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Is changing the visual landscape for our children important?

If you go into any supermarket you will see rows of pink and purple separated from rows of dark greens and navy. On the surface this is no more than a visual maker, making products for boys and girls easy to spot amongst the clutter; thus increasing sales as Grandma and Grandad quickly head to the princess section to get a surprise for their little poppet.

Take more time to look and you can see that all the science, doing, building and logic toys are stacked up within ‘boys shelves’. While the hair, shopping, friends and trivia are waiting in their pretty pink and purple packets ready to leap into the open hands of our girls.

For me the problem is not just the palette: it’s this message that science and logic are not for girls.

Dinosaurs not for girls.

Adventure not for girls.

Lego not for girls (unless its pink and you build a hair salon)

Flowers not for boys.

Childcare not for boys.

The whole thing is just messed up.

The most appalling part of this puzzle is that this situation is not the result of conscious oppression of women. It’s not a simple tyrant that we need to seek out and over throw. This situation has developed because of a combination of apathy and greed. Melissa Atkins Wardy, author of “Redefining Girly” examines where parents should be looking to solve the puzzle of why young girls are stereotyped and sexualized: she blamed not just the toys themselves but also the advertising for solidifying gender norms.

Girls and boys have never been marketed to so aggressively before. Marketers began to segregate the market place in the 1930’s and seeing sales increase each company has continued to research and separate off market segments ever since. Hasbro girls range is currently estimated at $1.9 billion, while Hasbro’s net worth is a staggering $7.2 billion. Jo Paoletti, an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland explains: “Children weren’t colour-coded at all until the early 20th century: in the era before domestic washing machines all babies wore white as a practical matter, since the only way of getting clothes clean was to boil them. What’s more, both boys and girls wore what were thought of as gender-neutral dresses. When nursery colours were introduced, pink was actually considered the more masculine hue, a pastel version of red, which was associated with strength. Blue, with its intimations of the Virgin Mary, constancy and faithfulness, symbolised femininity.”

As those research budgets increased, and sales followed the walls of pink and blue went up. Built on the foundations of gender difference rather than species commonality.

Does it make any difference to children?

As Elizabeth Sweet, a doctoral candidate who studies gender and toys at the University of California explains “Gendered toy marketing divides a child’s ability to learn about the world based on gender constructions that are culturally determined. When all of the marketing consistently revolves around gender, it teaches our kids to look at the opposite sex as a different species, because in order to market gendered toys, you have to point out the difference and not the similarities.”

We know that persistent stereotypes in academia are at the core of inequality in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Despite efforts to promote gender equality in the science and tech sectors, the percentage of STEM jobs held women was about the same in 2017 as it was in 2009, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Currently, only a seventh of all engineers is female, and women hold just 27 percent of all computer science jobs, according to that same report.

For me, it’s not just about career outcomes for children. It’s about setting up the stereotypes that limit every aspect of our species.  According to the Study of Sociology, “A stereotype is a rigid, oversimplified, often exaggerated belief that is applied both to an entire social category of people and to each individual within it. Stereotypes form the basis for prejudice, which in turn is used to justify discrimination and attitudes.”

Now in 2017, surely this is a thing of the past? We can take Barbie as a great example of a toy and toy maker modernising their content, or can we? Barbie has started to code and engineer: but still her aesthetic perpetuates gender norms. Sweet explains: “Even at her best, she still has to wear pink, conform to a beauty ideal and use a different set of tools than the boys. I don’t think that’s the best tool to get girls thinking they can play on a level playing field.”

