My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 20 years. I founded and run the Bay Area Children's Literature List. My biggest passion (outside my family) is getting books into the hands of children and teens. My favorite thing is getting non-readers to realize that they're readers. I also LOVE t-shirts that have to do with books or literature. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll have a click through on the above picture so you can see my entire collection (and where to get them).

January 12, 2016

Recognizing My Own Anti-Female Bias: Reflection on Kirby Larson's Strong Women Post

I've been mulling over Kirby's post (okay, and drinking eggnog with Rumchata, so I haven't used my hiatus all that constructively) and I've had some interesting and disturbing insights into my own psyche.  Yes, I know, there are MANY disturbing things in my psyche, but let's just focus on this one for the moment, shall we?

I agree with Kirby, we shouldn't use the term 'strong woman' as if there's any other kind.  I'm completely onboard with empowered women, valuing women, etc.  What I realized I DON'T do is value things that are considered 'girl', in fact, I denigrate them (careful, you may see yourself in here by the end).

After rereading Kirby's post, I thought about something I do when booktalking the HILARIOUS Phoebe and Her Unicorn  book by Dana Simpson.


Now, I LOVE this book!!  I love handselling the heck out of this book!  Do you know what I say (said) when talking about it?  I say, "Look past the pink and sparkly cover"  Why do (did) I say this? Because I thought that being stereotypically 'girly' was bad, something to be avoided.

I have reacted similarly to the Babymouse series




I LOVE this series with the wonderful Walter Mittyesque (ooh, how that's for a word) heroine, Babymouse.  I've often handsold it by saying "Ignore the pink cover" and the response I get is often a nod of agreement: YES, I will consider this book IN SPITE OF its girly feel.

Until I reread Kirby's article, I really had never considered how I negatively view anything considered stereotypically female.  I remember being happy that my eldest daughter wasn't into princesses, Barbie, etc. I even said, "Yup, we're raising her right." RAISING HER RIGHT because she didn't care for things that society sees as the purview of girls. Has any parent of a boy said, "Yup, he hates sports, we're raising him right."?

I am now consciously NOT putting down 'girly' covers, but it actually takes effort.  I am aware of rethinking my biases anytime I talk about pink covered or sparkly books.  I feel that I want to explain it to my customers.  Would I ever explain/excuse my handing them a blue book or a book with some male athlete on the cover?  In case you don't know the answer to that, it's "NO".  Sigh.

If you have read my earlier posts I wrote about the 'nose wrinkle' adults make when handing a book about a girl to a boy, or actually NOT handing a book about a girl to a boy.  I have never told boys they wouldn't like a book about a girl (cuz we're interesting DAMN IT) but I HAVE done the nose wrinkle when handselling a pink book to a girl or her parent.

I have been a feminist all my life and it is incredibly disturbing to me to realize at the advanced age of 53 (okay, not advanced, but past, sigh, middle age) that I have looked at my own gender or  'attributes' of my gender with disdain. Worse (or just as bad) I have looked at many 'male attributes' as positive, something to be valued more than female ones. 

I'm now struggling to wrap up this post with something wise or pithy (No, NOT lisping) and I've got nothin'  So, a la prochaine (because everything sounds wiser, or at least classier, in French).

17 comments:

  1. Sharon, I too confess my sin of anti-girly bias. First step in recovery is acknowledgment, right?

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    1. Seriously, and since you're MUCH younger than I am, your recovery is happening sooner. :-) Honestly, it was something really hard to recognize in myself and then admit to. sigh

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  2. Yes! Pink and feminine is an important, softer and valuable part of humanity, and not lesser than "blue" and masculine. We will really make strides as a culture when we can value all attributes equally in all of us. Meanwhile, we can aim for smooth nose-bridges and the freedom to let each enjoy whichever book covers (sparkly or football helmets) turn us on. Great post, Sharon.

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    1. Thanks!! Some of the comments in other places have been interesting. People still end up anti-pink (including the spousal unit when we were discussing this last night) because they're trying so hard not to pigeonhole girls. And I COMPLETELY get that and relate to it. I just worry about the underlying anti-girly sentiment.

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  3. Can we still say I was raised right?? :)
    Great post, it's good to think about!

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    1. Hee hee, well *I* like to think so!!

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    2. Elise, you were absolutely raised right!! You and your sister too :)

