Gender Roles in our Library

I LOVE LOVE LOVE children’s books.  Some of my favorite memories growing up include listening to stories before I went to bed, and reading books aloud to my Mom and Sister on road trips.  When I was pregnant I could barely wait to start a library of our own and pass on my love of stories and children’s books to my son.

I began reading to C from the day he was born.  We would sit in front of the fire, in his room, or on the couch looking at pictures and starting to formulate words and stories.  Now we have days where it seems that he would be perfectly content to spend the entire day on my lap reading his books.

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Recently I started to notice how many representations there are of mothers and their children in his books.  As we read stories together I have become more and more aware of just how many books are about Moms and how frequently a 2nd parent is left out.

This got me thinking… so… tonight we pulled down all of his books.  I wanted to look and see the percentage of mother figures that there are in his books as compared to father figures, or entire family units.

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  • Total # of children’s books we own: 77
  • Total # of books that include a parent or family unit: 31
    • Total # that  represent only the Mother/Child relationship: 22 (71%)
    • Total # that represent another parent or the entire family: 9 (29%)

While it wasn’t surprising to me that 71% of our stories, with some form of parental representation, are about the mother, I find myself wanting more diversity in our library.

I think that the maternal relationship is an amazing thing to celebrate and can attest to the beautiful bond that exists between a mother and her child.  However I have also been so touched by the interactions that I observe between my spouse and our son.  Seeing the relationship that they have is beautiful and I wish that we had more books that equally celebrated the strength and power of that bond.

When I think about gender equality, it is important to look at all representations of gender on both a macro and micro scale.  Something as simple as the stories we read to our children can make an impact on the roles that they will one day feel the need to fulfill.  I hope that we can diversify the books we share with our kids and find ways to show them, in the everyday stories we tell, many different representations of parental relationships and families.  Stories in which fathers can be nurturers and deep and meaningful bonds can exist between both parents and their children.

Moving forward, I plan to be more discerning about the books I buy and authors I support.  I am also eager to have an excuse this weekend head to the bookstore to see what I can find to diversify our reading material.

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Lean In Circles- Connect with Other Women

lean in sandbergHappy Sunday!  In addition to me sharing observations of gender discrepancies in the world around us, it is also my goal to provide resources and empowering articles for women.  I want to share a favorite website of mine and a little bit about Lean In Circles.

A few years back I was pregnant with my son. I was feeling excited, but also emotional about the changes in life I was going through.  I wanted to be the best Mom I possibly could and I wasn’t sure whether or not staying at work was something that I could handle.  My sister sent me a book in the mail one day, Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg.  I will be honest I didn’t touch it for over a month, thinking to myself, I don’t read self-help and inspirational books.  After hearing my sister talk about the book over a few phone calls, I figured I might as well see what all the fuss was about.

I didn’t realize the power that Sheryl’s stories and research would have over me in such a transitional time in my life.  I found myself feeling excited about balancing career and family, pushing myself harder at work, and feeling more empowered to speak up and “take a seat” at the table.  Without Lean In, I cannot imagine myself feeling as comfortable and successful at being a Mom and business woman.  (The book also talks about a variety of different topics and stories that apply to working women who don’t have children, significant others, etc…) 

circleAfter reading Lean In, I wanted more.  I didn’t want the dialogue and inspiration to stop there.  I was presented the opportunity to start a Lean In Circle through work.  A Circle is a group of women  who get together to discuss their careers and lives.  We met every 6 weeks or so to share stories, discuss different topics, and challenge each other to push our comfort zones at work.  When I look back on where each of us was in our careers when we started the group, it is amazing to see how we are in such different places today.  Since we started meeting, several of us have earned promotions, raises, changed jobs, and one decided to stay home with her children.  We have been there for each other to lift up and support one another.  I know that we helped each other grow.

I highly encourage you to consider starting a Circle with a small group (6-10) women.  We didn’t know each other well when we started but we grew so quickly as a Circle.  It is a great way to talk about women’s issues and professional growth.  Curriculums, videos, and dialogue guides are all available through www.leanin.org.  When you have a moment check it out.  Even if you don’t have a Circle, this is a great site to visit with wonderful material!

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3rd Generation Mama Feminist

Third Generation Mama Feminist   

I am fortunate to have been raised in an environment where my Mom and Dad both had successful careers.  Both of my parents played a huge role in helping me become the woman I am today.  My Mother always inspired me.  She is one of those women who has always held many leadership roles, is heavily involved in numerous committees and organizations, is making a difference in her field (i.e. fighting for the importance of science education in schools), and was also always there for my sister and I growing up.  Mom was always at our choir concerts, sporting events, and made sure that we had dinner together each night as a family.  It wasn’t until I got older and began a career of my own, that I realized just how much work she put into balancing her career and her family.  I appreciate all that my Mom did for us growing up and was excited to sit down with her this week to talk about her upbringing, what feminism looked like when she was growing up, and what advice she has for women and girls today.


