Stand Strong Girls

Sexist products (yet again)

Sexist signage

When will designers cotton on?

When I first saw this picture, I thought it was a joke, so ridiculous did it seem. Now that I’ve realised it’s not a joke but a genuine product, I think it’s even more ridiculous, but also unbelievably backward. You would have to have been living in a ditch for the last thirty years to think that this was an appropriate and modern design. The issue of stereotypical toys for young children has been written about so much that seeing these door hangers feels like all of the petitioners and bloggers have been banging their heads against the Berlin and Hadrian’s walls combined. Let me know what you think in the comment box below…

 

Branching out into STEM

I have read a lot about the low numbers of women studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. After having a quick think about my own class (in an all girls school), I realised what all the fuss was about. Medicine is a popular future career at the moment; cardiology, physiotherapy, pharmaceuticals, paediatrics, and being a GP have all been discussed. Teaching, law and sporting careers are popular choices. We have an aspiring architect and politician in our midst, and an archaeologist. Many people haven’t made up their minds yet, but I can only think of one girl who has expressed a serious interest in the STEM subjects, specifically engineering. App design has been mentioned occasionally, but not with any serious intent.

As for the STEM subjects in school, science is popular, but there is the option to drop it during the senior cycle. For those who don’t drop it in favour of accounting, business or economics, biology is the most popular choice. Class sizes for chemistry and physics are small, despite government initiatives to alter this trend. Physics and chemistry are widely seen as being difficult, and because of the Irish obsession with points, these subjects tend to be shunned. Furthermore, despite a recent upgrade to the computer room, IT classes are non-existent for students in the junior cycle.

So, getting girls into STEM isn’t going to be easy. Leaving aside some girls’ reservations about studying what are perceived to be boys’ subjects, there is the issue of information. Many girls are unaware of the wide variety of professions that becomes available after studying a STEM subject. The school’s attempt to inform students in this area has amounted to a few posters in the labs, which are too high up to be read properly. Furthermore, we aren’t allowed into the labs except during classes so there is no opportunity to examine them properly.

This year, there have been many events to give girls information about STEM careers, such as Inspire2015, I Wish and Girls Hack Ireland. Looking further afield, Coderdojo and Girls Who Code have both proved popular. Girls Who Code provided a seven-week long Summer Immersion Programme this year at Georgetown University. The participants aimed to find a solution to an everyday problem using coding.

I think it is these kind of initiatives that will succeed where other methods have failed. By giving girls a start in subjects such as IT, and by showing them the wide range of career choices on offer from STEM subjects, the tide may finally turn and more girls will choose to study STEM subjects at university level.

 

 

 

Blog Awards Ireland

Stand Strong Girls is delighted to have made it to the longlist of the Blog Awards Ireland. The shortlist will be published soon, so my fingers are crossed!

Longlisted Button

Part II: Downright moral!

Images of women have been, and still are, used to represent many principles and and virtues such as peace, justice and liberty. I have often wondered why women are associated with these high ideals and how the custom began. In Part I: Heavenly Contradictions, I looked at Greek and Roman goddesses. While in that post I was focusing on the contradictions of associating a goddess with things real women were not allowed to do, it is also interesting to look at the goddesses’ morals. Although Venus (Aphrodite), is an exception, Minerva (Athena), Diana (Artemis) and Vesta ( Hestia) among others were all praised for their virtuous natures.

Stained Glass Window

Stained glass window depicting charity as a woman

So, we see that the practice of connecting hope, peace, charity etc with women stemmed from Greek and Roman goddesses and probably even further back, from tribal deities.  The association can be traced through  European history. Victory is shown by a winged woman and countries such as France and Britain are represented by women (Marianne and Britannia, respectively).

However, it was the Victorians who really invested in this idea. I recently saw some beautiful stained glass windows from the Victorian era on the subjects of patience, hope, charity and faith. All of these virtues were depicted by women. The Victorians regarded women as models of virtue, who should teach others to be equally good. I think this opinion came from women’s role in childcare, it was assumed all women were nurturing and caring. This leads to the question, where did they think the women got it from? Either they were born good or their mothers taught them. As with the chicken and the egg, perhaps people were a little hazy about the beginning. Since virtue was predominately associated with women, does that mean that men were thought to lack moral fibre? Maybe the Victorians assumed that with all that working and leading the family, they wouldn’t have much time to cultivate it and would need a crash course from their womenfolk.

Perhaps that is why ‘fallen’ women and prostitutes were so disliked because not only were their own moral characters at fault but they had also failed in their ‘duty’ to teach men the same virtues and then pass them on to their children.

To return to the central question, why were so many positive traits depicted by women? As in the case of the Greek and Roman contradictions, I think it is unlikely that most people thought very much about these representations. There was a status quo, which simply stayed in place. We rarely wonder why green is go and red is stop on a traffic light because we are so used to seeing it, the same may well have applied in this case. Women would not have been involved in military activities, due to a perceived lack of physical abilities. I think that it was mistakenly assumed that less in the way of physical ability, determined, of course, by biology, would be accompanied by moral views that were against warlike activities, hence the assumption that most women were virtuous and good.

