I recently wrote, on assignment, a book for 4th and 5th graders on global women's rights--not an easy topic to put in young people's terms. I struggled with it. This week, I got the manuscript back with the content advisor's suggestions. It made me see the great gulf between feminists and fourth graders. The advisor made a good point--I hadn't mentioned the women's rights classes and even departments that are proliferating in colleges, including my own university where there is now an Institute for Women & Gender Studies, and the fact that those classes are now being taught in high schools and even middle schools, all a good thing. But she suggested a number of scholarly associations that I should cite--they wouldn't mean a thing to a nine-year-old! Their websites are full of abstract resolutions against violence, abuse of women, economic and civic oppression, etc. But not much in the way of concrete suggestions.
Then in the section of "What Can You Do" she took out the story of Rigoberta Manchu, a poor and uneducated Mayan native in Guatemala who fought for peasants' right to the land. The advisor's objection? She didn't really support abortion rights. Well, first, we were specifically told that abortion, rape, genital mutilation, etc., would not be discussed in this book--which makes it hard to talk about global international women's rights. Second, she substituted a list of women whose stories should be told to inspire kids to do what they can. One woman was assassinated, one executed, two are highly educated and sophisticated professionals, and one is an outspoken lesbian (if we're not talking about abortion, we're surely not going to lesbianism as a subject!). None of those women would give kids the light-bulb on experience of thinking, "I can do something like that." Rigoberta might have.
Fortunately there is an organization called Females United for Action (FUFA), formed by young women in the Chicago area, which has taken concrete steps toward ending oppression of women--getting a local radio station to change its advertising, mounting an exhibit of positive images of men and women together, holding public education events, enlisting young men in the fight against violence to women. That filled that slot nicely, but I am left chuckling at the content advisor. Overall her suggestions seem to me to typify the "ivory tower" concept that too often separates academics from the real world.
I wonder if she has daughters--or granddaughters.