering booklist for Middle School Girls
Macmillan’s list of Girl Power books

Leave a comment and be entered for your chance to win Girl in a Fix, Girl in a Funk, Girls Against Girls and Regine’s Book from Zest Books.  Open to US Residents.  Please don’t forget to leave an e-mail or @ for Twitter so I can contact you. Contest runs through Friday, November 23rd.

I’m just a girl? Gender issues in ya lit

“‘Cause I’m just a girl, little ‘ol me
Don’t let me out of your sight
I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite
So don’t let me have any rights” – No Doubt, Just a Girl

I watch the Walking Dead.  I have seen every episode.  Afterwards, I hop online and go to the forums at TWOP (Television Without Pity) to discuss the show.  One very troubling aspect of this show is that in this zombie apocalyptic future, the women do the laundry while the men get the guns and protect the women.  TWD has been widely criticized for its retrograde view of gender roles in a post apocalyptic world.  It’s like Leave it to Beaver, but with zombies.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHzOOQfhPFg]

Recently, Crunching and Munchings brought up the same conversation regarding gender roles in ya dystopian, using Crewel by Gennifer Albin as an example.  You can read their discussion here.  This is such a natural extension of our discussion of ya lit and body image, I thought I would share my two cents.

As a woman, I do have a problem with gender roles in ya literature – all ya literature.  And yet, I do see this return to more “traditional” (though in my view vile) gender roles as being a realistic trait in dystopian literature – especially when you view it in terms of today’s political climate.  In fact, as I mentioned above, it is not just in lit but in all types of post apocalyptic worlds that we see a return to sterotyped gender roles.

Click this link to see the recent gender assignment that @gameism recently shared. In this assignment, students were asked to put the following things into boxes labeled Boys, Girls or Both: Erector sets, Legos, Barbies, Cooking, Arts and Crafts, Bikes, Computers, War video games, Board games, Jump rope, Stomp rockets, Playing school, Puzzles and Swimming.  In my world, they should obviously all be in the both category.

So tet’s examine a few ya lit titles, shall we?

In Crewel by Gennifer Albin, the world is run by a group of men called the Guild, despite the fact that some women have the literal power to weave the world.  Here, women are culturalized to value beauty and spend a great amount of time and effort trying to attain this beauty.  Basically, the men are distracting the women.  It’s easier to control distracted people.  I view this as being very culturally accurate actually; the cosmetics industry spends billions of dollars advertising getting us to spend thousands of dollars a year on cosmetics.  And then there is clothing, diet fads, etc.  It’s easy to get so caught up in how we look in this world that we lose focus on what’s really important.  And trust me, the culture has a lot of (negative) things to say about how we should look if we want to be “pretty”, aka accepted and valued.  If I was going to take over the world, I would definitely use this tactic – it is much less violent; just tap into people’s greatest insecurities and get them to focus on that while you sneak in off the sidelines and slowly chip away at their rights. (Previous discussion: It’s a Crewel World; Gennifer Albin talks Crewel)

Gennifer Albin on Adelice and Beauty: “Adelice’s background growing up with parents who did not wish her to become a powerful Spinster, a mother who disliked the obvious chauvinism in her workplace, and a father who clearly loved and respected his wife, allow her to have a more balanced approach to her own life. She is not dissuaded by cosmetics, clothing, and parties, because she has more self-respect than most girls her age. Her parents showing that they valued each other as well as her and her sister, helped to create this anomalous attitude, which filters into her personality. Whereas someone like Pryana has been groomed to be an ideal Eligible to the point of fostering ruthless ambition in her, Adelice sees herself as an equal to those around her. This causes her problems in interactions with people like Maela and Cormac, who don’t share this belief, but it also enables her easy interactions with boys, whom she doesn’t fear or idolize.”

In Shadow and Bone, there is again an emphasis on beauty that, quite frankly, troubled me and distracted me from the other lush parts of this world created. Here, the privileged class, who also happens to be magical, uses their magical abilities to help each other attain almost perfect beauty standards.  It’s a perfectly good waste of magical abilities if you ask me.  But although I hated this aspect of the book, there is a lot of great stuff here.

In pretty much every paranormal out there the lead female is overly sexualized, so there’s that.  Also, she is always falling in insta-love, usually with a guy you wouldn’t want your best friend dating in real life – because we must have a man to be complete.  I could give you specific examples but just go browse the shelves and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Then you have books like The Forsaken where the main character initially seems maybe strong and fierce, but when she is sent to a feared place called The Wheel, when she is rejected from her very world and is sent to what is essentially a life or death situation – she falls in love with that dreamy guy over there on like the second day.  Here, she has no idea if she will survive and what the rules could possibly even be – and yet on day two she is swooning over a fellow outcast.  I found this storyline to be so incredibly unbelievable because, let’s face it, in this instance survival and figuring out where you are and how to survive would be your sole concern.  In fact, I view the issue of insta-love as being a side shoot of the gender issues: it sends the message that girls need someone, often even an unhealthy someone – again, I’m looking at your paranormal – in order to be “complete”.

