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Thinking About Gender, Again

justagirlGender is something that we typically think of in binary and often stereotypical terms. Most people continue to divide people up into either male or female and if we’re going to be honest, most of us have certain thoughts in our minds as to what it means to be female or male. We even have childhood rhymes about it, snakes and snails and puppy dog tails or sugar and spice and everything nice. But it’s the year 2015 and we are learning that not everyone defines themselves into these easy binary categories and if we are going to be in the business of respecting people and providing safe spaces for them then we need to do the work of breaking down our traditional binary thinking. And it’s not always easy work.

One of the reasons that I read a variety of professional literature and blogs is that I learn things. We are best, I feel, when we share and we learn from each other. It’s part of the reason that I blog. It’s part of the reason that I read blogs. And this week I was challenged once again to rethink my approach to issues of gender when I read Ingrid, The Magpie Librarian’s post on Adventures in Library Card Applications and Gender Neutral Bathrooms.

A few years ago when we were discussing summer reading registration I argued against compiling gender demographics as part of our sign up. For one, the information is, in my opinion, basically irrelevant. The other argument is that however we would respond to this information, it would probably be in a way that reinforced gender stereotypes and I feel that gender stereotypes are harmful to us all. There is no one right way to be a man and there is no one right way to be a woman.

In her post on Library Card Applications and Gender Neutral Bathrooms, Ingrid mentions her campaign to try to get her library system to stop asking those who register to define themselves as male or female:

As we have it now, anyone who doesn’t fit into the Male and Female categories is treated like an “other”, which is generally not how I like to treat library patrons. It’s not very welcoming

Many people will argue that we need this for statistical purposes. I would argue that it’s something that we’re just used to being asked so it’s more out of habit or tradition then in providing us with meaningful information that better helps us meet the needs of our patrons. And again, our responses to this information will tend to be based on stereotypes as opposed to any meaningful types of outreach. I will say that I discussed this post with a fellow staff member and they said that having the male/female information on the record helps if you have, say, someone named “Chris” listed as the name on a card, particularly if a dispute comes up.

The other truth is that in the year 2015 many people don’t identify as traditionally male or female. You probably saw some media attention to the fact that Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner transitioned to female and is now Caitlyn Jenner. And just this past week pop star Miley Cyrus came out as gender fluid, meaning she doesn’t identify as male or female. You don’t have to personally like it and I have read enough of the comments to know that there are many people that have strong feelings on the subject, but I think that if we are going to call ourselves compassionate people that when have to do the work of breaking down our personal biases and allowing people to identify themselves as they want to self-identify and respect their right to do so. And if libraries are going to be neutral and safe spaces, and I believe that they should be to be successful in their mission to their communities, then we have to respect our patrons. As Ingrid mentions, othering people is not very welcoming.

The second part of Ingrid’s post has to do with turning the single stall bathrooms on the children’s floor into gender neutral bathrooms. Instead of a boy’s and a girl’s bathroom they were re-labelled Bathroom A and Bathroom B. This is, actually, a pretty common sense thing to do. In fact, as soon as I read the post I went to our head of children’s with the post in hand stating that we should do the same. Beyond gender neutrality issues, it’s just actually a better way to use resources. How many times have I seen a young girl waiting outside the girl’s bathroom when the boy’s bathroom sat empty and vice versa? Too many to mention and, if you think about it, there’s no reason for them to be waiting when there is another perfectly empty single stall right there waiting to be used. The only thing that is stopping them is a sign that says “boys”.

