Posted by: *carrie* | May 31, 2010

Teaching Gender (with Pizza!)

Feminism. Gender Studies. Women’s Studies.

If there is one thing these things have in common, it’s that they are studied, talked about, debated over, embraced, rejected by, and reconstructed by – most often – women. That is, women in college or otherwise adults. People that have experienced the patriarchy at its worst, that understand rape culture even if they’ve never heard that term, because they know not to walk alone at night.

This is all fine and good. I’m one of these women. I love feminism and gender studies and am really only getting my feet wet. In a lot of ways, I’m the last person that needs to hear about it, though.

Younger women need to hear it. And younger men need to hear it. They need to be taught to look critically at their society, and how that affects both the young women around them and themselves.

So I was super exited to read about the MOST program at The Sexist. MOST is an acronym for “Men of Strength”. It’s a program that targets teenage boys and engages them in regular discussions about gender. An excerpt from the article:

…half a dozen teenage boys have gathered to eat pizza and talk about hollering at women. “From where I come from, you holler at a girl,” one student tells the group. “A girl can’t be too upset when a guy is paying attention to her.” “It depends on the type of girl and whether she has respect for herself,” another says. “Some girls will say, stop. But they like it, for real.” “If she’s wearing short shorts, booty shorts, short skirt, with the thong showing, she wants it,” another guy says. “Can’t blame it on the boy. She knows what she’s doing.”

“But what if it’s hot out?” This is Kedrick Griffin. He’s here to play the 37-year-old devil’s advocate on a subject that’s generally considered normal behavior for a teenage boy in the District of Columbia.

“What if all her other shorts are dirty? What if it’s 2 a.m. in a dark alley? What if it’s your girlfriend who’s wearing the short shorts?”

It’s important to teach kids to think in this manner, to question what is just accepted (rape culture) and why. The program also covers issues of masculinity.

In order to illustrate what that means, Griffin performs an exercise he calls “The Real Man.” Griffin shows students photographs of male celebrities…and asks students to comment on “who they think society says is a real man and why.”

Anyone who has ever had to participate in (as student or teacher) a basic level gender studies course can appreciate what might happen if young men were exposed to these ways of thinking before that class. Before they begin asking when we get to talk about the oppression of males.

But I want to think bigger. I want to envision our society if these types of programs and courses became de rigeur for teenagers, and not just girls. If boys were regularly expected to participate in this way. What a blow to the patriarchy that would be.

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