Say No to the Dress
I tweeted the following image I found somewhere on Reddit:
Apparently this photo was taken at the Carnegie Science Center, who wrote this explanation for the dearth of activities scheduled for girls:
We understand your frustration and would like to offer some background: Regarding Girl Scout-specific programming, we have struggled when it comes to enrollments for our Girl Scout programs. In the past, we have offered engineering, chemistry, and robotics programming for Girl Scouts. We created programming to go along with the new Journeys that Girl Scouts use. Unfortunately, no troops signed up for these. The programs that consistently get enrollments are “Science with a Sparkle” and our Sleepovers at the museum.
That being said, we are always happy to book private workshops for Girl Scout troops and cater to a science topic they are interested in. We are also always trying to get feedback regarding our programming to see what programs Girl Scouts would like to see us offer.
In the meantime, we need to set the record straight: At Carnegie Science Center, we’re constantly talking about ways to encourage girls to participate in science. We want girls to know there is a place for them in science and to inspire them to overcome the damaging stereotypes that still exist.
This is a remarkably dodge of responsibility. In my reading, the sign recreates and reinforces the “damaging stereotypes” they are unhelpfully hoping girl-scout-aged girls will overcome, perhaps with the power of sparkles.
Even if you manage to perfectly insulate your daughter from any gender norms prior to being presented with this sign, it alone would be sufficient to communicate that science is for boys and not for them. And G-d help you if you inquire and your kid hears that the reason the workshops aren’t offered for girls is that not a single girl was willing to sign up for any of them. You might as well start making out your tuition check for a Seven Sisters college right then.
It shouldn’t need saying, but the ability to make special inquiries to ask whether it is possible to book private workshops is not equal to having already-scheduled workshops that you just need to pay twenty bucks and show up for. If they don’t get this, the Carnegie Science Center must be wholly ignorant of social science.
Still, I believe them when they say “no troops signed up for” their “engineering, chemistry, and robotics programming for Girl Scouts.” And I sympathize with the predicament that puts them in, and the blame that can but put on them is small in comparison to the blame that should be put everywhere else.
One of the things I got from Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was that the things people are “passionate about” or “interested in” are often arbitrary. Her kids didn’t want to play the piano. She made them, and eventually they got good enough that they discovered the piano can be interesting. Yes, somewhere along the line her eldest put teeth marks into the piano out of hatred for what was being forced upon her, but both her kids eventually grew to love to one degree another their chosen-for-them instruments. After her rebelling younger daughter “quit” the violin, she continued to practice something like 45 minutes per day solely for fun.
This comports with what I know about myself and math. My parents taught me most of my mathematics before I ever saw it in school. In school, I was the best in the class at it, and (surprise!) I enjoyed that class more than others. (I especially enjoyed the classes where the boys were pitted against the girls in speed competitions, and we crushed them like tiny, sparkly bugs.) Eventually, I became an engineering major. I don’t think this was a coincidence. If anything, I think I initially had more of a natural talent and inclination for writing, but I don’t think my parents knew how to support and develop that interest nearly as well.
There do seem to be exceptions to this. Josh Waitzkin reported that he seemed to instinctively know the rules of chess when he first played it. But, I bet for every Waitzkin, there are at least a few of grandmasters whose parents had to force them to play before they realized it was an awesome game.
Like piping Mozart into your uterus, extreme deference to the preferences of children seems a very “American” thing. I think parents in other countries are less likely to think of their kids as mature enough to know what their real interests are. Letting a kid pick what interests them would be like letting a customer pick which shoe he wants looking only at the outside of unlabeled boxes. Yes, it will be a choice, but the choice will be based on sparkles and not, say, size.
I hope he will forgive me for mentioning him in this context, but check out Jason Kuznicki’s post in which he takes his daughter to McDonald’s. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch that someone who is in some ways a professional libertarian would have a hard time imposing his own choices on someone else, even if it is his daughter. It takes a particularly insipid Happy Meal toy aimed at girls to finally force the parents to overrule their daughter’s always-girly-all-the-time preferences.
Jason assures us that
We have done nothing to promote this tendency [to always pick the most stereotypically girly option in any context]. On the contrary, we both consider ourselves feminists, and we have told her, again and again, that most things aren’t for boys or girls. They just exist, and then boys and girls can choose them, whichever way they like. We don’t condemn her for any of her choices simply on the basis of gender.
A couple of thoughts come up. (1) Why is the only choice either acceptance of her choices or condemnation of them? (2) What’s so bad about condemnation?
One of the things you need to do to be a full and complete human being is read Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class [full text]. Failing that, do what I did, and read what Seth Roberts said about it.
Among Veblen’s insights was that the leisure classes demonstrate their status through investments in uselessness. He calls this “conspicuous leisure”. They do things like learn Latin, a language that no one speaks, cannot be used in commerce, and poses no risk of serving any material benefit.
If the subject is a man of leisure, he wears ties, which are primarily there to indicate that he does not do labor. Women take it much further. Dresses greatly restrict what is possible. Long nails impede labor with the hands. Long hair would get trapped in machinery and generally be a nuisance if you’re running around all the time.
Yes, I know you like long hair because it looks pretty and it has nothing to do with status for you. I don’t think Veblen would dispute that you feel that way now, but the admiration of long hair began with its serving as an indicator of status since women of leisure could afford it and the working class could not. There are people who insist that they like LV purses independent of the brand’s status markings, and that might be true for some given individual, but it does not begin to describe why LV purses exist at a societal level. They exist to mark status. (Though in Veblen’s framework, such conspicuous consumption falls below conspicuous leisure.)
Once you are familiar with Veblen, it’s hard not to see everything that is considered girly today as a celebration of uselessness. The perfect girl is a princess, and the perfect princess does nothing. (The perfect boy, on the other hand, is a spy, and the perfect spy does everything.)
I don’t have a daughter, and I am sure I am laughably ignorant of how difficult it is to say “no” to any kid, but somewhere in that cold, dark imagination of mine, I am mustering up some condemnation for skirts and long hair.
If you quote the women-get-paid-77-cents-on-the-dollar statistic and leave it at that, you are being misleading, but if you also point out that most of the difference is accounted for by career choices women make and leave it at that, you are only being a little less misleading.
Women didn’t just decide individually that they didn’t want to be coal miners. I know it isn’t politically correct to say that women are helpless little things who can’t make their own decisions independent of the various social pressures acting on them, but woman cannot in fact make their own decisions independent of social pressures acting on them. Like everyone else, the choices women make are heavily nudged. And girls in particular are nudged to make sparkles an easy choice and robotics a hard one.