“I’m looking for a book for my 12-year-old daughter. She likes dystopic fiction,” I said not too long ago to the clerk in a children’s bookstore. As her eyes began to scan the wall of Teen Fiction, I added, “With people of color as the protagonists.”
“I feel you,” sympathized the clerk, who was also a woman of color.
In my last post, I explained my love for the new anthology Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Using personal narratives, empirical studies, and scholarly essays, over 40 different authors discuss the challenges faced by academic women of color in higher education. I emailed with Seattle University School of Law Professor Carmen G. Gonzalez about what it's like to put together such a meaty and long-overdue book.
How did the idea for this book come about?
CARMEN G. GONZALEZ: As women of color who have managed to survive and thrive in academia despite formidable obstacles, we (the co-editors of Presumed Incompetent) felt a need and a responsibility to create a public dialogue about the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of workplace bias women of color experience.
Last week's episode of Parks and Recreation, "Women in Garbage", is fairly unique then, in showing women at work in a male-dominated career: takin' out the city's trash. In their own hilarious way, Parks & Rec focused on the fraught fight that needs to happen in order to undo a city's institutional sexism. In the episode, City Commissioner Leslie (Amy Poehler) discovers that very few women occupy jobs in Pawnee's public sector. She attempts to create a gender equality commission, but finds she's presiding over an all-male group—in April's (Aubrey Plaza) words, a "sausagefest."
I had felt unsafe in that space. The night had represented every micro aggression I'd ever experienced from straight people: cab drivers that kicked me out in the middle of the night because they wouldn't tolerate "that" at the back of their cabs, store managers who kept insisting I'd find better clothing in the women's section, every gay boy that looked me up and down with disdain because I wasn't conforming to their inherited fucked up view on what a woman should look like or wear to be "fabulous," straight women who blatantly ignored me because I didn't fit in the coop, and femme girls that ranted on and on about masculine privilege, but hardly ever acknowledged that their pretty privilege made their worlds so much bigger than mine. That my girl could mindlessly shimmy onto a dance floor even as a gay woman and enjoy the simple pleasure of a dance, go out with her straight friends to bars and not be stared at or called names, etc., while everything about the landscape, from the "Ladies free before 11PM" sign to the man-woman dance partner pairings made me so angry all of a sudden. And, I didn't know how to handle it.
From he-waxing to "gender-reveal" parties, we've covered a lot of ground in the past two months. Despite the ever-growing "hip factor" of gender neutrality, there's evidence of a powerful backlash. But alongside the media missteps and the horrors of transphobia, we've seen some binary-bustin' events happen around the world.
There's been a lot of discussion about the gender pay gap. But there are some jobs that pay women many more pennies than 77 cents to the dollar. Among them: Shoe Shiner, Butler, Secretary, and Computer Repair Technician.
Women who bring home the bacon: Hot or not? The research is mixed. Some guys say, "Yes, please help me through this 'Mancession.'" Others say, "Me, GUY. You LADY. HULK SMASH." (Translation: Please, let's just keep participating in Patriarchy, it's fine just the way it's always been. Let me hold that door open for you, girl.)
We’re elaborately taught how to relate to ourselves as gendered beings. It’s been a long time that people have been building on the critical observation that there’s no natural connection between pink/girl or boy/blue, yet kids continue to be the targets of aggressive marketing that creates profitable niche interests—a collection of stereotypes from which gender binarized consumers are “free” to choose—and of subtler gender conditioning (as my friend Ember is finding out, swaddled babies, though indistinguishable, are praised as pretty or strongdepending on how parents advertise their sex). I’ve mentioned how a lot of kids are skipping the closet and, consequently, finding themselves at the forefront of advocating respect toward sexual difference. What about trans youth? There’s been increasing attention to “gender creative” or “gender independent” kids as social space opens up in which to discuss, rather than repress, their behavior. Could these terms reflect a reluctance to apply the concept of transgender to youth of a certain age because of its association with sexual identity (I am thinking specifically here of the historical, medical roots of trans-related descriptors in the West that have stemmed from the word "transsexualism" coined as "transsexualismus" in the early 1900s by Magnus Hirschfeld and later "trans-sexual" by Harry Benjamin in the 1960s)? Conversely, does the usage of the trans label problematically continue to lump the T in with the LGB? (Not that the B gets much visibility, either).
In my last post, I took a look at the book Asperger's and Girls, a collection of essays that attempt to address the needs and concerns about girls with Asperger syndrome. I found the book to be a disappointment overall, but one chapter in particular stands out as especially heinous. In "Girl to Girl: Advice on Friendship, Bullying, and Fitting In," Lisa Iland, a non-autistic young woman with a sibling on the spectrum, dishes out "practical advice on dealing with the 'popularity hierarchy' and 'levels of relationship'; how to make yourself likeable; using MTV to your advantage; combating bullies; the positive role of gossip; and more."
Wait, MTV? Really? This book was published in 2006. Although it's true: when I read this chapter to myself I can't help but hear Quinn Morgendorffer's voice in my head.