Friday, May 6, 2011

Newsletter #00070

May 6-2011

A few weeks ago I wrote an article detailing the sexist nature of the Girls State program, which I attended last summer. Today I got called down to guidance and yelled at. Basically I was coerced into sort of admitting that I had done something wrong by writing this article. I was told that guidance was now doing "damage control" for the "fallout" I had caused with the American Legion Auxiliary and that I needed to apologize to them and stop writing negative things for the Gardner News. Apparently they also complained to Andres Caamano from the newspaper for his role in publishing my article in the voice page.

Well, I'm just not going to be able to take that I'm afraid. Although I was bullied and coerced into agreeing to things I didn't want to agree to in guidance, I'll do whatever the hell I want.

So ladies and gentlemen, for your reading pleasure, I present my article:

Girls State: An Exercise in Politics, or How to Be a Perfect Housewife?

It was about this time last year when I was excitedly planning for Girls’ State. As a self-proclaimed C-SPAN enthusiast, vice president of the debate team, and (hopefully) future politician in the making, Girls State immediately appealed to me. Encouraged to apply by my guidance counselor, I filled out an application, wrote an essay, and was selected to attend. Joining me were two of my best friends. Three of my male friends were to participate in Boys State, the counterpart to our program. For the first time in its history both programs would be held on the same campus on the same week.

Near the end of June, I skipped my last day of school and headed off to Stonehill College in Easton for what I hoped would be an informative and enjoyable week with like-minded, driven females from across the state of Massachusetts.
When my friends and I arrived on the campus, we were sorted into our respective towns. Bearing names like Friendship and Loyalty, I should have known then and there that something was wrong. However, I took things in stride, happy to have been placed in the town of Democracy, the only town whose name didn’t sound like it belonged to a Care Bear.

As the first full day rolled around I felt excited. The main part of the day’s agenda involved splitting up into our respective parties, nominating candidates for various positions, and forming committees. Perhaps naively, I expected those committees to be vaguely similar to those in our actual Congress—i.e. such as the House Committee on Ways and Means, or a committee on Education. Instead, we formed a Song Committee, a Skit Committee, and a Cheer Committee.
Yes, you read that correctly. While our male counterparts were busy debating real issues such as abortion and war, we females were hard at work sharpening up our performing arts skills. There was a fourth committee, the Platform Committee. I chose to join that one with a small group of other ladies, hoping that we at least would be able to accomplish something of substance. Instead, the Powers That Be relegated us to a state of minimal importance, allowing the three other committees to dominate the day’s events.

And the following day’s.

That however, was only the beginning. As the days went on, one of our only actual classes, to be held with Boys State, was cancelled. The reason? We needed more time to work on our (mandatory) Disney themed skits for the talent show at the end of the week. Not to be deterred, I decided to become involved with the Girls State newspaper. Even if I was the only one, I was determined to make something meaningful of the experience. When I asked how to become involved, I was told that I could write a short summary of that day’s events. It would be published at the end of the week in the newspaper. In contrast to this, the Boys State newspaper was published every day, and the boys writing for it were allowed to address real topics, including a discussion of the lively debate on abortion they had had.

Considering that of the current makeup of the U.S. House and Senate, only 17 percent of its legislators are female, while 50 percent of our nation’s population is—after having experienced Girls State, I know why this is true.

Never in my life have I experienced a setting that was more sexist or demeaning than Girls State was. In addition to having spent the entirety of my week being told to sing and cheer while all attempts at addressing real issues were brushed aside, the women of the American Legion Auxiliary spent the majority of our time telling us “not to ruin the boys’ week”, as though it was somehow a privilege that were be allowed to share “their” campus.

For those of you who are uninformed about how the Boys and Girls State programs are run, here is a breakdown. Boys State is run by the American Legion, a group comprised of our nation’s veterans. Girls State is headed up by the American Legion Auxiliary, or, the wives and daughters of our nation’s veterans. While at one point in time, many years ago, this made sense. Women were not allowed to serve in the military. Today however, this is a different story, and yet, this same gender division remains. As long as Girls State and Boys State are run as separate programs, Girls State will continue to be an old-fashioned, sexist program.

I realize that I perhaps sound a little bitter. Let me assure you that I am not alone in my opinions. Many times at Girls State, I had discussions with other girls about this gross injustice. All of us came out of the experience feeling not as though we were prepared to one day lead this great nation, but instead that we had been trained to stand supportive behind the husbands who would take on the role of leading.

In a time in our nation when men and women are supposedly equal, there are still great strides that need to be taken. The issue of sexism is one that is still prominent in our country today, and it is one that needs to be addressed at its roots.
Before attending Girls State, I hoped that it would be an experience I would carry with me forever. I suppose this is why they say “be careful what you wish for”, because, in the end, you might get exactly that.

1 comment:

  1. Kasey … Great article on capturing an early ‘defining experience’. Defining experiences … are seldom pleasant or easy. I understand these experiences to be the character defining moments that serve to ignite passions within and get revisited to continue fueling motivation you need to take action in the future. The paradox is that these experiences are a gift to potential change agents like yourself. It appears to take several of these types of experiences, each with bigger stakes and broader injustices to provide the strength to change agents to take on the big issues that count. So find a way to channel how you channel this and …get ready to welcome the inevitable sequence of further ‘defining experiences’ ahead. ! … I look forward to reading further how you deal with them ! KM.