Tag Archives: feminism

Six principles of nonviolence (Happy MLK Jr. Day)

17 Jan

A day late but here we go anyway!  Last weekend I went to volunteer training for the Women’s March On Austin scheduled for this Saturday.  I was planning on blogging about biology today, but talking about what we went over in training seems more timely.  The Austin march is one of 616 sister marches around the world planned to coincide with the one in Washington, D.C. (so there might be one near you!)  Here’s an excerpt from the mission statement of the women’s march on Washington, emphasis added:

In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.

I was really impressed and inspired by the event coordinators- the person who trained us in nonviolent protest has been involved with protests and activism since she was 8 (Austin native) and read this excerpt aloud, stressing the end: that we need to support all marginalized groups to move forward, instead of looking only at cis, heterosexual white women (a.k.a. “white feminism”– that was a link to an article by an academic; this is a link to a HuffPo video explaining the term).

Next we went through practical things about how to march safely (link arms, use a buddy, if something happens decide as a group to stay and sit down, linked or go away very quickly, report anything suspicious to block marshalls), volunteer jobs (I’m at the check-in table!), and then the six principles of nonviolent protest.  She was careful to say that these have been used for a long time by not just MLK, Jr. (examples: suffragists, Gandhi) but he happened to write them down in a way that’s very nice for teaching activism to new people.  So here they are (in bold), plus some thoughts

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.  Often not fighting back requires bravery.  You can be nonviolent and still be aggressive, just not physically aggressive.
  2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The goal here is to make a community, to win over the people who are against you.  A good way to not do it: tell people “you’re wrong!”  A good way to start to do it: listen.  Also, make eye contact.  Be a human and show people that you are a human and you recognize their humanity as well.
  3. Attack forces of evil, not people doing evil.  This was when our presenter reiterated that this is not an Anti-Trump march, but a pro-women, pro-LGBTQ, pro-immigrant, pro-marginalized people march.  “Trump is a symptom, not the disease.  We want to defeat the disease.”
  4. Accept suffering without retaliation.  This is basically, don’t fight back.  When people see you suffering an injustice, you’ve communicated to them that this matters, and hopefully they extrapolate that you matter.
  5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.  Another way that people put this is to avoid internal violence as well as external violence.  Come at this with love and hope for reconciliation in your heart instead of hatred and hope for retribution.  Keep up morale in a positive manner, not a negative manner.
  6. The universe is on the side of justice.  Believe this.  A volunteer said that this was the easiest principle to keep up, and another said #2 is the hardest- she wants to snap back instead of listen.

I got a little teary at the end of the nonviolence training, when we practiced chanting “HEAR OUR VOICE.”  I’m not a big crowds person so being in the middle of a room of such positive energy and solidarity really affected me.

Here’s a video of a training that happened later that day (not for volunteers), which starts with 20 minutes of Q&A and then an hour of Simone going through these principles etc.  She’s really good:

So if you’re in or near one of the cities with a sister march, consider heading over there this weekend and checking it out!  Ours will have some awesome speakers and music after (Wendy Davis!  Lizzie Velasquez!  More!) and should be really cool.  I am also not actually planning on marching the 1.5 miles in 80 degree heat with 22,000 other people (definitely a recipe for very pregnant me fainting), but I’ll be there beforehand so if you’re around come say hi!

img_20170117_132120040-1

 

