Thoughts on gender stereotypes

waterfront-stroll
One of the things that I’m most proud and happy about when it comes to my parenting experience so far is that thanks to our family’s really fortunate situation, our son grows up thinking it’s normal that both his mom and dad work and take care of him – almost equally, as we share in both these areas of responsibilities.

Feeling Emotional About Gender Equality

In the past few days, I came across a lot of news articles and blog posts about the double standards often used against women in public positions – when female politicians discuss important issues in a serious manner, she’s unfriendly, angry, or even aggressive. When her male counterparts show aggressiveness in their speeches, that’s strong, assertive, and “telling it like it is”.

Or when a woman is not expressive “enough”, she’s cold, aloof, unemotional (after all, she should be, as a woman, emotional!).

And our professional ambitions are often met with a completely different kind of scrutiny than our male colleagues in similar (and higher) positions face, if ever.

Humans of New York, which is one of my favorite things ever on the entire internet, has shared some stories of Hillary Clinton that really echo these frustrating feelings (see these photos from Sept 8th and Sept 9th).

hony-hc
Humans of New York post on Facebook

These stories made me feel fortunate to be living in a country where our female head of state – who is often considered “the most powerful woman in the world” – is perceived in a fairer way. She does receive criticisms, but for her policies and not for her being or not being ___ (whatever the quality a female leader is expected to have, or not have).

At least from what I’ve seen, for the most part this country takes her seriously, and judges her for her work as a politician and not for the tone of her voice or her fashion.

Things are, of course, not perfect, and “balancing work and life” is still a major challenge for many people, especially for women who have children. But at least, this is a country that has already reached a point where “can a woman be the head of state” is no longer a question, and where having female leaders making important decisions that impact citizens’ lives is ‘normal’.

That’s what we need, for every profession in all countries around the world: women treated and respected equally. Judged for the results of our work and our professional achievements and qualifications, without unfair expectations for meeting the stereotypical idea of how women should behave, speak, or dress.

My Own Double Standard?

And this morning, I was thinking about all these thoughts on my way to bring my toddler son to his daycare group.

In his group, there’s a new male teacher (who is working there as part of hisย apprenticeship process) who started just a couple of weeks ago. When I first saw him, I was really happy to finally have a male person in the whole daycare facility, let alone (luckily) in my son’s group.

For many different reasons, it seems that childcare is still a largely female-dominated field. But when you consider the experience that children (both boys and girls) have, it’s more natural (and better, I’d even say) to have both male and female caretakers / educators, because children learn from their experiences.

If all or most of the adults they interact with in their childcare places or in kindergartens are female, from what they see and experience, they learn and start to accept that those jobs are “for women”, which in the long term leads to reinforcing the gender stereotype in childcare-related professions even more, as it influences their decisions when these children grow up and choose their own career paths.

So I was simply happy to see the first male teacher I’ve seen in person at the daycare, and was also excited to see that our son liked to play with him. After a week or so, I got used to seeing him as part of the group, and started to notice things other than the fact that he is a man.

As with any parent, I’m of course interested in the skills and abilities of the childcare professionals who interact with my son. And as with any parent, I can at times be extra picky and even over-react to the smallest things, like how the teachers tie my son’s shoelaces and the kind of sunscreen they use for the kids.

(But these are mostly thoughts I have, some of which I share with my partner just to talk about them, and it’s never come to a point where I actually felt the urge to complain to the teachers directly.)

So this morning too, I was observing the new male teacher, just like I’d observed the other two female teachers in the beginning. I’m just interested in learning how he is as a teacher, and especially how he interacts with my son. That’s completely normal, right?

I then caught myself thinking to myself, “huh, he (the male teacher) actually doesn’t seem as energetic and enthusiastic as I expected.” I don’t remember what exactly it was that I saw him do (or not do) that made me feel that way. It could have just been the tone of his voice as he greeted us, or the expression on his face as he helped another child put on their outside shoes. It was just a split-second thing, but it made me somehow think, “hmm, interesting…”

And it is interesting, in a not-so-nice way, because as I realized immediately afterwards, that thought I’d had about the male teacher’s quality must have been tinted by my own biased expectations about how a male caretaker, based on the fact that he is male, should be.

This was a bit of a disturbing realization, but one that I’m glad I experienced.

I of course continue to oppose unfair stereotypes of women, especially when it comes to the unfair and unequal expectations that professional women face. But at the same time, I now often remind myself that I also need to be mindful of my own set of stereotype-driven, gender-based ideas and expectations that may be influencing the way I look at and think about people who do not conform to what is typically thought of as gender “norms”.

So yeah, a valuable lesson learned. On a chaotic morning in a room full of screaming toddlers.

Skills to think with a broad mind

IMG_6055
Students This Way: At a small temple, with a beautiful garden, in the middle of a residential area that I stumbled upon in Nagoya, Japan. The sigh says “Sutra Lesson Come This Way to Join”

Learning about Local Affairs

What I enjoy more than anything else when I visit a new place is to sit at a cafe (or a bar, a restaurant, a breakfast table, a picnic mat… you get the idea) with a local friend and just chat. I like to hear about things that matter to someone who lives there. What makes them worried, or hopeful? What gives them a sense of pride? What’s uniquely local about their experience from their perspective?

I of course like to explore, to see places and to do things. Taking in new sights and seeking new experiences are a big part of what makes travel so exciting and so special.

But often I also like to skip the seeing of places and the doing of things for a chance to spend time with a local friend, just talking about things that are part of the everyday lives of the people who call that place home.