One of the arguments is, of course, this idea that we are keeping our girls safe by not allowing men to go into the girls bathroom. Transgender women are especially an object of fear for many, so much so that Michelle Duggar spent a great amount of time campaigning to prevent a law that would have allowed transgendered individuals to use the bathroom of their choice. She stated that this would make young girls in particular susceptible to male pedophiles who dressed up as women to gain access to our children. The idea that a simple sign that says “girls” will prevent a man intent on raping a young girl from entering a bathroom is, if we really think about it, an absurd notion. I remember reading years ago about a library that locked its bathroom doors and you had to ask for a key at the desk. A young girl, I believe aged 8, asked for the key and when she went into the bathroom she was followed by a man who did in fact rape her in the bathroom. The truth is, if someone is intent on raping another a sign isn’t going to stop them. But this is not the only reason that this mindset is dangerous, because we must remember that women can and do sexually abuse and that men are equally capable of sexually abusing boys and men in a boys bathroom. Designating a bathroom in terms of binary genders does nothing to keep our children from sexual abuse and those that think it does are not doing the real work necessary to help break down the cultural issues that really put our children at risk of sexual violence. They are fighting, I believe, the wrong battles.

I think it’s important to note as well that when we’re talking about single stall bathrooms, there is actually no good reason to gender them. This is a case of us continuing to do the things we used to do without thinking fully of what it means to the library and it’s patrons. So as I read Ingrid’s post I had a genuine A-HA! moment.

Doing the cognitive work of moving from traditional binary gendered thinking is not easy work. As I have mentioned, I hold a Bachelor’s of Art degree in Youth Ministry from a very conservative Christian college, so I understand that spiritual teachings and objections of the conservative side of things. I am, though I am loathe to admit it, slightly older (only slightly), so I understand the cultural norms there as well and how hard it is to ask a more firmly set mind to adjust those settings. It’s not easy and I’m probably not doing as good of a job as I think I am in changing my thinking and my ability to approach others with basic human dignity and respect. But I’m trying, and that has to count for something, I hope. I hope you’ll read Ingrid’s piece and allow yourself to think on it as well. We owe it to our patrons to create welcoming environments.

Of note: As Ingrid mentions in her post, some states have laws indicating that an individual can use the bathroom of their choice based on how they self identify. It’s important to know what the laws are in your state. Ingrid recommends using http://www.lambdalegal.org/help as a resource to find out what the laws in your state may be.

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.

Sunday Reflections: What I Learned While Trying to Put Together a Women’s History Display

I was walking by my YA room when I saw a staff member searching the shelves for something, so I went down and asked what she was looking for. It turned out, she was looking for inspiration for a new display. So after some talking we decided that we would do a Women’s History Month display. And then the conversation got, interesting I would say.

I started grabbing a bunch of great titles off of the shelves and we started making stacks for the display. I pulled the Katherine Longshore titles and Maid of Secrets by Jenn McGowan, A Mad Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. Lots of great titles about women in historical fiction. After we had some good stacks of books to fill all the display pieces we had, I could tell that something was still bothering this staff member and that she was hesitating.

“But we need some books written by men,” she said to me, “and with boys on the covers.”

I was . . . stunned. “Actually,” I replied, “I’m pretty sure we don’t for a Women’s History Month display. I think books written by women about women fits in perfectly with the theme.”

“But we need some male authors,” she said again.

“I’m pretty sure we don’t,” I replied again.

“But we want boys to read, don’t we? So we need some male authors and books with men on the covers.”

I didn’t hesitate and asked her, “Did you read Shakespeare in high school? Lord of the Flies? Dickens? Hemingway? There is no reason, none, that a boy should not or can’t be expected to read books written by a female author or featuring female characters. Nobody ever blinks at the idea that women will read books written by men or featuring male characters. Books are for readers. All of them.”

“But boys won’t read books with girls on the covers,” she replied.

And this, my friends, is a lie. I have met many teenage boys who read Sara Dessen, Laurie Halse Anderson and A. S. King, for example. I once went to a teen book festival where I talked to a teen boy who went to one author and one author only: Sarah Rees Brennan. He had read everything by her.