A notable exception in all of this is the lead character in Rae Carson’s series, The Fire and Thorn Trilogy.  Here our main character is overweight and, although she gets in better physical shape over the course of the story, she is never an overly idealized character.  Many of my friends and family have loved books 1 and 2 of this series, in part because the main character is so inspiring, realistic and relatable.

So let’s return back to Crewel, shall we?  I read Crewel as a more feminist piece of literature where our main character, Adelice, eventually grows wise and begins to reject the constructs of her world.  She sees the men in power around her, and the evil that they do in its name, and plots to if not overthrow it, at least find a way to personally escape it (which she does do with the help of two male allies, but they have become friends to some extent and they have inside information that she needs).  To me, there was a turning away from this notion that men are the leaders that has the tremendous potential to be followed through with the next book.  In fact, this was definitely a more promising storyline in Crewel than in some of the other dystopians that I have recently read.  It is hard for me to judge the gender issues of this book alone because it is clearly a central issue of the trilogy and it is just being set up in book 1. (You can read my full review of Crewel, which I loved, here.)

But why this return to gender stereotypes?  My primary guess would be because they accurately represent the world we are currently living in.  Today we have presidential candidates talking about binders full of women and how he lets his female staff go home early so they can cook dinner for their families (he has obviously never tasted my cooking).  Our elected representatives are vetoing legislation asking that women receive the same amount of pay for doing the same job because, well, it apparently would be too hard on businesses to treat women the same as men.  And there is a vast war going on regarding a woman’s right to make reproductive health decisions for herself.  In short, we still very much live in a man’s world.  And make no mistake about it, if a huge apocalypse happens, there are a lot of people out there who would love to take advantage of the situation to seize power and put women in “their place.”

So when I see this type of world building in ya dystopians, I see it as being an accurate reflection of what is the most probable scenario.  That doesn’t mean I like it.  But it does make for some great discussion in book clubs.

Let’s take for a moment and evaluate the very realistic post-apocalyptic world of Mike Mullin’s Ashfall to get a better look at what would probably happen. (Insert obligatory spoiler warning here) In this disturbingly realistic account, all rules of law have broken down and it is quite literally a matter of self-survival.  The strongest and best armed survive and take control.  Men rape women.  I don’t like it, but history seems to suggest that this is indeed what would happen. The world becomes a dangerous place in the absence of rule of law.  That is part of what makes Ashfall such a disturbing (although good) read, you can imagine this happening; it often seems like we are one super volcano away from this reality.  Also, the girl in this book, Darla, is pretty badass and essential to her and Alex’s survival. (Want another example of a nuanced look at the roles of women in a zombie apocalypse? Check out the Ashes trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick.  Alex is tempted but makes awesome choices.)

Which is why I want to see more feminist tendencies in my ya lit.  I want there to be a strong message to our developing teens: you are more than your body, you control your destiny, you are an important part of the whole.  You do not need a man.  This is not always the case unfortunately.  We do over-emphasize looking certain ways (both in our stories and on our covers), our girls fall in love with the first cute guy they see (even when they have controlling or sadistic tendencies), and far too many of them still have to be saved instead of being the ones saving themselves.

At the end of the day, we are still sending very strong cultural messages of what girls are supposed to be in the books we read, the tv we watch, and even in our classroom assignments.  We even use the idea of being a girl as an insult: “you throw like a girl”, “don’t cry like a girl”.  These insults suggest that there is something wrong, something less than, with being a girl.  At the end of the day, I want teen girls to know that they and they lone get to define who they are – and they have value.

I am the mom of a tween.  She spends time doing her hair and wears foofoo dresses every Sunday to church.  She also goes to Karate three nights a week and asked for a Science set for Christmas.  She plays with Barbies, but she also plays with Legos (the real ones, not those new pink ones that emphasize shopping and once again tried and uncultured girls to a certain dictated standard of femininity).  She reads Origami Joda and Wimpy Kid with her Judy Moody and Ivy and Bean.  Nobody puts baby in a corner, and nobody should be putting her in a box either.  Think of how much potential our girls have and let them explode outside the box – you never know what kind of things they can accomplish.

You cand download this poster at https://www.box.com/s/kvvgnd4z5xlrlrpq4uj4

What ya lit do you feel has strong female messages for our tweens and teens?  What do you feel are some of the worst gender role/stereotyping issues that you see in ya lit? Tell us in the comments.