Posted by: Kymbre Robinson | February 14, 2018

You can’t be what you can’t see

The United States is considered one of the most influential countries today. It is said that we house some of the best training programs for leadership, and yet we still seem to lack diversity in our leadership, especially in politics. According to Marie Wilson in Closing the Leadership Gap, of young political leaders in the United States, 86% are men and 81% are white (pg. 65). After reading these statistics, one can easily point out a noticeable gap in our leadership. Why are the majority of our leaders white, males?

A quote that begins our reading this week states, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Sixty-seven other countries have already elected a female president or prime minister, but the United States has not. Currently, only 22 women serve in the senate and 84 women make up our representatives. In total, only 4 women have ever served as Supreme Court justices. How will our future generations of women know if they are capable of great achievements in leadership if they lack role models of female leadership?

In class we watched the documentary Miss Representation. It pointed out that at the age of eight, an equal number of boys and girls say they want to become president. If you ask the same question to ninth graders, the number drops dramatically to only a few girls wish to be the president. What has happened between eight and fourteen years that has discouraged girls from leadership?

Learning how to lead begins in childhood, specifically within the family, on the playground, and in the classroom. School functions as a primary socialization agent. It is where a lot of children are taught the values, norms, and rules of society. Through this institution, children begin to shape their views on leadership. The education on leadership that schools provide today is incomplete. History classes focus their attention a majority of the time studying male leaders, notably in Government and American History. Scientists are almost all male in our STEM classes. In English, literature read are written by Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and other male authors. While all of these men are very important, where are the females? As a student advances further in their education, electives start to become gendered. Classes, such as home economics and culinary is primarily female, while tech education and workshop is almost all males. This perpetuates the gender cultural stereotypes we hear about today that limits the presence of females in certain positions, essentially making women invisible.

As a consequence of the invisibility of female leadership, fewer girls run for student government positions. While women can easily be seen as secretary, assistant, or representatives, men make up the majority of executive positions, such as governor, chamber leader, and the president. In conclusion, if we are not teaching about female leaders, there are no female leaders. The invisibility of women leaders as role models for girls is helping to create a gap in our leadership.

My questions are: Do you believe women leaders are absent in our education and is this a factor that leaders to the misrepresentation and lack of female leadership? How do we close the leadership gap and encourage more women to become leaders? Does is start with education, like I mentioned, or is it something else?

Below I have included an article about the lack of young women in the student body government that helps explain this.

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/11/04/female-students-still-scarce-student-government-executive-positions

 

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Responses

  1. I agree that an increase in female leadership is a great thing. More female leaders means more role models, which can inspire younger generations to do the same. However, discovering how to break the cycle of male dominated classes, careers, and hobbies will be difficult. A recent reading in Wilson mentioned that sometimes the best way to make a change is to go with the grain rather than against it. This was in reference to the creation of President Barbie. The White House Project, rather than try to discourage girls from playing with “feminine” toys like Barbie, used the doll’s popularity to their advantage, and to make a statement.
    I think the White House Project was ingenious in their idea to incorporate current socially acceptable female icons (Barbie) while a challenging the status quo. However, as great as this example is, I believe it becomes much more complicated when it comes to closing the leadership gap in general. There are many programs out their encouraging girls to go after STEM fields, but the results of these programs will take years to make a difference in statistics. In times like these, I try to remember that change is a slow process, occurring little by little every day, rather than giant strides over the course of one week.

  2. It is important the females in the younger generation of women leader to model after, however, I don’t think it is a function of a lack of women leaders and more so a lack of invisibility. In my own experience, I visited my old elementary school a couple years ago to look back how far I’ve come. I walked in the door only to see the assistant principle (who was also my fourth-grade teacher), in which she remembered my name and gave me a big hug and asked how I had been. It takes a certain leader to remember something like that, and when I look back she gave the biggest impact on my elementary school education than any other grade school teacher. Mrs. Holstein had helped me from being exceptional learner to a gifted learner in the span of the year and point my parents in the direction of how to help me out. In many ways, she worked behind the scenes in my educational years. Up until walking in the front door of my elementary school almost eight years later I hadn’t realized everything she had done for me and my education. To conclude my point, it is not necessary they are no women in the educational system, it is just that they work behind the scenes and aren’t given the appreciate or attention that should be given. This makes it hard from some women leaders to follow in her footsteps because most of it was done behind closed doors. In order to close this gap of women in leadership position, we need to make leadership of women more visible.