The employers’ argument for parental leave

22 Dec
As you may be aware, I’m having a baby in three months.  My spouse’s work offers one week of parental leave to non-primary caretakers of new babies, so I decided to put an hour in of internet research to see if I could make a little report that he could send on to HR or someone who might be interested.  And then since I did that, I figured I’d post it to here!  Happy holidays dear reader!  Maybe this will be helpful to someone.
The main sources are all freely available on the internet.
Overall takeaways:
  • Jobs that offer paid parental leave are increasingly important for Millennials and young workers and increase employee retention, as seen in the CWF study as well as the California experiment.
  • Paid parental leave has no negative economic impact on employers, as in California experiment.
  • Longer parental leave increases employee satisfaction with work-life balance, which increases worker happiness and thus productivity.
  • For employees who are partners with other employees, leave for the non-gestating employee increases work-life balance satisfaction for the gestating employee and retention for that employee.
Here’s the Department of Labor briefing on paternity leave: https://www.dol.gov/asp/policy-development/paternityBrief.pdf.  Selected quotes (sources mentioned are available at the end of this short briefing:)
  • “In one study of working fathers in the U.S., those who took leaves of two weeks or more were much more likely to be actively involved in their child’s care nine months after birth – including feeding, changing diapers, and getting up in the night.6 Studies from other countries have confirmed that fathers who take more paternity leave have higher satisfaction with parenting and increased engagement in caring for their children.7”
  •  “Fathers are increasingly concerned about work-life balance, and nearly half of men surveyed report that the demands of work interfere with family life.11”
  • “In a 2014 study of highly educated professional fathers in the U.S., nine of out ten reported that it would be important when looking for a new job that the employer offered paid parental leave, and six out of ten considered it very or extremely important. These numbers were even higher for millennial workers.23”
Here’s a 2010 California study on Paid Family Leave, which was implemented in 2004 and offered employees six weeks of leave at 55% of salary (followed by New Jersey and Washington): http://cepr.net/documents/publications/paid-family-leave-1-2011.pdf.  This offers concrete evidence of the effects of paid family leave in general.
  • Most employers report that PFL had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity (89 percent), profitability/performance (91 percent), turnover (96 percent), and employee morale (99 percent).
  • Relevant pages: 7-10
Here’s a Center for Work and Family (out of Boston College) report on paternity leave: http://www.thenewdad.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/BCCWF_The_New_Dad_2014_FINAL.157170735.pdf
  • Look at this chart, based on over 1000 worker fathers who were mostly (over 90%) well-educated professionals:
  • importance-of-paid-leave-the-new-dad-2014
  • “Only 20% of the study participants felt that all of the time off should be taken consecutively beginning with the birth of their children. More than 75% preferred the option to take the paid time off when it was most needed after the birth, within a specified period of time such as six months. For example, over a six month period after the birth of their child, they could take two weeks at the beginning and then additional days off as needed up to the maximum amount allowed.”
  • Pages 1-14 are about worker desires, pages 15-20 are about employers’ implementations, including spotlights on Ernst and Young, Deloitte, and American Express.  “• For policies that didn’t differentiate between primary and secondary caregivers, fathers were given an average of two weeks of paid leave • For policies that did have designated provisions for fathers who were primary or secondary caregivers, fathers as primary caregivers were given an average of about eight weeks, which was approximately three times as much as the leave offered to secondary caregivers”
  • Takeaways: “Nearly three quarters of the fathers believed that the most appropriate amount of time for fathers to have off for paternity leave is between two and four weeks… 76% of fathers would prefer the option of not taking all their time off immediately following the birth of their children”
  • Pages 27-28 are concrete recommendations for employers.
If no one wants to read this post , here’s a great and easy to read article from ThinkProgress that similarly cites a bunch of studies and includes anecdotal evidence titled “How Everyone Benefits When New Fathers Take Paid Leave.”  I highly recommend this article.

I am the get, or on role models/pressure

31 May

Awhile back I did a post on various podcast recommendations, and I pointed out a recent favorite of mine by an old classmate and her best friend, the get.  Their most recent episode really resonated with me and echoed some issues that I haven’t talked about in years (part 2), so I thought I’d revisit them and talk about why I love this podcast so much.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote this in an email to a professor, referencing an earlier meeting:

Upon reflection I believe that I felt like I was speaking on behalf of all women in a room full of men, a responsibility that I wasn’t prepared for.  It’s like having a discussion about race in a room with one person of color.  It’s a little weird.

