Wednesday, March 26th, 2014
A family in Lynchburg, Va., decided to take their daughter out of a private Christian school and placed her in public school after the school’s principal sent a letter home suggesting the eight-year-old wasn’t “following suit with her God-ordained identity.” The little girl, Sunnie, enjoys “boy hobbies” as well as “girl hobbies,” according to her great-grandmother and legal guardian. The school argued that she didn’t live a “biblical lifestyle” but her great-grandmother said she’s too young to understand “questions of sexual orientation.” More from Time.com:
The family of an eight-year-old girl in Lynchburg, Va. has withdrawn her from a Christian school after administrators told her she wasn’t feminine enough.
Sunnie Kahle enjoys what are traditionally considered “boy hobbies” as well as “girl hobbies”, reports CBS affiliate WDBJ. She collects coins, hunting knives and baseballs along with stuffed animals and colorful bracelets.
“Sunnie realizes she’s a female, but she wants to do boy things,” Doris Thompson, Kahle’s great-grandmother and legal guardian told WDBJ. “She wants to play rough and tough.”
When Kahle turned five, she asked for a short haircut. “She had hair down to her waist and she wanted to give it to a child with cancer,” said Thompson. “After we cut her hair she started wanting to wear jeans and a t-shirt. She didn’t want to wear her frilly dresses anymore.” Classmates began to ask Kahle if she was a boy or a girl, and Kahle says she responded to questions politely and was not offended by them.
But the question did bother her school’s administration. Becky Bowman, principal of the Timberlake Christian School, sent Kahle home with a letter in February reminding Thompson that the school had religious affiliations and maintained the right to refuse a student who didn’t live a “biblical lifestyle.”
“We believe that unless Sunnie and her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education,” Bowman wrote in the letter, which was given to WDBJ7 by Thompson.
Thompson was offended by the letter. She argues that Kahle is a tomboy and that she’s too young to understand questions of sexual orientation. “To claim that we are condoning sexual immorality in our home is nonsense,” Thompson said. “We are Christians. We understand the Bible. Sunnie knows it very well. She has accepted Christ…If my child grows up to be homosexual or transgendered, I will love her that much more.”
Thompson removed Kahle from the school and placed her in public school instead. Timberlake Christian School responded to original reports about Kahle’s relocation in a statement on Tuesday afternoon:
There is much more to this story than has been revealed related to Sunnie and the classroom environment. Our documentation shows a significantly different narrative than the one portrayed in the original news report. You can be assured that we have cared for Sunnie and worked with her grandparents for several years to assist them. Our TCS teachers and administrators love Sunnie and we can assure everyone that this has never been an issue of hair length or boots as it has been portrayed. It has been our constant desire over the last several years to work with this family and to shepherd this precious little girl in a way consistent with traditional values.
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Image: Baby is born Boy or girl? via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
As the holiday shopping season heats up, so does the debate over GoldieBlox, the toy marketed to girls and promising to encourage them to develop “STEM,” or “science, technology, engineering, math” interests in girls. The public conversation about the toy, which some parents love but others say are neither gender neutral nor imagination-inspiring, is bringing to center stage a decades-old debate over how girls learn, play–and are marketed to. Time.com has more:
This earnest educational toy might have gone unnoticed amidst the babies and Barbies if it weren’t for a hit viral video ad campaign showing little girls getting bored with a princess show and leaping up to create a giant Rube Goldberg machine out of toys.
The ad — which earned over eight million views on YouTube before a new version was posted due to a legal dispute over music use — has reignited a simmering debate: are playthings that encourage girls to become moms and beauty queens to blame for the dearth of women in the sciences? And if that’s true, what’s the best way to create toys that encourage girls to develop engineering and science skills? Some think building toys appealing directly to girls like GoldieBlox is the answer, while others want a more gender-neutral approach. And there are those who want to blow up the current pink-and-blue aisle segregation of toys altogether.
Most experts agree that the pink aisle does have a negative impact on girls’ interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. “Wanting to be a doctor or architect or cook, that really begins when you’re young and walking around with a stethoscope or playing with an Easy Bake oven,” says Richard Gottlieb, CEO of toy industry consulting firm Global Toy Experts.
Gender identification begins around preschool, when children’s brains are most susceptible to definitions of gender according to Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist and the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain. And when youngsters enter the aisle labeled for girls, the only STEM options they’re really offered are chemistry sets that help create makeup or building blocks to construct pet grooming shops. (By contrast, boys’ chemistry kits usually allow them to create anything from icky goo to things that blow up to food.)