This sociological rhetoric translates into the daily play of my two girls. When my big girl comes home from school and tells me that she can’t wear her astronaut top because the other girls say it’s not ‘girlie’ (it’s dark green, not a light pastel) So all the astronaut stuff becomes a home activity, hidden away from her mates: because she so wants, she needs at her young age to belong to the group. I read an article years ago by Peggy Orenstein, Author of Cinderella ate my Daughter and she put it so well:

“Oh, how the mighty fall. All it took was one boy who, while whizzing past her in the playground, yelled, “Girls don’t like trains!” and Thomas was shoved to the bottom of the toy chest. Within a month, Daisy threw a tantrum when I tried to wrestle her into trousers. As if by osmosis she had learned the names and gown colours of every Disney Princess – I didn’t even know what a Disney Princess was. She gazed longingly into the tulle-draped windows of the local toy stores and for her third birthday begged for a “real princess dress” with matching plastic high heels. Meanwhile, one of her classmates, the one with two mummies, showed up to school every single day dressed in a Cinderella gown. With a bridal veil…..It’s not that pink is intrinsically bad, but it is such a tiny slice of the rainbow and, though it may celebrate girlhood in one way, it also repeatedly and firmly fuses girls’ identity to appearance.”

Of course it is impossible to separate out what’s biological as opposed to what’s cultural.  Young children respond to gender stereotypes because they are ordering in their mind what it means to be a girl or a boy. It is a simplifying mechanism: ‘Pink is for girls, and I’m a girl, so I like pink,’ and those who don’t conform to these cultural expectations face real social sanctions, like bullying.

It is these patterns that shape and form our society. Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist and the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain says, nurture becomes nature. “Think about language. Babies are born ready to absorb the sounds and grammar and intonation of any language, but then the brain wires itself up to only perceive and produce a specific language. After puberty, it’s possible to learn another language, but it’s far more difficult. I think of gender differences similarly: the ones that exist become amplified by the two different cultures that boys and girls are immersed in from birth. That contributes to the way their emotional and cognitive circuits get wired.”

So what can we do?

We can protect and shelter our children from the tidal wave of pink and blue marketing: but was never one just to protect me and mine then hide away.

I believe all of those of us who can stand and make a change, should.
I can draw – so this is my resistance. If you can write – then create new books – tell a new story: if you can sing – sing them a new song. As mothers and fathers we are the storytellers: this is our super power because it is the storytellers who can change the world.

Be brave, be dauntless and tell them a new story.

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26 fantastic FREE resources are now availible for #IWD17

Resources can all be accessed here:https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B1AxQ9bWcYaXSy02UTBEYjVBSjA?usp=sharing

 

#IWD17

International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8th March each year, it is a global celebration of the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women. The theme for 2017 is #BeBoldForChange. Let’s make #IWD17 a day for our students and schools to reflect on the global progress made to challenge gender inequalities around the world. Use the virtual toolkit to focus discussions, reflections and activities.

#WomenEd:

As a global community that connects existing and aspiring women in education, our aim is simple to support women on their journeys as educators and to collectively challenge some of the systemic barriers that disable women from having choice in their career progression. Our community values champion having courage, working collaboratively and affecting change. This year’s #IWD17 theme really resonates with the #WomenEd community as it is #BeBoldForChange.   The impact of the #WomenEd community is being seen and heard through the testimonials of the educators who have been coached and supported to be #10%braver. Each small step moves us closer to reducing the confidence gap and the pay gap. We are an inclusive community who champion one another’s achievements.

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Collaboration:

Our community partnerships and collaborations across the system are enabling women leading in education to grow their tribe and grow their confidence. We are working with two of our partner organisations, and many of our community, on a virtual toolkit for #IWD17 for educators round the world to access and use in their classrooms.

ActionAid:

ActionAid UK works with women and girls across 45 countries to understand and claim their rights, whether that’s the right to education, to run their own business or to live a life free from violence:

“We believe in supporting girls to understand the power they have to challenge and change the world. This toolkit, curated by #WomenEd, is a fantastic way for teachers to energise the girls in their school to be “10% braver” so we are delighted to get involved”.

We are recording a conversation between women’s rights campaigners Jessica Njui from The Africa Youth Trust in Nairobi, a partner of ActionAid and Caroline Jones from ActionAid UK. They will be discussing the question: ‘How can girls #beboldforchange?’ We’re hoping they will be joined by a surprise celebrity guest! The final video will be posted here for you to access and share: http://po.st/IWD2017

Action Aid are currently seeking questions for the campaigners from girls across the country; please send your questions to schools@actionaid.org with the name, age and school of the girls who asked the questions.