  3. I agree with you and think it’s important that we have female role models, but at some point, you might have to be your own role model. You can’t always wait for someone else to do it first, you might have to take a leap of faith and achieve your goals. In the documentary, there was an example of a woman who’s role model was another woman she had worked with in the same area whom was only a year older than the woman from the example. One year doesn’t seem like much of a role model, but it was someone to model herself and what she wanted to achieve after because their weren’t very many woman in their field. I feel like in order to achieve this gap, women are going to have to step it up and stop worrying about not having an example. Worry more about being an example for the next generation of women and girls and achieve something that they can look up to.

  4. I think that it is interesting that even in typically female-dominated fields such as education, it is usually males that fill the titled leadership roles such as student body president, principal, etc. Going along with Luke’s point, this creates a sense of invisibility of the female leaders – women who make significant impacts are not necessarily appreciated or recognized. Some of the most influential leaders in my life have been women in typically “feminine” untitled positions (teacher, class officers, PTA volunteers, etc.). They worked tirelessly to make a positive impact on the community and often did it without so much as a thank you. Yet, because these women did not sit in positions in which they were labeled “Leader”, they weren’t always seen as one. I think that in order for society to close the leadership gap, it is important for us to start recognizing that leadership comes in many different forms. One does not necessarily have to the be the president or the principal to make an impact. It takes a village of leaders to manage environments such as the field of education. I think that once we start encouraging women who work diligently in smaller roles, females will be more likely to aim for positions of higher power. It is then that we would start to see a more equal representation of women in leadership positions.

  5. I think that you have a very accurate point here. A lot of this plays into our media discussion as well. We need women leadership to be normalized so that little girls can see that they can reach any goal a boy can. I also believe that media is a great start for how we can close this gap. It’s so simple if you think about it! Children are exposed to media and TV shows and movies more than they are politics and real life leaders anyways, so seeing women in roles that are strong and powerful will reach their demographics quicker. These societal roles will diminish once it is normal to see a women play the President of the United States or a women that owns a car shop. I think that “missrepresenation” was a good example about how much little kids are subconsciously effected by society; we are telling letting girls that they are worth less than boys, that boys are better leaders, and that they shouldn’t even try to attain the same goals boys do. I wonder how many great leaders we missed out on because we, as a society, taught girls that they cannot lead. I wonder what the world would be like right now if we had normalized women leadership years ago.

  6. I definitely agree with the educational standpoint on women in leadership. The education system does show a lot of focus on the male dominance throughout history, in literature, and in government classes. One aspect that I believe perpetuates this is the forced learning in order to keep high standards on standardized tests in school. Teachers are so focused on simply teaching what the students need to know for the standardized test that there is no creative aspect of education. These standardized tests perpetuates the women misrepresentation since their is a focus on a bullet point amount of information the students need to know. The teachers then, are not able to incorporate these women leaders, government officials, and writers into the curriculum.
    Be that as it may, there is still the problem of the misrepresentation of women in schools. I can barely remember learning about a lot of different types of strong capable women and in classes there was a focus on the male dominance without me even realizing it. In my science classes, all the scientists we talked about were male, unless it was Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin. In my reading and language classes we read books written by males. The times that women cam up in those classes was when talking about poetry, but women were not as prevalent in education as the males were.
    It is so interesting to me how education is such a feminized idea, for example, PTAs are usually full of more women, and teachers are more often female than male, yet these women are teaching to the future of this world in a male dominated, gendered bias educational system.


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