But the truth is, if we keep feeding into the lie that boys won’t read books with girls on the covers or written by female authors, they’ll keep believing it. Somebody teaches them this lie and that somebody is us. And this lie is dangerous because it tells boys that the lives and thoughts and art of women is somehow less than that of men and they don’t need to be bothered with it. And it tells girls who grow up seeing this lie lived out around them that they are somehow less than their male counterparts. And everyone grows up believing this and it’s a really hard internalized message that is difficult to rewrite. But we have to rewrite it, because it harms us all and it defeats the whole point of reading and art and storytelling; the part where we step into lives that our different than our own, where we develop compassion and empathy and understanding, where we dare to explore other points of view. If you believe the lie that boys can’t read books written by or featuring girls then you don’t understand the purpose and value of storytelling.

So after one final discussion, we agreed to do the display for Women’s History Month with the books we had pulled.

Ironically, the next day I noticed on the other side of the display space was a basketball display for March Madness. Not a single book on it was written by a woman or featured a woman on the cover. Apparently that inclusion doesn’t go both ways, which is just part of the problem.

Sunday Reflections: Lies we tell girls about boys

If you search on Goodreads, this is the tag line for the book Some Boys by Patty Blount: Some boys go too far. Some boys will break your heart. But one boy can make you whole.

There are things I really liked about this book, including an on point speech by the main character, Grace, about the ways our culture objectifies girls and defines them in relation to boys. Which is part of the reason why this tagline – one boy can make you whole – is so very problematic. Not just the  words, but this idea that we keep selling girls over and over again.

The truth is, a boy can’t make a girl whole. Finding someone you like and you can spend time with in mutually fulfilling ways it awesome, but it won’t make you whole.

When we talk about girls, we talk often about them in terms of boys.

When administrators discuss school dress codes, the girls dress is often referred to in terms of boys: Girls have to dress modestly, because we worry it will distract boys from their education.

When we talk about virginity and sex, it also is often referred to in terms of boys: Girls should remain a virgin so they can give their husband their “flower” on their wedding night.

When we talk about getting or keeping our bodies in shape, it is often in terms of boys: You want to look good so that you can catch a husband. And we all know that girls need a husband.

The way we talk about girls is dangerous to girls. Our cultural dialogue continues to suggest that girls, who they are, their bodies, their well being, is all about boys. It’s as if being a girl is somehow so much lesser, we remind them that their primary goal is to find a boy. Girls have no worth to our culture in and of themselves, it is only in relation to a man that we give girls any worth.

Don’t get me wrong, I think finding someone you can share your life with is a beautiful thing. I have been married for 19 years now and I find it to be pretty awesome 92.3% of the time. But the thing is, my husband did not heal me or make me whole. In fact, it is only as I began to do that for myself that I became a better wife. Because once I could enter into our partnership as a healthier, happier individual, then the partnership became more mutually satisfying for us both.

In the bible, Jesus says the laws can be summed up as this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

Whether you believe in the Bible or not, the second part of this statement is a profound idea. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. What this means is that in order for us to truly love our neighbor, we must first love ourselves. What a gift these words are. They are permission – a reminder – that we must all take the time to make and keep ourselves healthy and whole so that we can love ourselves and in doing so, we will better love our neighbors.

We need to stop defining our girls in terms of boys. We need to change the language of our culture to recognize the full personhood of girls, of women, everywhere.  

A girl’s sexuality is not about pleasing a man. It is about her. It is about making the choices for self that she is comfortable and healthy and yes, even satisfied, with. And in doing so, she can be a better partner (if she chooses to be a partner at all), because she is entering into that partnership from a place of health and well being.

A girl’s body is not about a boy. She should make choices that make her feel strong, confident and healthy in her body. And in doing so, in feeling good both emotionally and physically in her body, she can be a better partner, because she is entering into that partnership from a place of health and well being.

When we encourage our girls to be strong, independent, fully realized human beings and when we recognize them as such in our culture, what we are doing is allowing them to be in a place of health and well being. And when they navigate through life in a better place of health and well being, they are able to be better friends, better co-workers, and better partners. Because they have to love themselves in healthy ways before they can reach out and love others in healthy ways. Not just romantic love, but all love. The more at peace we find ourselves, the more comfortable we are in our own skin, the better our other relationships can be.

