Monday, June 25, 2007

Making Me Sad

I have an nine-year-old child.

She wants to be a wildlife biologist. Or perhaps an English professor. Some days, she wants to raise dragons off in the mountains -- a hankering I can certainly understand. When our friend the biology professor took her to his freshman biology lab and let her study single-celled pond scum, she was certain, for an entire month, that she would be a biologist, like him, and teach biology.

Why do I mention this? Because, at eight and nine, she has encountered the patriarchy. And where? At her Montessori school, of all places. The progressive nest of safety I thought to leave her in! Ha!

The boys in the first grade tell her she's a girl, and girls can't run fast, and girls are stupid, and girls don't know anything, and girls can't and girls don't. Mind you, she tells them they are patriarchy oppressed and they're wrong, but I know saying that and not hearing what they are saying, those are two different things.

Also, it's not just the students, I'm afraid.

What are we surrounded by, here in this world?

Why, people like this fellow: Mr. Iggulden, and his Dangerous Book For Boys.

You have heard of him by now, I am certain. You can hardly have escaped hearing of him. He is the darling of Rush Limbaugh and Rush's Dittos and their ilk. The Conservative Crowd is sucking up to him as fast as they can.

Let me say up front I have nothing against Mr. Iggulden's book. It looks like a fine book. It has nice pictures and there are plenty of fun things in it and as a ten year old I too would have liked to have known how to do those things, even though I must admit I did not, as a ten year old, or even now, have a penis.

What makes me sad is Mr. Iggulden's hatred for women. It is hatred, too. Read this paragraph from his essay in the Washington Post:

I thought I was the only one sick of non-competitive sports days and playgrounds where it's practically impossible to hurt yourself. It turned out that the pendulum is swinging back at last. Boys are different from girls. Teaching them as though they are girls who don't wash as much leads to their failure in school, causing trouble all the way. Boys don't like group work. They do better on exams than they do in coursework, and they don't like class discussion. In history lessons, they prefer stories of Rome and of courage to projects on the suffragettes.

Boys are different than girls: because, see, girls can't compete (the wimps!) and because girls only work well in groups when they can hide what losers they are, and because, as we all know, suffragettes were a bunch of cowards. (The fuck?) (And, of course, not true. Boys, some boys, might do better on standardized tests like the SAT; but girls as a whole do better on exams in the classroom, oddly enough. And not all boys do better on the SAT -- only boys from certain social classes: that would be, of course, Mr. Iggulden's class, the rich white guy class, which I imagine is the only class he thinks is real.)

And this:

When I was a teacher, I asked my head of department why every textbook seemed to have a girl achieving her dream of being a carpenter while the boys were morons. She replied that boys had had it their own way for too long, and now it was the girls' turn. Ouch. The problem with fighting adult gender battles in the classroom is that the children always lose.

(A) I have my doubts about the veracity of this here conversation, Mr. Iggulden (2) Show me these texts, will you please, where the boys are morons? Because I have read many a schoolbook and children's book to my child and that is a story I do not recall seeing and (3) do you think girls don't like to make things, too? Do you not know any girls? (4) the trouble with projecting your own gender battles into the world of children's books is you're not just fucking with your life, Mr. Iggulden, you're fucking with my child's life.

I expected a backlash. If you put the word "boys" on something, someone will always complain. One blog even promoted the idea of removing the words "For Boys" from the cover with an Exacto knife so that people's sons wouldn't be introduced to any unpleasantly masculine notions such as duty, honor, courage and competence.

Mr. Igg has missed the point -- intentionally, I reckon. It's not because we don't want people's sons to be introduced to those notions. It's because we don't believe that those notions are the purview solely of the masculine half of humanity. Why Mr. Iggulden does is a question he might raise with himself.

Here's the link to the rest of his essay. It's full of other little charming tidbits about how his father beat him and how he set fire to a crow and other manly pursuits which no doubt the Christian Right will swoon over:


A White Bear said...

Arg. Reading stuff like this makes my teeth grind, though maybe it shouldn't. This guy's argument is so unbelievably stupid, it seems self-evident that he and his kind will eventually totter off the brink into the vast expanse of Shitty Kinds of People Who Really Used to Exist.

One of the ways I've been teaching about the history of feminism in my class is by creating some actually decent cases for the patriarchy so that the feminists we're reading will seem to be responding to something that's not just dumb and selfish. It is, for example, a fact that someone has to do grunt work, and if we don't believe in making one race serve another (which we can all agree on and nod together about), then usually one gender has had to serve the other, because gender difference has been more easily naturalized. But education and equal opportunities for women means there is no longer a class of people whose "natural job" is shitty, glory-free, unpaid grunt work. In the end, even a modern companionate marriage has to decide how to split up these tasks while not underserving the intelligence and education of a pair of equals. The only answer for this problem? Robots.

Or, at least, some robots plus sensitive and local negotiations.

This may sound insane. I guess I just feel like you can't make a decent case for feminism unless there is an explanation of the patriarchy that makes enough sense for feminism to need to argue cogently against it. What can feminism do against pro-patriarchal arguments forged out of nothing but 100% gossamer stupidity?

delagar said...

Igguldden doesn't think he's stupid, and neither do the conservative blogs (I scouted around some, looking at other reviews of his book) who are loving up on this book. They really do think "girls are different," meaning "girls are passive," or "girls like to nurture!" By which it seems they mean girls are made to be servants to men.

Some of these blogs (the ones that allow comments) then hear from the female readers, saying well, actually, I do like to make paper airplanes, too; actually, you're wrong, my daughters like this book, too; actually, girls do enjoy running around and climbing trees...but the (male) bloggers just ignore those comments, so far as I can tell.

Igguldun and his patriarchal cohort can't hear us. Or see us. Or anyone like us. It's Sapir-Whorf-like blindness, I think. And no, I don't know how to fix it.

redfox said...

I hadn't known about all this -- when I saw the book in stores, I thought, "That looks like a great book! Too bad about the title, but I guess I understand what they were going for. I wonder why they didn't put out two versions, with complementary titles but otherwise identical, since 'The Dangerous Book for Girls' sounds great too." Now I know why. BAH.

Travis (♀) said...

Ugh. I'm with white bear--my teeth are grinding. In fact, my whole head is exploding. What a sexist ass, and they're promoting his book all over the place.

CB said...

hmm. I climbed trees, shot guns, fished, beat kids up, wore pants, and refused dresses, and I'll be damned but there's not a penis in my pants.

that kind of crap makes me feel suffocated more than arkansas's humidity.

Anonymous said...

Though we certainly have the same problems with the whole "girls are passive thing" we also have the additional incentive not to give this to our son... the chapter on "How to skin a rabbit." Really? Killing and skinning rabbits? See, as strict vegetarians we'd rather our son not kill the local wildlife. That way lies serial killer.