First Generation Mama Feminist                                                                                      What can you tell me about Grandma as a feminist?                                           “She unquestionably brought me up to believe that I could do anything I wanted to do.  She always made me believe I could do whatever I wanted in my career, I didn’t have to get married, I didn’t have to have kids…. I could be a SCIENTIST!                                                                                                                             Grandma was also very involved in League of Women Voters and the Human Rights Commission for the town.  At one point she was the President of the League of Women Voters.  She was always very active outside of the home in taking leadership roles.  She was a strong supporter of the equal rights amendment.  I would go with her, as a kid, to league meetings, sometimes women gave me a hard time for what I wanted to do and be and she always stood up for me.”

Where did she get that from? 
“I don’t know.  She was the only of the children in her family to go to college.  She was very smart.  She always felt very strongly about voting.  She felt that women had worked so hard for the right to vote.  She thought that you should know about candidates and what they stood for.”

Second Generation Mama Feminist                                                                         What can you tell me about yourself as a feminist?                                                      “I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted to do.  I didn’t know until I went to college that it made a difference that I was a woman, and then it was too late.  One thing that made a difference, for me, was that I never thought of myself as a woman, I thought of myself as a person.  I never thought of myself as different because I was female.  In the science field, rarely were there other females but I didn’t allow myself to be aware that I was the only woman.  In fact, a lot of men forgot I was female and didn’t think about it.  I would be in a meeting and they would say that we should invite so and so because they needed a token woman.  However they had forgotten that I was a woman who was already in the group.”
                                                             
                                                                                                                                                         Have you seen an increase of women in leadership roles in your lifetime?     “Oh yeah of course.  When I was in school there were fields that were only for men.  When I was younger there was a stigma that there was no point in putting money in women’s education because all women wanted to do was have families and kids.  In fact, there was a belief that when women were on their on periods they couldn’t work during that time. If women were working then they needed to have a place to rest so they could sleep.  There is actually a daybed that is still in one of the women’s restrooms at work.  It was there so that women could lie down and rest when they were on their period.  There were certain professions that women just couldn’t do…You couldn’t be a pilot because it wasn’t safe.  Women were illogical.  Women couldn’t work for other women.  When I was young women could be secretaries, teachers, and housewives.  That was all you did.  Women also perpetuated the stereotype for other women and themselves.  When growing up girls would ask each other, “What do you want to be when you grow up, a mom or bride?”
                                                                                                                                              Were there times you felt the road to your success was a struggle or a fight? 
“It was a struggle during my undergrad and masters degree because the attitude was that because I was clearly very feminine in look and dress that I couldn’t possibly succeed.  I needed to be more masculine to fit into my field.  I had faculty that wouldn’t give me an A because I was just going to get married and have babies.  They saved the A’s for the boys.  I had to wait a year to complete certain courses.  But I never let it bother me.  It always came down to the way my Mom and Dad raised me…that this is garbage.”
                                                                                                                                                 What are some of the most important things you wanted to impart on my sister and I? 
“You could be whatever you wanted to.  You needed to think about your career and what you wanted to do.  You could have a career and have children, obviously.  You needed education and you needed to go to college.”
                                                                                                                                                Did you ever feel guilty about having a full time career when we were growing up? 
“No, never”
                                                                                                                                             What challenges do you think women face today? 
“A lot of challenges in terms of politics and representation in government.  There is an awful lot of stereotypes still out there.  Also in business there is a glass ceiling.  It is very difficult for women to become CEOs and become successful.
It’s hard for me sometimes because when I was starting out in college and early career, the old adage was a woman has to work twice as hard and be twice as good to be considered equal.  I still see that today.  There are still some of the same challenges in many situations where you need to be better and work harder.
Another challenge that women have, to some extent, is that men think women get jobs or opportunities because they are female as opposed to because they were better canidates.  Women aren’t paid as well as men for the same jobs.  Women are more likely to get overlooked for promotions.  Women aren’t as aggressive in demanding and negotiating jobs and salaries.”

What advice would you give women today?
“Your gender doesn’t make it impossible for you to have the proffesion you want.  That when you think about yourself think about yourself as a person.  Women should also help other women succeed.  We used to joke that the only thing a woman can’t do that a man can… is pee standing up…”