So the truth is, a boy can’t make a girl whole. A boy can’t fix or save a girl. Us girls have to figure out a way to do that for ourselves and in that wholeness we can then step into our world in more positive ways.

And the truth is, this is also true about boys. It is true for all people, however they choose to identify themselves. Broken people operate in the world in broken ways. So our goals should be the health and well being of all people, because it makes the world a better place for all. If we keep working on changing the dynamics of how we talk about and treat each other, we can work to create healthier spaces for people to develop healthier personhood. As we allow those around us to love themselves we are also allowing them to love us, to love their neighbor. 

So let’s start with an important first step for our girls and drop the tag lines and story arcs that suggest that a boy can save or fix a girl. Show girls that they can save, fix, heal and love themselves and in doing so, then they can love abundantly.

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.

Let’s Talk Gender Diversity, Shall We

When The Tween was born, 12 years ago this month *sniff sniff*, The Mr. and I went out of our way to try and find non-pink baby things. We bought a very cool green blanket with giraffes and the lyrics to Yesterday, because we are that cool. But the truth is, she had a lot of pink. And I do mean a lot of it.

Around the time she turned 7, someone bought her a Bratz doll.  This doll wore the world’s most barely there outfit, tons of make-up, and the back of the package said, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how good you look doing it.” I’m not going to lie, the doll went right into the trash and I took her to the store to let her pick another toy out. 

But even then, I was still not totally gender stereotype conscious. It has been a growing awareness. When I hear teens tell their male friend to “man up” or “grow a pair”, I cringe. The truth is, being sensitive and showing that sensitivity is not only okay, but it’s healthy. And when I hear mother’s telling their daughters to stop running around and “act like a lady”, I cringe as well. Why don’t we instead tell our kids to “be brave” or “be respectful” or “be quiet” or “be still”? We don’t have to use gender stereotyped expressions to remind our children of good behavior, we can just remind them of the proper behavior for the situation and ask them to do it.

And Thing 2, she blows all the gender stereotypes out of the water. Where The Tween chose to wear nothing but dresses, Thing 2 will only wear shorts and a tank top. She sometimes asks me to buy her a dress, but I now basically say no because even if I buy them, she won’t wear them, which is perfectly fine with me but I don’t want to keep wasting my money on things she won’t wear. Her best friend is a boy and they play together non-stop. Sometimes while playing, one of the boys will do something and their mom will say, “Stop screaming like a girl”, or “Stop running away like a girl”. When this happens, I use gentle reminders to this mom, my friend, that when she does that she is in fact insulting my daughter, whom I know she loves, and suggesting that there is something wrong, something less than in being a girl. We’ve also talked about how gender stereotypes hurt her sons, because they do.

The Tween is very aware of my campaign against gender stereotypes. She found out, and I suppose I fully embraced it, when she came home in the 4th grade with an assignment on pink paper that asked the girls to pick a famous Texan to do a report on. The boys came home with a blue paper asking them to choose a famous male Texan. The lists were markedly different, and troubling. So my research began in earnest.

The truth is, there is nothing wrong with girly girls. And there is nothing wrong with athletic men. There is also nothing wrong with so called tomboys or artistic, sensitive men. In fact, whoever a person chooses to be, that is good as long as they are comfortable with it and they aren’t hurting another person. Diversity in the world is good.

And when we think about gender and gender stereotypes, we have to go beyond traditional genders for other reasons as well. According to the June 2014 issue of VOYA, some of the many ways that a person may identify themselves include transgender, transexual, non-comforming, genderqueer, cisgender, intersex, pansexual, adrogynous and more. In the year 2014, we’ve gone beyond the simple classification of boy and girl. We are coming to understand the complexity of individuals. There is also a resource list provided (page 9) which is really extensive and I suggest you check it out.