Dauntless Daughters:

To celebrate International Women’s Day Worcestershire-based illustrator Steph Green has teamed up with #WomenEd to produce the #BeBoldforChange Virtual Toolkit: which is available to all educators for free!

When her oldest daughter got interested in space, rockets and astronauts, Steph looked around for images that would reflect her child in this role. “There was nothing, so I drew her myself.” says Steph. From the astronaut it snowballed, with Steph drawing a whole crew of Dauntless Daughters. “After I started to share the illustrations on social Media, Hannah from #WomenEd got in touch and asked if I would like to get involved in the toolkit. We really wanted to give the toolkit some personality and so the character Abbie Bold came to life.”

Steph continues, “Every day our daughters encounter little messages and big signs telling them what to do, what items to wear, and the books to read, reinforcing the supposed limitations of being a girl and which box they have to go in. It is 2017 and we say ‘enough’.”

Meet Abbie Bold:

When Hannah Wilson from #WomenEd spoke to Daniel Wardle from the Action Aid Schools’ Team and Dauntless Daughters’ founder Steph Green about the collaboration, they decided that an avatar to personify the #IWD17 theme would capture the hearts and the minds of the educational community.

Abbie Bold is bold by name and bold by nature. She represents all of the young girls in classrooms around the world with bold hopes and dreams for the future. Dreams of smashing the gender stereotypes of how to behave, what to think and what to like.

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Our Virtual Toolkit:

We asked our contributors to share their motivation for creating a resource to share with the #IWD17 and #WomenEd community:

“I wanted to create resources or vehicles for reflection that would help a group of young girls move forward with purpose and intent. To validate themselves by the thoughts and actions they choose to believe in. I hope they harness the power of perception and look inwards to help them reflect on the future they have the power to create”.  Kiran Satti, primary school teacher, Midlands

 “The resource is designed to get students and even teachers thinking about the importance of women and women as role models. It’s vital that young people have others to look up to and aspire to. Equally, I place importance on them to be able to identify those same qualities and attributes in the everyday ‘real’ people around them so they have ‘real life’ role models to aspire to become”.  Genevieve Bent, Head of Chemistry, London

 “I am contributing to help inspire, educate and inform the female leaders of tomorrow. My resource will encourage wide ranging discussion, airing and challenging stereotypes. I hope it will help students question inequalities they encounter and make bolder choices”. Frances Ashton, secondary school leader, Oxfordshire

“IWD can be just another date in the busy International calendar for teachers to find something interesting to teach. I wanted to contribute to raise the profile of this global issue in an engaging way for the next generation and to help classroom teachers have a resource they can quickly put in place with maximum impact. As a classroom teacher dipping in and finding a resource starts the conversation going about be bold. Sharing how people have used the resource can continue the message. It would be good to ask people to share what they did. Social media is a good starting point, PSHE association may share the link but the Educational press has a far reach meaning maximised awareness of it being available TES and BBC. Sharing the message be bold for change with students helps them realise that they have the ability to change things. This resource enables teachers and students to notice inequality in the world, to consider their opinion and decide upon their response”. Julie Hunter, secondary school leader, Wiltshire

I knew at the age of 14, my passion and destiny was to work in the field of education and invest in next generation leaders.  Everything I do centres around my vision and mission. Use it to define what’s working & what’s not. Strengthen what is working & change what it is not. Acceptance & change are powerful concepts to embrace for all individuals, especially leaders. The resource starts the dialogue in a safe environment.  Hopefully it will equip individuals with the ‘how to’ as well.  It’s all about sowing seeds & enabling them to flourish”. Anita Devi, educational consultant, Buckinghamshire

“Success is driven by expectation and our language can empower or tear down our expectations. By reflecting on and being mindful of the words we use when engaging with challenges. Use the “Reframe: Can’t Don’t and Won’t” video to trigger reflection and discussion with your class or tutor group”. Jaz Ampaw-Farr, educational consultant, Buckinghamshire.

