Category Archives: Gender

The stories we tell ourselves

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There are not many things that are perennially interesting to me, but one of them is the stories that we tell ourselves. We sometimes think that what we do, or think, or feel is  just a reaction. ‘Such-and-such happened which is why I acted or thought or felt the way I did’. Yet so much of how we experience the world is determined by the stories that we tell ourselves. The charming, gay neurologist Oliver Sachs puts it well:

“We have, each of us, a life-story, an inner narrative – whose continuity, whose sense, is our lives. It might be said that each of us constructs and lives, a “narrative”, and that this narrative is us, our identities. If we wish to know about a man, we ask “What is his story – his real, inmost story?” for each of us is a biography, a story.”

I’m currently thinking about this in relation to inequality and education in a chapter I am working on, but that’s more about a collective story that we tell ourselves as a country. Thomas Piketty tells us that “Inequality in every country needs to be justified. You need to tell a story about why this level of inequality is acceptable or unacceptable.” That one quote has been really generative for me lately but right now I’m thinking about  stories on a personal level.

While I was overseas for a conference last week I came across a children’s book called “and tango makes three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. I love buying my niece and nephew books to read because they can never have too many books. But this book hit home for me and actually made me teary in the book store. I thought I’d share it here in the hope that others will come to the same realisation I did…

 

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This last page was especially moving for me. As someone who grew up gay in a straight world, all the stories I was read as a child (and in fact all the books that existed in our bookstore and our library) had only straight characters. Princes marrying princesses, boys building, girls cooking, and any number of iterations on traditional gender roles and ‘normal’ sexual identities. Now that we do have stories stories with gay protagonists or children that don’t fit the norm I think some parents are reluctant to buy them. Their logic (I think) is that they don’t want to influence their child’s sexuality – or, more accurately, – to influence them in a non-heterosexual way. I find this incredibly ignorant. Nine times out of ten when you probe modern educated parents (and scientists and geneticists) they will agree that sexuality and gender identity are more likely to be about genetics (or epigenetics) than anything else. Yet this persists.

What they seem to miss is the quiet violence done to their children by presenting only one version of the world, one story, and possibly one that they do not see themselves in. Children map the world by the stories they are told and the stories they learn to tell themselves. Brene Brown has this great quote where she says that if you go around looking for a reason why you don’t belong, you will always find one. And I think this is one of the costs of growing up and not seeing yourself represented in the stories you’re told. You feel you don’t belong.

I want my niece and nephew to grow up in a world where they know that whoever they  are, they belong. Different ≠ wrong. The stories we tell ourselves, and the ones we tell our children, matter. My niece and nephew have hundreds of books with stories about everything under the sun. I want to make sure that I’m in one of those stories, and that if they are too, that’s also totally OK. Whoever they are and turn out to be, they belong.

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Barbara Band’s links on diversity and inclusion

barbaraLast week I spoke at the South African Librarian’s Conference at Highbury in KZN (presentation one and presentation two) and heard Barbara Band speak about how the library can be a vital tool to make schools more inclusive and help all students thrive. It struck a cord for me because in high school I basically lived in the library during breaks for three years. My librarians weren’t especially empathetic or insightful but it was still a safe place in an unsafe school. As always we can’t forget that South Africa is a deeply unequal country and that only 37% of learners are in a school with a library (Page 20 from this DBE report).

In Barbara’s address she mentioned a bunch of different sites and resources and I asked her to email them to me so I could share the mall with you, so here they are:

Booklists and bookshops:

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List of organisations that support diversity and inclusion:

  • Ditch The Label – anti-bullying charity supporting 12 – 25 year olds
    www.ditchthelabel.org
  • EACH – Educational Action Challenging Homophobia: provides training, support and resources.
    http://www.each.education/
  • Educate and Celebrate – Ofsted and DFE recognised programme to implement LGBTQ/inclusive curriculum
    www.educateandcelebrate.org
  • Gendered Intelligence – a not-for-profit company whose aim is to increase understandings of gender diversity.
    http://genderedintelligence.co.uk/
  • GIRES – Gender Identity Research and Education Society: aim is to improve lives of trans and gender non-conforming people. Lots of links to articles, research, legal advice, etc.
    http://www.gires.org.uk/
  • 6IGLYO – International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth and Student Organisation: works with over 95 LGBTQ groups, run by and for young people.
    http://www.iglyo.com/
  • Inclusive Minds – a group of consultants and campaigners working to improve diversity in children’s literature.
    http://www.inclusiveminds.com/
  • Kidscape – deals with anti-bullying and child protection
    www.kidscape.org.uk
  • Mermaids – Family and individual support for children and teens with Gender Identity Issues.
    http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/
  • 4Metro – Equality and diversity charity, focusing mainly around London and South East.
    www.metrocentreonline.org
  • Rewind – works in education to challenge racism and extremism
    http://rewind.org.uk
  • Schools Out UK – aim is to make schools safe and inclusive for everyone: lots of links to resources and other relevant websites.
    www.schools-out.org.uk
  • Stonewall – help and advice, carries out research, partners with schools and organisations, lots of resources.
    http://www.stonewall.org.uk/
  • Welcoming Schools – aimed at US elementary schools but has useful information, advice, etc.
    http://www.welcomingschools.org/

ALSO USEFUL:

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Gender equality – facts and figures

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“The blunt truth is that men still run the world. This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect us all, women’s voices are not heard equally. Of the 195 independent countries in the world, only 17 are led by women. Women hold just 20 percent of seats in parliaments globally. In the November 2012 election in the United States, women won more congressional seats than ever before, bringing them up to 18 percent. In the United Kingdom, 22 percent of seats in Parliament are held by women. In the European Parliament, one-third of the seats are held by women. None of these figures are close to 50 percent.

The percentage of women in leadership roles is even lower in the corporate world. A meagre 4 percent of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. In the United States, women hold about 14 percent of executive officer positions and 17 percent of board seats, numbers that have barely budged over the past decade. The gap is even worse for women of color, who hold just 4 percent of top corporate jobs, 3 percent of board seats, and 5 percent of congressional seats. Throughout Europe, women hold 14 percent of board seats. In the United Kingdom, women hold about 7 percent of executive directorships and 15 percent of board seats among the FTSE 100 companies. These numbers drop to 5 percent of executive directorships and 9 percent of board seats among the FTSE 250.”

This is an excerpt from Sheryl Sandberg’s book  Lean In. I actually bought the book as a Christmas present for a friend – to try and counteract the sexist, religious sub-culture she’s been socialized into – but started reading it pre-wrapping and will definitely buy a copy for myself. Another gem: “Warren Buffett has stated generously that one of the reasons for his great success was that he was competing with only half of the population.”

The stats presented above show that in 2013 we are nowhere near gender-quality, even in the world’s most liberal and progressive democracies. A little closer to home, in the Stellenbosch University Economics Department we have three times as many male professors (13) as we do female professors (4). Of course we can find reasons why this is the case but explanations are not justifications and this is an indictment as far as I am concerned. It’s also in stark contrast to the South African Parliament where almost half of MP’s (45%) are female. We clearly need more and stronger regulations which legislate and incentivise gender equality targets in government, in academia, in business, and in society. Until there is equal representation in the halls of power we will all lose out – men and women, but especially children.