Category Archives: gender equality

Who Cares

I had never unfriended anyone on Facebook for stating an opinion different from my own. Opinions provide the foundation of my country, and I’m a big fan of free expression in the marketplace of ideas. Until recently, the only folks I unfriended were using Facebook as a dating app, and I’m not interested in dating (happily married, thanks anyway). But around a month before the presidential election, I unfriended someone due to two words. His post stopped me in my tracks: “Who cares if women are being groped.”  He went on to state that other issues were more important. So he and I were gearing up to cast our votes in opposite directions. Although I truly believe his vote was a terrible mistake, that wasn’t my problem. My problem was the first two words: Who Cares.

I wish I understood. Does he not care if women (or men) are sexually assaulted? Does he not care if someone brags about sexually assaulting women, and then cheerfully (or obnoxiously) goes on to become the leader of the free world?  Does he not care about opinions that challenge his own convictions? I’d like to understand exactly what he doesn’t care about, and why. Most of all, I’d like to understand what it would take for him to care.

I’ve heard many people under many circumstances dismiss assaultive behavior with a Who Cares approach. “It happened so long ago.” ”We were only kids” (or teenagers or adults). “These things happen all the time.” “It only happened once” (or four or thirteen times). “It was just talk.” “It was just a text.” “It was just sex.” “It’s not a big deal.”

But actually, it is a big deal.

As I write this piece, the United States of America is anything but united.  In fact, we’re dangerously divided. I see neighbors, friends, families, communities turning against each other. I don’t know how the Un-United States will climb out of this mess, but perhaps my Facebook-ex-friend holds the key.  I don’t know whether care is enough to cement our country’s foundation. But I do know that as long as we don’t care if women are being groped, we don’t stand a chance.

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Amy Kaufman Burk is an author and blogger. She has published two novels: Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school — Tightwire, which follows a fictional psychology intern through her first year of training. Both novels have a strong female protagonist, and include sexual assault and healing as a subplot. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including gender equality, LGBTQ+ ally support, parenting and a Rolling Stones Concert. Click on the link below to visit Amy’s Author Page.

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under gender equality, hate speech, resistance, sexual equality, Uncategorized

Reach The Top

I can’t remember Laverne’s face, only her legs. But that makes sense, because standing tall, I came up to her knees. I was two years old and I adored my preschool teacher. Under her guidance, my entire class aspired to greatness, which we defined as climbing to the top of the jungle gym. One by one, the other kids triumphed. Finally, I was the only child who hadn’t summited.

Every day, I arrived at school and gazed at that jungle gym — majestic and imposing, beckoning and terrifying. The bars towered enormous, a soaring five feet tall. I felt a powerful need to climb. But every time I stepped toward the challenge, my fear steered me back to the safety of the swings. One morning, Laverne found me at the base of the grand structure, staring up. I was verbal for my age, so she knelt next to me and asked what was holding me back.

“It’s too big.”

“Are you scared?”

“Very scared.”

“Well, here’s an idea.” Laverne spoke slowly, giving me time to keep up. “You can be scared without being brave, but you can’t be brave without being scared.”

I replayed her words in my head several times. After a minute, I nodded. “I’m ready to be scared and brave, not just scared.”  I stepped forward, then hesitated.

Laverne took my hand. “Let’s do it together.”

I remember the next few minutes as a series of disjointed freeze frames —  the cold against my hands as I gripped the bars, the strain as I pulled myself upward. A part of my memory confused me for a long time: a crystal clear view of a smooth, medium brown surface, under a lattice of white. I couldn’t make sense of it until I realized that as I climbed, Laverne climbed next to me. When I looked at her for a shot of courage, I was looking at her brown legs under white fishnet stockings.

My next memory is the sound of my classmates cheering. I turned my head slowly, astonished at the splendor of the view. I saw a red ball behind a shed, a white sock in a pile of leaves, a spiderweb in a nearby tree. I beamed at the sweeping panorama brimming with hidden treasures. The moment was fine and at two years old, I was changed forever.