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  4. I think you're great to bring this up, Sharon, and with such soul-searching honesty! The situation is complex, and especially because it's both simple--and complex! Let's drop back a bit. What exactly is a stereotype? We might define it as an over-generalized generalization. And we can see part of the problem right there. Generalizations in themselves aren't bad; it's one of the main ways the human brain operates. The problem is in absolute generalizations ("Females aren't good at spatial reasoning") and OVER-generalizations ("Girls tend to want to be princesses"). So of course a huge part of feminism is our work to adjust our generalizations.
    This can lead, however, to—are we ready for this?—over-generalizing our reactions to over-generalizations. We're talking about the human brain here and how it tends to work. I wish I could say I never "over-think" things in a certain direction. Sexism is so destructive, so unjust, and so pervasive that it's only natural for some feminists in some cases to go too far—out of the best motives in the world! Reformers in general have to watch out for this, and for the tendency to unwittingly turn their own principles into dogmas (which is NOT what you're doing at all!). For example, here in America there was tremendous prejudice against the Irish in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, which led some Irish-Americans and their supporters to champion everything Irish as if Irish people weren't just as human, as prone to good and bad, as everyone else.
    What we're all pushing for, I think, is freedom from rigid gender stereotypes and the damage that does. I'm fiercely proud to call myself a feminist, and I've lived it day by day, year by year. But I think it's time to come up with a more accurate term, since I'm against ANY unjust and rigid gender-based stereotypes, including those that pressure some men into being, among other things, anti-emotional, overly-physical, sexual-conquest-oriented, etc. I've thought a lot about it but haven't come up with a phrase that satisfies me—though at this point I'm learning toward "free genderism."
    My overall point is that I love how, in this post, you're advancing feminism. Any feminism that can't look hard at itself—any feminism that restricts individual women in matters of taste, personal style, preferences, etc.—any feminism that, for example, doesn't fully recognize that there are conservative women in the US as well as liberals, and that that choice too is based on individual freedom—well, I don't see how such a feminism can claim to speak for all females.
    And, I might add, pressuring girls away from that harmless princess phase may do more harm than good. I trust in freedom; I believe that a girl who's given as much personal freedom as possible in her youth, as well as being educated about gender, WILL become a feminist in one form or another.

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    1. Tim, as always, you've blown me away with your thoughts and your brilliant way with words. I think I was turning my own prejudices into a dogma, or I was on the way there, it was a slow wakeup in hearing how I talked about those books (on the other hand, yes, I was the crazy parent on EBay trying to get a 'Dorothy' Barbie for Sasha for Chanukah one year) :-) It's a process. I'm lucky to have family and friends who help me question my prejudices, etc. Thank you!

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  5. Wow! How ones follow that! Great response to a great blog. Sharon I really enjoy reading your blogs because I agreed with you most of the time. In the case of the pink or the girly stuff, we do leave in a community/society that is hyper invasive (movies, tv, toys, books, etc.) and younger impressionable minds are going to cave...I think the pendulum swing, and hits us all, fortunately at some point stops and we can see clearly.

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    1. Marta, I completely hear you and I agree with you too. There's programming in the way things are marketed, so which came first? But, as you know, we also learn SO MUCH from our kids and Elise and Sasha taught me a lot (including that the F Word is the only one that works when you're really, REALLY angry) :-) What I learned from Sasha (the younger, drawn toward stereotypical girly stuff more when she was younger) was that if I wrinkled my nose at some of her choices, I was telling her that her feelings/opinions were wrong. I could explain my thoughts on Barbie, but to say, "No, I won't get you that, read you that book, etc... was sending her the message that what she wanted was wrong and that wasn't necessarily the case.

      Again, I agree with you, because children are bombarded with messages from the time they're born (sometimes in utero) so it's hard to know the genesis of some of these things. I'm just questioning my own knee jerk negative reaction to those things society has deemed female.

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  6. Thanks for this terrific blog and Tim's terrific response! It ties in with a story I heard the other day on NPR (not only about Christians and science BTW): http://www.npr.org/2016/01/14/463010075/researchers-probe-stereotype-christians-and-science-dont-get-a-long

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    1. Oooh, thank you for that link Phillis!

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  7. I love this subject!! I am very happy to own the label of feminist. This has been true of me since I knew what the term meant and decided to own it (since about 1975 when I was 13). When I lived in Hawai'i, my boyfriend, a scuba diving instructor, wanted me to go diving with him and his friends. When it was time for me to buy gear -- wetsuit, mask, snorkle, fins -- I wanted all pink (I was 25 y.o.). And that's what I got.
    It was interesting to see the reactions of different friends. I was humored in a very loving way, because these were my close friends, and when questioned about "I thought you were a feminist," I responded vociferously with, "Damn straight!"
    Another year, I bought a pastel pink faux fur jacket a la Twiggy in the 1960s. I honestly could not understand anyone criticizing pink and sparkles and tiaras.
    However, I do have very strong biases for what I consider "limiting" gender roles, and I've had to work diligently to face up to the fact that what I judge to be subjugation isn't always the case. It's really not the best way to build bridges by telling someone else that I feel their life choices are wrong or inferior or ridiculous because they are allowing sexism to guide their thinking. Yeah, not so great. Sigh ... so I just sprinkle them with sparkles and whisper, "Gloria Steinem -- Google her." :D

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    1. Please, PLEASE tell me you still have that jacket!! I have GOT to see it!!

      I hear you about not letting sexism guide our thinking, definitely on board there. Also, don't want to let MY thoughts on 'girly' prejudice what I say. It's a constant process, especially since I'm still not aware of all the places/ways these prejudices manifest (womanfest, hee hee)

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  8. What a fascinating topic. Society's not so secret disdain for all girly cues are disturbingly prominent. I think it's why we have so many of the 'I'm not like other girls' trope. As a very feminine female, I am at once sad we are designated the pink palette - but also doubly sad when people refuse to read or indulge in something that has any feminine notes.

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    1. Oh my goodness, how did I miss your reply? Thank you for your comment! This whole "I'm not like other girls" trope is so incredibly anti-female, isn't it? Very disturbing. Of course, we see the conundrum so much now during this election, the standards/microscope applied to Hillary are very different from those applied to men. Grrr and Aargh.

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