Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Why Feminism Is Still Necessary

Drew brought home a reader for his homework recently - it was a short book, published in 1998, about jobs, with typical children's book illustrations.

The plot: A classroom of primary school age children make a list on the blackboard of their parents' jobs.

Jobs and genders described or implied:
1. Primary school teacher (of the class making the list) - woman
2. School bus driver - woman
3. Builder - man
4. Teacher - a woman, reading a picture book to a group of young children gathered around a table - my guess from the semiotic clues is Kindergarten teacher
5. Teacher - a man, wearing a tie, sitting on a desk, with hardback books on it and a blackboard behind him, no other children or adults in the picture. We can't read what's on the blackboard, but it looks like some sort of diagram - my guess, high school teacher or college professor
6. Dentist - man
7. An ambiguous group of three women caring for a mixed age group of children in the park, with the caption "Fred's mom, Jack's mom, and Lindsey's mom take care of children." My guess is stay-at-home moms. Later, when we see the list the class has compiled, this group is described as "babysitters"
8. Firefighter - man
9. Mechanic - man
10. Fastfood cook (described as "cook" on the list) - woman
11. A female hairdresser cutting a woman's hair and a male barber (this is the obvious word that spring to mind, based on the illustration) cutting a man's hair, both described as "hair stylist" on the list
12. A female, stereotypical nurse (in a white hat - when was the last time you saw a nurse in one of those hats?) with the caption "Angel's mom takes care of sick people," described on the list as a nurse
13. Seamstress - woman
14. A man in a lab coat with a stethoscope - the caption is "Su Ling's dad takes care of sick children," described on the list as doctor
15. Architect - woman
16. Two secretaries, both women
17. House painter - man

Something to note: in nearly every way, the author of this book went out of her way to be politically correct. The job titles are nonsexist (e. g. firefighter rather than fireman), various ethnic groups are represented (although it's worth pointing out that the mechanic and the seamstress are African American and the doctor's Asian), and there's a kid in the class in a wheelchair. But, get a load of that division of labor!

None of the men have jobs traditionally associated with women. The only woman who doesn't have a "pink collar" job is the architect. Not only that, but we get three women associated with child care and two with secretarial work, plus the emphasized gender division of primary school teacher vs. high school or college teacher and nurse vs. doctor. This list could easily have appeared in a book published in 1955 without shocking or surprising anyone (at least in terms of gender).

Drew read the book out loud to me, as per his homework assignment, and then we had a "teachable moment" (actually about 15) in which we discussed the different kinds of jobs people we know have (our dentist who's a woman, a man we know who stays home with his kids, women scientists, male cooks, etc.). Hopefully have counteracted the insidious sexism. . .

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