Anyone articulate why I don't like this?

(30 Posts)
madwomanintheattic Tue 06-Nov-12 23:57:36

Just had an email from school letting me know that the grade fours are participating in two externally facilitated programmes - 'boy's council' and 'girl's circle'.

My teeth were itching at quite why the boys needed a council, and the girls got a circle, but I clicked on the link about these programmes, and it appears to be a whole industry here

I assume this is all for the best of intentions, but I am still uncomfortable that an organization supposed to be about breaking down gendered stereotypes uses 'council' and 'circle' in a gender exclusive manner (and that apparently the girls need friendship training, to prevent peer feuds).

Someone please have a rational look at this, and persuade me I'm overreacting. And it's All Good. It must be, right?

madwomanintheattic Wed 07-Nov-12 00:00:52

Oh, it's okay, the girls do poetry and journaling, and crafts, and dance. hmm

Bue Wed 07-Nov-12 00:27:56

I found their explanation buried at the bottom of the FAQ page. In the last paragraph they address your exact concerns.

^Why the name "Council" instead of "Circle" for boys?
We surveyed groups of adolescent boys about different names for this model. They responded with a clear preference for the word "Council", and we went with that preference.

In both Girls Circle and in The Council we use the "Council Format" during an important Check In step each session, a practice traditionally utilized by indigenous groups to express themselves, listen to one another and relate in a social group.
In both models, the participants sit in circle together, and hold activities often in or around the circle.

Both words are sacred and central to the purpose of both models, and often used interchangeably. Having said that, we recognize and respect the view and concern that using "The Council" could connote decision-making, while "circle" does not, and thus we could be reinforcing the unhealthy masculinity belief that decision-making is a role for men and boys, not women and girls. Respectfully, we understand that view point and certainly intend to challenge any such detrimental beliefs. Our experience has shown that boys who participate in The Council broaden their definitions about gender roles for males and females and are supported or learn to step back from the need to take control over others, and instead to give respect to other voices different from their own.^

I see your issue, I totally get it, but I would try to let it go. I strongly feel that both boys and girls need some gender-specific spaces - if done right, this program might be A Good Thing.

sashh Wed 07-Nov-12 01:26:41

Just had a look at their mission statement.

The Council recognizes boys' strengths and capacities, challenges myths and stereotypes, questions unsafe attitudes about masculinity, and encourages solidarity through personal and collective responsibility.

Our goal is to create safe, culturally competent and trauma-informed environments to honor girls’ development and to enhance girls' abilities so they are able to take full advantage of their talents, academic interests, career pursuits, and potential for healthy relationships

So boys have stregnths, girls need development.

StarsGhostTail Wed 07-Nov-12 01:36:12

Oh Fuck, thats a lesson I'd have spent in the corridor for giggling.

Seriously DD1 say's they have done some body image stuff and she says all it's done is harm.

If you make girls think about their body image they focus on the negative, regardless of what is being taught.

madwomanintheattic Wed 07-Nov-12 03:38:06

Why not girls' council then? That FAQ answers why from a masc pov, but doesn't address why circle was needed for the girls... Call 'em both councils.

I'm uneasy. I really want this to be a good thing. Going to have to read the website more, I think. Thanks for comments. I love the idea, but am concerned about the connotations for such a supposed right on movement...

EmmelineGoulden Wed 07-Nov-12 11:23:13

It's also telling that it's Girls circle but The council. More male as the norm thinking.

Looking at the website they don't seem to say what the programs are based on, but from the wording I would guess they are based on Native American cultures which tended to have quite stronly gendered roles but power distribution that was not entirely one sided and included a lot of respect for traditionally female work.

The Tides Foundation which the group came out of is a very progressive organization and I couldn't see them supporting something that was intentionally trying to promote boys as inherently more suited to leadership and decision making than girls. But that doesn't mean they don't make mistakes.

