What I Should Have Said – feminist values? *UPDATE*

19 Feb

During staff training week at camp, the woodshop staff at Timberlake (the boy’s camp) met with the woodshop staff at Indian Brook (the girl’s camp) to discuss potential co-ed activities throughout the summer. Once there the Indian Brook staff explained to us the difference in their approach to power tools. At Timberlake, you see, we don’t use them. The campers make everything they make by hand. At Indian Brook though, well, I don’t remember the exact words, but the message was thus:

“We think it’s important, in this world where women and girls are often viewed as soft, as weak, as unable to do “men’s work,” we think it’s important to teach the girls to use power tools. To show them that they can, that they’re strong. That’s why we use power tools at Indian Brook.”

Sounds reasonable, right? I thought so at the time. At least I went along with it. Here’s what I should have said:

“While what you’re saying sounds true, the problem with it is that it only makes sense if you’re aware of a certain stereotype as pertaining to the female gender and power tools. If you don’t know that stereotype, if you’re unaware of it, what you’re doing doesn’t make sense. So in order for your policy to be understood you are teaching an awareness of the stereotype. Despite your intentions to do the opposite, you’re supporting and perpetuating the stereotype of women and girls as weak and unable to use power tools (calling this “men’s work” perpetuates another stereotype).

In so doing you’re also going against the values of Farm and Wilderness which are for doing things by hand, and not using excess power and electricity when it’s not necessary. Getting back to the earth and to work (love made visible) with the body as much as possible. You’ve supplemented that foundational value with an agenda of your own.”

If I had said that (and I should have) it probably would have changed nothing (though it’s likely I wouldn’t have been on friendly terms with some of them anymore), but I would have stood up for what I believed, and that’s the most important thing.

I’ve remembered the flip side to this which is that a boy camper can spend a week measuring and sawing by hand the eleven pieces of wood needed for a chair, and then spend another day sanding them all down, by hand, and then find out that if he were a girl at Indian Brook he could have done all this with a power saw and sander in one afternoon.
Why? Because girls are capable of that? So is this boy… So why is that fair? Because the boy is getting to experience the joy of doing something the old fashioned way? The girls are missing out? That’s not often a very satisfying answer to a 12 year old.


2 Responses to “What I Should Have Said – feminist values? *UPDATE*”

  1. Anonymous April 26, 2009 at 2:55 am #

    I disagree completely with the first paragraph of your hypothetical response. You say that acknowledging the existence of the stereotype perpetuates it. On the contrary, pretending that stereotypes don’t exist will *not* make them go away. Stereotypes are passed on from 1000 different sources, and by refusing to acknowledge their existence you might manage to reduce that to 999 different sources. Either way, children will be exposed to the stereotype, probably subconsciously, which will allow it do do much more damage.
    The only way to fight stereotypes is to shine light on them, make them blatant and obvious, point them out early on and say, “look at these absurd things that some people believe!” and show how wrong they are.
    Anyway, I agree with the rest of your argument. The last point, I would take even further and say that to the boys, who do these things the hard manual way only to find out that the girls get to take shortcuts… and to the girls, who use the power tools and then find out that the guys had to do the same tasks the hard way… *that* indeed perpetuates the stereotype that the girls wouldn’t have been able to do the hard manual labor the boys were required to do.
    — Josh

    • junorhane April 28, 2009 at 7:27 pm #

      I don’t mean to say that they should ignore the stereotype, and it’s fine for them shine a light on it and point out how ridiculous it is.
      I just think that the method they’ve chosen to combat it actually works against them, which I think you put your finger on in a new way with that last good point.

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