To this day, I always feel a warm confidence when I think of jungle gyms, spiderwebs and fishnet stockings. Although I didn’t have the language to frame the feelings when I was two years old, I understood on a visceral level the value of fear as an essential part of courage. I experienced first-hand how a great teacher can bring students to heights they never thought possible. In a place too deep for words, I knew that when a girl reaches the top of her world, she’ll never be the same.

 

Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay teens bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade. Her second novel, Tightwire, continues to follow Caroline, as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+ and a Rolling Stones concert. Amy also collaborates with educators who use her novels in their curriculum. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under Education, gender equality, girl power, great teachers, preschool

Raising Gender Equality

When my daughter was in second grade, the girls in her class became fascinated by the television show America’s Next Top Model (ANTM). Play-dates, sleepovers and birthday parties were scheduled around the show. Hallways were converted into faux runways, and party bags contained lipstick and eye-liner.

ANTM was created by Tyra Banks, a wildly successful supermodel who hosts a competition for aspiring models. When my daughter first told me about the show, I watched Top Model on my own, to check it out. I expected to hate it with 100% fervor, certain that every feminist fiber in my body would break out in hives. But as the episodes unfolded, my reaction was mixed.

Top Model contestants live together for months, in close quarters. As the competition progressed, personalities revealed themselves. Some stepped forward as fine people, but not all. A significant number reverted to school-yard bullying, shamelessly ganging up on each other. Some dropped homophobic and transphobic remarks. Several tossed out snarky comments about their competitors’ weight and appearance.

But Tyra Banks took me by surprise. She defended interesting, off-the-beaten-path features, including larger sized models. She encouraged viewers to broaden their definitions of beauty. She treated all racial heritages as equally attractive. She was outspoken, supporting the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Tyra Banks was articulate, lightning-intelligent, and a stunningly effective teacher when she coached her contestants in technique.

Although I respected Tyra Banks’ talent, I found many values of the modeling industry outright harmful. I have three children – two sons, and one daughter. As a mother of both male and female kids, I’ve experienced the cultural values regarding gender that continuously smack my kids in the face. It begins on Day One. When my boys were infants, strangers looked at my slumbering, 8-pound puppies, and pronounced them “strong and smart”; with my daughter, strangers called her “pretty”. Gender stereotypes are alive and well.

My husband and I talked through our choices, figuring out how to handle our ANTM dilemma.

Option #1: Our daughter could watch the show, with no guidance — which was the choice of many other parents, and which we rejected immediately.

Option #2: We could outlaw the show — but with all the other girls entranced, we felt our daughter would become drawn to Top Model like forbidden fruit, sneaking behind our backs, and unable to turn to us for help with the values because she would have to blow her cover.

We decided on Option #3: Our daughter could watch ANTM, but one of us had to watch with her. As overt or covert messages emerged, we’d be there to offer alternative perspectives.

A few friends thought we were making a huge mistake, arguing that seven-years-old was too young, too impressionable. I agreed with the too-young-too-impressionable part, but not with the huge mistake part. Gender stereotypes crop up all over our culture. That’s the reality. Would I have preferred that my daughter didn’t encounter these values until much later (or not at all)? Of course. But that piece was out of my control. Her classroom was filled with ANTM acolytes, and we had to deal with it.

So we watched the show, as a family, with a running commentary. My sons and daughter learned to identify comments that reflected assumptions about females, about physical appearance, about bigotry. We talked about the pressure to be thin, a value already emerging in some second grade girls who worried about being “fat”. We discussed our culture’s hyper-emphasis on beauty. We also gave kudos to Tyra for her progressive approach to defining attractiveness, for her support of racial equality and LGBTQ rights, and for her “mad skills” (sic my oldest son) as a teacher.

Around her tenth birthday, my daughter lost interest in Top Model. But something had taken root in the course of watching that show: my daughter and her two older brothers — ages 10, 12 and 15 — all began calling themselves “feminists”. And they still do.

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Amy Kaufman Burk is a novelist, blogger and mother of three grown children. Amy wrote her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a rookie psychology intern through her first year of training. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+ ally support, gender equality and a Rolling Stones concert. Amy also collaborates with educators who include her books in their curriculum. 

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Amy-Kaufman-Burk/e/B00R0S66Y4

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Filed under gender equality, parenting, Uncategorized