Part of Rhiana talks about in ep14 is the pressure she feels as a high-achieving minority, to continuously highly achieve on behalf of that minority group.  Whenever you’re in a group, be it a classroom, a meeting, or a collection of role models (you may not even know you’re in this group!), if you’re a super-minority then you represent that minority to people looking at that group.  Relevant comic:

how_it_works

XKCD: link here

And that sort of pressure can be dangerous-I won’t tell you Rhiana’s story; you can listen for yourself and I’ll tell you my stories instead.  I’ve been incredibly lucky in my path to where I am now, with support since childhood with extra programs essentially designed to get me where I am today.  Rhiana and Ivy had it even “worse” with a Rhodes and a Ford (fancy graduate fellowships).  What do I mean by “worse”?  I mean when you have all this support and have used up all of these resources to lead you to success, you feel even more pressure to succeed.  Success begets success.  Which is often a good thing, but the pressure can be crippling.  Related digression: this movie (that I love and is directed by the Fast and the Furious director Justin Lin) is based on a real life murder that happened at my rival high school, which was also an extremely high achieving high pressure environment.

I’m planning on finishing my Ph.D. next year (spring 2017), so my thoughts have been leading to what’s coming next: do I try to succeed in mathademia, or turn my back on all of these supporters and do something else?  Here are some mission statements of programs that have helped me:

  • MMUF is the centerpiece of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s initiatives to increase diversity in the faculty ranks of institutions of higher learning.
  • The EDGE Program is administered by Morehouse andPomona Colleges with the goal of strengthening the ability of women students to successfully complete PhD programs in the mathematical sciences and place more women in visible leadership roles in the mathematics community.
  • Dedicated to furthering the success of underrepresented students, USTARS seeks to broaden the participation in the mathematical sciences

So those mission statements imply that they gave me funding/programming/mentorship/networks because they want me to become a math professor.  Also, having role models who look like you is extremely important for young people, especially underrepresented groups, to even begin to ideate what success could look like.  This belief, coupled with my experiences, makes me personally feel pressure to become a research mathematician and exist as an example and role model for others: look!  A woman mathematician!  They exist!  I recently saw this sweet video on upworthy and it’s from this program that sends professionals to grade schools:

So being a role model is great!  But defining success for yourself is a key part of being successful, and going with something without examining it is not, in my opinion, drinking life to the lees [which is a goal of my life].

I spoke with Evelyn Lamb, a friend and personal hero, about this tension between living up to expectations and figuring out your own path.  She pointed out, rightly, that she’s far, far more visible now as a math writer than she was as an assistant professor.  So if the goal is to show people that women can do math, she’s reaching the goal much more effectively by going her own way.  I’d be remiss not to mention Erica Klarreich here and promo my math field with her incredible article.

To sum up: despite massive amounts of pressure from your own underrepresented group/your supporters/your funders/your family/anyone, you have to make your own decisions for your own success and happiness.  Maybe you’re incredibly motivated by the idea of being a role model for others, and that’s enough to launch you into whatever career.  I don’t personally feel that way, and I want my kids to see their mother loving her job and actively choosing it.  The goal of being a role model and showing people that women can do math is to encourage young women who might not realize they can become mathematicians that it’s a path available for them.  It’s not to pressure capable young women into some path that I’ve pre-determined as correct or better than whatever choices they’ll make.  Empowerment is not restricting choices, it’s expanding choices.

Last bit: what do I mean when I say “I am the get”?  It’s from the first episode of Ivy and Rhiana’s podcast.  I can’t say it as well as Rhiana can, so here’s her words:

One thing that always stuck out is that she told me that when I walk in there, like, I have to remember that I am the get. I am the thing that they need to have, I’m the thing that they want, and that I am…not a prize, but something to be gotten. I am an asset. […]we want our listeners to always remember that they are the get, that you are an asset, a thing to be gotten! You’re the thing that people want—and it’s so easy to forget that, especially if you’re a woman, especially if you’re a woman of color, especially if you’re a member of the number of marginalized groups in the US. So, we just wanted that to always be a reminder of self-love and of just how fucking awesome you are, all the time.

