Jewfem Blog

PINK BLOCKS BLUE BLOCKS? ON GENDER IN PRESCHOOL, BODY-SHAMING, AND TEACHING TO TRANSGRESS




  A kindergarten teacher noticed that the block corner in her classroom was completely boy-dominated, and decided to do something to bring girls to the space. She took a bunch of blocks and painted them pink and purple. The results were both good and bad. The good news: girls came to the block corner to play with pink and purple blocks. The bad news: girls came to the block corner to play with pink and purple blocks. This story, recounted by my colleague and friend Dr. Chaya Gorsetman in the first session of our telecourse, “Ready for school? Gender Issues in Jewish Education”, brings up some of the huge challenges and dilemmas that educators face in trying to create equal gender opportunity in schools. Mountains of research Dr Chaya Gorsetman demonstrate the negative impact of sex-role socialization on girls from the earliest ages.  Girls – and boys – receive the message in direct and indirect ways that boys are supposed to be aggressive, assertive, physical, competitive leaders while girls are supposed to be sweet, dainty, helpful, obedient, small, and nice. These ubiquitous messages come through books, school décor, classroom structures, teachers’ commentary, and of course Hollywood and Toys R Us. Peggy Orenstein’s crucial book, “Cinderella Ate my Daughter” describes in painful detail the pink-and-sparkly takeover of girls’ lives from the time they are born. Girls, especially, are bombarded with these messages from every angle. But sometimes, if you can’t beat them, join them. If turning the block corner pink – or turning the science lab, or the computer lab metaphorically “girls” – brings more girls into the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), then some teachers are working to use that to girls’ advantage. Such an approach may make some of us cringe (or anyone who has read Peggy Orenstein’s book). But, as the panelists in this telecourses debated, perhaps the end-goal of advancing women and girls in high-status studies and careers is more important than fighting the pink-sparkly wars. Maybe. We all have to choose our battles, right? Amy Newman Maybe there is another way. Amy Newman, a fabulous feminist teacher at the Gann Academy in Boston, who also spoke on this first telecourses panel, shared some interesting insights about the ways in which gender socialization happens in schools, and what her school is doing to change it. She reflected on the crossover between expectations of “extrovertness” and gender hierarchies. Teacher expectations about student assertiveness in the classroom invariably reward boys, she said, by cheering on boys who jump in, take over, or initiate – sometimes inadvertently punishing the girls who show a preference for being an introvert.  She also shared insights about how body commentary shames girls. In both of these areas, Amy said that her school has been engaged in school-wide discussions and consciousness-raising, and has made some remarkable changes in these areas. For example, teachers are now more conscious about favoritism towards extroverts, and today are not allowed to write on report cards comments such as,...

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On single sex versus coeducation: Unraveling the quagmire

Are you trying to make sense of all the talk and conflicting research about single-sex versus coeducation? Here's something to help you: A SPECIAL EXCERPT from Educating in the Divine Image -- the entire chapter on the subject of single-sex versus coeducation. Download the FREE chapter here And please share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section below or on the Facebook page.   CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD Chapter 3 of Educating in the Divine Image: Single-sex verus Coeducation.pdf     Click here to purchase your own copy of Educating in the Divine Image

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Book event tonight in Givat Zeev!

בס"ד הנכם מוזמנים לערב עיון בנושא: מגדר וחינוך דתי תפילה, לימוד תורה, צניעות, מנהיגות, ועוד עם ד"ר אילנה סטוקמן מחברת הספר: Educating in the Diving Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools שזכה בפרס National Jewish Book Award 2013 הערב יתקיים בבית משפחת ברדוגו מבוא הדס 10 ביום שני 17.2.14 אור ליח' אדר א' ב-8:30 בערב

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On modesty, sexuality, and watching girls' bodies: part 1

Read an excerpt of our new book, Educating in the Divine Image, at The Eden Center blog: "The concept of “modesty” as it is often promulgated has lost its essential meaning and been crudely twisted, manipulated and misused. What once referred to a spiritual demeanor, an internal, personal quest for growth, a framework for building kind and compassionate relationships among people in which no one person claims a high and mighty stance among her or his peers, has evolved into something else entirely. Today, when rabbis talk about modesty or “tzniut”, there is only one issue they have in mind: women’s bodies. "The misuse of this vital concept is not only unhealthy for women, who have become the objects of an almost obsessive religious gaze, but it is also terribly harmful to the religious Jewish community. The gaze on the female body has deprived the religious world of the discourse around the true meaning of modesty, a profound spiritual loss which threatens the very essence of religious practice. "Instead of talking about modesty as spirituality and character, we end up hearing about the lengths of women’s skirts and sleeves.  All around the Orthodox Jewish world, religiousness has become synonymous with women’s dress. The length of the skirt, sleeve or neckline is used like a measuring stick of religious identity – the more skin is covered, the more “religious” the girls (and their surrounding communities) are believed to be.  In fact, it is taken quite literally in some cases: one Jewish community recently came out with an actual “Tzniut Ruler”, to be used by girls measuring their skirts around their knees…."   Read the rest here

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Do Jewish schools know how to teach Shabbat in a gender-neutral way?

Sara Ivry of Tablet Magazine interviewed Elana for the vox-pop about Educating in the Divine Image. Here's an excerpt: "Take prayer for example. Even among 3- and 4- and 5-year-olds, you have a lot of schools which will still make the boy leading the prayer service, he’ll be the hazzan, what’s called the cantor, the leader. And the girls will be in charge of, you know, choosing a picture or choosing a song or handing out the prayerbooks, the siddurim. So, even then, they’re 3 years old, they’re 4 years old. And the boys are the active leaders. The ones standing in front of the classroom leading. And they’re the ones who get to wear the prayer shawl, the tallit, and they get to make all the brachot, and everybody looks at them and says “Amen” to them. And the girls are the ones, you know, helping out, or looking pretty, or passively taking on other roles. So, that’s one really interesting issue that takes place in early childhood.  "The other one is Shabbat, which is Friday afternoon or Friday morning, where many Jewish schools, and this is not just an Orthodox school thing, but most Jewish schools prepare the children for Shabbat by teaching them that there’s an ima of Shabbat and an abba of Shabbat. Like there is a mother and a father. And schools have many different ways for telling the boys what it means to be the abba, the father, and what it means to be the ima. So, sometimes it’ll be that the boy is in charge of making the blessings on the wine and the girl is in charge of lighting the candles. Sometimes it’s that the boy has to practice singing while the girl has to go home and, you know, bake a cake, for example. But what’s interesting is that in almost every single early childhood classroom, there are gender-segregated roles. So that children from really early on are learning that keeping Shabbat depends on what gender you are. There is a version of Shabbat that’s for boys, and there is a version of Shabbat that’s for girls. Listen to the entire interview here   Read an excerpt of our book, Educating in the Divine Image at The Eden Center blog    

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