Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Projecting Gender?

| 4 Comments

I was having a pleasant conversation yesterday with a semi-stranger but this morning, I found myself reflecting on something she said, and becoming increasingly disturbed by it. She was joking, but it still disturbed me.

She was talking about how her daughter was pretty, and (according to her description) not “into” academia, and so she’d just get her through some form of education and marry her off to some lucky man… But as for her son, she was debating what kind of education he deserved and saving money to be able to send him to study in the US.

The conversation flew by, but now that I think back on it, I wonder if the girl was just terribly unlucky. That because she was prettier than average, she was “categorized” into the bubblehead category, such that her own mother held low expectations of her. Do these things happen? That people expect little intellectual achievement from girls who are pretty, because they don’t “need” it? They’re pretty enough to catch a good man and make him happy … By their “prettiness”? What kind of happiness is that?

Deeply deeply disturbed now.

And wondering about the role education and educators can play in this. Would the girl’s math teachers have seen her as pretty, and assumed she could not possibly be good at math, and so decided not to invest too much effort with her, because, hey, she’s a pretty girl, she probably isn’t good at math, and doesn’t need it anyway?

I am projecting, of course. I don’t know that this happened. I am just wondering about it.

4 Comments

  1. I believe this is a very common way of thinking. It could be due to economics, or work ethic, or cultural / religious expectations… it’s difficult to say. Sometimes, when families cannot afford to educate all of their children to a high standard, they will focus on the oldest boy thinking that he may get a good job / good income, and help with the others. Girls can be married off to high earning men but boys are less likely to have this option.

    Work ethic could also be involved: if people see work as an unpleasant, mercenary activity, then then they may regard girls / women who can escape this to have a comfortable life with a high earning man as a possibly happy outcome. In the Arab world, a lot of families push their boys into medicine or engineering irregardless of their interests or abilities… simply because these are high status, high earning professions that also grant their members reasonable mobility.

    • Ahhh the work ethic part had not crossed my mind! That some people might be thinking of work as an unpleasant burden, such that escaping it is bliss. It’s understandable in this particular case, then! But still problematic 🙂

  2. I agree, it’s a problem when people think ALL work is unpleasant drudgery, best avoided. It becomes a problem of development.

    Consumerism is also destructive, roping people into a cycle of useless production and consumption – for it’s own sake – so when we talk about development, we need to be clear about goals: are we concerned about “quality of life” (however measured) or GDP?

  3. Perfect timing Maha. I’m booked for cancer surgery in my gut this Tuesday and my surgeon is a young attractive blond Polish woman with the same name as my oldest daughter Anna. She seems reserved and serious, like most surgeons, and comes highly recommended by my female GP. There’s a curious tension I feel from Anna’s office like I don’t trust her and I’ve been reminded over and over that she’s competent. Because my medical experiences have been disasters I tend to question everything and this seems to be mistaken as a form of “older male freaks out about female surgeon” when the fact is it’s been male doctors who have consistently brought me to near death (actually to death) by their idiocy.

    I understand a Mom joking about daughter to marry off though she might like to talk to my younger daughter about how being underestimated and “cared for” by foolish males in positions of power really feels. To assign someone to dependency based on their appearance is unforgivable, a form of oppression and a waste of talent. Sometime we don’t have as much choice as we’d like but deserve as much as we can get.

    Working in construction I did some air-conditioning jobs on strip-bars and spent time with the “exotic dancers” who were off work while we worked. These women had problems and most had been raped as girls but they were strong people and some were working through college using their good looks while they lasted. Few parents would wish this “career” on their daughters and lots of people held contempt for what they did but that doesn’t allow people to treat them like objects.

    My doctor’s first name is Wendy and she must be 30 years younger than me. People freak when I tell them her name but she keeps me alive plus she just delivered my friend Jamie’s second son. She probably doesn’t care that her husband is just starting out as a physio-therapist or that they drive an old car and don’t have much money.

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