nilesite writes


New York, New York, USA
January 08
The Backpack Press
Pilgrim, writer, photographer, mom, singer - author of "A Marshmallow on the Bus: A Collection of Stories Written on the MTA."


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Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 17, 2012 2:14PM

The Small Half – A Girl’s Piece of the Pie

Rate: 11 Flag
ladies room line 

When I was a kid, sharing dessert, I used to hear “let me have the smaller half” or “I’ll take the little half” and typically, it meant there was a pie or a piece of cake and it was enough for two, but somehow, all math concepts to the contrary, you could establish that there was a larger piece and a smaller piece and yet still call it a “half” when you divided it into two unequal parts.  Girls were taught, in my day, to always opt for the smaller “half” because it was more attractive not to eat so much in public. 

What I have come to realize is this:  this lopsided math is what life is teaching to my daughters now in 2012 and I only have myself to blame.  They are, like their fellow young women, likely not to experience the brave new world of male-female equality I envisioned in the 1970s.  I really thought the battle was won a really long time ago by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and only finetuned later by Ms Magazine and the National Organization for Women, but it appears that it hasn’t even begun yet.

Data to support this fuzzy pie math is everywhere now.  How could I possibly have thought the war was over? Take, for example, this news story: Saudi women have been isolated from men for centuries, but according to news reports in the past week, they now get the chance to work in an all women industrial complex.  Unemployment is an issue for Saudis the way it is in most countries now, but the fix is not to let women work where their skills might take them, but to get them working with each other in a special place.  On a very basic level, given how difficult it is for these women to attend school regularly, allowing them to work in this controlled environment is a step forward.  But the initial news report has been updated now to say, of course, men will be working there too, because who would deny men a job anywhere in Saudi Arabia?

It’s easy to say that’s a world away and that kind of blatant segregation could never happen here, but US women are facing remarkably similar issues.  Take the Huntington, West Virginia middle school system that structured separate classrooms for boys and girls so they could learn in appropriate environments better suited to boy and girl learning abilities.  According to the description of the segregated classrooms published last week by the ACLU, since all boys learn better when they can run around and all girls learn better when they sit facing each other, in their separate classrooms, boys could get up and run around and girls would sit facing each other.  Boys' classrooms were brightly lit, and girls had more subdued light, both groups learning in surroundings dictated by gender.  In June, the school district, pressured by the ACLU and their "Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes" campaign, suspended this experiment and probably thought that would be the end of the controversy it sparked.  But last week, the ACLU published that it will be representing three girls' lawsuits against the district regarding the effects this arbitrary division had on the girls' learning and development. 

This is how women comprise 50% of the world’s population but never make it to 50% of anything else.  How delusional were we all to think there was ever going to be some kind of real parity, let alone equality if we stopped fighting for it.  I know it's better now than it was in 1970.  I just thought it was fixed in 1970.

So I am taking this hit.  I dozed, I blinked.  I looked the other way thinking someone else was fighting the good fight for me and my girls.  I could not have been more wrong and my complacency is partly what allowed Rush Limbaugh to call Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a slut on national radio after she spoke at a Democratic hearing on religious freedom and contraception.

I wonder, if Pussy Riot had been a male punk group, would the Russian judicial system take them away from their families for another 2 years or just say "boys will be boys"? 

Photo by me 

Further reading:

kitd's blog (This is really good, by the way) 

Saudi women and the industrial complex

Sandra Fluke

West Virginia and the ACLU  

Pussy Riot and the sentence to two years 

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Thanks for a well written article and the update of the Saudi Arabian women's situation. I wasn't aware of the Huntington segregation but have followed the studies supporting educational segregation, particularly the ones that demonstrate that teachers, including women teachers, tend to call on boys much more frequently than they do boys. Seems to me that the answer isn't to segregate the two genders bur rather to teach teachers how to interact fairly and equitably with all students despite their groups. Again, thanks for a great article!
Every time a teacher says, "Now, boys and girls," you know we are stuck in 2nd class seats! Thanks, kitd - you are always welcome here.
At my last job I worked with about 40 women, only 2 of us were over 50 and there was a sprinkling of 40 somethings. The other one my age was conservative and fairly uninterested in politics. Every time I'd bring up the subject of women's equality they would roll their eyes and kind of humor me because I was well liked and considered "hip." They think it's stuff that doesn't matter anyway, all they got was the right to work outside of the home and that no longer seems fun.

