Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Schools For "Children": On Framing (or Not) Gender Issues

My short post from the other day inspired several interesting comments regarding the alienation and frustration that many feel upon hearing the so-called "generic he" in reference to both men and women. In reading these comments, I was then inspired to comment upon writer Lilian Nattel's observation whilst doing research for her (excellent) book The River Midnight:

"I'd read about 'children' only to discover what was meant was boys. I had to dig for girls and women's history and have been digging ever since."

I was going to reply in the comment section, but thought a response deserved a post of its own as I was reminded of a recent article in Time about US soldiers' noble attempts to keep "schools for children" open and running in Afghanistan. I inferred from the context of this article that "schools for children" mostly meant schools for boys, as the article began:

"The Pir Mohammed School was built by Canadians in 2005, in Senjaray, a town just outside the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. It is said that 3,000 students attended, including some girls- although that seems a bit of a stretch, given the size and rudimentary nature of the campus."

At no point does the article address or further comment upon the "including some girls" bit. At no point is the implied gender disparity Worth Elaborating Upon. Students, here, are boys. And, also, "some girls." I single out Time because it was the most recent example I've run across, but oftentimes, we get lines like the following in well-intentioned articles about Educating The Children of the Middle-East:

"As of 2003, 46 percent of Afghan children — and 60 percent of Afghan girls — between the ages of 7 and 13 were not attending school.

While this article admirably adds some commentary about the Taliban's gender repression, even here it is not clear whether Afghan girls are presented as a sub-set of the group "children" or as their own othered category, distinct from the category of "children."

Oftentimes, when articles discuss "peoples," "citizens," and "children,"- especially when these beings inhabit repressive, fundamentalist worlds- an additional layer of translation must occur as it is implied that the humans being discussed within those categories are men and/or boys only. Any gender disparity that even gets to the level of being noted, is often nothing more than a brief, unremarked-upon observation within an article that then goes on to discuss More Important Things, of course, from a non-gendered lens.

Yet, I am confident I am not alone in wanting more details about gender disparities and, for instance in the case of Afghan school children, how the US military responds to these disparities. Do military efforts replicate these disparities, or seek to eradicate them? Non-feminists and anti-feminists particularly love to inform Western Feminists that we are not doing enough to save Muslim and Middle-Eastern women, but do these issues belong to feminists, and feminists alone, to solve because they (supposedly) fall under the rubric of "gender issues"?

I doubt there are easy answers to these questions. What I do know is that, without feminism, the non-feminist mainstream media too often fails to inspire us to even ask these questions.

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