Elder Princeski and I sat down yesterday afternoon to do her halacha (Jewish Law) homework. She has a textbook/workbook which she's not allowed to write in, so that the school can get several years' use out of it, so she writes her answers in a notebook.
I do not like this workbook. Apparently, it was designed exclusively for boys. It contains little evidence that females even exist, and what scant evidence there is, is not encouraging. By this I mean that the book has almost no mention of girls, with the following seven notable exceptions (and yes, I went through the entire book):
1. A girl's name is cited in a question asking whether women are exempt from ritual handwashing.2. A woman's name is mentioned in connection with preparations for her wedding.3. A boy's mother is mentioned as taking care of him when he is ill.4. One exercise cites an unnamed female teacher posing a question to her [male] pupils.5. A question cites a girl as having cooked on chag (a holiday), and her two brothers arguing whether her actions were permissible or not.6. Another exercise in the same chapter presents an example of a woman operating a washing machine to launder baby clothes during chol hamoed, and a man chastising her for doing so.7. Finally, in the chapter discussing the laws of gossip, girls' names suddenly appear in one-third of the exercise questions. (I smudged out the author's name here, since I have no desire to besmirch him; I do not blame him for the book's bias, since I"m assuming it's consist with the attitudes and outlook of his community. I do hold the school responsible for using such a book. Of course it goes without saying that only boys are pictured on the front cover).
I AM DISGUSTED.
My daughter probably would never have noticed the absence of girls in most of the questions, nor the skewed examples that do mention girls. But I noticed right away, and it hurts. Whether the intent of the publishers is to suggest that the information in the book is mostly irrelevant to girls -- except when cooking, cleaning and gossip is concerned -- or to keep lascivious thoughts far away from the minds of nine-year-old boys, is anyone's guess.
I wonder why my daughter's school has chosen such a textbook. What kind of educational institution sends such a message to its pupils, male or female? Meanwhile, I've come up with these horrendous visions of what would be an American public-school equivalent: Math textbooks written only for boys? Science textbooks with no mention of natural history? Civics books that only cite white people?
The problem is not limited to textbooks. I remember walking into Elder P's classroom during the first asifat horim (aka, Back-to-School Night, in American parlance). Her fourth grade class consists of 33 girls and one female teacher. All the pictures on the boards around the walls featured.... yup, that's right. Only boys. And men (all with long beards, of course). I could barely restrain myself from addressing the teacher about this, but I didn't feel it appropriate to start off the year with criticism, especially since the teacher had clearly made an effort to decorate the walls. But it irked me: A classroom full of girls whose very essence is blatantly absent from their daily surroundings.
As the evening went on, I debated trying to improve the situation via other means, like volunteering to help the teacher with future classroom decorations. But I hesitated yet again, not wanting to offend her by suggesting that her own efforts were inadequate. By now I feel that enough time has passed, and I can offer my creative services without causing offense.
I do not want to raise my daughters with the burden of a heavy, Seventies-feminism, seek-out-the-unfairness approach. At the same time, I cannot justify a book like this, which presents a consistent bias in its blatantly unbalanced examples. It's hard enough to raise children to respect themselves and others. Why does the religious school system insist on making it that much harder for us?
For now, Elder P and I have found a small solution to the workbook problem. When writing out her exercise answers, I encouraged her to respond creatively regarding some of the names mentioned. Thus Meir has become Meira, David is now Davida, and Yossi, Yosefa. By the time we get to the later laundry, cooking and gossip examples, I hope I'll have come up with additional creative methods of dealing with them.
Keep the balance,