How do today’s young people in Norway view marriage? What do second- or third-generation Japanese Brazilians in Brazil think of their ancestral home? Where do families in Greece like to go for a relaxing vacation? What do locals in this big city or that small village think of tourists?

And, I also enjoy learning about really “usual” things, like languages taught in schools, days of the week when shops are closed, where to (or not to) buy alcohol in town, how and where people like to barbecue, how to and how much to tip, what books and movies people are into… (the list goes on and on).

At the risk of sounding like a clichรฉ, I treasure the conversations that teach me that people do things differently in different places, but that there are still plenty that we share with each other despite our differences.

Ways of Life Different from Your Own

On my recent visit to Japan, I had the chance to travel down the memory lane going through old albums and boxes of things my parents kept from my childhood.

Among the things that my parents deemed too important even after twenty-plus years to throw away was this:

traveling-broad-mind

In Japanese schools, children learn good handwriting skills through practicing ๆ›ธๅ†™ (shosha) or transcribing – with an emphasis on the form and aesthetics of the handwriting.

The above photo shows my entry to a fifth-grade shosha contest; the little gold piece of paper on the top-right corner means that it was judged one of the best.๐Ÿ™‚

While the fact that I used to have excellent handwriting as a fifth-grader was exciting, what struck me as even more exciting was the content of this short passage:

ๆ—…่กŒใฏใ€็พŽใ—ใ„ๆ™ฏ่‰ฒใซๅ‡บไผšใˆใ‚‹ใ ใ‘ใงใชใใ€่‡ชๅˆ†ใŸใกใจใฏ้•ใ†ใใ‚‰ใ—ใฎใ‚ใ‚Šๆ–นใ‚’็Ÿฅใ‚‹ใ“ใจใŒใงใใพใ™ใ€‚ใใ‚ŒใŒใ€ๅฟƒใ‚’่ฑŠใ‹ใซใ—ใ€ๅบƒใ„็›ฎใงใ‚‚ใฎใ”ใจใ‚’่€ƒใˆใ‚‹ๅŠ›ใซใชใฃใฆใ„ใใฎใงใ™ใ€‚

“When you travel, you can not only enjoy beautiful scenery but also learn about ways of life that are different from your own. Through such experience you gain new skills as it enriches your heart and broadens your perspective.”

It’s just some random passage used for the purpose of the contest, and I’m sure that back then the 5th-grader me didn’t think much of the meaning of the text.

But I couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement in an almost serendipitous way; many years later, I’ve come to learn and become passionate about the exact thing that this text was talking about.

A Good Starting Point

Following the terror attack in Paris last week, many voices online were quick to point out that most of us didn’t pay much attention to the similar attack in Beirut in the same week (or other acts of terrorism in “non-Western” parts of the world in the past months).

I don’t necessarily agree with the opinions that those who expressed their desire to stand with Paris were “misguided” or “hypocritical”: the attack in Paris was a tragedy, and showing solidarity is an important way for us to react to something as tragic and senseless as this.

But the reality is that many people (myself included) learned about the Beirut bombing after the Paris attack. And – importantly – many of us reacted emotionally to that realization, feeling the need to change our relationships with the world so that we not just talk about valuing lives equally but actually live that value.

And I think that travel (the thoughtful, respectful kind) can be a way to support such change.

Of course, it’s not going to be the only solution, but it is a good starting point, because travel opens our eyes to ways of life different from our own and broadens our perspectives. And it helps us cultivate the skills of seeing both differences and similarities among cultures, and of building genuine connections with other people.

It may be naive to believe that more people traveling the world and learning to think with a broad mind will lead to positive changes – especially given the context of our times.

But as someone who has been amazed and inspired by the power of travel, I hope that one of the ways for us to continue to stand with not just Paris but with everyone affected by tragedies and injustice around the world is to continue traveling and exploring the world, learning and gaining new perspectives along the way.

Street Art in Hamburg

A couple of months ago, I was happy to see that Hamburg was one of the cities that made the “best cities for street art – chosen by travel bloggers” list on the Kami & the Rest of the World blog.

Street art is one of my favorite types of art and one of my favorite parts of any city. When visiting a new city, I enjoy going on a stroll without any particular aim and doing a “photo walk” – which in my travel dictionary simply means walking and taking photos. Exploring the street art scene of a city, I think, is a great way to slow down and to take time to get to know the local neighborhoods and streets.

And when I moved to Hamburg two years ago, I did do a photo walk around my new neighborhood, gathering my first impressions of the area, and getting lost in the streets which were still unfamiliar to me.

Here are some photos from my Hamburg street art photo collection, including some photos that I took on that first walk as a newcomer to the city.

Hamburg Waterfront Harbor- and Water-Themed Street Art

The Elbe river and the harbor are an important part of our city’s identity as the “gateway to the world”. As such, the water- and ocean-themed murals and graffiti on our streets and in particular in the waterfront area offer a glimpse of how Hamburgers see and experience the beauty of the city.

Street art in Hamburg - Women of the Sea

Street art in Hamburg - Fish Out of the Water, Hamburg Harbor

Street art in Hamburg - More Fish and a Monkey

Street art in Hamburg - Ocean in the City

Colors and Characters on Hamburg Streets

While the river – as well as the Alster lake in the inner city area – forms what is probably the most exciting and beautiful part of Hamburg, there’s of course much more to the city and its artistic expressions.

Street art in Hamburg - Dragon Tattoo on a Building

Street art in Hamburg - Work in Progress

Street art in Hamburg - Brick Wall

Street art in Hamburg - People Power

street-art-hamburg-boy-on-brick-wall

Street art in Hamburg - Basketball Court in a Local Park