How we co-create masks about gender

Agnes Callard, Associate Professor at the University of Chicago and author of Aspiration recently wrote an article in the NY Times, “I Don’t Want You to ‘Believe’ Me. I Want You to Listen.” The article addresses conclusions people come to as believers rather than listeners, about personal labeling and subsequent misunderstanding. I thought about how people don’t just create masks to hide behind just because of their own discomfort, but because those masks are co-constructed by people in their lives. I encourage you to read this article because your own personal facts and life events will certainly factor into how this message resonates.

One of the masks we co-create is based on our gender. You might hear men agree that women deserve equal rights on all issues but is that a mask they’ve learned to wear? Do they not consider how their equality might mean that they get less somehow or that they are getting left behind?  You might hear women say that men should be free to express weakness, but is that a man they really want in their lives? We so often end the conversation about gender in polite agreement only to secretly believe something other than our stated positions and our cultural understandings. We struggle through conflicting emotions and thoughts largely on our own. We end the conversations so early before we get to the messy business of disagreeing and possibly being viewed as sexist or selfish.

What if the conversations were more honest, open and fully explored? Imagine at a young age, girls on the playground complaining that boys are “hogging the court” (yes, still goes on) and instead of a quick correction to the boys which fuels resentment, it became an opportunity for a real discussion about equity and fairness among genders later that day. What if gender topics were intentionally weaved into existing curriculum and character education discussions? What if we took the time to talk about the weight gender has on our self-esteem and self-efficacy and how it all starts by 5 years old?

Callard writes,  “If I could talk it through, I might have a hope of figuring this out. Because that is mostly how I figure out all the difficult problems of my life: I talk about them to whoever is available, whenever the problems seem relevant to something else I am thinking about; I listen; I rethink; I write; I circle back and write something else; over and over again; and over time I develop a stable picture.”

I encourage all educators to not just talk about gender, but to learn about bias and do action research in your schools. Then regroup and talk about it again. Keep the conversations open, honest and ongoing.

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