WILLA Promotes Gender Fairness
By Marcy Rayher
As I drive south on a local freeway, to my right I see a billboard advertising whiskey and featuring the promise of a black velvet clad woman seductively prone; on the billboard to the left lies a woman clad in Hooters shorts and tight top guaranteeing viewers a Hooters experience. A man accused of groping sixteen women is elected governor of California; Déjà Vu (a dance club where women dance nude and perform "lap dances") erects a huge new building just south of my campus -- business must be good. A recent Newsday article explores the "regression of women" as it comments on sexuality's rating more highly than talent among young women entertainers who become dress and role models for young girls; and a New York Times columnist suggests that "Carrie Could Learn From Mary" as she contrasts the substance, professionalism, and work ethic of the heroine of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary Richards, with the male-obsessed, sexually needy women of Sex and The City, some of whom spend more for a pair shoes than vast numbers of people earn in a month.
All the above convince me that the work of WILLA and other feminist groups is far from complete, despite the claims of some of our students that gender balance/gender equity has become a twenty-first century reality. Anna Quindlen, in a recent Newsweek column (October 20, 2003) cites a recent study on the status of women at Duke University in which women students report that "they're expected 'hide their intelligence in order to succeed with male peers.'" The study concludes that "Being cute trumps being smart for women in the social environment." At the October 9-12, 2003 Conference of the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender, Dr. Bonnie M. Orkow of the University of Colorado found in her study of her state legislature that both women and men legislators report gender inequity in the treatment of female legislators, but state that neither the women or the men address the issue directly with each other, rather, the women say, they just work harder and longer. As Quindlen asserts, "the point is not that the world has not changed since Friedan's book [Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, first written in 1963; reissued in paperbook in 2001 with an introduction by Quidlen]. It hasn't changed as much as we like to tell ourselves."
And that's just why our work as WILLA members is so important. Not only must we continue efforts toward gender fairness and equity, we must also assist our students and those around us to deconstruct prevalent cultural myths that undermine feminist efforts as unnecessary or redundant. As Quindlen suggests, we must help others, especially young women, to see feminism, the "belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes," not as the "f' word, but as an ideal. To those ends, WILLA has been active this year. Building on the work of the 1985 and 1975 NCTE Committees on the Status of Women in the Profession, WILLA's revised Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language, also available at http://www.ncte.org/pubs/publish/books/107647.htm forms a center insert for this issue of the WILLA Journal. [Note: The Guidelines are not in this online version of the journal; access the guidelines at the website above.] Knowing that language plays a vital role in the ways we construe the world, create our identity, and view the identities of those around us; recognizing the importance of language choices in advancing fair treatment of girls and women and men and boys, the National Council of Teachers of English, through these guidelines, offers suggestions for the careful selection of gender-fair language and discourse practices that open rather than close possibilities for women and girls and help to promote a more equitable society.
Summer Meeting this past June 12-14 engaged WILLA in additional projects that promote gender fairness. Members have been revising and updating Guidelines for a Gender-Balanced Curriculum in English Language Arts Pre-K to Grade 6 and are at work producing a gender and media pamphlet. WILLA regularly sponsors sessions at the NCTE Conference; the two for this year are Women in Historical Fiction: Readers' Theater (S1.6 Saturday, November 22, 5:45-7:00 p.m.) and ESL/LEP Student Perceptions on Access to Post-Secondary Education: Focus on Gender (D.15 Friday, November 21, 2:30-3:45 p.m.). Do come to the sessions and bring a friend. Stop by the WILLA table in the convention display hall. Encourage your friends and colleagues to become members and to actively participate in WILLA to assist in the important work that remains before us. And clip, use, teach about, copy, and distribute the enclosed Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language as we work together to create a more just and equitable world for all.
Reference Citation: Rayher, Marcy. (2003). "Losing Your Leaves." WILLA, Volume XII, p. 43.