“Based on the Lean In concept of having ‘workplace allies’, the resource hopes to stimulate discussion about how we support, champion and advocate for women in school, group situations and the workplace. It highlights the embedded cultural practices that can hold back or diminish women’s strengths and talents and offers an opportunity to investigate solutions that both women and men can pursue, together. If we can change these habits by highlighting and modelling them with young people as well as adults in schools, then we might be able to break through what we don’t realise is taken for granted as ‘normal’.” Rosanna Raimato, educational consultant, Italy.

 “If we want to improve diversity and equality in terms of leadership in the future, we have to get girls in particular involved in leadership now, while they are forming their ideas about leadership and what it means to them. Our resource is a PowerPoint created by girls aged 7 to 11 to share with teachers based on the girls’ own research. It is a model that schools have used to open up gender equality discussions with staff and pupils. It could support whole school CPD looking at inequality in the classroom or be used as a discussion set of questions for children in PSHW or student council sessions. It is hoped that schools may want to then design and carry out their own questionnaire with their own students”.  Annemarie Williams, Executive Headteacher and CEO, Midlands

 “International Women’s Day is such an important opportunity for all of us, however we identify, to think about how we can be bolder, but also to ask questions about the structures and attitudes which continue to discriminate, particularly against certain ‘groups’ of people. Whose are the voices that are rarely heard in popular debates about feminism? What about those who don’t access the internet? What about the health and income inequalities facing older and/or disabled girls and women (and their families) in the UK, as well as those in other countries? If we want to address child poverty, are we listening to and supporting single mothers? Let’s be 10% bolder, encourage those we teach to be 10% bolder, but let’s also widen and diversify our networks”. Pen Mendonca, Graphic Facilitator, London  

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One of our contributors, Yinka Ewuola reflected on “How to be B.O.L.D for change…”

B is for Belief… Beliefs are absolutely everything. “Whether you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you are absolutely right”. What you believe of yourself is everything about your potential, as you are the only one standing in your own way. How you allow the beliefs of others to impact and change the way you feel about your life, possibilities and expectations is just as important: ‘You can’t do that…’ ‘Girls don’t do that…’ They are the limits of others that they are trying to put on you… and no matter the intention – these will harm you. You need to decide what you believe about you, about whether you are going to be, whatever it is you want to be, and then go act on that. Ask ‘why’ (not to others, but to yourself) you can’t, won’t, shouldn’t do the things that you are working to achieve and then set those limiting beliefs aside for new ones… Believe you are worth it. Believe it will be ok. Believe you deserve to be there and have the good things you are experiencing… Believe change is worth choosing and you will do all you can to make it a reality.

O is for One Step Because we are the queens of plans, which means that we try and work out 26 steps ahead, and if we can’t always see exactly where we are going, then you feel trapped and paralysed and confused. But “The journey of 1000 miles, begins with a baby step” – what you need is just one small step in the right general direction. And then another… And then another… Boldness comes from understanding that smaller steps will lead to bigger, brighter places. Hell, even a step in the wrong direction is better than no step at all – action always beats inaction, and you can always course correct in motion – so be bold and take just one step.

L is for Learning and Leading from the Heart Boldness is a heart set… The word Courage is derived from the word  ‘Cor’ which is the Latin word for heart (as Brené Brown reminds us). So what does that courage look like every day? Speaking honestly from our hearts is a great place to start… It’s also about understanding what’s going on with our fear… It’s about understanding that the fear will come… It’s about knowing, expecting it… Because so long as you don’t let those fears stop you. ‘When fear is what you’re feeling (and you’re still doing), Brave is what you are doing’. But learning is so important for boldness… We become bolder after we fail at things (believe it or not) because failure gives us stepping stones for improvements.