By the time kids reach third grade, there’s a real divide between boys and girls when it comes to STEM-related ambitions. A 2009 poll by the American Society for Quality of children 8 to 17, 24 percent of boys said they were interested in a career engineering, but only five percent of girls said the same. And that gap continues with adults: Just 11% of engineers are women—a fact that GoldieBlox’s creators note prominently on their site—and only about a quarter of STEM degrees go to women and it’s not about aptitude. Several international studies have shown that the gender difference in math and science are a by-product of culture, not biology. But quantifying cultural influences is complicated. The United States has one of the biggest gender gaps in math and science scores, but it’s impossible to know how much of an effect changing the toy aisles would have. In parts of Asia for example, there are plenty of dolls in the stores, but there’s a much smaller math gender gap for a host of other cultural reasons, like a better gender balance of teachers in schools.
We do know however that in the U.S. the pink aisle has gotten much more pink over the years. Global Toy Experts conducted a survey of 1,700 American moms three years ago asking them to compare the toys they played with growing up to those that their daughters were playing with today. They found a 25 percent drop across the board in girls playing with toys that would be considered gender-neutral or male (like construction or science kit toys).
True, as toy stores have gotten pinker, women have made more progress in the workplace. All those cute little vacuum cleaners and mini baby bottles haven’t discouraged girls from going to college or excelling in academic fields other than science. Women make up the majority of undergrads and are entering law school in equal numbers to men. So it’s clear that gendered toys aren’t entirely to blame for the dearth of female engineers—a myriad of reasons from lack or mentors to childhood development contribute as well.
But the lack of STEM role models for young girls in popular culture is something that experts say is an issue when it comes to changing girls’ attitudes toward math and science careers in the first place.
“There’s Bob the Builder, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Jimmy Neutron—they’re all boys with IQs off the chart. That’s intimidating for all kids, but particularly for girls who suffer from this thing called math anxiety where they have really, really high standards for themselves when it comes to math,” says Debbie Sterling, creator of GoldieBlox who thought of the toy after graduating from Stanford, frustrated with how few women there were in her chemical engineering program there. “If they don’t get an A+ on something, then they think they’re just naturally not inclined or born with it.”
Sterling’s solution to this problem was to create a toy designed for the way girls think. Goldie is a female role model who neither fit the born-genius trope (Goldie makes mistakes and learns from them) nor the nerdy anti-social brunette girl with glasses—a stereotypical character found in many kids’ shows. (Think Velma from Scooby Doo or Gretchen from Recess.) Another set of Stanford grads has also gone that route. Their invention, Roominate, offers girls the experience of building a working circuited dollhouse in pastel colors.
But why make science and engineering toys girly at all? Why not just make all of them gender neutral? “I love the GolideBlox toys. I think they’re really smart,” says Elizabeth Sweet, a doctoral candidate at the University of California Davis, who has studied gender coding in toys. “But I think that by sort of highlighting and simplifying the differences between boys and girls, these things may have the unintended effect of further reinforcing the stereotypes that girls are inherently less capable and need extra stimulation.”
Image: Girl, via Shutterstock
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Friday, January 25th, 2013
Fathers who are egalitarian in their attitudes toward gender roles may raise daughters who have higher career ambitions than those with more gender-traditional dads. More from LiveScience.com:
The research is correlational, so it doesn’t prove that fathers’ attitudes are the cause their young daughters’ work aspirations. But the research may suggest that girls look to their fathers for examples of what is expected of women. Dads’ attitudes also predict what kind of play their daughters enjoy.
“Dads who are more balanced have girls who are just as likely to play with Transformers as Barbie dolls,” study researcher Toni Schmader, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia said here Friday (Jan. 18) at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
Image: Father and daughter baking, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
Girls as young as 6 years old show self-sexualizing attitudes that suggest they identify themselves in terms of “sexiness,” a new study published in the journal Sex Roles has found. From MSNBC.com:
Psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., used paper dolls to assess self-sexualization in 6- to 9-year-old girls. Sixty girls were shown two dolls, one dressed in tight and revealing “sexy” clothes and the other wearing a trendy but covered-up, loose outfit.
Using a different set of dolls for each question, the researchers then asked each girl to choose the doll that: looked like herself, looked how she wanted to look, was the popular girl in school, she wanted to play with.
Across-the-board, girls chose the “sexy” doll most often. The results were significant in two categories: 68 percent of the girls said the doll looked how she wanted to look, and 72 percent said she was more popular than the non-sexy doll.
“It’s very possible that girls wanted to look like the sexy doll because they believe sexiness leads to popularity, which comes with many social advantages,” explained lead researcher Christy Starr, who was particularly surprised at how many 6- to 7-year-old girls chose the sexualized doll as their ideal self.
Image: Girl playing dress-up, via Shutterstock.
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