Books, Life, Unschooling

Woman vs Woman

A colleague of mine was due for her yearly student review, at the university where she works. In student reviews, students in your classes complete a questionnaire about your lecturing and teaching, with space for additional comments concerning performance, if required. My colleague was upset, however. Why? A young female student came to her after completing the review, to let her know that she was the one who criticised the lecturer’s dress in additional comments

Now, let me say one thing. Many male lecturers dress casually and no student ever comments on their clothing. Yet, when asked to review a woman lecturer’s lecturing and teaching performance, another woman feels she must comment on dress. And fashion.

Why do women do this to each other? Why are we our own worst enemies?

Recently, researchers in North Carolina in the U.S. ran online courses for students. The lecturers ran one course under their actual names and gender and, simultaneously, the same course under a different name, changing their gender. The results? When students were told the lecturer was male, they rated their lecturer higher in performance rankings. When students were told their lecturers were female, well, the lecturer performance ratings took a dive.

And female students rated female lecturers more harshly.

Now, some have posited that this animosity among women is a natural thing….boys will be boys and women will be haters…to other women. However, it seems to me that it is more learned behaviour than natural behaviour. And thus, if it can be learned, it can also be unlearned.

Unfortunately, as Juliette Frette writes, much of the tension between women, much of the general meanness, concerns looks, weight, beauty. You know, you attend a class and afterwards, over coffee, your female friends around the table start criticising another woman’s body, or fashion choices, or makeup, or…

As though looks define our femininity.

On the other hand, in some circles, it is not our looks that are considered suitable fodder for dissecting and discussing and just general dissing.

No, in other circles, it’s our qualifications, our intellect…we are seen as too smart for our own good, in completing our PhD, or not quite making the grade because our thesis is on women and family related issues.

In still other arenas, it is our mothering style. Having been labelled as unattractive, a poor housekeeper and a poor mother by a woman I admired, I know the hurt that such tensions creates. These are the so-called mommy wars – debates over breastfeeding, working, homeschooling, ways to homeschool (unschooling? School at home? Should her kid start university courses so early?), parenting styles, wifely duties (“Did you hear they split up? He left her. I bet it’s because she was too busy for him/spent too much time on the kids/works/homeschools/you name it”…ignoring the fact that this is private information and, just perhaps, it wasn’t that the husband left her…).

Seriously, this has to stop. Frette lists ways we can change the tensions among women. My stance is to become pro-woman, pro other women. To take the other’s side. To change the topic of conversation. To have a meta-discussion about discussing other women.

To remember, in the words of Harriet Vane, in Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, that we are ‘cursed with both hearts and brains’, with the responsibility of using both wisely; especially in resolving the women vs women debates.

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Books, Life, Unschooling

Promiscuous reading

Author (Paradise Lost) John Milton argued for promiscuous reading.

Now, the word promiscuous has certain connotations in our culture. Yet, promiscuous, removed from sexual connotations, initially implied random, casual, indiscriminate behaviour.

It is the idea of random reading that I am exploring here, under the banner of promiscuous reading. That kind of reading that just happens, casually, because books are strewn around the house. Or on your bedside table. Or on the higgledy-piggledy bookshelves, so that when you go to search for one book, you become lost in a book-savouring haze, and come away with another six books that you want to read and re-read, in addition to the original book for which you were searching.

This is promiscuous reading at I'd like to see you have a little direction.its best. Reading from a variety of books, different genres, unrelated authors, prose, poetry, non-fiction, biography, classics, graphic novels,  apologetics. Whatever it is that strikes your fancy, rather than working through a prescribed booklist.

In some ways, the prescribed booklist limits the experience of reading. It limits the reader’s exploration, and blocks mental conversation with a number of contradicting  ideas. When we read promiscuously, however, we explore a number of ideas, we stretch ourselves mentally, we enter into dialogue with authors, ideas, writing styles; and with others, our colleagues, friends, family. Is Dumbledore right, for example, in asking Snape to kill him, to protect Draco? Does the act of killing affect us, as explored in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment? We make connections with Nietzsche’s discussion of man as a ‘sick animal’ and contrast this with the hope of St John Paul II’s ‘theological anthropology’, viewing humanity as a complex whole, body, soul, heart and conscience, mind and will, with a vocation to love.

These kinds of links are made with promiscuous reading. Indeed, promiscuous reading often manifests itself in ‘having more than one book on the go”. It has been likened to being a ‘book-adulterer’ but I think it has more worth than that.

In my case right now, that means Woman by Edith Stein, The Brokers by John Grisham, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Trials of Theology by Brian Rosner and some Advent/Christmas reading – Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Pope John Paul II and The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read. An eclectic bunch, a promiscuous bunch, with books picked up to read at disparate times, according to mental agility and/or tiredness in the moment. It’s those reading rhythms of life.

Promiscuous reading was something I encouraged in our homeschooling. Strewing books on the table, in baskets, near the computer. Sharing books avidly. Reading picture books and contemporary fiction alongside classics and  books like Supertrucks and The Way Things Work. Coming to realise, as Donnalyn Miller describes in The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child,  ‘that every lesson, conference, response, and assignment I taught must lead students away from me and toward their autonomy as literate people.

Promiscuous strewing and sharing of books can lead to promiscuous readers, whose lives will be made richer through their contact with a range of topics, genres, authors. And I agree with Ms Miller (hers is a great book, by the way, on encouraging reading in children): ‘the purpose of school (I would say education) should not be to prepare students for more school (or only for possible future needs). We should be seeking to have fully engaged students now.’