Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lili's advice to the new-old Prime Minister

Congratulations Mr Rudd. In a recent press conference you mentioned the issue of women's representation in politics, as I recall it specifically women's representation as federal ministers. You said something to the effect that you believe that men and women think differently, and you wanted that diversity of thinking styles in your ministry. There are many very good reasons why you should have an equal representation of the genders within your ministry, if practically possible, but that isn't one of them. I am concerned that Australia now has a Prime Minister embarking on what I hope will be a long period of time in government who appears to believe that there are important biologically-based differences in the ways that men and women think. I am concerned about this because such a belief is not nearly as well-supported by scientific evidence as many people think it is, and such a belief can excuse many different situations in which women are in positions of disadvantage and weakness, and situations in which men and women and boys and girls are trapped within situations that perpetuate limiting and harmful gender stereotypes. 

Just last week I was at a disco at an Australian government primary school, and I noticed that when two limbo-dance poles were brought out, the dancing children spontaneously organized themselves into two groups that were mostly gender-segregated. This might seem like a trivial matter, but the spontaneous self-gender-segregation of young primary school children is a phenomenon that I have observed repeatedly in many different situations over the last few years. In one instance a class of young students spontaneously organized themselves into two almost completely segregated groups when faced with desks situated in two groups. On the weekend I chatted with a mother who was supervising her children using a public skate park provided by a city council. I couldn't see any girls among the 30-odd kids skating and scooting on the ramps. I asked her if girls ever used this park. She told me that among all the skate parks her family had used, the gender ratio was always overwhelmingly male, and that there is often intimidating behaviour from some of the boys who use these parks. Australian children appear to be limiting and categorizing themselves and behaving according to gender stereotypes in many different situations. There is no scientific justification for concluding that these behaviours have a biological basis, so we must consider the proposition that our children's lives are being limited by gender stereotypes. If this is true, it is a tragedy on a national scale. The Rudd Government and the Gillard Government have recognized the importance of play in the lives of young children, and the importance of quality in early childhood education and care. There is an abundance of evidence that gender stereotypes and sex segregation are influencing and harming the play opportunities of Australian children of all ages. 

I implore you to take the time to read the book Delusions of Gender by Dr Cordelia Fine, a highly-regarded book by an associate professor at the University of Melbourne. Dr Fine has held research positions at some of Australia's top universities, including the one from which you graduated. I realize that you must be ridiculously busy, so if you could even read an "executive summary" of the book, or even a blurb on the book's cover, keeping in mind that it is a book with credibility, I think that would be a good thing. Thank you and good luck. 

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