I do agree that some single gender space can very valuable in a very sexist society. It can be difficult to know if the language they are choosing to use on the website is an indication of their actual practice or chosen to make them appear less alien and more appealing to their target groups. It sounds like they started of as Girls circle, added in Boys circles and then changed the Boys circle name because it ddn't sit well with their target (marginalized boys), it could be that Council won't sit well with marginalized girls too.

Agree that single gender space is a powerful thing. I would also be very uneasy about the names, and spitting at the total bollocks of the explanation.

"thus we could be reinforcing the unhealthy masculinity belief that decision-making is a role for men and boys, not women and girls. Respectfully, we understand that view point and certainly intend to challenge any such detrimental beliefs."

Reads to me like they know it will reinforce patriarchal superiority, but have no intention to change it. The first step they could have taken to challenge it would be to call both groups the same thing.

KRITIQ Wed 07-Nov-12 12:14:38

Is there a link to their website somewhere apologies if it's already been posted but having stayed up too late last night following US election results, my eyes aren't focussing too well.

I'm aware there are lots of different programmes that are supposed to encourage things like self-esteem, teamwork, self respect and respect for others, leadership, etc., but they're not all the same. Some are great, address privilege and oppression pretty clearly in an age and stage appropriate way, have the evidence to show they make a difference. Others are a bit weedy and ineffectual. Some are downright dodgy and worrisome. I'm a bit of a "watchdog" on these, so curious to know more.

So often messages that are sexist, racist, disablist, homophobic, etc. can be quite subtle, because these are pretty institutionalised. That doesn't mean they don't have an impact, or don't at least reinforce the bias that's already there. Things like calling the boy's group "The Council," and the girls group "A Circle," might just sound like unimportant linguistic contortions, but they DO percolate through on some level, can reinforce beliefs that might already be there about the relative importance of males over females. Stuff like this actually is quite important.

EmmelineGoulden Wed 07-Nov-12 13:48:58

KRITIQ it's in the OP, but easy to miss - One Circle Foundation

madwomanintheattic Wed 07-Nov-12 14:08:17

Mmm, apparently they have the first session today, so I will wait and see what dd2 returns with. It looks as though the 'circle' is being facilitated by the YWCA, and the 'council' by 'right from the start', which is a local promoter of children's mental health, I think.

Emmeline, that was kind of my quandary, I think. Was the language chosen so as not to alienate the target audience, but serves to reinforce the status quo as a result? So, good (and deliberate) intention, but a bit of a misfire? I guess it depends on content...

I gave up and went to bed once the winner was announced, kritiq, but I did not want to get up this morning!

EmmelineGoulden Wed 07-Nov-12 14:21:21

It's difficult madwoman, lots of otherwise worthy non-profit programs in the US seem to suffer from this - I suspect what's needed is to integrate Intersectionality into progressive thinking. But as with everything and despite some visible exceptions, the progressive movement is still generally white, middleclass male lead.

summerflower Wed 07-Nov-12 14:38:37

I've looked at the website quickly and I can't find anything which explicitly says that the organisation is about breaking down gender stereotypes - maybe I missed this.

Looking at the website, it seems to me that it reinforces gender stereotypes. Girls get relationships, body image, my family - myself, self-care and so on. Boys get leading discussions, teambuilding, survival skills, and creative activities etc. The girls blurb talks about relationships, the boys blurb talks about power.

I'd be really uneasy about this being introduced in DD's school, in fact, knowing me, I'd probably complain. On one hand, I think it is important to recognise that girls and boys face different challenges and social expectations and discuss these, but this course seems to reinforce those differences, rather than look at ways both boys and girls can overcome them.

I totally get the argument about a separate space for girls, but I'm not sure this is the way to do it.

TheSmallClanger Wed 07-Nov-12 16:51:16

It all sounds very odd and rather cringeworthy tbh. Do you have to pay for it?

madwomanintheattic Wed 07-Nov-12 17:58:23

No - I'm guessing it's a pshe type thingy...