I’m out!  Maybe baking next week; it’s been a while!

International Day of the Girl was October 11th- late is better than never?

27 Oct

This Day of the Girl thing started two years ago.  I remember that Google Chicago was having an event for it, but I did not attend.  I feel like I remember very clearly the things I choose not to do, but I have a remarkably bad memory for the things that I actually do.  For instance, I have a friend I visit every time I go to San Francisco, but I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen him.  At least once, but I probably didn’t nap and sleep and have coffee and have dinner and have breakfast all at the same time.  He remembers each interaction quite clearly though.  So I’m an asshole.

Anyways, this post isn’t supposed to be about me.  I’m a woman now, suckers!  I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been incredibly lucky in the educational opportunities I’ve been given: Project PRIME which no longer exists, but is similar to this program for 4th-7th grade girls interested in mathematics in the Twin Cities (I learned about spherical geometry when I was 10, at a Saturday workshop!), UMTYMP where I took the standard high school math curriculum during middle school and was subsidized by the state of Minnesota, great calculus courses at my high school where we got college credit, and the opportunity to take several more college courses across the street at CSUF while I was still in high school (for $3.50 each course, if I remember right).  And of course I won the lottery that is getting into Yale, and I studied abroad for math, and did some undergraduate research, and taught some math, and got into grad school, and was encouraged to go, and the point is that I’ve been very lucky throughout my life.  And very few people are this lucky.  And very, very few girls are this lucky.  That’s my take on Day of the Girl.

Here’s a company’s take on Day of the Girl:

Currently, 36 percent of high school students within the United States are not ready for college-level sciences. Misha Malyshev, CEO of Teza Technologies works with nonprofits to curb that number. International Day of the Girl is a great time to celebrate the women in this field, and every field, and recognize the opportunities allowed to girls.

Day of Girl

I’ll try to follow the suggestions of the infographic (this company randomly emailed me and asked if I wanted to see it, and I said yes, and that’s how it’s on the blog now).  In that whole educational bio paragraph up there I embedded all the math programs I was part of.  Here in Austin, girlstart is pretty amazing and in this department we have a Saturday Morning Math Group as well as an occasional Sunday Math Circle.

So yeah.  Girls are cool.

A few nights ago I went to dinner with a few postdocs and another graduate student.  This was remarkable because we were all women!  We traded war stories and discussed our experiences as women in math, and it was so so nice to interact with people who had similar experiences to mine.  Every school I’ve been to has a women in math-type group which usually is open to men joining in as well.  This sort of supportive community helps lots (not all) women grit our teeth and stick to it.  And we’re women!  When we were girls we were so much less confident and self-assured, and (some of us) needed a guiding hand or supportive push to keep us in math.  I really really appreciate all the help I’ve been given/earned throughout my life, and I think everyone deserves at least a chance to do what they love/figure out what they love.

Related old post.

Race, class, and math thoughts

3 Sep

Yesterday a student walked into a friend’s graduate student office and asked us “Does STEM encourage apathy toward social justice and diversity issues, specifically the lack of black and brown bodies?”  A few things were notable about the ensuing discussion: first, no one was ever interrupted!  There were five of us in the room!  Apparently I have forgotten how to have civil conversations.  I was astonished by the fact that no one ever butted in, and respectfully allowed each person to say their full thoughts, with pauses and everything.  Does this happen in your life?  I think most of my interactions are at the pace of Gilmore Girls or a news channel than, y’know, respect and calm.  Also it was maybe the most diverse in-depth conversation on diversity I’ve been part of: a Chinese man, a Vietnamese woman (that’s me), a white woman, a black man, and a black woman from various socioeconomic backgrounds.