They have no idea how different things once were, all the many doors that have opened. There was a time when men didn't even ask their wives opinion on major decisions, "the little woman" could decide which pie to bake. For the first time in over 50 years my mom got to pick a family car that was comfortable for her small frame, she was 75 at the time. I wonder how women who think equality doesn't matter would feel about that?

My mom didn't get much of the pie at all. Your piece really hit home, I find myself reminding my daughter to make sure she gets a balanced share in her home. I didn't set a good example, but a little better than my mother did. Thank you.
Nilesite, I have done this too "...I looked the other way thinking someone else was fighting the good fight..", and I have wished that someone outhere is fighting for good. How strange to use the word ''fighting'' in the same line with the word ''good''. Sometimes working for good is a really hard think for one to do...Your work gives to all of us a lot of thinking, and thank you for all the informative links. Rated.
Good thoughtful post. That being said, why then do females represent 60 and in many cases 70 per cent of the student on college campuses. Apparently our system is failing both genders . R
l'Heure - picking the car is a big deal, considering what even used cars cost. Thank you for telling me more of your story. When we piece all of our stories together, we really are pretty tough cookies, right?

Stathi Stathi - Best not to get off this topic. We need to stay awake, my friend!

Gerald A - That was exactly the problem in the schools in West Virginia. They couldn't figure out how to get the teachers in line with what the kids needed so they tried to manufacture an environment where it didn't matter. Not brain surgery, folks. Thank you for commenting on a really hot topic right now.
Many thanks for this well reasoned, much needed story on questions and ideas we think about often, but for which we seldom find any answers. At least not answers amenable to all.
Hi Mary - it's when we stop talking that we are liable to run into trouble, don't you think? It sounds corny, but freedom is not another word for nothing left to lose. It's something you can lose!
Gongratulations on the EΡ!!!
Thanks, Afrodite! I am truly knocked out.
EP! Must have been my cogent, pithy comment. Not!! Congrats and well deserved.
Gender has been and probably always will be a problem for government, employers and religious institutions all over the world. Let's just hope that each generation keeps addressing these obvious issues with fresh eyes and some sense of fair play and justice until enough old prejudice dies off to bring about equity and balance.
Congrats on a well earned EP!
Yup Yer right! The grass is soooooo much greener on our side of the fence.

You didn't get equality - you got superiority. Must men become your friggin' slaves to pander to your weird notions of "equality"? We're all equally human. Period.

I said back then and I'll say it again here; There will be no women's lib (or men's either) unless and until there is human liberation. Those who would divide us work hard to keep us at each other's throats. They know well the lesson of "divide and conquer". Heck they'll even go into another culture and country to find examples of inequality!!

And a teacher saying, "Now, boys and girls"?!!! Wellll excuuuuse me! Would you use that as an example if that teacher had said, "Now, girls and boys?"

Look around you. Do you see men organized into groups (often funded by men's taxes as well as women's) the way you see women's groups everywhere? Do you see men holding sessions on how to dominate a woman? Do you see women digging ditches and shovelling shit to bring home the bacon for their families? Yeah.... right..... name one. Now name ten thousand. A hundred thousand. And there are more men than that doing such work.

I agree with equal pay for equal work. BUT equal work MEANS equal work. None of this holding up a "SLOW" sign all day on a road construction site while the men are pushing hot asphalt around and sweating their asses off, while both get the same pay.

I was always a short skinny guy. I COULD NOT do the physical work that other, bigger, stronger men could do. So I ended up with the low paying jobs. Then I learned how to work in a business. How to compete with other men for promotions (I couldn't just "demand" that there be an equal number of short guys as taller guys get promoted).

