Thursday, June 14, 2007

Useful Exemplar

In my Ethnic Studies class, I teach my students that "Race is a social construct." That's basically all I try to teach them. It takes most of a semester to explain those five words. Mostly they mean that society tries to use biology to explain differences between people that are actually imposed on them by the social structure itself. Getting the student's to believe that and see how it happens is what takes the time. In a commencement speech this weekend, Gloria Steinem provided a useful example of the socially-constructed nature of the related concept of Gender. I think its a pretty good one.

"In my generation, we were asked by the Smith vocational office how many words we could type a minute, a question that was never asked of then all-male students at Harvard or Princeton. Female-only typing was rationalized by supposedly greater female verbal skills, attention to detail, smaller fingers, goodness knows what, but the public imagination just didn’t include male typists, certainly not Ivy League-educated ones.

Now computers have come along, and "typing" is "keyboarding." Suddenly, voila! --- men can type! Gives you faith in men’s ability to change, doesn’t it?"

---Gloria Steinem at Smith College:

I especially like her use of the term "public imagination" here. Shows how the way a group of people's shared means for imagining the world has a real impact on how that world happens.

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