Xenia Wed 07-Nov-12 18:15:34

All very sexist.

Also should it not be "girls' circle" not girls circle in terms of grammar - possessive apostrophes etc.

Also their site says deductable. I thought it was deductible.

They do not sound too intelligent although I realise they are American

FAQs should not be written FAQ's - as not possessive and no missing word

"FAQs On Creating a Girls Circle or Council for Boys and Young Men" - so girls have just a circle and are called girls whereas boys get elevated to young men at some stage.

"...How many youth should I have in my Circle or Council and what should the age range be?"

Perhaps we should offer then English lessons.

LurcioLovesFrankie Wed 07-Nov-12 18:32:37

Reminds me of the Simpsons episode where they introduce separate maths lessons for boys and girls, and Lisa finds herself in a lesson where the girls are all expected to sit around talkng about which numbers evoke particular feelings in them.

Woozley Wed 07-Nov-12 18:34:10

Girls need pwotecting because they are so fwuffy.

madwomanintheattic Wed 07-Nov-12 18:43:27

Oh god, lurcio, I have never seen a full episode of the Simpsons but it is exactly that. I may have to YouTube.

KRITIQ Wed 07-Nov-12 18:48:17

Thanks for the link. I'll have a peek later. Can I be even more nosy and ask roughly where in the country (or world) you are OP? Thanks! smile

Xenia Wed 07-Nov-12 18:49:58

It sounds like it's in the land of the so called free where more people believe that man is 5000 years old only than don't and they are happy to shoot to kill abroad without trial.

AbigailAdams Wed 07-Nov-12 19:27:35

"prevent peer feuds"????? Wtaf? Not sure what on earth they are implying there. Girls need to be "nice"? Girls are "bitchy"? Do boys not have these issues? Very sexist.

And as for boys discussing doing things and girls discussing what they look like, nothing like supporting the objectification of women. Agree with StarGhostTail. Talking about body issues promotes body issues.

And surely boys need to talk about relationships/families just as much as girls (if not more) given the levels of DV and sexual assault, 1 in 20 young men saying they would have sex with a sleeping woman, the increase of men killing their (ex)partners. It is not up to women to maintain relationships.

Pretty shocking on many levels including the wording.

madwomanintheattic Wed 07-Nov-12 19:47:35

Alberta (but deffo not the oil sands bit wink) - I live in lentil weaver central, in a wildlife corridor, in probably the most woo town on the planet. Yoga is practically compulsory. Sorry to disappoint, Xenia.

We are very close to First Nations communities, so I can see the political appeal of using a circle/council format, although I'm not sure that's deliberate. I'm not sure if the school on the reserve runs the same programme (notwithstanding obvious questions regarding first nations rights and segregation, which is a separate issue). I am just uncomfortable that it might be reinforcing subconsciously what it was supposed to be (apparently - although now i'm second-guessing myself, summerflower, i was certain i had seen that written on the blurb somewhere) concerned with breaking down...

Yy, the 'peer feuds' thing was grindingly poor. Girls are biatches, no doubt...

KRITIQ Wed 07-Nov-12 23:13:25

Gotcha! Okay, as you say, I can see why an approach with some links into First Nations ways could be relevant, and I get the slightly hokey hippy empowerment stylie language from over the border.

Is there anyone you can talk to at the school about this - about the concerns about use of language and the indirect messages in there?

I've never heard the term "peer feuds," but I think I know what they're talking about, based on my own experience of work with girls and young women. I'd never dismiss it as bitchiness and it's not something that's "fixed" by getting girls to be "naice" to each other, either.

Girls are conditioned from birth to conform to an ideal of femininity - the pink princess whose greatest value is in being passive and attractive, through the sexualised messages in popular culture that reinforce this, adding a layer of need to be sexually attractive and available. It sets up a sort of competition based on who's the smartest, the sportiest, the most creative, but who conforms to whatever the current "feminine norm" best. That can cause conflicts. Sure, there's lots of rhetoric about BFFs and stuff, but really in our society, female solidarity, the sisterhood, isn't something that is genuinely encouraged, or even well tolerated. Think about it.