So that’s the context behind this post.  The question she posed was rather overly broad and poorly defined, but we hit on a lot of points that I thought were interesting and unrelated to each other.  Bring in the bullet points and mildly academic-sounding language!  We’re mostly considering the dearth of POC in math graduate school and professorship.

  • Local culture/society: higher education isn’t regarded as important in every culture.  Parents who don’t encourage their kids to go to college probably won’t understand a child’s desire to go to graduate school.  The example given here was: “do you play sports?  …no?  Oh.  Okay.”  In this person’s hometown, athletics are more important than scholarship.  How do you change a culture?  Should you try to change a culture?  It’s incredibly important to go into a community and listen/learn first, then try to launch programs/solutions.  Personal notes here: my family is very supportive and basically let me do whatever I want, but they still all balked a bit at my choice to pursue a Ph.D. in math.  They also wanted me to go to UCSD (which would’ve been free + given me money) instead of Yale (which cost money).  My first year of graduate school, I was on the phone with a Yale alum who, after I told him I was a grad student, said “you know you just cut your earnings by a third, right?”  So we’re all from different cultures that have different values.
  • Socioeconomic class: graduate school pays very little.  We hover securely above the poverty line (which in 2015 is just under 12k) with about 16-35k stipends (a small survey here), which are generally enough (barely, sometimes) for us to pay for our living expenses.  Plus you often have to pay fees back to the school; mine are about 1.6k per year (just under half a monthly paycheck, twice a year).  If your parents or siblings need help, or if you have children or other dependents, the stipend won’t be enough.  So if you have any of these thoughts in mind, it makes complete sense to not go to graduate school.  For more thoughts on this, check out this blog post about being an academic coming from a poverty background.  I’m astonished at my friends who have a kid on two grad student stipends.  Babies are so expensive!  My baby went to daycare three days a week and it cost almost exactly as much as I made per month.
  • Intervention programs: they work.  Reaching out to communities who haven’t heard of/thought of college/graduate school works.  There’s a sad dearth of funding for such programs (often run by private organizations), but they led to some of us being in that room.  Fun fact about me: I’m a Mellon Mays Fellow, which means I had a lot of encouragement as an undergraduate to go into academia.  MMUF is great.  Also so is Upward Bound.
  • Pipeline: it’s leaky.  See previous bullet point.
  • Math itself is very abstract.  In your day-to-day life, you won’t be confronted by social justice/diversity issues like you might be if you were in, say, anthropology or ethnic studies.  The field doesn’t lend itself to thinking about these sorts of things, so that could explain where that apathy stems from.  I haven’t had a ton of conversations with mathematicians about racial diversity (yesterday’s makes it two or so), but I have had a ton of conversations about gender diversity (and every mathematician knows about the AWM).  That said, I also did EDGE before starting grad school, and I just learned about SACNAS over the summer.  So there are people thinking about these things.

And because I can’t resist slipping women and math into any post, here’s a great little article about increasing the number of girls in math.  And by “girls” here we actually do mean “female children” (I’ve gotten pretty good at not calling women “girls” but I still say “you guys” a lot).

There were more points but that’s all I remember.  I think I’ll bake something next week, so look forward to that!  Last week for husband’s birthday I said “I baked you a surprise!” and he said “is it pavlova?” and the answer was yes.  Mini-pavlovas!  Just bake for half an hour instead of an hour.20150825_190236

Not a sociologist or ethnographer, but I am a curious person (about gender and race)

2 Jul data

Inspiration for this post: this tweet.

So I’ve written before about being a woman in math, and this will not be my last post on the subject either.  First, some background.  One really, really awesome thing about my field (geometric group theory) is its webpage.  Some time ago, a great professor at UCSB made this website which includes a list of all active geometric group theorists in the world (self-reported), a list of all departments in the world with said people, lists of publishers and interesting links/software, and most importantly for me, a list of all conferences in the area.