When we were planning this year’s SRC with a variety of new staff members, we began discussing what type of demographic data we wanted to collect. When someone suggested we should have a male/female box, Christie and I protested. The questions we asked were simple:

1. What would we do with this information?
2. Does it accurately reflect our audience?
3. In a world where even Facebook recognized the gender diversity by providing over 50 options, was this the best route possible? Were we being inclusive or exclusive?

In the end, the main argument for collecting this information was that it would help us know which gender groups we had reached and were participating and which were not. And my argument for this was that the way we would probably respond to this information would be to try and market to said group in stereotypical ways. My concern, for example, was that if we found that we had few males participating, that we would marketing to this target audience in gender stereotyped ways such as creating an athletic themed campaign, or cars, or such. In the end, Christie and I argued, this wasn’t really relevant data. We needed to market the SRC comprehensively to the entire community and let the campaign speak on its own. We also argued that we would, in fact, be alienating portions of our target audience by asking them to put themselves into boxes that they didn’t really identify with. That if we tried to have them force themselves into our little male/female boxes, that they would interpret that as meaning that the SRC wasn’t for them.

In the end, we all agreed not to collect this demographic information because it is based on a view of the world that sees people as either this one thing or another. And the truth is, many people in our world don’t see themselves that way. It’s a hard change to make for many, recognizing people’s rights to define themselves outside of what is considered the norm for many. But the truth is the world is always changing and as we change, we learn more and more about what it means to be human and part of that which elevates us above the rest of our brethren in the animal kindgom is our ability to think, to grow, and to have compassion. Well, that an opposable thumbs. As we grow in this knowledge, we recognize the right of other people to choose who they want to be in this world, to choose how they want to identify themselves. There is no one right way to be a girl. There is no one right way to be a boy. And in the year 2014, there are many who identify themselves as neither girl nor boy. Allowing people to authentically be themselves, to be comfortable in their own skin, and creating a world where that can happen, decreases incidences of bullying, decreases mental health issues, and increases feelings of security, safety and well being. Those are all good goals. I encourage you to read and read a lot about this topic because it can impact the health and well being of the tweens and teens we serve and parent. It’s something I am trying to learn more about so let’s go on this learning adventure together, shall we? If we truly care about people, we will.

For additional resources:

I’m currently reading Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes by Chritia Spears Brown, PHD

Check out your June 2014 edition of VOYA Magazine, pages 8-17. It includes an interview with author Alex London, who wrote the Proxy series and a great resource list of titles

Also, check out The Good Men Project which is working to breakdown our current culture of dangerous gender stereotypes and asking us to think differently about what we tell our boys it means to be a man.

A Mighty Girl is a site that encourages us all to go beyond our current female gender stereotypes and empower our girls to be confident, bold and strong.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Tumblr is the official home of the We Need Diverse Books campaign.

More on Gender Issues at TLT:
I’m Just a Girl? Gender issues in YA Lit
Girls Against Girls
Teach Me How to Live: talking with guys about ya lit with Eric Devine
Let’s Hear It for the Boys: Boys and body image
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in the Lives of Teens 
The Curious Case of the Gender Based Assignment 
Let Children Be Who They Are 

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


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. 


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.


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.


  • 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]

That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con 2013

Please read this note about the comments:  I wrote this post with the intention that we would consider how we talk to and about people, and that we consider doing so with respect.  I ask that if you comment, that you please comment respectfully.  Comments calling people or people groups names, using curse words, etc. will be deleted. (Note added 7/23/2013)

Fan: What would you like to do before you die?

Matt Smith: To start with, Jennifer Lawrence
(referenced multiple times on Tumblr)

Screen Shot of This Blog is a Mess at http://aldrineriksen.tumblr.com/post/55992976129  7/22/2013 9:24 AM
 Dear Matt Smith,

I have a bone to pick with you.  To begin with, you should know that I only learned who you were about a month ago when my two daughters and I started watching Doctor Who this summer.  We immediately became immersed in this wonderful story of a man, well alien really, who had tremendous integrity, valued life and people, and did hard things at often great personal cost to himself because they were the right things to do.  After a few episodes it became clear that this was a show that we could all watch and enjoy as a family, and we did.