To put this into a contemporary context, do people still associate women with ideas such as these? Is the image of a perfect woman, the model of these morals, still prevalent in society? Certainly we can still see images of a women as peace, justice, charity etc in statues, paintings and other art forms, but few of these are recent. Now we have a much more balanced view of the morals of both men and women, I wonder how a modern art work would show hope, faith, charity and patience?

Adventurous Women: Dervla Murphy

Dervla Murphy, born in 1931, is an Irish cyclist and author of many travel books. As a child, she lived in Lismore, Co. Waterford. She received her first bicycle for her tenth birthday and decided she would like to travel. However, she spent her early life looking after her disabled mother and her first long distance trip did not occur until after her mother’s death.

Her 1965 book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle was based on her first long distance cycle tour in which she journeyed overland through Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Since then she has written over twenty more books. She has done volunteer work in India and Tibet and travelled through many countries including Ethiopia, Madagascar, Cameroon, Romania, Laos, the former Yugoslavia and Cuba. A lot of her travelling has been done solo but she has also journeyed with her daughter Rachel and visited Cuba with Rachel and her three granddaughters.

In later years, she moved into political writing and published work about Northern Ireland, nuclear power, the aftermath of apartheid and the Rwandan genocide, among other topics. She is the patron of Sustrans, a British sustainable travel charity, and the Lismore Immrama Festival of Travel Writing.

Her choice to travel such long distances alone shows that Dervla Murphy is a very brave woman. I think she must also be a determined and dedicated person to have accomplished so much. Altogether, definitely an Adventurous Woman!

Glavin: The UN’s new master plan doesn’t take women seriously

I found this article about the UN Sustainable Development Goals very interesting. I haven’t actually looked into the new goals and targets yet but I’m very curious about them now. It’s a true, but often overlooked, fact that improving women’s rights and education helps a country’s economy immensely. It would be good if the UN supported women’s business start-ups and small lending banks which can empower women below the poverty line.

Ottawa Citizen

Against the global scourges of poverty, hunger, war and disease, it would not be quite fair to say that after the unprecedented 15-year global effort undertaken in the master plan of its Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations is now making a sow’s ear out of a silk purse with the successor strategy UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced on Monday.

It’s not that the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals are unworthy, overly ambitious, unreasonable or unrealistic. It’s not just that the grand design for the world order by the year 2030 is an unwieldy hodgepodge of  17 goals, 69 targets and more than 300 indicators replacing the September, 2000 Millennium Declaration’s more elegant and straightforward eight goals, 16 targets and 48 indicators.

It’s just that there is a much less circuitous and far more certain path forward, illuminated by the overwhelming weight of evidence that the emancipation of women is the most dynamic…

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Daisyhouse Update

I wrote a post a few days ago about Daisyhouse, a charity for homeless women. A reception was held recently for the women who supported the charity at the Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon in June. Around €4,000 was raised, which will go towards Daisyhouse’s programmes and services.

Daisyhouse presentation

Presenting the cheque

Daisyhouse

Last month I wrote about the Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon in Dublin. The charity I raised funds for at the marathon was Daisyhouse, an organisation for homeless women.

Daisyhouse provides temporary accommodation to women who have become homeless for a variety of reasons, such as domestic violence, loss of income, addiction or sexual abuse. A support programme is provided that empowers them to move forward with their lives. Daisyhouse also helps people to resolve the issues that made them homeless in the first place so that it will not reoccur. In this way, they are able to live independently.

I think Daisyhouse’s long-term approach is a very sensible and practical way of dealing with the effects of domestic violence etc. By offering support for several months, Daisyhouse is ensuring that people will not become trapped in a vicious cycle of homelessness.

Part I: Heavenly Contradictions

This post is the first in a short series that I will put up about goddesses and female icons. I find it very bizarre that although goddesses with all kinds of skills and powers were worshipped in the ancient cultures, the real women alive at the time were not permitted to emulate them. In this post I will look at the goddesses and women of Ancient Greece and Rome.

A short history lesson first, though. Both the Greeks and the Romans were polytheistic, meaning they worshipped many gods and goddesses. They believed that each of these deities controlled one aspect of nature or was responsible for a certain time of year, type of person or action. For example, Neptune or Poseidon ruled the sea and was the god to whom a sailor would pray when at sea. Also, the Greek and Roman gods are very similar, but the two cultures gave them different names. For example, Athena, who was the Greek goddess of wisdom, was known as Minerva to the Romans.

Athena

Athena or Minerva

As I said earlier, I am perplexed by the way that these people could openly be so hypocritical by venerating goddesses for having abilities that they did not encourage or allow in real women. Athena, or Minerva, is a good example of this contradiction. She was the goddess of knowledge, war, literature, courage, justice, arts and crafts and reason, among other things. How much of this has a grounding in fact?