Long aside: said professor once gave me some great advice which I have since forgotten/warped in my memory to mean: do what you want to do.  This is probably not what he said, but he did use this amazing website as an example: at the time, people said that making the site was a waste of his time, and now its a treasured resource for researchers around the world.  Everyone in GGT knows this site (because they or their advisor is on it!)  So that’s part of the reason I have this blog, and started that women in math conference- it’s maybe a “waste” of my time, but it’s something I want to do and now people are starting to know me for it.  At both the Cornell and the MSRI programs I went to these past two months, a graduate student has come up to me and told me she reads my blog, so yay!  I love you, readers!  Also, side note in this aside: the video lectures from the summer graduate school in geometric group theory are already posted (in the schedule part of this link), so if you like videos and GGT I’d recommend them.  Lots of first and second year graduate students in the audience, so they’re relatively approachable.

Back to topic: I went through the list of conferences that had occurred so far this year and “ran some numbers,” by which I mean I divided.  I did this because I noticed that at the past few conferences I’ve attended, there seem to be disproportionately many female speakers (in a good way).  For instance, at this summer school I counted 12/60 female students (though later someone said there are 14 of us so don’t rely on my counting) and 1/4 female speakers.  But the numbers at that level are so low that the data is essentially meaningless: 25% vs. 20% isn’t that meaningful when the other choices are 0, 50, 75, or 100% female speakers.  But if you collect enough data, it probably becomes meaningful.  See my table below.*

data

If I were a sociologist or ethnographer, I would do this for all the conferences and interview a random sample of attendees and organizers in order to come to some data-backed conclusions about the phenomena here.  I’m not, so I’ll just make some guesses.  It looks like American conferences artificially inject more gender diversity into their invited speakers lists, while foreign ones don’t (YGGT in Spa a notable exception).  I’d also guess that conferences that target graduate students have more women speakers than conferences that don’t.

Three things that support my “artificial diversity” theory: to attend an MSRI summer school, graduate students are nominated by their schools.  Schools can nominate two students, and a third if she is a woman or an underrepresented minority.  The NSF, which is a huge source of funding for American conferences, is really into “Broadening Participation”, which means including participants who are women, African-American, Native American, Hispanic, or disabled.  And, as seen in table above, the percentage of female domestic speakers is twice that of foreign speakers.

I think this is great!  It’s much easier to do something if you see someone who looks like you/has gone through similar struggles doing so.

A response to myself from a few years ago, when I felt feelings about the burden of representing all women at a table full of men: I felt bad recently for wanting to ask a Hispanic female graduate student what she thought about increasing numbers of Hispanic women in math, because I thought I was placing this exact burden on her.  I was expecting her to speak for all Hispanic women.  But another graduate student solved this conundrum for me- her experience is invaluable in trying to understand the plight of her demographic, but we shouldn’t be too hasty to generalize from it.  And more importantly, someone needs to ask these questions.  My discomfort is relatively stupid and small compared to the issue at hand- we should try to solve these problems together and respectfully, but there’s bound to be missteps along the way, and that’s OK.

I don’t have solutions, and I’ve barely stated the problem or why we should care about it, but at least I’m trying to ask questions.

Protagonists are male; I didn’t wear makeup as a kid

30 Jan

Apologies for a long delay in posting; we just came back from our meet-the-family/honeymoon vacation with baby. Here’s a quick post on neither baking nor math; both should return soon.

As a kid I played with my brothers all the time.  I distinctly remember playing with those little matchbox cars and having them talk like transformers to each other.  I always picked the pink car because she was the “girl” hot wheels.  This is ridiculous to me now, since we had 20 or so cars and they didn’t have faces or anything indicating their genders besides color.  And it’s not like 19 cars were blue and one was pink; they were all different colors, designs, etc.  But I was fixated on the pink one.  Looking back, did I just have a favorite car, or did I feel like the other cars weren’t for me?  If this post was just this anecdote, I’d say that I just had a favorite car which happened to be the pink one, and my brothers didn’t share the same obsession over any single car.  But.