Let me take a moment and tell you a little bit about what it is like to be a woman raising two daughters.  My goal is to help create a culture, an environment, where my daughters can walk safely down the street without being hooted and hollered at by men who feel that they can yell out that they want to “do” them because by golly, they have seen something they like and they are entitled to objectify and harass my daughters because – well – they want to.  I want my daughters to be judged not by their bodies, but by the body of their work.  Not by how they look, what lust they might inspire in a man, but who they are as a person.  And I want the men in this world to grow up understanding that all human beings, including female ones, have the right to walk around the world freely without fear of cat calling, whistling, being fondled, or being raped simply because that is what a man wants (and vice versa). 

So here you sit, a popular cultural figure on one of the world’s biggest stages and you were asked a question: “What would you like to do before you die?”  And you response, “To start with, Jennifer Lawrence.”  That is, at least, how you are being quoted around the Internet.  Not that you wanted to do a movie with Jennifer Lawrence, or to do lunch with Jennifer Lawrence.  No, you wanted to “do” Jennifer Lawrence.  Maybe you don’t know how this can be interpreted, but I can assure you after having worked with teenagers for 20 years now that everyone understood you to be saying that your first goal of things you would like to do before dying is to have sex with Jennifer Lawrence.  Wanting to “do” someone is dripping with sexual innuendo.  And in making this statement, you objectified a talented, hardworking actress and reinforced a lifetime of cultural norms that suggest to girls that they are nothing more than objects put on this Earth to satisfy the sexual desires of men.  You also reinforced the cultural norms that suggest that men are nothing more than an animilistic set of base desires that can hardly be contained.  Basically, your answer did no one any favors.

Here’s the rub: You definitely have a right to answer the questions anyway you would like.  It is your life, they are your last dying wishes after all.  But I would hope that you would come to understand that words have meanings.  These words are all over the Internet.  Fans of yours, of the Doctor Who universe, are reading them and taking them in and they see it as someone they look up to reinforcing this notion.  While we read in the news about rapes taking place in Steubenville and gang rapes taking place in Texas, we are asking ourselves: How can we change the culture so that woman are safe and the landscape of our lives, our cultural legacy, is something other than the fact that men and women are getting raped at all, let alone at such alarming rates?  Part of the answer is that we must take responsibility for our actions, learn to control our desires.  But the other part of our answer is that we must stop objectifying people and instead begin to see them as fully formed and worthy human beings.  Not simply bags of flesh that we can use to satisfy our sexual urges or that we can demean so that we have more power or a greater sense of self.

Many people will think that you paid Jennifer Lawrence a tremendous compliment in your answer.  Some will say you were simply trying to be funny.  Others will realize that you stripped her away of all her hard work and accomplishments, demeaned her, and reduced her to a physical object.  Imagine what a different impact you would have had if you had chosen to say before you died you wanted to make great art, or to learn new things, or to make the world a better place.  But no, your first desire was to “do” Jennifer Lawrence. You were basically engaging in a large scale moment of Street Harassment.  Street Harassment is “any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation.”  (from StopStreetHarassment.org)  You took the stage and perpetuated a culture that others are working tirelessly to end because it harms others.  Teenage boys hanging their heads out their car windows telling women on the street that they “want to do them” will think nothing of it because, well, Matt Smith did it at Comic Con and everyone thought it was cool.  Bow ties are cool, street harassment is not.

I get that you are not the doctor, you are Matt Smith.  But I think we can all learn a lot from the Doctor.  And the first thing we should all learn from the Doctor is that people are more than simply beings that you want to “do”.  Perhaps you said it best in the character of the Doctor:

“Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. Do you know, in nine hundred years of time and space I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.”
The Eleventh Doctor, A Christmas Carol