D is for Difference See, because even though we are grown up and off the playground – we are still trying way to hard to fit in. And blend in… And to be small, and hidden, and not to noticeable or leery… But we were born to stand out. Boldness comes from understanding that all those things are unique about you are there for the reason you are here… There is nothing more important than making a difference. And the only way to make a difference is to be different. Remember how to be bold for change. Yinka Ewuola, primary school Chair of Governors, London

Please share the free virtual #BeBoldForChange toolkit for #IWD17 far and wide:

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B1AxQ9bWcYaXSy02UTBEYjVBSjA?usp=sharing

The resources are there to provoke thinking and stimulate discussions in your classrooms and schools. Thank you everyone from the #WomenEd community who has contributed.

Other ways to engage with #IWD17:

Blogging:

Contribute to the #BeBoldForChange #Digimeet on StaffRm on Sunday 5th March.

Events:

Attend a #WomenEd #LeadMeet for #IWD17 – we have events taking place simultaneously in Bristol, Cambridge, Leicester, London, Manchester, Nottingham, Uffcolme and The Netherlands on 8th March. We also have regional #WomenEd events on March 4th in London, March 10th in Milton Keynes, March 11th in Coventry, March 25th in Leeds. All of our events are free and listed on Eventbrite, just search #WomenEd.

Tweeting:

Follow the hashtags on Twitter: #IWD17 #BeBoldForChange #womened

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Schools Toolkit for IWD17

Schools Toolkit for IWD17

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Images are powerful.  What our daughters are told: everyday, by the items they wear, the books they read, the little messages and the big signs are all important.

I started Dauntless Daughters to respond to the imbalance in my own children’s world. But, actually – if I’m truthful it started earlier than that. I was raised by an amazing woman who told me, daily, to go and be what I wanted to be. It didn’t matter what people had done before, or what anyone said. As Hillary Clinton recently put it “Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”

I grew up on a farm, in the rolling Quantocks hills in Somerset. My childhood was idyllic, filled with endless summers and warm winter fires. Food straight from the fields and nature all around us. Free and encouraged to dream big and world changing dreams. After completing a Sociology Degree, I dived into the world of publishing and at 21, I was elected as the UK’s youngest District Councillor. I was dedicated to my community and business, but it wasn’t for me. I knew I had something else to give, so I left to nourish my creative soul. Finding my path, firstly as an artist and later joining a design studio in Bristol.

It was over the course of five great years; I got married, birthed two wonderful children, moved house a couple of times and I discovered that activism, equality, justice those were lifeblood’s in me. And they would never go away. Politician of not.

Then I began to repeat my mother, in that way we all do at some point! “Go, be brave”, “yes, you can be that too”, “did you know this company is run by women”, “come look at this cool science experiment”.

Then, after a birthday party last year, I looked at the visual landscape that my children were living in. My liberated, feminist cohort had filled my house that year, with wonderfully generous presents. All purples and pinks, nicely illustrated versions of sexist stories, tea and cake play sets, dresses. I turned to our bookshelves: women getting beaten, traded, subjugated and rescued. It was like the last straw: I wasn’t having it. I went hunting: might girl (http://www.amightygirl.com/) was a powerful resource and now we are fully stocked with wonderful books like tatterhood, not one damsel in distress, ada twist scientist, among lots of other treasures.

Why am I telling you this? Well – I am on the beginning of a journey. My children love science and the fact is there are very few images of girl scientists: so I drew some. My friends saw them and they wanted copies. Then I got really brave and published a calendar; which sold out. So now I am building Dauntless Daughters to reach a bigger audience than just my friends. I want to build a resource area on the website filled with lovely downloads and freebies, I have a shop to sell some goodies so that my children can still have shoes, and lastly – why I am writing to you now I am building a Schools Toolkit with Women’s Ed and Action Aid for international Women’s Day and we are looking for contributors: we are already working with lots of awesome people who are going to share ideas and resources – and if you have a resource to contribute we would love to hear from you. The Toolkit will be hosted in the cloud for all schools and group leaders to use for International Women’s Day. It’s going to be chocked full with ideas and activities.

Help us fill their world with Dauntless.

Be brave. Be bold and live what you love. ­­­

 

Stephanie Green,

Illustrator and founder of Dauntless Daughters.

 

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