We also played with legos.  We had two little hair clipons that you could put on your person to make them a girl, and we also had one head with lipstick and mascara.  I didn’t use that head because I didn’t (and still don’t) like makeup.  So every time I played, I’d put a hair on a person to make them female, which meant that our default Lego population were all male (comically statistically unlikely number of bald men in the Duong Legotown at any given time).  It also meant that girls couldn’t be firefighters, policemen, or pirates, since those all had separate hats and you could only wear one at a time.  This was zero percent a big deal to me as a kid, and is some percent a deal to me now.  I would be remiss not to link to Anita Sarkeesian’s video on this here.  And here’s part 2.

I was the youngest and did and liked everything my big brother did and liked, but I never got into Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Gargoyles as much as he did.  I loved Sonic the Hedgehog and Tails (a two tailed fox sidekick, I think?), but then the cartoon came out and it turned out Tails was a boy too, and my interest waned.  We played Secret of Mana often on our Super Nintendo, which was a super fun multiplayer RPG, and my brother would be the Boy main character and I would play Girl or Sprite.  I also loved Super Mario Bros 2 more than the other installations of the series, because I could play Princess Toadstool (and she could fly which was badass!)

As a child, I wanted characters who reflected me, or who I could aspire to be, or who I could relate to.  I didn’t want to be the sidekick all the time, but I was, mostly because I was younger but partially because I was a girl, and by default girls are sidekicks or trophies and boys are heroes.  Girls are heroes in girl-oriented products/games, but protagonists are male in general audience products/games.

I wondered whether this last statement is true, so I looked at my three month old baby’s books.  Turns out animal heroes are also by default male.  For instance, the Very Hungry Caterpillar is a he.  So is the Moose and the host in If You Give A Moose a Muffin, Spot the dog, Max in both “Max Explores Chicago” and “Where the Wild Things Are”, Duck in Dooby Dooby Moo (and the two other books in the series), the baby in I Love You Through and Through, Bear in Bear in Underwear, the dinosaur in Thesaurus Rex, and of course Bruce the bear bully in Big Bad Bruce.  I’ll note that the premise of the Dooby Dooby Moo series is that Farmer Brown (male) has a bunch of cows (female) who type, but the main actor of the series is Duck, who is a he.  I counted 12 of Ian’s books with male protagonists.

Girls are heroes in girl-oriented products/games, but protagonists are male in general audience products/games.

How about both?  Where is Baby’s Belly Button, the Tickle Book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Introductory Calculus for Infants, and Head to Toe all include both male and female leads characters.  The collection of Dr. Seuss Books, Count to Sleep Chicago, Hippos Go Berserk, Noneuclidean Geometry for Babies, and Possum Come a Knockin’ all don’t have male or female leads.  So that’s nine in the both or neither category.

What about female?  Nope.  None of his books have a female main character.

To be fair, a friend did gift us The Munschworks Grand Treasury of stories, which includes multiple female protagonists.  But that’s for when Ian is a bit older (also I haven’t read any of them yet).

My husband pointed out that this is what happens when we don’t have a gender neutral pronoun in English, implying that “he” is the default pronoun.  But that’s exactly my point.  “He” is the default.  So my son will get to be the hero, and use all the matchbox cars, and be Optimus Prime or Bumblebee or Rafael or Leonardo or Sonic or Tails or Ash Ketchum or a lego pirate or firefighter or policeman.  And if I ever have a daughter, I’ll have to figure out what to tell her so that she can be all these things too, and doesn’t feel like she can only be the pink car or the lego figures with hair or Princess Toadstool/Peach.  Or buy her a whole new set of toys catered just for girls, because boys and girls are apparently so fundamentally different that this face

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somehow only reflects half the population, at least when I was a little kid trying to play.

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