Looking at Rome first, girls would have had basic education, although this depended on how much money the girl’s family had. Only very wealthy families would have given their daughters education in literature, philosophy and the other areas prized by the Romans. Roman women would not have had much to do with war either. They could appear in court and some women did fight their own cases, however this was rare and not widely approved of.

Moving on to Greece, the situation is a bit more complicated. Athens, the city most associated with Athena, was full of hypocrisy. Women were given little freedom and were certainly not permitted to fight.  A woman was under the guardianship of a kyrios, a man who protected her and also owned all her property and dealt with legal matters on her behalf.  Some Athenian women would have been educated, but as with Rome the extent of their teaching depended on their families’ income.

However, Athens was quite unusual in Greece and most cities did not place the same restrictions on women. In Sparta, women were not permitted to join the famous army but they could own land. There are records of Spartan women owning and administrating their own land as well as that of their male relatives who were at war. Similar records can be found in Delphi, Thessaly, Megara and Gortyn. Spartan women’s formal education was probably not of a very high standard but they would have at least been able to read and write.

Therefore, we see that despite worshipping Athena’s, or Minerva’s, talents, very few Greek or Roman women were permitted to develop the same skills.  Arts and crafts was virtually the only area of life that Athena was responsible for that Greek and Roman women did en masse.  It would have been seen as a wife’s duty to spin and weave fabric for her family or, in the case of poorer women, to sell.

Artemis

Artemis or Diana

Another example of the contradiction between goddesses and women can be seen in the Greek goddess Artemis, called Diana by the Romans. She was the goddess of hunting, archery, the moon and childbirth. She also had a special connection with animals and woodlands. Here perhaps is a goddess who is not quite so bizarre. The connection with childbirth is realistic, although somewhat backward in a virgin goddess, who would not have had any experience in the matter!

In Greece, Sparta again gave women most freedom to participate in riding and hunting. Spartan women were encouraged to do physical exercise and may have ridden in hunts. They trained with the Spartan boys, but did not go to war so they were unlikely to use weapons very much. However, Roman women would not have hunted at all, and probably did not use bows and arrows.

I have only discussed two examples here, but there are others. Even Aphrodite, or Venus, is somewhat of a conundrum. She was the goddess of love, lust and beauty. While Greek and Roman women would have been expected to please their husbands with their good looks, they would have been supposed to be loyal and leave the philandering for which Venus is known to their husbands.

All of these examples raise the same question. Why were goddesses revered for possessing abilities that would not have been acceptable in real women at the time?

I don’t have a definitive answer but I’ve got a few ideas (which you can argue with in the comment box if you are so inclined). It seems unlikely that having talented goddesses was a way to inspire and set an example to women, because any women who followed in their idols’ footsteps seem to have been disliked. Scrap that idea then. Perhaps the idea was to have something to which unfavourably to compare women: an ancient ‘look at all the things you can’t do’. Also unlikely in any direct or intentional way though it was perhaps an effect of these personifications.

Next theory: the ancient Greeks and Romans were so used to the status quo that most people, both men and women, didn’t think about what it meant. If so, then the goddesses must have come from even older cultures.

It’s true that the Greek and Roman religions came from even further back. The polytheistic religions were the result of piecing together many tribal deities and worshipping them all at once. We saw that Athena’s, or Minerva’s, areas of patronage included arts and crafts and that Greek and Roman women engaged in these. Therefore, is it not possible that if we broke down all the elements of the goddess and re-assigned them to the different goddesses from whence they came, everything would make a lot more sense? For example, Athena is the goddess of war. Perhaps in a certain pre-historic tribe or clan, women were free to participate in fighting and a female deity was worshipped because of that. It’s very difficult to put together a coherent explanation of the minds of people who lived so long ago. There is a distinct possibility that this is all wrong and that the Romans and Greeks would cry with laughter if they could read it. So much knowledge has been lost in the ‘mists of time’ that even with a lot of archaeological material available, it’s not always easy to find an answer.

This is only the first of several posts I’ll be putting up on this subject. The next post will discuss women representing ideals or morals in society, such as justice and peace.

Photo Credits: Wikipedia, with thanks!

Room to Read

I recently heard about Room to Read, an organisation that works with communities and governments in Asia and Africa to run literacy programmes.  Room to Read operates in 10 countries in Africa and Asia. It builds libraries and schools, hiring local contractors and teachers. In this way money is put back into the community.

Room to Read

Room to Read logo

Room to Read also works with girls at secondary school level to help them reach their full potential. It provides mentors, workshops and camps to help girls in school. Room to Read helps girls who are moving from primary to secondary school as this is when most drop out happen. There are so many long-term advantages to girls’ education. Women often raise healthier families, earn higher wages and teach their own children.

I looked at Room to Read’s work in India, as one of the World Wide Women pages is about it. In India, Room to Read are mostly building libraries. Girls’ education is a large part of its work there, as there is still gender disparity in education. Although all children are entitled to free education in India, many girls drop out before finishing.

Room to Read sounds like a wonderful programme that is making a lot of difference and I hope it will continue its work for a long time.

 

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