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Women, Questions and Doritos

justouttheasylum's picture

                                                                                           Asia Gobourne
                                              GNST 290: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender & Sexuality (Web Paper 1)
                                                                          Due: Sunday, September 06, 2009
                                                                         Title: Women, Questions and Doritos

      When my mother learned that she was pregnant, I am fairly certain that my being a triple minority was not in her list of maternal concerns. Not only am I Black and a female but, since my family’s income is below the poverty line, I am also considered poor.  Add to this the fact that I was raised by my young mother alone, my father has been imprisoned for most of my life and I now live with my grandmother because of my mother’s passing and I become a statistic in a number of studies. As soon as my friends learn of my ‘life story’, they impulsively compare it to their own and feel guilty, guilty because they had what I have ‘lacked’.  They should not feel guilty. My life hasn’t been easy but it only differs from theirs in that it was different. It wasn’t more painful, more work, more saddening, more pitiful, it has only been different. Thus, when I reflect on what kind of person I am, I realize that I am respectful of the experiences, struggles and feelings of others and I never trivialize them on the basis that there exist others with more pressing problems. 
    Taking all of this into consideration, my formal education has been, for lack of better words, pretty good. My mother imparted in me the joy of reading, of learning and of discovering. Naturally, after a successful kindergarten experience at a not so successful public school, my teacher (Mrs. Shabazz if you’re curious) suggested I be placed in a lead class, the public school equivalent of a gifted program. From grades 1-5, I entered these smaller classes with kids who were more ‘gifted’ than the rest, entered a gifted program in a public junior high school, and went to a gifted program at a public high school. It wasn’t until high school that I began to question my educational experiences. I realized I was treated as if I was special just because I did well on standardized tests rather early but it wasn’t until high school that I began asking the hard questions. What if my mother was like the mother of so many of my childhood friends, proud their child passed even when it was with a D?  How do we know that the less gifted children wouldn’t benefit from being placed in a gifted program? Who in the hell decided that doing well on spelling tests and not remembering the lyrics from a four minute song indicated that this student was bright?
    Once you begin to think about these hard questions, it’s literally impossible to not reanalyze your life through a variety of lenses. One lens I frequently wore (wear) was the gender lens. In my kindergarten classroom, located in the back corner of the room was the play area. There were building blocks and art supplies but, the most vivid image to me was the kitchen. Yes, a kitchen. A fully decked pretend kitchen with a refrigerator, stove, sink and apron rack and the only children I remember playing in the kitchen with were the girls. We set the table, prepared the food, pretended to eat it, washed the dishes and put them neatly back in the cupboards. Back then, I thought it was good fun but now I have to ask myself why the kitchen was in the classroom in the first place. In a room where boys and girls were to be educated, what I was really learning was that no matter how well I could recite my ABCs, no matter how quickly I could recall my timetables, what I really needed to learn was that I must enjoy the kitchen because it would be my true place for a while to come.
     Teachers and professors were not my sole educators; my family, friends and community are too. As I spoke on the phone with my girls, I learned that I should let my boyfriend be a man. As I walked down the street and listened to the guys I passed shout, “Ay, yo ma, can I holla at you?” I learned that I was someone to nurture and care for men as one does for a hollering infant. When I spoke to my feminist friends, I learned that my mindset was ‘in order’ but my fitted jeans reduced me to appealing body parts and made me feel like I was selling out the sisterhood. How do I live my life in a way that best suits me without making a man feel like less of a man or like more of my child? How do I wear dresses without assimilating to societal norms? How do I make a meal for me and my brother without feeling like I am doing what a good woman should?
    Sometimes, I feel like leaving this planet. I feel like developing the necessary equipment that makes me able to live on a star. I feel like bringing a bag of Doritos with me and orbiting the sun, anything to stop asking these questions. Afterwards, I remember that I’m not ‘that gifted’ and pop my daydream bubble. Instead I remember the sense of fulfillment when I learned something new. And I remember the sense of achievement when I could apply it to existing and developing problems. In respect to my gender, I want my education to be all inclusive because the knowledge that can be used to deal with gender issues today may not deal with them tomorrow. I want my education to force me to reinterpret what I think is right and wrong in a patriarchal society. I want my education to give me the tools to make it possible for women to orbit the sun while eating Doritos in order to escape asking herself the hard questions but only because she wants to for in the long run, I want my education to be able to help her face those questions and help others ask them.

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Anne Dalke's picture

Leaving this planet

are you familiar w/ the large body of feminist science fiction, which "leaves the planet" in order to explore alternative modes of being? You might be interested in Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness, anything by Joanna Russ, or the more recent collection, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by  Alice Sheldon, who wrote as James Tiptree (and lost her capacity to write once her "true" gender was revealed).

You post two hard (and I think related, though you don't relate them) questions here. The first has to do w/ the effects of tracking in schools: what are we teaching children when we designate them as gifted or not? How valid are those hierarchies, and how valuable? (This seems akin to McIntosh's critique of the "broken pyramid.") The other hard question has to do with a (similarly hierarchical) tracking that we call "gender": the social roles that are ascribed to differently sexed bodies, and evoked incisively by your very striking image of the kitchen in the classroom.

So, now that Paul has "suggested" that such a binary can not be "blamed" on biology...wherefrom do you think it comes, and how might we alter it? What new imaginary possibilities does your trip off the planet open up for us...?