Inequality exists everywhere. It can be overcome but we ALL have to be involved and we ALL have to benefit. You want it for women only? Fine! Go get it. But I won't be helping you to get it for one gender only.

About pie.
My mom put a plate with 2 pieces of pie on the table in front of my sister and I, one time. There was a big piece and a small piece. My sister took the big piece. I commented that "had I taken pie first I'd have had the manners to take the smaller piece. My sister retorted, "So what's your complaint - you got it didn't you?"
sky - always glad to see you! I'm 60 and I have never known equal pay for truly equal work, so I totally agree with you - like they said in Hair, "and the mind's true liberation, Aquarius, Aquarius." It's human liberation we need to be going after.
nilesite- congrats on the EP!

I didn't know this about the Huntington school system. I am appalled by the pussy riot verdict and its consequences.

I think you're right though, the inequality has been there all along.

I work, somewhat haphazardly, on bringing attention to providing educational opportunities to girls in developing countries. There are some remarkable women working on this issue incl. Cheryl Wu-Dunn and Hilary Clinton, both of whom have given TED talks on the subject. I think education through wireless technology is the way to go about this.

I guess I am saying there are ways to keep working on this, and your terrific piece has reminded me not to be so haphazard about it. Thank you.
Thanks, Emily! If we keep hitting the snooze button, nothing will change and we will only have ourselves to blame. I will look for the TED talks. Thanks for the tip!
Congrats on the EP. It was well deserved for this fine informative post./r
Gerald A - Everyone needs pith. :-)

jmac - Here's to old prejudice dying off! Thank you for your insight - always appreciated here.

kitd - Thanks! The rush of getting an EP never gets old.

Christine - Thank you! I am so happy you came by to read today.
If I am not mistaken, Orthodox Jews still separate men and women in the synagogue. Not so much due to their ability to learn or pray but because women were are seen as a distraction from prayer. I believe this is true in mosques as well.

To be perfectly fair, I do think that boys and girls may in fact be freer to concentrate on learning when they are separated. Social interaction can be a huge distraction. Clothing and status are distractions as well and I am in favor of school uniforms or dress codes. We should make it easier and freer for children to learn. Social interaction is a huge problem for schools.

The work place and the home are different matters.

It seems that many of our problems stem from one fact. When we are born... we are identified by gender and not by our potential.
Congratulation on your EP. Great post.
Must be my testosterone getting in the way again. What if girls do learn better in different environment than boys? How do you know that the West Virginia educational experiment was structured to harm the females? Why would the WV school system do that? Usually a crime has a motive. Or have you assumed that because its WV, its backward. How did the ACLU determine that only the girls were negatively impacted? Based on their actions, we should believe that the WV school got it right for the boys. Should/Didn't the parents have a say before this new structure was implemented?

As a man, strongly influenced by a smart, successful feminist mother and now the father of two daughters, I couldn't find the outrage at what WV was trying to do. Also, I don't understand your belief that women are at war. Its my opinion that my girls are better off competing in this world as individuals who don't identify themselves as women "at war". Wasted energy.
Ande - Thanks very much for your comments. I went to a private all girls school and think there is definitely an advantage. I worry about public schools doing this though. I loved the EP!

American Dad - war is too strong a word, I think. Your notes remind me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who is from Colombia. I said that Spanish-speaking neighbors are looked at in a funny way in my neighborhood. I took that to mean they were considered "other" but she said no, in fact, in most cases they are considered "lesser." I worry about that. I never want my three girls to be less at anything. Your comments are welcome here - thank you for reading today.
I read this earlier, but apparently didn't get around to commenting. (Sometimes customers actually come in). I liked your use of the pie, although at our house I remember it as the biggest pork chop.

We've come a long way. But, you're right, the climb is far from over. I hope our daughters realize that.
jlsathre - I'm glad you have customers! Isn't it funny how "the war against women" keeps bobbing to the surface of the news. I keep trying not to use the word war, though.
In many ways I feel as though the country is going backwards and we are just now in 1970 again. The right to control our bodies is in real danger and I'm afraid for our young girls.

Well written and the EP well deserved. Rated!