Although gender stereotypes and "norms" of femininity come from the patriarchal establishment and exist to maintain male entitlement, it's young women who seem most effective in policing each other's behaviour. They can be really brutal, not because girls are "naturally" that way or "more cruel than boys" (as the old trope goes,) but because the "rules" of the game dictate that they are supposed to do this. Girls who aren't seen to conform can be treated very harshly, and who's in and who's out can change seemingly on a whim. I think facebook and bbm have magnified this - made it easy to tease, to coerce, to bully, to publicly shame and it's not something that ends at the school gate or can be fixed just by finding a new group of friends. The social networking stuff is there 24/7, totally integrated with the "real world" for most young people. Things can kick off really easy there and leak over into real life shitstorms amongst friends and associates.

It's the old teaspoons to empty the ocean thing, but I think part of the solution is supporting girls to be able to pick apart and bust some of these "this is how you must be," messages, build up self-esteem that takes a battering every time they hear a joke about rape, see a perfect photoshopped celebrity, told their a bitch or a minger on their facebook wall.

I probably haven't explained this too well (v tired and still flu-ey!) but all thought this Circle thing may be a bit iffy, I can see what they're trying to achieve and I don't think we can afford to dismiss completely the issue of conflicts between girls, and particularly the wider patriarchal context within which these are actually very much encouraged.

KRITIQ Wed 07-Nov-12 23:15:34

Ooooh, it's "they're" and not "their" in the last but one paragraph! sad

summerflower Wed 07-Nov-12 23:57:07

Re the peer feuds, DD's school has a peer mediation system - it is not gendered. Both sexes act as peer mediators, both sexes can access peer mediation. I realise this not what you are saying, but I would be wary of saying that it is only girls that have conflicts and police each other's behaviour. How else does patriarchy work if men/society don't reinforce/police masculine norms too?

I'd be really curious to see any research or evidence which suggests that girls use social media to be more cruel/exclusive than boys.

summerflower Thu 08-Nov-12 00:01:01

I guess the point may be that a good deal of male bonding seems to encompass devaluing women, which I think is a different issue - surely it would be better to engage with the other sex than have them in a separate meeting.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Thu 08-Nov-12 00:03:36

This looks like superstition-based bullshit to me and I would be protesting vigorously. Perhaps by marching up to the school and hitting the board of governers over the head with a copy of Delusions of Gender.

AbigailAdams Thu 08-Nov-12 16:16:09

I wasn't dismissing conflict between girls at all. But obviously boys have peer feuds. There is plenty of bullying between boys and from boys to girls too. So why is it only girls being taught about relationships and "being nice" to each other? And as for online bullying there are plenty of high profile cases where girls have been bullied by boys and had photos distributed without their permission etc. My experience (anecdotal) is that male-dominated chat sites etc tend to be far harsher than the (very few) women dominated sites. As summerflower says there is a certain male bonding going on with objectifying and devaluing women. So surely we should be targetting ALL sources of bullying and peer pressure not just expecting the girls to deal with this shit.

madwomanintheattic Thu 08-Nov-12 18:36:38

That's a really interesting explanation, kritiq. And much less adversarial to point out the root cause, rather than focusing on the end result. <ponders>

I get the impression that they are trying to broaden the definitions of masculinity, but I don't think I'm getting the same vibe towards femininity...

Coincidentally, this is running at the same as dd2's teacher is emailing me to give permission for social support. Dd2 does not meet the patriarchal definition of femininity, she has both a physical disability and is gifted, which leaves her at the bottom of the potential BFF pile. I'm pretty used to viewing this fact from a disability model, but hadn't really considered it from a patriarchal viewpoint... Hmm. For her it isn't feud or conflict (yet) just dismissal due to not fitting in.

<solid gold, you did make me laugh grin>

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